When I was about 12, I made this very fervent and slightly pathetic little prayer:
“Please please please Allah, make me really good at EVERYTHING.”
I was in the PE changing rooms at school, after a particularly useless attempt at playing hockey, waiting for a shower under the eerie eye of the lesbian PE teacher who everyone said would whisk the shower curtain away while you stood there, trembling and naked. This was back in the day where lesbians were considered, to small children, more terrifying than vampire banshee ghostbats.
There I was, shivering in my horrible red and thoroughly un-Islamic gym knickers with scrunched up eyes, praying to the Doer of All Things Good Such As Reminding You To Bring Your Gym Kit So You Don’t Have To Wear Something Skanky Out Of The Lost Property Bins. (That’s beside the point. Stick to the point, Medina.)
So I have been pondering this one recently, the frustrated ambition (not the lesbian ghostbats), being as I currently am about as capable of launching a successful creative career as a piece of old chewing gum squashed into some tarmac. To give you a bit of context, my main classification of success these days is not walking out of the door with baby poo on my trousers, or cooking food that tastes like something scraped out of an archaeological dig.
Not long ago, while mindlessly surfing the net with a sleeping baby attached to my boob on afternoon (as one does), I stumbled across Hyperbole And A Half, a blog of such staggering hilarity that I spent my entire glorious hour of peace while the whole rest of the house was asleep poring through the blogger’s archives, by turns breathless with laughter and despondent at my own comparative lack of creative direction.
OK, so it wasn’t just envy at her marvellously witty illustrated posts, but also at her 3600 something followers. Yowzers. How does one get so well read? Is it really just a case of being great?
I tried to put the baby down so I could go back and read; she grabbed on tightly in her amazing sleep reflexes (don’t drop me out of the tree, mother squirrel). I tried to sleep, having gone to bed at 1am and getting up with two somersaulting kids at 6am after very broken sleep, and by this time was a gabbling lunatic, but I couldn’t. Tried to get up, but every movement out of our hug made Cavebabe flinch in her sleep and threaten to wake up with a caterwaul.
So I lay there, feeling about the emotional equivalent of an over-microwaved MSG chicken flavoured Pot Noodle, as creatively inspired as a blob of factory-made cheese (not even the interesting stinky stuff) that had been squashed into the underside of someone’s sock, depressed at not being amazing enough.
Then it struck me: why did I need thousands of blog followers to be classified as amazing? Why couldn’t I just be amazing at something basic and human – like hugging? Cavebabe didn’t need a super-fantastic famous blogger mother. She needed a really amazing hug. Surely that was far more useful, in that exact moment, than having a vast glittering presence in the murky depths of the blogosphere.
Where did this insane need for mass approval come from? At school, I did amateur dramatics, I sang, I played guitar, performed my songs, danced, took part in gym displays. I was an all-singing, all-dancing, straight A success machine. Apart from being crap at outdoor sports, that is.
But I no longer have the shadow of exam grades, University requirements or competitive friends to keep this creeping phantasm alive, the will-o-the-wisp of worldly success, the eyes boring into my back declaring whether or not I am SOMEBODY based on what I have achieved. I would like to start dedicating some serious time, instead, to something far more important: the art of hugging. A real hug is, after all, what would pretty much solve all of the world’s manifold ills.
Imagine, for a moment, the warmth of arms encircling you, transmitting their owner’s tenderness and care in a sort of infrared love-wave, water in their cells dancing with desire for your wellbeing, their dance inviting the water in your own cells to join in, passing on their infectious ease, correcting the kilter of your subtlest movements, healing every invisible wound.
The impulse to kiss bare skin must also come from this same primordial touch-balm; your lips are where your skin is thinnest, where the tingle of love crosses the barrier between people most easily, benevolence crossing the semi-permeable membrane of your talking apparatus and silencing it.
This is where I really should be striving for excellence, in making my arms available for limitless loving, in offering all hurt beings a truly incredible hug.