Not from a different house (although I do think about that often enough), but a view from a different life, through a different set of eyes. And not because I don’t like my life, because I do. But in idle moments I think about what it would be like to be someone else for a while.
I know I’m not alone, because Victoria Wood wrote a song about this very thing. It makes me laugh every time I hear it, because it’s so true. She sings about not wanting to be reincarnated as a famous historical figure, but rather as just another ordinary woman, with a different ordinary life. And I understand, because that’s what I want too.
I’ve had a surprising number of jobs in my life. I’ve worked in a newsagents, a factory, and a nightclub. I’ve worked for a conservation charity, handed out leaflets for a hairdresser, and taken notes in lectures for deaf students. I’ve written reports for construction industry seminars. I’ve been a personal assistant, taught economics to undergraduates, and for a short time I was self employed as a Victorian. I even spent a day as a lingerie model. Many of those jobs I’ve enjoyed, and some I’ve loathed, but all have given me a glimpse into what it might be like to be somebody else.
Years ago at a family Christmas do, the conversation turned to dancing. I made some wild declaration (as I do now and then) that I was going to leave work and become a ballerina (while twirling ineptly around the room). ‘You can’t be a ballerina!’ I was told, ‘you need to start when you’re a child!’
I seem to remember declaring ‘I can do whatever I want!’ and being told I couldn’t be an astronaut, a physicist, and a variety of other eminent professions. My young cousin joined in, telling me ‘you can’t be an elephant!’ (there’s a certain logic to that, at least…).
My family of course were right – given my age and lack of athletic background or any interest in science, it’s unlikely I’m going to make it as a professional astronaut or ballerina any time soon. But my interest in wanting to know what it’s like to be those things will never go away, and might explain my desire to do so many different things at once and never settle on any particular thing. Even if I won’t be an astronaut, I can learn a little about the stars, maybe even dress up in a space suit once in a while, and get a feel for what it might be like.
Because I can’t live all those other lives, I sometimes imagine I’m looking at my own life from the outside. Have you ever tried doing this? It’s fascinating. Just observe yourself, even on a dull day, and watch the little things you do automatically, and think about why you do them. It’s almost as good as observing someone else.
Today, for example, I watched myself lie in bed for almost an hour after the alarm went off, and then run to the bus stop and eat my breakfast on the bus (and if the me from ten years ago had seen myself I would have rolled my eyes in horror). I saw myself get excited about a potential new project, and my disappointment after I was told it wasn’t possible. I ate leftover risotto for lunch, and donated ten forks to the communal kitchen as I was fed up eating my lunch with a spoon.
Nobody else saw me sneak to the cafe for a sweet treat this afternoon, and nobody saw me make a hot chocolate and put 20p in our saving-up-to-replace-the-hot-chocolate pot (because I’ll happily pay £2.50 for a hot chocolate in a cafe, but somehow paying £2.50 for a jar of hot chocolate that will make 15 cups feels extortionate). Nobody saw me make a gantt chart that only I will ever see. Nobody saw what I wrote (and then deleted) in response to some reviewers’ comments on an article I’d written.
When I was younger, I used to imagine that when you died, you and all your friends got to sit and watch a video of your entire life, start to finish, in real time. I loved the idea of showing other people all the tiny details of my life that they’d missed out on, and I loved the idea of seeing theirs. I didn’t think too much about the practicalities (would my friends all be dead at the same time? How would we ever have enough time to watch everyone else’s lives in real time? Would it actually be really boring??) I was too focused on thinking about how fascinating it would be.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing here, trying to pin down some of what I do to show somebody else. I’m quite obsessive about writing things down sometimes – I keep this blog, but I also write elsewhere on several different forums, and in emails, and letters, and usually have at least a couple of notebooks on the go. I make myself charts and lists and am forever declaring goals and intentions and ticking things off.
Why? Am I afraid of forgetting what things are like? I do love to read what I wrote when I was younger, and often curse myself for having been such a poor diary writer as a teenager (they’re full of typical teenager things – mostly ‘it’s not fair!’ and ‘they don’t understand!’). Am I trying to justify what I do? (I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job of that!)
Maybe, since I can’t live everyone else’s lives, I’m just trying to make sure anyone else can read a piece of mine, just like I love to do with other people’s.
What about you? Are you as nosey as me? I’d love it if you told me something about yourself!