Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas alphabet

A for Autumn. Christmases, or precisely 24th and 25th days of December tend to be winterless in Warsaw. The last Christmas with both snow lingering on the ground and temperature below zero was recorded in Warsaw in 2002!

B for Budgets. The fourth quarters of each year are a period when everyone chases targets to be met by year-end to ensure bonuses paid around February or March are generous. This means November and December are a crazy period, involving frequent staying overtime and daylight cherished during weekends only.

C for Cleaning up. Pre-Christmas annual cleaning is a ritual in many Polish houses. My advice – if you keep your dwelling clean and tidy over the year you won’t end up battling with dust, grime and dirt when festive season draws near.

D for Divide lines. In terms of approach to what is going on in politics, Poles are today probably most divided since regaining sovereignty in 1989. The divide lines run often in the family, therefore it takes good manners and tolerance to shelve current politics while dining at the Christmas table

E for Expectations. The lower you have them, the less likely reality is to fall short of them. Don’t expect your Christmas to be perfect. Too many people would need to act ideally, while you lack control over their behaviour. Let things drift, enjoy what brings you joy and have patience to cope with what you can’t change.

F for Family. While over the year you can choose who to spend your free time with, Christmas is the period customarily spent with relatives. Sadly, this is also the first Christmas I am spending with my parents only (my father and I visited my grandfather yesterday for an hour) and family relationships are unlikely to improve.

G for Gifts. I favour small gifts to lavish spending. Gift-giving is a tradition to be nurtured, not something meant to make up for absence of a donor in a bestowed person’s life.

H for Haste. Run-up to Yuletide is a period of rush, observable at work, in shopping malls, on roads. This rush makes people forget Christmas should not be a season, it should be a feeling.

I for Illuminations. It’s not a coincidence Christmas falls just after the winter solstice. Regardless of religion-related backdrop, people on the northern hemisphere must have found a way to light up the world when darkness takes over.

J for Juvenile years. Everyone sees how happy children are when Christmas draws near. I also used to be fond of Yuletide, then I’ve grown out of it, yet I sometimes miss my festive mindset and heartfelt joy filling me in December.

K for Kevin. Home Alone. The cult film is broadcasted customarily on TV each Christmas Eve at 8:00 p.m. I’ve seen it so many times that watching it yet another time is no fun for me.

L for Loneliness. On Christmas you shouldn’t forget there are millions of people who spend these days on their own. If we are lucky not to be one of them, appreciate what we have. Some of us though fear one year we might have nobody to spend Christmas with.

M for Miles. Two thousand miles, my favourite Christmas song, by Pretenders. Though recorded 33 years ago, will remain timeless. Hearing it in the radio is a rarity, since it falls out of line with merry sets of Christmas songs.

N for Nights. There’s nothing unusual about nights around Christmas, except for their upper-most length and diverse ways they can be spent: partying, working, celebrating birth of the Baby, sleeping off the former.

O for Opłatek (Christmas wafer). What Poles traditionally break before sitting at the Christmas Eve dinner. An indispensable element of family meetings, however no longer present in offices where Christmas celebrations have currently totally secular character.

P for Partying. Christmas parties, organised typically in the first half of December not to disrupt preparations to Christmas in the very run-up to them, have little to do with Christmas. Just another occasion to drink, socialise and hit the dancefloor.

Q for Quarrels. Where family members meet and everyone has their vision on how the celebrations should look like, toning down emotions is essential to avoid verbal clashes.

R for Rest. What Christmas days should be about; a moment of respite. Quite frequently they become a period of intense travels, stressful meetings and other events which necessitate rest after Christmas.

S for Shopping. Buying gifts and food produces has become the real craze. It gets the worst on the very Christmas Eve afternoon when scores of people still pop over to shops, showing no empathy to shop workers whose comeback to their families is delayed by consumers attempting to come by some stuff when the time is no longer right.

T for Tree, Christmas Tree. Never had a natural one, never felt the scent of conifer at home. Now they say an artificial tree is less ecological and indeed, a genuine tree can be planted to a garden or burnt in a furnace, while a plastic one decomposes for four hundred years.

U for Usury. The shopping craze and desire to spend Christmas lavishly drives people to throats of loan sharks. Debt-financed celebration turns out quite expensive with hindsight and I believe is not worth paying the price.

V for Video tapes. As a child I recorded several films from TV on my VHS Video Cassette Recorder (first communion gift) and then watched other during Yuletide breaks. In 2013 the cassettes and the VCR changed hands, while watching TV is no attraction to me…

W for Wishes. With time your circle of friends gets narrower and you appreciate quality not quantity of friendships. The same applies to wishes. If I am to wish someone a peaceful Christmas, I do it face to face or make a phone call. Wishes to be sincere need to be personal. I still receive Christmas SMS’es or e-mails with wishes appearing to be sent out to all contacts from the phone book or the mailing list, or idiotic rhymes (Karpia bez ości / Dużo miłości / Prezentów po pachy / Smacznej Kiełbachy). Each such message I reciprocate with a dedicated polite, but short wishes, written personally to a sender.

Y for Year-end. When I was a student, days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve were the most depressing time of year. As a full-time worker I find my hideout for those days at work and since except for last year they are not very busy, I hang around with people a lot and socialising brightens up those days when everything comes to a standstill.

Z for Zest for life. Something I wish on my readers and myself for the coming year!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Luck Factor – book review

Read from cover to cover the book which came into my hands as an unbidden borrowing from a friend. I tend to be sceptical towards all sorts of happiness guides, coaching, personal development and other forms of inducing and teaching people to change their ways to let them become happier. The Luck Factor might fall into the category of guides, yet by no means it is pushy. The author who shares results of his many-years’ (scientific) work attempts to persuade readers while they’re chasing their luck what they get from the world is a reciprocation of what they give to the world.

The first impression I had while going through the first chapter was that the book could not have been written by a Pole. A beneficiary of good luck, as the author asserts, is generally trustful to the world and other people. Poles whose mistrust is strongly embedded in the process of upbringing are definitely not given a head start in the pursuit of happiness, which appears easier in an open, friendly, inter-connected culture, rather than when one functions in an atomised society. On the other hand, the Anglo-saxon culture, which prohibits grumbling and appreciates a grim on one’s face no matter what happens has a built-in insincerity, good for superficial business relationships, not necessarily apposite for building candid friendships.

The saying (hey, who’s come up with this, as when I googled the phrase the only outcome was from my own blog?) Luck is an opportunity not missed best summarises the purport of the book. Life, as Mr Wiseman points out, is a string of opportunities, created by people, situations, often being coincidences. What humans can do in a pursuit of good luck is to:
1/ maximise the number of opportunities,
2/ discern opportunities as the appear on their way,
3/ make best use of them.

So although sometimes the only explanation of a course of events is that it has all been written in the stars, control over overwhelming majority of situations which might have impact on our lives stays in our hands. To illustrate it with an example, look back on my adventure from June this year.
1/ It happened to me because I attended a conference – the more social events you take part in, the more people you meet, the more opportunities appear on your way.
2/ It is debatable whether I recognised the opportunity since I did not notice the woman with a suitcase, but as she approached me, the opportunity was just ahead of me.
3/ I have not made the possibly best use of it, since in a rush I didn’t take my business card, had no piece of paper to write my phone number on and thought it would have been inappropriate to ask the woman for a phone number. Of course, had I done all this right, there was no guarantee I would have met for example me future wife. Actually, odds I would have done it were negligibly low in this one situation, but with frequent exposure to such situations chances of meeting somebody I would spend the rest of my life increase.

This regularity pertains to all realms of life, not just romantic relationships. In simple words, the more occasions to search you create, the more likely you are to find!

The Luck Factor contains several other foregone conclusions; none of them is ground-breaking, but they seem to deserve to be reminded.

You won’t fool nor get around maths. An experiment in which groups people who considered themselves lucky and ill-fated bought lottery tickets proved the former had the same probability of winning.

Optimism and pessimism in life underpin self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism. If you believe you will make it, you recognise factors and circumstances conducive to the positive outcome. Conversely, if you are convinced you won’t make, you seek out things that might go wrong and they come into the foreground.

Lucky people are open to new experiences and fear of rejection does not keep them company. Or actually they overcome the natural fear of rejection. Being turned away more or less often is an indispensable element of relationships and life, but since the law of large numbers holds true, the more attempts you make, the less likely to be rejected all the time you are.

Intuition probably has higher utility than common sense. As research by Mr Wiseman shows, everyone is bestowed with intuition, but bad-luck-ridden fellows rarely listen to their intuition and disregard whispers of it. I would add intuition is somehow related to experience we garner over our lifetime. The more people we meet, the more complex our interactions with them are, the more choice we have make, the richer our intuition grows.

Lucky guys do not push their luck, as this is the shortest path towards losing it. Drivers who have considered themselves lucky not to have an accident pledged to have avoided accidents thanks to their prudence, caution and not playing with fire. Never take your luck for granted, foster it if you want it to keep you company!

Beware reader! Luck ought not to be mistaken for happiness (in Polish both terms translate as szczęście). The two not necessarily go together. The former might exist without the latter, the other way round, though hardly imaginable, is also possible. Happiness is about expectations – if you expect little (but not too little) you are more likely to be happy with what you have!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Pitbull. Niebezpieczne kobiety – film review

Went yesterday to nearby cinema to do myself a birthday treat, or in other words a debraining experience I yearned for after the recent heartquake.

The film is a sequel of Pitbull. Nowe Porządki which went to the silver screen in January 2016 and which I admit to have watched it less than two months ago on YT (legally as I was not sharing the content), prompted by a friend. The case of Pitbull. Niebezpieczne kobiety is a rare example of a sequel beating the original story. Nevertheless, you should not expect much from the film directed by Patryk Vega, whose moving pictures have never been favourably reviewed by critics, but have wide audience who fancy the job he does.

The film could boast of record-high audience over the weekend it premiered. Over the first three days on big screen it was watched by 768 thousand cinema-visitors, until now the audience count reached 2.4 million. Over the first two weeks cinema rooms were reported to be chock full of people, a phenomenon I have not witnessed for ages. Even while watching Wołyń the weekend it premiered, though there were more than 100 people in the auditorium, by no means crowds were pushing in.

According to critics and anonymous authors of online reviews, the plot is the film’s weakest point. I would argue given the theme of the blockbuster there was little room to get a better effect and I notice improvement in comparison to Pitbull. Nowe porządki. Nevertheless I share many watchers’ view the plot is hard to follow and you need to read a lot between the lines to make out why some scenes come after others.

So you might wonder what drew in millions of Poles to cinemas to see this very film. I suppose the response is that Poles are fond of a fine blend of dirt. The ingredients are: coarse sex scenes (sometimes resembling porn films), foul language and violence in abundance. Besides when the plot is set around the thin line dividing the forces of good (police) and evil (mobsters trading in fuel and wheedling out VAT refunds). The film is claimed to be inspired by actual stories, but I resist to even wonder whether meanderings of life of criminals and policemen chasing them have been depicted accurately.

The blockbuster, slated by many, yet watched by many, many more is not an outstanding piece of film art. It stands no chance of going down in the history of Polish cinematography, as Psy have done. Quotes from it, though funny and at times bright and quaint are unlikely to become cult. But if are at a loose end around Christmas and not expect an ambitious film, two and a half hours (including advertisements before) spent in a cinema will not be a waste of time.

Actually for many years I had not been fond of film-watching. For no apparent reason my attitude towards trips to a cinema has changed recently. Sitting in cosy chair in a dark room for some two hours takes you cuts you off from the imperfect outer world and lets you submerge in a totally different reality. After a series of trailers watched yesterday I know which two Polish films I will definitely watch in the first quarter of 2017.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Ninth Commandment*

Do you remember when we first met? An evening dinner after a workshop, hundreds of kilometres away from Warsaw. You drank red wine, I drank vodka. I did not notice a ring on any of your fingers, so I began flirting with you. You said you were married and giggled, but I carried on.

This was what chemistry is like. You don’t need to think what to say, what move to make, what step to take. You know what you should do and the other one also knows. You don’t even notice when everything falls into place.

Yes, I fell for you. We met when I yearned for a soulmate, yearned for a friend, when I felt let down by lukewarm people around me. You showed interest, you cared, you understood me what I wanted to say even if I did not open my mouth. You fostered the bond between us from the very beginning.

I got scared when after two weeks you called us friends and grabbed my hand. We barely knew each other while after I, having been hurt several times in life, will think several times before I call anyone a friend while you did it at ease.

You accepted me the way I was, with all my good traits and shortcomings. I didn’t even try to pretend to be someone better. I appreciated that and offered the same to you.

Though we have lived hundreds kilometres from each other and met only when opportunities arose, we talked and wrote to each other several times a day. I felt guilty of taking away mother from you little daughters whose photos you showed me so many times.

I have never wanted to break up a family or build happiness on someone else’s suffering, especially at your daughters’ expense. I have never expected you to quit your husband, I have never hoped you did it.

So many times you told me what your husband was like. I infer he loves you to bits and what has he gotten in return?

Have you told your husband about me? Frankly speaking, I don’t care. Your marriage, your business. I hold dear autonomy, but I wouldn’t like my girlfriend or wife to have such close someone as I used to be to you.

Do you remember when I told you when my parents passed away, there would be a risk I might have nobody to spend Christmas with? You invited me over to your house, while I asked if your husband knew. You turned my question into a joke and said “yes, provided you dress up as a Santa Claus”.

The day you had a surgery and called me right after that to moan out you were alright. Had you talked to your husband before that?

Intimacy has two dimensions, emotional and physical. On top, each dimension several degrees. The top ones should have been reserved for your husband.

You could tell me I was accepting terms of that unwritten contract between us and the initiative was on my side too. You surely wonder what prompted me to change me mind. Quite recently I told somebody the story of us and when I put all events together, the picture of us which emerged was unbearably ghastly. As it turns out, I needed to put in words to realise what I’d been into…

Yes, I have cut you off. I knew I would do it when we last met. I apologise for not picking up the phone and not replying to messages for three days. I lacked courage to tell it openly to you. When I finally called you back I said I needed to take a break from you. You hang up but I wonder whether you think I’ve had enough of your problems or the whole of us.

I’ve been running out of power to carry your burdens. I am emotionally exhausted.

Does it hurt? Officially not. Over the recent weeks my role was giving, your role was taking. If I am to be sincere, it does hurt. It’s gone too far to pass me by painlessly. But hadn’t I quit, I would hurt much more before long.

No, I haven’t fallen in love, fortunately.

Yes, I am selfish, I want a normal relationship, not dead-end tease and denial, not an endless string of emotional swings. I quit not only for myself, but to keep your family together. I will be missing you for a while but the longing will wane.

Some time ago you asked me how to carry on without me. It's simple - same way as you’d carried on before we met.

You want me to find a girlfriend, while with you around I can’t be true to any woman. If you want me to be happy just leave ma alone.

Dear reader! I am a sinner, I don’t want your sympathy, but deep down I hope you won’t condemn me (especially because before publishing in a surge of auto-censorship I have shortened the post). I longed for a soulmate too much, it took me a while to realise I was waddling in a mire.

You can’t have a cake and eat it…

* According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Thou shalt not covet neighbour's wife might also be a part of the tenth commandment