A wise man just told me that a wise man once told him that a wise man once said “I don’t worry because worry’s a waste of my time”.
This wise man was Axl Rose of the mega-group Guns N Roses, and he should know. You can’t wail like that in a bandanna for a whole minute at the end of Sweet Child O’ Mine without knowing a thing or two about life. That wailing is loaded with lessons. It’s like Dylan’s harmonica, or Whitney’s warbles. Their life is caught up in there like bubbles in a glass of champers.
I don’t normally look to the tarnished pearls of wisdom from Rock’s hall of fame for a guiding hand, I’m more a sort of ‘smile benignly along to Mama Cass’ sort of girl, but lately I’ve been worrying. I’ve never been much of a worrier, I’ve always been one of these sorts who looks at dark clouds like they’ll soon rain down cute little droplets that will make the flowers grow. I’d tread in fox poo and instead of screeching “DEATH TO VERMIN” like a warrior in the street, I’d smile and remember a book called The Midnight Fox I loved as a kid. I’d probably think the poo was cute. Sweet little vulpine plop-plop. But things happen in life which make you start thinking “Er, hang on a minute, Life – that felt a little bit like you roughed me up there.” You get serious. You start to worry. Perhaps it’s growing up. Perhaps it’s knowing you have less time than you had before to get stuff right. That you’re in a constant state of ‘having less time’. There’s never a plateau you reach where you think “Right. This is the perfect mix of existential panic & objective positivity, ever. I am like Sartre on happy pills. I think I’ll kick back & know that I know the most I can know. Sorted. Now, someone make me a mojito.”
I found myself last week stomping around in a huff, getting annoyed with people who dared to slow me down in the street by having a limp, people who took too long to pay in shop queues, barking out my replies instead of using a friendly tone. I had a lot going on last week, and obviously I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t get a bit grumpy from time to time. But it was as I found my face frowning as I walked along, actually crinkled in irritability – not even for any particular specific reason, just the badge of my default mood that day – and I stopped walking, and I told myself off. (In my head – I’m not one of those Tennants Super dudes who shouts at themselves outside Tesco. Not yet.)
I told myself off, not because I was feeling irritable – that is permissible, it is natural. I told myself off for allowing the irritability to affect how I was approaching people, and for letting it infuse my whole day with a general black air. I was not having a bad week. I was not doing something I hated. I was not planning my Nan’s funeral like one of my dearest friends was. I was merely busy. Busy running a comedy festival. That’s supposed to be fun, right? I got to see nice people, and laugh, and put up bunting, and see my comedy chum Terry Alderton do sillies. That’s fun. So I told myself off. Because allowing worry to swirl around you on the inside, and take over your demeanour on the outside, without pulling yourself up on it is a slippery slope. If you start letting the small stuff become big stuff, the big stuff gets bigger, and you eventually stop spotting that this is what you have let yourself become. We have a choice.
As if I needed a footnote to this realisation, I apologised to a friend for being a bit clipped, and he said ‘Keep smiling and bathe in these words of wisdom someone gave me once when I was feeling upset – “I don’t worry because worry’s a waste of my time.”’
I knew he was right. I thought of my trivial issues. I thought of the person I’d like to be in my life, and the person I might become if I let my frowns go unchecked. I thought of my friend who was sad because of his Nan, and the fact his Nan didn’t have any time anymore. It was the first time I felt enlightened by a quote from one of Hard Rock’s nutjobs. I hummed the only Guns N Roses song I know – the karaoke favourite Sweet Child o Mine, and I remembered the last time I sang it – which oddly enough was in Melbourne, with Terry and our dear karaoke-addict friend Tim Vine. (Who has seriously got a real problem if anyone knows of a Sing-a-long Therapist.) It seemed like the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me then, because it tied up memories, and friends from different parts of my life, and the old me, and the new me, and the importance of still having time, and not wasting it. And I stopped frowning and just got on with it, and had fun.