My parents are children of the Common Wealth — this means, Keep Calm and Carry On is something of a family motto. Indeed, as I grew out of a student into the professional world, I’ve become characterized by a cool-under-pressure, feathers-never-get-ruffled demeanor.
“The whole building could be burning down and you’d just be chugging along, with a smile on your face, telling everyone everything is going to be fine,” a friend said to after he witnessed the crises of miss-printed labels, wine shortages, hidden-ladders-becoming-unhidden, and the myriad of other assorted exhibition opening night calamities that I quietly wade through.
I think I was flattered at the time, but then I realized, sometimes being known as the girl who keeps calm and carries on can get you into trouble.
When the metaphorical building is burning, you’re always the first sent into battle the blaze.
Alternatively, when all of a sudden you don’t look so calm, the people around you start to panic.
I confess — as far as my life is concerned, things have gotten crazy busy. Working weekends, travel, exhibition installations, committee meetings, public lectures, holiday craft markets, exhibition openings, de-installations — all things that need organizing and completing. Indeed, the stretch between now and the end of January is the relentless, burdensome push of a boulder uphill.
Just call me Sisyphus.
Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
About two weeks ago, somewhere in the early stages of my stretch of craziness, I walked into work on Monday morning carrying a bouquet of my favorite flowers. My eyes were puffy with fatigue and my skin chalk white and my boss immediately commented on my pallid complexion.
“Why are you so white?”
“Am I? Oh. Well, that’s what I look like without makeup.”
Then she saw the flowers.
“Who are those from!”
“From me! I thought it was a good week to have some flowers at my desk. The Italian exhibition. Gala. Ya know. Lots going on!”
“I was hoping they were from the boy. How is he?”
“We broke up on Saturday.”
“Oh! Really! Why?”
“We’re still friends.”
A few hours later, she called me into her office.
“Are you okay?”
I think I probably started to well up at that moment. It wasn’t that I was upset about the break-up, quite the contrary — there’s no way anyone witnessing the evening would have believed the two people sitting across the table from each other were ending a romantic affair, it was that congenial. No, the tears started to build because, frankly, I felt overwhelmed. And the last thing I needed was to be asked if I was okay. I just needed things to get done.
When I was in high school, my English teacher assigned the class a “quote” personal essay. We had to find a quote that described us and write a personal essay illustrating how. I chose something uttered by the great actor Michael Caine:
“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath.”
I walked out of my boss’ office feeling very much like a duck.
“I’m going to get those exhibiting artist emails off now,” I said and walked back to my desk, feet paddling like the dickens to stay afloat.