Still playing with your fidget spinner? Keep up! The newest craze is painting rocks and leaving them around town. Yes, really. It's not litter because it's art.
My county, Norfolk, is, as usual, right on trend. The Norfolk Rocks (UK) Facebook group has gathered more than 34,000 members in just a couple of months, and the feed is full of photos of happy children, and almost as many happy adults, brandishing their painted treasures. Whether decorated with toddlers' scribbles or full-blown works of art, you'll find the stones in parks, in shops and on sea walls, ready for the lucky finder to admire, keep or rehide (a word that's too new for spellcheck to recognise).
It's got me thinking about beauty and art and shared experiences and how much fun it is to paint a stone despite having no artistic skill whatsoever.
And it's also made me reconsider 'serendipity', that delightful word that perfectly summarises the joyful happenstance (another delightful word) of discovering a pretty stone in the street.
The OED Online defines serendipity as 'the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way'. Merriam Webster's definition is even more appropriate: 'the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for'. It goes on to describe the rather, well, serendipitous story of its origins as both a word and a concept. In January 1754, serial letter writer and linguistic inventor Horace Walpole described the discovery of an interesting fact as:
'... almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word… I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip” [Sri Lanka]: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...'
It's rather handy for dictionary compilers that Walpole not only appears to have created a new word but also took the trouble to claim the credit for it.
As a (serendipitous) aside, Merriam Webster lists other words that were first recorded in 1754, including avocado pear, consensual, disgusting, extravaganza, face mask, polymorphous, postbox, prima donna, self-importance, unsportsmanlike and washing machine. One wonders how they communicated in 1753.
However, 'serendipity' wasn't really used beyond literary discussions and statistical research until the 1950s, when a sociologist called Robert K. Merton saw it in a dictionary and decided that it supported his theory of the impact of unintended consequences of intended actions. Fascinated with the concept, he and a historian, Elinor Barber, published a book that delved into the semantic history and complex meanings of serendipity (The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science, in case you're wondering). Richard Boyle, in a fascinating review of the book, describes how it subsequently caught on to the extent that it became the tenth most common boat name in the US and in 2000 was voted the most popular word in the English language. (It's not my favourite word, by the way. I prefer 'actually', which is less poetic but just as interesting for being simultaneously useful and pointless. But that's a whole other blog post.)
It's often claimed to be untranslatable but actually (yes, I know) only in the sense that other languages have adapted it to their tongues. Wikipedia lists versions in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish. Happy discoveries can apparently be made anywhere.
Boyle's review complains that the concept of serendipity is now overused and misused: these days, he says, 'it is taken to mean little more than a Disney-like expression of pleasure, good feeling, joy, or happiness'. Dumbed down it might be, but I still think it has particular connotations that make it an evocative name for everything from AirBnBs in Texas to 'global consultancy services' companies. And, of course, it's the perfect word for the pleasure of finding a little piece of art in an unexpected place.
Apologies in advance if you're going to spend the next few days staring at the ground. Happy hunting!
PS: This post was going to be called '5 reasons why editing rocks', until I serendipitously became distracted by the concept of serendipity. I only mention it now because editing does rock.
Anyone would think we’d got our work/life balance pretty well sorted. After all, seven female self-employed editors had taken a weekend away from our usual home responsibilities to gather around a kitchen table in a chic London suburb (one remotely), leaving partners, pets and kids to sort themselves out while we discussed our careers. Of course, you could also argue that we were missing precious family time by choosing to work on a Saturday, but we all felt liberated by the opportunity to focus on ourselves for once.
So the discussion about work/life balance, coming at the end of a long, hot, productive day, was well timed. But first things first – what exactly does it mean? And does it matter? Work is part of life but has anyone ever, honestly, achieved the perfect balance with their personal time? After all, we would all far rather work from home, with all its domestic distractions, than in a noisy, stuffy office with a two-hour commute.
When life gets in the way of work
Clearly, enjoying your work is key to making long hours easier to manage. Sometimes writing a blog post or proofreading an intriguing book doesn’t even feel like proper work. But then there are the endless, stressful, troublesome projects that take forever to disentangle and straighten out. Either way, it’s easy to blink up at the clock and wonder if that time should have been invested in our families instead. Will the kids’ memories of their childhood be their mum, harassed, at her desk, snapping ‘Make your own dinner!’ when they poke their heads round the door?
Perhaps it’s because we’re women. Perhaps, in allowing ourselves to take charge of domestic routines, our generation has failed to take forward the lessons of feminism. Even if our partners willingly contribute to the household chores (and, on the whole, they do) we still help to perpetuate the myth that we can achieve it all. Is it entirely fair to complain about our husbands’ full-laundry-basket-blindspot or should we take responsibility for deskilling our men when we insist on doing all the ‘wife work’?
It's time to take control
Whatever our personal circumstances, we agreed that it was the ‘life’ part of work/life balance that’s often the problem. We all hate those pick ‘n’ mix days that involve short bursts of work interspersed with personal obligations. Whatever we often tell ourselves, work is far more controllable than the randomness of our personal lives. But how can we control it without obsessing about losing income? Well, we had plenty of ideas:
In short, we must fight our inertia and take time out of that endless busy-work, even if it’s just to identify exactly what needs to change in our current routine. But don’t beat yourself up about what you haven’t done. Nobody can do it all but everybody can find ways of making life work for them.
Now, I’d better go and do some proper work. It’s either that or hang up the washing.
My book review blog: Ju's Reviews