For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
By MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER NY Times, Published: January 25, 2013
In 1999, government workers in Mexico took their last officially sanctioned siesta. Until then, it was normal for clerks and bureaucrats to take two- or three-hour breaks in the middle of the workday. Many of them went home for lunch, took a nap, then returned to their offices, working into the evening to make up for lost time. The siesta used to be commonplace in Spanish-speaking countries, but the tradition was already waning as Latin America’s economies developed throughout the ’80s and ’90s. As companies and governments modernized, they adopted the same schedules as their counterparts in other countries. Mexico failed to properly anticipate the effect this would have on energy consumption.
By shifting work from the sweltering afternoon into cooler evening hours, the siesta provided a kind of de facto air-conditioning, says Elizabeth Shove, a professor of sociology at Lancaster University in England. Getting rid of siestas makes people more dependent, during the hottest part of the day, on energy-intensive forms of cooling. Air-conditioning use in Mexico has skyrocketed since the siesta ban. In 1995, 10 percent of Mexican homes had A.C. By 2011, that figure had grown to 80 percent.
Shove studies the cultural and historical factors underlying sustainable living. Historically, she says, societies developed methods of dealing with their local climates, and those tools and behaviors became ingrained cultural customs. As the world becomes more interconnected, these customs are changing, and so is the definition of something as elemental as comfort.
That’s right: there is no universal definition of comfort, especially as it relates to temperature. Both Shove and Susan Mazur-Stommen, of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, told me two decades’ worth of research data clearly demonstrate that different people experience the same temperature differently. People report being comfortable all over the thermostat, from 43 degrees Fahrenheit all the way up to 86.
“What people count as comfortable is what they get used to,” Shove says, and this becomes obvious when you examine different societies side by side. In 1996, Harold Wilhite, director at the University of Oslo’s Center for Development and Environment, published a paper comparing energy-use cultural norms in Oslo, Norway, and Fukuoka, Japan. The two cities are similar in population size, level of industrial development, spending power and average home size. But southern Japan is warmer than southern Norway, and Japanese culture is very different from Norwegian culture.
Wilhite found that Norwegians placed emphasis on something they call koselighet — which roughly translates as “coziness,” but with certain social connotations. Part of koselighet is making your home a place other people want to visit and spend time in. In Oslo, that means making sure nobody thinks your house is cold. Ever. Half the households Wilhite sampled didn’t turn the thermostat down before bed. Nearly 30 percent kept it turned up even when they weren’t home. In Fukuoka, where winters are comparatively mild, there wasn’t a cultural objection to entering cold rooms. In fact, homes in southern Japan usually didn’t have central heating at all. On chilly nights, families gathered on heated rugs, or around a kotatsu — a table with a built-in heat element.
Koselighet also concerns the quality of light. The Norwegians that Wilhite interviewed told him that ceiling lights felt cold. Not one subject used them in the living room, where instead they had incandescent table and floor lamps to create little golden pools throughout the room. On average, Oslo living rooms had 9.6 light bulbs. Meanwhile, in Fukuoka, the living rooms had an average of only 2.5 light bulbs, mostly more energy-efficient fluorescents fitted into the ceiling. There, people prized visibility, and the color of the fluorescent light had no temperature connotation at all.
But Wilhite also noted that cultural understandings of comfort are changing. Even back in 1996, he reported that people in Fukuoka were buying more space heaters, allowing family members to warm up by their lonesome. And they were buying air-conditioners, something that hadn’t been normal, even in a city with hot summers. Although many of Wilhite’s Japanese subjects believed A.C. units to be unhealthful and unpleasant, they were starting to expect their presence in any prosperous, modern home — a byproduct of globalization, according to Shove and other researchers.
Along with air-conditioning, globalization has also helped popularize something called Ashrae 55: a building code created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, to determine the ideal temperature for large buildings. The standard, which has set thermostats across the globe, is hardly culture-free. It’s based on Fanger’s Comfort Equation, a mathematical model developed in Denmark and the United States in the 1960s and ’70s, which seeks to make a very specific worker comfortable: a man wearing a full business suit.
Consider the impact on office workers in hotter countries, where a thobe or a dashiki might be perfectly acceptable business attire. They might start dressing differently, which makes them less comfortable outside and at home, which in turn makes them more likely to seek out air-conditioning. It also affects women. “In spring, it’s socially expected that women will wear thinner blouses, skirts, open-toed shoes,” Mazur-Stommen says. “But the building temperature is set for men, who are assumed to be wearing long-sleeved shirts and closed-toed shoes year-round. If everyone just dressed appropriately for the weather, we wouldn’t have to heat or cool the building as much.”
Fortunately, the same forces that drive people to consume more can also goad them toward sustainability. Wesley Schultz, a professor of psychology at California State University, San Marcos, has spent the last decade studying why people choose to be more energy-efficient — turning off lights when they aren’t in the room, for instance, or buying Energy Star appliances. Over and over, he has found that the most powerful force for positive change is to tell people how much energy their neighbors are using, and to make sure people know that those neighbors value energy efficiency. People in the United States don’t think this form of peer pressure works, Schultz told me. “But when we actually study them,” he said, “we see they’re wrong.”
TO appreciate the designs of Rei Kawakubo, the woman behind the label Comme des Garçons, it helps to be a specialist in fashion, or something of a kook.
Let’s consider her latest collection, shown in March in Paris. Not only were the brightly colored felt garments of a fun-house scale, but they were also completely flat. A dress had a front and a back, and the two pieces were joined at the sides. The simplicity was such that a clever child, using a cookie cutter, tracing paper and the photocopying services of Kinko’s, could produce the basic pattern. The wool felt was a good technical choice for the floating two-dimensional shapes, but the design, more than being merely simple, seemed to disclaim design.
Reaction during the show was immediate.
Editors smiled and nudged one another as the silly tents came down the bare plywood runway. Gradually, though, their gooey looks of delight turned to serious interest and finally to pleasure, the deep pleasure of seeing something rare and fully resolved and resistant to syllogisms.
Was Ms. Kawakubo commenting on the flattening of the world by the Internet? Was the lady, by fabricating such harmonious volumes without padding or other means, calling out lazy and weak-minded designers who tout couture techniques and don’t create anything new? Even the industry’s craze for bold color combinations and archival prints seemed to land in her cross hairs, and, not surprisingly, her choices were marked by intensity.
If Karl Lagerfeld is the leading talk artist of fashion, Ms. Kawakubo is the Mona Lisa. She makes no effort to reveal her meanings, though at times she explains her methods. That day in Paris, standing backstage, she greeted each guest with a brisk ceremonial nod. Small, nearly 70, she wore a black cotton jacket buttoned to the neck, black dhoti shorts and sunglasses that seemed a mischievous touch of celebrity — and that she has. No living designer with the exception of Azzedine Alaïa is held in higher esteem by her peers, and none has enriched our spirit in so many original and confounding ways.
“Kawakubo has done everything,” Jun Takahashi, the respected creator of Undercover, has said.
Ms. Kawakubo, who lives in Tokyo, does not plan to attend the festivities, said her husband, Adrian Joffe. As much as it would thrill to see her on the Lincoln Center stage, it’s hard to imagine her actually being there. She stopped appearing on her own runway long ago, though she is easily accessible backstage and in her showroom.
In addition to managing Comme des Garçons Parfums and many day-to-day matters, Mr. Joffe serves as his wife’s interpreter (he is fluent in several languages). It is Mr. Joffe who provides journalists with a brief, prepared explanation after every show. In March it was: “the future in two dimensions.”
And, of course, the statement, while not pure nonsense, turned out to be pure quicksand, sucking people in.
The truth is that Ms. Kawakubo is not interested in seeking answers, at least not to the conventional type of questions asked above. She is not an artist, and she doesn’t consider herself to be one, per se, though her work over the last 30 years, since she assaulted people’s consciousness with a collection called Destroy, has impelled serious consideration far beyond fashion. (Ms. Kawakubo, who is the sole owner of Comme des Garçons, a small, $200 million conglomerate with a number of brands, including Junya Watanabe, once said that if she is anything, it’s a businesswoman, and then added, “Well, I’m an artist-businesswoman.”)
In 1996, Ms. Kawakubo presented a collection called Dress Meets Body Meets Dress, which featured disfiguring lumps of cotton wadding covered with cheerful gingham. She was criticized for being “antiwoman,” yet a closer look at her silhouette revealed that she was probably neutral on the subject of gender, and instead had done something of more profound meaning: she had recreated a reality of the late 20th century — that of the individual seemingly joined to her burdens, like a backpack.
Since then, Ms. Kawakubo’s work has grown in clarity and wisdom. Last October, a collection titled White Drama referred to ceremonial occasions, like a wedding, and was assumed by many to relate to her widely admired Broken Bride show, in 2005. For fall 2012, she followed with her two-dimension collection.
Ms. Kawakubo, however, insists that she is not a feminist, and that her work has nothing to do with being a woman. “I was never interested in any movement as such,” she said a few years back. Her position is at best ambiguous; early in her career she embraced such ideas. It may also be true that as her work has matured, she has reached wholly different conclusions about what nourishes the creative process.
No one has ever sufficiently explained how she has been able to retain the spirit of the 1970s and early ’80s, particularly its sense of experimentation, without getting mired in it. In all the years I’ve known Ms. Kawakubo, which is close to 15, I’ve never heard her talk about the past, nor have I thought to ask her. With many designers of her generation, the past is like a giant wading pool on a hot day.
“She’s not greedy,” the art director Ronnie Newhouse said, suggesting that the way Ms. Kawakubo chooses to live relates directly to her design process. Journalists often find it hard to take her at her word: that she lives a relatively normal life, in Tokyo. “Can’t rational people create mad work?” she once asked a writer.
A few years ago, while reporting an article about her, I asked Mr. Joffe if photos could be taken of her work space. He said it wouldn’t serve any purpose. He was right. The Comme des Garçons headquarters, which occupy several floors of a banal office building, look like design studios everywhere, and may even be drabber.
In the end, Ms. Kawakubo’s example may prove that the last thing you need to be in the creative fields is a specialist. In fact, it may be a hindrance, blinding you to new feelings. I recently asked Ms. Kawakubo one or two specifics about her design methods, mainly to be clear about what I already knew. Did she use a so-called “mood board,” for instance?
Here is her reply, by e-mail. I reprint it in total. It says everything, and it could not be said better.
“My design process never starts or finishes. I am always hoping to find something through the mere act of living my daily life. I do not work from a desk, and do not have an exact starting point for any collection. There is never a mood board, I do not go through fabric swatches, I do not sketch, there is no eureka moment, there is no end to the search for something new. As I live my normal life, I hope to find something that click starts a thought, and then something totally unrelated would arise, and then maybe a third unconnected element would come from nowhere. Often in each collection, there are three or so seeds of things that come together accidentally to form what appears to everyone else as a final product, but for me it is never ending. There is never a moment when I think, ‘this is working, this is clear.’ If for one second I think something is finished, the next thing would be impossible to do.
“Often the elements are completely disassociated in time and dimension. One might be an emotion, the next thing a pattern image, the third thing an object or a picture I have seen somewhere. I can never remember when and from where the elements come together in my head. I trust synergy and change. For fall 2012, I was thinking about no design being design, about very ordinary fabric (wool felt) being strong. Somehow, the two-dimension level of thinking became apparent.
“I do not feel happy when a collection is understood too well. For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear. I feel better about fall 2012, because it wasn’t too clear, and some people assumed things it had nothing to do with, like the Internet age.
“The struggle to find something new gets more and more difficult with time and experience, so this time, for fall 2012, my feeling was to try to make a collection by doing very little.”
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You wil get an an enormous reward. You will have created something.”—A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut
Please do not lift my daughters to the top of the ladder, especially after you’ve just heard me tell them I wasn’t going to do it for them and encourage them to try it themselves.
I am not sitting here, 15 whole feet away from my kids, because I am too lazy to get up. I am sitting here because I didn’t bring them to the park so they could learn how to manipulate others into doing the hard work for them. I brought them here so they could learn to do it themselves.
They’re not here to be at the top of the ladder; they are here to learn to climb. If they can’t do it on their own, they will survive the disappointment. What’s more, they will have a goal and the incentive to work to achieve it.
In the meantime, they can use the stairs. I want them to tire of their own limitations and decide to push past them and put in the effort to make that happen without any help from me.
It is not my job — and it is certainly not yours — to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world, and can be overcome or used to their advantage.
If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve their own way out of it.
It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.
I don’t want my daughters to learn that they can’t overcome obstacles without help. I don’t want them to learn that they can reach great heights without effort. I don’t want them to learn that they are entitled to the reward without having to push through whatever it is that’s holding them back and *earn* it.
Because — and this might come as a surprise to you — none of those things are true. And if I let them think for one moment that they are, I have failed them as a mother.
I want my girls to know the exhilaration of overcoming fear and doubt and achieving a hard-won success.
I want them to believe in their own abilities and be confident and determined in their actions.
I want them to accept their limitations until they can figure out a way past them on their own significant power.
I want them to feel capable of making their own decisions, developing their own skills, taking their own risks, and coping with their own feelings.
I want them to climb that ladder without any help, however well-intentioned, from you.
Because they can. I know it. And if I give them a little space, they will soon know it, too.
So I’ll thank you to stand back and let me do my job, here, which consists mostly of resisting the very same impulses you are indulging, and biting my tongue when I want to yell, “BE CAREFUL,” and choosing, deliberately, painfully, repeatedly, to stand back instead of rush forward.
Because, as they grow up, the ladders will only get taller, and scarier, and much more difficult to climb. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather help them learn the skills they’ll need to navigate them now, while a misstep means a bumped head or scraped knee that can be healed with a kiss, while the most difficult of hills can be conquered by chanting, “I think I can, I think I can”, and while those 15 whole feet between us still feels, to them, like I’m much too far away.
It’s that time of year when the world’s menswear fashion writers and retailers drag their wheelie suitcases from London to Florence, Milan to Paris, determined to decipher the direction that gents’ clothing is heading. Well, I say “fashion” but I am not sure they like that word any more. Indeed a lot of people seem to have the hump with the fashion moniker. It’s got form.
Yesterday I heard, on a rival radio station, a well-known actor explaining to a reporter that he had no interest in the world of fashion, no what he liked was looking good. He then really spoilt it all by saying that what he actually loved was “style”.
Like a train on an overblown frock, for many people fashion drags in its wake connotations of frivolity, of the throwaway. Fashion means ephemeral. And in an age of austerity that doesn’t feel comfortable in some quarters. It’s why fashion firms try to reinvent themselves as craft ateliers even when their product is made in factories continents away from their HQ in Paris or Milan.
It’s a discomfort that has some perverse ramifications for shoppers too. There are men who feel that it’s wrong to spend €500 on a suit from a fashion label but then lure themselves into spending €3,000 on a bespoke version. They will tell you over Martinis that it’s an investment. That they will still be able to wear it in 10 years time, they insist, because it’s a classic cut and the tailor is so old school.
Well as someone who recently emptied their wardrobe of a lot of suits with dusty shoulders, let me assure you there are no classics. The dullest, most demure suit will look out of date whether it’s made in Savile Row or bought in Selfridges. The three-button jacket looks wrong; then the single button jacket looks out of place. Even when double-breasted makes a reappearance, the jacket you have kept just for this moment still feels, well not quite the thing, when you take it from its zipped bag. Buy bespoke but don’t think for a moment that you have dodged the fickleness of dress codes, aka fashion.
Perhaps we no longer like words that hint at glitz. It’s a moment for stripping things back, keeping it real. Just as foamy creations are being scraped from plates and replaced with organic, handmade burgers, so our language is having the froth blown away. It’s why the man you are interviewing in the white apron tells you he’s not a chef, he’s a cook. It’s why the 1990s hair stylist (let alone hair designer) has returned to his or her roots and become a hairdresser again – or tells you simply, “I cut hair”.
I get it and I edit a magazine that puts the emphasis on the well-made, the durable, the furniture or architecture with some longevity in its DNA. But, frivolity isn’t evil. The disposable can be fun.