If, like me, you’re over 30 you’d remember the 1986 movie Stand By Me, starring brat-packers River Phoenix and Corey Feldman. If you’re under 30, I advise you get it out on DVD (oops, download it). A coming-of-age film, it captures the Gen Xers and Boomers’ search for A Big Defining Moment, a search that’s seen us seek sea changes and stage Band Aid mega-concerts. Honestly, it’ll help you understand us better.
In the movie, Gordie, the story’s 12-year-old protagonist, awakes in a forest to a deer staring at him just inches from his face in the dawn light. The magic of the moment is palpable. As Gordie narrates (as an adult looking back), all he wanted to do was wake his mates and tell them about it, to stamp the incident and own it loudly. But he doesn’t; he keeps the quietness and stillness to himself. It’s A Small And Not Terribly Defining Moment, one he treasures for decades.
I tell this as a segue to Kate’s Small Moment last week.
Kate’s a colleague and her Thursday went like this. She rings her husband. “Last minute interstate trip, sweetheart,” she says, “beef stroganoff in the freezer for the kids”. She leaves work at six, books into a nearby hotel room that she finds half price on wotif.com, runs a bath, eats room service in silence and does her nails.
After padding around in the hotel-issue slippers for a bit, she slides into bed, such as to keep the hospital-cornered sheets tugged tight, and falls soundly asleep. No husband to break the tautness of the sheet, no kids to tug her away from the soundness. She wakes at 6am, spends an hour staring out the window and “just thinking”, and heads to work.
I love, love, love this anecdote.
It drips in poignant, small moment “is-ness”. It could be the opener in a Sofia Coppola or Sam Mendes film, one that should probably star Kevin Spacey. Kate didn’t need to explain why she regularly books a hotel room behind her family’s back. I got it; I’m sure you get it. Sometimes we all need to escape to a personal stillness, and to keep something small to ourselves; packing yourself up in a four-walled box for a night is an effective way to do it. It’s a case of needing A Hotel Room of One’s Own.
Some people are good regular retreaters. They spend Sundays watching DVDs with the kids after a hectic week. They light Jo Malone candles and do nurturing things on the couch while nursing a soy chai when they feel frazzled. I’m not naturally one of those people; the pull of my to-do list is stronger than I am.
For people like me and Kate, locking yourself in a box for 24 hours is a gorgeous antidote. (So is dining out on your own.) It enforces solitude and confines movement. In a hotel room you can’t do a load of handwashing or fertilise the aspidistra when you start to feel guilty about being idle. The familiar cues that jerk you from reflection are blocked. In a hotel room, you’re invisible to everyone who wants a piece of you and you can put the whole noisy carnival on pause, sit at the top of the ferris wheel and reflect on the ride. Invariably the world copes, and the kids happily eat frozen stroganoff.
Of course, contriving a hotel retreat is a lie. But I like the lie. Kate tells me of a devoted Dad who tells his family he’s captain of the local darts team, a gig that see’s him travel monthly to Brisbane. There’s no darts team; he books into a hotel, watches the sport channel and eats a club sandwich. He lies so his family don’t think he’s escaping them. He lies so he has more energy for them.
All this is mostly about information omission. It’s about holding on to quiet, small moments for ourselves, preserving them as special, and not rushing back to camp to boom it to the boys.
Would you book yourself a dart’s trip on the sly?