Are you eulogy ready?

Two things juxtaposed this week, giving me food for thought.

A prominent politician, Charles Kennedy died unexpectedly aged 55 having recently lost his seat in the General Election. In Parliament this intelligent, witty and honourable man was given the sort of cross-party eulogy rarely heard these days. I didn’t necessarily agree with his politics very often but as the then leader of the Liberal Party back in 2002 he was the only party leader to say our involvement in the Iraq war was wrong. He won my next vote with that speech. He was consistent, forensic and compelling. He did not give in to the Siren voices that closed their minds to both sense and reality. He was the sort of politician I admire. He was also an alcoholic who fought his own demons with the same openness and honesty he brought to the House of Commons.

Yesterday I attended a writer’s group, having written a post about my upcoming book in which I explained my difficulty in describing myself as a writer let alone an author. We talked about this, about other people’s reactions if we called ourselves writers and laughed at some of the responses we have received. It put me in mind of a gentle complaint the Textiliste used to make when asked what she did for a living once she had left the world of insurance. I, she pointed out, could call myself ‘lawyer’, and if I wanted to refine that I could say ‘City lawyer’, ‘real estate lawyer’ or if my ego was feeling particularly frisky that day ‘partner in a law firm’. She, in contrast, having stopped paid employment, had become the general factotum and polymath that was running the family office with all the multi-faceted and wide ranging skills that that role required. There was no easy label for her, no headline from the CV? Her default résumé was ‘housewife’ and it failed to do justice to the skill set and energy needed to cope with all that was thrown at her.

When finally I gave up the law I found the same issue and with my reluctance to say ‘writer’ I became just as frustrated by the constant need for labelling and pigeonholing that other people seem to require. We, as  western societies are obsessed by economic factors, wealth generation so in the Top Trumps of people- categorisation we give top spot to the dollar earning power rather than the more nebulous but far more important qualities that a person displays: their kindness, grit, compassion, dedication, effort, love.

In the speeches in Parliament no one spoke of Charles Kennedy as a man who earned X. They spoke of the man’s qualities, not the jobs he has held.

I came across this Ted talk which captured the essence of my point and neatly labelled (ha! Hypocrite me) this seeming catch-22. I don’t go big on the sin and faith bits but the essential message is pretty universal. Kennedy by his efforts and actions was ‘eulogy ready’ and not just, as so many of us spend all our sweat and effort trying to ensure, ‘résumé ready’.

When we are gone we will be remembered if at all for our qualities as people not our pay rises, the cars we bought or the stuff we owned. It is as well to remember that fact both as we try and claw our way up the grassy pole of ambition and especially when we meet someone new at a party and ask them ‘and what do you do?’.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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51 Responses to Are you eulogy ready?

  1. Yvonne says:

    Yes, yes absolutely! We definitely remember those who have gone for their qualities as people. It is weird how we all know that, and yet we still crave “things.” I suppose there’s more to life than being remembered. (And I wrote that before I’d listened to the TED talk, but having watched it, I see he’s saying something similar to what I was thinking.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    Great post, Geoff. For a long time my labels were ‘just’ Mum and housewife… the ones like ‘head of retail’ commanded more respect in the label-market, but were a hell of a lot easier!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. noelleg44 says:

    Loved the thoughtfulness of this post, Geoff! I am: a former professor, teacher and researcher (emphasis on the former), wife, mother, writer?, housekeeper, retiree, pet minder, shopper, cook, traveler, blogger. None of these necessarily command respect, nor will they define me when I am gone. I would just like people to remember me for me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      So true; the joke about being a ‘lawyer’ was it covered a multitude of mundane roles and tasks but no one cared because they had a picture of the label. When I spent a day running the home I was exhausted and overwhelmed, partly because, as an overpaid lawyer i had ‘people’ to aid me – no such luxury at home!

      Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Oh and take away that ? from writer, Noelle. You are an author of quality and distinction and if anyone even hints at otherwise, just send them round here….

      Like

  4. gordon759 says:

    ‘We writers must stick together’, is the phrase to show how ‘we writers’ should regard ourselves. It is a noble and honourable calling far above lesser job descriptions and titles.
    The words were first supposedly used by Benjamin Disraeli, popular novelist (and also Prime Minister) to Victoria, diarist (and also Queen and Empress)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ali Isaac says:

    Oh… I didnt know Charles Kennedy had died… so young… so sad. I too liked him back in the day. He seemed to talk sense.

    Oh and it took me a long time before I was able to ‘fess up that I was an author. In fact even now I will say writer instead, it sounds less presumptuous, and as my writing is quite varied and not limited to novels, it seems more appropriate.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Annecdotist says:

    Lovely post, Geoff, but I’m laying down the gauntlet. As a comedy writer, what do you think a eulogy that did celebrate people’s possessions and earnings would look like?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I had a debate about whether I was a writer or an author a few months back and got some very interesting responses. If asked now I refer to myself as a blogger which I’m always amazed that some people have no idea what it is. I just can’t admit that I am an author or a writer because I have no published work on Amazon or the likes.
    You’re almost certainly an author because you have published books with you name on them, under your belt.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. roweeee says:

    Geoff, I’ll add a bit of seriousness to this discussion because for the last 20 years due to my medical situation, I have been quite conscious of the eulogy and since the kids entered the picture and there have been times where they seriously could have lost their Mum at a very young age when they were too young to remembe r me. My concern hasn’t just been with what they remember about me but more a concern that I have brought them up well and exposed them to those life lessons which will help them to develop character and to be well-rounded people with a sense of compassion and love who look out for others.
    I’ve had tiome out of the work place firstly after brain surgery. Then, after having the kids and since I had chemo 18 months ago I’ve worked about 4 hours thanks to chemo brain.
    When I had the brain surgery, I became very interested in photography afterwards and it became such a life raft for me. I felt absolutely dreadful that I wasn’t back at work and felt like I’d been flushed down the toilet like a dead goldfish. However, I soon found that talking about photography went down very well at parties and it seemed to bridge the gap. Not only was I doing something I loved but it gave me an identity when I really needed something concrete.
    At the moment, I’ve switched off the whole work thing and I’m doing my writing while trying to get the house, kids and dogs in some kind of order. The whole idea of being a housewife is such an anathema to me. I tell people that I write and that I’ve got a blog and I’m writing motivational books. I don’t tell them that I’ve been stalling for some time. You could say that’s “need to know”.
    I think there is something different about being a writer versus someone who writes. I live and breathe writing and always have done. That to me is a writer. Now, not everybody has the luxury of being able to feed that desire and some people can only develop this side of themselves later in life.
    It seems that what we do is an important social question. I’ve heard that the first question people who go caravaning in the “grey nomad’s” age group is: “What line of work were you in?”
    Interesting.
    By the way, I was thinking of you and your wife tonight when we were watching a documentary on a naturaliste community called “Spielplatz” I think it was. You no doubt would have heard of this place but it’s a nudist colony and they call people who wear clothes “textilists”. . It was an interesting doco because they’re having serious financial troubles and are trying to get into new, younger blood but at the same time, some of nthe people are very strict about wearing clothes and there’s this whole discrimination thing going on. It reminded me of how the Church can get sometimes at it’s worst where people have such narrow world-views that they become incredibly idealistc and hard line.
    Hope you have a great weekend. xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you for such a fantastic and thoughtful comment. First I have to laugh that Mrs L and me come to mind when you see a nudist documentary; believe me, strip that from your image banks, i will not do your sanity any good whatsoever. On your serious point, i keep hearing so many stories of people being dismissed because they’re job is thought somehow inferior. And this while business of being a writer. Boy is that a can of worms. It comes down to confidence just as it does with photography or painting or working with textiles. At bottom I think each of just has to encourage the other to believe. It seems that validity comes from economic success – so if you want to be a writer you need to earn a crust at it. No one is a lawyer just for the hell of it; you play football but you are only a footballer if you get paid to play. That strikes me as a daft and outmoded model of validity. Maybe I should take up volunteer writing? I volunteer at a youth club and sometimes use my old legal skill set. No one says I’m not a lawyer just because i give my time for nothing. Though the corollary to that is I could have been paid but chose not to whereas no one would actually pay me for my writing. Gah, It’s all so much bollocks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • roweeee says:

        The ttrouble with creative pursuits is that there are people with talent and do put in the hard yards but there’s also a lot of wannabees and much talk…including from the talented hardworkers who are perfectionistic. I was quite active with my writing at uni and was even President of the University’s writer’s group, which wasn’t as big an achievement as it sounds. Working in marketing/PR, I’ve used my writing there and photography but it’s only been since I’ve been blogging that I’ve been able to pair the two up and start heading somewhere more serious while I fiddle around in my head with the big story…and I do believe that blogging is clarifying what that story actually is. Finding the main points, which is hard when you are living the story and it’s hard to see the path through that mixture of beautiful plants and weeds.
        The other thing that I’m finding is that after the pretty serious heath situation I had last year, I’m not really wanting to step back into something corporqate. I was marketing mgr for an IT company which ended up closing a few months back. All of that seems quite irrelevant now and what matters, as it always has with me, is people. Helping people feel better about themselves and being content. This is such a problem for the bulk of people I suspect and even under my own roof. Our son is struggling at the moment and you can try to be encouraging but even a saint’s patience can be broken and lose their cool. So much easier to help people outside the family.
        I agree with what you say about being a lawyer versus a writer.
        I call myself a writer and people ask me what I’m writing and I tell them about the blog and that I’m working on somemotivational books and that;’s usually enough. They don’t ask me if I’m getting anywhere with them or if I’m stuck at all. I do manage to sound quite convincing asnd if I could just get the story down, I’d be right.I’ve given myself a bit of time to get the house sorted out after moving so much stuff back from Palm Beach, including furniture from my parents’ but hopefully that willbe sorted in a week or two and I can get serious about the book. I really have to start talking it up to make it happen!!~ Hope you are having a great weekend. My parents both turned 70 this week and it was Dad’s birthdaqy today so we’ve been down to Sydney. It was very low key and they’ll have a bigger party after they’ve fixed the house up from the move. Anyway, had better get to sleep. xx Rowena

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Thanks as ever Rowena; there’s a bundle of sense in what you say, especially helping outside the family. Sometimes there just is too much baggage. I’m keeping my fingers crossed about you getting all sorted to start writing the book(s). And I’m he same if I need to make sure I do something; tell everyone and then the expectation drives me to do it.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. What a thought-provoking post. I agree that Charles Kennedy was very much respected and admired in the political world, and it was warming to hear all of the parties saying what a genuine, kind and lovely man he was. It is a shame we are judged so much on our professions/jobs rather than our qualities as people.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Fantastic post, Geoff.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Sacha Black says:

    Cracking post this. What a conversation starter. I definitely tell people I am a writer…. well actually I spend all my time saying ‘I’m TRYING to be a writer’ which is totally different, and usually caveated around the sentence ‘my dream is….” but for some reason I wince when I say ‘writer’. Like I don’t really believe it. Logically I must be a writer because I spend SO much bloody time writing. but then why do i not believe it? Maybe its because I think I’m crap at it, or subconsciously I think there has to be some kind of ‘published’ something. But I am definitely don’t believe it, yet. Author – won’t be calling myself that till I write the end on the first draft and maybe not even then.

    Sad really, that the thing we hold most dear – we are so afraid to shout about and be proud of. We shouldn’t be afraid to be chasing the dream.

    Where do writers get this self-disbelief? Its not just me – look at all your comments – all saying the same thing – didn’t admit it for ages etc etc.

    Thought provoking stuff this, well done ol’ chap! :p

    Liked by 2 people

    • colinandray says:

      This goes much deeper than writing. E.g. So what do you do? I’m a musician – I’m a poet – I’m an artist. It would seem that our cultures do not accept creativity as a basis for making a living. Whereas Art, Music and English Literature were mandatory subjects when I was at school, the 3 “considered mandatory” exam passes for embarking on a career were Mathematics, English Language, and a Science subject!
      We cannot change cultural perspectives over night, however we can change our perspective on what is important to us. We can ponder how we would like to be remembered, map it against our life to date, and plan to work on the discrepancies. I guess the magic question is: Do I want to live the rest of my life according to peer pressure and cultural expectations ………. or do I want the world to see the real me? (Probably more importantly – Do I want to see the real me!!!!!) 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • TanGental says:

        You make a very good point about the undervaluing of creative skills, be it as an artist, a chemist or a horticulturalist. You can’t apply time and motion to creation so it is empirically anathema. It is a shame that it takes a lot of us a lifetime to realise we need to see ourselves as we really are before we can display ourselves honestly to the rest of the world.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Sacha Black says:

        Hey, you are right and it pains me that society doesn’t think creativity is valid. I mean for goodness sake – without creativity we would advance our society. That is after all where our ideas come from… you know?

        you really did nail it on the head – do I want to see the real me – I would love to… I’m still discovering who that is, and thats hard – to be brave enough to stand up to society and say , ‘this is me’. but I don’t think we can be happy without doing that, and what better way to be remembered than for being you… 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • colinandray says:

        Hi Sacha – Do whatever you have to do to discover who you are. You don’t want to reach a point many years down the road where you look back and think “What a waste of my life. All I have done is tried to live up to others expectations.” I have no doubt that you have talents and it is up to you to identify them and develop them as much as you can. It is not easy, but it is so important to understand how you “work”. Let’s face it ……….. you can only truly love somebody once you understand their perspectives, their priorities. their likes and dislikes etc. etc. How can you possibly love yourself if you have not taken the time to understand who you are and what makes you “work”? All the best.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        very insightful; well said.

        Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      You make some terrific points Sacha. I think it comes back to this whole economic generation model crap. We can write but only if we get paid for it are we writers. We can paint but we need to sell paintings to be an artist. We play football but only if we are paid are we footballers. And so on. You, like so many others, as someone else put it, need to brass ring on it to feel that you warrant the label ‘writer’. Stuff and nonsense of course but still… After I pressed publish on my book, I could tell people I had a published book. Many were lovely but a few – not just a handful – asked ‘who is your publisher?’ I have tried a number of different answers. ‘Why does it matte?’ (too defensive); ‘me’ (honest if abrupt); ‘I chose to self publish’ (equally honest but again rather defensive). It boils down to the fact it is an utterly irrelevant question unless you are a rival publisher who might have missed a trick. One woman (at an alumni dinner at my old firm) asked and I asked her to guess. She was confused and a little offended. ‘How can I guess?’ I asked her if it mattered that much if she didn’t have a pecking order in mind. Silly me. Next time it will be Tangental press; we’ll see what reaction that gets!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sacha Black says:

        IT’S SO ANNOYING. I desperately want to call myself a writer too. I mean I do it every bloody day for gods sake – isn’t that enough? Or does it have to be my soul job, make up a certain percentage of my day? Sounds like your stuffed either way you try and answer that question…. guess I have the joys to come. By the way, I LOVE the name Tangental Press!!! you should totally do it. If not for shits and giggles alone!! :p. It is sad really that we are so confined by others expectations. We should just all measure and judge ourselves against our own perceptions and values – although in that case I might never be a writer!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I love the idea of a ‘soul job’; that is exactly what a writer does. Perfect pun!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sacha Black says:

        *sole lol I meant sole it was late and I was tired but actually maybe i had a point!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Noooo that can’t be a typo! It was just so perfect. Ms Black, listen to an old man. Lesson one in life: CTFC. Claim The ******* Credit. No one else will give it to you and someone else (namely me) will take it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sacha Black says:

        Hahahaha!! Not a chance I couldn’t claim credit if the idea wasn’t mine! All your genius this time!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        *blushes* and I’d like to thank my mum and my dad and the lady who does my shirts and my agent and my financial adviser and probation officer…

        Like

  12. roweeee says:

    Reblogged this on beyondtheflow and commented:
    An excellent, evocative post. Are you an inspiration or just caught up in the busyness of life or more focused on No. 1? Here’s some challenging food for thought linked through to a great TED Talk. xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Rachel M says:

    I can relate to this post. I stayed home with my children for 7 years and loved every minute of it. But I felt like my role was not valued by society because I didn’t have an income. Now I’m working full-time and I suddenly feel like a valued member of society but I personally don’t really understand why. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable than nurturing our children and taking good care of them. They are our future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Hear hear Rachel. Your job as mother home manager administrator chef gardener handy woman etc etc is both more demanding, less supported and totally the most important.

      Like

  14. trifflepudling says:

    Kindness is an under-rated virtue. It isn’t glorious, just everyday, and a fine thing to be remembered for. Do as you would be done by, kind of thing. In a sense, one would rather be forgotten – it’s kind of vain to think about eulogies at all, but then that’s my Catholic education coming out! I know what you’re getting at, though. You’re only here once so make it count for your fellow humans, because that’s what’s real.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Charli Mills says:

    I’ll have to come back and listen to the TedTalk when my roommate is awake. As to writer, if one writes why not own the moniker?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Friday Free-For-All #14. | Edwina's Episodes

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