Life, in the beginning, is a little like a backyard Guy Fawkes display. Often hazardous. Ever startling. A string of explosive and sparkling revelations. Later on though, last week for instance, when I didn't win Powerball, and Donald Trump did win the US election, it can feel more like a chain of bleak and sucky disappointments. Often problematic. Ever stink. Which is why, in order not to be defeated by the various letdowns of adulthood, and that I may occasionally still experience the joyous surprises of childhood, I have decided I will try to learn to like what I once disliked. That passing my days in a state of childish wonder, rather than disillusioned torpor, has to be preferable.
Starting small, I set myself the job of learning to enjoy Campari, a drink I've previously spat out, but which has always struck me as the height of sophistication. When it comes to questions of design, be it clothing or homewares, I seldom doubt myself. Alcohol, however, is a different matter. My nose for the subtleties between wines is non-existent, my taste in cocktails leans in the direction of the sweet and creamy.
So at a bar the other night, I ordered one. And when presented with my glass - the amber of the orange juice offsetting the ruby-red liqueur - I thought, why, it's just a traffic light for grown-ups, and downed it with determined pleasure.
Oysters, karaoke, Shakespeare, boating, poetry, coffee, live theatre: it's exciting, and more than a little overwhelming, to consider the terrains deserving of revisitation. Of course, the infinitely trickier and thus ultimately more rewarding task lies in learning to like those people you thought you did not. Often our dislike of someone is built entirely on the most precarious of foundations. Their failure to look you in the eye when first introduced. A throwaway comment, which unwittingly wounded. The eye-roll intended in humour that instead came over as rude. How shockingly little it can take. With age, though, I am less trustful of first impressions. Sometimes I have been proven right, but just as often terribly wrong. The woman I wrote off as up herself, who turned out to be painfully shy. The man I thought a player, who later revealed himself to be desperately lonely. I used to see the world in such stark relief, but now find myself overlooking, say, conflicting political sympathies, if I sense a person's heart is in the right place. Deciding to detect goodness where none at first appears is a shift that changes everything.
When I watch footage of the protests that have peppered America since the election result that left so many of us reeling, I wonder if responding with the kind of hatefulness that saw Trump rise to power in the first place, is the best we can do. Demagogues grow fat off hysteria and hostility. I interviewed Trump a few years ago, and he reminded me of a toddler: unpredictable, capable of great charm, prone to tantrums. There is a school of parenting that believes the way to deal with a terrible 2-year-old is to smother their bad behaviour with a love bomb. We must continue to call out Trump on his denial of climate change, his derogation of anyone different to him, but if we do so with humanity and grace, if we behave better, perhaps we might in turn draw him, and those who wanted him, up too.
Several readers kindly jumped to my defence after reading some of the responses to last week's column. "They sound as though they are drinking the same water as the Sensible Sentencing Trust," wrote Vivienne, "Sour, tasteless, and absent of humour or humanity. I tire of the sort of table-thumping righteousness that I had hoped our civilisation had departed from."
On the subject of death, and why we fear it, several readers shared the conclusions they have reached.
I particularly enjoyed John's: "I am convinced that oblivion, however restful, will not be the reward for a life well spent, and your friend, afflicted with a sense of the apparent futility of it all, would be well advised to consider the possibility that this physical earth is simply a proving ground, a learning place, and that she will continue to be one of its 'cogs', however minute, in the wondrous eternal workings."