I had to say no to someone today.
It was a question to which the answer is always no, so there was no agonising over the decision. It was the way of saying it. The request came from a charming young woman, at the beginning of her career I guessed. I did not wish to sound aloof or squashing or even negative. I wanted to make it very clear that the thing was not personal.
I have spent half my adult life trying to polish the art of saying no. I remember my wild delight when I first managed to say no without adding an explanation. Not no but, or no because, no you see. Just – no.
Those of you who are not female or do not have a fatal tendency to try and please people will be scratching your heads at this stage. For God’s sake, you will be crying; sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it is no. What difference can it make?
But no can be profoundly scary. How much easier to say yes and be nice and compliant and have everyone think what a trooper you are. What if they do take the no the wrong way, and decide you are difficult and ungenerous? The carping voices in my head sharpen their painted nails and get scritching and bitching. They judge no meanly, and tell me that so shall everyone else.
After that, another more nuanced and complicated no had to be said. Not a definitive no, but a moving of goalposts. I am felled by a horrid low-grade virus, the kind I get about once a year, which makes me feel as if I have been kicked all over by a furious Shetland pony and that my eyeballs have been boiled in oil. My irrational mind sees illness as a weakness, as if some pathetic failure of will has let my immune system down, so I tend to stagger on, achieving nothing, until I hit the wall and admit defeat. Today, I had to write to the agent to push back the deadline. Not a resounding no, but a not yet, which also feels like a sort of defeat.
Luckily there is the sensible voice. I really have no idea how on earth I have a sensible voice, since my family is not famed for any kind of sensibleness, but there she is, steady and sure, and really very grown-up. She is the one who says spit, spot, it’s not the end of the world. This is the voice which says: apologise, move on, go to bed, and have some chicken soup. It is a very, very good voice indeed, and I wish I could hear it all the time.
Just one shot for you. Despite my viral load, I stumped up to HorseBack. There are veterans who go there who have to deal with daily pain which I can hardly imagine, so the least I could do was stir my sorry self. It was absolutely worth it, as I watched people up against it do excellent work with the horses.
These were the first faces I saw, two of my very favourites of the mighty herd – Mikey on the left who is sweet and soft and will do anything for love, and Red on the right, who is bright and alert and gentle and good.
Oh, and down in the field is a very, very happy red mare. Some horses are busy and active and really want a job. But this one would be delighted if she could just mooch her days away with nothing to do. She adores stillness. So she is exceptionally pleased to have a day off: