The philosophical concept of Fortune’s Wheel – (not to be confused with the Nicky Campbell-hosted ITV gameshow “Wheel of Fortune”) – was a huge deal if you were medieval.
It was a way of thinking that explained away that thing where sometimes your whole life is green-lit – every email goes “Yes!” “Would you like to…?” or “Here, have a £1,000.” and sometimes everything is no, sorry. Sorry, no. Apologies. I’m sorry to have to tell you that… Or, quite often, absolutely no response at all. Like you don’t exist.
Because the thing is that sometimes you are at the top of Fortune’s Wheel and sometimes you are at the bottom. Medieval and ancient minds envisaged it as a literal wheel where you were either at the top, going down, at the bottom, or going up. There are some hilarious illustrations available online, such as the one below:
I am talking about this only because it is at times a useful concept to bear in mind to explain why everything is going so badly at any given time. Or, why everything is going well.
The modern way is to “make things happen” – we are all American now, we all make our own luck. Don’t we? Don’t we just Snapchat and Tweet and LinkedIn our way to certain success? How about reaching out to some influencers to collaborate on a digital app that will break the fourth wall of the taxi/fast food delivery? (It’s called Uberoo and it’s a taxi service that is also a mobile kitchen so you can eat a yumbun while being driven to your creative space. There’s WiFi so you can Instagram the shit out of your experience.)
If all fails why don’t you just sit in a corner with a copy of The Secret and cosmic order yourself some fulfilment and happiness, you non-inspired, lazy, non-modern douchebag?
But the thing is that sometimes even when you are trying to make your own luck, it doesn’t work. You’re shuddering with bad energy; you’re at the bottom of Fortune’s Wheel. You’re toxic.
This is where I am now. I seem to have a Teflon coating for anything positive. Every email is no, sorry. Or there is just deafening silence. (This is not some tacit admission that I voted Leave, by the way.)
I have reached the point where I feel like I’m in a Superhero movie, at the moment where the superhero looks about him with wide, horrified eyes as the reality of his new superpowers dawns (he has just blown up the TV by merely thinking about it, or flicked the fridge out of the window). The difference is that I am looking about me, wide-eyed and horrified at my new – temporary – power of turning everything to absolute shit.
I’m not sitting about feeling sorry for myself though. Well, not much. Because that’s the thing about Fortune’s Wheel – it comes back around eventually. The thing to do is to sit it out and wait and not despair. To fall to despair was a great thought crime in the middle ages, as it played havoc with social cohesion.
Consider the artist Clara Drummond, who submitted a portrait of the same person three times to the BP Portrait Award, which if you don’t know is like the Crufts or the Oscars of portrait painting. She submitted a portrait of the same sitter twice to the awards and was shown in the awards exhibition (this in itself is a great honour) but didn’t win. But she didn’t throw everything in the bin and stamp off to work in a shop – a thing I am sorely tempted to do – she just submitted a different portrait of the same person a third time, and this time she triumphed.
It’s an uplifting modern example of Fortune’s Wheel. Well, that’s how I see it anyway.
Me? I am doing the only sensible thing and have started reading emails from behind a cushion. I’ve also stopping sending any unsolicited emails at all and am doing a lot of elaborate catering. At the moment I am making a salmon en croute for eight people and and three-tiered birthday cake. It’s the only rational reaction!
How about you? Where are you on Fortune’s Wheel right now?
Karen Nicholson says
There is a heartening bit in Garrison Keillor’s novel Radio Romance, when a husband is exasperated by his activist wife’s constant campaigning, petitioning and debating about the great world events and injustices of the 1940s. She is furious about political injustice and rebukes him for sitting passively at the breakfast table. “How can you just sit there sipping your coffee?”, she demands.
He takes another sip and explains that Joe Stalin [the latest cause of her anger], well nothing he did that very moment would unseat Stalin. But he’s pretty sure that Stalin was sitting down right now with a damn fine cup of coffee – and so he too would do the same.
We often talk about Stalin’s coffee in our house: the loose point being that there is often a small perfect moment that you can control, even on days of rejection.
In other news: who knows, Sarah Vain’s DM column might be up for grabs soon and you are 100% funnier and more brilliant.
This is a great post.
I’m not sure whether I did something ghastly yesterday. I was watching a debate on Brexit on the BBC news and tweeted one of the panel to ask her where she got her earrings.
She hasn’t responded.
Louise Knight says
Having spent 8, yes 8 years at the bottom of Fortune’s Wheel,finally the wheel has turned..and when it starts again it blows your mind as I had forgotten what it was like to have good stuff happen on a more regular basis..almost worth waiting 8 years..but actually not because the stress has been hideous..I know that if you can tip the Wheel to get it started that is the key but if you get stuck at the bottom you are in a quandary..anyway..the only way is up as far as I’m concerned at the moment and hope you will be on the way,I’m sure anytime soon..
Thanks Louise x
I’ve been somewhere on the bottom portion of that medieval wheel of fortune for about 2 years now while my hair turns white and my ovaries shrink. It is f*cking hard to not just sit around and just drink the whole time. What can I tell you – I agree with the coffee lady above; it’s nice to know I’m not alone and reading your posts and writing make up my perfect moments x
Great post. A bit of medieval philosophy is always welcome.
This time, however, I blame Brexit. The run up to it and now the fall out. Very bad karma. I was riding high on fortune’s wheel until Friday and now I feel crushed beneath its spokes.
I feel a bit like Clare, but in reference to unsolicited emails, I read in the the very excellent “How to make money as an artist” that on average it takes 50 approaches to galleries to generate one reply of yes, which stopped me worrying about the negative replies so much. It’s so easy to ignore/forget emails, perhaps a different approach?
Love this! Since I have had kids (not their fault) I have fallen from the top to the bottom that is for sure. Everything a struggle and loads of bad luck, bad times, career down the drain etc. However recently there has been a change on the wind and things are looking up in all kinds of ways. I (hope) I am now the first man on the way up! X
Roughly in the same place 🙁 waiting for that f£&ker to spin round! Great piece btw!
Esther, sometimes I swear you are reading my mind. I have been in a total slump, reading The Secret has been useless as it’s all forced positivity. I had to stop myself and say ‘No! You are not being positive, you are playing at it and it’s bloody exhausting. So just leave off because faking being an American is not doing you any favours, it is leading to a sense of self-loathing every time you spout out how thankful you are.’ Because I’m not thankful, we are totally broke at the moment, I am pissed off is what I am. No matter how much I tell myself a cheque for 10k is going to magically plop on the doormat, it’s just bloody not.
And then, I remembered a time when I was about 18 and went to a psychic (don’t judge me) and she told me that life has peaks and troughs, life goes in a circle. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. So Gypsy Rose Lee may have been wrong about me living in LA, married to a plastic surgeon and having twin girls (I live in Yorkshire, married to somebody who works in internal audit and risk management and I have two boys) but she was right about the wheel thing. So for now I sit and wait to come out of the trough. At least now you’ve given me an amusing image to focus on whilst I wait for my ascent. See you at the top!
Oh, this is beautiful, important and helpful, Esther. Of course, though I know it can feel like it, it isn’t really a wheel at all, more a clustering illusion, though I appreciate there’s an element of accumulating popularity and fashionableness for some people’s work. Keep trying to make your own luck because it will pay off again and because your wonderful, witty writing deserves a wider audience.
Laura McC says
Hi there, you might find this article soothing
This column will change your life: Helsinki Bus Station Theory
Lovely post nothing like a bit of philosophy and self deprecation on a Monday morning especially after all the depressing political ranting atm. I did a philosophy degree but have never heard of this but its very true! My position on the wheel can vary from day to day thing is without the lows we wouldn’t have the highs unfortunately they go hand in hand. Hope you feel better soon X
Emma Onslow says
Hi Esther. I don’t think you are toxic or at the bottom of fortune’s wheel. You’re just suffering from a bad case of Life’s a Bitch. Seriously, in my view, except for a very lucky few, life for most people is a total Bitch. All we can do is carry on making elaborate menus, watching box sets on tv or maybe buy a new nail polish ( my personal favourite), Just do whatever makes you feel a bit better. Good things will happen eventually. Keep calm and carry on I suppose. If I thought about how long I’d been at the bottom of fortune’s wheel it would have been most of my adult life!
I’ve found being at home with small children the wheel describes a smaller circle and I’ve had to change my notion of what constitutes being at the top – getting a good night’s sleep, nobody being ill. At the moment it feels inextricably linked with my children’s wheels like a set of cogs, which is ok for now but not for much longer. As far as the the big circle goes I definitely feel I have been dangling off it in my orange doublet for some time, but to be honest it probably requires a little nudge from me and some WD40 to get it moving. I hope things look up for you again soon, I so enjoy your writing and many of your small suggestions have contributed to my day being a bit nicer; finding a nice dress because you linked to Asos, or picking up a book because I recognised the name from a review months ago. Only connect xxx
Thanks, just what I needed to read after the dreadful news last week… hoping things will come good in the end for all of us…
I’ve been at the bottom for a couple of years. A child with a chronic illness requiring sometimes weekly hospital visits yada yada… can’t work because I need to be home yada yada… butttt things have improved and I’m hopeful for the coming months. But then again, Brexit?
I re-read this piece in times of fruitless, disheartening struggle
Tales from the middle ages says
Yes the one about feeling ignored rings so true with me recently as I approach 45! I’ve been so petulant with everyone from dentist’s receptionist to co workers to my family this past few days since Brexit and more sweary than normal and it makes me feel bad. “I feel shite so I will make you feel shite too”
This year’s been shite as it is but i was coping and then Brexit happened without warning and I feel as if overnight my world has been torn away despite my protests and I feel mute and like crying at the slightest provocation (e.g Coldplay at glastonbury) and can well see myself running out into the street the next time it rains to rent my clothing, beat my breast, shake my fist at the sky and shout “why God why? ”
But you’re right Fortune’s wheel will turn again I just need reminding sometimes. To quote Coldplay “under this pressure under this weight, we are diamonds taking shape”. I hope it will turn for you all too and that if I’m ever at the top I’ll remember and look after you.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”……………from the bottom to the top of the wheel
Esther, I just wanted to say that I think you’re amazing and I’ve very much enjoyed this blog and recipe rifle over the past years. I’ve had a bit of a tough time recently (emergency surgery due to a quite large ectopic pregnancy) and this blog and your piece on your past miscarriage has really helped me through. I don’t have many friends who are married or trying to have a baby so I need all the advice i can get. You are such a role model for me, from having such a strong marriage, to being an amazing mother to managing to hold together your family (with style!) while working. Not terribly eloquent but I thought you should know that I think if I’m half as successful as you, I’ll be doing ok.
Thank you, BQ! I’m glad that’s how it looks from the outside. From the inside it looks like a shambles and smells like the bins need taking out. ECTOPIC PREGNANCY?!?! That is no fucking joke. Put your feet up my lovely. Not knowing many people in the same situation is the worst. I had NO FRIENDS for like the first 3 years of Kitty’s life, it was so, so shit. I am really sympathetic. xxxx
This is so exactly what I needed to read after a literal shit storm of a week – flash floods that drowned my beautiful new kitchen in sewage on the Thursday followed by the Good News Bears on Friday (Ed’s Mum – whose house we had decamped to because ours was a biohazard – came running into the room at 6.45am screaming “Have you heard the awful news???”) and then, like you, silence on the work front. So hurrah, yes please, please can this all just be a bad spin, with the wheel mid-motion to sunny side up. And please can I turn all this doom into something positive like a gym obsession vs stuffing my face with salt caramel.
You know that wheel you wrote about….England definitely at the bottom of it at the moment 😰
True true words – at the moment it really does feel like everything is a bit sh*t & we just need to take a deep breath & remember that in time, hopefully it will all come right again. Don’t stop believing that you can make your own luck though, sometimes the only thing that can keep you going in patches like this is the thought that you are a tiny bit in control & you do have a choice!
Oh Esther my loveliest of all lovelies, I must confess that while this miserable period is utterly shite for you, it’s also damned reassuring for the rest of us mere mortals than even those of us featuring regular-like in posh papers also have times where it feels like everything you touch turns to rat shit.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is just to hang on in there. Yes, I appreciate that there’s precious little choice, but as you rightly say, the wheel does right itself. I’m a firm believer of talent and hard work always winning the race. Work hard, work well, be gracious and grateful, deliver what you say you will and always to try to exceed expectation – these are my mottos for work and they serve me well. Let the dust settle post Brexit then bombard the fuckers with genius ideas. They won’t be able to resist.
Rest assured, it may not feel it right now but you make a huge difference. To the outside world, I’m doing OK. I make it to the school run clothed and with brushed hair and mascara on, my business is going well and all my children are fed, most days at least. However, there are times when it feels like it’s held together with a gossamer-thin thread, and your words come into their own on days where it feels like it’s about to give way. And having bought the sun lotion mister thing only a month ago, plus countless other delicious nuggets you’ve recommended, yesterday I took receipt of those rather marvellous colouring-in tablecloths which I’m determined will make all holiday meal times harmonious and worthy of a catalogue shoot.
Ha ha! Bless you. I often get people saying that me having a shambolic time is reassuring. It’s too funny! My whole LIFE is a shambles, pasted together occasionally for a disastrous photoshoot, which I am just swearing and sweating throughout, longing to be over, longing to wear my own clothes and get the fucking make-up off… I’m hellbent on never doing a photoshoot again tbh. it just adds to the LIES that make us all feel awful xxx
commenting from mainland europe here. i think your whole island (well, maybe not scotland) is at the bottom of the wheel at the moment, cosmically challenged, and even we on the continent are feeling the effects. (heartbroken about the brexit.) that being said, i myself have been walking through glue for a while. susan miller says that’s what it feels like at the moment –like walking through glue — because so many planets have been retrograde which makes everything slow and hard.
i find that concentrating on the surface helps during times like these. taking care of your appearance. eating less. taking exercise seriously. putting some fancy nail oil on your cuticles. so when the wheel turns the other way, you at least look the part.
also: one needs a little resistance or else it’s too easy, and too easy to fuck it up.
at least mars is turning direct tomorrow. yay.
Mars Bars I love this x
There might be somebody else out there who needed to read this today more than I did, but I have my doubts. You are the bomb, Esther. Sending all the love and no BS magical thinking from Washington DC, USA. Hoping to meet you back up at the top of the wheel VERY DAMN SOON. xoxo
Thanks FizzyBlonde! I went to Washington once, it was really nice.
This is another version of what I tell myself and my sons: ‘nothing lasts forever. ‘ I do like your timing of this, having just finished teaching King Lear for A2 Lit, and Edmund’s acknowledgement of Fortune’s Wheel. .. My lovely husband died last Christmas, so we experienced the ruddy wheel running over us, reversing, and repeating the process many times over. Shit happens, and it happens to everyone, which is why envying anyone else’s life is such an utter waste of time : we all experience the downward turn. I do hope, Esther, that your fortunes improve! You do cheer me up, and it’s so lovely that you’re back after the end of Recipe Rifle.
Karen I really am so very sorry about your husband – that is just terrible… but I’m afraid that did make me laugh a lot about the wheel running you over and then reversing xxxx
And that is the secret: to stick 2 fingers up at Fortune, blow a raspberry, and say ‘Fucking jog on!’ And then laugh. Or drink some wine xx
Miss Eil says
Lovely Esther, thank you. Firstly, I admire your bravery and honesty; you make me feel less alone for having thoughts similar to yours. Secondly, by all the courageous comments here, I’m reminded there is loyalty in the sistahood, afterall.
I consider myself grounded, but since the turn of this relentless rubbish year, and often at 3am, and against my better judgement, I’ve taken to winging off questions to “www.askingtheuniverse.net”…and there is something in it. What I’ve received back, in one way or another, is signals or prompts, to help me answer those unconscious 3am questions. Not mystic, but a gentle reminder that it’s good to be open to thoughts that aren’t our first and usual ones, to help us get to where want to be. xx
Heather Allison says
Thank you for writing this. We are finally on the up after spending a long time stuck at the very bottom of the wheel. The bad times help us to appreciate the good (supposedly). Things will get better and your fortunes will improve. Is there any chance of you writing another book? I really enjoyed reading the bad mother. On a totally different subject have you considered producing a Spike T-shirt for followers of your blog, like the ones they have on the Selfish Mother site?
ha ha! Heather you are so great