Commedia di confinamento: Day 16 - self-analysis
A day which promised so much sort of petered out with little accomplished. I keep on reading that this is a normal response to a fight-or-flight situation – and that is what we are in. I like the excuse enormously, but in all honesty this is my normal modus operandi.
I work best with someone standing over me with a whip. No, not Sylvia from the LCBO, I haven’t heard from her since I broke off our relationship last week, but a deadline. If I have a deadline, I can work exceptionally well, quickly, smartly even; I can ask the right questions, and make the right decisions – all with no problems at all. But give me a blank page and an infinite number of days in which to fill it…
Nor do artificial deadlines help. When I did my finals, for example, I made more revision plans than I did revision. Nowadays, I scoff at those who make plans and lists (except for you, Mrs. Ottawacker, your lists are the stuff of legend). In reality, that is only because I am envious of those who can make them and stick to them. It is the same with packing for a trip. Never in my life have I packed for a trip until about an hour before I am due to depart for the airport or train station. So what is it about me that makes me such a complete and utter time wastrel?
Reason 1: The Internet
Oh my God. Instead of being given a knighthood, Tim Berners-Lee should have been taken outside and shot. The Internet is the worst possible invention for someone like me, says he on a platform that is exclusively available via the Internet. The Internet is the host to all of the world’s best procrastination tools, and for someone who can sniff an excuse to not work out at 30 days – that is fatal. I had my first taste of an Internet-free apartment in Spain and I revelled in it. To post my blips, I had to write them out in Word, carry my laptop out of the apartment complex, find a café that was open, order a café con leche (not strictly needed, but nice) and the log onto the café’s wifi and hope it was working. If I didn’t get my blip – and any attendant emails or messages – written before a certain time, I was toast. Not being on the Internet meant also that in the evening, I would sit down and write rather than watch re-runs of football matches or films. I was productive. Yet, even I can see that the Internet is a useful tool, and the problem is – how shall I put it? – perhaps more the fault of the user than the system. And don’t even get me started on Twitter.
Reason 2: Confinement
It is true that Friday and Saturday were slightly stressful days and concentration on anything other than ‘what are the symptoms…’ was pretty difficult. I’ll let myself off the hook for that. But being down here in my oubliette isn’t really anything new. I spend my days working from home and I actually like being on my own. Sometimes even the cats are too noisy. It has to be said that it is, at certain times of the day, quite lonely. Evenings, for example, are a bit of a downer. That is family time and I do tend to feel a bit left out. But apart from that, being locked up in a small room isn’t too bad. Rilke once wrote that no true artist minds being sent to prison because it allows him to explore the treasure house of his memory. Clive James once wrote that Rilke was, in many respects, a prick.
Reason 3: Lack of Self-Awareness
I do systematically make strange decisions. Let me give you an example, again from university. I did my undergraduate degree in modern languages and had to spend a year abroad as an integral part of my course. It transpired that it was nine months in France and three months in Germany. I loved it. In France, I was an assistant in a lycée and learned a very good standard of spoken French (mainly through osmosis, it is true, but that is what it’s there for) In Germany, I lived with the guy who was the equivalent German assistant to me in the same lycée in France, and who is one of my closest friends still to this day. He basically took my woeful German and taught me to communicate reasonably effectively in German.
On my return to the UK to finish my degree, I had the opportunity to drop the German and make my degree a single-honours French degree: I declined. A series of courses were offered which might have been specifically designed to help me get a good degree: I avoided them all like the plague. In particular, having been told by my tutor that my forte was spoken French, and I was advised to seriously consider a new Communications Skills course that was being offered, which would form a significant part of my degree and perhaps given me a chance of a good or perhaps excellent degree. I turned it down because I quite fancied doing a course on the Nouveau Roman and another on 16th century French theatre, neither of which I knew (obviously) anything about. When it became apparent, say some four months in, that to pass these two courses I would have to occasionally leave the pub or stop playing football, I decided to buckle down. And then ordered another round of drinks.
I still have the books on my shelves: Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor, Claude Simon, Nathalie Sarraute, Samuel Beckett… Garnier, de Montchrestien, D’Aubigny… now, of course, I have read them all. The nouveaux romanciers, with the possible exception of Beckett, are absolutely awful. Boring, pretentious, ever-so-slightly self-referential wankers, who wouldn’t know a ludic storyline if it bit them on their arse. And as for the 16th century tragedians… well, there’s a reason nobody has ever heard of them. So what in the name of God make me take those two courses? I still have no idea, except for the fanciful notion that doing those two courses would turn me into something I wanted to be, rather than using the talents I have to do something with what I am.
Needless to say, when it came to the revision week, I cracked open the spines and tried to cram four years’ work into seven days. Even then, as I recall, Liverpool were in the middle of an exciting title race with Everton, so my focus was not particularly, how shall I say, laser sharp? (I still remember them losing to Oxford on a Wednesday evening, the day before an exam.) I passed, did better in some areas than others – including in the nouveau roman course where I had fortunately received simultaneously the best and worst piece of advice I have ever received in my life from a guy called Toby. He told me that the entire course was bullshit and the more you bullshitted the higher your mark would be. When the results came out at the beginning of July, I had passed and he hadn’t. I had obviously found my niche as a bullshitter. That taught me so many bad habits and has, in reality, been a curse ever since.
So what happened today, I hear you ask (if you have got this far). Well, not much. I read Lord of the Rings to Ottawacker Jr. and then he read some of it to me. Mrs. Ottawacker caved in and cooked our Sunday dinner, even though it was Monday. I did two loads of laundry, wrote a few emails to friends, had a shower, looked at the exercise bike (staring defiantly at me in the corner of the basement) and ignored it. As I have every day since I moved in.
See what I mean?