Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sadly the Case

I should go swimming more, the pool is really nice. I’m not an action kind of guy, though, I’m more about stasis. Oh, I can get a lot done, especially if I’m getting paid, biff, bam, boom, one task after the other. But once I’m done with the things that really must be done I tend to do something that is fun and can be done while sitting quietly.

It is sadly the case that given the choice between doing something, and doing nothing, I’ll probably choose to do nothing. But doing nothing isn’t really one of the options, is it?

Even retired, one needs to do something. Getting up; washing; eating; evacuating; sitting still; eating again; taking a nap; eating yet again, god it all gets so old, all of this eating; watching TV; sleeping; it would only be two or three days before the soul would cry out for mercy and something to do. Life requires that something be done.

There are always hobbies. One can devote oneself to golf. Golf has a noble social aspect, and the impossibility of mastering it gives it a long term appeal for many people. Golf also has result-motivation. Myself, I get result-motivation from writing, reading and writing, with maybe a little TV thrown in. It may look like the quiet tranquility of the tomb to some people, but sometimes, if the writing is good, or if I read and understand something meaningful, I feel very productive.

One recent Sunday, by ten o’clock in the morning I had written a thousand good words, after edit, and done a load of wash besides. I’d also had my breakfast of choice: two cups of coffee (Maconna instant, with two packs of Equal and a little whole milk), a bowl of corn flakes (Kellogg’s) with orange flavored drinkable yoghurt (Dutch Mill), and a cigarette (Marlboro Menthol, no lights, please, I smoke three or four a day). I almost went back to sleep for the rest of the day, the daylight hours anyway. It was too early to start drinking; drinking is only fun for a couple of hours, after that it becomes tedious.

It occurs to me that someday I may wish that I had done more while I still had the strength, but I doubt it. I’ve never been ambitious, nor have I ever been overly impressed by the accomplishments of my fellows, even of famous overachievers. My accomplishments in sixty years so far would look fine as a total for an eighty year lifespan, I’m just a run-of-the-mill human, after all. “The Accomplishments of Run –of-the-Mill Humans” is not so impressive a book.


Anonymous said...

What the hell are you doing? Why are you just sitting there? Haven't you seen the lists? Haven't you been reading the books?

Here is what they tell you: You should be outside, far, far away from here, right this minute, visiting Machu Picchu or a former Hungarian brothel that's now a cute artisanal bakery run by tiny singing lesbians, or visiting a giant musty old castle in Leipzig, or maybe taking lousy digital pictures of that Amazonian tribe that makes cute little earrings out of dried capybara testicles. Do it. Do it now.

Didn't you know? Haven't you been reading? After all, it's the latest micro craze in annoying copycat book publishing and I believe it all began with that cute and wildly guilt-inducing bestseller from a few years back, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" which was sold by the truckload at every Costco and Walgreens from here to the former Yugoslavia and purchased by every armchair traveler and wealthy retiree who likes to show off their frequent flier mileage receipts at dinner parties, and which has a great catchy title and admittedly terrific gimmick, even if it is just a giant to-do list hitched to a rather insidious idea that you haven't actually lived until you've eaten fried pigeon legs in some obscure village in Vietnam.

And now, as with any passably decent idea in the popular culture, that cute little gift book has now been whored quite nearly to death. There are so many spin-off titles it's a bit like skanky celebs showing their vaginas as they exit an Escalade. Which one to choose? Which version to read and ponder and further my anxiety that I am never doing enough, which one to make me feel excruciatingly underexperienced in the world?

Let us peruse the offerings. There's "1,001 Great Books to Read Before You Die." Also, 1,001 great paintings to see, 1,001 natural wonders to ogle, 1,000 places to visit (United States and Canada only). There are 1,001 recordings and 1,001 restaurants and 1,001 recipes and 1,001 movies and even — oh my God, really? — 50 places to play golf before you die, and by the way, if you've played golf in more than, say, 20 of these places by now, aren't you already sort of dead? I mean, just a little?

Call it Carpe Diem Syndrome, in which we take the sweet and humble idea that, rather than constantly living in the future or the past, in achievement or in wealth, it might behoove your spirit instead to learn to celebrate and indulge in the moment you are in right now, and we take that idea and torque and maul and slap it into, well, a big shopping list of crap you need to accomplish in order to make your existence seem complete. It's life as commodity, your soul on a credit card, experience as the pinnacle of meaning. God bless America.

It's a concept taken to its most obnoxious extreme in movies like that horrible Jack Nicholson flick "The Bucket List," where two old dying guys decide to rush off and have a bunch of silly thrills before kicking the bucket and ha ha ha isn't that clever there go the grumpy mismatched old dudes racing cars and jumping out of airplanes and snorting meth off a hooker's nipple because, well, isn't that what life is really all about, racking up a big catalogue of experiences so when you die you can saunter through the pearly gates with a badass hangover and a rabid STD as you slap St. Peter a high-five for that time you hang-glided drunk in Cabo with some skanks from "Girls Gone Wild"? Cool!

Ah, maybe I'm just a bit sour, envious, frustrated. I admit it. Because as obnoxious as those books can be, I'd still love to have visited even 100 of those 1,000 places because I know I don't travel nearly enough or cook enough fabulous recipes or visit enough fine European hotels, and hence some quasi-expert's laundry list only makes me realize I spend far too much time in front of this computer screen and not nearly enough of it, say, steering a moped through the rice fields in Bali on my way to an ancient temple that's now a cool vegan restaurant/yoga studio. I know.

What's more, when done well, these kinds of books can be great reminders of the diversity and splendor of the world, terrific catalogs of wonder and amazement and forgotten places, a much needed kick to the head for the millions of overly insular Americans who think the world pretty much consists of Disneyland and the Mall of America and the Grand Canyon gift shop (Hi, Mr. President!)

Maybe what bothers me is how Carpe Diem Syndrome is just half the game. Or a tenth. Hundredth. Because the truth is, you could eat at every restaurant in the world and see every exotic wonderland and read a million great works of art and still be quite a miserable spiritually vacant neoconservative jackass with a world-class photo album and the soul of a cockroach. Ain't it the truth?

What's missing from these books, of course, is the flipside, the other 99 percent of the pie, the idea that, in truth, you do not consist of what you've done or seen or eaten or even who you married or how much you make or what you drive or drink or suck. You are made up of far, far subtler stuff than that. At least, I hope you are. Aren't you?

Therefore, I recommend a different sort of list, a more, shall we say, enigmatic catalogue of numinous experience. Let us now enjoy, for example, 1,000 places to touch your lover's skin with a long feather from the headdress of a shaman. One thousand ways to breathe so differently you begin to feel the serpent rise and wind her way up your spine and flick her tongue across your scalp. One thousand and one ways to abandon God and then invite her back in and buy her an absinthe. A hundred and one drugs that will help you ride the dragon and then learn to make some badass dragon-skin boots. Fifty novels you should read just so you can carefully examine the white spaces between the words and get a glimpse of eternity. One thousand and one ways to sit perfectly still and not do or see or visit anything at all.

Or how about this fine book: 1,001 ways to abandon all lists, all plans, all expectations, right now, just because. And every page is, quite naturally, perfectly blank.

fred c said...

I think that I know who wrote this, and you get more interesting and erudite all the time. Thanks for making my day, and a hearty Right On.

Is there a book called, 1001 Ways to Make People Feel Inadequate?

Anonymous said...

I recently took up the skateboard for the 2nd time in my life. The first time was two decades ago on some 20-dollar piece of shit I bought at a swapmeet.

Kick flips are not my thing & the half pipe looks awful pompous. I bought it to be a sloppy unbalanced mess between my apartment & Oliver’s house on a mechanism that will cut my travel time by one half. I get noticeably better at riding the thing with every use. But my form is not important to me.

I get my kicks from flying off the board when I hit a bump. I like figuring out where to put my balance, what leg should be dominant & wondering why in fuck was I taught as a righty when its obvious I’m left handed. It’s also a great way to sweat out the bottles of Chimay.