At sea

Afternoon of February 15, 2019

Today I choose writing. So much to do all the time. Not so much fully-formed ideas coming into my head, but rather a slew of possibilities just pinging frantically about. That’s on top of things I need to do like cleaning the house, fixing the house, picking up A from school. I’m very much not currently in command of the possibilities mounting in my mind.

I’m sure there are techniques for this. There are probably books of these techniques, and blog posts and YouTube videos. However, I’m not one for external solutions. I like to solve these types of problems myself which means they usually don’t get solved.

One of my favourite activities is spending every day thinking that I haven’t done enough, that things aren’t on track. That I’m not living up to my own expectations of myself and that everything’s just a little but shitter than it should be. Then I tamp this fever down by scrolling through my Instagram feed thinking actually I’ve been doing alright. It’s a short lived victory though because I also know that Instagram is like a Best Of compilation and if I look really closely my Best Of compilation isn’t exactly the cats pyjamas.

So today I’m sitting down to write. And this is what is coming out. I’m not at all surprised as it’s basically just my broken-record internal monologue. Writing it down is the only way to stop thinking it. I could try some thoughts on a different topic but all the while I’d only be thinking I should be doing something else.

I’m fascinated with my own inertia, my fantastic abilities to do myself down and my even more admirable qualities of justification. I’m intrigued by my simultaneous desires to be a very well known, revered practitioner of some creative activity and to be a monk in an Abbey in the middle of the dessert doing menial tasks for heavenly back slaps (See Canticle for Liebowitz). How is it possible to desire both these things so strongly?

My dad was pretty well known in his field. My wife is a pretty well known artist. I have always felt I should be well known. But I’ve never worked out a way to be well. I haven’t found my one true calling that has allowed me to work with passion towards a righteous goal thereby becoming well known in the process. I could be well known for being an unfocused, class-A procrastinator but as this is the prerequisite for basically everyone that isn’t well known I doubt that’s a good strategy going forward.

And yes. I know that being well known doesn’t matter. Deep down. I also know that shows like the X Factor rub me the wrong way because I perceive them to be full of people who just want to be well known. Just for the damned sake of it. And isn’t that just everything that’s wrong with the world!? Turns out I’m on my own episode of X Factor every day plus I’m failing the audition.

I have settled for post-humous success. I have a less-than-impressive-but-better-than-zilch collection of thoughts and pictures scattered across notebooks, sketchbooks and the internet that may one day find favour with a minor cult. This is one way my name may live on. Another is with a witty tombstone ephitaph. As I’m “good with puns” perhaps I’ll come up with something that will make passersby chuckle and consider that I was someone greater than I feel.

Some days living with disappointment in myself feels like less of a burden. A nice walk with the dog in the morning mist, or heavy frost or late winter sunshine combined with some vigorous, results-orientated housekeeping does a surprising number on my blues and I fall asleep at the end of said day nursing a fragile half smile. Some days I manage a canny poem and for a few moments open my world to the mysteries beyond and feel rays of an existential sun warming my cockles.

On the worst days I am at sea. I think of all the other people stranded in the ocean with me. What I know is that there’s a great number of us. I’m surrounded by hundreds of fellow drownees-in-the-making. This is some comfort. The worst days it’s hard to gain a positive foothold anywhere. No inner mantra, no furious Instagram feed trawl-thru, no deep inhalation sates the humungous doubt that pervades my head so entirely, blocking the entrance to every possible safe harbour, snuffing out all the lights. These days are hard. Proper flailing days.

How to cope? My basic mechanism is to try and slow down. Slow everything down. Slower is better. Slower thoughts, slower deeds. A nice slow calendar with nothing in it. I like to remind myself of St. Catherine’s “all the way to heaven is heaven” and any number of similar quote-savers from previous (probably fragile) minds. I remind myself that THIS is life. Right now. That I should do each moment well, noticing everything and not projecting expectations too far forward or reaching too far back for comfort either. I don’t know where this will get me, but it certainly feels healthy. I don’t know if it’s the key that unlocks success, it actually seems likely it’s the key that unlocks not giving a shit about success which is probably way better. And that feels pretty great to me on the days I’m out on the sea. Take that, X Factor.

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Mind Writing

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at sea expectation life success