I can remember the exact moment when I realised the track Burnin’ by Daft Punk was an absolute banger. A few pints in, I was in Sheffield University’s Student Union bar and it came on as part of a DJ set. Almost two minutes in, the beat drops properly. Certified classic. I realised that ever since buying the album as a sixteen year-old, I’d skipped that track because I’d never listened to enough of it.
There are tracks I’ve skipped on other albums that I’ve gone back to later in life. As Heraclitus famously pointed out, we cannot step into the same river twice because the river’s changed but also we have changed. The context shift doesn’t just apply to books and music, but to relationships and, well, anything that we formerly have dismissed as “not for us”.
So this post is a reminder to myself, and anyone who’s reading, to go back and read, listen, and explore things that have previously been rejected. Sometimes, they speak to us differently as we age.
I can’t remember when I first came across it, but The Book of Disquiet is an incredible read. It seems to peer almost directly into the soul of its author, who himself is a heteronym of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. It was published decades after Pessoa’s death from unedited scraps of paper found in a trunk. He called it a “factless autobiography”.
There are inevitable disagreements about the order in which the fragments should be placed, but to give a flavour, my translated version (Penguin Classics) includes the following in Chapter 41:
Silence emerges from the sound of the rain and spreads in a crescendo of grey monotony over the narrow street I contemplate. I’m sleeping while awake, standing by the window, leaning against it as against everything. I search in myself for the sensations I feel before these falling threads of darkly luminous water that stand out from the grimy building façades and especially from the open windows. And I don’t know what I feel or what I want to feel. I don’t know what to think or what I am.
All the pent-up bitterness of my life removes, before my sensationless eyes, the suit of natural happiness it wears in the random events that fill up each day. I realize that, while often happy and often cheerful, I’m always sad. And the part of me that realizes this is behind me, as if bent over my leaning self at the window, as if looking over my shoulder or even over my head to contemplate, with eyes more intimate than my own, the slow and now wavy rain which filigrees the grey and inclement air.
To shrug off all duties, even those not assigned to us, to repudiate all homes, even those that weren’t ours, to live off vestiges and the ill-defined, in grand purple robes of madness and in counterfeit laces of dreamed majesties… To be something, anything that doesn’t feel the weight of the rain outside, not the anguish of inner emptiness… To wander without thought or soul – sensation without sensation – along mountain roads and through valleys hidden between steep slopes, into the far distance, irrevocably immersed… To be lost in landscapes like paintings… A coloured non-existence in the background.
It continues, flirting with, but never falling into bathos. Instead, for me at least, it describes a certain part of the human condition in a more precise way than I’ve read anywhere else. I recommend this episode of BBC’s In Our Time podcast about Pessoa for those wanting to find out more.
I came across a blog post yesterday about someone I have interacted with a few times over the last decade. They’re going through, and have gone through, what sounds like a hellish time. They’re being open and candid about it. Most people keep much smaller things than these to themselves.
It made me realise that many people around me at the moment are going through some serious stuff right now. Mental health issues, losing loved ones, physical injuries, bullying, insomnia, to name but a few. Some of this is pandemic-related, but much of it isn’t.
Much of life involves pain and suffering of one type or another, and so people respond to this in different ways. For me, there is a delicate dance to be performed at the border of despair and ignorance, and too often I fall one way or another, having to pick myself up and start again.
Image by Natalia Y.The title of this post is also a quotation from the book.
I’ve just been listening to an episode of the Tim Ferris Show podcast in which he answers some questions from the community. One of them was essentially about remaining productive when you’re having an off day. Tim answered this by talking about ‘decision fatigue’ and suggested scripting the first 30 mins or hour of your day to get into the right mindset.
This is a great idea and something I’ve kind of meaning to write about for a while. I’ve got a half-finished post about President Obama’s advice to limit the decisions you make – even about clothing.
So here we go. Here’s what I do every morning. It might be a slight update from what I wrote for My Morning Routine.
1. Wake up without an alarm clock. This means that it’s not always exactly the same time, but it also means it’s likely to be a ‘softer’ awakening.
2. Get the children breakfast. I try to start their day off well by being interested in what they’ve got to say. I sit down with them at the table and have a cup of camomile tea.
3. Go to the toilet. I check Twitter while I’m there. Well, at least I’m honest.
4. Make my wife a cup of tea. I take it up to her while she’s getting dressed.
5. Get my daughter dressed. She can do most of this now herself as she’s almost four years old. However, she can struggle with some buttons, etc.
6. Wash myself. I go to the gym or swimming every day and have a shower afterwards, so this is quick.
7. Do press-ups, sit-ups, etc. I use my roll mat for this as we have a wooden floor in our bedroom.
8. Get myself dressed. Depending on how I feel I’ll wear jeans and a shirt/jumper or else a t-shirt and a hoodie.
9. Help my son. He alternates between Khan Academy and Duolingo for a week at a time. It’s had a demonstrable effect on his numeracy and French skills.
10. Have breakfast. This is usually just a slice of toast with butter. About an hour before exercise I’ll eat a banana.
This routine is flexible. Kids are wonderful at being able to play and amuse themselves, so sometimes this takes an hour, sometimes two. It depends. Every morning I walk them to school, which I consider a real privilege.
I’ve just realised that the above makes it sound like I do everything while my wife does nothing. That’s certainly not the case! She makes the house run like clockwork. I’m a mere cog. 😉
The thing missing for me is time to take my own emotional temperature. Usually I dive straight into work when I should probably read more Baltasar Gracián first!