A couple of days ago, Matt D’Avella published an interview with Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I’m currently looking (as always) for ways to prioritise my life; to learn how to recognise noise and identify the few vital things I want to spend my time on. This interview is a good introduction to the topic.
Part of me bristles at the idea of ‘discipline’, of having to put a system in place by which to live my life. On the other hand, such are the times: distractions are everywhere, and so are opportunities. As a multipotentialite, I love doing many things and am reasonably good at those many things, but it also follows that I never really focus on anything for very long. There’s no area that I have a proper portfolio in; my works are scattered across multiple forms of expression (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, design, acting, photography, drawing, singing, dance, …), and in turn, I feel scattered as a person. And that’s already a problem before all of modern day’s distractions in the form of screens and sounds which prevent me from doing anything fulfilling at all. I suppose it is true that in order to identify the noise, most of us will need discipline. Making certain choices is a skill that needs to be learned. For me it certainly is.
If you have 30 minutes, I recommend this video. I’m going to give the book a go.
I missed a day of blogging yesterday. Work was busy and I went out afterwards, so when I came home at 10.30pm, all I could do was sleep. I’m very grateful for the long weekend.
Today, all I’ve done is to see At Eternity’s Gate, which I’m still thinking about and hope to write about in the next day or so.
More than two weeks into this project, I’m really starting to see my current limitations. One blog post per day is difficult, even if I get to change my idea of a ‘blog’ to whatever the day requires – even if it’s just a photo or a quote I’ve read, as long as I hit “Save & Publish”, it’s been a successful day.
But as I already mentioned a couple of days ago, I’m burning the candle at both ends right now, and my thinking suffers. With that, my work suffers, and my writing. Thoughts are scattered all over the place, and with no quiet time, no rest, it’s not going to get better. I’m hoping to kind of hit a reset button this weekend and make a shift towards a way of living that involves less screen time, more music, and more deep breathing. So I can hear myself think better.
I’ve been in my new job for less than two months now, and today I realised that I already can’t comprehend how I ever felt stressed in my old job. I keep thinking of that German saying, Der Mensch wächst mit seinen Aufgaben – ‘man grows with his tasks’, i.e. the way we get better through challenges; growing our boundaries by trying them.
As a former highly anxious person, I’ve long trained myself to just say ‘yes’ to things and figure out how to make it through them afterwards. Sometimes I worry if my constant smiling through the fear and repeated ‘It’ll be fine!’ are annoyingly optimistic, but they’re not exactly untrue. (So far, it always has been fine.)
That being said, over the past <2 months I have experienced 2 migraines, disturbed sleep like never before, a lot of dizziness, hot ears (they’re my stress barometer; today it was unpleasant), and my hearing cutting out in one ear while a coworker was talking to me.
Maybe this familiarisation period isn’t going as smoothly as my conscious mind is trying to convince me it is.
Today I spent my entire lunch break out of the office, writing. (I seem to have so little mental capacity that it’s hard to write more than a page; I apologise for the quality of these blog posts, I know they won’t win awards.) In the afternoon, I listened to a combination of rainymood and my autumn playlist to settle down in between phone calls. I cancelled my life drawing class so I could go home and have a bath and an early sleep.
There’s a lot that needs to be done. But first, some rest.
Work has been a lot these past few days. I’ve been on my own in the office, still teaching myself the job while doing it. It’s challenging and different and I look forward to going to work most mornings, but it leaves little room for anything else. I can’t wait for warmer weather, when it’s okay to sit outside with a notebook and an overpriced juice, making use of the full lunch hour.
Spring time always makes me want to hold hands with someone, so on a whim I downloaded Tinder. Apps like Bumble and Tinder are great for window shopping people. You learn so much about others by how they choose to present themselves, and so much about yourself by figuring out your deal breakers. Sometimes I imagine an entire relationship up to moving in together, before I get scared and swipe left.
Because if I’m honest, the thought of trying out relationships seems like a lot right now. Earlier today I came across Grace McCleen’s brilliant Selling the Self on Boundless. This paragraph in particular reminded me of my 2-month stint on eHarmony some years back:
I began to think it was fortunate I only taught part-time because online dating takes time; if you are going to do it properly it is almost a second job. The amount of admin meant that two or three hours could pass in Starbucks before I raised my head, realising my neck had been in a vice of muscle and my eyes weeping from staring at the screen so long.
I’ve been told once that finding the right person makes everything easy. I look forward to that happening to me some day, but I know that the amount of work before that easy bit depends purely on your luck. It might happen after 2 weeks, or 6 years. I know the amount of admin: finding the right first words; the anxiety of managing more than two matches at once (apparently I am incredibly old-fashioned and feel like an immoral two-timing beast when I meet more than one person within a week); the disappointment when you seem to be chatting to a completely different person than the profile you swiped right on; and so on. Plus, there are the people where it seems easy, but after a few weeks it turns out it isn’t. Those are the ones I really want to avoid.
Maybe I should just focus on finding a flat; that’s a full-time job too.
Today was a beautiful day for running. Almost a year after I last braved this riverside, I gave it a go again. This time, in 4-degree rainy weather, which is much more my kind of thing.
We also had birthday cake. This week I managed to burn it, so if I make it again next week, it should come out perfect.
I write this sitting on my parents’ sofa, recovering from the day’s first round of food before moving on to the next. This is a thing I get to do now, being back in the country – I can leave work on Friday, hop on a bus and go home for the weekend.
We went out for brunch this morning in Dresden’s Barockviertel, a historic part of the inner city full of little streets and galleries and shops. It was a very quiet morning, walking just off the busier high street and visiting tiny expensive shops we’d never seen before.
Brunch was pretty nice, by the way. I’ve been trying to eat better, i.e. eat more ‘intuitively’ and stop when I’m full. That did not happen today.
It’s someone’s birthday soon, so it’s time to make last week’s cake again, this time with slight improvements. (The improvement is cocoa powder. Chocolate makes everything better,)
Tonight we’re having pizza, and maybe we’ll finally watch Moulin Rouge like we’ve been saying we should for years now.
What are you up to this weekend?
This has been a really long, really mellow Friday. I started the day with a 30-minute yoga workout that was a lot easier than I expected it to be, did all my work, and now I’m tidying up the office and my work documents while listening to Boogie Belgique. On any other day I’d probably go home soon, but I’ve got a bus to catch later tonight – I’m visiting my family this weekend.
I hope you have nice plans, too!
In fiction, there are a few things I can’t resist:
historical horror (see: Michelle Paver, Dan Simmons, Stephen King’s Rose Red works)
stories about witches
stories about writing
stories set on college campuses
Blue Angel, Francine Prose’s 2000 novel about a writing teacher led astray, ticks two of those boxes.
Ted Swenson is an ageing novelist with a comfortable, somewhat stagnated life, teaching creative writing at Euston college while failing to write his third novel. Everything is fine until Angela Argo, a formerly quiet student of his, shows him the first chapter of her novel. Her writing turns out to be excellent. Enamoured with her talent Swenson begins to meet up regularly with Angela to support her, all while his university gears up to deal with the rise of sexual harassment charges happening in academia.
Unlike some of his fellow teachers, Swenson’s never slept with a student, nor his colleague Madga, the poetry teacher. He’s a good guy. That is, until clumsy, nervous, self-deprecating Angela seduces him with her words, her stories about forbidden love and desire between older men and younger women. We watch him watch himself fall for her, and like a car heading straight for a cliff, we see it coming, we can’t look away, and when it happens, it’s as devastating as it is unsurprising.
Blue Angel is a novel about ambition, class, and good intentions gone wrong. Life imitates art around every corner: Swenson’s novel Blue Angel is based on the movie At the Blue Angel, both being stories about men who ruin their lives to please a women who doesn’t love them back; his unfinished third novel is a retelling of Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, an ambitious man’s struggle to rise to success in a rigid class system; and most obviously, Angela’s novel Eggs is about a high school student’s affair with her music teacher. Swenson knows the stories, yet when it happens to him, he is unable to stop it. When Angela starts dropping tactical hints about how much she thinks about him, or aggressively calls him ‘such a guy’ to break down their student-teacher relationship, he doesn’t see the wood for the trees. He’s a good guy.
Other reviews I've read call Blue Angel a satire of modern academia. I read it as a character study. Swenson is a hilariously hopeless middle-aged man who has been cruising along so comfortably that he’s forgotten how to take control of his own life. When Angela eventually accuses him of sexual harassment and he is put on trial for a much more extreme version of events than he experienced, the truth almost doesn’t matter anymore. He just drifts along with it all, carried by the waves of scandal just like he’s let himself get carried towards them, leaning into the attraction a 19-year old engineered in him.
I found Blue Angel hugely entertaining, and I’m a little sad I’ve finished it already.
Author: Francine Prose
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication date: 2000