It’s not that I don’t have lots to do. I have lots to do. It’s just that getting myself organised – drawing up to-do lists, deciding what to do first – is an activity in its own right. One more moderately time-consuming thing to do. And the challenge isn’t getting organised; it’s not getting distracted. My desk is a heap of paper. My laptop is – I don’t know how you would explode out a laptop into an analogue representation of all the work it contains, but – my laptop is a heap of paper.
Meta-narrative. Rene Magritte, where are you now? I’ve found that if I follow the dictum “If you’re not doing anything, do something,” I can generally navigate my way through a busy day. I may err on the side of checking Facebook again, but if I have my “What am I doing now?” list to hand, I can almost always find my way back again. If you want to put a label on it, I suppose I’m talking about mindfulness, or being in the moment, or perhaps even some form of modern real-world meditation that doesn’t involve washing up. I’m writing this – here we go; Facebook again – with a reporter’s pad next to me. What am I doing now? Oh – I’m writing a blog post.
I suppose I could do it all on my phone, and I suppose I could ask my digital assistant what I’m doing, but no. It’s there in black and white. I’m writing a blog post. Now, if I wanted to play around with a soupҫon* of post-modern referential thingummy, I could tell you what the pad says this blog post is about, but then I’d have to get into the whole “what the artist is trying to do” thing (artist – huh!) and it’s a sunny day and let’s just keep going. The artist (huh!) is trying to get outside. Sunny day. Beach. The meta-narrative**, in which the unreliable narrator inadvertently reveals his true motivation, is all present and correct.
Captains. I was sitting on a bench the other say, on Prince of Wales Pier, in the sunshine, eating a chicken’n’mayo tiger bap and thinking about the collapse of Western Civilisation (it’s okay, I know; I embarrass myself sometimes), and it struck me that organisation isn’t just my problem. It’s everybody’s. So I pulled out my journal (see above re: there in black and white) and wrote these words. “There are several reasons why Western Civilisation never quite rights itself. One is the interplay between human nature and regulation.”
You know how sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and scribble down something profound that you really must remember in the morning? And then next day you wake up and what you’ve scribbled down is something like “remember the captains” (which is a true example from my past)? It also happens to me with chicken’n’mayo tiger baps, except that I solve the world’s problems instead of scribbling down gnomic reminders to myself. Turning the page of my journal, I find: “Regulation of money, penalties for wrong advice, therefore follow the herd.”
It’s pleasant, sitting in the sun on Prince of Wales Pier. There are families with small children, fishermen, ferry passengers embarking and disembarking. And one solitary man scribbling notes for a possible blog post about the tendency of financial advisers and others to follow the prevailing wisdom. If they’re wrong, I think my point was, they can at least point to everybody else being wrong too. Oh dear – there’s even something here about herds of wild animals and predators. Embarrassing.
Bureaucrats. Then I go on to scribble notes about “the interplay between human nature and interesting things to do”. My idea was, I think, that creative expression is invariably swamped: say something new, or invent something new, and a competition ensues not to build on whatever it was, but to say it again, or build it again. Copycat books, films, even news stories. The winners of those competitions are invariably people who are good at winning competitions, but rarely people good at saying/inventing something new; the two sets of qualities are mutually exclusive. Wow, I was in a mood that day.
As for organisation, I think the danger is that it becomes descriptive of a preconception of how a thing should be done, thus an exercise in building a box to think inside, rather than a first step to making a thing happen. [Do I really write this way?] If I add the words “Write a blog post” to a list, I end up with a sense of myself as an organised writer of blog posts. With a list. But no blog post.
I see that I wrote a note to myself to track down that remark about the BBC starting out as bohemians pretending to be bureaucrats, and then turning into bureaucrats pretending to be bohemians – which I have since failed to do (anybody?). I have also written, “Technology takes the form of bureaucracy.” Oh dear. Perhaps if I asked them to hold the mayo next time?
Anyway – it says here that I’m in the back garden planting out seedlings, so I’ve obviously finished the blog post. Let’s hope my list says “Beach” later.
*That’s not a cedilla and I don’t think that’s even a c. I was down in the Cyrillic section of the character map – for my piece on being distracted.
**Actually, the term means something completely different, but I like it. Look it up, but, hey, sunny day.
We’re not talking about money, but if we were, I’d say: there’s putting your savings into a boringly safe bank account, and there’s buying a lottery ticket. And no, that analogy doesn’t work, except to say that boringly safe bank accounts never get you rich quick, and lottery tickets don’t cost much. And I’d rather listen to the story-telling of a lottery-ticket buyer, frankly. Yes, I know that the odds, blah, and the security of a bank account, blah blah, but think of those happy little moments in the run-up to the draw. You don’t get those from your online-banking app.
All blog posts lead to an argument for originality these days, if they’re written by me. Leave space for not following the prescribed method. If the software wants to divide your work into chapters, but you’re doing it as one long stream of consciousness – either adapt the software, or junk it. Some people can remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news that [insert momentous historical event here]. I can remember hearing the term “work-around” for the first time, as in: the technology’s stubbornly wrong, but the work-around to get it to do what you want is … et cetera.
Fool the technology with some combination of moves that it’s not expecting. Don’t even think about trying to make it see sense. Yes, I did enjoy the film Passengers (2016) last week, and in particular, I came over all happy at [spoiler!] the technology’s first assertion that it was “failsafe!” so that Chris Pratt couldn’t have woken up early. There should be an award for the flicker in Michael Sheen’s – the robot barman’s - expression when Pratt points out that, nevertheless, he is awake. [Nicely done, those bar conversations. “Written by John Spaihts” is the credit on the box; Spaihts is the “go-to guy for space thrillers,” says Wikipedia*.]
To the limited extent that this blog is turning into a cumulative self-portrait in words, I suppose I’m obliged to disclose that I had to turn the film off at the point where Pratt starts talking about reviving Jennifer Lawrence. Didn’t want him to do that, and perhaps I’ll spend some time wondering why it bothered me. I turned to IMdb to check that there would be a happy ending, and yes, I could return to the film. That was a Garden of Eden they built, wasn’t it?
Surrounded by technology, and what do they do? Spoiler again. They plant greenery and – I think I’ve got this right – build themselves a little house. So much for the luxury automated hotel rooms. [For readers who have just joined us, I have rediscovered my old library card, and there’s a rack of fairly recent DVDs. Seem to turn to the films first these days, not so much the books, which probably tells me something – but I did also borrow William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984 again, Victor Gollancz) last week as well. Paperback edition, with The Matrix (1999) represented on the cover.]
Where was I? Oh yes – rabbiting on about marketing again. Originality. Breaking out of the box as well as thinking outside it. Not to bring politics into this, but I think I was “inspired” (ha ha) this time by a news report on The President Formerly Known As The Donald’s decision to pull out of the Iraq nuclear deal. Not by the decision itself, nor the speech, but by the absolute certainty with which one of the follow-up talking heads described what was going to happen next. As I say – not to bring politics into this, but we all know that the Titanic is unsinkable. We can all state with absolute certainly that the ship won’t sink – or in this metaphorical present case, that it will sink.
I’ve no idea. But the world’s moved on – in a good way – from certainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen, just as we don’t know what’s going to work. We are surrounded by definitive statements of how repudiations of nuclear deals, et cetera, are going to turn out. We are surrounded by instructions on how to do stuff – literal “how to” guides and lists of steps to whatever. None of which change the fact that we don’t know. Let’s get out of the TV studios and talk to the Iranians, if that’s our line of business; let’s follow our own best ideas, if we’re in an ideas-based line of work.
*Not surprised to find that Jon Spaihts also co-wrote Prometheus (2012). I think I’d prefer to have Michael Sheen’s robot cleaning the glasses in my kitchen.