On going nowhere


It occurred to me today that the act of waking and getting up is accompanied by the flicking of a lot of switches and pressing of buttons. First thing on rising from bed, the phone is switched back on (it would have woken me), the ansaphone is turned back on (it would have woken me), the computer is switched on, followed by the monitor and the sound. Then into the kitchen, kettle filled and the switch on that pushed in, central heating switched on, all done in the first waking moments as a matter of routine.

I have been noticing lately how long everything takes, and how much that is done is a ritual of modern life, involving electronic devices. Things seem to be taking longer and longer. Filling the washing machine with dirty clothes, pouring in soap powder, turning the dial to 4, closing the door securely, pressing in the button, putting back the soap powder on top of the cupboard. Then later noticing the red light each time I make tea, hours dragging on and I still haven't emptied the washing machine, and then when I do what a sheer process it all is, separating shirts and putting them on hangers to hang on the line in the bathroom, draping items on a horse, socks onto string against a radiator.

And then I look about me and see I am surrounded by little chores that need doing, in some cases things that have needed doing for several years. Dust accumulating, papers scattered, I know I feel better when it is all tidied up, but the act of doing it is too much. In a state akin to suspended animation I just get on with a few things, chipping away at the rockface of modern life, all of it taking longer and longer each day. If I was a countryman and my day consisted of mending hedgerows, twisting vines, and feeding animals, I think I would not question it, but when it is flicking switches and moving between a handful of small rooms, increasingly reticent to venture out, less and less bothered about contact with any people, I wonder where I am headed, what it is all for.

While out in the kitchen it occurred to me stirring the tea: life has become a series of familiar rituals, endlessly repeated. People whose lives are busier perhaps do not notice so much as me, but because I have reduced my life to hardly anything I notice the unplugging of every plug, the turning on of every tap. Frequently I catch myself just standing there with nothing in my mind, no thoughts of an agenda to fulfil, no thoughts about what I am to do next, nor even who I am and where I came from, yet slithering into every corner of consciousness I see fragments of dreams and another lived life, as if I have been absent from my everyday life and in a waking dream even as I stood there drying my hands on a towel, vacantly looking down at the bath, not knowing where next, not worrying about it, just as if, I think sometimes, I had some form of amnesia, sometimes also a momentary autoprosopagnosia, a word I once came across and looked up in the dictionary, meaning failure to recognise your own face in the mirror.

Sometimes I go out to see a film with a friend or have a drink in the pub with a few people, and then it seems I am supposed to define my life as more richly this. As if my long drawn-out solitudes are not a proper way to live. I ought to be going on holiday, I ought to own a few things of some value, I ought to have money. I ought to have a sufficient selection of friends on hand to see regularly. I ought to be part of a thriving social scene. I ought to be concerned about it. I ought to be going somewhere in life. I ought to have some explanation for why I have nothing. But it is only by virtue of comparison that I see I have nothing and am going nowhere.

Tonight I have spent mostly listening to the wind, liking its wildness.

I am dissolved from the world of people, the world of doing ordinary things, and deposited in the landscape of the mind, barren but beautiful, where the moon is a pearl and the cries of birds are signals and the clouds are telling me things, creating evolving patterns of thoughts and streams of consciousness by their changing shapes. When I worked and got up at the same time in the morning and went out to commute and came back tired after a day of conviviality with workmates the evening was short and just a prelude to repeating the same again day after day, with a longer prelude at the weekend but not really a true break. Not even a holiday was a break, unless there was a serious chance I just might not come back. I noticed very little of my world, I was not mindful. It seemed I was busy, but I hardly noticed the extent to which I was alive, rarely thought about its significance.

Everything was on hold, on hold till some future day. Now I am entirely in the moment and the moment stretches out and I no longer want anything, not even what I have. I have left the cosy and easy thoroughfare, I do not know where I am going but my instincts have always been good. So I rely on them and carry on, though it seems to be going nowhere. At least if it is nowhere it is a nowhere few people go.