What to do…?

There are so many things that i would like to do; and I would do them, I tell myself – if only i could find a way to do without sleep and/or win the National Lottery. It seems to me that with each year that goes by i have less free time, and often the free time i do have isn’t really free. It’s packed with ‘things that need doing’ and tinged with guilt because something somewhere is always waiting to be done or else someone somewhere is always waiting for me to get in touch with them. Now i know that there are many, many people in this world who are worse off than me but, nevertheless, this is frustrating.

Of course, work is the main culprit. I could write at tedious length about the way that work tends to eat more and more deeply into your life the longer you pursue a career, however i’ll spare you! I don’t think it’s just that in any case. Part of the problem, in my opinion, stems from an increasing realisation of your own limits. Early on in life it still seems entirely possible that you can learn each and every language that you might want to speak; visit each and every country in the world; read each and every book that interests you.

Gradually, that optimism fades. You become aware of time ticking away, notice the way that it seems to be forever speeding up, and begin to grasp that you do not in fact have an infinitude of possibilities. This process begins while you are still a child on the day that you comprehend that you won’t ever be an astronaut or a professional footballer. You surrender your impossible dreams but still, at this point, retain your great hopes.

Bit by bit the erosion of confidence proceeds. You discover the tyranny of money. Hopes follow dreams into the sea of limitations and constraints, careers and bills; and so it goes on. Look around you: how many people are there camped out on a last little island of ‘next year’s holiday’, ‘a new car’, ‘paying off the mortgage’ – or just ‘having enough for this week’s groceries’?

I daresay it’s my colleague’s recent death which has put me in this frame of mind but i’m very aware of how marginalised my inner life has become. Struggling, in a state of exhaustion, to read a book on the train home does not constitute having time to think. Similarly, my tired tramp along the road from the office to the railway station does not qualify as ‘a walk’.

What to do…? Some things seem obvious: time spent pursuing other people’s routes to happiness, when these are not also your own, is wasted. Yet, this is too pat. We have obligations to our friends and families. Our happiness, such as it is, stems at least partly from the time and effort those people have invested in us. We have obligations to the world as a whole for that matter. Likewise, it’s all well and good pontificating about not being in thrall to material things; but material things – books are also material things for instance – form an important part of what a truly happy life means to most of us.

I’m never going to be able to do without sleep and i’m never going to win the National Lottery. Really, what to do?

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The waters close over you

I have been poorly. Not stricken with the plague, not even afflicted with swine flu, but nonetheless knocked down by a virus which i’m only now getting the better of. Thursday and Friday i was off work and languished* on my bed. Saturday and Sunday i don’t work anyhow and by the latter i was definitely up to pootling. In any case, i’d run out of cat food; so i had no choice but rejoin the living.

And today, Monday, i went back to work.

It’s a curious thing, being off sick. You always tend to imagine – alright, make that, i always tend to imagine – that people are wondering where you are or suspecting you of skiving. Hence our tendency to return just before we are better; so that we still have some symptoms to wave at our (imaginary) critics. No-one can argue with a cough.

The truth, of course, is that by and large no-one even notices you’re not around. If they do happen to look up and observe your empty desk, they assume you’re: at a meeting / on a course, or have taken a day’s leave.

Stay off even longer and eventually they forget you’re even supposed to be there. I know this only too well as this happened with a colleague just recently. She was unexpectedly forced to take leave and initially – she’s our administrator so people do notice when she’s absent – there was concern and speculation about how long she’d be gone.

A week passed. People became re-absorbed in their lives and their deadlines.

Another week passed. A temp took over most of her duties.

When she finally returned we realised we’d forgotten she was away. In the words of a friend: “It’s like the waters close over you.” Everyone enthused at her return and – make no mistake: she’s a nice person and a good worker; we were all enthused at her return. Yet hidden inside the welcome was guilt.

Of course, i hadn’t been off nearly long enough for people to forget about me. But i do wonder how long it would take. Not nearly as long as the colleague i’ve just mentioned, that’s for sure.

* I did manage to blog, even while languishing however. The wonders of an iPhone combined with an urge to witter!