Discover more from broken telephone
and how's that working out for you?
(after Oliver Burkeman)
Don’t we all just love to be overwhelmed? If you don’t get at least a tiny kick out of it, look away and, idk, go and buy some coffee filters or a new bullet journal.
There are some people who love order. Tickboxes*. Meal planning. Organising things. And then there are those of us who don’t, who swear a vow of negative capability à la Keats, who like to live as the poet did on a slice of bread and anchovy a day, but also maybe not to die young of tuberculosis.
I had not a dispute but a disquisition, with Dilke on various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…
[Keats, who was probably an asshole]
Now, aside from the obvious privilege a young, white, male poet might have had in order to be able to explore all this uncertainty, there’s something beguiling about Not Being Pinned Down. About Being Very Overwhelmed Too.
I do it all the time.
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That’s not to say I can’t be organised. I can, when a hot date or impromptu trip to somewhere nice is involved, whizz up incredibly complex logistics, minutely planned itineraries on a shoestring and all that. But that’s because dopamine has kicked in, right? Same if I’m working on a client project with deadlines and consequences. But for my own shit?
Most of the time, as a freelancer, single mother, idealistic vegetable gardener and layabout, I’m gravitating towards a state of general overwhelm. I like to procrastinate for 7 hours before feeling so awful and self-critical, that I Do The Thing half an hour before it’s due, and it takes all of 13 minutes. 13 minutes plus 14 days of DOOM.
And I like it. At least, I thought I did.
But every now and then, I get reminded that this is maybe just something I’m telling myself because the thought of that other, shadow life is too scary. Or maybe this life *is* the shadow life (sure Pressfield said something like this), and the *other* life is the one I should be living.
Anyway, Oliver Burkeman writes excellent books and newsletters and you should definitely subscribe to The Imperfectionist. In the edition I read this week, he said this:
…one of the most powerful questions I know, when it comes to getting out of a rut, dropping self-defeating habits, or triggering similar positive changes. The question is: “And how’s that working out for you?”…
So. If some approach you take to your daily life is a) making life less enjoyable; and b) not actually keeping you safe and secure in the way it was intended to; and yet it’s also the case that c) when it fails to keep you safe and secure, things generally turn out basically fine… Well, this is perhaps the point at which you might allow yourself to try something different. And more fun.
Good, eh? This morning I was on my mostly-weekly zoom with my longtime friend and writing buddy Tamara. She’s in Australia, I’m in Bulgaria, and she has got me out of a lot of pickles in my head over the years. Tamara’s a writing coach, and a bloody good one. Today we were procrastinating on writing by talking about Stuff, since we skipped a couple of weeks and had lots to catch up on. I told her about the exciting project I have in the works (to procrastinate on writing my own shit), and she told me about some revisions she needs to do to a serious, first-person article she was thinking about submitting to local publications.
I said something like ‘Why don’t you write the shadow version of it, like be really sarcastic and funny and acerbic, just to get out of your head.’
(I don’t know what I said exactly because I have a terrible aural memory but it was along those lines.)
And we got excited about the idea of doing something that was fun, and releasing and made us laugh. Tamara told me about some spoken word sessions she’s been doing and noticed that her favourite part of the evenings were the warmup exercises, when she gets to be silly and pretend, say, a tape measure is a mechanical racing snail.
And I said I wanted to see that side of her more. I wanted to see that side of me more, too. Because being serious and overwhelmed…it’s not working out that well for me, tbh. How about you?
*I also love tickboxes, but only when I can tick off things I’ve already done before I drew the tickbox list to make myself feel good