Friday 24 September 2010

Going through the motions

Really, I shouldn't condemn those endlessly rushing people referred to below because, even if I refuse to be pushed to extremes, I'm not so different. I get up in the morning and consult my mental 'to do' list and when I get to work there's a physical list. I quickly scan and reprioritise and then start charging through it, ticking things off - my sole aim to reduce that list. I keep going till it seems like a reasonably acceptable time to stop. Then I slump into a corner, usually with a book, and usually I fall asleep over it. Occasionally I manage to tick off every item on one sub-section of the list. I pause and look around me, scanning my emotions for some sense of completion, vindication. It's never there. What's usually there is a more or less distinct anguish, verging on fear. Sometimes I slump for days in this vague anguish. Eventually I go back to the next sub-section of my list. What else is there? 

I tell myself it's like this because my life is particularly lonely and unfulfilled, signally lacking in those basic satisfactions as defined by Freud, with work and love. This is true to some extent. But I see the same compulsive behaviour in those around me, most of whom do have partners and children and some of whom do have interesting, high-status, well-paid jobs, so it isn't the whole truth.  A basic motivation for all of us seems to be this compulsive busy-ness, this accumulation and rote fulfilment of duties. The fact that I question it, often and deeply, resolve and sincerely attempt to pause and return to and savour the moment, not just to be driven mindlessly forward: this makes a difference, it does, but only a small one, perhaps.


I scribbled this at 5 in the morning, unable to go back to sleep and gripped by dread, and afterwards did drift off again - always remember dreams when I do that. I was speeding along on one of the new, blue, London rental bikes, leapt off and parked it hurriedly. As I walked away, it fell over and when I came back it had morphed into a toppled mobility scooter, a hunched and groaning old man face-down in the seat. I bent to right it and it morphed back into a bicycle, with a tiny, sobbing child in a baby-seat on the back. As I picked him up and soothed him, I woke up, with a hot spot where his damp, bruised little face had pressed against my chest.


Rachel Fox said...

I love the air of grim hopscotch about it.

As for anguish...keep breathing, keep breathing...


Anonymous said...

What a poetic tender moving dream.

Dave said...

What lilannattel said.

alembic said...

Those dreams in which the tears leave their salt on waking sting us with a longing for which there is rarely, if any, antidote. But as Rachel said, keep breathing, keep breathing.

Melinda Fleming said...

The only rushing I'm capable of (I've discovered in my 40-plus years on this Earth) is for my very life, or the life of someone I feel responsible for. My "system" simply refuses to rush. In a very fundamental way.

The price is this: No higher education. Only low-wage jobs available. And, a constantly untidy but clean house. House being paid for by rush-capable hubby with good education & decent job. It's clean because it's the least I can do for the people who have to share it with me. Sloppy because my steady-but-not-rushed pace of picking things up never matches the speed of stuff building up.

Always late for social events. On time for school & other serious things because I drag myself out of bed an hour earlier for these.

The result? Exactly the same dread & anxiety bordering on fear that you describe!

Beth said...

I'm trying very hard to de-rail, after a lifetime, my accomplishment-driven busyness and accompanying vague (usually) anxiety about what remains undone. I no longer make lists, for one thing. I say "no" more often. It's very difficult, unlearning these patterns.

Your dream brought tears to my eyes. And I admire your honesty about all of this.

Dale said...

Wow, this is beautiful in so many ways.

I'm moved as Melinda is, though: I'm often told I appear calm, grounded, imperturbable. I almost never rush. And all the time I'm screaming with panic inside, all the time.

litlove said...

The experience of chronic fatigue has made me (obliged me!) to think long and hard about my time as a rushaholic. It brought nothing good to my life apart from a delusory sense of 'achievement'. The real achievement has been to slow down enough to actually feel life passing, witness it, occasionally understand it. The anguish you feel, Jean, is a memory that torments you still and probably comes from a very young age. It's rising up because it needs you to soothe it, to find reassurances that were damagingly missing in the original experience. Every time we face emptiness, those memories come up. It is not an easy process at all,to feel those feelings, see where they come from, find consolations that are real. Perhaps some will come from the fact that even if your life feels bad to you, we see your many talents, your strengths, your kindness, and we are here as your friends.

Fire Bird said...

hold that sobbing baby!

Melinda Fleming said...

It seems that slowing down, by itself, is not necessarily an answer. Merely a first step or a gate. Dave and Litlove seem to know this.

The description of your dream haunted me overnight in ways I cannot verbalize here. Very powerful. I can only agree with Rachel and Fire Bird.

Vivien said...

Is there any way you could switch to part-time, maybe three-quarters-time, work? Then you could do more with your talents at writing and photography and somehow find a more fulfilling life, leaving the relentless grind.

I used to work in stressful office jobs and in university admin (UCL). At UCL I always had a heap of papers to face, which grew throughout the day... Occasionally I used to try the method of taking up the first bit of paper and Definitely Sorting it Out to conclusion! - this lasted till about one inch down the heap, then I realised other bits of paper did actually have to be prioritised. The whole situation became more stressful (c. 1995) with the growth in the numbers of students, especially postgraduates, the greater number of academic staff, and the beginnings of email (requests for information not just from Europe but from e.g. Kazakhstan!) At 58 I gave up the stress and worked part-time in another job, with much less money but at least avoiding personal annihilation. I liked my colleagues (well, except for two!), and the postgraduate students (real adults as opposed to the undergraduates) but it all got too much. (Funny thing about working with students - you get older year by year, but they're always the same age!)

You are such a valuable person with your original emotional photographs and ability to write - you need more free time and perhaps to find a way of fulfilment that way.

I've been retired for about eight years, and have done quite a bit in a way but not nearly as much as much as I thought I would, which I feel quite guilty about. But at least I haven't got the tyranny of deadlines and constant stress.

A very moving description of your dream. Best wishes.

Lucy said...

So good you were able to recall and write down that dream.

Seems there's those that must rush and those that can't. I'm in the second camp with Melinda and Dale, but yes, the anxiety is still there, just based around a sense of paralysis and underachievement instead. I don't really believe that I deserve fully qualified adult status.

I'm fairly sure most people are going nowhere fast. And that I'm going there slowly.

I'm amazed at and grateful for the beautiful and thoughtful things you do here, your lovely observational photos and intelligent writing, and the kindness and support you show others, when clearly you are often under such strain, from within and without. Thank you.