Blog Archives

Procrastination, Panic, and Priorities in the Pandemic

So for the last couple of months I’ve been living like Hemingway. Well, without the writing, so much.

Or the bulls.

No bulls this year. No fiesta in Pamplona.

But I have been in Spain, enjoying the sunshine, and drinking.

I’ve been getting up early, with intentions of getting lots of writing done.

I have a run, or a cycle, while it’s cool, then have a swim after cleaning the pool.

avenue

A road I recently cycled along with some friends – I usually go alone in the hills.

And I’ve spent an hour or two on the laptop, staring at the screen, as I scroll through my social media and read about the horrible things happening, the shitshow that is the former lone superpower, the rising death rates in various countries, and watching videos of the violent racism so many have to deal with and the violent reaction to any request for such racism to stop.

Then I get breakfast for my kids when they surface from their darkened bedroom around ten, and pretty much any chance to get writing done is gone until perhaps mid afternoon when I wake from a siesta and have another swim to get my brain restarted.

36E44B56-F29A-468F-B653-3EABD8A647FE 2

An outing with the kids to an old windmill in the valley. We normally stay in the village, and I don’t normally post photos of the kids – but they’re unidentifiable here.

 

Of course, it’s a strange time to live. But we’re alive. And in the end, well, what more can we ask for?

People are worried, though. And I was thinking about this – about panic and procrastination in these times of pandemic.

Sometimes we think that when people panic they start doing things: racing around, becoming very busy.

But they don’t.

Instead it seems that they are paralysed and they do nothing.

However, perhaps their reality is that they see that given the futility of the situation, and their imminent demise, there’s basically no point in doing anything. Instead it’s best to just relax and do nothing.

Because doing nothing is in fact the best thing to do.

Perhaps it’s only when we’re faced with death that we realise that we should’ve been doing nothing all along.

The object of our existence is to do nothing.

Doing is not the important thing, it’s just being.

We should just be.

We should just watch, and chill out.

So while it seems that I have done very little in these days, and there are several books that are waiting to get finished and some to get started, I’ve decided to not worry about that because if I do get sick, I’ll probably just stop writing rather than race to get them finished.

I’ll do what I have been doing – looking after the kids, being with the family, enjoying the scenery and the flowers in the garden and the birds around the house.

At the end of the day, does it matter if the book is one third finished one half finished or three quarters finished if the book is unfinished? Perhaps it’s best to nearly finish at least, but I’m loath to spend my last days worrying about it.

Of course, I am not sick, and I hope I’m not in my last days – keeping the head down here!

So I have written some. And I will have some to show people soon.

And I never stop writing poetry.

So here’s some of that:

 

IMG_9347 copy

A view of the olive tree centre of the world in Andalucia… peaceful, if pretty poor species-wise…

Where Would You Go To?

 

Racing downhill, skidding over gravel path between pine peaks.

Slide to a stop beside scarlet-poppy-strewn field of barley, golden

Eagles calling overhead, staring at gliding silhouettes, shielding eyes

Against glare of sun, hot upon shoulders. A lone figure, surrounded

By a chorus of chirps, whistles and warbles, sheet of susurration

Wind through poplar leaves under a blanket of blessed silence,

Among a bouquet of orchids and other wild flowers, wondering

Where would one go from here?

 

Eventually remounting, rolling onwards over eroded pudding-stone

Thinking this is the destination of a multitude, but home to me.

 

Many would trek to get here: the very idea posited as post-retirement

Plan, proposed to stretch the Mediterranean holiday eternally past

A year in Provence; sold to dozens of millions dreaming of this,

Present position I’ve stumbled upon for life. So,

 

Why would I want to do any more than simply be, here?

 

Everything I can add upon this blessing only gravy, icing.

What matter if my works are acclaimed or even hailed?

When their very creation brings my own elation, and this station

Provides all the time, and space to do so at my pondering pace.

It’s only left to me to accept this grace, riding though this pretty place.

 

view from windmill

The view from our local windmills, one of the places I cycle. The hills on the right are where the golden eagles breed.

 

Learning Lessons

 

The last few days have been busy with schoolwork. The central government and local governments have been trying to figure out how to organise the end of the school year.

Some people want every student to pass. Some want kids to go to school in July.

The instructions the dept. of Education have given schools are so vague they’re like the bible – you can interpret it any way you want. We have to decide and defend what we decide to do. To anyone who gets their back up if things aren’t the way they want. Usual shite.

We are trying to decide now, how many percent each term gets, how much up or down a kids grade can go if they don’t hand in the work we’re doing now …

But, really, there are more important things.

They’ve only now figured out how they are going to organise letting our kids out to go for a walk, to feel the sunshine on their faces, to feel the breeze on their skin, to look up at the sky and clouds, to see the trees already in leaf and flower, to run and jump and roll in the grass. Compared to that, who really gives a toss about their grades?

This is the hamster wheel.

They want us to keep worrying about the things they tell us are important, keeping up, getting ahead, cramming our days with lessons and assignments for fear others will leave us standing and we’ll loose out in the rat race.

It also stops us from pausing and thinking, what is important in life? All the consumerism and getting bigger cars, or seeing our loved ones, going for a walk?

There were paediatrics and psychologists on the TV the other day, saying kids are fine inside for a few more weeks. That they’re adaptable.

Well, that’s as maybe. Kids in refugee camps adapt to life there, but that doesn’t mean they’re not profoundly and negatively affected.

I fail to see how in 2020 these experts haven’t read about the need for kids to experience nature, to throw sticks and stones in the river, to climb trees, to pick flowers and chase pigeons, to dig (mud or sand) and build imaginary castles. To follow, and perhaps squash, ants, to interact with the world around them.

Kids who do this are much happier than kids who only see concrete and streets and screens.

We need to rewild our kids, and keeping them cooped up has been a step backwards.

Worrying about how to decide who’s passing or failing because they missed out some weeks of school is a disservice to kids, when compared to wondering what they’ve learned about life – what they’ve learned about helping in the home, being nice to one another and their family, if they’ve read books they might not have had time or inclination for otherwise. We should wonder if children have been able to use this pause in normal life to see how unnecessary some of our normal life is, how easily we take things for granted, when they actually are the fruits of many labours, trials and sacrifices (like having a public health service and unemployment payments) in the past, of their own family, of themselves now.

It’s been a few weeks. They can make up all this over the next few years without any problem. Hell, the government effectively took weeks off the school year by changing the repeat exams from September to June in the last three years. Perhaps they can fling that great idea out the window in light of this situation?

It’s not as if the Spanish curriculum wasn’t already overloaded with too much information to memorise and not enough time for understanding.

The government has a responsibility to make sure our education system works for everyone, true. They also have a responsibility to make life – not “normal”– acceptable, worthwhile, enjoyable and beautiful for us and our kids.

That’s why we have public parks and gardens, playgrounds and ensure natural amenities like riverbanks and beaches are clean and healthy to visit.

When asked about taking kids to grass, one government spokesperson said it was better not to, because cats can get coronavirus and might have shit in the grass.

I shit you not.

Where are the feral cats going to have got coronavirus from?

yamaguchi 2

Long grass in the local park. Perfect for kids to get back to nature rolling around in. Notice absence of feral cats.

Denying green spaces to kids has been necessary, but the depravation of those, in my opinion, is more detrimental than the deprivation of 6 or 8 hours a day sitting in a desk listening to me and my colleagues talking about the world, however interesting we make it.

If the government wants to ensure that every kid can get their required education while we are going through this crisis, well, ensuring every family has enough money to buy a personal computer, and have decent internet access, would have been nice prior to this.

Decent wages and proper housing policies will go a long way to making everyone in society more prepared and able to adapt to these crises, and I say that in plural because this is neither the first nor last crisis to be dealt with.

We will spend the next month teaching the bare essentials of the courses. The minimum content so that kids can continue in September with the next year’s course without holes in their knowledge. I can’t see why we don’t trim down the course for every year.

As for grades. Well, I’m finally giving quizzes where the points aren’t collected. They are just for the kids themselves, their parents, and me, to see if they understood the material, what they had problems with, and what they should try to revise. The numbers 5, 6, 7 or 8 out of 10 aren’t so important. Everyone will go on to learn more stuff next year. The way it used to be.

My own kids won’t be going to school in July. They’ll be in the village, listening to the birdsong they can’t hear now, running in a garden instead of the hallway, plucking flowers they can’t now see, rolling in grass rather than the floor, looking at the clouds horses and dogs and cats and birds rather than the TV all day – doing puzzles only because they want to, and not because I’ve turned off the telly on them, reading a book in sunlight and not inside.

Winter Returns, for now.

Winter Returns

 

News at Nine, now. And our first story of course is

What everyone’s talking about today. The weather.

Yes, winter has hit, and hard. Lots of traffic

Snarl-ups this morning, with tailbacks of two hours,

Cars sliding on the icy surface after the first snowfall

Of the season. Hundreds of hub workers literarily

Frozen in gridlock on their way in from the suburbs:

Even those who left well before dawn to get a jump

On the rest forced to a slow crawl behind snowploughs

And salt spreaders – an army of which were out

All night, trying to keep the cars moving, and will be

In force for the rest of the cold snap.

 

Yet, it didn’t get

Any better during this evening’s commute, people

Still on the road as we speak. We’ll be taking you

Live, later to our on-site reports from a host of

Highways and byways, where there’s not much

Headway being made at all.

 

And what a shock

To the system; suddenly, the hot weather

We were all becoming so accustomed to, has gone

For now. The beer gardens and restaurant

Terraces, that were teeming last weekend, now

Deserted but for a few forlorn sparrows seeking

Crumbs under the drifts of their new white home.

While we’re faced with a whole lot of inconvenience

For the foreseeable future. Especially those travelling

Long distances, another thing we’ve become used to.

Wheel chains compulsory on certain routes; time to

Change to all-weather tyres and fill up on anti-freeze.

Perhaps only the kids are happy, with a delayed

Arrival at school and perhaps a free day tomorrow,

As it’s set to freeze hard again, especially in the hills

While the rest of us just shrug and get on with it,

Hoping there won’t be a power cut and we can get

The drive shovelled before our extra-hour-long drive.

 

Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding ourselves

That we used to be used to this, this used to be usual,

And for once we can go skiing or sledding, so get that sleigh

Out of the shed, and if you have kids make a snowman –

Making sure to film them, for they mightn’t remember

All this in twenty years, and think it a fairy tale.

Take them to the woods at least, for the first time

This year, perhaps, without worrying about tick bites

Lyme Disease and the other nasty bugs they transmit.

The flies, too, are dropping like they’re famed to, but

Have been plaguing us on our patios till now, and

The mosquitos are also finally dying so Deet isn’t needed

To keep West Nile virus and Yellow Fever at bay, till spring.

 

Next spring there might be fewer lines of those

Poisonous processionary caterpillars for your dog to

Get mixed up with, if this hard frost penetrates their nests,

Giving foresters a break in their pine plantations, too.

The farmers will also be happy, since the grasshoppers

Aren’t nibbling at their sown winter cereals now, and

Perhaps a crop will come up green before next year’s

Eggs are hatched and ravenous at the sprouting stalks.

 

As for traffic, well, better have your car buried

By snow, which at least you can dig out of, than have

It carried off down the street by a flash flood, like

We saw during last month’s devastating torrential rains.

 

So, before we go to our roving reporters, a quick

Recap of international news, including new warming

Recorded in the Greenland icecap, and a typhoon

Threatening the already soaked and suffering Bengalis.

If you want me…

It’s been a while. It’s been busy.

But I’ve been doing a bit of writing.

I have a few poems to share, over the next few weeks, as the summer proper hits us.

Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be on the porch….

20170618_180746.jpg

The House Stands Built, the Garden Lies Laid

 

If we needed lumber, I’d gladly go into the wood,

Cut logs and split them all afternoon.

Were there a shelf to put up, a cupboard fixed,

A picture to hang, I’ve no problem lending a hand.

Should the lawn need mowing, or the hedge trimming,

The garden path cemented, a fence erected,

Bicycle mended, stone wall constructed, a pond dug

Or a border weeded, you can count on me;

I’m always happy to go to work.

 

But the house is built, the garden laid,

There’s left little to do but watch the grass growing

So if you want me, I’ll be on the porch.

 

(This is a short video of what’s in front of said porch….)

So I have a new book out…

The_Ecology_of_Lonesomeness_by_David_OBrien-200

Your friends don’t give a toss about your new book.

That’s one of the first things authors have to learn when they first publish, along with not to read reviews, not to take bad reviews to heart when they don’t follow that previous rule, and certainly not to comment on bad reviews even though they want to gouge out the eyes of the reviewer.

Your friends are not your friends because you are writer, even if you’re a good one, or a published writer. They were there before you told them you wrote. They were there when you were clicking away at the keyboard in your spare time at work, when you told them you were holding out for the box set of season three of The Wire because you were really writing instead of watching television. And they gave you a pass, held off on the spoilers in your company, though they’d to bite their tongues to do it.

When you put away the notepad you’d been scribbling on in the coffee shop before they came in, they didn’t twist your arm and demand to see your poems, or short stories or whatever. And you were glad.
Now that you’re published, you can’t go and demand everyone read your shit, or get pissed off that nobody seems to give a toss that you have this amazing new novel out now (Spoiler alert: I have a great new novel out today, but I can’t give any more info because it would be spoiling). You can’t now do the equivalent of shove that notebook in their face at the coffee shop and tell them to check out what you just wrote before they sit and get a cup of coffee. The truth is they don’t give a shit.

Yet, if they did, would you be happy? I suspect, because I have no firsthand knowledge of such situations, that it would be similar if a Hollywood movie actor’s friends were all waiting for his or her new flick to come out, or asking them to give a few lines of whatever movie they were rehearsing at the time was. And you’d think they were just there because you were what you were, not who you were.

That’s what I tell myself anyway. It helps when friends don’t give feedback, when they don’t crack the book you asked them to beta-read, when they give you no, “hey, thanks,” or anything of the sort in response to the dedication you put in the book you sent them a copy of when it came out, because, basically, they didn’t even fucking look at the acknowledgments.

There will be plenty of people out there who delight in the fact that you’ve a new book out. They’re not necessarily your friends. They’re called readers. If you are lucky, there will be overlap. But there doesn’t need to be. There just needs to be people in both camps. Lots of people in one, and however-many you’re comfortable with in the other.

When your friends don’t respond to thinks like wedding invitations and photos of your children, you can worry. You might see your book as a newborn baby, but to some you’re basically asking them to get all teary-eyed over a work project you finished. They didn’t read your research thesis, nor the amazing 100-page contract you wrote for the sale of three thousand solar panels to a Chilean copper mine consortium, nor did they do much more than glance at the wing mirror you designed for the new Chevy Volt (is that car even being made?). It’s all work to someone, though it’s art to others.

(for the record, fiction writing is totally fucking art, though my doctoral thesis is also stimulating reading…)