A former client of mine (whose wife curiously enough – though without any relevance to what I am about to say – walked with the plodding deliberation of a hippopotamus) was obsessed with computers. That was in the day when computers were still an oddity and certainly before anyone had even heard of fax machines or the internet. It was never possible to speak to him about anything other than computers (except perhaps fleetingly about his health and the weather). Everything for him revolved around computers. He was the original nerd. He reportedly spent hours and hours – late into the night and early dawn – at his work table in his office in a dusty, old and draughty converted woollen factory, trying over and over again to make things work. I believe he eventually succeeded. He sold his intellectual property and left town. As far as I know his tromping wife went with him.
Friends of mine are equally notorious for their own absorption – household renovation. They have been in a state of perpetual overhauling for the past two decades at least. In the process and by their own admission they have unabashedly managed to isolate themselves from almost every tradesman in the community. They are seemingly intolerable to work for though at the outset they have the appearance of cooperation and deferral. Eventually however they commandeer the agenda and prefer instead to make their own improvements. The result is inevitably the same – delay, procrastination and endless extension. The timeline becomes thinner and thinner until what appears to be a breaking point. But the elasticity of their motivation miraculously preserves it from snapping. To be fair by imperceptible degrees they achieve an alteration yet a semblance of constant upheaval and revamping lingers. They are outstandingly well-suited to one another and fan their mutual fires of innovation and remodelling. As might be expected their on-going venture is a springboard for narrow conversation and show-and-tell, not always a lubricant at the cocktail hour.
Still another chap I know dawdles in what for most people are unlikely past-times, things like withdrawing water from the river in the winter to extract the heat and creating irradiation devices to disinfect food for years. In the interim he assuages himself by drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. The social interludes with him are more often than not a a disguise for some other intellectual diversion of his making. He is never complacent about experimentation. He is tirelessly inquisitive but everything else for him is a yawn.
Two fellows whom I know – both professionals by trade, one a lawyer, the other a physician – are addicted to travel. They have the money to indulge the habit, often on a grand scale. Clearly they long ago resolved to see every possible corner of the planet. Though ostensibly a laudable goal and as magical as it might initially seem, eventually the romance is diluted by monotony in the same way as the repetition of anything else in life is. It isn’t the philosophical twinge of trying to escape one’s own mind, it is simply the hopelessness of outrunning the elemental and levelling features of frozen reality.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).
Then there are those who are manifestly consumed by their personal misfortune. While they may relive the calamity only privately (though often with noticeable vindictiveness), some feel the necessity to swamp the conscience of their friends and associates with a liberal re-enactment of the dilemma. Either way – whether concealed or “in your face” – the allusion is inescapable and synonymous with their existence. The infection has wholly contaminated them; their perspective is putrefied. I don’t for a minute adjudge them a failure for doing so, just unfortunate because I can see no advantage to the disposition other than wretchedness. At times their condition manifests itself as veiled animosity for those whose circumstances are considered superior. Otherwise it’s a ball-and-chain.
Waiting for Godot has forever been a challenge for those of us who have the leisure to do so. Indisputably the need to get out of bed to pay the rent is far more enabling than the idle contemplation of life. Anyone knows that the best sauce for any meal is an appetite. Yet we love to ponder the mist on the distant horizon even when the texture of our favourite things has begun to evaporate. It’s the battle between enjoying what you have and having it to enjoy. If you’re hapless enough to strike the balance of the two, it’s a nomad’s land. Make no mistake, life despises ambiguity the same way nature abhors a vacuum.
The wreckage of humanity which sometimes washes ashore includes those who have given up being scintillating by any standard. They have succumbed to anaesthetizing themselves to avoid the confrontation of dismay. It may actually work. I’ve known people who refuse to quit drinking or smoking even when they know it’s killing them. Paradoxically the alternative is just too horrid for them to imagine! I am reminded of the quip, “If you don’t drink and smoke, life won’t be any longer, it’ll just seem longer!” I can’t yet bring myself to erode my capacity to that point as much as I like booze and tobacco. Even at this crossroad of my life I haven’t opted to retire to the country with my book and my bottle, though it is a delightfully charismatic literary and alcoholic fusion.