Each thing I do I rush through so I can do
something else. In such a way do the days pass–
a blend of stock car racing and the never
ending building of a gothic cathedral.
Through the windows of my speeding car, I see
all that I love falling away: books unread,
jokes untold, landscapes unvisited . . .
– From “Pursuit” by Stephen Dobyns (published in the compilation, Cemetery Nights).
I find that I sometimes think in two rather dangerous or at least undesirable ways. I don’t think in these fashions too often, nor are they are representative of my usual mindset but I’d like to train myself out of them if possible. I wonder if any readers of my Occasional Papers can empathise?
I don’t like to ‘shape’ the way I think usually, favouring instead to engage with peculiar, perverse, impractical or deviant ideas rather than block them out. I think that’s healthy. But in these cases I’d make an exception.
The first concerns the constant feeling that there is something better to be working towards – a new stepping stone in life – and that once this thing has happened, the “real living” can begin. Fun can be put off for another day until this project has been completed. Does anyone else suffer from this? It’s a total fallacy of course. Nothing will change or be much more comfortable if one’s bank account is out of the red. Similarly, nothing will happen once you’ve moved into a better flat or secured a more desirable job. You’ll still be the same dimwitted person wondering about the next selfish existential target might be met and never really reaching the proverbial carrot of “the real living”. There will always be a more desirable job/attractive partner/fashionable flat to move on to and presumably no satisfaction for this desire.
The second dangerous way of thinking, is never 100% enjoying the thing presently happening to me due to the everpresent distraction of anticipating the next. While reading a novel, I’m wondering about what the next novel might involve. It’s true to say that this may seem like a reiteration of the first problem, but I’d argue that, while similar, it’s a definably different problem but may or may not have its origins in the same place.
Both problems are stupid and make me feel a total prick when coming out with them in this fashion. They are the very antithesis of Stoicism and an enemy to anyone who has them.
Regarding the Stephen Dobyns poem, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve not actually read Cemetery Nights or anything else by Mr. Dobyns and that I came across the quote in a horrible Stephen King novel a year or so back. Nonetheless, it resonated with me and helped to articulate those weird thoughts. It sounds like a really good compilation though. Wikipedia’s entry on Dobyns describes another poem from Cemetery Nights (‘Missed chances’) in which “the nameless speaker wanders through a metaphorical city in which those who missed their big opportunities futilely rehearse for when that moment will next arrive”.