© Pierre Maré,
I don’t have any deep thoughts at the moment or any obscure ideas that have been tooling around in my mind for the last few days. As I write this, I am clueless.
It has been a strange week, shortened by a public holiday and marred by the tummy bug that is marching around town in double quick time. Fewer days in a week rarely mean less work for me. This week has been no exception: I have met my deadlines only faster than usual. The bug didn’t help, but a couple of stolen hours of sleep did.
What has the week yielded? A slight delay on some of the jobs with open deadlines that I still wanted to finish and happily, a few new jobs, some welcome concessions and more opportunities. Thanks to the sleep, and with the exception of the delayed work, I am relaxed. As I said, it has been a strange week.
My early career was in advertising: a layout guy, computer jockey, very junior copywriter, in spite of a business degree. I thought it was a pathway to creativity, a roadmap to a wonderful destination where I could sit beside a blissful window and spend every moment absorbed in words, sentences and thoughts. I imagined the job would be a training ground for a career as a best-selling writer. Instead I got all the adrenalin rushes and nervous tension that goes with the advertising profession, the first few paragraphs of four or five novels that were probably too immaturely conceived to happen anyway and the traditional advertising drinking ritual to boot.
I kicked the pub routine when my daughter was born. Now that I am no longer a copywriter by profession I have creative reserves left with which to write at the end of the day: I can impart a bit of depth and my own personality to my words. What I haven’t been able to change is the nervous energy.
In advertising, the deadline is king. If you have a deadline, you become a center of attention, which usually entails one designated tyrant yelling at you to hurry up and get the job done because the papers are waiting for the material, and everyone else staying out of your orbit. In those moments of nervous tension, I found focus and, from time to time, the abilities to do things I didn’t believe I would ever get right, especially with software and mutton-headed computers. That and the heady adrenalin rush: that is why I haven’t yet been able to lose the habit.
Loafing is a stranger to me, someone I greet from across the room but rarely spend time getting to know. It is something that happens when I am asleep. I can vividly remember a handful of relaxed days in the last decade. I very clearly recall a day shortly after Christmas in 1997 when I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. It was amazing.
The problem with slacking off is that it is a threat. A quote from a promotional clock, issued by defunct record label ‘Stiff’ of all things, sums it up perfectly: “When you kill time, you murder success.”
If I don’t have anything to do, it means I am not doing any work, which means I am not billing, which means money is on the line, so the nervous tension kicks in. I begin to think about running out of cash, my wife and daughter, the cost of education, the renovations needed in the house, retirement, the fuel price, cigarettes, blah, blah, blah.
Even a bath can be made into a productive exercise if it involves a bit of professional reading or some mental construct that needs to be thought through. And if I pluck a few weeds in the garden or do the dishes instead of loafing perhaps I am saving time somewhere, somehow. Every act and each moment is invested with meaning, productivity and value.
Although relaxation has all the perilous allure of opium, I have not put it aside. One day I hope to relax in a well-appointed study, cobbling together successful books, but for now I need to put it aside, worry about tomorrow and prioritise the jobs on my list.
As the South African poet Wopko Jensma wrote, “Tomorrow will be an ordinary day, after that a similar day.” Tomorrow will tell. For now, I am clueless.