Having been on holiday for a couple of weeks, I feel a bit behind-hand (but not particularly guilty about it, so there, internet). Checking email and tweeting on a phone is one thing. Writing blog posts that are attempting to be deep and meaningful is quite another.
However, I was reading some more of Consumer Detox while I was away (I’ve still got one more week of it to do, as I’ve not done the Easter week set yet!) and having a few of musings on the ‘shallow and the deep’ from chapter nine. Powley’s argument is that living with real depth, being rooted in a way of life and developing a character and relationships takes effort and practice, and requires us to get outside of ourselves.
He likens it to ‘proper’ cooking – the process of planning and preparing, chopping and stirring, rather than unwrapping and reheating. I’ve always enjoyed cooking (well, I like good food), and I find the process of preparing a meal relaxes me after a day at work, and I like cooking for others, partly because it gives me an excuse to try new things, and gives me someone to have wooden spoon swordfights with in the kitchen. Also, I like my people. And as a metaphor for doing life, for me it’s interesting, because actually, how comfortable I am in ‘my’ kitchen is something of a marker of how comfortable I am in the place where I’m living out my life – and that matters to me, because having that place to come back to is the thing that roots me as I go out and work and play, and try different things. If I don’t have that rhythm of wanting to come home and spend time there, and cook there, and invite people into that space, then everything else feels unsettled. Home is where I open up, and where I let people in. And if I dont’ have it, then all my running around and doing feels a whole lot shallower. So I need to find that place.
That was my first musing.
The second was more wandering. Powley’s writing about ‘The Shallow’ got me thinking about Iain M Banks’ Culture novels. If you’ve not read any Iain M Banks, you should: he has an amzing imagination and is a fabulous writer. But I can’t escape the idea that living in the Culture wouldn’t be all it’s cracked up to be. It’s kind of this amazing end point, where we stop worry about money and economics and work, and just all get to be ourselves (humans and ‘aliens’) and explore and experiment and enjoy life without worrying about everything, and everyone does their own thing and no-one else gets offended by it. I love the books – but the Culture just feels shallow to me, because everything is so easy, and no one has to work (except for Special Circumstances…). It feels like the Culture has been posited as a kind of utopian end point where we should all be really wanting to get to – I can’t recall, but I have a feeling that Banks has been explicit about that in an interview somewhere – but I’m not sure that we should. I don’t think I do. Not for all the openness and lack of prejudice and economic worrying – I could live without economic worrying very happily! But for the lack of work. Rest and relaxation and playing are great – but if you don’t work they lose all meaning, right? And we weren’t built for that all the time – we actually need the habits of work and the bits of life we don’t love all of the time (and however much you love your work, there will be the bits you don’t love – the admin, or the tax returns if you’re freelance, or one specific responsiblity, or whatever). The ultimate example of how we weren’t built for eternal ‘playtime’, of course, is Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged in Douglas Adams’ Life, The Universe, And Everything, who gets so sick of being made immortal that he decides to go through time and space and insult the population of the history of the universe in alphabetical order. Which is basically him going mad.
The third musing was a long-winded metaphor, as I was kayaking around the Langebaan lagoon with my uncle. It was a lot of fun – and a great way of clearing your head. I like it as a relaxing activity in the way that I like skiing – you just get to a point where you subconsciously focus on the rhythm of the activity as you do it (in this case ‘paddle, paddle, paddle’) and the rest of your brain is free to wander. And the rhythm stays the same, regardless of the conditions around you. While we were kayaking there were times when the wind was behind us and times when it was in our faces. There were times when the water was choppy and we got splashed, and times when it wasn’t. There were times when the sun was just too hot and I got burnt. Sometimes the paddling was hard work and you could feel your muscles keeping the rhythm going, and other times the wind blowing us forward was actually making it harder to keep the rhythm, because it felt like we needed to paddle faster to keep up with it. , and sometimes it was just completely natural and you could enjoy watching the cormorants diving for fish, the sunlight sparkle off the lagoon, and the world going on around you. And that’s just how life is.