I have a tendency to do things quickly so as to get them done. Then I can sit down and read or think. When I’m getting ready for work in the morning I rush through my breakfast while thinking about the next thing I have to do. In the shower I’m mentally making sure that I know what I’m teaching that day and that I have all the materials prepared. That’s pretty much how things continue until I go to bed at night. Only the presence of my students during classes drags me back to the real physical world of here and now, and for that I am grateful to them.
In the evening I distract myself with reading articles on the internet, watching Youtube videos, reading my Kindle, writing my blog or just drifting away into vague thoughts and finally falling asleep.
All this would be fine if it made me happy, but it doesn’t. It leaves me feeling that I am living the life of a disembodied mind, feeling like I am skipping over moments and places like a ghost. I seem to be on a permanent mission to be somewhere else.
Activities like thinking, reading, watching Youtube videos and letting my mind wander are all forms of escape from the real world of lonely rooms and silent objects. Escaping into books and other virtual worlds is pleasant, like falling asleep is pleasant. Yet somehow this kind of escape doesn’t fit my idea of what constitutes a good life; it requires a mind but not a body. I might just as well be lying in a hospital bed or sitting in a wheelchair. And becoming aware that I exist while reading or watching videos prevents me from wholly slipping my anchor and floating off into the pages of my book or through the screen of my computer.
Of course, if the alternative to cerebral activities is to just stare at four silent walls then rushing to your computer for a little light relief and escapism is understandable. But I have always liked the idea of being able to find something of interest in almost any situation, of being able to make the most of unpromising material. This means feeling at home in situations where the mind has little to entertain it.
There should always be something for a mind attuned to notice things to fix upon. Right now I can hear a crow cawing outside, some kind of machinery whirring up the street, the sound of distant traffic from the covered motorway just above and beyond my flat. I can feel my wrists pressing against the wood of the shelf on which my laptop is set up – and it occurs to me that I should take them off since this is probably compressing my carpal tunnel. I can feel myself slightly holding my breath while pondering what to write next, and I can see my fingers hovering above the keyboard, awaiting instructions from the brain. I admit this isn’t much, but neither is it nothing and it is at least more solid and real than living in the virtual world of books, computers and wandering thoughts.
Even so, perhaps this desire not to drift away from reality too completely could be the fear of a single man who spends far too much time alone. There are probably millions of people out there with much better social lives than me for whom reading books, watching Youtube videos and allowing thoughts to wander idly represent a pleasant relief from the constant presence of others and the all-too-real material world.