Anatomy of a day of freedom

It paws at me this morning.

I’ve tried blanketing myself in books. Eventually they saturate my mind; the soggy attention not letting in one more grain of sugar; one more grain of someone else’s thoughts. Other peoples’ thoughts are a kind of sedative—they’ve already done the hard work of thinking them.

I shift so my hips are pressed flatly against the bed, one leg up at an angle for comfort. I think I’m pretending it will help me fall back asleep.

It would be easier if it were a specific task haunting me. Some actual animal buzzing around my ears, begging to be fed and cared for. But in this case every time I try to look at the thing out of the corner of my eye it turns back into a cloud and I feel woozy and still.

Once my bladder wakes up, the battle is lost, and here, I feel it stir. Climbing down from my haphazard nest almost completely assured that I won’t get back up there again.

This city practically boasts on your behalf; pitches tumble out of your mouth as fast as eager ears await to hear them. Three-quarters of convincing yourself you can get it done is convincing somebody else. You sell the story in order to define it in your own mind.

People certainly do walk around with a lot of arbitrary urgency here.

So I sit, in a room that I rented, with only a story I invented as the tenuous thread carrying yesterday’s (or last week’s) accomplishments into the milky sludge of today’s notebooks. ‘Why’ has been washed out of it, the stain rinsed by the water of books, Twitter, conversations—the tyranny of other people’s thoughts. Yet have you tried to have your own thoughts for a second? They’re boring as hell.

The timid caffeine is like the limp straining of a flipped turtle, struggling to right itself.

I’ve already opened the spiritual book, five others in hand in case of indecision; my subconscious refuses to take the question of whether to work at something today seriously.

I’m horizontal and an hour later I fall asleep.

Is there anything more pointless than a human mind in indecision? The story about work, about purpose; the story about space and contemplation and rest, the meta-story about habits and whether it is right to force oneself to do something that feels unnatural…

Anything can be used to justify anything, if you’re motivated enough to do it.

When you wake up the second time there’s a feeling of disgust the same as if you had eaten a whole pizza to yourself; hard to tell if prudence or internalised capitalist Puritanism.

I promised someone earlier I would go work with them, across the city; my faint excuse for being late already made but the opportunity to make something of the day and join him gets weaker and weaker every half hour. I run my hand across the three other books and pick up another; its colourful intellect tempting me with saturation. There’s more self-hatred in this than I thought.

My mind keeps time with an alternate reality version of my day where I was chipper and focused and efficient and by 3:30 I’ve already gotten so much done it feels like I’ve earned the right to live the whole day. This 3:30 comes by to check my work and all I’ve done is convinced myself that what I really needed was to contemplate the spiritual role of work, and not in fact to do any work at all. I could starve myself to death with navel-gazing.

We’re such little individuals, eating all this confusion up alone. Now the deadline I’m fighting—still alone and horizontal on a soft mattress in the living room—is that the store that might fix my laptop closes in two hours and if I don’t at least fix my laptop then I really would have lied to the guy I promised I was late to working with because I was fixing my laptop. I don’t want to lie to myself more than I want to feel flapping about hoping each next second of someone else’s thoughts will save me from the forcefulness of having to endure my own.

Sometimes I am a god—all seeing Atman—and sometimes I am a rat that you can train with pellets and tiny electric shocks. It really confuses my sense of self, this.

Standing up is a fight I have with myself—first to fight against the urge to sleep again, second to fight the urge to fall back down the second I succeed. I get dressed by continually revising down my expectations (this is where my previous efforts to rid my wardrobe of undesirable items and leave only things that leave me looking passably decent have saved me countless times). My bedroom is an abstract replica of my mental state—its tidiness or lack thereof neatly mirroring my own internal level of cohesion. I haven’t yet run out of clean clothes, but it’s all unfolded in a laundry basket so on a scale of executive function I’d assess that at maybe a four.

Finally, shirt pants jacket wallet phone—shit my phone’s at 19%—oh well, let it die, I’ll survive.

Once I’m outside everything takes too long. This is barely work anyways—I’m hardly cosmically justified—but it is the next thing in the way of getting work done; the bottleneck, seen oh so clinically. Really it’s something I could bear doing. As I walk through my neighbourhood’s streets and stop in to buy a snack and walk as fast or slow as I like, I marvel at how rare it is that my tempo is not set by others. Who knows if it would be better to give that control to someone else. But the five times I consider turning around and going home, I relax comforted that I can go as slowly as I want because nobody needs me to be anywhere.

Activity has its own momentum; this quality, I often resent because the work or the doing something feel so tragic and impossible on the side of inertia, and so simple and even joyful once they’re already going. Walking is the easiest thing in the world, once you’rs already there. Being in love carries itself with no sense of strain needed; writing and making something and any other sort of work—they all have this sort of already going quality that keeps the thing happening at all. Even for me, on this day when I feel so sorry for myself, sad unworkable sod; lump of clay.

I think what often paralyses me is the sheer number of things to be thought about and decided. And in reality any of the decision might work, or you could just decide lots of little times but faster and get to roughly the same place faster and with little thrashing. A pity then that my mind never informs me that that’s what I’m doing when I’m trapped by it; it only lets me in on the joke once it’s clear and obvious that I could in fact choose to do something and that what I chose to do at that moment didn’t matter too much at all.

Going anywhere at all feels good; the forward momentum so simple and assured. It is actually irrelevant how long it takes to get to the store; how much time I spend getting there has almost no bearing on the lived experience of getting to one place from another with my feet. Cities have so much to see, anyways, and thinking is just as easily done while moving.

Once I’m at the store it’s simple; someone else (the store designer, perhaps?) is making the decisions for me. Then I make some of my own (buying chargers and adapters and cables of various kinds) but even then it is a scoped, definite sort of choice. I’m not deciding between starting a company and seeing the world as an illusion (which is a kind of deciding-between that very much doesn’t lend itself to logical mental arithmetic).

We domesticated humans in part because society is less violent that way, but I suspect also because it is intensely calming; knowing every kind of decision you could make at any one moment is horrifying—like the backdrop of your lush virtual reality world suddenly flipping to the source code; even if it flips back immediately it’s profoundly disorienting and that knowledge stays with you forever.

Walking home is even simpler; it’s simply retracting the rubber band from its maximally stretched position. Like tidying up, it comes with the satisfaction of having beforehand a definite place to go in a way that deciding what to do or even why to do it does not. Before you decide what to do, almost every answer is wrong; once you have decided, it is generally very clear which way you need to go to get to your answer. Picking a mountain is way more ambiguous than climbing the one you’ve picked.

It is a sad fact of procrastinators that you very often accumulate any kind of useful momentum precisely when it feels most appropriate to be winding down. And so it is with me; not that I do anything that could be described as adhering to a plan, but I certainly get the burst of energy that allows me to write a totally unrelated little document that could have very much have been something I intended to do and thrashed about for hours if I told it that way later in a story to my friends. And then cleaning and tidying the kitchen and sewing that skirt that has been sitting intended for months and…

The curse of having intentions is seeing them whip by as you barrel along on the train studiously set on going somewhere else entirely. It is one thing to scrape together some motivation from somewhere; it is another thing entirely to have it move you down the path you thought you’d like to go down beforehand. Those of us with the gift of freedom are cursed to spend eternity wandering the back-paths where we never quite thought we would go.

But hey, at least you’re moving.

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