Back from England a week and only just catching up with myself. Books and posts and poems to read, feet and words to put one in front of the other, papers to file and do lists to shred; but it’s high summer, and inertia beckons so seductively.
Especially when it can be pursued lying next to a tree-fringed lake which allows wild-ish swimming. Summer bathing in the networked lakes which ring the city is such an entrenched part of Berlin culture that it’s not quite of the same order as plunging solo into an icy rock pool on a moor (a singular pleasure that still awaits me). Schlachtensee, though, which I headed to yesterday upon a friend’s recommendation and official report of excellent water quality, is wilder than many. All free and informal, much of the shoreline lending easy access to the water, no cordoned-off swimming area so you can strike out as far as you please; even a tree to climb and swing in on a rope from, if you’re feeling strong and exuberant. Plus boats to hire and a café bar for those without other means of cooling their beer. I don’t remember dying, but this sure felt like heaven.
To the extent that I’ve been thinking about anything, at least in a joined-up, beat-the-heat, purposeful kind of way, it’s the strange bedfellow relation between me-here-now and the me who keeps wanting to make Progress and run off up ahead Somewhere Else. Not for the first time, I’ve been observing my lack of tolerance towards myself when I enter a phase of inertia and feel disinclined to be ‘productive’. Every evening, that slight falling-unfulfilled-off-the-edge-of-the-world panic as I carried the unread book and still unfiled mangle of papers from kitchen table back to shelf. And let’s be honest here, the volume of paperwork involved was slight in the extreme – I finally got round to it yesterday and it took all of 20 minutes to sort out.
Symptoms of a wider faultline at play: somewhere between presence and disconnection, muddling on and the urge to act, slowness as a philosophical stance and, let’s call it inappropriate acceleration. Fundamentally (or, fundamentally for me just now), it kicks in between a robust respect for one’s own interiority as a creative guide to the process of living, and the habit of always looking outside oneself for answers and solutions. As I’ve posted about before with respect to the Dark Mountain Project, there are those who just kind of take responsibility for being the project, and bring into it their own journeys, their creative gifts, knowledge and insights; and there are those who approach DM as a providing / provisional authority – a role in which, perhaps inevitably, it will be set up to fall short of whatever is being demanded of it. The comment threads that follow the DM blog posts provide abundant examples of each.
I’m mindful that the distinction I’m proposing needs a lot more thinking out; that’s to await. For now, I’ve been interested in observing what happens when I can keep in check the urge to make progress, and allow myself to meander fairly unfocused through a day, stumbling after inclinations as they arrive. In no special order: the range of goads I keep at my disposal for prodding myself to feel guilty and anxious about not ‘progressing’. The potential a meandering attitude actually has to make me behave with fuller intelligence. I am far more inclined to stop, ponder, listen properly, ask questions, click that link, drill down, share, remember my limitations and how I could be so much better at all of these things. Whatever I’m reading seems richer and subtler, demanding of my care and participation far beyond the accelerated habit of quickly processing and moving on to the next box to check. The more I allow myself to meander off message, the more the borders of what is supposed to be get fuzzy. I’m slowly learning to appreciate slipping, in such moments, into a woozy, diaphanous state of existence in which words get unmoored from their usual meanings and relationships, start slipping into decidedly transgressive, polyamorous liaisons, tapping other depths. This tricky-to-accept state is the one in which whatever poetry I write gets written, and some of my better photos get taken.
And the granular beauty of cherries, held against turquoise fabric in direct evening light. Which would never have caught my attention during a productive scramble to get them eaten and dinner done with.