‘My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from thinking; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something‘. Bernardo Soares, The Book of Disquiet
Eleven years ago I moved from Ireland to Portugal. From time to time people ask me why I chose Portugal of all places.
I’m always a bit flummoxed when I’m asked this. Recently however I worked out the answer. The reason why I went to live in Portugal is that I wanted to go and live in Spain.
I suffer from a certain indecisiveness. Bearing this in mind makes it much easier to decipher my own actions.
Often I do things because I don’t want to, and often I don’t do things because I want to do them.
Sometimes the things I wanted to do resemble the things I end up doing.
Sometimes I end up liking the thing I do, but this is always conditioned by the feeling that there are things which I would rather have done, although I often still don’t know what these things are or were.
Very often I do something because it is the exact opposite of what I actually wanted to do, even when I know very clearly what that thing is. This could be something as simple as not asking for someone’s phone number when I know that I want to do so.
After I left Portugal I wanted to go to Brazil or Spain, or maybe Japan. So I went to live in China.
Adam Phillips poses the question, what would you do if you were cured. This is inevitably a very complicated question.
Sometimes I feel that if I could only look people in the eye when I’m talking to them about things that actually matter, this would be a measure of success.
Acting changes things, radically transforms one’s situation. Hesitating, failing to act, indeciding, to coin a word, does not.
Hesitating is a clear sign that I’m censoring myself.
However when I notice that I’m hesitating it’s too late to act. Sometimes I half-act, I act without fully committing myself to the action. This is not the same as acting. I can’t quite decide whether or not to wait and hold the door open for someone, so I hold the door half-open, and get in their way.
The objective is to act decisively, to overcome the abyss between deciding and acting in one fatal leap. To launch myself over the chasm, and in so doing to make that space of indecision retroactively disappear, not to bridge a gap but to close the breach.
To say something, to declare something to be true is an act. To write is an act.
I enjoy writing. I only bring myself to write rarely. Most of the time I spend suspended in midair somewhere between these two points. I’m scared that I won’t reach the other side, that I’ll plunge into the shameful depths below. In the words of Bernardo Soares again, I plumb myself and drop the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I’m deep or not. I’m terribly scared of exposing my depths of shame and of opening myself up to a toxic mix of indifference and ridicule. My natural style is to demolish what I’m saying in the act of saying it. I almost certainly do this when I speak. It might be something I have to address and to change. It might not.
There is a time and a place for not censoring myself when I speak.
One of the things I most admire about Fernando Pessoa is encapsulated in the quote at the beginning of the article? essay? reflection? I’ll come back to this.
All of the people I most admire are prolific in some way. They trust in what happens when they start to speak and to write.
Many people’s lives are made up of hesitations, pauses.
Others’ lives are made up of one long statement that encompasses many many other statements, some of which interrogate or explain earlier statements, and some of which contradict one another.
Then there is the question of dialogue; if one never speaks, never actually arrives at the point of articulating what appears at that moment to have the status of a truth, then one can never enter into a dialogue. This is self-evident.
Perhaps I have nothing whatsoever of depth or originality to offer, or, more likely, very little. Maybe my insights and reflections merely replicate those of others, but at a much less informed and thought-out level.
There is however a very strong argument for trying to articulate some sort of truth, and it comes from Paulo Freire:
‘Hopelessness and despair are both the consequence and the cause of inertia and immobilism’.
Here is another favourite quote, this time from Franz Kafka:
‘You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world; you are free to do so, and it accords with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.’
I love that dizzying rush of ideas, when I think I’m onto something. My instinct these days is go online and to track down someone who’s already thought of the same thing, so as to evade my own responsibility to articulate whatever it is that’s occurred to me. This can be a frustrating experience, and it is always self-defeating in the fullest sense.
I used to link a great deal. Blogging taught me how very easy it is in the space of a few short minutes to sound like and expert on things you know very little about. Bombard people with links and their resistance to the sometimes suspect logic of your argument soon breaks down. I know that when I speak I have the bad habit of using too many names.
There’s a particular word I came across a few years ago, a name for a kind of essay that starts off on one topic and ends up via a series of diversions talking about something entirely different. It may be called a vagrant essay, or something like that. It was a popular form in the eighteenth century I believe. Anyway. That’s the kind of thing that I kind of sort of quite like to write. Enough of censoring myself. More soon.