I’ve been trying something recently. It’s called reading books. It’s really good.
One of the main reasons I’m doing it is because I decided I needed to take internet holidays. When I first did this one Saturday morning it left me feeling a bit confused, and then I realised what it was I was experiencing: it was spare time. Instead of flicking through pages on the internet I was sitting calmly at the kitchen table with nothing to do. When the kids came into the room to ask me for something I was able to talk to them instead of waving them away. After a little bit I decided I would read a book. Eleanor broke my Kindle so it was going to have to be an actual book. I decided to read Mayflower, a book about the Pilgrims in America. So I lay on the couch on Saturday morning last week and read a few chapters of a book, and chatted to the kids, and had a cup of coffee, and eventually stopped and had a shower.
I didn’t look at the computer all day. Or the next. I finished the book on Sunday evening. Not only had I read a book but I hadn’t been irritated by the news. I don’t get a newspaper, or have time to listen to the radio, and for some reason the news at 6pm provokes Eleanor and Rosamund so much that there is no way to watch it without resorting to crying, rolling on the floor, and temper tantrums (sometimes from them). The only way I get news is from the internet, and I have come to realise that the Stuff website has been set up in a way to goad me with salaciousness, and inflame my leftiness. Deliberately, of course. They want people to read their website after all. But it’s not really news, it’s mainly opinion about politics dressed up as news, or celebrity fluff, or class/nationalistic/racial outrage about some perceived slight. All wrapped up in advertising. Not looking at Stuff at all over that weekend made me better informed. Sure, my new knowledge was about a small group of religious extremists in North America 400 years ago, but there was more to be gleaned about the world from reading this book than in reading Stuff for an entire month.
Having been on Twitter for over a year I only really figured out how to use it last month. Suddenly I had a slew of interesting articles to read from around the world. It was exciting for a time, but already I feel like I will be stopping using Twitter. There’s just too much out there. Too much great writing, about important things, that need to be written about. I used to have a Tumblr. Same problem. Facebook too. I killed Tumblr and Facebook. At the moment I’m leaving Twitter. It’s a lot plainer and that seems appealing. I think the main thing I have come to realise about all these things is that they are useful for me when I want to find something, but that if I get sucked into the idea that I need to “keep up” then the internet turns into a massive time-waster. You can never keep up. Trying to makes me anxious.
Of course I have a blog, and blogs are part of the information “problem” (it’s my problem, not yours, I know), but I have decided that writing a post once a week on the weekend is ok. I usually aim to write 1000 words when I do a post. With a couple of weeks off over Christmas that’s only 50,000 words in a year. Not even a drop in the bucket of the outpouring of words that flow through the internet any given minute any given day. Anyway, not many people read it, and my blog serves mainly – except for moments where I succumb to egotistical delusions – as a kind of diary of my life. One day the archives of WordPress will be wiped or sold to someone and I will realise the futility of my blog for even this unintended purpose.
Recently I have been a little bit obsessed by Deafheaven’s album. Especially the track Windows (above) which is not a song, but a sort of… um, thing? Anyway I was standing on Milton Street the other day listening to Windows waiting for a ride, and felt suddenly how much effort had gone into that instant; the unremarkable instant of me standing on Milton Street waiting for a ride. It seemed to me that I could see the land as it was before, hidden there like a ghosting image behind the concrete now, how the street I was standing on must have once been most of the way down a hill, heading towards what was probably a marshy stream, filled with its bush-buggy-birdiness, but that I could see also all that melting away and the planks of wood and nails flying in like an imploding, exploded diagram of thirty wooden houses on a street so that suddenly the now was stitched together before me, a quiet urban, suburban street with the power lines and the trees and the parked cars just so.
The past and the present have a very odd relationship. One invisibly informs the other. Something about me is explained by Milton Street. Something about America by the Pilgrims. Whether it is true or not that a man called Abram heard the voice of God a few thousand years ago and went to Canaan it is fact for some, and has tortured that land for millenia.
Towards the end of Louis Theroux’s documentary on the Ultra-Zionists he talks to a young Jewish man, 17 I think, living up in a shack on a hill in the middle of four Palestinian villages, on Palestinian land – a bigot, really – but Louis always seems to humanise these people. They have a curious conversation under some olive trees towards the end of the film.
Man – “You told me you’re an atheist. You like it?”
Louis – “A lot. It’s very comforting to know that there’s no one up there looking after me.”
Man – “It’s very comforting, sure. I think – you forgive me already right? – it’s a stupid way of life. What you are here for? You think you came from a monkey? Everybody likes to think that there’s a big thing behind us, not just we’re here to work, get money, feed our children and die, and that’s it. You’re supposed to be a good man, you’re supposed to work for God, not just for yourself.”
I take no comfort in the idea of God, or the idea of his absence.
I’d probably be with the olive trees if I had a choice.