Just one of those days

(I wouldn’t have bothered to blog this, but I have decided to be more inclusive and curate less. It is best treated as an observation in ‘over thinking’ and maybe an exercise in self-mockery! There maybe however one or two things perhaps worth picking up at a later date.)

Pt 1.  (Carpark on the Preseli hills)

I have written several times below about the wonders of this place. The way the light transforms, the calm and the wildlife, the sculptural rocks and soft air.  But, of course, it is not always like this.  Grey days exist everywhere and for everyone and it is grey today. Today also the landscape matches the mood.   I feel grey; my head frozen, locked up and useless.  This is my least favourite state. Joy comes from freedom and freedom from thinking. But, for the last week or so, my head has been having none of it. In this frame of mind all the bad things seem real and the good things illusory, which is, of course, as it should be in a meaningless, random and uncaring universe!

Some of this mood is, I would say, objectively justifiable. I find myself obsessively typing ‘Ukraine news’ into Google, searching for reassurance, while scouring social media for a sense of contact and warmth. The first is nowhere to be found and the second scarce.

My project to write a book feels already dead. Killed by just the demons I suspected it would be killed by, but which I hoped to exorcise by calling out and naming. But no, they know me too well and are too clever and wily.

Of course, there is probably never a ‘right time’ to try and write a book, just as there is never a right-time to have children or move house, but this time, with global conflagration appearing a distinct possibility, makes even starting seem pointless.   

The fact that I am not alone in this gloom is some comfort. Talking to a neighbour the other day black humour welled up when she said, ‘well I’m not buying any ripen-at-home fruit, or long-playing records for that matter at the moment!’  Not easy times for a perfectionist obsessional who wants everything to be just right, while simultaneously searching, with the aid of a very proficient imagination, for reasons for them not to be.

I have found retirement also brings challenges. The working week, with its cycle of pressure-relax-pressure-relax, used to at least act like a simple pump, keeping the stuff of life moving.  Take that away and you can be left with stagnation and the opportunity for a real sharp-toothed-long-clawed existential crisis. I have always had a propensity for such crises, but with little to distract me, this talent can truly blossom.

I remember I chose science, specifically physics, as a career because I realised, I needed something challenging but, most importantly, something external and objective, to engage with. I knew, even by then, that if I didn’t distract the beast with some red meat, it would surely eat me alive.

I fancy others have felt similarly. Was Einstein referring to something similar when he said:

“Strenuous intellectual work and the study of God’s Nature are the angels that will lead me through all the troubles of this life with consolation, strength, and uncompromising rigor.”

Not many of us have the strength to forge our sense of meaning, Nietzsche-like, out of nothing, with just our bare hands. In any case, is it possible to hang meaning from something we have constructed ourselves? What other choice do we have? To hang meaning off God or Nature. But both of these it seems can be pulled down relatively easily. Perhaps recognition of our common human plight and compassion for other sufferers is at least a starting point, but this too can be picked apart philosophically if one really chooses to do so.

Philosophical ideas, particularly those around free-will, determinism and reductionism have always had the power to empty life of meaning. This is one of the difficulties I have with writing; everything that doesn’t tackle at least one of the three or four major philosophical questions of life and existence can seem like so much padding!  Ridiculous to feel like this, I am sure.  Maybe the answer is to simply stop thinking about such things and accept that, to quote Kirkegard; “Life Is Not A Problem To Be Solved, But A Reality To Be Experienced.”

Who knows! I am tired of swinging between imagined possibilities. I drove out here to write, but can’t and the weather does not inspire walking, so I am heading back home.

Pt 2. (Two hours later)

I dropped a hundred feet or so, from the relatively flat top of the hill, down the steep sided valley and the world changed.  The mist thinned, making it to appear luminous rather than flat grey. The bluebells began to faintly glow from the verge and birds (pipits and a wheatear I think) could be seen moving along the banks on either side of the road. I was struck by the warmth of the air blowing gently through the van window.

The usual order of things was reversed.  Usually, I love to get out of the valley. To the more open uplands.  But not today. The terrain matched the mood. Enough of the bleak.  Why would we choose to live on the colder, windier uplands when the shelter of the warm folded valley is nearby.  To profess love of such bleakness, be it mountain or sea, is, it seems to me now, to not really know these places.  We are not designed to live in such inhospitable environments, however good the views.

These thoughts and feelings recalled something I had read recently on twitter. An author I follow1. and who I suspect experiences similar days, had tweeted a quote from the writing of the Scottish philosopher David Hume;

[1] “The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, invironed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

[2] Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three- or four-hours amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.”2.

Of course, it is interesting that despite the healthier and more natural feelings Hume described in the second part of this excerpt, whatever it is that drives philosophers and others to ponder the sorts of questions they ponder, drove him, sooner or later, back to the ‘hills’!

  1. Caspar Henderson
  2. https://jacklynch.net/Texts/treatise.html

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