Important Daily Activities: An Incomplete List
- Make coffee.
- Dress. Neglect to check mirror for errors made while dressing.
- Check Facebook, Instagram, What’s App, news websites and Twitter.
- Stare out of window at high rises. Wonder if anyone is looking at me. Conclude: no. Feel tired.
- Download a Taylor Swift song. Feel guilty but invigorated.
- Arrive at work
- Attend meetings that go on for 56 hours
- Answer several million emails
- Drink third cup of coffee, begin shouting although calm
- Eat delicious biscuits
- Answer phone twelve hundred times
- Suddenly remember a pair of shoes I had a few months ago. Wonder where I lost them, and how. Ponder: at no time did I walk home shoeless.
- Fill in some forms
- Countdown the seconds until 5pm
- Check Instagram, news websites, Twitter, Facebook and What’s App
- Go to the cinema
- Read three pages of a novel
- Daydream elaborately
- Feel intensely tired
- Stay up too late watching things on netflix
- Begin meditation, immediately fall asleep
- Wake up in the middle of the night to a shrieking alarm clock, and then realise it is morning. Make coffee.
I mean, sure, it’s not the seventh circle of hell. There are many people meandering through similar daily patterns. My relentless and meaningless activity only became a problem when I began to feel rage every time my phone rang; and couldn’t ever really unclench my claws from that tenth cup of coffee. Getting a text drove my mad because it meant I was obliged to reply. And, y’know, that’s a bit of an overreaction.
It was time for some time off, except this time, it would be a holiday without any holiday: no planes, no sunshine, no foreign ‘monopoly money’ leading to dire recklessness in dim bars with Hans, my part-time Swiss lover; no hotels; no music at night.
By chance, my parents were away, and I had some leave to take. So I swiftly grabbed this glimmering vision of an introvert’s utopia. I ran away to their house in the Highlands for five days, to be Marlene Dietrich (in my dreams), all alone.
Usually, when I spend a day without human contact, I will start to chat to myself in a companionable way, commenting aloud on most things that occur. If I go more than one day, I start to sing. I sing long, heroic arias. I put on my best Russian accent and enact my favourite scenes from old movies, re-imagined as if all the actors had been Russian, and bad at acting.
I realised I must have been a little bit frazzled in the city, because when I arrived at the empty house in the countryside, I fell asleep for twelve hours. Then I woke up, made myself tea, curled up in a chair, and started to read. When I noticed that it was dark, I went to bed. At midday the next day, I woke up, went back to my chair, and began to read again. I lived in perfect silence and hardly moved. I slept twelve hours a night. It was only on the fourth day that I noticed the absence of noise. It was wonderful. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Brave New World. I finished A Moveable Feast and began The Old Man and the Sea (side note: the best novel. I found it. We can call time on the search, this is the best). The motifs of the novels fluttered around the house: sleek, educated, promiscuous Alpha men and women holidaying by helicopter in Brave New World; little golden fish with ruby eyes, the shaved head of Remedios the Beauty, and the tale of the 32 civil wars started by Colonel Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The holiday was full of voices and people, but it was serene and silent and warm and effortless.
I thought how much I would like to live in a world in which we were forced, say, once a year, to go off and live by ourselves for five days, with our one favourite distraction (a guitar; a light-sabre; the ingredients for a loaf of bread; and nothing but a large woolly pom-pom for especially stressed people). We would all be forced to rest. We would wonder what each other were up to and never find out.
By the last day of Alone Time, I was starting to comment on the comings and goings of the birds outside the kitchen window. Once or twice I even began to act out scenes from Casablanca in my Russian accent, while I made a cup of tea in my pyjamas at 3pm. It was then that I knew I was ready to re-integrate into society.
Luckily, some friends came up to see me for the last weekend, and I managed to participate in conversations like a normal. We even went on a little boat on Loch Ness in a terrifying gail, which was when I remembered that I hate adventures. I knew I was myself again when I screamed ‘we’re probably going to die’ amongst some very sea-sick tourists.
As we played Articulate and drank Black Isle beer, I remembered something: I love talking.
I love talking so much that I drive people crazy. I talk in my sleep. I talk at inappropriate times. I talk too loudly about feelings in public. I’m an absolute nightmare! My Alone Time System Update was then 100% complete. I drove back to the city, a new, slightly calmer gal, ready to get chatty.
Since then I’ve been careful to remember to ask myself: if I feel intense rage when someone texts me, what is the problem?
- They’re a scoundrel
- I’ve had too much coffee
Even if you don’t have Withnail and I access to an empty house in the wilderness, well, there’s always books. They open doors into adventures, and, crucially, they are not littered with distracting clickbait or advertisements. How nice.
When I’m done for the day with Odious Modern Life, I’ve got The Old Man and the Sea, which is a slender, revelatory tale of solitude. It’s also about human beings, faith, the world, morality, life, death and sharks. But that’s a whole other story.