Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Ways to deal with emptiness

The birch on my front yard stretches out its heavy branches aggressively. It gulps up all the water that would otherwise go to the grass, rosebushes and dandelions. In the kingdom of my garden, the birch is exerting autocratic power over the midget plants, and sometimes its massive volume overwhelms me. Was it really this huge last year? Is this also a sign of the global warming? It’s only end of May, the birch is now in full bloom and in a month’s time the first yellow leaves will already appear. Everything happens so early these days. Buds, leaves, branches – our lives here and now, filled with premature beginnings, fast forward festivities, Christmas in October, Easter in January, Midsummer in May - parties that end before they were expected to start.

But not all is gloomy. After academic duties, I did some flâneuring today in the city and took myself to the extremes of boredom in my own company. I was done with a cafĂ© writing session in five minutes (following Julia Cameron’s idea of arranging “writing dates” with oneself), and it didn’t take me much longer to pick up a new plant (Easter cacti) from a flea market to decorate the less thirsty backyard. I was done, absolutely bored with everything and ready to go home in less than a half an hour. There was no expectation in the air, no willingness to run into someone, no willingness to change plans, to let loose and go astray.

It feels good to notice that I can now deal with existential boredom with more style than some months back. Some of the newly found patience must emerge from Paulo Coelho’s newest texts (especially the non-fiction collection "Like a Flowing River") – he is a champion for empty time, the human need to tolerate the fact that some days there may be nothing of importance to be done immediately. The art of making oneself useless for a day.

Let’s invite here the black sociological grin and heavy rectangular spectacles. I make fun of myself as a reader of Paulo Coelho – he is the most “iconic” lifestyle author I can imagine, whose texts seem to find the same kind of middle-aged, female, soul-seeking crowd in all countries I’ve ever travelled. And I’ve read him in many countries, carried his books in many forms of transport. Coelho is one of the most perfectly branded authors I have encountered lately, each novel marketing the next. His adult fans seem to mark in their calendars the arrival of the latest one, just like kids do with Harry Potter. Coelho’s novels are perfect to read in trains and bars as conversation openers with strangers – he is a household name, of whom almost everyone has an opinion, whether or not they have opened his books. Anyone who considers oneself as a serious reader or a potential writer must articulate their critical standpoint to ruthless populists like Coelho – but then, why does his name give birth to so much passion, whether we love him or hate him?

I have to thank Paulo Coelho for something, which I might have discovered later without him, but he has enabled me to realise it now, sooner than later. If I have trouble with early beginnings and fast forwarded lives, Coelho’s writings have strengthened my opposition to early bird-thinking in all walks of life.

There are days when I don’t want anything new to happen, when all things are well as they are, when arranging laundry can be the only thing I can manage, and that’s alright.

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