DOING NOTHING



“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is having lots to do and not doing it.” Mary Wilson Little (American author)

It took me a long time after my official retirement in 2006 to stop thinking in terms of “weekends”.

Every time we planned to travel, to say Paris or London, we would think of it in terms of planning a long weekend, and it actually took me about 2 years to accept that after retirement, even if you are actually still in part-time work, you can really think of every day as being on a weekend, or conversely, every day as being a weekday. I actually like Fridays, and we have therefore started to refer to the days of the week as Friday followed by Friday1-Friday6, thus making Friday2 the day that churchgoers feel more self-righteous than the rest of us.

Retiree calendar

I love the idea that apart from the fact that very little is open around here on a Friday2, I can look at each day as a day in itself rather than to have to categorise it into 5 work days and 2 supposed days of rest, which for most of my life l spent finalising the previous week and planning the next. It means that the distinctions that you established in your full-time work life can be replaced with a whole new set of disciplines that are based on what you want to do and achieve, rather than being driven by a pre-set schedule.

I have to admit that even when I was working full-time, I would occasionally (maybe not often enough) sneak off to play the truant for the afternoon. It is when work is at its most frantic, when your schedule is backed up, that sneaking off on a workday afternoon, say to go and see a new release movie, has more impact on mental health and stress management than doing it at any other time. I am fortunate that I have a very persuasive wife who would occasionally decide that it was time for some creative disappearance from work, for something totally frivolous but memorable.

By Kyriaki from Deerfield Beach, US of A (Truant); via Wikimedia Commons

I can still remember to this day sneaking off one afternoon to see “Star Wars” in 1977, just after I had joined Digital. I was not only run off my feet in the set-up of a new office for them in Christchurch in NZ, but I was about to leave for the US for my training/induction programme. Being so frantically busy at the time made it all the sweeter to sit through this afternoon screening surrounded mainly by noisy schoolchildren. I doubt that I would have enjoyed it the same way had I gone that evening. The fact that I can remember it so vividly after 33 years highlights how sweet was this particular piece of AWOL. Even today, I can still get the same buzz by doing something totally unplanned and selfish, rather than succumbing to the daily chores around the property, and also disregarding the long list of “To Dos” that have been compiled in our plan-the-week sessions.

By Photograph by Greg O'Beirne (Own work); via Wikimedia Commons

There was a time when business people could achieve something similar with a 3 hour lunch, and at the same time delude themselves that this was all for the good of the enterprise as it was based on altruistic reasons like “network building”, but this culinary jollity seems to have been washed away in the current economic tsunami.

Jean-François de Troy (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

All that is left to us is a mild indiscretion when times get tough, and I believe that it is always the sweeter when we are at our busiest. 

I am not advocating all out anarchy and desertions, just the occasional bit of wilful absconding when times are most frantic. The result is that you will return to your mountain of tasks with renewed vigour and energy, in no small way fuelled by the delicious sense of guilt after your defection during a time of overload … I can highly recommend it.



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LIVING FOREVER

BBC News has reported that “Life expectancy is generally increasing in the developed world, but Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey believes it will soon extend dramatically to 1,000.”

He contends that “… we are close to that point because of the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) project to prevent and cure ageing …”, and that this will begin to be possible within about 10 years, and that the first person to be able to live to 1000 years of age, may today already be in his 60s.

Via Wikimedia Commons

I find it interesting that most people want to live forever, but struggle to work out how to fill their time on a wet weekend, so as we continue to extend life expectancies around the world to 1,000 what will we do with all this extra time that we will have available?

In France, assuming that it will be difficult to raise the official retirement age from 62 to say 900, it is going to be an expensive exercise just to support so many long-livers on state retirement pensions. The state will therefore need to come up with new revenue collection strategies to support a growing and increasingly feeble minded population, for example maybe with a major tax on the life-enhancing treatments and medications themselves … a longevity tax rather than the wealth tax that now exists in France. Being a socialist state this longevity tax would of course have to be a sliding scale, otherwise it would not be fair to those of diminished means (can’t say “poor” anymore), and based on growing population numbers maybe even a major tax on new births as well (sliding scale of course).

Living to 1000 would definitely give people longer to pay off their mortgages, have significantly more marriages and divorces, give everyone the chance to do their 10,000 hours to become an expert at something over and over again (see ”First secret of success” posted 16 September, 2010), watch the same reruns of “Friends” at least 1000 times, and read all those books that generally pile up on the bedside table.

This painting is on display at the Museum of Art History in Vienna, Austria; Copyright © 2005 David Monniaux; via Wikimedia Commons

This does however assume that we can still read as we get older and older and older, as Aubrey does not actually outline how we are going to be able to stop our brains turning to mush, just focussing on the physical aspects of ageing. The projected spectacle conjured up of Earth’s future as being increasingly inhabited by medically enhanced, ever-ageing, dribbling super-centenarians is not an enticing image for anyone to look forward to with great eagerness, except maybe the manufacturers of “Sansabelts”.

We would also have to learn to cope with population numbers that will make it increasingly more challenging to support life on this planet, unless of course we keep the driving-license-for-life system, as billions of physically fit but mentally incompetent drivers on the road will definitely help with population control (actually not much different to the current situation in many parts of the world, like Florida or Portugal for example). What will also help is that most of them will have no way of remembering who they are or where they actually live, which will keep them on the roads increasing their chances of becoming or creating a statistic.

The thought of people being able to live to 1,000 years of age just like Methuselah doesn’t actually appeal to me at all … I am much more a supporter of the scenario outlined in the novel by William Nolan and George Johnson “Logan’s Run” published in 1967, and later made into a movie, in which everyone is basically terminated, when they reach 21, as a means of population control … a true commitment to “Live fast, die young”.

Christ Leading the Patriarchs to Paradise. Institute of Hispanic Art, Barcelona/ Methuselah; Via Wikipedia

I don’t necessarily feel that it should age-tested, but at the least we should make it easy for those who have already received their telegram from the Queen, and who can’t remember their name nor find their way home, to instead find a ubiquitous “sleep-centre”, as they are called in “Logan’s Run”.

(front) Dress worn by Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Holly 13 in the film Logan's Run; Source: Gryffindor (own work); via Wikimedia Commons

VIVE LE FRENCH ARTIST

I have had two unusual encounters recently that have left me wondering about at which point someone crosses from being an artisan to being an artist, and whether making this distinction is enough if it is just in the mind of the individual, as I had always assumed that the mantle of artistry needed public rather than just personal acclaim.

Pablo Picasso 1962; Source: Revista Vea y Lea, Argentina

An artisan; By Gnangarra (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

I had some friends visit recently, and although we had had a large lunch, decided that it would be fun to go and get some pizza in the evening from a local vendor. This is by no means an establishment that could be called a “pizza restaurant”, as it is a small wooden shack located in the car park of our local supermarket.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We drove down there and started looking at their menu board. The proprietor/pizza maker rushed over to the counter from his pizza oven and started to berate us in an angry voice. “If we thought for a moment that we could wander down at 7.30pm on a Friday and expect to get a Pizza that evening we were obviously idiots, as he already had orders to take him through to at least 9.30pm, and that making pizza was an art form that could not be rushed. The next time, if we had any sense at all, we would call and place our orders well ahead of time in the afternoon”.
I have been coming to France for over 40 years, and whilst the French can be very “direct”, I had never had anyone be quite this rude. My German friends were shocked by the tone, even though they didn’t speak the language fluently, and still mention it today many weeks after.

He seemed quite peeved when I told him that he was the idiot if he thought that there would ever be a next time.

Even though I was impressed with his seriousness about his job (he was actually wearing a chef’s outfit), I was amazed at his level of rudeness, until I zeroed in on his phrase that “… making pizza was an art …”, and that he was justifying his anger as I was obviously a “Pizza art philistine” and therefore not worthy of any respect at all in the presence of his greatness.

I accept that a good pizza is a thing of beauty and delight, but unless it has been made by someone like Tracey Emin, has been laminated, and is lying on her unmade bed, how could it be classified as an art form?

My second experience was with a local hairdresser who left me sitting there for an hour reading a Paris Match from 1998 (the last time France won the FIFA World Cup). After an hour I was moved from the waiting area to a chair by a mirror and then suitably robed, where I was left to sit for another 30 minutes (I have become more tolerant since retirement), before standing up and announcing that I was leaving. I then got a lecture about the “art of coiffeur” and that, being an art form, it could not be time bound nor subject to the vagaries of normal life. Now this was not the salon of Jacques Dessange in Paris, but was in a small salon in a village of about 500 people, 40 kilometres from Bordeaux deep in the French countryside.

By Wikidenizen (Transferred from en.wikipedia) (CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)), via Wikimedia Commons

When I responded with this fact, and that it just was not polite to keep people waiting this long, I got a round of applause from the women in the room, who had obviously suffered in the same way that I had, under the treatment meted out by this Tintoretto of the tresses.

The dictionary definition is “An artist is a person engaged in some type of fine art such as painting or sculpture, whereas an artisan is engaged in a craft”.

I have therefore come to the conclusion that an artist-artisan is just an artisan who uses the term artist to justify being rude to everyone he meets.

My question is “Why would anyone put up with it for more than the one bad experience?”
Why do so many people accord levels of importance to those who use rudeness as a way of elevating their own status beyond their due, being self-created legends in their own lunch times?

The word for a “dick-head” in French is “con” … must be where the term “con-artist” comes from.
I wonder if there is a similar word for “con-artisan” ?

PREVENTION IS THE CURE

A friend recently sent me an invitation to a lecture in London, I assume partially because the lecturer was a fellow Antipodean, on an alternative approach to how we should be reacting to climate change, rather than the current moves towards cutting down on carbon emissions.

It read:

“Invitation: An alternative view of climate hazard – a basis for policy?”
Presentation by Professor Bob Carter, James Cook University, Australia. London 30 November – IOM3 – 4 pm

“An alternative view has emerged regarding the most cost-effective way in which to deal with the undoubted hazards of climate change. This view points towards setting a policy of preparation for, and adaptation to, change as it occurs, which is distinctly different from the emphasis given by most western parliaments to the mitigation of global warming by curbing carbon dioxide emissions.”

I am interested in the concept that even when we accept that change is happening we should basically do nothing until it is actually upon us. I feel that it is akin to finding a strange itching mole and doing nothing about it until someone tells you that it is a melanoma, or refusing to have regular colonoscopies preferring to wait till a polyp is declared cancerous and relying on chemotherapy.

The arguments used to support doing nothing tend to be around the fact that the earth’s climate has always been changing anyway and that mankind has less effect on climate change than natural occurrences such as changes in solar radiation or changes in the earth’s orbit. On top of that, according to the International Erosion Control Association, there are now about 2 billion cattle on the earth and their farting has more impact on global warming than does mankind, so if we really are serious about climate change we should firstly all become vegetarians.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

By NASA/image by Jesse Allen,Earth Observatory,using data provided courtesy of the MODIS Rapid Response Team,Goddard Space Flight Center,via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also see arguments such as the UK currently going through one of its coldest winters for decades, so where is the evidence of global warming? The issue is that we are talking about “global” warming, so taking one individual data point, like the UK, and using it as an argument makes no sense. It is like standing at the top of an escalator and noting an extremely tall person come off, then watching hundreds of shorter people arrive, until a “person of restricted growth” ascends, and concluding that the world’s population is therefore getting shorter.

Just waiting in the hope that nothing will happen, but being ready in case it does, is not a valid strategy when it comes to global warming.

There is enough empirical scientific evidence that global warming is happening and specifically over the last 50 years. In that time the Arctic sea ice has decreased by about 5% and the sea surface temperature for example in the Gulf of Alaska has increased by about 3% (See “Evidence for Global Warming” by Larry Vardiman writing for the Institute for Creation Research).It may not sound like much, but it is enough to have a visible impact on our lives (such as the increase in hurricanes in the West Atlantic), and even more so if temperatures continue to rise.

Global average temperature 1880-2007; Source: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Global warming is a reality, and whilst it may be true that there are factors that affect it other than the habits of mankind, and even if we are not the major source of it happening, cutting down on man generated carbon emissions makes good sense anyway.
It makes good sense because we are generally wasteful when it comes to energy usage (whether electricity, heating fuels, travel or freight) and in these parlous times it makes both good business and personal sense to be able to cut waste out of our expense lines, even without considering the impact on our planet. Most individuals and businesses could cut their energy use and costs by 20-30% without a great deal of effort or expense.

Source: Simpsons fan 66 at the English language Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

So, we have a choice to make.

We can do nothing, and adopt a wait and see attitude as Professor Carter suggests or we can all at individual, business, national and global levels do something positive about diminishing our carbon footprints. Best case is that Prof. Carter is right, and all we have done is save some money and expense and made the air more breathable along the way, so we all win. Worst case is that he is wrong and we have done nothing about it in the hope that it won’t happen, and we all lose.

To me it seems to be an easy decision to take.

(Note that as Chairman of “Carbon Guerrilla” I am not totally impartial on the subject of carbon. Not surprisingly, very little came out of COP 16, the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, which concluded December 10th 2010, beyond the decision to meet again in 12 months. Interestingly, many delegates felt that we have already passed the point where we can hold global warming to below an increase of 3C, considered the catastrophic tipping point for our planet. )