Doing It

The more I think about why I can’t seem to get anything finished, the more I see unfinished things all around me. Things that seemed like a great idea at the time, but then there was no follow-through. Ideas that went nowhere.

In primary school, maybe year 2 or 3, we watched a film about what was then called global warming. The film seemed to say that it was all really pretty irreversibly bad, but if everyone stopped using the clothes dryer, it would basically be fine. So it was time to start thinking about not using the dryer. The time to start had come. This was about two decades ago.

To put things in perspective, last year everyone including me bought Keep Cups because of a similar documentary. The time, finally, had come, to start taking the environment seriously. This year, plastic straws are in the firing line. I suppose you can look at all of this as progress. Or you could see at it as different types of procrastination. When do things stop starting, and actually get finished? When do we celebrate the closure of the last coal-fired power station? When do we stop trying to start again?

Climate change is just one example, but this is really about the problem of beginnings. When I look back on the global warming video, I realise that all beginnings really offer is a kind of nostalgia – they let us believe that a blank page is possible. It’s intoxicating – to simply say you need to start, to believe that starting might be enough. Who doesn't want a fresh start, in one way or another? When was the last time someone said 'what you really need is to stick with this stale, unacceptable situation and muddle your way through somehow'? Never. What they said was: 'you need a fresh start'.

Declaring that you will do something entirely new is much easier than changing your existing course, than improvising and shifting gears where you are. It's easier than incorporating new information into a plan, or rediscovering older, forgotten or ignored information. There are manufactured beginnings everywhere. Think about how many articles include the words ‘we need to start talking about X’. When will the start of that conversation be? Sometimes it never comes.

Starting is easy. Continuing is hard. But continuing is all there is. Nothing has ever once truly begun. Even our cells have memories that precede our birth.

I have been thinking a lot about my own procrastination patterns, and I think that Doing Things in general gets much harder as you get older. You realise increasingly that no one actually cares what you do, or whether you do anything at all. I’m not trying to be nihilistic or down on myself – it’s just the truth. No one will force you to live your own life. No one else even knows what living looks like from your perspective. Maybe it means writing a novel that weighs the same as a watermelon. Maybe it means looking after a dog. Maybe it means both.

The point is that you don’t know what's right at the beginning, you know it at the end. You don't know until you weigh the book. You don’t really know until the dog dies. Catherine Deveny says in her excellent, bum-kicking book about writing that you can’t know how you will feel about something until you’ve done it. And that’s why we don’t do things – at least that’s why I don’t do things – because I know there’s a chance that it will be a massive letdown.

Which is to say, I know there’s a chance that I will be a letdown. But I guess sometimes you do get to the end and it is a letdown. And actually, it's fine. You survive. But you just don't know till you get there.

Which is where I have arrived, because I don’t really know how to end this post. I really thought it would be a lot more profound that this. Except to say – I’m still glad I did it. This is a perfect example of how things get harder the further away you are from the start.

A poem

Why do we chase each other down,

torches lit,

eyes averted?

 

I will forget the bandages.

I will bring soft pillows,

and myths

of large living

and heavy dying,

cries,

salt,

and songs

sung gently

hovering halfway between the inside and the outside

of my own throat

Caring and not caring and caring

I really thought I was over this feeling. Thought I'd left it all behind me, and grown up, or got over it, or widened my lens big enough to know that these things just don't matter.

But, I just got my first mark back on a uni assignment after a long time not studying, and I realised that actually I do care what other people think of my work and the precise numerical shape of their evaluation.

I'm not going to say what my mark was, or how much it was worth because that, at least, I know isn't relevant. I think it's kind of funny, though, how marks can make you feel, especially when you know that they don't mean anything. Like an actual punch in the gut. Like suddenly getting your period in a public place. It feels exposing. And then it feels really fucking heavy.

I think we live in a time of over-evaluation. We seem to need so much data to make things work, whether it's ride-sharing apps, or Netflix, or school curriculums. It's a problem of measurement, in some ways. It seems logical to get data on school performance from test results. But it seems quite illogical to teach only so that students can get good marks on the test, to turn data-gathering into a performance.

And the fact of testing is itself a barrier. Tests are stressful and horrible. That's why when I have to get an Uber I give the driver 5 stars. Because I can't bear the thought of a person being judged every fifteen minutes in a day. I just think it's a level of social confrontation that doesn't need to be there for either of us. Is this an advance in technology? Me, getting a ridiculously cheap taxi and then having the freedom to affect this person's ability to earn an income, based on my own random expectations? Who can accept that level of embedded, almost feudal, injustice?

When you do something as an adult that you once did as a younger person, you can kind of re-enact the ways you got to think the way you do. When I was in high school, I was really a rubbish student. I would panic for three weeks and then start assignments the day after they were due. Once, I was so late doing a presentation on blood doping in sport that the only source I consulted was an old copy of the Macquarie dictionary.

Then, in college, I started getting given good marks. It was extremely weird and incredibly pleasurable. With every score I felt more and more like a beautiful, intelligent butterfly emerging from some sort of crysallis of chronic ineptitude.

We had this big yellow sign blu-tacked to the wall at our school that said 'you are not your UAI', and we used to look at it while we did endless exam prep. And what I thought was, no, you are not your UAI, but I am my UAI. I wonder if I would have thought that if the sign wasn't there. Or if I never started getting the good marks.

Data is supposed to take our flawed decision-making out of the equation. But, one way or another, everything runs on judgement. It's a handy skill to trust your own.