I read a lot, and every now and then the material is so perfectly apt to my present thoughts or circumstances I get a little superstitious.
The other day I was feeling down. I was thinking, fifteen more months in this bloody country. I was thinking, things might get even worse. My mind ran through the various grim possibilities, some more plausible than others. The new boss being a nut. Being refused an exit permit. My company being nationalized. I also thought about war breaking out but that would actually be a good thing – so long as we didn’t die we’d get evacuated and our insurance would pay our salaries while we chilled out in Dubai.
Bring it on.
But back to my misery spiral, I was depressed and this distracted me from my projects. I decided to go out to a café, read for a bit and see if that would cheer me and put a rocket up my arse. I was reading a collection of essays by Montaigne. I came across this:
You are no more to concern yourself how the world talks of you, but how you are to talk to yourself.
Exactly. I’d just been in touch with old friends and they were thinking I was a nut for staying in this place. A few things have happened that I haven’t been able to write about, but if I did you’d think the same thing. Other friends were wondering how I could survive so long without booty. And this was getting me down.
Further, a lot of my clients think that I’m an absolutely useless idiot, which is odd because I never had that problem anywhere else in the world.
But as Montaigne says, what do I think about all this? As I’ve already decided, I’m going to see out this contract, pocket the filthy lucre and then fuck off out of here into my new life. And I think I’m doing at least as well at my job as anyone else would manage to do in my place.
It is tough. This is a classic case of delayed gratification: do the thing I don’t want to do for now in order to do many things I do want to do in the future. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s my life and I must decide what to do with it, and to accept whatever consequences follow.
Montaigne goes on:
Retire yourself into yourself, but first prepare yourself there to receive yourself; it were a folly to trust yourself in your own hands, if you cannot govern yourself. A man may miscarry alone as well as in company. Till you have rendered yourself one before whom you dare not trip, and till you have a bashfulness and respect for yourself, present continually to your imagination Cato, Phocian, and Aristides, in whose presence the fools themselves will hide their faults, and make them controllers of all your intentions, should these deviate from virtue, your respect to those will set you right.
In mid-2019 I plan to basically retire, move to a cheap, pleasant location and focus on my writing, reading and thinking. Having read this, I realized that living in Shitholetopia is actually excellent preparation. Such is my dislike for things here that in my free time I shut the door, move right to the back of my house as far away from reality as I can get, and there work on my novel and other projects so that mind is as far away from here as possible. I normally work for five hours on Saturday and two or three on Sunday. At the time of my little blue patch I was on holidays and working a solid five hours every day.
This is essentially what I plan to be doing full-time in a bit more than a year. If I get all maudlin now, what hope have I then? I need to use this time to prepare myself for my new life and ensure that I am psychologically grounded enough to focus on my solitary goals.
You see, spending time on your own can be hard. In normal life we have many distractions – mostly paid employment – that bring us out of ourselves and occupy our minds. To end this and focus purely on one’s own goals is challenging, because whatever underlying mental problems you have will be right there in front of you. My problem is that I tend to overthink and worry about things that are not happening or that might not happen.
This takes us to the next bit. Montaigne suggests we imagine a person we respect is there watching us and bossing us around if necessary. While his three suggested personages are fine, I choose for myself Marcus Aurelius. All he wanted to do was stay at home and read books about philosophy, but when he got made Emperor of Rome he had to fulfill his duty by spending the rest of his life fighting the German barbarians on the frontier. He used his knowledge of Stoic philosophy in order to help him do what needed to be done, even though he wanted to be somewhere else, doing something else. This is what I imagine him saying to me:
“Oi! Why are you worrying about the insane economic policies that are destroying this country? There’s nothing you can do about it. And, are they making you suffer right now? No. You’re walking to the shops, it’s a sunny day, it’s a holiday, you’ve got hours to go to the gym and finish the next chapter. What, right now, is wrong? Oh, you’ve got to go back to work in a few days and face all that stupidity? Just before the holidays you were looking forward to it. To this time, now. So enjoy it. Suffer the pangs of work once you’re there. Do what you want to do for now and see how much better everything will be.”
And so I obeyed my imaginary life coach. I think that’s what the Stoics and Epicureans are, really – the original life coaches. I went to the gym and did my allotted period of writing.
Result? The first chapter was tough and it took some whisky to get through it. The next chapter wrote itself. That evening I’d finished all my self-assigned tasks and was free to do whatever I wanted. I wandered to the edge of town, took in the gorgeous sunset, enjoyed the feeling of freedom and a task completed.
Cheers for the pep talk, Marcus. And thanks to Montaigne for the timely advice. I shall keep it in mind and continue preparing myself for my future seclusion.