I called my Grandma, from hereon in referred to as Nan, for her birthday last night.
"Don't worry" Nan said, as I listed off the number of vague but unsettling existential concerns I have been grappling with these past few months, "you'll find you're feet."
There it was. That unspecific, but terribly comforting insistence, that old people spout having, you know, quote- un-quote, seen it all before. Pragmatic wisdom with enough depth of age to at least lend some kind of credible tinge to it's insistence that, in fact, Everything Is Going To Be Ok.
As uncomfortable as I am with this blog having slowly become a sort of wretched note pad for everything which kind of like concerns me, the likes of which, prior to the internet, would most certainly have been of the bound and locked in bottom draw variety, I can't seem to stop myself from occasionally writing something here that, on subsequent re-reading, makes me literally want to bang my head against a wall, such is the frustration and utter futility of my realisation that I can't take back the limp, angsty, nauseatingly self-aware prose. I could delete it, sure, but that would be even more unthinkable.
I visited Sydney last week. Weak and kind of dizzy from three day of food poisoning, I arrived on Wednesday morning, to find a hot sunny day was waiting for me. I kind of pottered around the botanical gardens, visited the Francis Bacon exhibit (spending my last money on entry) and ate a wrap that I realised half way through had cheese in it. It kind of didn't bother me. In the arvo I met up with Tom and Simon, my classmates from my honours year in Melbourne who have both moved up to Sydney Uni to pursue a Masters in Philosophy. What can I say other than it was an inspiring time? The Sydney Uni grounds are beautiful, and the philosophy department seems full of interesting and smart people. Every little part of me wanted to stay, to talk to these people, to not go back to Melbourne, where the kind of proverbial and literal Winter that had just passed, still seemed to overshadow my day to day actions and thoughts.
Cycling and racing (and here I can't believe I even attribute this much emotional weight to this dumb past time, but there you go) was the furthest thing from my mind. Having recognised cycling (slowly, over time, nutting things out alone), or more specifically my cycling 'renaissance' of training and racing, as a direct response to my Dad's death - a kind of obsessive compulsive behaviour that allows me to fill my life with bullshit structure, emotion addling fatigue, and local, club level narrative - I find myself both despising and loving this pursuit more than ever. I can't envisage a world where I can do both: namely, commit to cycling, and commit to being a hardcore, full time, student of philosophy.
There's this kind of stricken fear to my outlook. Part of me wants to never race again, so I can just go sit in the library quietly and do the things that have been bubbling away in my mind for years now; but I also just want to ride my bike. I want to do both, but experience teaches me that I can't. Not to the extent that I want.
This isn't some kind of issue where I am thinking about literally hanging up the bike. I guess I'll always ride. It's more about the kind of person I want to be. Do I want to accept a kind of middle of the road job, commit to hardcore amateur cycling and be done? Or do I want to give this intellectual life one last gasping chance? One more crack at maybe convincing others, but more importantly myself, that I can do this.
The Tour of Bright is next week. What can I say? I haven't ridden for a week. I probably won't do very well and, for the first time, I don't care. I can't decide if this is liberating or a major concession of defeat.
The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it's not really about cycling at all. It's a great thing, and makes me genuinely, un-complicatedly happy. It's more that it's representative of, to put it blandly, another path, another way to live. A more modest, perhaps more genuine life. Do I accept a normal life and race bikes on the weekends with my friends? Or do I throw caution to the proverbial and try and be a philosopher? The risk being that if I fail, I will be in the same situation as I am know, but I will be 4-5 years older and probably even more existentially, howdaysay?, ropeable...
Tied in with all this is the undeniable influence the gargantuan Infinite Jest has had on me this year. Its staggeringly long and emotionally ambiguous shadow has played a role in my outlook this year, to be sure. A book that deals with depression as much as it does, succeeds more than it perhaps should, at making me feel hope. I'm now convinced this is a work of genius, like most people who like it say. I don't really know what it means for something to be a work of genius, but I suspect I probably know it when I see it. Infinite Jest, just like all the blurbs say it will, makes me really think, I mean think, about what it is to be a human being. David Eggers in the introduction claims that, on finishing it, you are a better person. I completely agree. For if I've ever needed a book that deals with the various ways we, as humans, grapple with the at times bottomless abyss of living in this world, it has been this year. The book is deeply moral, insofar as it shows how we live rather than how to live. It's incredibly comforting to know that, the things that make me worry, probably made Wallace, and countless other too, worry as well. This isn't necessarily a problem we have. It's just, you know, being.
You'll find your feet, nan said. It's beautifully comforting while being nauseatingly limp and meaningless. But it seems appropriate in summing up what has been a year of violent emotional changes, marked by real playing catch-up grief, anxiety, boredom, ecstasy, with a serious commitment to physical exercise as addiction, and brief literary episodes as moral/existential compass.
There's this bird that's made a nest in the air vent of my dad's study. You can tell because there's all sorts of sticks sticking out of the shitty Victorian plasterwork, but also because you can hear the bird itself hopping about and doing pragmatic bird stuff. I'm undecided if this is something deeply poignant or entirely meaningless, an attempt on my behalf to link human constructed emotional confusion to naturalistic and ho-hum every day events, the presumed hope being that, it's ok james, you're just part of the bigger picture, etc, etc. and similar such bullshits.
The dog is yawning.