G’day from Lake Burrumbeet,
I came to the realisation today that I’ve been trying to do too much. Trying to see everything, go everywhere. Packing up, moving, setting up again. Not wanting to do the same walk twice and doing two of them each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (generally an hour each). Wanting to see everywhere properly, to really drink in the experience. Not wanting to rush, but doing it anyway. Slipping back into old ways, where everything is a checklist. Life becoming one big to-do list and me frantically trying to cross it all off so I can have some peace. A never-ending quest to “clear the decks” so I can just write.
But I sabotage myself.
Even when I’ve cleared the proverbial decks, my mind invents new things to do. Like setting up this newsletter. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into it, and my mind tricks me into thinking it’s more valuable than writing. If I can just get that sorted, then I can write. But, once it’s “sorted”, something else crops up, or I just want to make a little tweak. Next thing you know, it’s 4pm and I haven’t written anything and I can’t enjoy this beautiful place I’m in because I’m an undisciplined hack who doesn’t deserve it.
I’m exaggerating, but not much.
I know what it is. My mind is in constant overdrive. I can’t “turn off”. Because there’s no set time when “work” ends and “home life” (for lack of a better term) begins, work never ends. I work and eat and sleep and read and stream TV shows in the same room. There’s no separation. Even when I’m out on a hike, supposedly enjoying nature, I have my earbuds in listening to a podcast or an audiobook at 3x speed just to – yep, you guessed it – clear the decks.
And if I stop listening, take a break – for a day, maybe even a week – I know that my podcast feed is just getting more and more full. The number of pages I have to read in my daily devotionals and my King James are just building and building. That’s not going away. It’s only getting worse. Like a fire in the other room you try to block out by closing the door.
What’s worse is I’ve brought this library of classical books that I’ve been meaning to read and it’s all just adding to the list of things yet to be done. I feel like I’m spreading myself too thin by doing too many things and not doing any of them fully.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy what I’m reading or listening to, it’s that everything becomes a chore. Everything becomes something I have to check off so I can finally relax and enjoy the day. But I’ve engineered it so that the checklist fills the day, and the only time I can really relax is when I’m lying in bed going to sleep and I watch a few episodes of a TV show on my phone as I doze off. Even then, “watching time” often turns into searching Wikicamps for where I’m going the next day, what facilities this or that campsite has, what good walks are nearby, and so on, and so on. It turns into adding podcast to my playlist, or making that little tweak to the newsletter.
Anything so that I don’t have to be alone with my own thoughts.
Blaise Pascal wrote:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Think about it. When are you not doing something? Not listening to something? Not watching something? Not reading something? Not communicating with someone in some way? Not drowning out your internal monologue with some external input?
Maybe I’m projecting. But I kind of feel like I’m not alone in this. I think this is something a lot of people are dealing with.
It’s not like I want to sit in a room by myself, Blaise Pascal-style, but I would like the option. Right now, that sounds like a fate worse than death. The idea of not being productive in some way, not moving forward, not building something, producing something, doing something, consuming something, is antithetical to the modern world. Produce and consume. Produce and consume.
Something’s either going in or coming out. There’s never just… stillness.
I thought I was stepping off the treadmill by heading out in a caravan. I thought I’d find stillness. Turns out, the treadmill followed me, or I found a new treadmill, or I just moved to a different part of the same treadmill.
I don’t know what the answer is.
Maybe set a three-night minimum at wherever I decide to go to limit moving around so much. Maybe take a break from any kind of reading/listening for a while. Maybe I’m just not used to this new lifestyle yet and should cut myself a break, give myself time to adapt.
Onward and upward, as they say. This struggle will prove beneficial yet. I just have to cut out some of the noise and pay closer attention to see what I can learn from it. Less, in this situation, could prove to be a whole lot more.
It’s alright. This is a good thing. Noticing that something is off is the first part of the battle. Next comes action. What will I do to bring myself closer in line with my own values? The main value I feel being violated is my inability to control my own mind, my reasoned choice, my attention and focus. If I’m a slave to a never-ending podcast feed, what does that say about my own discipline and self-control? If I’m going to consume something, it should be an active choice. It shouldn’t be unconscious.
I will say that I originally intended to publish this next weekend (21 March), but was writing it today (14 March) so I wouldn’t have to do it then. And if that doesn’t sum up my whole problem, I don’t know what does.
Itinerary: I left Lake Tooliorook this morning after filling my water tanks. I went to hike Mt. Elephant – which rises sharply out of the otherwise flat landscape like a grass-covered Uluru – but it was only open on Sundays from 1pm to 4pm. It happened to be Sunday today, but it was 9am. I wasn’t going to wait around for five hours (see above), and figured I’d hit it on the way back down.
Turns out my younger brother and collaborator, Toby, has a basketball tournament in Ballarat next weekend. Since I’m vaguely in the area, I thought I’d mosey on up to see him and mum. Slight detour, but it gives me a direction. And why not? Ballarat’s a really lovely historical city, so I’m excited to see that, and of course to see my family. After that, I’ll head back down toward the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles. There’s no rush, though I keep seeming to think that there is.
After leaving Tooliorook, my battery was running low so I needed to find some sun or check into a caravan park to plug into the mains. Instead, I drove to what I thought was a free camp and ended up dragging my 43-year-old caravan through what was, essentially, a four-wheel drive trail. When I eventually found the camp, it had no phone reception, and barely any sunlight through the bush canopy. To make matters worse, my little access step on the caravan had hit a rock or a large tree root and bent inwards so that now it won’t slide out. Fool of a Took, as my friend Gandalf would say.
Deciding to make the best of it, me and Ruben went for a hike. And, yes, place was objectively beautiful, but I couldn’t really enjoy it (for all the reasons listed above). The entire time, I was looking on Wikicamps for new place to stay that night. I got a few good photos, but that’s not why I’m out here.
I ended up finding a great caravan park at Lake Burrumbeet with cheap unpowered sites and showers and – what do you know? – by the time I rocked up, the clouds had parted and I could charge the battery with my solar panels. Everything worked out. I think I’ll probably just stay here all week to get my head straight.
What I’m working on: No words on Sword & Sandal today or yesterday, to my eternal shame. I did write a 2,500 word post yesterday, and then this one (2,200 words) today, so that’s something. It’s not “the thing,” but it’s adjacent to the thing (see what I mean by procrastination?). I will say, I’m finding this newsletter incredibly helpful in organising my thoughts. I hope it’s beneficial to you in some way. Maybe you see a little bit of yourself reflected here. Maybe a lot. If nothing else, it’s enabling me to articulate what I’m going through. Maybe it’ll help you to do the same.
What I’m reading: My daily devotionals and the KJV, but I might need to drop everything for a while. Prove to myself that I can kick this addiction to information (by information I mean books, podcasts, audiobooks, articles, emails etc). I can always justify it because it’s not social media. It’s practical, insightful stuff for the most part. I feel like I learn a lot and am a better person for it. But there’s something wrong if I don’t like the way it makes me feel. The way it jacks me up, the way it wakes me up at night and keeps me up. What I want is to write, and to be present in my life. To enjoy it as I’m living it, not just in anticipation or in retrospect. And not just to enjoy it, but to notice it. The good and the bad. To feel the loneliness and the sadness, instead of busying myself so I don’t have to deal with it. To feel the joy of watching Ruben bound through some long grass, or to be left breathless by the beauty of a sunset, instead of rewinding whatever’s coming out of my earbuds because it was going too fast and I’m afraid I missed something. I feel like if I can do those two things, everything else is gravy. But to accomplish that, an “information detox” might be in order. After the dust has settled, I can start re-introducing things slowly in order to find a good balance. It’s not like I never want to read anything ever again, but maybe a break would do me good. We’ll see…
What I’m watching: Watched the first episode of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix. I’ve been meaning to give it a try for ages, and it’s pretty great. Big fan of Eugene Levy; he elevates whatever he’s in. Catherine O’Hara was hilarious, and it makes me realise I haven’t seen enough of her films (I only know her as the mum from Home Alone). Chris Elliott as the sleazy town mayor and “guest who won’t leave” was a riot (plus his name, Roland Schitt – genius). It’s exactly the kind of thing I need right now. Light-hearted and easy. Something to properly decompress with.
What I’m listening to: I finished The Three Secret Cities on Sunday and started in on the next in series, The Two Lost Mountains. I actually had to get up to check what the book was called because I ploughed from one to the other so fast that I didn’t even catch it. This is what I’m going to call my “checklist problem” manifesting again. I do really like the books, I just need to stop seeing everything as something I have to get through. Because on the other side of it, there’s just another thing to get through (if I’m going to look at it that way), and that, my friend, is no way to live. I’m looking forward to getting into Steven Pressfield’s historical novels at some point. He just released a new one, A Man at Arms, which I’m really excited to read. Just listened to Ryan Holiday interview him on the Daily Stoic podcast about it.
Speaking of podcasts, I listened to Blank Check cover The Princess and the Frog (they’re doing the films of John Musker and Ron Clements at the moment). Their episode on Treasure Planet last week made me want to revisit it. I’ve also been enjoying Without a Country, hosted by Corinne Fisher and Shayne Smith (formerly Joe de Rosa) – it’s half news show, half comedy podcast, and succeeds in finding a sane middle ground between polarising stories, while at the same time being really entertaining. Sam Harris had an interesting episode of his podcast, Making Sense, about how free will doesn’t exist.
Anyway, I hope you can relate to this in some way and I’m not just navel gazing. I think there’s some value in talking about issues like these. Then again, I’m probably just burned out. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Until next week,