What makes you tick? What drives you to do the things that you do? What do you want to be when you grow up? Many of us are asked questions like these our whole lives and for some people, the answers are easy. It’s this thing here, they say, or the search for that. The first time I experienced *insert album/film/activity here* I knew *insert topic/mission here* would be my life or that one day I would achieve my dream of *bleugh*. And then there are people like me who shrug. Stuff? Oh I like stuff. All sorts of stuff.
I love to learn, especially when that means watching someone with a passion for something other than themselves share their findings on their endless search. Brian Cox can open up the universe and briefly, magically, allow my brain to feel the rush of exhilarating discovery that makes sense of its elements. A day or two later I couldn’t tell you what he’s said, only recommend that you seek him out yourself. All impressions, no details. The brain runs complicated programmes, but with a memory whose free space seems largely reserved for who that actor in the background of a movie is and what they were in before.
Many of my closest friends tunnel into obsessions that pique my admiration – whatever it may be, it is theirs – Jon at University wooed me with West Ham, Dr Who and international relations, Dave introduced me to evolutionary theory, dazzling me with algorithms and animal penises, Joe and his trees, Richard and his boats, Carl and his travels, all manner of artists with their endeavours. Fan boys rule – fan girls, oh, how I wish I knew more. I am an excellent audience – I ask questions, I nod, I get excited when I understand. I love what you love, right now.
And yet despite their excellent example I have no obsession of my own. I have interests, sure, but no one subject pervades my attention beyond one conversation, one book, one evening class completed, a project or two. Feeling that gripping sense of engagement – not noticing as it fades. Cycling, illustration, teaching, a cabaret act, graphic design, various musical instruments, a small business, several blogs, all set aside because ooh look over there! I’m a sieve who enjoys the sensation of sieving too much to retain much content. I relish making small projects like videos or calendars but when they’re done I don’t want to do one again straight away- I’ve done it. I’ve loved every job I’ve done until I stopped learning something new, and then got bored and left, and thus I am good at quite a few things and expert at nothing.
Renovating the boat has been a placeholder for a passion of my own – it’s an obsession that I’ve thrown myself in to far deeper than any other, even though the dream began as someone else’s. This is very handy. There’s a project I’m working towards, so hey, I don’t have to worry about thinking up one of my own. I don’t get sad and wonder where my life is going – it’s going out there to the sea. Richard has kept it together, and I have enjoyed/endured it, distracted or not, it’s seeped in and become a part of me and I don’t want to live on land ever again. I learn by living, absorbing knots and terms and tidal tendencies because they are becoming as instinctive as putting the water in before turning the kettle on. Since Gwen got moving this process is accelerating, and I sense the approach of a wave carrying knowledge that will one day be as easy to access as the lyrics to a Pulp song.
But it’s not here yet. Here I am, the “girl” of the project, and that jars with me, with the same feminist indignation that rattles my blood when certain boatbuilders talk only to himself. “The shower tray at the bottom of the steps was my idea” I find myself interjecting all too often. Am I to forever be the wifeling who gazes and applauds while the menfolk delve the depths of their expertise? Or that girl who found a boy with a dream and jumped on board, having no function of her own because she isn’t that fussed about starting a family or having a career or knowing what pair of sodding shoes are in sodding fashion right now. I balk at the idea of becoming one of those boatwives who cautiously woman the tiller while the men sort out the ropes and shout instructions. I look to the solo boat females with admiration and envy. I picture myself at the top of the mast, fixing a fitting in the eye of a storm, the Leatherman clenched between my teeth. Then I remind myself that I don’t know how, that this is a shared dream, I calm down and let the learning process do its thing – get on with it, it will come. I can’t change that Richard is a boat building guru and that I’m a newbie with a lot to learn and an often half-arsed approach to manual labour, but one day I will become a sailor, and that wind will be in both our sails, balanced and sending us out into adventure. I didn’t want to talk to those guys anyway. Boats can be fucking boring.
Becoming a sailor is happening and the enthusiasm and possibility are now both more real than ever. But it can’t be everything for me. The absence of my own project is strewn complainingly throughout this blog, the need to make some things happen in my own right, but my famous faddyness and the all-encompassing necessity of boat advancement stand ever in its way. Recently I fell in love with the idea of puppets. I got a book about Jim Henson, I watched the Muppet comic-con panel and wept, I designed a couple of ideas, I looked at puppetry courses I can’t afford and bemoaned their distance from my reach. And what the hell am I doing about it? Well, if you go up to Maker you’ll find the heads of two puppets I’ve started staring back at you from the back of a cupboard. They’ve been there for a month, doing nothing while the preparations for and enjoyment of Gwen’s first sail took over.
But it’s okay. Earlier this year I did something about it. Soon after my last birthday, 36 since you ask and why thank you yes I do look younger, I decided to sort this shit out, in my own head at least. I sat down and wrote “The Fuck It List”. Not to find that elusive single area of expertise, because that ain’t happening, but to feel some sense of achievement from my many part-time, temporary excitements. Not a bucket list of things to do before I die because hopefully that’s too long a timeframe to keep to, but an agenda of achievements to hopefully tick off before I sail “over the hill” of forty. A diverse list of things to embrace my flitty nature. Of projects that all end in me having something to show for all the time I spend beginning things, because I know when I have a little project to complete I almost always reach the end. The Fuck It List includes health-boosting aims like
Devour an entire macaroni cheese on the day I celebrate not having had a single cigarette for two years
Run 10 miles, and reward myself with a pasty
the latter of which I hope to achieve with this half-marathon nonsense I’m currently trying to get myself back in to. It has lots of non-specific but noble hopes to do things like
Write at least five poems that I like
(“that I like” being the important part there, as I could write you five shitty poems in the next half hour if you gave me a couple of glasses of wine right now). I’m not going to put the whole list right here, particularly as some things are more personal – making gifts or showing appreciation for certain people, or doing supposedly selfless things too cringeworthy for public consumption.
But you get the idea. Now, when I have a bit of spare time, I can work towards one of my 20 or so aims for the next nearly four years. I don’t have to obsess about one. I don’t have to beat myself up for not doing the others. I have the time, and my ever-wandering attention can simply alight upon whichever it chooses, briefly obsess, and make progress whenever I like. I am managing my own stupid expectations of my own stupid self with a device as simple as a set of bullet points. I am embracing my flighty capacity for distraction and squeezing it of its useful potential.
Let’s be honest, I haven’t done anything but throw in a few goals to the soup of nonsense that bubbles behind my eyes as I try to sleep. They are reassuring things to have, and easy enough to ignore when distraction comes along.
There’s only one with which this site need be concerned, and that is, of course
Learn to sail, and sail to a foreign country or countries and live there for a while.
Today I’m trying to lay out a design for Gwen’s name so I can paint it on her knobbly sides. It’s not on the Fuck It list (though it is on a list), but neither is writing seemingly endless self-indulgent twaddle on a blog. So I’ll shut up now. I have no idea if this list is going to work, but since it started in May I’ve got a lot closer to a couple of its points. I’d like to hear a better idea if you have one. “Change your basic nature as a human being” isn’t an acceptable answer.