Learning to rest

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to rest, even when you’ve earned it: like getting to the end of the final chapter of a monstrous (aka PhD) thesis. The final chapter still leaves a conclusion, of course, but 70,000 words down the line (not including footnotes, that delightful space for showing off everything I don’t have time for right now, but you can be damn sure I know about), a 10-15 page conclusion is but a “day away”, as one generous (and obviously naive) former employer graciously reminded me.

Work interim is in fact a dreaded space because it exists between fantasy and anti-climax: when you’re working all you dream about is not having to anymore, and when you get there, you can’t figure out which of all the things you’ve fantasised about should be the first to tackle (finish the novel? bake the bread? get drunk? stop getting drunk and find a wagon? sleep late? attend to all the admin you’ve let slide in the meantime? get a tan? or ugh – do some marking?).

After the first couple of chapters it seemed easy to live out the various fantasies for a day or two – not forgetting the lovely, and highly recommended, tradition that was established by my philosophe of treating me to celebratory end-of-chapter dinners; that’s six by now – but as they ground on, the anti-climax factor started to creep in more often, as the end of one chapter only gave rise to the beginning of the next.

Now, so close to the end, it seems ridiculous to stop for a day, because the petty fantasies have been overtaken by the Big One; that one day, soon enough, every day can be full of novels, and bread, and Bloody Marys (virgins too), and dinners doctored by me – yes, a massive, and very intentional, pun – for philosophers and footballers and passing sailors.

But fear of the anti-climax looms with equal weight in what I suppose is the inevitable separation anxiety: what do you do when you’ve been so consumed with something for so long? (People tell me six months isn’t, but get up at 4 every morning for a couple of months to revisit the same thing, and you’ll feel it on the shape of your days).

Of course you then do what completing that thing allows you to do, which is to get on with your life – and fortunately for me, if I think of analogous gestation periods, without the new hassle of changing nappies and not sleeping for the next three years. And I am in the very best of places, because I get to be a doctor AND a missus. That’s Mrs. Dr. R. to you.

Still, I think Walter Benjamin knew what I am talking about when he wrote, as the last of his “The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses”, that ‘The work is the death mask of its conception’. That’s a little scary.

So, I sit here in my interim, putting off the conclusion that I am desperate to write, and I do none of the above. Instead I catch up on internet reading so I can actually take part in social conversations without giving away that I have no time for the news when I’m working, and get halfway through the day with a mass of information that has no place in my brain, though which is bound to pass my lips soon enough in some scenario that calls for one or a dozen “Did you know” exchanges.

I have now learned, for instance, that Diana was NOT pregnant when she died. OK, you probably knew that already, but did you know that Denmark was the first nation to ban trans-fats (result: you can eat junk in DK without feeling guilty)? And, did you know that Moscow’s first non-sushi Japanese eatery has just opened? And did you hear about the recent scare in London that sent shoppers running for cover, including action from the Hazardous Area Team Response Unit, but which turned out to be the local Thai restaurant smoking chillies for their house specialty, ‘nam prik pao, a super-hot Thai dip to accompany prawn crackers’ ?


On second thought, I’m afraid to say none of these tidbits – bar the Diana story – are really irrelevant to work; in fact they could easily make their way into footnotes. I suppose the brain must keep churning, even on its day of “rest”. And Benjamin and I can agree on another two of his theses:

‘X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.’

I have not yet, and have no intention of, sitting from evening to broad daylight. But that’s fine, because the work is not perfect, and neither will it be. Even my sometimes monstrous arrogance wouldn’t go that far. And as for the conclusion, I am happy to say that my familiar study is otherwise occupied and instead I find courage in the lounge of what is soon to become my conjugal home.

Yes, all things considered, everything is perfect – as I’m sure tomorrow’s end-of-chapter-7 meal will be, scheduled for Cape Town’s very own laboratory of “molecular gastronomy”, Manolo on Kloof Street.

I think rest approaches.