It’s Sunday, first light; I’m not exactly sure what time it is. It looks to be becoming another beautiful spring day in Melbourne. And I’m pondering what to do with it – a stroll along the bay, a light pedal around the lake, some fly tying, maybe the writing workshop I’m signed up for, and of course the footy on the telly – go the Tiges!
Thinking back though, I hadn’t planned to be here. I was supposed to be waking up to chortles of kookaburras up in the Goulburn Valley, bracing myself to bundle out of my tent into the crisp fresh morning air, to rekindle last night’s campfire, put on a pot of tea, and toast an eggy jaffle, while considering yesterday’s catch and contemplating which fly to tie on for my first cast of the day.
I’ve had to change a few other plans recently too. My lumbar spine has turned to mush. The pain can be excruciating, and most of the time debilitating. My old friend, sleep, is now like a passing stranger. The general advice, though, is to ‘carry on as usual’. My question is: what is usual?
I’m a ‘knowledge worker’, I’m an academic, I’m a reader, a writer, a slouch. The usual for me, and for so many of us desk jockeys, is to plonk myself down and surround myself with all I need for a day’s work – productive, yes; ergonomic, no. Sure I would walk to work some days, run in the evenings, fish at the weekends, tinker in the garage, and do a whole bunch of things that kept me fit, and made me believe I was active. I’ll tell you what though; now I can’t sit, I’ve discovered how inactive I was. I now spend almost all day standing, trying to keep moving, preventing the nerves in my back from becoming impinged and trying desperately to minimise the pain. Its exhausting! My leg muscles don’t know what’s hit them – they’ve never had to work this hard.
And then there’s my noggin. It doesn’t work the same. Overly-long periods of contemplation and procrastination sat on my arse have become stolen moments of inspiration between movements, hurriedly jotted down to save for later; in preparation for when I can think again, after the pain is gone, when my spine is eased/cured/fixed. In short, I need to change the way I do stuff. Thinking, reading, writing is different when you do it on your feet. I’ve long known I do it (at least the former) better when I’m on my feet. As an undergrad, I ‘half inched‘ flip chart (butchers’) paper from uni to pin to my wall and pace about my room, Sharpie in hand, scratching my head over calculus, regression and laws of physics I’ve long since forgotten. And many of history’s great thinkers (of which I am most certainly not one) have also thought best on their feet. In A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros tells of Nietzche’s extended daily hikes between the hills and the coast – the only way he could free his mind of migraine – the times when he produced the writings we most refer to today. Gros also refers to Rousseau, Thoreau, and Ghandhi, each walking for different aims, but remaining active, getting off their arses. There’s definitely something purposeful about being on our feet.
So here I am on this beautiful Melbourne morning, changing the way I do stuff, thinking how to stay on my feet. Yesterday we cleaned down and moved my workbench from the garage into the study. I built it before for standing work, just as my Dad had built his in his garage – the one I’d stand beside him at learning how he designed stuff, fixed stuff, built stuff, maintained stuff. Its a start, moving my workbench in doors – I do more ‘work’ in here than out there. My first discovery in writing this was that I’d built my bench for the (now removed) vice to be at the right height, not the bench top. So, the laptop is on a small box, my elbows at a relaxed angle, my back upright, and only my neck bending a little into the screen. Next I’ll need to figure out how to read standing up, how to write in different time bursts, and how to adapt many other aspects of my work. And I’ll be changing a lot about my life in the whole too – slowing down, freeing up, keeping on the move, simplifying and decluttering, thinking tasks through before beginning them, finding new ways to still do the things I love, and most importantly, rejecting those ridiculous meetings where people expect us to endlessly sit in a poorly lit room reviewing what we discussed last time, and deciding what we’ll talk about next time. So if you want to talk something through with me, let’s go for a walk, take coffee at the counter, have a pint at the bar, watch the game from the terraces, take a hike, go fishing. From now on, it’s standing room only.
I appreciate this blogpost may seem a little self-indulgent. I am lucky enough to have a life and work that give me the time and space to consider these things, and the resources to be able to make the changes I intend to make. This is, though, merely a way for me to consolidate a few thoughts I’ve had recently.