“A thousand kinds of hats, dresses, shawls – gay-coloured, ethereal, for which their owners’ affection sometimes lasts a whole two days – will bedazzle anyone on Nevsky Prospect. It seems as if a whole sea of butterflies has suddenly arisen from the stems, their brilliant cloud undulating over the black beetles of the male sex. Here you will meet such waists as you have never seen in dreams: slender, narrow waists, no whit thicker than a bottle’s neck … And what ladies’ sleeves you meet on Nevsky Prospect! … they sometimes resemble two airborne balloons… Nowhere do people exchange bows when they meet with such nobility and nonchalance as on Nevsky Prospect.”
Nevsky Prospect by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol in The Collected Tales
People watching on Nevsky Prospect must resemble something like trying to follow several games of ice hockey at once – pucks flying across the ice at high speed, sticks clashing and players swapping in and out every few seconds while you shiver in your furs on the sidelines trying to focus.
No road seems as busy as Nevsky Prospect and no people more in a rush of activity and purpose as the inhabitants of St Petersburg. Or maybe it’s just Gogol’s frenzied writing so full of detail and vivid description one can almost burst with frenetic thought in a single reading. I will visit St Petersburg myself in a few weeks and see for myself, but in some parallel time-travel way, Nevsky Prospect is analogous of today’s crazy busy world.
I’m talking about REST. How do you do it, find it, get it?
There’s been quite a bit of talk about this in the British media of late. Everyone seems so busy nowadays. In London, if it’s not booked into the calendar well in advance, it’s nearly impossible to do anything you might like to. I feel like I’m always ‘meaning to’ do something or see someone or get around to anything on my ‘to do’ list. But are we really any more busy than decades ago? Nevsky Prospect was written and published in the early 1830’s so I’m hesitant to think that we are somehow living in a unique time.
But I do think that we are suffering from an overload of information and communicative availability. I for one find it difficult to put down my devices, get through all the interesting blogs and articles I have put on my reminder list, and generally shut down. I used to pride myself in my ability to multi-task and now I feel unable to properly concentrate on anything for very long. I am suffering from perpetual self-inflicted interruption syndrome! I wonder if there’s a cure? I hope it’s not terminal.
I am in awe of so many people who seem to get through everything they do: My ‘old’ friend Charilesbird who is a mum of a 4 year old, cooks, delivers babies, runs a shop and still finds time to run a marathon; my sister who survives in one of South Africa’s busiest cities, is a freelance journalist and finds time to go back to university, my Barbadian East London friend who writes and directs plays, travels and is writing a book … and various others too numerous to mention – bionic people! And here I sit in my local coffee shop just thinking about busyness.
What is rest to you? Sleeping, watching a film, a cup of tea on a busy day, cooking, sipping a glass of wine, going on holiday, cooking a gourmet feast, reading a good who-dun-it, taking a bath, going for a run, the forced hibernation of a rainy day or flipping through the channels on a Sunday night?
For me there is nothing more effective than a good walk somewhere beautiful (the Thames will do), the quiet wind-down hour before bed with a good book, a good session on the treadmill (sadly not as regular as I’d like it to be, due to my own lack of discipline), a belly laugh that makes me cry, and of course that large hot cup of tea (I’m nothing if not predictable aren’t I?).
The big battle is putting down and shutting off all the other ‘noise’ – this, I’m afraid, is my perpetual work in progress and one I fail at, over and over again. My now bite size concentration span, the length of a tweet and as changeable as the intermittent buzz of my iphone notifications, constantly steals my productivity. I find myself half way though doing something, then I have an idea, go into another room to do something else and when I get there I’ve forgotten what that was! “Haai oe Blommie, dis die gifappeltjies!”
Thank the Lord I’m hard-wired to breathe – I hate to think what would happen if I had to add that to my ‘to do’ list.
Well, they say that the first step is admitting it, so maybe I’m on a road to recovery. Perhaps some of you can proffer some words of wisdom … maybe there is an AA-type meeting for people like me?
P.s. I really recommend Gogol’s short stories for some superb descriptive writing and dark tales of ordinary people for the avid readers out there. I recommend The Nose and The Overcoat.
p.p.s. In the mean time I’ll leave you with an interesting video I recently saw on YouTube (yes, another clever method of distraction in my already confused love-hate relationship with technology).