Saturday, 12 December 2015

A Life Spent Grouting

In the bathroom there’s a small patch of tiling where the grout has been washed out of the joints by the cascade of water from the shower above. I've been meaning to fix it for the last 18 months - it’s not a difficult job - but there are other things to do and, life being short, I try to prioritise what I consider most important. Early this week, however, I took advantage of a brief hiatus between the completion of one large project and the start of another to get the job done, using the little-known technique of speed-grouting. (Then, finding myself on a bit of a roll, I framed and hung the four pictures that had been stacked for several weeks against the living-room wall.)

There is satisfaction to be had in such small, practical achievements but I am mindful that they can easily become distractions from other, more enduring ways to happiness: the time and energy spent on them should not be at the expense of more meaningful occupations – like the tending of friendships, for example. When relations with a very old friend of mine turned sour lately, the resulting feelings of misery and recrimination festered in both of us until we brought ourselves to confront the issue. In the event we readily resolved the contretemps and left each other smiling – as normal. It took very little time and effort to fix – where there’s a will there’s a way - and it was time well spent. No papering over the cracks, mind you: more like a re-grouting job, repairing the erosion.

Friends are hard to come by, especially in a life which gets shorter each day, and it is therefore worth investing one’s time in nurturing any networks which might bear friend-fruit. I had lunch with one such recently-acquired friend this week, over which we discussed ways of remaining meaningfully engaged in society during the years of post-business busyness. It’s all very well to take up a dead-end hobby, we agreed, but “killing time murders opportunity” so we need to seek out worthwhile projects. We had a “dry” lunch but when it was over one of us (we are interchangeable in this respect) said, “Fancy a drink?” Shortly afterwards we were the sole occupants of a wine bar where, over a pleasantly nutty Vermentino (and to a soundtrack of Bing Crosby-era Christmas songs) we savoured the irony of having an afternoon to talk about projects while everyone else in town was apparently busy executing them.

Still I'm concerned that time is short. I have a pile of books that must be read and it never seems to diminish. The weekend reviews just now make matters worse by featuring annual lists of recommendations so long that one despairs of the prospect of getting through even a fraction of them. I am currently stuck with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which is actually a very long novel – 750 pages – although, having bought it as a download, I had no idea of its size at the time. Now, two-thirds of the way through and keen to be moving on, I have sussed that a good many of the pages can be attributed to the author’s tendency to elaborate on seemingly irrelevant details. I have therefore begun to employ a technique for reading which was taught me many years ago. It consists in scanning the lines on the page diagonally back and forth, rapidly and without pausing. Thus you get the general gist of what’s happening, without having to linger over every syllable. It’s called speed-reading. But employ it judiciously: I see today that my grouting is already being washed away.

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