This is the eighth and last episode of this first series of episodes. In it, I offer some philosophy. In that sense, it is the most didactic episode so far.
Oh, and after doing a recount in my head, I am pretty sure there are 18 or 19 traffic lights between the top of Holland Park Avenue and my house. You might say “Why don’t you go out and check?”, in which case I would reply that Holland Park Avenue is a nasty hill to cycle just for the sake of counting traffic lights and that every time I’ve been out that way for some better reason in the last few weeks I’ve got distracted by other things on my way home and forgotten to do it. Listen: I’m as frustrated as you are about this.
UPDATE: I cycled down Holland Park Avenue again the other day and although, once again, I forgot to count, I am now pretty sure there are more like 25 sets of traffic lights.
A transcript of this episode is below.
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The other day, on my bike, I got all the way from the top of Holland Park Avenue to my house without having to take my foot off the pedals. That’s fifteen or twenty minutes cycling. On very rare occasions in the past I’ve made it all the way down the hill without hitting a red light – which, in itself, is a pretty wonderful experience – but only once before have I made it all the way down the hill, round the Shepherd’s Bush roundabout, across the green and onto the Uxbridge Road. This time, I made it down the hill, round the roundabout, across the green, onto the Uxbridge Road and all the way home, past ten or fifteen traffic lights and, although I had to slow down a couple of times, and once I had to hover for just a moment while a light went from red to amber, I never had to stop for long enough to take my feet off the pedals. And it was glorious.
And then, a few days later, cycling home from Sadlers Wells, somewhere between Holborn and the Tottenham Court Road, I hit a huge, unmarked pothole. Well, it was a sinkhole, really. It was huge. And deep. And I didn’t spot it in the dark until I was sailing across it. Then I hit the far edge, managed to save myself from falling headlong into the road by slipping forwards off my saddle and doing some kangaroo jumps that I wouldn’t know how to repeat if you asked me and, about half a minute later, I discovered that I’d burst my front tyre.
Luckily, I wasn’t too far from the District Line at Embankment, where you’re allowed to take on bikes that don’t fold, and that carried me near enough to my house that I could push my bike for the last ten minutes or so until I got home. And then, a couple of days later, the men at the bike shop over the road replaced my front tyre with one that is thicker and stronger than the old tyre. And they said to me: ‘Look at the Kevlar on this. This is practically bomb proof.’
So that could have been the title of this episode: Practically Bomb Proof. I would have strung it into a parable about never knowing what’s around the corner and accepting whatever comes and getting stronger in the process. There’s a Buddhist story that’s something like that but I don’t remember it and I haven’t looked it up.
Because I don’t think I’m bomb proof. Not even practically bomb proof. And it seems to me that to end the story at that point, where I get the bomb-proof tyre, is to imply that I think that everything turns out for the best so long as you hang on in there. It implies that I think the universe considers it worth its while to look after me, to teach me a lesson when I need it and to send me out on my way when I have learned it. And the truth is that I don’t believe in a caring universe. I don’t believe that I’m punished for hubris and I don’t believe that I’m rewarded for humility. I find the implications of that kind of belief unpleasant. Plenty of people don’t get their reward. Plenty of people don’t get their punishment.
So, instead, let me tell you about the title that I did choose for this episode.
A few months ago – at the beginning of August, in fact – I was emailing a friend and I mentioned some supermarket herbs that I’d bought – you know, the ones in pots. I think there was some flat-leaf parsley and there were some chives. I wrote that I didn’t know why I was still watering them, given that I was heading up to Edinburgh at the end of the week and wouldn’t be giving them to anybody to look after. He replied to my email and, at the very end of his, he wrote: ‘Water your herbs, even if they are going to die next week.’
And maybe it’s because we’d also been talking about mindfulness and meditation but that sentence struck me as really meaningful. Water your herbs, even if they are going to die next week.
Not unusually for an artist, I think, I’m preoccupied by the idea of perfection and the impossibility of achieving it. And like a lot of people, I suspect, that means that I’m surrounded by projects that are half completed and sometimes barely begun. I have two and a half novels printed on A4 paper and sitting in piles on my bookshelves, interspersed with pieces of short fiction that were never good enough to show anyone, sketches of an idea for a fictional blog that never appeared online, fragments of poetry and phrases such as ‘There we were, falling like a stone and Natalie, as calm as yesterday’s plum duff’ that haven’t grown into anything.
At the beginning of this year, I started to record audio versions of some of the writing I have online at charldrian.wordpress.com. I meant to record everything – I thought that would be a nice idea – but I didn’t get that far. And so now it looks like another half-finished project. Maybe I’ll go back to it now that I’ve finished this series of Muselings. Or maybe I won’t. On the walls of my work room, before the building work that I’ve just had done started, I stuck up some panels from a cartoon series I wrote years ago. The characters are a boy and his mother but there’s no drawing, just speech bubbles. Some of the panels are just blank pieces of paper because nobody’s speaking at that point. A few people have seen them since they have been up there and, when they haven’t ignored them, they’ve said something like: ‘What are those supposed to be?’ and I realise… I don’t have an answer. I don’t know what they’re supposed to be. They were the start of something at some point. But they didn’t become anything. Or, if they did, I can’t see what it is any more clearly than any of those people. I feel that there’s something there. I always feel as though there is something there when I start a project. But that feeling doesn’t carry me through to the end of anything. Usually, once the imperfections start making too much noise, I just abandon the thing and move onto something else. I might go back to it later but, even then, I’ll just get a little bit further along before I abandon it all over again.
And then – and this isn’t unconnected, I think – I often struggle with the pointlessness of things. I ride brief waves of enthusiasm and then find all the energy draining away. And I hit the ground, look around and find that my tyre has burst. And then I feel paralysed in the face of everything that needs to be done if I’m going to get to where I want to be. And, very often, I just give up. Sometimes, because I’m sure that this is going to happen, I don’t even bother setting off in the first place.
And so, with this podcast, I decided to set myself a relatively simple task: write and record 8 podcast episodes, each between 12 and 13 minutes long, and put them out weekly between the middle of October and the middle of December of this year. Because, once a podcast episode is out, it’s a thing that exists in the world and when anybody says: ‘What are those supposed to be?’ I can say: ‘They’re podcast episodes. It’s a podcast about me.’ But, even then, I really wasn’t sure that I was going to manage this. It would probably surprise some of you to know how long it took me to put together some of these episodes. Because I fidget at them and fidget at them and record them and listen to them and re-record them and re-listen to them, and sometimes I start all over again from the beginning. But then, finally, I feel as though they’re finished – or, like last week, I run out of time – and I’ve been putting them out. But then I can’t bear to listen to them because all I hear is their imperfections. And it hurts.
Oh! For example: I can’t believe that I got the name of Jamal Harewood’s piece wrong in the previous episode. Over and over again, I call it Privilege and then I head off to the high street to find somewhere with an internet connection so that I can upload the episode, look up the thing so that I can put in links and find out that it’s called The Privileged. How did I get that wrong? I have the festival programme at home. It’s on my kitchen table. It’s so embarrassing. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that it hurts. Somewhere around the middle of my chest, it really hurts.
Now, I’ve talked a little bit about anxiety in these episodes. And I think that I have been particularly anxious in general recently and one of the reasons for that is that, at the moment, I’m in the process of trying to open myself up to the world: I’m trying not to run away from conflict; I’m trying to stand for what I want and what I think; I’m trying to put myself more honestly into the path of possible criticism. And, obviously, this podcast is a part of that process. And it’s a painful process. Every time I put out one of these episodes, for example, I experience a surge of anxiety – a gripping in my core at the thought that people are going to judge me and then that pain in the centre of my chest when I think about all the things I might have done wrong – and I feel, to reach back a little, the very opposite of bomb proof.
But I think that part of this process of opening up is learning to accept fallibility and imperfection. And to accept whatever comes along with that. I think it’s a lesson in humility, apart from anything else. Because it occurs to me that a lot of the pain comes from wanting – needing even – to be perfect. And hating that I can’t be. And all that is, essentially, self-regarding and self-serving. I mean, who else cares, right?
So I’ve started saying to myself: Water your herbs, Adrian, even if they are going to die next week.
And I take that to mean: Just do the next thing.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to make sense. In itself, it doesn’t have to lead to anything. But, once it’s done, I can move on to the next thing.
It’s very simple. Perhaps, for some of you, it’s too simple. But it’s really been working. I scribbled it onto a piece of paper and, again, before the building work started, I had it blue-tacked to the wall next to my unfinished cartoons. And I immediately felt better about them.
And, as you can see, I have been watering my herbs. I’ve watered this podcast. Even if it is going to die next week. It hasn’t been perfect. And, do you know what? I think that’s OK.
So that’s what I’m leaving you with. Take my advice, podcast listeners, do as I do: Water your herbs, even if they are going to die next week.
So, whatever this is, it’s been the 8th Museling. It’s the last episode in this series of episodes. I don’t know if or when there might be a new series but I expect I’ll start thinking about it as soon as this has gone out. Don’t imagine that anything new will appear very soon, though – the idea for this series first came to me in June and the first episode didn’t go out until the middle of October. It’s the beginning of December now. But, if you subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or follow Muselings on Soundcloud, you’ll get any new episodes as soon as they arrive. You can also keep an eye on my twitter feed – @charldrian – and I promise that I will tweet about new episodes whenever it becomes appropriate. The website, in case you want to go there and hang out sometimes, is muselings.uk. Thank you so much for listening to this. I’m Charles Adrian and… it has been a pleasure talking to you.
 I’ve done a recount: it’s more like 25 traffic lights, including pedestrian crossings. Also, two mini roundabouts and a zebra.
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020