Meh



Charles Baudelaire was born 200 years ago today. I liked Charles Baudelaire when I read him, even though I read him in French and probably didn’t get the deeper meanings of his words. I liked him although he was imposed on me at university, but he had more about him than Chateaubriand, who I didn’t like, or whoever wrote the immortally dull Princess de Clèves. Baudelaire wasn’t quite as splendid as Gustave Flaubert, who shouted a lot, so much so that he thought ranting was part of the creative process and had a “gueuloir” which I always thought was a room where he strode around ranting (from gueuler, to yell), but apparently it was where he could read his sentences out loud to see if they worked. Baudelaire was more of a dandy in the pictures I saw, with floppy foppy hair and cravats. But he was a dandy with a heroin habit so that definitely made him interesting, even though he wasn’t as interesting as Arthur Rimbaud, who shot his wimpy lover Verlaine then never wrote anything again.


I like Baudelaire because he understood meh. That is not a typo for “me.” I mean, “meh.” Lassitude, lethargy, lack of energy, ennui. More than boredom, less than depression. He called it spleen. And currently I have a very powerful dose of spleen. I know, many of us feel the same. We are sick of our houses, ourselves, the pandemic, the face-masks, the pavement-dodging, the endless suspicion and judging, all of it. I have been trying to work on a book which requires me to travel when I can’t easily travel, and keeping my book energy going has been hard. I should have taken all this time to do endless Zoom meetings with people, and I have done some but not enough. Mostly I berate myself and keep on clipping stuff about fishing from the internet that I’ll deal with later.


I have no running energy either. I’ve been out and done long runs. I’ve been out on the moors and loved it. But I can’t find the energy to get up and run locally by myself. I have a training plan but this week I’ve done precisely one run of four.


I spent a week recently recording the audio-book of Nine Pints. That was the same week that Ever Given got stuck in the Suez canal, and suddenly I was doing interviews on the Jeremy Vine show and World At One inbetween reading out loud about vampires. I loved it. It made me realise I have a lively brain, that it works, and that I have curiosity and vim, however buried it has become. And what was the difference? I was out of the house and interacting with people. Different people. Not my neighbours or even my running buddies.


I wrote an op-ed in 30 minutes and it was good, and I wrote a feature article and that was alright too.


But the zing and fizz didn't last and I slumped again.


Berating myself is a waste of energy. Ralph Waldo Emerson: for every minute you are angry [even at yourself], you have lost sixty seconds of peace of mind. So here are my solutions, for now. Not more life coaching productivity, not more schedules. Just this: find the enjoyment.


So instead of reading endless documents about fishing quotas and cursing myself for being bored by them, I am researching what I love: trippy Roman and Greek poets writing about what they thought fish did. I am researching mermaids, and submarines colliding with fishing vessels, and why we can’t fix seasickness. The fishing quotas aren’t going anywhere.


And in running? This morning I intended to get up and run a negative split: run for 28 minutes one way, take 26 minutes to run the same distance back home. But I overslept again, and ignored three alarms, and pressed the snooze button a dozen times at least. And then it was 10.30 and I was still not ready and hadn’t run, and wanted to get to the studio to read about fabulous bestiaries. So I decided to run to the studio, and I set off with my GPS watch on my wrist, measuring me. After a quarter of a mile I stopped. The sun was shining. I was about to run through my local woods, which I love. And what was I thinking about? That I felt overweight – I have put on pandemic weight with all the baking and consumption of my baking – and slow and I was worrying about my slow pace, having spent my club run on the moors the other night at the back and unable to speed up. The woods were beautiful, the bluebells were out and I was stressed and berating myself. Enough. I switched off my watch, and I decided to run for pleasure. I decided to stop and hug a tree if I wanted. I decided it was more important to run and enjoy it rather than run and be measured. I did, and I enjoyed it, and I walked when I felt like it, and I didn’t run very far or very fast but that’s fine. As for my training plan, that can start next week.



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