Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Entering a world of pain

At work this afternoon I was asked to read part of a book in preparation for an imminent project. The book was left on my desk. I was horrified. The mere sight of Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People sent shivers of revulsion down my spine. A few weeks ago I had seen an advert for Anthony Robbins, of whom I had been blissfully unaware until that point. Anyone who pronounces the ‘th’ in Anthony has to be prick anyway, but the idea that success is, by turns, and all at once, square-jawed, fist-pumping and (to go by his ‘tribute’ to the hurricane victims) cloyingly insincere, sickened me. So I handled Covey’s tome with distaste. And I thought: anyone who uses the initial of their middle name …

Anyway, I looked first at the paratexts. I see it was published in 1989 and has sold 15 millon copies. Then there was the biography: Covey was once named one of Time magazine’s twenty-five most influential Americans. (Who then, I wondered, were the other twenty-four of Covey's time? JR Ewing? OJ Simpson? Michael Jackson? Ted Bundy? Mork & Mindy?). Then there’s some extraordinarily indulgent acknowlegdements, and a picture of Covey at a conference. Yes, in the Robbins mould: smart suit, ultra-cleancut, in control with microphone and humanising wooden staff in hand. At this point, I wondered about how one manages one's time in order to write a self-help book on time management? Such glorious reflexivity! I daydreamed of a joint-smoking layabout, like The Dude in The Big Lebowski, rocking back in a chair in a messy office doddling incomprehensible diagrams in between tossing off jargon-ridden paragraphs headed by epigrams swiped from the web.

These were a nice few moments of smiling vacantly. But onward and sideways: I opened to the relevant section of the book. The epigram was enough to stop me in my tracks. It is from that well-known management consultant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

Things which matter most
Must never be at the mercy of things which matter least


OK. The first question I asked was: what matters most to me? Is it writing? I have many things I want to write for sure, but is it the most important? Maybe I need find time to think about it? Time needs to be found to write a blog in response to Book World’s challenge. Time also needs to be found for non-writing domestic things, such as re-installing the wireless router I bought this week. Probably not a good purchase for a technophobe. It's gone horribly wrong. And there’s more: time needs to be found to continue the longer writing project that currently relies on the haphazard arrangements of casual employment. Actually, this last is perhaps what matters most. A longer work should surely take priority over the daily distraction of a blog. Arrogant eternity demands it!

Yet it could also matter least. I've finished it three times and abandoned it three times. What is the point of spending hundreds of hours working on something to be read by nobody? I might have spent the time more productively writing hundreds of blindingly good blogs! (It would be good to start somewhere).

There are too many questions begged by these self-help books. Too many to go into tonight. Anyway, after 2040 every day, I look at the wall for an hour and dribble.

And there’s that caesura in the Goethe quotation: it suggests that it is from a poem or a play, which itself suggests it isn't Goethe's personal opinion. So where does it come from? Who says it? Could it be the devil in Faust?

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