They sit side by side on the shelf, pristine. Their spines are unbroken. The pages – apart from the first few in each – are unleafed. It is likely that they will remain safe from the tea-butter-and-toast stains that afflict the Inspector Rebus novels next to them and the Hunger Games trilogy on the shelf above. They are ‘important books’ therefore are unread.
I tried. 10 pages of Ulysses per day and one page of Finnegan’s Wake was the quota. I was doing fine for a while. Stately Buck Mulligan and Stephen bantering in a tower, there’s a mention of a fried breakfast with thickly cut bread. Soon it all started to unravel and got more difficult. When I heard “Join us after the break for live commentary of the match from George Hamilton and Ray Houghton” I knew I was done for.
As for Finnegan’s Wake, with an introduction by an eminent scholar who admits the book is “unreadable”, I lasted precisely four pages. Once again I was fooling myself.
The two books were purchased as part of a now-mothballed project called ‘Read The Classics’. The RTC project was a submodule of the overall Be Smarter (BS) Programme which was itself a key plank in the Horizon 2020: Towards A Better Colm (TBC) campaign. TBC was unveiled amid much fanfare in a pub one night. At this stage its status is very much To Be Confirmed.
It’s not the first enterprise to suffer this fate. There are a plethora of slow-moving, stationary and abandoned activities that litter my life like NAMA hotels on the side of an Offaly road. Each year I vow to keep a diary but each year I give up sooner and sooner. I suppose I’m just not one of those people who are comfortable writing about themselves. It takes a great deal of confidence to transfer the minutiae of your life to paper, even just for your own delectation, let alone others. Anyway that’s enough about that; back to me.
The bookshelves also contain a number of other incomprehensible relics – the Foreign Language books: specifically Spanish tomes. There comes a time in every young man’s life when he realises that people grow up. The Spanish students who arrived with a cacophony every summer with their pavement clogging, their hugging and their blemish-free skin returned a few years later. And some of them were women. After an unsuccessful attempt at talking to some of these Spaniaritas in a pub, me attempting to bridge cultural divides with useless information (“Caballo? In Irish it’s capall. Isn’t that a good one?”), I decided to take some classes. Eight classes. By the end of which I could have told a penpal that my hobbies included “skiing and talking with my friends” but little else.
The reminders of discontinued projects now – the eVoting Machines of my existence –are often electronic. My computer is an attic of discarded hobbies and promises. There are documents entitled “Novel”, “WriteAJokeADay” and “WhatIveLearnedFromWikipedia”.
There is the calendar reminder every month on Google to tell me to do my accounts. I have chosen to interpret this as “Find a bigger drawer in which to stuff all the receipts”. An alarm on my phone goes off with a message that says “Exercise”. I do exercise: my right to press the snooze button.
I’ve had to gently and surreptitiously unsubscribe from the mailing list of the Institute of Financial Something or Other, who I thought would be a cornerstone in the plan to turn myself into a high-flying day trader who lounged around all day moving millions while wearing expensive shoes and no socks.
The LivingSocial coupon deals were another part of this. After a year of offers, I realised I didn’t want to improve myself with 10 Gym Passes, Four Yoga Classes, An Oven Deep Clean, A Photography Course, A Flying Lesson, A Yon-Ka Hydralessence Facial or A ChiBall Method session (whatever that was).
So what is the lesson in all of this? (Apart from don’t try anything you’ll only fail). Good habits only seem to work when they’re of practical use. I still cycle. It’s good for me but mainly it’s the fastest way of getting around. It also allows me to be smug when I arrive somewhere. Sweaty, but smug. And smugness has been clinically proven to reduce stress and cholesterol.
Good habits also persist when it’s easy to do them. For example I’ve heard of someone – let’s call him “Me” who didn’t want to tidy his clothes away in the wardrobe because his shelves were “too high”. Now he has got a lower shelf and while his clothes are still strewn on the floor, it’s easier to shame him into doing something about it.
This last paragraph took about a half an hour to write because I was distracted for twenty minutes on a Wikipedia page about quantum mechanics. Though I can’t for the life of me remember anything I learned.
Old habits die hard.