April is the Cruelest Month

Knowing that this is definitely my last year of uni ever (seriously I can’t stress this enough – I’m never coming back for more of this shit!!!) means that my mind has recently started replaying the highlight reel of past procrastination, kind of like the flashback episode of a sitcom (particularly moments from my undergrad, that was pro level).

It’s all pretty embarrassing really, here’s a list of genuine things I’ve done over the years while procrastinating,

  • Got mad good at computer mah-jong and solitaire
  • Decided now was the best time to learn as much of Poe’s The Raven as I could off by heart (I can still get up to verse four though!)
  • Decided now was the best time to get back into knitting again
  • Spent the best part of a day carefully hand-picking the arils out of pomegranates
  • Watched the music video to Another Brick in the Wall a bunch of times then wondered why I wasn’t exactly feeling motivated to finish that essay

Anyway the reason I’m bringing this up is that, having a reminisce over all the self-inflicted pain which naturally comes with procrastination, has also got me thinking a lot about T.S Eliot – in particular the poem he is arguably most renowned for, The Wasteland.

While Eliot’s great line, ‘distracted from distraction by distraction’  from Four Quartets may seem like a more appropriate sentiment for talk on procrastination; The Wasteland‘s morbid exploration into the futility of modern existence, and the personal suffering behind the poem’s creation, can easily be applied to procrastination. Plus surprisingly, The Wasteland is even able to give an unintentionally optimistic perspective on treading through the shittier times (or it’s likely that maybe I’m being way too positive, it is pretty bleak).

First published in 1922, The Wasteland traces modernity’s descent into hell in five parts, and was the piece which first gained Eliot attention as a poet (interestingly James Joyce’s Ulysses was published earlier that year – my brain needs to get a whole lot more bigger and impressive before I attempt to read that though).

Throughout The Wasteland, hordes of tragic figures are mechanically walking through life,

‘I had not thought death had undone so many,     

Sighs, short and infrequent were exhaled

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet’  

Eliot warns of culture’s progressing erosion and the monotony to be faced trapped in ‘the wasteland’. This theme of dredging through tedium is comparable to that feeling of just wishing a task was over, to the point where you almost feel detached from the initial reason why you’re doing this work.

Yet conversely, these words are also a challenge to be better. To find purpose and beauty, and not settle for sleepwalking through your existence. In my case, I shouldn’t overlook the fact that even the most tedious tasks, form part of something greater that I care deeply about.

Going deeper, and extending beyond the poem’s words; Eliot famously credited his tumultuous eighteen year marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood for ‘…the state of mind out of which came The Wasteland’.

An awareness that the darkest point in T.S Eliot life, sparked what is arguably the most significant piece of his literary legacy, puts present unhappiness towards tedium into perspective. Yes, maybe the present feels like a struggle – but maybe by living through it, something truly brilliant will derive out of it?

[Bit of an interesting fun-fact I learnt while doing some note-taking for this post: the owners of Eliot’s old family beach house in Massachusetts claim that its haunted by Eliot’s ghost. In life, T.S was a bit of a prude, so I like to think that his ghost only appears in the throes of passion to give you a judgemental glare

Bertrand Russell on Being BFFs With Your Brain, & Handling War in a Mature Fashion

Originally I started writing a piece on T.S Eliot, but then after finding out a little fun-fact* – that Bertrand Russell got kinky with Eliot’s first wife Vivienne – I got distracted and read a whole heap of Russell’s essays and political commentary (*its not exactly a fun-fact for Eliot, but T.S)

Bertrand Russell (1873 – 1970) was a revered British academic, analytic philosopher, and mathematician, who was particularly well known for his stance on pacifism and later for nuclear disarmament. He was also granted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.

During WWI, Russell was fired from his lecturing position at Trinity Cambridge due to his outspoken views on pacifism and conscription. Later in 1918 – the final year of the war, he spent six months in prison for an article, because he had pointed this out:

“unless peace comes soon there will be starvation throughout Europe….men will fight each other for possession of the bare necessities of life”

Although Russell’s views on pacifism dramatically shifted during WWII; the hydrogen bomb’s creation deeply worried him, as it did many other prominent scientists of the time. He spent the rest of his life committed to the fight for nuclear disarmament and was one of the founders of the ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ in 1958.

Russell wrote several pieces on his fears for mankind’s future without nuclear disarmament, however arguably his most poignant piece of writing on the subject was the speech he gave on BBC Radio London on December  30th 1954 ‘Shall we Choose Death?’  In which he begged as “a member of the species man”,

“Is all this to end in trivial horror because so few are able to think of Man rather than of this or that group of men? Is our race so destitute of wisdom?”

Russell’s writing however was not limited to nuclear weapons or mathematics. He wrote numerous essay where he’d stress the beauty and worth of every field of knowledge.  In Praise of Be Idle and Useless Knowledge in particular discuss the ‘contemplative habits of the mind’ and how they are as humans, a necessity for coping with fears and the struggles of everyday life.

In other words, his work makes you stop and think about how truly beautiful it is to have access to knowledge and creative works.