“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”
TRADITION OF IMPRACTICALITY. I have written before about the family’s long tradition of impracticality—and I’m embarrassed to say I seem to be maintaining the tradition. My grandmother, for instance—a truly admirable woman, and someone I loved to bits—never learned to drive, was an erratic cook at best, and lived in a state of chaos. On the other hand, she did a vast amount of good both politically and on a personal level—so the fact that she couldn’t change a light bulb was a small matter in the scheme of things. And she spoke fluent French, was an outstanding poet, and was a completely wonderful person.
Paradoxically, my grandmother was an air raid warden in London during the Blitz in WW II—and apparently was quite expert at putting out incendiaries with a bucket of sand—so her impracticality wasn’t total—but based upon my observation of her during peace, it took a war to get here going. In WWI she was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment)—a nurse’s aide who tackled the more unpleasant tasks because it wasn’t ladylike to be trained in nursing.
LATIN, A GREAT LANGUAGE OF LIMITED USE TODAY. The common denominator where my grandmother, mother, and my own lack of practicality is concerned is that all three of use grew up in houses where the practical was the province of servants. Whereas they, the servants, knew how to cook, clean, sew, and fix a leaky faucet—all useful, practical skills—I was taught italic handwriting (which I haven’t used for years) and Latin. Quite how such skills equipped me for life, I have yet to determine. That said, I have considerable affection for Latin—though have forgotten most of it.
I’m not entirely impractical—I do some things very well—but I have a tendency to think about abstract issues like unemployment rather than practical things like advancing my own immediate interests—or assembling a chair. I also have a peculiar sense of time (which is something I will endeavor to explain on some other occasion).
But, I’m dodging the issue. Let now now describe a perfect example of my impractical/absent-minded streak—which helps to explain why I haven’t blogged every day recently. I have been a casualty.
ENTER THE CHAIR. My colleague—who is exceptionally good at purchasing the right thing—bought me A new swivel chair recently. As normal, I worked late so didn’t start assembling the chair until it was dark—and then I chose a less well lit part of my study to do the deed because there was space. I could and should have brought over extra lighting—but I was tired and just wanted to get on with it.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF IMPRACTICALITY. The task was tricky but finally I thought I had it done. I set it down and then sat in it. I had inadvertently left out two bolts. As I leant back—feeling rather proud of myself—the whole chair collapsed backwards, the back of my head smashed against the tile floor, and I not only fell, but twisted my body severely in the process. Over three weeks later, I’m still feeling as if I had survived a severe kicking—and I’ll spare you the rest of the details—but much pain was, and is involved. Distracting, when one is trying to write.
Ironically, I was able to fix the chair the following day—when there was plenty of light—without difficulty.
DECIDEDLY EMBARRASSED. Yes, I feel extremely stupid—and now you know why I particularly admire anyone who has a practical skill. I was brought up to think of people who work with their hands as second-class citizens—never quite believed that—and have longed wished that I was more physically skilled myself.
But, I can write—and that, as far as I am concerned, is a gift beyond price.
And the good news? Well, the chair, now properly assembled, is the most comfortable working chair I have ever sat in.