Sometime ago I commented in my Ramblings on a book I was reading called ‘The Etymologicon’ by Mark Forsyth. For someone like me who is fascinated by the origins and obscure connexions of words it was a goldmine, and like goldmining it became an obsession (I’m told goldmining becomes an obsession, I have never actually upped-sticks and moved to Dolgellau, the Welsh Klondike, to try it for myself). The book is packed with interesting information and very entertainingly written. I couldn’t put it down and yet I didn’t want to finish it. It was fascinating and made me regret not having a photographic memory.
I am now reading the follow-up book, ‘The Horologicon’ which goes through a typical day from waking up to going to bed via work, and work avoidance, looking at words once common in English but now faded into the past. It is just as compulsive as its predecessor. I am trying to spin it out by interspersing it with reading other books. This is partly in the vain hope that some of the words will stick sufficiently close to the front of my brain to be retrievable when an occasion arises to drop them casually into conversation and bring the room to an awed silence.
Two words struck me as particularly appropriate at the moment. To perendinate is to put off doing today what can, without great inconvenience or adverse consequence, be put off at least until the day-after-tomorrow, an extreme form of procrastination. The other word eleutheromania, I was pleased to say I worked out from the Greek ‘eleftheria’ (ελευθερία) meaning freedom and mania (μανία) we all know. It is defined as a kind of crazed desire for freedom.
Why are these words apt?
I am writing a chapter for a book to be published in the Autumn comprising accounts of bus routes in Britain. I was invited to write it before Christmas with a deadline of 1 March. Even though I knew that Christmas was looming large with all its diversions and busy-ness, that scarcely was New Year past before I was going to Canada skiing for a month, and that there were only two weeks to the deadline when I got back jet-lagged ….. I didn’t get to grips with the writing. I perendinated.
I did some research, reminded myself of half forgotten work I did 20 years ago, went out with the camera to take photos on a sunny day, and contacted a couple of key people. I composed sentences in my head as I walked the mountain to get myself fit and build up the necessary stamina for the exertions in the Rockies … and forgot them before I got back to pen and paper or keyboard. “No problem, plenty of time”, I told myself, “it will all come back, the muse will return”.
What I did write on the odd occasions that I put finger to keyboard was self-evidently too rambling to be able to pack enough good meat into the sausage. I did have a bit of a panic one day in Whistler when I wasn’t skiing and sat at the table tapping away on the netbook for a couple of hours before I just couldn’t bear the thought of all that lovely snow outside and went out to play.
Now I have pared the chapter to the bone and, save for a bit of final tweaking, it’s ready to submit.
What changed? The pending deadline! Like so many people I can only produce the goods if there is a strict time limit. If I had to write a paper or a report for committee the following morning, no problem. Brain straight into overdrive, thinking focused, irrelevancies ignored, distractions discarded. Two pages of A4 concisely stated and argued on the desk by end of play. Same task for three months ahead and I don’t even take off the handbrake for a month.
I spent the summer in Greece in 2010 researching routes for a walking guide to the Greek Islands. I had already put about 10 on the internet and planned to add about another 20 or 25. I made notes, took GPS readings, took photos …. and haven’t yet published another route. No deadline. Why procrastinate when you can perendinate?
I decided instead to publish extracts from the blog I posted during my trip round Greece by public transport last summer as an e-book. I wrote the opening paragraph when I got home in October, have revised it umpteen times since, and not got any further. I went on a course at the Welsh Writing Centre near Criccieth and am now thinking of a different opening but not yet written a single word of it. The material is there, I simply need to decide which bits to include and then pare them down from blog-woffle.
There is a sort of deadline in that it would make sense to write up what I did last year before I embark on this year’s Greek Odyssey, the planning of which is what I am turning my mind to. A number of options present themselves. Go back to The Mani for 3 or 4 weeks and then take the ferry to Crete as I had hoped to do last year but ran out of time. Do a trip up the eastern side of Greece and then run down the islands in the North Aegean by ferry. Go back to places I know and where I have friends. Rent a house or appartment for the whole summer which works out considerably cheaper and would hopefully allow me to focus on writing.
This is where the eleftheromania comes in. It’s good to be able to get up in the morning with freedom of choice, to be able to decide “I fancy doing that today”. But freedom needs to be disciplined. Paradoxically, it needs to be constrained if it is to have any value. In a political context unfettered freedom is anarchy. At a personal level, in order for time to be productive and enjoyable, for anything worthwhile to be achieved, there need to be goals, targets …. deadlines.
Incidentally, “uhtceare” 1is a word of Anglo Saxon origin referring to the period when one lies awake worrying before dawn while “lychnobios”2 strictly translates from the Greek as ‘lamp-life’, referring to time after midnight. Those who become active late at night are “lychnobites”, often having locked themselves in a “lucubator” or room for late-night study to avoid being disturbed. So “from uhtceare to lychnobios” is just another way of saying “from morning ‘til night”, but I don’t think it will catch on.