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Somebody just sent me a link to an interesting website, where this among other things has been posted:

Begley is particularly astute on the bizarre organization of Kafka’s writing day. At the Assicurazioni Generali, Kafka despaired of his twelve-hour shifts that left no time for writing; two years later, promoted to the position of chief clerk at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, he was now on the one-shift system, 8:30 AM until 2:30 PM. And then what? Lunch until 3:30, then sleep until 7:30, then exercises, then a family dinner. After which he started work around 11 PM (as Begley points out, the letter- and diary-writing took up at least an hour a day, and more usually two), and then “depending on my strength, inclination, and luck, until one, two, or three o’clock, once even till six in the morning.” Then “every imaginable effort to go to sleep,” as he fitfully rested before leaving to go to the office once more. This routine left him permanently on the verge of collapse. Yet

when Felice wrote to him…arguing that a more rational organization of his day might be possible, he bristled…. “The present way is the only possible one; if I can’t bear it, so much the worse; but I will bear it somehow.”

It was [Max] Brod’s opinion that Kafka’s parents should gift him a lump sum “so that he could leave the office, go off to some cheap little place on the Riviera to create those works that God, using Franz’s brain, wishes the world to have.” Begley, leaving God out of it, politely disagrees, finding Brod’s wish

probably misguided. Kafka’s failure to make even an attempt to break out of the twin prisons of the Institute and his room at the family apartment may have been nothing less than the choice of the way of life that paradoxically best suited him.

The truth was that he wasted time! The writer’s equivalent of the dater’s revelation: He’s just not that into you. “Having the Institute and the conditions at his parents’ apartment to blame for the long fallow periods when he couldn’t write gave Kafka cover: it enabled him to preserve some of his self-esteem.”

(Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, July 17, 2008 (reviewing The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head: Franz Kafka: A Biographical Essay by Louis Begley.)

Hmmm… Yep. Zadie Smith’s had a good year in the reviews, hasn’t she? Anyway, just for my own / the record, I’ll record how my usual day works.

Wake between 8 – 9 AM, ready myself for work, skipping breakfast usually. Prepare a large thermos of coffee to take with. Check blogs while coffee brews.

Bus and train to work, arriving at approximately 10-11 AM. Of late, I’ve been reading things that I want to read during this period. Other times, it’s the paper. At bad times, it’s music.

Email, teaching, advising activities somewhere mixed in here. If not, preparation for teaching or advising. Frequent breaks for cigarettes outside, phone calls, more email. Sometimes I remember to fetch myself a sandwich, fanta, and treat to eat at my desk. At some point I generally buy the Guardian and another pack of cigarettes.

If I am lucky and good, I leave at 3-3:30 PM to write at my shitty Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road. If I am not lucky, I am teaching or meeting with students. If I am not good, I am still puttering around the internet, pretending to work.

Between 5-6 I generally leave for home. Read free papers on the way.

From 6 or so until 10 PM is dinner / kid / television related time. Oh, and I read the stack of not-free papers I’ve acquired during the day during this period as well.

From 10 pm till 2 AM, again, it depends if I am being good or bad. Good means I read solidly (almost never happens); bad means I fuck about with the internet. I used to pretend to write during this period, but generally that meant drinking beer and feeling very writerly while I do it.

Hmm… This is a bit depressing, no? How should it go?

7:30 wake
9:00 reach work, write for two hours if possible
11:00 teaching activities
4:00 reading / writing
6:00 leave for home, family activities
10:00 reading / teaching prep activities if nec.
1:30 to bed

OK. That sounds like a NY Resolution to me. The reading / writing balance would be adjustable – I’m actually more worried about my failure to read than my failure to write in some ways, so it’s best to slant it this way to start.

(Oh and before anyone jumps on me – I’m already only describing here the rare manageable day in which I’m not tied up with teaching / meetings of one sort or another from 10 – 6, or when various childcare issues don’t interrupt etc etc…)

(A faster route toward, erk, efficient time-management would be to abandon the infinitely wasteful practice of incessant cigarette smoking… But that’s a bridge a bit too far at the moment… Can only cut off one semi-debilitating chemical “enhancement” at a time…. But perhaps, down the road, who knows…)

But anyway, all this is to ignore the point that Begley makes and Smith echoes. How long have I nurtured this fantasy that if I were just able to tweak the schedule, marshal my energies, evenly and appropriate distribute my efforts, everything would become easy. How simple it is to ignore the hangups and tics and secret anxieties that underwrite all the timewasting and inefficiency! How would I possibly cope with myself if I were, once and for all, work again as I believe I ought to work?

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 26, 2008 at 4:39 am

Posted in distraction, me

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