The Next Village

On moving house

In two months my flat-mates and I are packing up and shipping out. To put it simply: we're moving to a new house, and taking on board two new crew members. We all know each other rather well, and we're all familiar with each other's character traits. Some of these traits are charming, some of them are attractive, and some are just plain irritating; but they're traits nonetheless, and we wouldn't be who we are without them.

To diffuse the excitement of moving into the new property, we've started to anticipate the kind of antics we can get up to. For instance, we're looking at ways that the property will offer space for new and interesting pastimes: soon we will have a garden, and I can already imagine groups of friends gathering around a barbecue for hot food and cold beer. Weather permitting, of course. But we've also opted for a few games to keep things interesting, and make the transition from our currently property to the new one that little bit more lively.

Chris has suggested that we install a notice-board on one of the walls of the house, and that we use the notice-board to express the unique character traits that we observe in our fellow flat-mates. For instance, Adrian has a knack for particular clumsy actions from time to time, and whether he's spilling chips all over the floor or stubbing his toe there will be room to document each and every event. Kieren, another future housemate, has a tendency to spin ridiculously grandiose yarns: peculiar speculations ranging from tabloid conspiracy to full-blown paranoia. There will be space for each and every. I, on the other hand, have been labelled as someone with a weakness for fads, transitory interests that never amount to very much - and I'm prone to agree.

Ever since I can remember I have had a need to pursue one interest or another. After awhile, my interest grows and begins to swallow up my free time. I'm reminded by Norman Bates' ominous words regarding his taxidermy collection in Hitchcock's Psycho: 'A hobby should pass the time, not fill it.' I seem to have a knack for filling it. Whether it's the novels of J. G. Ballard and Samuel Beckett, or the music of Bob Dylan or Joy Division, or more recently Charlie Parker, I just can't seem to get enough. But just before I reach some kind of apex, what I would consider an ideal of understanding of any given subject, I move on to something else.

When I was around thirteen years of age I was a keen chess player. I spent every school lunch-break in the library trying to whip round competitors, and nagged parents to compete with me on trips away. It became an addiction. I started to study opening and endgame theory, bought books devoted entirely to the subject and studied the games of the leading grandmasters. I even joined a regional team and began playing in all-weekend tournaments. I remember one tournament when I shared a caravan with a few fellow players, and we spent the night lying in the dark playing blindfold chess across the room. For me, chess was all-encompassing, but I moved onto new obsessions at just the point where my abilities were beginning to blossom.

When my friends claim that I have fads, or obsessions, they are right. I do, and there is no point in denying it. But what strikes me as most interesting is that while the interests never completely fade away (I am still a keen chess player, whenever I get the chance, and am still a fan of Ballard, Dylan and Joy Division) I am always driven to keep moving on. It's as though some part of me is driven to be a jack of all trades but a master of none. I just can't seem to commit myself to that one decisive thing.

But why am I telling you all this? What's gotten into me to bring up the subject in the first place? Well, I'll tell you. I was reading a short story by Kafka this evening, and somehow it strikes the nail on the head. It's called 'The Next Village', and was translated by Willa and Edwin Muir:

'My grandfather used to say: 'Life is astoundingly short. To me, looking back over it, life seems so foreshortened that I scarcely understand, for instance, how a young man can decide to ride over to the next village without being afraid that - not to mention accidents - even the span of a normal happy life may fall far short of the time needed for such a journey.'
To me, life does feel astoundingly short. And to avoid wasting it on a single journey to a single village I feel driven to shoot off in every direction at once - to cover every territory and master every district. Of course, it goes without saying that I'll never succeed, but that's to be expected.