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Friday, 30 October 2015

Mr Demotivated

As I get slowly changed in the gym dressing-room (because the faster you undress the sooner the pain starts), I'm thinking about an article I read over breakfast that imagined aliens trying to understand Earth, by eavesdropping on the Internet. 

"What impression would they get of us humans?" it asked.

The answer they gave was that we spend our time on three activities - playing with cats, watching strangers doing strange things to each other, and getting into pointless arguments with wankers.

There is a fourth. 

Everywhere I look these days, some self-styled guru is trying to motivate me. "Why not go out on a limb?" the guru says. "That's where the fruit is." 

And, "The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they make the best of everything."

And, "What you do today can improve all your tomorrows."

The idea, I'm guessing, is something like this. The alarm sounds loudly, dragging you out of that recurring dream about Marilyn Monroe, three penguins and a tub of tutti frutti. 

Still fuzzy at the edges, you drag your weary body out of bed and open the curtains on a dreich October morning. Your back is stiff, your teeth hurt and a wee guy with a jackhammer is pounding your eyes from the inside. One glance at the bedroom mirror makes you recoil in horror, as a subhuman with six-inch ear hair stares out at you, without a glimmer of intelligence in his bloodshot, bleary eyes.

All you want to do is crawl back under the blankets. But a glance at Twitter bucks you up. "The measure of who we are," it says, "is what we do with what we have." 

That is so true, you say, and your heart lifts. Your tummy flattens. The sun peeps out from the clouds. Sparrows sing in the sycamore. You throw open the window and welcome the bright, new morning with a burst of Italian opera. Postman Jim comes round the corner and sings back up at you: "Nessun dorma. Nessun dorma. Tu pure, o, Principessa."

And damn it, you feel like a princess. 

Down the stairs you bound, eager to get to work on your new novel, about sex and climate-change, provisionally entitled The Windmill Position. 

But you can't resist another motivational hit. So you look at Twitter again. "Aim for the moon," you read. "If you miss you may hit a star." 

That's a bit astronomically illiterate, you think, starting to deflate slightly. You try another one. "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago," you read. "The second best time is now." 

Your mood shifts. Instead of simply feeling you begin to think. You start to calculate. If the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time isn't now. Not by a long shot. 

The second best time was 19 years, 11 months, 30 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds ago. Unless it was a February. 

That's a bit of a discrepancy, you say to yourself. If I'm going to be motivated by deep-thinking thinkers I'd like them not to be innumerate. If the buggers can't do the sums why should I trust them with the philosophy?

And just like that your insanely cheerful bubble bursts. The miraculous motivator has lost his magic. It's just you against the world again.

As I get to this point in my thoughts, I reach the top of the gym stairs, spot Al in his usual position by the mirrored wall and walk on over. "Listen," I say and he puts the dumbbells down with a sigh. 

"What now?" he says.

I explain my sums to him then realise the discrepancy is worse than I'd thought. "Because the shortest unit of time is not the second," I tell him. "It's the jiffy. That's the time it takes light to travel the diameter of a proton."

"Really?" he says.

"Trust me, I'm a physicist," I say, doing some fast mental maths. "So what the guru should have said is this: 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The 210,240,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th best time is now.'"

Al shakes his head and gives my shoulder a sympathetic pat. "I hate to say this, son, but you need to get out more. It's not advice I'd ever take myself, but ..."  

He stops himself. "No, I can't," he says.

"Go on," I say. "I can take it."

"You need to find yourself a woman," he says, turning to pick up the weights and admire his manly muscles in the mirror again.

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