03 December 2015

Maybe I'm a Samuel Beckett Character

two hackey sacks a tennis ball some rocks and a pen
When I am writing, my pen does backflips. I fidget. I suppose it's a busy brains:busy hands kind of thing, and it means I spend a lot of time tossing items. Pens are not great tossing items. If the nib hits your hand or clothes, then ink. Ballpoint pens are too light; sharpies are just the right weight but they have a tendency of leaking over time, which results in lots of ink. Pencils don't break or leak, but still they leave marks on flesh and fabric. I've done this for as long as I remember.

The first item was a basketball. My parents got me a hoop for Christmas (big wrapped present by the tree, too big to fit under the tree, v exciting) and installed it in our driveway. "Playing basketball" is a strong term for what I did, since I was mostly imagining Star Wars and college basketball fanfic. (I loved the Duke Blue Devils. iirc they won all the time?) But I shot the ball at the hoop, fetched it, bounced it, shot the ball at the net, etc. I was always disappointed when neighbour kids would see me and come outside to actually basketball. Rain would also spoil my fun.

A couple years into being a teenager I got self-conscious about never getting any better at basketball despite spending multiple hours on most dry days on the drive way. A man who lived two doors down would consistently ask me when I was going to hit the big leagues and then chuckle. So I started wandering the streets, bouncing a tennis ball off of the sidewalk. (I was not self-aware enough to realize this must look pretty odd too, or maybe I was OK with it because there was less chance of somebody I knew being around.) Tennis balls had the advantage of being plentiful, since my dogs chased them and tennis was my dad's sport of choice, but the disadvantage of bouncing wildly when they land on a non-flat surface, i.e. into the street when they hit a curb. My fantasies matured from droids, Dragonlance and sports to imagining life as a pro-gamer. I was deep into Warcraft 3 at that point.

In high school I thought people who played hacky sack were cool, so I spent a summer in the basement watching DVDs of Six Feet Under (R.I.P. lol) and trying to learn. I never learned. (It's maybe easier in sneakers than barefoot since feet are gnarled, unpredictable surfaces?) But I discovered that juggling two hacky sacks with one hand is perhaps the ideal fidgeting method. The 'tsh tsh tsh' of the sack smacking my palm was a source of conflict between me and my sister. Sorry Jen!! I've spent hundreds of happy hours walking, listening to music and tossing two hacky sacks.

Hacky sacks, however, are not the ideal tossing item. They cost money. I'm prone to losing things. Once I lose one, I have to buy another two since they have to be the same weight. Over time, they get dropped in puddles and become gross. Over time, their beads drop out so they lose the ideal shape and heft. Tiny stones scattered through the house and in my bed: also not ideal.

At times I've taken to flipping coins with my thumb, but since pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters are too small and light for a satisfying fidget and a dropped coin is hard to find, I quickly discovered that coins are the priciest tossing item. A friend told me that before he writes essays, he spends hours sitting in a chair, tossing a stress ball and planning what he's going to say. This reassures me that my busy brain busy:hands method is not a symptom of madness. I've never tried tossing stress balls.

Lately, having lost one of my hacky sacks and neglected to replace it, I've taken to tossing stones. Before, I'd considered rocks a no-go because their density meant they came down heavy on a small surface area and hurt my hand with each toss, but I've adapted or at least learned to cope. Stones are free! Stones are everywhere! I can leave the house with nothing to toss and just scoop up a stone off the side of the road! They tend to collect in gutters. Gravel is usually rough, jagged and not ideal, but river rocks are often heavier and too smooth. They hit harder and hurt more.

Samuel Beckett's Watt devotes a handful of pages to a character's habit of transferring rocks between the four pockets of his overcoat. He has an intricate system for ensuring that no rock gets transferred any more than the others. No rock is neglected. No rock is overused and overworn by his hands' oils and acids. There's also a procedure for introducing a new rock into the system when one gets lost. Reading Watt, I thought the appeal of this passage was absurd: pages that should give the reader pleasure and/or insight into the human condition are instead devoted to the minute and repetitive details of an obviously pointless task, haha such is life. But today I interrupted my home-to-cafĂ© walk to crouch down, the hem of my jacket dipping into a nearby puddle, and I thought "that's a good tossing rock". I realized that maybe Beckett's character is a lot more real and more relatable than I'd thought.


such is life

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