Saturday, 27 October 2012

In praise of aimlessness

‘If a fish came to me,’ the Mock Turtle tells Alice in Alice in Wonderland, ‘and told me he was going a journey, I should say, “with what porpoise?”’
The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon with Alice
Recently Ive begun to realise, however, that some of the best excursions in life require neither a cetacean nor any other kind of purpose. That’s not a lesson that I’ve learned on my own: it took my dog Janka to teach me.

Natural indolence makes me generally unwilling to venture out of doors unless I have a pressing reason to do so. You know, something rewarding, like going to work or buying toilet paper. Otherwise I’d be perfectly happy just to stay at home and vegetate.

Strangely enough, vegetating usually involves a screen of some kind: a computer, a Kindle, a TV. Particularly now that it’s turned cold, I’m much more inclined to glue myself to one of them than to take a chance on chilly streets and biting wind.

But we have a dog and dogs impose their own strict code. 

She’s very good at knowing when I’m getting ready to take her out. I haven’t worked out how she can tell that I’m not going out for fun, to the office or the shops, but somehow she can. I start to put my shoes on, and she comes over to watch me, expectantly. I put on my coat and she’s right next to me. I grab a handful of what I euphemistically think of as ‘doggy-bags’ and she’s barking.

And all for what? We’re not going anywhere. In fact on the face of it we’re about to do something as mindlessly unproductive as anything could be: walk a substantial distance through the cold only to end up exactly where we started from.

And yet, and yet. Luton has three parks that lead into each other, two on hills crowned with trees, the third flat and around an extended lake, or possibly just
a widened stream – I'm not sure what the difference is. 

Today, all three parks were flooded with golden light which somehow made the cold less painful. Janka was darting around, clearly giving not a single thought to the futility of the exercise, merely enjoying the moment. And I was listening to Ulysses on my headphones which meant mixing two sources of pleasure at once, not something it’s always easy to do.

By the time we got back, Janka’s food was ready, which gave her a more than sufficient goal for the outing. And even I was refreshed and in good humour.

Which makes me think. Perhaps she’s the one that’s right. You don’t always have to do things with a view to achieving something else. It’s time to recognise the pleasure of the activity in itself, to let myself go with the flow and enjoy simple aimlessness.

You can learn a lot from a dog. Much more, it would appear, than you can from a Mock Turtle.

Sorry, Lewis Carroll. Happy to do things without a porpoise after all.

Janka has much to teach me.


ariescottrell said...

The dog is cute. Reminds me of my brothers dog. Now I hate to do this, well not really you have done it to me enough. But have you really looked at your dog when you walk him? He is very busy, sniffing, receiving signals and generally having a great old time meeting and greeting people or other puppies who come along. Do you really think their mission when out for walks is aimless? Just a silly Sunday afternoon thought. :-)And I do understand what you mean about doing things for the heck of it without some ulterior purpose!

David Beeson said...

You may well be right: perhaps Janka has clear aims. Which means that if she's taught me to value aimlessness, then she has remarkable pedagogic skills too,