Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 6 May 2015



Knowing of something
and going through it
are two different things.

Death – the eventuality –
can be accepted at a
distance, until it becomes
imminent, and turns to
an aching preoccupation.

At its end it becomes
an obsession and then
is realized but there
there is no more philosophy.

9 July 1978

Thinking is not something that most people include on their CVs. At least most people don’t. I’m not even sure than any of the “great thinkers” of our time—the Nietzsches, Kants and Hegels—actually called themselves “thinkers”—bit pretentious really—but I’ve definitely seen people described on TV as, say, “writer, poet and thinker”. I wonder if Stephen Hawking thinks of himself as a “thinker”. Or Isaac Asimov and Alan Turing when they were alive. Philosophers, obviously, have to be thinkers but so are politicians, writers and artists. A division should probably be drawn too between “the thinking man”, “serious thinkers” and “deep thinkers”.

Worst insult of my life? “You’re not deep, you’re shallow.” My first wife on the day she left me which is about four years on from this poem. Talk about kicking a guy where it hurts.

My name is Jim. And I’m a thinker. I got into thinking quite early on. I watched grownups thinking and it looked cool, a bit risky so I decided I’d give it a go. Pretty soon I was thinking all the time: at school, watching TV, in the bath, at night in bed. I never told anyone. It was my guilty secret. At first everyday thoughts were enough. thinking_3I’d think, Isn’t that a cute cat? or My, the sky’s blue today but pretty soon I was peering into the darkness and something in it was peering back at me. That’s when I knew I had a problem but by then I was… there’s no other word for it: addicted.

It’s been a long road. I still think from time to time—there’s no cure (don’t let anyone kid you)—but it’s not as bad as what it used to be. I used to think about deep shit like death and taxes. Not sure I’ve thought about either for years but every now and then I see a news item about some massacre overseas or a change to the basic rate of Income Tax and the old urges raise their ugly heads.


Kass said...

Wow, you are anything, but shallow and your thinking leads to insightful expressions, which is better than most people; those who sit around thinking with no output. The term "stewing in their own juices," comes to mind.

Jim Murdoch said...

People say the ocean is deep, Kass, and, of course, parts of it are but not all. I have my shallow sides. And often I find myself out of my depth… even inside my own head. As I’m editing this book just now for instance I keep stumbling across clever-sounding sentences and find I’m not entirely sure I know what I’m talking about. Was I showing off, being too clever for my own good or have I lost my connection to that thought? Who knows? When you read only my poetry you get a misleading impression of me. Or maybe what it is nowadays is that being thought of as deep has become more of a burden, like a comedian who’s always expected to be funny. I can be deep for maybe five minutes a day. It feeds the need. As a kid I could never understand how my dad could buy us bags of chips and not buy one for himself. He’d pinch one of ours. But the just the one. A taste was enough. I never got that back then and I resented his taking even one of my chips. Now I get it. I get how he could finish off a cold coffee or not eat an entire bar of chocolate. Maybe that’s true depth.

Anonymous said...

The difference between knowing of and going through something is particularly applicable to whatever that something is that is thinking, I think, Jim. If not applicable, at least philosophically appealing. I mean, one could ask, what does it mean to go through thinking as opposed to knowing of thinking?

Do you have to write your thoughts down, or paint them, or build them and/or so on for thinking to be gone through? Then the knowledge of thinking follows? Or does (or should) going through thinking happen as a kind of silent, internal churning and chewing over before the 'knowing of' (writing, building, painting and/or so on) thinking occurs?

It is odd that when a non-human animal is found in a particular environment it is often said to occur there, but a human animal is usually said to inhabit or live in the same place. But I digress, which might point definitively to a lack of focus or undisciplined thinking. Or it might suggest a manner of well structured thinking whereby the next paragraph should segue coherently from the conclusion of the last paragraph; not to be confused with paragraph unity, which is only relevant to the information occurring within the bounds of each paragraph as opposed to the unity between each.

It was suggested to me at university that you can only know your thoughts on a particular matter after having made an attempt to express those thoughts coherently i.e., make a convincing argument for holding them. Based on my experience of losing coherency of thought for a number of years and continuing to express what I knew, while going through the distressing process of not knowing anything like I thought I knew it before, I would say that it's equally possible to know one's own thoughts (and those of others who see you go through it) after the event subsides (presuming one survives it) and a few pleasurable habits begin to occur with some regularity.

The act of thinking clearly, to my mind, is the second most pleasurable habit I have known. Coming in close behind, at first place, is knowing a way through the thinking.

Thanks for the writing prompt, Jim. Maybe it wasn't meant to a be a writing prompt in the strict sense of the term, but when interesting thinkers like yourself write, the writing prompts thought.

Kass said...

I'm really liking your concept of depth as it applies to your dad.

Jim Murdoch said...

What does it mean to go through thinking as opposed to knowing of thinking? I think the answer is fairly self-evident, Brad. What does it mean to go through Africa as opposed to knowing about Africa? I know that a thinking man wrote the comment to which I’m responding as I assume—since I have no way of knowing—that what you call thinking is comparable to what I call thinking. Maybe you feel a little more when you think that I do; I think it’s unwise to try to segregate thoughts and feelings.

You suggest at one point that you’re digressing. Perhaps you were. Perhaps that’s how you think and how you think doesn’t measure up to how you think others think. Maybe this is simply how you think. Maybe us writers (and artists etc.) have broken or badly wired thinking processes which is why we end up making such odd connections work. Who in their rational mind would try to connect a piano with a glass of milk but as soon as I mention that if your brain is anything like mine it’s off trying to make the most interesting connection it can.

I agree with what the person you mention at university said. I used to say something similar to my own trainees: If you can’t explain it then you don’t understand it. It’s not true. Who can explain love? Computers are another thing. I used to get my trainees to help—literally to teach—each other for two reasons: firstly, to buy me time because it’s too easy to put up your hand and cry for help, and secondly (and more importantly), to reinforce what they’d learned. It’s why I like doing book reviews because I have to talk about what I’ve read, explain it and justify my opinion of it. If I didn’t write a review after finishing a book I’d think there was something missing, that I hadn’t read it properly.

Knowledge is a stepping stone. There are lots of things I know of, some that I know, even fewer that I understand and a miniscule amount that I have some degree of insight into. Clever I may be but I’m not as wise, nowhere near as wise, as I’d like to be. I’ve seen the sea, I’ve even paddled in it but I’m a long way away from becoming it.

Now I should thank you for the writing prompt.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yeah, Kass, why did he do that? It wasn’t as if a bag of chips was expensive back then. Now everything’s expensive and I’m turning into my dad. It was the idea that a taste was enough. I struggled with that when I was a kid. A taste was never enough. A taste was torture in fact. One chip! How could one chip be enough? And I mean we’re talking about chippy chips here. (I once insulted my mother by saying that chippy chips were better than hers which they were but you don’t say things like that to your mum if you know what’s good for you.) I haven’t been to a fish and chip shop in years. I don’t even own a deep fat fryer and a house without a chip pan was unimaginable when we were kids. I could’ve just cried for the children in India and Italy who had to get by on rice and pasta. Did they not know what they were missing? Now I would be happy for a single chip. It would bring so many associations with it. I’m not sure it was like that with my dad as chip shops had been a part of his life since he was a lad so there was nothing special about them. Now they’re not the same as they used to be. The chips come in polystyrene containers with plastic forks and the just don’t’ taste the same. And they’re probably healthier. There’s always a trade-off there.

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