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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jyvaskyla: Day Five in Finland, Day Two of Conference

I have never shirked impending doom. Run away from it yes (thereby avoiding the creation of conditions which would make 'shirking' a possibility),  or  pretended it is not impending doom also yes (which usually is known as 'putting a brave face on the situation' and usually ends up in utter humiliation expect that you pretend to yourself that its not) but I have never shirked it. The reason for this is not an innate nobility of spirit, it is simply that doom, if it is to impend, likes to have a lot of material to work with and the more material it has, the more it tends to do whatever it is doom does after it has impended. So shirking -  which is trying to minimize the personal effects of doom's post impendingment by involving others - doesnt dilute the effects on you, it tend to make them worse.

Thus, faced with a conference talk in two days time, I have two options as I see it. Either I sit down and write the thing and try to make it as good as possible, because shirking - turning up and delivering something half-assed  - would just result in the type of awkward silence in the ten minutes allowed for questions at the end that is usually broken by someone saying "Thanks for your talk..." then going on to talk about their own work while you stand like a proper 'nana at the front and then everyone applauds the other person. Or (and as contemplate my options this is emerging as the favourite), I throw myself in the beautiful nearby lake and get into sufficient difficulty to require hospital treatment for two days but dont drown enough to actually be dead.

I happen to be by the lake as I am thinking about this, and experimentally, I dip my toe in the water. It is a beautiful lake, surrounded by tall pine trees and athletic Finns rollerskating, running, jogging, hiking, walking their dogs. There's also canoes, kayaks, sailing boats distributed around the lake and even a water polo match going on in a roped off area near the shore, and given how competent, healthy, calm and athletic everyone looks,  I feel assured that rescue would be available quite quickly if I did get into difficulties. In fact, they all look so competent and assured (as befitting a place every survey says is among the best places to live in Europe) I feel that I would actually have to plan my quasi-drowning quite carefully in order not to get rescued too soon. They look as if they would have a plan for such situations and be able to act on it. It's quite different form the random chaos of a British beach. I dip my toe experimentally in the water, just a rehearsal, but as the toe enters the water however, a flaw in my plan emerges. While I have no objection to getting into aquatic difficulties and nearly drowning in order to avoid giving this twenty five minute talk,  I have no intention of making the experience painful. But the water is freezing, cold enough to solidify blood, it seems. Glancing at the polo players, my assessment of Finnish happiness changes from one that involves the view that they have a kind of  existential internal calmness to the view that they must all suffer from a kind of quiet ontological madness which looks like contentment. I dont want to be rescued by people mad enough to ignore this kind of cold, they'd probably make me do the talk anyway.

So its off to the hotel room to write. I'd previously likened my poster to a puppy and I dont mean metaphorically ( I dont believe  metaphors exist anyway). My poster was a little six week old Labrador, with a snuffly nose, squished face and massive floppy paws. It was  playful, immensely loyal, eager and above all, so cute that no one really questions it even if it has a little pee on the floor. . Dogs and posters are safe and lovable, both in the private owning and the display of. Talks are different, they are cats. Even when you are trying to write them, they go wherever they want and wake you up at awkward times of the day wanting attention but giving nothing back.  They change their behaviour completely, unpredictably and capriciously and equally unexpectedly, return to their original behaviour just after you have given up on them. Or they dont. And when you display them, they have a habit of showing their private parts in public and scratching their owner just when you are proudly showing them to your neighbours, so instead of a beautiful, sleek, purring ebony ballerina what actually goes on display is  a flea-ridden, angry traitor  that suddenly turns round and shows everyone its arse just as you are saying how proud of it your are. I start to write, following the cat wherever it wants to go.

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