Every few months I have a go at organising my office, in the mistaken belief that if I can finally get everything tidy and in the right place it will make me a super-efficient writing machine. It never, ever works. The office always ends up less tidy than it was when I started and if I move things around, within weeks I have forgotten where they are and have to pull the whole place apart to find them.
But it passes the time and makes me feel like I am being productive, even when I am not. And I always chance across some old script or photo or diary or forgotten possession that makes me wistful about the passage of time and all the lost years swallowed up by a greedy invisible monster who feeds on failure and disappointment.
Today I found two filofaxes, items that feel like they are from two centuries ago, though remarkably one of them was bought in this century. The first was one that I had been given by my management in the early 90s and was vaguely interesting in that it includes my address book from the time. Not only is it strange to think that we once relied on a little book to keep a note of our acquaintances details, it was also interesting to see who were the hundred or so individuals that meant enough to me in the 1990s for me to have their number. Some names are familiar, many, of course are still my friends, but some I haven’t seen for 20 years and then others I can not even picture or work out how I knew them. Some may have been short-lived business contacts, others may have been people that I hoped might date me, I suspect a couple might even have made that fateful step. I would hope I would remember anyone for whom things went a little further, but who knows? I kept the older filofax, as it was evocative and bewildering, but reminded me of happy times and also times when I sat in my flat alone, weeping. Although you can get a mini-version of this experience by scrolling through your phone address book (and certainly I bother to take more people’s details these days, so there are more unfamiliar names), due to the edit function you don’t get the fun of seeing the changing addresses and relationship statuses of your friends. People once listed together are now listed alone or with someone else.
I am a fan of progress and it’s way better having computers and smart phones than address books and filofaxes and landlines, but we no longer get these parts of our lives frozen in time. In the unlikely event that you held on to an old phone (I still have the Nokia that I had in the mid-90s), then it’s even more unlikely that it would still turn on and work even if you could find a charger.
Of course even the filofax was by its very nature disposable. You’d throw away your diary and your notes to replace them with new ones. In the 1990s, were I blogging, I would no doubt have decried that fact that we didn’t have year by year diaries any more. Things change, largely for the good, even if sometimes not for your individual good.
And I guess that I wouldn’t have this laborious and ridiculous record of a quarter of my life without the internet. I did keep diaries occasionally, but never as moronically fastidiously as this. Or as pretty much indestructibly. It just struck me this week (as it does occasionally) how utterly insane it is that I have kept this up for so long without a break. What a self-important buffoon I am. I don’t think even my mum is interested enough in me to have this level of detail about my existence. It certainly bores me a lot of the time. What am I thinking? I’d say I was mentally ill, but there’s nothing else that I do with my life that would suggest that is the case.
The filofax I had from the 2000s was less interesting, apart from it being inexplicable that I had bothered to have one. I hadn’t written in anyone’s addresses or phone numbers, as that job was clearly already being done by my phone/computer. It had a bit of a diary from 2001 in it, but I suspected that I had bought it later than that as it only had my current address in the front. I had clearly bought it in some other attempt to get my life into order, even though I already owned a filofax (sometimes a new pad or whatever can feel like a fresh start, also this was the normal sized filofax whereas my other one had been a mini one). I do mention the Filofax in an early Warming Up here (even though it feels completely anachronistic that this blog and a Filofax could exist in the same time-stream) which suggests that I did use it as an attempt to motivate myself, as a diary and to do list and probably a place to make comedy notes. Sadly as that entry shows it would be a long time before I got anywhere near fulfilling any of those desires and changing my ways and I clearly still find it just as difficult to motivate myself and to prevent finding ways to procrastinate and avoid actual work. But then this whole blog is just part of that (even if it’s had the unexpected result of providing me with stand-up and column ideas). There was something in the filofax that suggested I was still occasionally using it in 2006 and I guess in those early noughties that phones weren’t quite the mini computers that they are now and it might have felt necessary (in a slightly retro way) to have a way of taking notes and updating my diary. But there was no emotional resonance in this second filofax, a few notes about some vague comedy ideas, but nothing to make me want to keep it. I took out the unused to-do list pages, thinking that maybe I might use them on one of the rare occasions that I decide to pull myself together and be efficient and productive. But even as a hoarder and documenter of my own life I couldn’t justify keeping this, it felt more symbolic to let it go and I can’t imagine that anyone else would want it. I binned it.
Blah blah blah. So it goes on. Never learning, never spotting the meaningless of it all except for those rare moments of lucid terror that come in the middle of the night.
I suppose the mark of maturity is the realisation that it is all a monumental waste of time, but enjoying the ride anyway.
To all those people in my 1990s Filofax, living, dead, still around, totally forgotten, loved and lost, loved, but not loved-back and lost: thanks for helping me pass the time. How crazy that so much time has passed, much crazier that we didn’t see it coming.
Thanks also to Ian Filofax for inventing the Filofax. Hope you squirrelled some money away when things were going well. I suspect it’s not the money-spinner that it once was.