Accentuate the Negative

Regular readers will be well aware of my deep and profound attraction to Stoicism. Having such a deeply held – not to say profound – philosophical doctrine to live by means that I can swan through life with ease. It doesn’t always work: witness that time I swore at bottles of brandy in East Horsley (last month) or that time I collapsed and had to go to hospital after drinking for 30 hours straight (this month) or that time I ground my teeth down to nubs through stress, and then tried to counteract that stress by chainsmoking in the toilet at work (this month/every month).

But my world isn’t always this glamorous. Neither, I imagine, is most people’s. Recently though, and in line with my deep and profound connection with the Stoics, I’ve been practicing something called negative visualisation. Sounds shit, doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, it’s shitting brilliant. According to William B Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, “The practice of negative visualization is a powerful antidote to a phenomenon that will otherwise deprive us of much of the happiness we could be enjoying: negative visualization prevents us from taking for granted the world around us and the people in it.”

This I like. And I like William B Irvine and his work. “When parting from a friend,” he says, “I might make a mental note that this could conceivably be the last time that I see him.” He goes on, “Once I’ve made that mental note I decide that the best thing to do would be to kill that friend, thus reflecting the idea that I’ve built in my head. After killing my friend, I feel excellent.” He doesn’t really say that last bit. But what he does say is interesting: “Stoics don’t advocate that we dwell on bad things but that we contemplate them, a subtle but important difference. As the result of negatively visualizing, we might find ourselves taking delight that we still possess the things that only moments before we took for granted, including our job, our spouse [fat chance, Bill], our health [fatter chance, Bill] – indeed our very existence.”

I’ve been trying out this business of negative visualization and – for a while at least – it’s changed the way I look at this beautiful world. As I got into the lift at work earlier I thought, “This could be the last time I get in this lift, or any lift. Aren’t lifts something: the mechanism’s pretty special but it’s astounding how we, as a species, managed to create such a thing that is synthesized from stuff that’s been lying around on this planet for billions of years before we got here. How extraordinary.” I enjoy my ride in the lift more than usual. Then, when I get out of the lift I bump into a work colleague. “This could be the last time I see you”, I think, “Isn’t your skin nice and firm. Your hair’s not too shabby either. If this is going to be the last time I see you, perhaps I should try and kiss you.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Says my work colleague.

“I’m just trying out some new stuff.” I say.

And then I’m off in a cloud of cigarette smoke to the Halifax in Mayfair to pay a stinking credit card bill. This being Mayfair, everyone’s taking out huge amounts of money in fifty pound notes and acting like they own the place, which they probably do. I begin to hate them all. This could be the last time I begin to hate them all, I think to myself, so let’s really hate them all. After hating them all for a while – and I don’t really hate them, I just want to be them – I’m called up to the counter by a woman who looks like she needs some sort of medication and she tells me that she can’t tell me what the minimum payment is on my credit card and then looks at me as if to say but whatever it is, you probably can’t pay it.

I leave in a bit of a huff, but I don’t think anyone notices. This could be the last time I leave somewhere in a bit of a huff without anyone really noticing, I think. I could phone up and pay the stinking credit card bill, but after a brief internal wrangle I decide that my credit card bill can take a hike. I’ve had enough of paying my credit card bill, I think, my credit card bill can go and fuck itself, I think, I wonder what William B Irvine would think if he could see me now, I think.

After so much excitement I come back to my office (via the lift – not as special as it seemed a few minutes earlier) and think about pitching. For some time now I’ve wanted to pitch this feature idea where I get to shadow a team of private detectives for a week. I’ve been offered generous access, I can be one of the team as we follow people around London recording them and eavesdropping as they go shopping or go to bars, I can even take photos. It’s the only feature I’ve ever really wanted to write and so my pitch has to sing. This could be the last pitch you ever write, I think, make it as good as you can.

Yet twenty minutes later I’m still staring at a blank screen and I think: You can’t write the fucker can you – you’re the Eric Bristow of pitching. And, for the first time in a long time, I realise I’m right.

Someone who may or may not be about to get into a lift, earlier.


9 responses to “Accentuate the Negative

  1. Bugger me, Pitchy: three posts in a week!
    You alright mush?

  2. I know – it’s a record! Perhaps not a world record, but a record nonetheless. A Pitching the World World Record? Yeah, that’ll do it.

  3. So, Pitchboy, I know I`m slow but do you mean that – if I convince myself that this is the last time I comment on your blog – I`ll feel good?

    Didn`t work

  4. This post just made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

    Keep up the good work. And maybe start pitching again?

  5. Pitchy,

    I still can’t get over the photo at the end. That’s got to be a first for pitching the world hasn’t it?

    It’s all becoming too real

    Are you still going to Paris?

  6. Old Bloke – not sure. I think it means that if you contemplate this being the last time you comment on this (multi award-winning) blog then you’ll really consider this blog, how it makes you feel, why you enjoy commenting and so forth and after this period of deep contemplation you’ll produce a startling comment. Or feel better about the world. Or both. Or neither. Or something.
    Mark – it makes me smile out loud to think of you laughing out loud. As for pitching – have you seen Rocky? Or Rocky 2? Well, when I get my energy back, the finale to Pitching the World – where I actually pitch a lot of the magazines in the UK, rather than not pitching a lot of the magazines in the UK, as I have been doing – is going to be the written equivalent: heroic, emotional, life-affirming. You may even cry out loud when I start pitching again.
    Lastly, the ever-wonderful Chris: I might still be going to Paris. Did you know you can get a coach there for 20-something pounds? Well you can. As for the photo – first, it took me ages to dress up like that and find an appropriate lift to pose in front of; second I did go through a bit of a spate of using photos in – I think – the spring of last year. Nobody said anything about them though so I stopped using them, assuming that my multi award-winning readers didn’t like them. It reminds me of that time when I bought a new pair of glasses in order to look like Mark Borchardt and wore them to the pub one Saturday afternoon and all of my friends refused to acknowledge them. It was only later, when drunker, that their feelings about my new glasses came out. I stopped wearing them after that, but wish I hadn’t.

  7. Hi Pitchy,

    Yes. I think the coach firm’s called Eurolines or something. For 20 quid you get to sit next to the toilets and that foreign woman with the crying child for a whole 9 hours.

    I got sacked from that crappy office job. It’s okay because I’ve found another crappy office job. It’s quite well paid this one. When I get sacked from this crappy office job can I come and work at your place pitchy?

    Because maybe I could start a blog like you and pretend to write reports all day. It sounds good. I bet I could last a whole month before they fired me

    My girlfriend and her mates have started reading your blog at work. They think your great. Maybe they’ll get sacked too

  8. Right everyone, was the above post a little tough on William B Irvine? I didn’t want him to think I was mocking him, nor did I want him to google his name and stumble across the post cold and so this morning I emailed him and asked if he thought I should change it. (I’m not in the business of upsetting people, unless it’s Alexis Petridis who’s Wikipedia entry I ‘borrowed’ earlier today and have used for my ‘About’ material.) Anyway he, William B Irvine, sent back a very nice and considered reply saying:

    “As far as whether the piece should stay or be changed, I can offer only conditional advice. If your goal is to explain Stoicism and negative visualization in a manner in which ordinary readers will understand and appreciate it, I suspect that you haven’t achieved your goal. I also suspect, though, that this wasn’t your goal in writing the piece.”

    I don’t think in my award-winning post above that I did successfully explain Stoicism and negative visualisation, but WBI does so brilliantly in his book ‘A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy’, which I suggest everyone goes out and buys. Or steals. No, buys.
    Chris – I like that your girlfriend’s exceptionally pretty and sexually liberated friends think that I’m great. I think they’re great too.

  9. I think the photos are a good idea

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