by Heidi Milne
Congratulations! Ms worker bee, Mr rise and shine, O stern and virtuous taxpayer, you my friend, with your sensible clothes and careful opinions, you my friend, you upright adjunct of decent society, …yes you right there… are, as you are very much aware, in awkward possession of a singularly boring job.
You may not think this is a problem, but you are wrong. We are all Sisyphus, forever rolling those stones up that hill; everyone of us condemned to never-ending hours of digital toil.
And there’s little respite from it all, really. So when we are given a break from slogging on the treadmill of life, there is little that occasions an attack of existential angst quite like a serving of rigid conversazioni by a black belt bore.
Of course it’s not really your fault. You didn’t sign up for this – that blank stare you receive when asked what you do with your life, how galling it is to your pride.
You make the best fist of it. But it’s so damned hard, we know.
Think of John Maynard Keynes’ suggestion that by the end of the 20th century we’d be happy masters of technology, and no-one would work more than 15 hours a week.
What rich fantasy.
Yet did not old William Shakespeare (that reliable guide to the ageless tyrannies of the human spirit), hammer above his theatre ‘totus mundus agit histrionem’? Yes; he did – and so you too, you must play your part.
There is no division between work and leisure now. You’re on show the whole time, so play up, play up and play the game.
Concoct Extravagant Untruths
It is indeed an anthropological fact, as any insufferable know-it-all will inform you, that humans have an inbuilt passion for telling and hearing stories.
From the Nukak tribes of the Amazon to the soccer moms of the Tri-state Area, we’re willing to forgive lapses in truth as long as it is part of a broader, satisfying narrative that makes us feel we are richer in our understanding of the human experience.
So, in an age where fact and fiction often cross swords, the stage is set for a consummate bullshit artist.
But caution: little lies, though delicious to deliver, are too easy to pick apart. You must be more ambitious, and douse your deceit with an impenetrable aura of mystery.
‘Well Clifford Chance has never – and will never – defined me… I did something a little different way back when.. I was a champion diver, of national quality… I know. Yes, national quality, yeah… Did I know Tom Daley? Well of course… What was he like? Well, he was very, very good at diving, to tell you the truth.’
‘In my year between school and university… whatever you call it… a gap year or something… I worked at the houses of Parliament, yes… amazing, I got pissed for free in the bar most of the time…but anyway I was there, right at the top of the tree, working on Big Ben…yes the clocktower. I was in charge of putting the hands back together in case they slipped up…Yes, that’s right… Horology. Always been a real passion, to be honest.’
‘Let me tell you something I don’t tell most people. I copy old manuscripts of the French men and women of letters, forge them and then flip them to businessman with large wallets… Of course it’s all hush-hush, so that’s between you and I… Pardon me? Yes, of course I still work in corporate law. But you know, you have to diversify your portfolio in this day and age.’
All the world is your stage, my friend.
Bold statements are better than bland ones
Conversation, like satire, is an elusive genie to capture. Here is Madame de Stael, discussing the Parisian salons of the 18th century, regarded as the golden era of oral interaction:
‘The feeling of satisfaction that characterises an animated conversation does not consist so much of its subject matter. Neither the ideas nor the knowledge may emerge within it are of primary interest. Rather it is a certain manner in which some people have an effect on others; of reciprocally and rapidly giving the other pleasure.’
Sounds like a tall order, we know. But shape up, unmoor yourself from those safe coves of question and answer. Rejig the rules of accepted discourse, deliver great declarations to the undeserving hordes:
Social media? Likely to fade into the ether. Destined to be an ironic relic, the lava lamp of the early 21st century.
Television? A wildly overrated medium. How can anyone take it seriously.
The Godfather? A puffy, bloated film for pretentious teenagers, and men who still think like pretentious teenagers.
Remember: under no circumstances provide any evidence for your wild claims. Ignore your interlocutor’s protestations. Hold fast: continue to go big, and then take yourself home.
Talk flagrantly about money and sex
The two great conversational shibboleths of our parents’ age; yet the two great impulses that spur you on and on through the daily grind of your boring job. That is what is known as a dichotomy. An unresolvable mismatch of opposing forces, creating their own brilliant energy. Best to stay clear.
But what have we already learnt? Adapt to survive. The triumph of the will. All that sort of stuff.
If a bold lie doesn’t spring to mind, don’t just imply you’re in line for a promotion. Tell people exactly how much you are earning: the unblushing digits. Will you make a bad impression? Perhaps. But we live in a world where people everyday depict their life as sheer and unrealistic perfection. A little honesty never went amiss.
With sex, however, we don’t want the bare facts of the events. That’s weird. But – and here’s the key – don’t be tricked into emphasising the comic elements of your sexual experience. That’s pretty basic. You must, as we have consistently stated, think of grander schemes.
Be big be bold, be possibly untruthful.
‘I lost my virginity to Darius Danesh on Newquay Beach. Yes, he was playing an acoustic set.’
Play with Client Disclosure
If you work in the velvet coffin of fashion or film, then you will likely encounter a celebrity.
You may think that, when breathlessly recounting your latest brief encounter with Kate Moss, that you’re holding an audience, that those around you are transfixed by tales of your glittering life.
But, they are only smiling to indulge you.
They know the truth – you are a 21st century chambermaid, carrying out menial tasks for people who rarely if at all acknowledge you. So, if you feel compelled to relate your day of labours with Keira Knightley, please make up things about her.
Similarly, if you are employed in the worlds of high finance or fine art, then you are well aware that you are nothing but capitalism’s butler, prized for discretion above all else.
Remember: do not break your NDA. Just give the impression you are breaking your NDA.
‘Well, yes, David Beckham has been a fascinating client for us. We’re trying to put him towards blue chip work, a bit more blockbuster, but he cannot seem to get over his obsession with Guido Reni. The man lives and breathes the Italian seicento’.
Don’t try to be too English
Running like a golden thread is this holy rule: rein in your performative charm. You may think, when confidently holding forth, you are Hugh Grant reincarnated, here for one night only, ready to bedazzle your company with a faultless display of unrehearsed wit. Please re-engage yourself with reality.
Google ‘Hugh Grant dishes on his leading ladies’. Behold, as a giggling Meryl Streep giggles over Grant insulting a slew of stars, and remember: you can never be that. To thine ownself be true.
(On a side note, can Richard Curtis stop appearing on national television and claiming credit for the eradication of malaria? If Mr. Curtis has to grace our sets, he should claim part-ownership of this country’s current political miasma. Had Hugh Grant’s career been left unlaunched, and the world not fallen for his stuttering charm, the stage would not be set for his bootleg, Boris, to smear his cloying words over the all too credulous nation.)
So, there we have our suggestions, our little exercise in light but necessary didacticism.
We do hope that you, my friend, have found it helpful. We have summoned the best that has been thought and said to help you along this journey, the great wits of the ages, but – the last word will be given to a more recent philosopher – Summer from The O.C; – who, in a not too distant past, underneath a bold Californian sun, uttered to an uneasy Seth that deathless mantra: ‘Confidence, Cohen.’
Confidence, indeed. Earn who you are but learn who you are, my friend, and you can never stray too far off the path of the righteous.