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Monday, 26 March 2018

Some Awkward Personal Sharing. And a PSA.



I'm ordinarily a bit suspicious of this whole culture of recording and sharing every minute detail of one's life, hazily equating the practice of uploading photographs of dinners, Kodak moments, and every passing thought, with narcissism. Thing is, though, Facebook will not stop reminding me that I've been talking to and at you all for years now, which makes me think it might perhaps be time to lift a corner of the persona and say something meaningful. Think of this as that awkward moment in the night out when everything goes quiet and you get a strong sense that your drinking partner is about to drop some kind of personal confidence. And you hope they either don't, or that if they do, they won't remember it. With me, though, you can change the subject, or make a quiet exit, and I won't mind.

No? Well, you've been warned.

I like to think I've lived my life according to some kind of plan. The thing is, though, that rather like communities of faith, this is only possible to maintain with some serious post hoc propter hoc fallacious thinking. The fact is that my life has been a long process of stumbling from random action to unintended consequence, and the best I can say is that my course has been like a raft being propelled through a series of rapids. Every now and then I can stick an oar in the water to change my angle of incidence, but it's not really possible to claim with any truth that my overall course has been set by my own will.

This is far from being a problem. I've seen and done things most people I know have only ever imagined. I've been to many places, and met a collection of people who wouldn't be out of place in a Bukowski novel, or a Coen brothers film. Raw, breathtaking beauty, danger, adventure, and sojourns in the very highest, and very lowest strata of society have been my payoff, and with this range and breadth of experience I am very well content. There is a downside, though. Living like a raft going down rapids means you're going to take not a few knocks along the way, and my life has given me some scars that people can see, and a great many which are visible to no-one but the self I inhabit alone and in the dark. But even this isn't such a huge downside. As a writer, all experience is grist to my mill, and there is advantage in knowing intimately the taste of a mouth full of tooth fragments and blood, the despair of the worthless and forgotten, the misery of grinding poverty, and the insane, keening pain of savage loss.

Yes, it has very much been a life of sharp peaks and black, miserable troughs, and with this I am very pleased. And now, as I pass a climacteric and contemplate a path ahead that looks for the first time more like a home strait than a starting one, I feel a kind of settling. A friend of mine calls it, "sliding into your bones." I'm more comfortable in my skin than I've ever been before, and in a much quieter, unblustering way than the peak of my reckless youthful arrogance, far more confident. But it's impossible to ignore the fact that this confidence, as nice as it is, is born of a newfound sense of limitation. After decades of pig-headed refusal to accept them, I have finally responded to the universe's savage beatings and learned where my limits are, and how to respect them. Which is why right now, as full of good things as it might be, is also a time which is far from easy.

A lot of people think of 2016 as a year of catastrophe and loss. Remember all those people who died along with the possibility of believing that the world was run by sane people? Well, for me, the nexus of 2017/18 has been something of a personal version of that year. In the past three months, six of my friends have died, two from suicide. People I know and like, some close, and some more casual, but still valued friends, have lost sisters, fathers, mothers, wives, or, in one case, everything. Their pain is obviously not mine, but it eats at the edges of my world, darkening it, and making it harder and harder to maintain the delusion that there exists in the universe any kindness, purpose – anything at all beyond random calamity and the insanity of pain. In my more grandiloquent moments I imagine myself as Rutger Hauer at the end of Blade Runner, sitting in the rain and listing all the wonderful and horrific things I've seen. I can see my ability to relate to his mood in that moment as a major life achievement. But what I don't have is the simple, quiet courage to say, as he does, "It's time to die," with all that smiling calm and peace. Try as I might, I'm not at peace with my own mortality and, it seems, even after a life unreasonably packed with death and loss, neither am I able to calmly accept the mortality of others.

This nibbling of death at the core and edges of my current world is beginning to make things a little bit ragged. I'm not a child any more, so there will be no running to the arms of oblivion in whatever form I can find it. I've grown enough to see the utter cowardice of this approach, and to revile it. But I am starting to feel a little ragged around the edges. The rage and sorrow of my awareness of the blankness of things, usually hedged and kept firmly at bay behind philosophy, physical activity, and simple enjoyment of the process of being breathing and quick, is beginning to intrude. I have a frustrating sense that my actions, usually such a source of smug pride, are no longer pure, direct, and effective, but rather atomised. I'm dogged by a sense of Sisyphean futility. Like Cerberus eating from a single bowl, I can't convince myself I'm actually achieving anything – just switching from one minor task to another, with no appreciable dent being made in the central mission. And there is a feeling, like the irritability of chronic pain, combined with an awareness of the cliff edge at my feet, which draws me into myself – makes me arm and harden my interface with the world in anticipation of calamity.

Basically, I'm likely to be a little unpredictable right about now. Friends of mine are no stranger to the harshness with which I can treat those closest to me, but I'm warning them that this might get a little sharper for the next little while. They're also used to those times when I just absent myself from the stream of shared experience. This, I tell them, is quite possible in the near future as well. And my newfound delusions of maturity compel me to share these PSAs with everyone else too, as a grown up and responsible thing to do.

There. Awkward personal confidence sharing is over. If you're still here, please enjoy this picture of a monkey riding a pig, as a token of my appreciation for listening.

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