#OpenMinday – Three Men and a Baby and the capacity of all men @TheRealNimoy @_TomSelleck @TedDanson1947

The song over the opening titles of Three Men and a Baby (“Boys will be boys, bad boys, bad boys, nothing but trouble”) hints that you’re about to watch a film about overgrown boys struggling to grow up and face responsibility. This couldn’t be more inaccurate.

Admittedly, the song hasn’t even finished before Ted Danson and Tom Selleck have charmed an impressive number of women back to the penthouse apartment they share with (sorry, Steve) the less successful, but just-as-confirmed bachelor, Steve Guttenberg.

But this is just the set up, the Pledge. Don’t let it fool you. Because in actual fact Three Men and a Baby is one of the most sensitive and affirming films about fatherhood you’ll ever see. It’s practically a homage to the capacity and capability of each and every man.

Let’s skip through the thin layer of plot (mistaken packages, gangsters, police) because, heck, the film does so itself in order to bring the titular men and the baby into the foreground. The fathers/baby relationship isn’t a backdrop for a plot, it is the plot.

The inspirational Turn arrives sometime after Peter (Selleck) and Michael (Guttenberg) have discovered Jack’s (Danson) baby daughter Mary outside their door. And it’s as surprising as the discovery that the film is directed by cultural polymath Leonard Nimoy.

In the first moments of Mary’s arrival in bonnet and basket, everything we could suspect is confirmed. The two men are furious with Jack’s easy-going attitude toward the baby and horrified at the prospect of having to take care of it on their own.

Michael has no idea why she’s crying and exhausts himself acting like a clown to try to get her to stop. Peter goes cross-eyed when faced with the sheer scale of baby stuff he needs to buy and the bewildering advice offered by the first woman he asks.

The idea of the situation being abnormal is rammed home by the many mothers with prams and toddlers in every credible frame. The helpful woman, though certainly helpful, does look to be enjoying Peter’s discomfort and lack of knowledge.

Then the two desperate men attempt to change Mary’s dirty nappy and jerry-rig a replacement with one six months too large, which immediately falls off, giving Mary the opportunity to wee onto the sofa Peter is holding her over.

But think about it. Neither man freaked out at the idea of changing Mary or refused to deal with the dirty nappy. Peter doesn’t lose his temper even though the sofa’s covered in piss, and a few moments later Michael’s cleaning the sofa. The stereotype is wavering.

It’s obvious that Peter is rich, and so just blindly buying a haul of baby stuff would have been a worry-free task. But he doesn’t just buy ‘stuff’. He’s been to several shops, picked out stacks of equipment for every possible need the baby might have, and then spends the time figuring out what it’s all for.

Look back and you see that, despite the initial complaining (and Peter closing the door on her for comic effect) Mary is the focus for both men from the very instant they bring her into the house. The sofa they change her on doesn’t matter, nor does the carpet under the dirty nappy. Her needs are already at the centre of their world.

Michael’s character might still require him to play the fool every now and then, but neither of the men struggle with the responsibilities of looking after a baby. They meet the challenge, they come through, and they get on with what’s next. Peter even risks arrest to put Mary’s welfare first. Mary isn’t their baby but they are already good fathers.

Michael sums up this positive attitude when Jack comes home. He and Peter drop Mary on Jack and leave him to it, their return to the bachelor lifestyle illustrated by the midnight game of pool they both immediately get stuck into. Peter has concerns, but Michael just replies, no, let’s let him figure it out for himself.

Later we see how Peter, Micheal and Jack fall in love with Mary, and the film handles this in a really touching way that never makes light of the relationship. The script, the directing, the acting, they all take fatherhood, whatever the definition, seriously.

But what really resonated with me was what Michael says. Not only is Jack on his own (unlike the two other men) he’s also portrayed as the least responsible, yet he still gets on with it and figures it all out for himself. There’s even greater weight to the positivity of this when it’s repeated by Jack’s mother. It’ll do you good, she tells him.

This isn’t because she wants him to suffer, or to go through the sleepless nights and worrying. It’s because she trusts him, she believes in him, she knows he can do it and she knows that all he needs to do is commit to figuring that out for himself, and he’ll be fine. He’ll be better than fine. He’ll be a real father. And he is.

There are other shining moments, too. Michael’s finest comes in the final reel, with Mary returned to her mother and the way to the airport. All trace of the clownish manboy is now gone, and he reminds the mother that Mary likes to sleep 20 minutes after she’s been fed.

He doesn’t say that Mary must sleep, or Mary always sleeps. He tells her that Mary likes to sleep. This is a world away from when he didn’t even know how to begin understanding why Mary wouldn’t stop crying. Now he doesn’t just understand her, he builds his own life around that understanding.

Then, in the taxi rushing to the airport they talk to the driver who seems to be about to tell them that things get worse. Kids are hard, he tells them, but immediately gushes about how every father’s heart must melt when treated to their child’s smile. These are fantastic examples for any parent, whatever gender.

The film transcends gender roles in a way that is amazing for any film, let alone a big-name Hollywood film that came out 25 years ago. And yet, maybe it’s not that amazing, given the era. Maybe we’ve just gone backwards a little since then.

The Prestige of this magic film is when Mary’s mother agrees to stay in New York. It’s cheesy but it proves that the men haven’t just lived a great anecdote or survived a brief episode. Their world has changed and they’re ecstatic about it. Each one has become more of a man, more of a person than they were at the start of the movie.

Three Men and a Baby has a message for every father, every mother, every man and every woman, and it’s not about ‘facing up’ or ‘growing up’ or any hackneyed overcoming of stereotype. It’s about trust, it’s about believing in your own capacity to do anything. And, of course, it’s about how each and every man has the capacity to be the perfect father.

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The Fog of Commerce -and- The Nomads of Financialism

…War, organised war, is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and co-operative form of theft. And that form of theft began ten thousand years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus, and the nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide.Dr Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

You have to be an idiot to hate Capitalism. Wait, I’ll clarify. You have to be an idiot to not live in a hut you built yourself, eating food you grew or raised or killed yourself, concerning yourself with the coming seasons (of the year, not Dexter) and hate Capitalism.

Capitalism is just an approach, it isn’t good or bad. Or, to put it another way, the theory of Capitalism is just that, a theory, but there’s an endless amount of seriously cool shit that has come out of a billion people all buying (haha) into that one theory. This is good, right?

As I understand it, Capitalism proposes a way of life structured around producers and consumers, employers and employees, money and goods, capital and debt. It’s made my life an exciting one to lead. But that’s just an interpretation of Capitalism in the real world.

In fact, as a simplification this might work but as a description of how Capitalism now functions in our world it’s utterly inadequate. Look, I’m not an academic. I haven’t done any proper research. I’ve just read and thought about this a lot. And this is what I think.

Capitalism, just like Socialism, Marxism, Humanism, Sexism, Racism, isn’t a human instinct. These are ways in which we attempt to combine instinct (survive, stabilise, sustain) with what happens when we meet other people with the same instincts.

Sexism and Racism are overtly aggressive and lamentable outcomes of instinct, because when someone else threatens the ability to fulfil one of our core instincts, we fear their power and we seek to undermine and weaken the threat in order to repel it.

Socialism and Marxism are ambitious outcomes of the instinct to mass in the safety of numbers, to gain the protection and the product of a collective movement of effort in a shared direction to a shared purpose. But they fail in a world where our instinct to work with others comes into direct contact with our instinct to distinguish ourselves from them.

Capitalism empowers our instinct to distinguish ourselves, to define ourselves, because it heightens the importance of the individual in the system, the separate pieces of the machine. But our instincts to share, to give and to care receive none of the same rewards as our more self-interested instincts, which causes tension.

It’s a system ripe for influence by powerful members of the system, and open to the seizing of advantage by those with a knack for the way the system works. Inevitably there are successful individuals and unsuccessful individuals. The gap only gets bigger, and as a result so do the tensions which the system unavoidably creates.

I’ll take the liberties of an wilfully ignorant and perhaps over-confident writer and expand Adam Smith’s invisible hand to be a theory like so: In a free market, producers or employers will react to what consumers or employees do, money will respond to the movement of goods and capital will correspond to debt.

My issues with the prevailing, currently exercised interpretation of Capitalism is that the invisible hand is tied, often by the same powers who demand it be allowed to move freely. Because we’re not living Capitalism pure, not now and perhaps not ever (it’s probably impossible to purely express a theory at this level). We’re living Financialism.

That sounds a lot better than Moneyism or Wealthism, but all three express what I mean. I believe Capitalism is more than just a system of money. It’s one of all the aspects and roles I mentioned above. But Financialism, and the economic money/investment markets which drive what we think of as Capitalism, are concerned only with money.

Whatever the sad impact of this on you and me, it has happened because of what I like to call the Fog of Commerce and the Nomads of Financialism.

Like war, commerce is not a human instinct. They are constructs in the real world which are driven by human instinct, shaped by our desires – a commander wants the best possible victory with the fewest possible casualties. A consumer wants the best possible product for the least possible outlay.

When producer and consumer, employer and employee, money and goods are close to one another – the independent shop and the regular patron, say – a relationship exists which can easily and quickly react to the desires of either party. Just as, in a skirmish, a squad leader can precisely respond to attack and inspire the morale of his troops.

But the larger the producer the less able they are to react to or even consistently consider the many and competing desires of its consumers, like commanders in the fog of war. The greater the distance both physically and emotionally between the producer (in terms of influential personnel) and the consumer, the more obscuring the Fog of Commerce.

By this I simply mean that, at the top decision-making level of a large corporation, the desires of individual consumers is noise. Making sense of this noise costs, but generalising is cheap. And unless the noise is too loud to ignore, decisions can be made based on information that is in turn based on a decision to prioritise cost over relevance.

Example: A pharmacist I knew was, after a mild bank holiday weekend, asked by her supervisor why sales of cold medicine hadn’t reached the expected targets. As a professional, she knew it was probably because the unexpectedly mild weather meant people didn’t have colds so didn’t need medicine.

But as a staff manager herself, she knew this answer wasn’t accepted at any level of the command chain, all the way up to the head directors. Understanding unexpected events is difficult, especially when you’re removed and obscured from the event itself, but plotting expectations on a graph and theorising controllable reasons is cheap and easy.

All of this might just mean that big, bloated organisations eventually suffer as disgruntled consumers either turn elsewhere or, if they’re sufficiently ambitious or driven, become producers themselves. Corporations that don’t adapt fall away, small upstarts become big conglomerates, the cycle continues.

This does happen, of course, and will continue to happen. But I believe it should happen far more often, and would happen more often without the Nomads of Financialism.

In Dr Bronowski’s lecture, he defines the nomads who by all accounts invented war as non-producers, non-farmers. He draws a picture of a world where the horse acted as both the trigger for this nomadism and as the first engine of war, enabling the nomads to strike unpredictably, seize goods indiscriminately and flee too quickly to be caught.

I’m all too easily drawn to generalisations about investment bankers, economists, hedgefund managers… But there’s a simple reason. I fear these roles. The people who hold these roles don’t perform either of the two main functions I see in our communities – they aren’t builders and they aren’t hunters. They are the Nomads of Financialism.

I used to work at a well-known magazine publisher, which I won’t name because I like a lot of people there. But this is how my image of their upper echelons was shaped – when I joined, they’d just survived a rocky and challenging beginning to the new millennium, and were admirably now happily back into the black.

Immediately following this announcement came the intention to become the biggest niche publisher in the UK. To grow. Which, in practice, meant spending all that capital (and more) on investment in a huge buy-in of new titles. This would make us the biggest niche publisher, which would in turn raise our share price. It would create money.

I’m not enough of a fool to suggest I know exactly what happened next, but I do know that a significant and unexpected number of the new arrivals didn’t prove to be as good an investment as they should have been. From a stable but non-remarkable position, this company had succeeded in creating instability for an overall non-remarkable result.

Risk is risk, yes. And I might have it totally wrong. But what I know is that I saw a company with capital and comfort, money in the bank, end up as a company with debt and questions. And for what? For growth.

In Financialism, there are only two goals. The first is to make money, and the second is to use that money to make more money. Having money isn’t enough – you have to have growth, because without growth you won’t have more money. Nomads are driven by nothing but these goals, because the system rewards only these goals.

Nomads don’t create product, they benefit only those who are part of the global financial market. They eat, sleep and think money at a level where it probably even transcends money itself and becomes like The Matrix, a buzzing, seemingly incomprehensible mess of figures and numbers, the real picture buried somewhere in the tangle.

If the investment bankers who can see that real picture are like commanders who can read the battlefield, then below them are the troops – the investors who eagerly enlist in the action to seek money and more money, in a world where growth is the only visible option.

Why should this matter to any of us? For me, I’ve self-indulgently loved writing this because it’s finally given me a framework to discuss my fears and my intuitions without having to resort to shrieking. It’s a stance and a model that I can explain, stand by and argue about.

But what should matter is my point that the problems caused by the Fog of Commerce are perpetuated by the Nomads of Financialism. In true free market Capitalism, the cycle should work out and those who resist the progression of time should fall away or lose power. But in Financialism, it’s the Nomads who can influence who falls and who succeeds.

Or at least, they’ve been allowed to project the image of holding this power. If my old company had stood by its stability, what would have happened? Financialism states that the Nomads would have pursued growth (and more money) elsewhere.

For a company sitting on its own money, that’s not a problem – it’s a fortified, privately owned concern. Except, if the people at the top are caught in the Fog of Commerce, they run the risk of becoming Nomads themselves, of being attracted by the exhilerating horseback (bear with me!) pursuit of growth.

But for a company which has investors (Nomads) the decision to say ‘enough’ and ignore rapid growth isn’t always an option. Without growth (ie, more money) the Nomads will strip their assets and gallop off to more attractive opportunities. Leaving a company whose stability depended on the interest of investors in very unstable condition.

And this is why people think they hate Capitalism. Because in Financialism the Nomads are Capitalism, because they control and glorify growth in a system which suffers the Fog of Commerce. We don’t hate Capitalism, we hate the Nomads. We hate them because we fear their indiscriminate approach, their apparent lack of concern for us.

We hate them because we wish we were Nomads too. We wish that we could get rich quick, get famous quick, get what we wanted right now. We wish we could roam, without concerns, and only look after our own interests. And those of us who don’t wish this struggle because the perception is that the roads to alternatives are closed to us, the Nomads are holding all of the crossings to new territories, new ideas.

Financialism is an arrested cycle, a perpetual stall. It goes nowhere interesting, except for the cheapest and quickest route to growth. And in a world where many people with an ounce of talent either want to be a Nomad or are afraid of Nomads, we forget the fact that we don’t actually need them. We just need to resist them.

I see a future where the individualist drive of Capitalism finally matures within us, creating not a self-directed consumerism but a self-powered optimism. We realise that the global financial market doesn’t have to exist. We realise we can live in a world without investment bankers. Without the Nomads of Financialism.

We just have to find a way to blend our instincts to distinguish ourselves, to discover who we are and what we do best, with our social instincts to build together, to hunt for the benefit of our communities, and to create an -ism which accepts all of our instincts, driven by the individual on a personal level but managed sensitively on a universal scale.

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xci

Some idle theorising…

Writing, the way I’ve lived it, is like breathing. Poetry or the lyrics I fumbled with that were my first self-aware writings, were like a held breath, a single breath held in as I tried to grasp a moment or a feeling and keep it intact.

Short stories are single full breaths, in and out. Especially ghost stories, which I was drawn to and used to talk about as I became more aware but less sure of my need to write, my ambition to write. The breath in, the set up, leading to a moment of suspension, of tension and fear before the held breath is released in relief.

I always looked at novels in these early stages and struggled to comprehend how I could have an idea which might suit longer form writing. All mine, at that time, centred on the held breath moment, the central point around which everything else moved.

Writing novels, writing long stories, is a series of breaths – shallower, deeper, quicker or slower, held or panted, each breath building towards the final breath, the final expression, and perhaps suggesting other breaths, untold and unrecorded, ahead.

But having started my first real writing project, and being paralysed in writing the long-form poem I’ve been thinking about for so long, I’m beginning to think that just as breathing rises and falls, passes in and out, that my writing will move like this.

In my first run at editing I’ve already started this – removing, paring down, exorcising redundant breathing, needless intakes and expressions without energy. I’m reducing the number of breaths. Might I come to a more mature poetry when I’ve learned to compress all those many thousands of breaths into one held and heady inhalation?

Grand theorising is a pasttime of mine. For a while I’ve picked apart one idea I’ve had about the methods we hold (specifically men) in the fibre of who we are, the ways we have been built to express ourselves. Sport, poetry, ideas, talking, caring, finding, hiding.

Alongside this I’ve tried to pin down the polarising impulse which motivates people either to remain in family units, in friendship networks, in established communities of any degree, or to leave the gravitational field of these groups and set a personal orbit, find your own destination and eventually found your own groups, networks or families.

I assumed that since the two points at the heart of my original theory felt so natural and so complementary, that this force would also be one of two sides. The finders and the … the seekers and the … the explorers and the …

But I’ve never managed to find the opposing position that fits in the same way as my main structure. I can’t pin down two sides, only the one, and while in the original structure the two sides feel genuine and true in this case a singular force seems only appropriate.

And not just appropriate, but required. Instead of a compass of points I have two fundamental methods (loosely summarised as looking inwards and looking outwards) and a motivating force which exists between them, or all around them, or through them.

It isn’t that you are one method or the other, it is that the force which motivates or energises you is most purely expressed through one method or the other, and that to express it through the other you must first be aware and must own the expression through your natural preference of method.

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xc

Some of my brightest memories are from the acting I’ve done, at school, at university. It all felt so natural – I never had stage fright, the lines always came, my confidence on stage always several levels of tonnage higher than in my normal life.

But though I was good I would have faced a struggle if I wanted to be great, to be a professional. Because every character I played was me. My approach was simply to soak up the character and imagine what sort of me their situation, their backstory, would have created. I reacted, I spoke, I moved as a slightly different sort of me.

In acting it’s not such a problem, unless you want to really become a true actor – someone who doesn’t just put on different clothes, but different people. In writing, though, my impulse to put myself before everything else has strangled me, and continues to do so.

I wouldn’t want to escape my natural talent for taking things I experience, moments I live and relive, and being able to turn these out on the page. But now deep into my first real writing project my weakness in character, in understanding other people, comes out.

There’s parts of me, or potential parts of me, in my characters. But there must be more than that, unless I want a book staffed by facsimilies. Without differences there’s no tension, there’s no direction.

The other night I sat down with a new book my wife has bought me, a text book basically, and gave an exercise a go which asked you to examine your philosophy of life. Use a few lines of dialogue, it suggested, use images.

I’ve written about using books like this before in my journal – this whole exercise is from the first book she bought me. I always feel a bit dirtied, almost, by using something so workmanlike (in my perception) in the pursuit of connecting with my passion.

Sometimes I think it’s because sections are so obvious, or Fisher Price level to me that I question why I’m even reading the book – I know all this stuff, don’t I? It feels like a dumbing down of me, of the process of writing. It takes the magic away, and makes it all into something that anyone could do. It devalues my image of writing.

But only because I see what I want to see, or see what I don’t want to see. When I’d finished the exercise what I had to share with my wife wasn’t anything to do with my life’s philosophy – it was a sugar-shell bit of fun with words and images. It was easy.

I didn’t engage with the point of the exercise, I just saw in it what I could do without thinking about it too much and fired something out. My technique is practiced, I’ve had years and years of writing to hone the ability to develop something surface-level in a matter of moments. Well done me. But one tap and it all shatters into worthless pieces.

The fact my wife wouldn’t allow me to get away with what she called a missed opportunity really cut me. I wanted reaffirmation that my cleverness with words, my unformed quick-and-easy natural idea was something to be proud of, to celebrate.

I always react badly to these books, and it was clear from our conversation that it’s because I want to be able to do what comes naturally, easily, and get somewhere without having to do anything more. Which isn’t possible. I can be good, if I like. But wouldn’t I want to be really great?

So the challenge suggested by all these books is that I’m not working hard enough, that I’m lazily drifting through something I want to succeed at, and succeed in big, big terms. But if I’m serious about getting better, I’ve got to do more than just do what I’m good at.

The evenings are getting lighter and I’m getting increasingly excited about this year’s cricket season with my village club. Any suitable moment I have between now and April’s first match I’ll be practicing, pushing myself, working on ironing out the flaws in my bowling and getting consistent. Consistency is my only ambition. It’s doable.

Why I can’t look past my natural writing talents and start cracking on with practicing and improving my natural writing weaknesses is beyond me. Well, it’s not beyond me. It’s down to me. It’s up to me. It’s my fault I didn’t push myself in the exercise, and I deserve all the stick I get, much as I’ll deserve any praise if I target my weaknesses.

But I’ve not been writing this for a long time. I’ve been reaching for journalism on a low level, personal questions. I’ve been expressing a lot, my writing’s been about taking action or actively expressing something that I’d arrived at or come up against. But I haven’t been journaling, I haven’t been questioning, I haven’t been getting myself out of the way.

I’m sure my wife, reading this, will see that I’m casting about wildly for a direction, and that probably I’ve arrived at the direction right now, and will be frustrated that I’m about to stop writing just as I arrive at the direction. I feel blind, I feel lost. I feel like I’m blathering on about old, old stuff. Tired stuff.

I need to be asking myself new questions, not repeating old journal entries in different ways. One of the greatest things about our relationship is that we talk openly and intricately about everything. I’m a natural confesser, I can’t move through something unless I express it, and I don’t want to express something without expressing it to her first.

That’s why I’ve talked with my wife about visiting a strip club. About looking at other women, girls. About my feelings of uselessness, or my fears of getting things wrong, my emotional weariness. My sense of how pathetic all this sounds.

I drag these feelings I have around and around trying to make sense of them. I question myself, and if I don’t reveal these questions to my wife – the one person with whom I share my entire life – then I can’t fully answer them, and I wouldn’t be able to express or discover the answers with her if I didn’t reveal the questions to her.

At the same time I don’t want to be a stuck record, always having the same tensions, the same questions, the same confusions, and so often I’ll just brush away recurring conflicts in an attempt to save her from the same conversations. Like an idiot. Because largely the conflicts only recur because I don’t share them with her.

There’s no direction here, only a need to write something honest and open and exploring at work, because I’m getting sucked under the tide of my job, and my job is not who I am. I want to give it what I can, but it can’t have the whole of me. And yet, I have to stay whole somehow, I have to prevent myself splintering into work-me and real-me.

I’ve been running a weekly blog thing called Open Minday, writing some theory blogs, some economic thoughtblogs, basically just examining and exploring my feelings about topics and issues. But I think I need to put those away for now. I need to concentrate on the book, on myself, on character and other people, other humans.

I need to get back into journaling, digging around in my head, giving the papers of my mind a shuffle, file away bits and pieces, take out things and consider them. I need to get back into journaling so I can get back into writing, and back into the book. That’s what’s really important. That’s the writing that really matters.

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lxxxix

I’ve hung on to a lot of loss. Some moments in particular are still so clear that I can, for instance, summon up the image of my favourite toy as a toddler going down the plughole after a bath and see the exact hue of sea green bath and cheese yellow spaceman.

One of the losses I mourn the most for the fact of what I lost, not the consequences of the loss, was the contents of the plastic cardboard-backed art folder that I put down in the canteen of my upper secondary school and never remembered to pick up.

I have always wanted to draw, always. I instinctively reach for images anyway, my ideas are often defined by a single or series of snapshots. It has pained me for years and years that I couldn’t translate these vivid images into drawings that did them justice.

Unlike music and playing the guitar, drawing feels like something I should be able to do but can’t because my biomechanics won’t cooperate. I don’t feel or think in music, which is something I just know you need in order to play the way I want to, from my bones. But I feel and think in images, I play with ideas visually. Why can’t I draw them properly?

In my GCSE art class we had what I think must have been a TEFL or training teacher for a month or two, and after days watching me do nothing in the class he speared me with the question, “Why don’t you try?”. I could tell that he was asking because my self-defeating fecklessness was actually upsetting him.

Goaded or inspired by his challenge, I did try. I drew two pictures, the only complete drawings I have ever been proud of. One was an earnest attempt at surrealism that really did replicate what was in my head, what I wanted to see on the page. The other was a clean, sharp still-life that I had great fun embellishing.

Of course both were possible because I concentrated on them, I tried very hard to achieve something – instead of launching into something half-hoping that it would just work out without me knowing much about it, half-waiting for it all to be shit. Just like always.

These pictures made me so happy that I carried them around in the folder everywhere. And, of course, they were in the folder when I left it behind. When I lost it. I never saw them again. But shamefully I never tried again.

What was the point? I had lost the only proof of my effort, and I’d never remember what I was able to do, once, how I was able to surprise myself. With my best work lost I simply gave up. In my GCSE exam, my half-hearted attempt just wasn’t good enough and I threw it away, instead handing in a piece of paper covered in scribble with ‘Scribble’ written on it.

The pain of losing something I had really tried hard to achieve was far too much for me to bear, and any chance of me giving it another go, of me trying just as hard or harder again, was completely out of the question. Looking back now, I am astonished at my weakness.

Nowadays even though I carry notebooks everywhere I know that, as Steinbeck said, nothing good gets away. Some of my best ideas have sat within/outside of reach for years before I’ve got a hold of them. I don’t worry about forgetting great ideas anymore because the best ones never get away.

But back then I had no hope. I think I had looked to this man (though he might only have been 20 or so) who challenged me and felt that it was his challenge, his insistence that I try, that had made it possible for me to put such effort and achieve such results.

Part of coming to terms with being a writer, or to be more honest part of coming to terms with continuing to be a writer, has been to accept that everything that burns powerfully in my head can be expressed with the same power on the page, by me. I just have to try.

Why did I hang on to that loss? I used the sheer scale of the pain I felt in losing something I loved, something I had created, to convince myself that in creating it I had removed something from myself that could not be replaced. By losing it, I had lost a part of myself.

And the pain of losing was easier, irrationally, to cope with than the perceived pain of renewed effort. Last week I lost a very powerful blog post that I had taken a long time to work through and was heartened to feel a sense that it didn’t matter – the fact that I had written it once was proof that I could write it again. And, perhaps, better.

Last but not least it was an opportunity for guilt. If I had loved those pictures so much, how could I have possibly been so careless as to lose the folder I carried them in? I beat myself with this so much that hearing it from someone else was excruciating.

This though is finally the real reason that the memory still hangs around. As much as I hated myself, was furious with myself, for losing the folder – and as much as I seethed and recoiled when anyone else piled on the same judgement – by clinging to the guilt of my actions I was succeeding in avoiding the responsibility.

Not only did I lose something through my own carelessness, but then I gave up and failed to find it again. I may have talked to everyone I could in order to find the folder, to track it down, but I never once did the human thing and turned to myself. I looked for an external force to take away from me the responsibility to replace what I had lost.

Had I done so, had I expended the effort to replace the pictures that I had stupidly left behind in a moment of dumbness, I would have truly understood the cost of my loss. I would have also learned a hugely positive thing about myself – I could do it again.

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lxxxviii

In my first year at secondary school (I was about 15) I sat in the canteen and tried to convince my friends of the fantastic benefits that being a-sexual would bring. I had a whole concept, a fantastical made up planet populated by repeating families of clones.

It would be easy – two clones would touch and choose to create a third, child clone. It was secure – there would never be an accidental clone. It would be a relief – there’d be no need for sex. It would be freedom – there’d be no need for girls.

My entire life has been coloured by my problem with girls. Women are a different matter. But my fear of girls, my longing, my need, my understanding (or misunderstanding), my distrust/mistrust, my disconnection, plagued me from childhood to adulthood.

A depressing amount of time during the three years following that bizarre conversation (throughout which, of course, my friends treated me like a crazy person) was influenced by the sort of iconic, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep schoolboy crush that sells unambitious teen novels.

The actual breath in my lungs was often owned and controlled by the modest, unthreatening young girl who was in my form class. There are memories of my inability to connect with her that sting even now, and which shaped the rest of my life.

I endlessly examined and re-examined the question she asked me at the end of one class, clawing for some truth, some hint, that I had missed or failed to interpret at the time. “Do you think it’s funny that M said he could see Uranus?”, K asked me, quietly. My flustered reply, “No…” didn’t result in anything but her returning to her desk. What did it mean?!

It’s embarrassing but undeniable that I tried to draw her once, while gazing over in her direction, but stopped because I felt that to create anything that wasn’t perfect and beautiful – like she was – would be an insult, would destroy my vision of her.

Looking back now, I can be pretty sure I know what this meant.

In a heartbeat I can relive with clarity one morning in our form room. I had missed assembly and went to wait for my class, where I found K had done the same. Silent, I sat at my desk. I think my desk was some distance behind hers. I kept my head down, every minute of silence a suffocation, a choking. I was terrified of her.

I was terrified of her. Because I knew that I was small, ugly, worthless in comparison to the boys who were her friends, and I knew that this meant that I did not exist in her world, that when I left the room I would be impossible to recall. That she did not think ever of me.

I was terrified of her because she had everything of mine. I was powerless. And she knew it, she must see it, she must know exactly the way I feel and it must disgust her, trouble her, upset her that someone like her could attract someone like me. Someone awful.

But I was terrified that she was also testing me, sending out codes about the way that she felt about me and I did not have the capacity to see them, let alone untangle them and even if I did understand them I would never, ever, believe that they were true.

After three years, K and I ended up in fewer classes together and though I always knew when she was in the same room as me, my breath (at least) was now my own. Until the next wrenching crush, and the next, and the next.

Throughout all of the terrible longing-distances I put myself through, it was my unsolvable self-doubt that swung me from a passionate and romantic hope that something was happening to the pain and despair of being so terribly wrong.

Not that I told any of my crushes about the depths or the realities of my feelings. I played the same game I felt I was suffering in reverse, attempting to send out codified hints and learn how to say everything without ever really saying anything, how to prevent making myself vulnerable to rejection while yearning for the relief of honest expression of feelings.

I feel a prize idiot now, writing this, knowing that I managed to convince myself that a) I had to play this game because everyone else was playing it, and b) That I was the only, the only, person who played the game in order to protect myself from rejection.

What a fucking idiot! What was I thinking? But I didn’t think, I didn’t see beyond everyone else’s cool, calm faces. I saw only the beauty and the sexuality that I yearned for and the calculating and confident eyes that saw straight through me, that skewered me.

I gave away all of my power without once ever realising that everyone else around me was doing the same thing. Except that because I’d solidified this idea that I was totally unlike anyone else, I maintained this voluntary evacuation of power while so many others learned how to protect themselves better, build themselves a way to take their power back.

To my great and undiminished shame, I hit rock bottom at the age of 23 in the queue for a bus outside of the University of Bath after a night out with friends. I hated women. They had everything. They used the power their beauty gave them to crush me, to hurt me.

I hated women. I really said that. In a ludicrous, pantomime muttering splurge I expressed all of the poison I was drowning in, all of the hideous suspicions and pathetic accusations I had surrounded myself with, strangled myself with, disempowered myself with.

Because only I had given all of my power away. It was mine to possess but I had thrown it out as soon as it had entered me, thrown it in the direction of a pretty girl who really didn’t want it, and who rejected it, and who I then hated for rejecting me.

The friend of a friend who invited us all to the night out never spoke to me again. I’m glad, because he was right not to. If it would have been psychically possible I would have never spoken to myself again either. I was a disgrace. I was a mess.

It’s been many years and much, much, much talking since then but there is still a hoary dinosaur lurking deep inside me that fears pretty, lithe, outwardly-confident girls (girls, remember, women are something else) because I can feel its feeble urge to dissolve the control I have won over my own power and give it away.

But every day I have the love and support of my wife. Every day I feel the wholeness and peace that our marriage formed in me after decades of staggering through a stunted emotional wasteland. Every day I aspire to live honestly and with the understanding that a man is responsible for everything he does.

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lxxxvii

There’s something hot and heavy about a final draft. I was editing a ghost story I’d written before Christmas, in the final few hours of a week’s work, juggling the things I needed to finish in the office with putting the final touches to the story.

It was something I was going to read out at a friend’s party, so there was already a sensation of performance attached to the words, but I found that the closer I got to the end, the ruddier my cheeks were getting, the hotter my blood.

As I played around with the last few paragraphs, making sure that the reveal was set up just right, that the words were sinister enough, that the image I was painting was perfectly chilling, I was intensely aware that if I looked like I felt I would have a job of explaining why finishing a ghost story was behind it all.

My forehead was blazing, I could barely sit still. The prospect of completing a piece of work in a way which tied everything together properly, which hit all the right notes, was exhilerating. It felt amazing, exciting. It was arousing.

But not as that might sound. It wasn’t particularly sexual, it was more emotional, more about being voluntarily vulnerable. I was laying myself bare, because in order to read this and achieve anything I’d have to be utterly serious, totally committed.

The prospect of how people might react to something I was so serious about, something which was a whole exposure of my ability and person and ambition as a writer, was giving me flushes, making it hard to sit still. It was exciting me.

Now. Without going into too much detail, I know this feeling pretty well. A few months into my first job I had an unbelievable email… thing… with a girl (married) from the same company. It went nowhere but at the time the possibilities, the exhileration of something happening which was so unlike ‘real’ life, was intoxicating.

I’ve also sent more than my fair share of conversations online or via text which were entirely, honestly and shamelessly… exposed. The longer the exchanges went on, the higher the temperature of my cheekbones seemed to soar. It was addictive.

Often, I can forget quite how passionate a person I am. Then, suddenly, like while editing this story, it can burn to the surface and I do, say or think things which a few moments ago even would not have even flitted into my mind. It takes no time at all for it to arrive.

But once it does, there’s a stark contrast between the things which drive it on and the rest of the world, the rest of life, which is now just a colourless backdrop. It stays with me, and I was wired for the whole of the drive home that evening, story printed and ready.

Why should writing have the same effect on me that being so… unabashed does? Is it the writing that’s the thing, given that in all the situations which take me to this place I’m creating words, expressing something, reaching for something impactful.

I’m sure that the idea of performing the words at a later date made a big impact, anticipating as I was that experience. But then, if you follow (and without me needing to go into detail) the same could be wholeheartedly said of the other experience too.

Should I write all my pieces with the intention of reading them out? Will that passion take me to places that otherwise unmoved writing might not? Or is it the connection with what I’m writing that can light such heat in my creative heart?

Or, alternatively, is it the illicitness, the taboo nature of what I’m doing even right now (feeling just a little of that face-warming glow) as I write for myself in an environment when I should be doing something entirely different, entirely not for myself?

I have what the internet tells me is ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), where sometimes my whole scalp will tingle at some trigger – an interesting accent, light breeze, or even right now, just writing about having it.

I don’t remember if I’ve ever had ASMR while writing (not about ASMR), but it’s obvious to me that writing itself is rooted so deeply inside of me that my passion must be entwined with my expressive impluses.

It’s no surprise then, that when I’m most in touch with my creative instinct, when I’m trying my hardest to express something with clarity and impact, that I should be excited, aroused even, by my efforts.

Will it be the same for all my final drafts? I hope so. But what I really hope is that the writing which leaves my face red, burning and almost blisteringly stimulated, has even an ounce of the same effect on anyone who reads it.

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