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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Would You Just... Take Charge?

A bad night. My anxiety has spiked massively and I am unable to finish the post I have been working on. I keep rewriting the same two paragraphs trying to get them to lead onwards, but nothing is happening. It's like hitting a brick wall. Like rubbing rocks together and getting no spark. Nothing is flowing. And I'm aware how close that is to mixing metaphors, but I'm doing my best here.

The old voice is back, the one that criticises everything, finds everything I do revolting -- retreated into the background for a while but just biding its time, now thinks it sees an opportunity. "You've run out of words, you've said everything you have to say, you've lost it, you'll never write anything good again."

"Hang on, so you're saying I wrote something good before?"

"No, didn't say that."

"You at least implied it"

"Well, no, personally I think it was all crap, but some people seemed to like it, easily fooled I guess, or lying perhaps. But it doesn't matter, you spent all last night and all today stressing and tugging at your beard and staring at the blank screen and feeling pulled down by the weight that you hoped had gone but was just momentarily pushed away, and you scrolled and scrolled on your phone and watched rubbish on Netflix to which you couldn't even pay attention and you felt the panic slowly rising, and now another day is done and you have nothing to show for it, longest time now between posts since starting this regular thing, and it'll be even harder tomorrow, and even harder the day after that, and the stress is going to build and you'll be too weak to face it and you'll have to go back to quitting and getting drunk and staying safe and secure and wretched as you've been for so long, and--"

"--Or I could just write this."

"What? Just this? Don't be ridiculous. It'll be awful. It'll be worthless. Everyone will laugh at you. Everyone who thinks you can write will see what a joke it all was."

"OK."

"That's it, give up. It was a nice idea, but we both know it had run its course. It's so much easier the old way."

"No, sorry, I mean: OK that this will be awful. OK that it's all I can manage. Big deal. I'll take that, I reckon, over ever listening to you again. I'll take writing dumb, meandering, scrappy posts day after day after day, until you finally get the message that however ugly I look, however dumb it comes out, I am in charge now. You are not in control any longer. You hold no sway. This is my life. This is my life. This is my life."

And the voice subsides again, at least for one more night...

Monday, 24 April 2017

Would You Just... Remember This?

Walking home last night beneath a sky of spilled coffee, with the sticky sweet smell of blossom in the air and trees poised motionless in the pale glow of streetlights, I found myself thinking about a post I wrote on Friday about self-esteem. At the end of the post I imagined an analogy of a girl feeling so bad about herself that she couldn't even make an effort with her appearance out of fear of being seen, choosing instead to slouch around in baggy jeans with unwashed hair making herself ugly because that's all she felt she was worth.

I have known people like this before. I have been like this before. But more common, I think, is low self-esteem manifesting as the opposite, as a flaunting of bodies, or at least of those parts of our bodies that we feel pass muster, whether naturally, or after honing at the gym, or as the result of augmentation via makeup and padded bras and awkward heels.

I know a lot of girls like this -- though of course the pressures are there for guys as well -- but I know so many girls who seem to only feel of worth when they present themselves in this artificial way, as meat sold to others, albeit meat hopefully sold for a high price, clamoured over at auction. And what a horrendous dark chasm there must be at the centre of that, being so unsure of who you are underneath, what there can be to appreciate before all the plucking and tucking and sculpting and reforming.

I'm not talking here about the people who feel so hopeless that they don't even try, but the people who spend their lives doing nothing but trying, looking glamorous on the surface yet feeling so horrendously lacking deep below.

But if I've learnt anything from my decades-long battles with self-esteem, it is that everyone is most beautiful as the person they can't help but be. Perhaps not majorly fuckable, sure, but truly beautiful.

The thing is, I think we've conflated these two things, fuckability, prettiness, with beauty, and I think this has cost us our very sanity.

There are people among us, a few, who embody the first idea -- archetypes of male or female sexual attractiveness, women whose hair always sways and cascades in rivers of light, men whose chiselled jawlines and dangerous smiles make ovaries throb. And that is fine. Let these mythical creatures stalk the lands, queens and kings of all they survey. Although of course their power is probably as much of a curse as a blessing. I guess it must be pretty lonely feeling separated by prettiness in that way, always aware that eyes ravenous with hunger are singling you out in bars, that when you enter a room attention shifts towards you, and in conversations with you no one seems able to relax and be themselves. And I invite you to imagine the horror of feeling that the one gift you possess is the ability to arouse desire, and then having to age and watch that gift melt away. And obviously prettiness is no guard against the many tribulations of life, hating your job, missing your bus, coming home to find your pet has been hit by a car, being dumped on your birthday, coming across pictures of yourself from your school days and sitting up through the night in an empty room in a cold apartment crying for the person you once thought you would become. And even without all that, pretty people still fall ill, pretty people still grow old, pretty people still all die. Everyone suffers. The particular form the suffering takes is the only variable.

Yet still we place so much emphasis on the need to be attractive. Sure, the biological imperative to reproduce has been solidified through millennia of evolution. But I think there's more. Our society more than perhaps any other (I've done no research and it's late, I'd love to be corrected) blows attractiveness out of all proportion, and it does so because this makes people rich. Practically none of us are effortlessly pretty, but many of us can feel we get close so long as we buy the correct products. Gels, smells, shaves, waxes, clothes, shoes, food, gym passes, painted faces, curled hair, injected lips, smashed and remoulded noses, trimmed labia minora, breasts sliced open and stuffed with sacks of silicon... we are a civilisation utterly lost, all of us taught every day through adverts and articles and television programmes and music videos and practically everything that we see that we should feel fundamentally broken, unlovable, and that the only solution is a rattle of coins, a swipe of card, the plastic-surgeon's hovering waiting scalpel.

But seriously, what the fuck is prettiness? It is but one reason out of the infinite number of reasons to be alive, and a shallow and simple reason at that. So what if boys don't check you out when you enter a room? If girls don't giggle as you pass? You're not a chess master, either. You can't run the hundred metres faster than anyone else. You didn't write To Kill a Mockingbird. You can't breathe underwater, or shoot laser beams out of your fingertips, or turn yourself inside out while dancing the Macarena. You are only you. But that is so very much enough. No one else out there in the vast known cosmos is the same as you. How rare. How precious. And beneath those wondrous differences we all share the same basic fact of existence. Regardless of waistline or pec size or wonkiness of nose, we are all here, we all get to live for a while, to be alive.

You may or may not be pretty, be able to pick up strangers in bars, but you are beautiful, you are here, you matter. Please remember this.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Would You Just... Leave Next Tuesday Alone?

Folks who are into the whole mindfulness thing often talk about the importance of bringing yourself back to the present moment. Back to now. This is a bit confusing, because you're always in the present moment. It is always now. It's not like unless you pay close attention you will suddenly wake up and find you're in the Palaeolithic era, or in next Tuesday.

But you can find yourself thinking about the Palaeolithic era, which is I guess what they mean. Although of course the thinking that you're doing about the Palaeolithic era is happening now, so you've not really gone anywhere.

I'm not being quite as facetious as all of this sounds. The point of mindfulness is simply to pay more direct attention in your life, as you live it. And when you do start paying attention, start dropping in on yourself, you notice that, although you actually exist in a completely tranquil empty realm of pure being we call the present, in practice you're probably just off worrying about what Brenda said about you last week.

The phrase "lost in thoughts" is apposite here. It's not that you consciously chose to bend the full weight of your intellect towards solving the pressing issue of whether Brenda is or is not in fact a total bitch, it's that without meaning to do it your thoughts wandered off and got lost circling the same old boring paths.

Not that I'm saying thoughts are bad. The intellect is obviously a wonderful tool. Without it we would be sitting in mounds of our own poo mashing our fists into our faces watching BBC Three all day. But the intellect is such a tiny sliver of intelligence, of mind. Out of all the things to be aware of -- the soft sighing of the breeze in the trees, the curve of the quilt cover on the creaking bed, the taste of green tea on the tongue, the glugging of heart, touch of pyjama on skin, interoception of hunger, proprioception of limbs, tiredness, uncertainty, gentle aching of soul, tension melting from shoulders, breath swaying back and forth, back and forth -- out of all these many noticings I bet you that if you drop in on yourself you'll 99.9999% of the time find you're just thinking, by which I mean pointlessly abusing that tool of conceptual touch that imagines a reality, creates a model in your head, of a conversation, a possibility, a Brenda, and then rotates it, manipulates it, takes it apart and puts it back together a million different ways, grinding ever on and on and on.

Which, like I said, has helped get us where we are now. It's cool. But it's at least worth noticing that it happens, I reckon. How often we're chuntering away in imagination pouring over some invented map rather than living here in the actual territory, the present moment, this silent expansive clarity of thusness in which all is as it should be.

And maybe by simply noticing we can readjust the balance and occasionally let the Palaeolithic rest and next Tuesday arrive when it arrives, and have now to be present for whatever it brings.

I can't much help with the Brenda thing though, I'm afraid.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Would You Just... Tidy Your Blog?

Well hello there. I feel tentatively nice today. Mug of Earl Grey and my good jumper and Moondance playing on Spotify, and a few clear hours to write before work.

Spent last night fiddling with my blog, its layout, for the first time in forever. Only to get the fonts from the desktop version displaying on mobile, involving a mooch around Google looking for tutorials, some light editing of HTML, then adding lines to the CSS thing, and finally a bit of experimentation with font sizes, but still that feeling whenever I get anything to work on a computer, that I am literally Neo, can bend the very concept of code to my will. So, feeling confident, I went on to add sharing buttons to the bottom of every post -- with my mind! Well, no, by installing an add-on, with my fingers. But I controlled those fingers with my mind!

Anyway, it took most of the evening, and it was a positive, active step, an act of will to push me away from depression's orbit.

It got me thinking about why I put so little effort into the design of my blog, and I reckon the answer has a lot to do with self-esteem. I mean, I know very little about coding or CSS or graphic design, but then there's plenty I know nothing about that I go out and voraciously read up on, and I did do an ostensible computing degree at uni, and loads of people who started out knowing even less than me have ended up creating much better blogs.

So I think in large part it is the feeling that I can't fail if I don't try. Which is ludicrous, because the only true failure in life is that of never trying -- well, that and, obviously, death -- but still, it is a pervasive feeling. Put zero effort into something that is expressive of who you are and no one can tell you it is bad -- or rather, the badness will only be a reflection of your lack of effort, which approach you chose, rather than your innate lack of skill, which you can do nothing about. And so you hold the secret fervid hope of your talent, your perhaps beauty, somewhere deep inside, but it is so fragile, so tiny, will so probably be crushed by the world, that you never bring it out into the open, you slouch along instead putting in minimum effort acting like you don't care getting back only what you surely (please, please no) deserve.

My use of the word "beauty" back there is probably apposite. The whole thing is like turning up to a party in baggy sweats and big hoodie, with hair hidden, shoes old and scruffy, no makeup on -- yes, let's say you're a girl, overweight, with limp hair tied back, no makeup, drab clothes. You melt into the background, get swallowed by the walls. All the boys pass their gaze over you without pausing. But this is exactly what you want. Christ, the shame of smooshing yourself into a dress, your belly rolling out of the sides, showing your knobbly knees, your florid, plucked forearms, plastering on blusher like you believe you have the right, like you want to be judged alongside those floating sirens serenading at the front of the room, to think you're one of them, not a horrid icky goblin creature from Neptune, to have buff Jason, he of the chiselled jaw and taut rectus abdominus -- to have him swagger over to you and cry, "My God, have you... have you tried to look... beautiful?" And for everyone to fall silent, to point, then to shriek, cabbages to be thrown, for you to be hauled into the stocks or kicked down into the mud from where you'll have to grovel for the rest of eternity. No, better to crawl by choice, to keep your head down, to fade into nothingness, to stay safe.

I sure know that feeling. Except that's not what I'm doing any more, is it? Every single day I am logging into this blog and yelling out that I am here, that this is me, that I exist. And I am inviting everyone on Facebook to come along and watch me do it.

And Christ is that scary? But it's also, to borrow from Bukowski, the only good fight there is.

We all have the right to be ourselves, to be fully ourselves, and to feel like that is enough. Feck it, eh? A party where people are gonna shriek at you is a lame-ass party. Go out and create your own. Invite the lovely ones. Provide party rings. Boogie into the moonlight. And whatever anyone thinks, you'll know it was your party. You were here. You existed.

So, in summary, I changed some fonts on my blog and made a big deal of it.

Whatever. Have a nice Friday everyone :)

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Would You Just... Go Easy On Yourself?

I've not been doing so well the last few days. I can feel a depression coming on, can feel myself arcing towards it with the inexorability of a planetary orbit.

The warning signs are all there. Thoughts are anxious, doom-laden, janging off in all directions many times a second. Tiredness deep in my marrow. Everything more sluggish. I try and bring myself back to the present, centre myself, and it's somehow revolting, terrifying, eerily placid, like there's death waiting right beside me smiling engulfing cavernous skeleton smile. It's harder than usual to write, expressing myself is difficult. Feel my soul or lifeforce or essential me-ness withdrawing, curling in on itself, wanting to slumber for aeons with easy Netflix autoplaying in background and lights low and covers up high over my head.

So gotta do the routine. When seems dumbest, least worthwhile, got to do it the most. Be mindful of it all -- I am aware that I am experiencing the sensation of being depressed. It isn't me, it isn't truth, just a temporary thing happening to me, a passing phase, like dark clouds moving across the moon. Swirls in, it'll swirl back out.

Notice my awareness. Is my awareness of depression itself depressed? My awareness of fear itself fearful? Or is there a silent empty power of presence that can never be touched, a space of sky in which those tumultuous black clouds roil?

And go easy on myself. Only been little posts on here but it's way tougher routine than I'm used to -- for the overweight fella fighting a silent battle to get fit even running five minutes a day is a Herculean effort -- and my mind has sure been overweight and sad, snacking on junk food and fizzy drinks these past years. Plus full-time tiring shifts at work. So have some some self-love: it's natural I feel like this, it's entirely understandable, and there are steps I can take to assuage the pain.

I'll cut out alcohol completely for a week or two I think, too tempting to drink when depression coming on, and that only exacerbates the problem. And I'll try to stay away from social media, there's something really insidious about all that scrolling and ego-measuring and me-me-me-yelling when your mental health is already low. Exactly like snack food, distraction from sadness only in long-run making sadness worse. Better if I'm sad to let myself feel sad. That is OK. That is part of the journey.

Admit that I'm having a bad few days as well. Don't hold it inside and struggle alone. I'm always there for my friends, let them be there for me.

And gotta make sure to keep posting on here. Even if a paragraph, even if a shopping list, do something. Don't stress about giving readers perfect essays, about living up to expectations -- just be loose and have fun and keep the momentum up. It's nice to run marathons for charity, but that unhealthy chap who a month ago couldn't get himself out of the door has to build up slowly; wanting too much too soon is a path to disaster. Nature has its own pace that cannot be rushed, fall into step with it and whistle as you go. There's tranquillity in that rhythm.

I'm OK. This is OK. It isn't always easy, but then it'd be no fun if it was.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Would You Just... Give the Doc a Break?

Home from a quiet shift with Zoe, Joey, and william.i.am. Stevie in drinking, Jiggs and Charlie M. and Phace about, Phace drawing her intricate sloping line art, Charlie arguing whether Monsoon tap pink or red, everyone slouching around, working, boozing, killing time until the great happenings happen -- what we all waiting for, what we think gonna come? It's here, isn't nothing more. Can this be all. Can it?

Walk home from bus under looming darkness of sky, roaring neon wail of music down headphones, step-stepping in time, trying to be ever-present. I am here walking this road, the streetlights peering down so mournful, the crunch of foot, grass bristling, thoughts jumbling, yip-fox skittles by towards nocturnal adventures unknown, head up briefly in driveway, looks to me, yippers off. The world is empty. Colours are pressed flat in the night. I am here.

Doctor's appointment earlier, first thing in morning. Three-month antidepressant review, sat on plastic school chair beside big medical desk and rumpled grey doctor in open shirt and nothing-colour slacks harrooms and looks down glasses at his monitor rather than at me, asks dumb questions, getting dates wrong, mixing details up, trying to build picture of me from the screen -- Just talk to me, I think, I can tell you -- but when he does I wringle my hands, cough, get confused. Begin to launch into big analogy of how I see the depression, where my story has gone, why meds are working for me now, but I see it doesn't matter, that this doc has 30, 40 patients to help, he has 10 minutes, now six, to decoct from my story only the essence that is salient to him, whether to continue my meds or bring me off -- and hes trying, not super hard, and his bedside manner like all the male GPs I know is poor, but to him I am one of so many, a ghost-face among faces, clawing at him to be healed, to be helped, to maybe most of all be understood, to be treated as special and important in a world in which to him I so obviously am not -- I see this and how caught up we all are in our own little lives, and so I smile and answer his questions the way I should and I come out with what I already knew I wanted, meds for another year at least, and put on my music and tramp away up the hill and try not to picture that procession of patients behind me, each convinced of his or her central importance, each as meaningless as the next.

But then what is meaning, when you get right down to it? Maybe this just means this. Maybe it's all we get. I spose I can be OK with that.

Late now and lids drooping. Only sound clacking of keys, whirr of laptop fan. I've got a day off tomorrow. I''ll see you then. x

Monday, 17 April 2017

Would You Just... Know What Is?

I'm at Jake and Missy's, squooshed on the mattress in the corner of the attic bedroom, writing on Jake's MacBook, while Dreads shows Jake his save on Final Fantasy and Missy and Charlotte lie prone on the bed checking Snapchat and making Boomerangs and farting surreptitiously. The light in the room is soft and low and we're doing what we've been doing all day: glorious expansive nothing.

I got a taxi up here after the close last night, Jakey was waiting up and we played Mario Kart, watched QI, hung out, then woke up this morning in time for Dreads ambling over with his XBox for breakfast and chills.

Its 23:05 now and the day has drifted in easy peace. Dreads wanting to download the new Worms game. Waiting for it to download. After an hour, three percent. OK, at this pace it'll be done in... a really long time. Leave XBox on, amble to the shops for lunch, eat French loaf and cheese, drink tea, make each other laugh, leave as long as we can, check the download.

Thirteen percent.

We listen to some insane Middle Earth meditation music on Missy's phone about being invited to Bilbo Baggins's birthday party and sitting by a crackling lambent fire as fiddle music plays feeling your whole body slowly relax. Don't even ask me, but we're all lying together in the beds innocent as newborn babes, me with my head on Jake's chest, then squidging with Missy, as wizards blow smoke rings and farmers clip the hedge and hobbit children play down the street. Like I said, don't ask me, but also don't knock till you've tried.

We fall asleep, Jake's customary day-off nap ("Well its just nice isn't it? You get up, eat, wash, go on a little expedition, then you get to go to bed and do it all again"). We wake up and check the progress on Worms -- 46 percent -- so play a board game to pass the time. Zombie 15 in extended campaign and gotta set up the tiles into a board, 1a connected to 3b and 4a and 5a and 7b, no the other way up so it makes a cul-de-sac, and shuffle all zombies of 1, 2, and 3 number into weapons cards, and add three zombies to the horde box, must do this for each scenario, groaning the whole way, then play for seven or nine high-octane minutes rushing punk kids through ruined suburbs checking police station and getting supplies from mall, then reach exit battered and shaking, our little plastic figures we picture, and then gotta set up whole nother board and cards for next scenario and after five it gets way too frustrating and we give up, in same place we always do with this damn game that we still full nerd love, and we cross fingers and check Worms.

87 percent.

So we roll around some more, Missy's friend Charlotte comes round - "Oh it's your friend, Missy, your one friend. We assumed you were making her up. Don't be weird around her and drive her away like everyone else." Missy Sassy Sarsaparilla puts hand on hip. "Excuuuse me?"

And we eat pizzas and crisps and salsa and then Dreads scrolls games on the Microsoft store and I write this and Jake goes out to smoke cigarettes and Charlotte goes home and Missy, friendless again not that we're bringing it up, lies on the bed watching us, and the night is quiet and the lamplight dim and I look at my friends and think about that Kurt Vonnegut line where he says:

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

Because that's how I feel right now. If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.

Now, if you'll excuse me, in a moment of serendipity that I know appears a little too much like narrative convenience but I promise you is not, Worms has just downloaded.

Until tomorrow. X