Friday, 7 October 2016

Would You Just... Reopen the Tunnel?

So I don't know how much of this has become apparent, but a major motivation for writing this blog series was that I could use it to address the many varied aspects of my life about which I am frustrated, embarrassed. To explore the things that are wrong with me, one at a time, six thousand million times, until I die at a ripe old age not even a fifth of the way through my list which was in all honesty a rough and highly conservative initial estimate not really even scratching the surface of the things that are truly wrong with me.

I cleaned the grill, and I moved back in with my mum, and this was good, and allowed me to clear some space around me, gave me room to breathe.

But I find I cannot go further without first turning to some space even closer than that around me -- namely the space inside my head, because in there it is still utter pandemonium.

Honestly, it's a mess. Dark caverns filled with teetering piles of unfaced issues stacked to the ceilings. Rats of self-doubt gnawing at the walls. Lower chambers submerged in lakes of anxiety. A giant demon, a horned and suppurating arch-field, charging around on cloven hooves yelling about random past moments of shame, such as the time I mistakenly referred to Frank Ocean as Billy Ocean. A room containing a man who does nothing but perspire in front of onlookers, for eternity. Entire cave-systems dedicated to reconstructions of conversations with girls during secondary school, with the role of me played by Leonardo DiCaprio -- in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. A Tannoy on the wall that simply announces every fifteen minutes, as if it was new information, that I am a twat.

It isn't easy existing in such a cacophony of craziness. But for a long time I have had a method for coping with all this mental junk, and that has been my writing. If the space in my head is a cavern, then writing is like putting on my miner's helmet and hoisting my pick and tunnelling up to the surface, lugging handfuls of psychic detritus with me as I go. Emerging into the light, gulping down air, I will fling the mud and slime and bits of brain onto some blog somewhere, for people to rummage through. Take it, I shout, have what you will; it's yours now, I'm done.

And sometimes, among the waste, people tell me they find chunks of ore, hidden diamonds, fragile, shimmering veins of amethyst and quartz. And even if they're just saying that to be nice, and there's nothing there but a load of crap, I'm still that much crap the lighter.

For a few hours I will feel purged, at peace. Like I have fixed myself. But the problem with trying to escape your own head is that wherever you go, your own head pretty much has to follow.

Every time I finish a piece of writing I will awaken the next morning to find with dismay that I have rolled back down the tunnel I opened, that its walls have collapsed in on themselves during the night, that I am once again trapped in the darkness of my mind. All that effort, and I am right back where I started, and it's just as fucked in here as it ever was.

So basically I give up. I fall back on a different coping mechanism, which is to eke out an existence beneath the light shafts of distraction.

The cavern walls are thick, but here and there a tiny chink opens in the rock, a crack that allows stale, fetid air to filter down to me. I'm talking nights out with friends, downloaded films, the dopamine hit of social media feeds, video games where you drive fast in cars or shoot people and the people fall down and you get to think, I did that, I'm powerful.

I shamble between these brief base pleasures, pressing my face to the rock, breathing down as much air as I can. And this pattern ossifies into routine that keeps me alive, but barely. I shuffle on in torpor, resigned to my fate, even as the rampaging of various demons and hellion imps and putrescent ogre-lords -- "HEY ROB REMEMBER THAT TIME YOU THOUGHT THE RAMONES WERE ALL BROTHERS AND EVERYONE LAUGHED AT YOU? THAT WAS FUNNY. ANYWAY I MUST BE OFF. YOU'RE GOING TO DIE ALONE BY THE WAY. TA RA" -- even as their stampeding causes tremors that shake the walls and begin to block the light shafts in one by one.

But still I'll plod along out of habit, hoping some last vestiges of air will continue to seep through, mostly finding nothing. Distractions cease to distract. I stop being able to concentrate on films or games, I sit in bars letting conversations wash over me, I get drunk and night blurs into day and the cavern grows darker and in the darkness I sense shapes gathering, the brush of mottled hide at my back, the flap of leathery wing, a glint of tooth.

Eventually of course the dread builds to such a crescendo, I become so starved of oxygen, that I break out of my routine and strap on my mining gear and make one more great expedition to the surface, perhaps wrestling one of the foul beasts that has been stalking me up as I go. I'll be a different person during this ascent, determined and focused, and I will smash through the crust to the outside world with a cry, hurling the beast away from me, and the beast in light of day will turn out to be nothing more than a common bat, or a frog, and will flutter or ribbit off into the night, and I will breathe a sigh of relief and pass out from exhaustion, finally free.

And then morning will dawn, bleak and grey, and I will open my eyes to find I am lying on cold stone back in the darkness of the cavern, and something in the shadows will be stirring, something that cannot just be a bat, and the thing will smile a serrated smile, and cackle, and the whole process will begin again.


So that has been the cycle of my life for many years now. But not this time. Okay, the previous two posts were mostly fuelled by the pent-up energy amassed from festering too long down in the caves, but this one was written when I'd normally be giving up, getting drunk.

It was difficult. Setting off into that collapsed tunnel every morning, to chip away thanklessly, with all the demons crowding around me trying to force me back down. Hitting blockages of pure rock and having to tunnel round far longer routes, or even go back the way I came and try to open another tunnel. Not knowing when I'd emerge, whether I ever would.

It would be so easy if this wasn't the case. If my head wasn't dark, if it was instead like one of those grand ballrooms that other people must have in their heads, open spaces with light from expensive chandeliers gently coruscating, demure residents engaged in polite chit-chat, perhaps a waiter passing around trays of amuse-bouches. It would be so easy if there was a passageway to the outside world open at all times, a wide, poplar-lined gravel drive along which butlers would carry neatly gift-wrapped presents for the waiting masses, who would (the masses would) cheer and chant my name and write nice things about me in broadsheet newspapers.

But no. I've got dingy basements with tribes of scabrous toad-men charging into walls and waggling their flocculent little penises at one another and vomiting down themselves, and I have to sweat and grunt away in cramped tunnels just to squeeze weird excretions like this post out of openings that immediately close back over.

But okay. If that's my life, then okay. The work is hard, tiring, often frustrating, sometimes leads nowhere. But okay. It's also rewarding, complexly enjoyable, cathartic. The actual action of pick against rock, pick against rock, tip-tap-tap, is not, under everything, a bad way to spend the day. And at its core it feels... I don't know, necessary.

Yes, inside my skull there may be dark caverns. But I have a feeling that many people's heads are darker than they'd care to admit, and the more light I shine into my own, the more I go down day after day and reopen that tunnel, the more it might let those people know that they are not alone, that they do not have to be afraid.