So Sh came over to drop off a book I had lent her. I feel sorry that she doesn't want to know me but not everyone can like you, after all. It's just a pity. I liked her a lot and seeing her reminded me why. Oh well.
Here's something I have been listening to a lot recently. It's super good and if you listen, you must listen all the way through because it really becomes something special after three minutes. If this doesn't make you want to hug someone, sorry, we're probably inhabiting different universes. I'm going to dedicate it to Sh because you can be wrong about me and still not be wrong, iykwim.
Did you ever meet someone and think that you would cherish her? You meet her and you know that she will always find a way to make you like her. I know, I'm not deep; I do not do considered opinions about people. I know the first time I meet you how much rope you are going to get to hang yourself with me. But I have a small boy inside and he falls in love with people who make him want to sing.
This doesn't happen often, maybe two, three times in my life. But some people seem beautiful to me in a way that has nothing to do with how they look (although, let's face it, it doesn't hurt for a woman to be good to look at), but is something about them that emanates when they talk, bathes you in warmth and makes you feel nourished.
Did you ever meet someone who when you think about them, your first thought is to wish them well? I know what you're thinking: why not wish everyone well? But I am not describing a vague feeling that they should thrive: I am talking about a piece of you that wants to rush out and make everything well for them, to increase their happiness in any way you can. I was once a small boy whose greatest joy was to see someone smile when he ran up. That boy has never died.
Whoever said the drugs don't work was taking the wrong drugs
So eventually being a whiny bitch just wears you out, because you've created a vicious circle for yourself to run round like a deranged hamster. Misfortune -- often something so mild that let's face it, you could shrug off if you have the least measure of fortitude -- strikes, you start to whine it up (and the whining gets you down even more than the small misfortune does) and being a whiny bitch just brings more misfortune onto your head.
Do you know, I've been too insane even to realise that, and I feel like I have just woken up and seen myself in the mirror. And I realise that I am not in fact a 12yo schoolgirl -- I mean no offence to 12yo schoolgirls, few of whom are as whiny and annoying as I can be -- but a grown man. You know, I could defend you in a fistfight, fix your roof in a storm, cook food that would make you weep with pleasure, leap tall buildings in a single b-- okay, let's not get carried away, but I'm not truly a miserable worm.
So I've been trying something new. Instead of wallowing in whinge, I have started doing something about it. The big thing is that I have been taking tryptophan supplements, and they work. I don't know whether they work because I really was lacking tryptophan or because I'm crazy enough to believe it and the placebo effect is strong, but I feel at least fairly close to an even keel. Not perfectly adjusted (Zen laughs softly to himself) and maybe you wouldn't notice, but I feel more like me and I like it.
Now the misfortune arrives and yeah, my first impulse is to give in to misery and whine about it, but my second impulse is arriving with the fuck-that cavalry. People snub me, and I reach for my hankie but before I've managed even to start sniveling, the cavalry arrives. Fuck that, I say to myself, their loss. My future looks bleak, and I start thinking I could have a good mizz over that, but the cavalry storms in. Fuck that, I say to myself, at least find some small ways to love it or you are going to be found hanging over the back steps, and that would suck. I cannot begin to fix loneliness if I curl up in a ball and wish it all away. I'm going to have to saddle up with the fuck-that brigade, say fuck that to mopery and suffer some blows. I'm man enough, right?
I am not like anyone else you know. I'm pretty confident of that. I'm unique. You are too, but you probably don't know it.
I don't seem it to people I meet, I'm sure. I just look like a generic, ordinary fellow, a bit bigger than some, okay to look at, nothing special.
The other day, someone said to me -- and she wasn't the first -- that she thought I just wasn't interested in other people, because I don't ask the usual, boring questions. But I am topsy turvy like this: if I'm not interested in you, or you didn't make a good impression, I will ask you about your job, where you live, what the film you watched last night was like. If you want to know that I think you're dull, you'll know it because I do all that and we're done five minutes in.
If I want to know about you, I will let you reveal yourself. For me, to capture someone involves setting them free. I bind you to me by allowing you to roam. I am waiting for my chance to ask you about what really matters. I can easily find out what you do for a job, and you'll tell me if I don't ask, anyway, but it's harder to find out what matters to you really, what you love, what you desire, what you hope for, what makes your bell resound.
Who cares about what you do for a living? You reveal that readily. What makes you shake? What could a person do to you that you would make your stomach flip? How could you be touched and it would be the right way?
So this person says, you met my husband and didn't even ask him what he does. And I said, he does this and he works for so and so, and he comes from here and you and he did this last year. Because she had conveyed all that in the standard way, and I remembered. Because this is how you can become good at writing, at thinking even: you observe closely. Most people ask their list of six questions and don't even listen to the answers. I listen. If I want to know who you are, I listen to the way you say it, the small things in what you say that reveal what you feel about what you are saying, the lacunae that reveal more about you than the words you surround them with.
I know, I should try harder with phatic communication. It seems odd to people if you don't bother with it much. But I figure, it's only the people I actually care about who I don't talk small with much. And you'd hope they'd understand in other ways that I'm genuinely interested in them. Also, I do every other thing in social communication. I say hello, how are ya, goodbye, safe journey, shake your hand, kiss you if we're kissing friends, hug you if we hug. I'm not autistic: smiles don't confuse me.
Anyway, enough about me. Tell me about you.
Well, that's the thing actually. I hate talking about myself. I'm not interesting. I'm a reactive, hollow sort of person. I don't have anything inside that you need to pull out. I'm okay with it. It's what makes me unique: I'm content not to reach for the stars--I already think I hold them inside and that's what counts.
Reading this post, I was struck by the thought that the saddest thing in my life is that when I was happiest, I had no one with me to share it with.
Yet it may be that it is a good thing that I was able to feel it without needing someone else to validate it.
I was happiest drinking coffee on a cold morning in the main square at Shimla. I had left behind the aggressive whiny child I had been in my twenties and discovered myself, a flawed but real human being. I was doing something I would never have believed I was capable of, travelling on my own without the fear of strangers that made me unable to ring a pizza place a few years earlier.
I was thin, handsome and confident--not overweening, simply convinced that I was as good as the next person, that when I walked into a room, I would find people who wanted to know me, women who would be into me, men who would find what I had to say valuable. And of course these things are true for all of us; you don't need anyone else to point out for you why it's true--you can find it if you go looking for it.
I found it by surrendering, by giving into the truth that I should be measured by what I am, not by what I'm not. I think that it's easy if you have a belief that people are fundamentally good to believe that you too are good, so long as you allow yourself to believe that you too are human. And I do do that: I think about what people are, not what they promise to be, not what they lack, but what they have. Mrs Zen sometimes would say to me that I was dissatisfied with her because she wasn't an intellectual like me.
But I never was. I loved her for what she offered, and never thought less of her for what she was not. We are capable of inspiring each other and showing each other beauty; we just don't know it. As I stood in the square in Shimla in the cold, I was warmed by knowing that I had been able to win her back simply by offering myself, not a scrambled version of me.
The second happiest time in my life I did share. We sat and drank coffee and Mrs Zen told me the doctor had confirmed her pregnancy. I suppose you would think that Zenella's birth was as happy a time, but I don't think it is the right word. I felt fulfilled. That may be even a richer feeling than happiness, I don't know. I have been so far from fulfilment since then that it seems a strange, foreign place I think I once visited but truly never saw.
The other night, I was at a poetry reading. I mumbled a poem because I'm unaccustomed to public speaking, and afterwards, I was talking to a younger man who was set on emulating Bukowski.
He somehow found Bukowski admirable, and was perplexed by Eliot. But, I said to him, both Buk and Eliot were reacting to their own nihilism. Each had concluded that the world has no meaning or purpose, which is a distressing conclusion to reach. Buk reacted by not caring about himself or what happened to him, and by seeking personal oblivion, so that, one supposes, he did not have to think any more about it. Eliot reacted by trying to find small shreds of meaning in an absurd world. The difference, I suppose, is that Buk says we cannot live, Eliot we must try to live.
I tend to agree with Eliot, as it happens.
So this guy is saying, I have been doing the greyhounds, because of course Buk did the horses. And the guy is talking up the dogs, like it's a trial of manhood. No, I say, it has to be poker. Because you have to suffer.
See, that's Eliot for you: man must seek out suffering so that he has a reason to live.
And the guy is saying, you're fucking awesome.
So I'm ready to rationalise that away, that he's just impressed by intellectualism or whatever, and then I realise that it would be easier just to accept that he thinks I'm awesome.
And in that moment, I began to recover. I became myself again. Started to become myself.
I am thankful for the people who have sustained me when I would have found it impossible to believe that I deserved it. The other night, I was on my way to Sh's for dinner, and I am thinking, you cannot begin to convince yourself that there is any reason to invite you round than she likes you. I am thankful to have met a friend who makes me laugh. I wasn't built for frowns.
People have loved me! They were willing to care about me even if I refused to care about myself. I am able to be well because of K, A, S and P. I think that it is like when I looked at my luck in poker and found I had been luckier than I had felt. On balance I feel much better about what I have had than I do bitter about what I have lacked.
I rejoice that I have known those women, and I will become myself and be worth it. I love each of the people who have sustained me. Not just those I mentioned but others who have proved I have value. Because Bukowski was wrong and Eliot thought too small. We have meaning because we create it among ourselves. I've always believed it and still do. We have meaning because we will sustain each other, and it begins and ends with the love we have for one another. I've always believed that that is what there is for us, and I won't stop.
Surely this actually reinforces their brand? No one actually buys the "compassionate conservative" thing that David Cameron is pretending to? Did we not notice that Bush ran as one of those and immediately swung hard to the right as soon as he was in office? I'll say one thing for the rightards here: at least Tony Abbott doesn't pretend not to be an arsehole. He wears it with pride.
I love reading about conservatives who promote the "big society" as though they weren't pretending to believe in equity because most of us are poor and wouldn't vote for them if they admitted to being nakedly in pursuit of the agenda of the rich. Of course there is no such thing as society. They destroyed it. The idea that you can gut the welfare state and expect citizens to fill the gap is ludicrous because for 30 years they've also been selling us the idea that the goal of our lives is to fuck everyone else and make bank. Which has led us to the soulless, bereft, misshapen thing that passes for society today.
We are idiots because we allow ourselves to be conned by the messaging, and never look at what we are actually being sold. A key policy goal of the right (and in fact Labour, ironically) has been to destroy the power of unions to bargain collectively and to push people into "workplace agreements".
The thing is, when your boss offers you a workplace agreement, the deal is "take it or leave it". There's nothing you can do if you don't like it but look for another job. And good luck with that! When a union bargains for us, the deal is not "take it or leave it" because if we leave it, they are fucked. Now it's "please take it because I recognise you can fuck me".
Bosses, on the whole, are not kind people. They are people who have been trained to think of you as a cost that needs cutting if possible. They want to milk you as hard as they can for as little reward as they think you'll accept. Selling this as a virtue, and calling it an "agreement", when the choice is agree or starve because the right also took the floor out from unemployment support, was a great work of politics.
Did you know that your real wages have fallen? I'm pretty sure that's true for everyone reading this blog, because I'm pretty sure no one who reads it is particularly wealthy (my apologies to you if you are in fact wealthy and can I interest you in staking a moderately successful poker player?). Naturally, you may have changed jobs and now do something more lucrative than you did ten years ago, but otherwise, your real wages will have fallen. Yet the economy has grown (despite the recent problems) in real terms.
Why didn't we share? If this is a society, why didn't we all get a share in it? Answers on a postcard.
They conned you. They distracted you with immigration (who cares who lives in your street? You don't talk to your neighbours anyway). They distracted you with terror. They distracted you with wall-to-wall bullshit on the TV, newsertainment, celebrity culture, mobile phones that can film your life and make your tea and football, which they also destroyed, so that now we have a ridiculous parody of the contest of hometown allegiances that used to thrill us.
They conned you. Yet the Liberals here, the Tories there, the Republicans in the States all have hopes of a return to power in the next decade, and the parties they replace are not the parties of the working man they affect to be, but grim managerialists who differ only in nuance from the rightards, not in any way that will likely make a difference in your life.
Because almost everything I say feels insincere to me (although at the same time I don't feel I am ever exactly dishonest), I feel surprised when I let the truth leak out. It seems almost corrosive.
A small example: we are waiting by the lights to cross George St to go into the pub. A rough sleeper comes up and says, can you give me some money so me and my mate can get hamburgers? I say, no. And he says, why not? It's a long time since I've encountered anything resembling an aggressive beggar and it jolts me into being frank with him.
I don't give a fuck about you, I say.
What. Did. You. Say.
You asked me why I wouldn't give you money. The reason is I don't care about you.
And I realised that I was like a man who finds himself naked in the middle of the village green in midwinter: unshielded, out there. Because you are supposed to have some socially acceptable reason: I don't want to encourage them to harass others, or they'll only spend it on booze (like I wasn't planning to myself), or whatever you feel excuses you.
But he is nothing to me. I did not know what happened to him before I encountered him and will not know what becomes of him. And I have no interest in finding out. But if you do not care about the beggar, you are paying him money because of some other thing you care about. I won't speculate about why one does; it's easy to imagine all sorts of motives for it. But I have no other thing I care about in that way and I am left only with the truth.
I have been talking with A about what it is, which led me to ask myself, what is it? Leaving aside the answer to that, what if galaxies were like atoms and our universe merely an object like a stone in some greater universe? It would be the same to us.
I was talking to her about throwing a stone into a pond. Say a beetle was on the surface of the water near where the stone splashed, it would experience the ripples as waves. It would have no concept that the waves had any particular cause, and less so that they could have an agent. You are on a scale far too large for the beetle to comprehend. Not only is the beetle's viewpoint different. Its conception of what is in the world is different from yours (and I am not doing a "what is it like to be a bat?" excursus into how a beetle is different from us; my beetle is comfortably anthoropomorphised).
The point being the world seems a particular way to us because of us, not because of anything about it. We are active participants in how the world is.
Why talk about what it is? Well, you need to see what it is before you can change anything about it. And what is it? It is what it is. It is like glimmering froth, nothing permanent or immutable, all destined to change endlessly, while we try to tie ourselves to it, to pretend it can be held static, to create fixed points and hammer ourselves to them.
A asks whether I am following my own advice. I say something flippant but the truth is that I would be scared to. I have been thinking about poker, and how I was surprised to see that over my "career" I have been neither lucky nor unlucky. I do not believe it says anything flattering that I would feel I had been unlucky but had not been. We understand that poker is mostly luck, with the main purpose of the skill to navigate that luck. So if you cannot feel you underperformed because of luck, you must now conclude that it was skill you lacked. You weren't as good as you thought you were. Seeing what it is can, you see, be scary.
A weird thing is that I stopped tilting at poker. Well, not stopped tilting, but stopped feeling the injustice in a bad beat, that particular form of tilt. I don't know how I stopped. I just didn't feel it any more. I lost to a stunning bad beat and didn't care. I didn't feel enraged. I felt good about my play and content that the same spot would bring me money in the future. But how did I learn that? It's something that wasn't rational, by which I mean that I didn't just need educating in the reality of ups and downs and probabilities, I understood all that, but rather I needed my emotional response to be trained. But one day it wasn't, the next it was. I suppose it's a bit like learning to type, where you labour at a particular level and then, all of a sudden, you are 10WPM faster or you have realised just how to hold your fingers.
I am not totally over it. The injustice of a bad call rewarded still stings, but it's not my losing I mourn but the inequity of cruel chance. But even so it is like I started not just to see it as it is but to know it, so I know that seeing it can have good outcomes too.
It is frightening to feel that you might drown. You only know it is a real feeling if you have felt it. Otherwise it seems wrong that you should not just see what is good in your life and pursue it. But if you have felt that you are swimming in a rough sea on a dark night, with too many hours till dawn and fear that years of trying to keep out of the water have left you too weak to keep your arms moving, then you know how real that feels.
I envy those who are certain that their god will pick them out of the water. I mean, even if he doesn't (I know I should say even though he doesn't, but without certainty how can you dishonour the thing someone else sees and you don't?), the notion that he will serves to buoy you up.
Eventually it is like learning how not to tilt. One day you realise you are just swimming. Or at least I hope it is.