Notes From the Wasteland No. 14 ‘How hard is it to let go of something?’

Have you ever wondered how easy it really is to carry the biggest burden possible and let it weigh you down on a daily basis? Like really wondered? I don’t know about you but for me the weight of my burden is a constant companion; always there, by my side, loyal, dependable, guaranteed to never leave me. This companion is familiar, comforting (almost), and kind enough, from its perspective, to devote itself to me. But what happens if tomorrow morning, or right now, or whenever I decide that I don’t want this this constant companion, this neurotic nursemaid, this bothersome bedfellow any more? Can I just put this burden down? Leave it behind me? Go my separate way? I know that I want to but the question still remains, can I? How will I do this? What will it feel like? Will I feel lighter? Less troubled? More at ease?

But what if I don’t feel any of these things?

What if I feel bereft? Apart? Separated? Adrift? Devoid of gravity? Unpinned to the surface of the world? I suppose the question really is, do I want to let go? I know what both answers are. I want to let go. I don’t want to let go. I want to let go because I want to feel different to how I feel today. Right now. Last week. Always. I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to feel different to how I feel today. Right now. Last week. Always. It is all I want. It is everything I have never wanted.

Everything.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 11 ‘I’m happy to say that I’m not always happy.’

I’m happy to say that I’m not always happy. Not in the sense of a joke or a tongue-twister; that’s not what I’m happy to say. I’m not being glib, or facetious, I’m not downplaying or undermining anyone or anything. But I am happy to say that things are not always light and bright for me. The darkness is always there, just over the hill, only as as far as the end of the day, the next passing cloud, the step I take after the next one. This is not a confession or a realisation. It is nowhere near as dramatic as that. This is just a simple statement of fact. Not that there is anything simple about simply being happy. Far from it.

I look back as far as I can to see where the darkness was born and I can only say that it was possibly always there inside of me. And outside of me. There is no blame. No one who knows me is responsible in any way for anything. That’s not how this works. I am only responsible for myself. Perhaps this is a luxurious position to occupy? As always, I can only speak for myself. For other people there are other reasons. That is understood. When I survey my past I can identify events and situations, as we all can, but the same can be said of my more recent life. Indeed, I feel that this more recent life has been far more profound in terms of its impact on me. Far more. In fact so far more that I am only slowly beginning to realise how profound. Hence each one of these slowly typed words.

The pandemic doesn’t help. Pandemics never do. But that’s slightly counter-intuitive, like blaming meat for rotting, or vacuums for filling with air. If it wasn’t this, it would be that. And if it wasn’t that it would be something else. Or something else. Again. Ad infinitum. Perhaps the pandemic does help? And nothing in this last sentence is meant to downplay anything whatsoever to do with the global misery and horror that the pandemic has brought upon us all. But perhaps the pandemic helps me to find the time to sit down and think more deeply about things. Mortality does that, I guess, and I have been as mortally afraid of the virus as everyone else. Outside the window of the room I’m currently writing in, the surge in cases is truly extraordinary, as it is elsewhere, and were it not the reality of our lives it would be another hold that Netflix can cleverly have over us with their current capacity for compelling storytelling.

So why am I happy to say that I’m not always happy? Is that even a thing to say out loud? It is. And I’m happy to say it. Because the alternative is not to say it and not saying things is something I use to do too much.

Far too much.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 10 ‘Do you think about people you no longer know?’

Do you think about people you no longer know?

People you used to know, intimately or otherwise. Either last week or years ago. Not because they are dead but just because you no longer know them. Do you wonder what they are doing? How they are? How they are feeling? Do they still like the things they like? The things they don’t like? Are they laughing? Crying? Happy? Broken? Or just somewhere in between like always? I suppose at the heart of this is the thought that maybe they are thinking about you? Wondering how you are doing? Remembering the touch of your hand on their skin? Your voice in their ear? Just remembering? I suppose at the heart of this is also the thought that probably they are not thinking about you? They’re not wondering how you are doing. They have long forgotten the touch of your hand on their skin. Your voice in their ear. No longer just remembering.

Do these questions linger? Do they stay with us like a taste on our lips? A flash in our thoughts, an interruption; occasional or often? Do they lay in wait for us? Are they lurking somewhere, silent and hidden, like the ultimate prank, with time bided and everything? Or do we just forget, remember and then forget? We can’t hold every thought and feeling we’ve ever had in equal suspension, knowing the contours of each simultaneously. That’s just too many stars to try and see in the night sky. But imagine if it was possible? Like the roots of some fabulous tree outlined in the soil that is our brain. Each gnarl and twist visible at the same time. I once went somewhere so beautiful that it was impossible to take it all in with my eyes. Photos were no good, with their frames and aspect ratios. The views were just too big and too vast and far too amazing. And even though I wanted to see everything at once I simply couldn’t. The vastness was a reminder of the limits that are forced upon us by such things as biology, limits that chafe and deny but defy defiance.

All of this is fine and well until you see the person you no longer know. In many cases, this doesn’t ever happen, geography and other guardrails prevent us from these encounters. But there are always times where we do see these people, maybe from afar, online, up close or any other combination of time and space and place. What do we do then? Pretend we never knew them at all? Hope they don’t see us? If they don’t see us then that’s something but what if they do? What do we do? Chat? Smile? Blush? Cut them dead? Look over their shoulder? The answer is that there is no answer until such times and we need one and then we won’t know. We may wish the worst for someone and rehearse for years the thing we want to say if we ever see them again. And then we see them and our long-brewed rage subsides long enough for us to force a small smile. Or forces us to because at the moment we had dreamed about for so long we learn that the fuel that flamed our fire had exhausted itself at the moment of meeting. Or it doesn’t and we don’t and then we do and all the fuel we had stored for years pours forth in a final act of futile firestarting.

So the question is what are we supposed to do about this thinking and these thoughts? We can’t ignore them. I can’t, anyway. And in any case, why should we? Should I? After all, these thoughts about these people are part and parcel of what it is to simply exist, to be; to be conscious of our past and mindful of where it points us forwards. But they are also about what it is to love and then love no more. Sometimes the choice to love no more is out choice, we decide and the deal with our decision. Other times, this choice is not ours to make but is made anyway. We have no choice for if we did it would always be the case that this would be something we would not choose.

But I cannot speak for anyone.

I can only say for me.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 9 ‘What means the most to you?’

What means the most to you?

People. Obviously, and endlessly. Absence is absolute. It is for me. Connection is everything. The only thing. Real. Profound. Deep-felt and long-lasting. If ever severed or broken, then all else that follows is broken too. Even though we wish it wasn’t.

But wishes are the winning lottery tickets you never bought. The face we saw but never kissed. The hand we never held. The life we never lead because we have to lead another. That other life. The one we might not have wished for after all. But where does this leave us anyway?

Perhaps wishing is only wasting the chance to wonder?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 8 ‘Is silence the worst thing you can hear?’

Is silence the worst thing you can hear?

What do you think?

When you look at someone and all you hear is nothing.

When you ask the darkness something and get no reply.

When you hope against hope to hear (from someone) but never do.

Silence.

The sound of your skin hardening. Your ears healing over. Closing through neglect. Never to reopen. Sealed forever. Bound with the grim whisper of the tomb. Skin and bone combine to fuse and form a permafrost.

The small scald of neglect, that daily burn upon your skin when the absence of attention you expect but hope against occurs once more again. Once more. As before. And again.

The words here are like the mirror that used to hang somewhere in the house but has long since removed yet every time you pass the spot where the mirror used to hang, you still look to see your face but find yourself not reflected anymore.

When you walk the world knowing that no one has anything to say to you today or any other day. You could walk the same path with the same steps for several lifetimes and be safe in the knowledge that only silence will accompany you.

Perhaps that’s a comfort.

Some people prefer solitude. The simplicity of silence. Of not having to engage. Ask. Joke. Laugh. To share.

Some people prefer to ignore those that surround them. That fill their space. Perhaps for fear of making that space a shared one? For, they might argue, who wants to share their space with anyone? As if intimacy is a pathogen only worth disinfecting; like washing your hands instead of stroking their face.

I’m sure these people find this act of ignoring others liberating.

Others find this same act terrifying.

I know where I stand. What about you?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 7 ‘How do we know where we’re supposed to be?’

How do we know where we’re supposed to be?

A question probably more easily answered in the negative.

We probably know where we’re not supposed to be and that’s normally where we want to be.

That’s where I want to be right now – where I’m not supposed to be.

But how do we really know where we’re supposed to be?

I have all the basic weights that pin me to a particular point on the planet; child, house, spouse, career, but some of these weights weigh heavier than others, and by doing so belie the simple facts of geography.

I have defied geography several times in my life, moving, shifting, relocating; each act of defiance larger than the last, from home, to town to, ultimately, country. And with every act I have felt that I was growing, changing, developing, responding, engaging, rearranging, changing (once more), and, growing (again).

But what happens if we stop defying geography?

Does this prevent us from further growing, changing, developing, responding, engaging, rearranging, changing (once more), and, growing (again).

I don’t think that it does. I hope that it doesn’t. I really hope that it doesn’t but as I write these words I’m really not sure.

That’s the why of these words, I guess.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 6 ‘I sometimes wonder just what it is.’

I sometimes wonder just what it is.

What it is to stop and think. To evaluate. Measure. Weigh. Decide.

How do we do these things? Why do we do these things? Is there any value? What is the point? I suppose there are no answers to these questions. We do these things because they are the things we do. We have always done. We will always do.

And if this is the case, and I believe it is, then the answer to these questions, in part or whole, is that we do these things because we don’t notice we are doing them. They just happen anyway.

But, if this is the case, and I believe that it is, or, at least, might be, then the act of wondering is actually just us noticing something about ourselves; taking the time, we could say, to halt the time of our living for long enough to catch a glimpse of the automaticness of our existence.

Like pausing the moving image?

Or pointing our phone at something alive and stilling it with our lens?

These are early thoughts for early days.

Notes from the Wasteland No. 5 ‘I am a Doctor of Philosophy.’

I am a Doctor of Philosophy.

With letters before and after my name. And if you look carefully in the dustier parts of the internet you’ll find my doctorate published by an international university press.

It was a massive effort to complete. I lost (almost) everything in the process. My relationship. Friends. Possessions. Addresses.

My mental health suffered. There were times when I couldn’t imagine carrying on with it. It was all too much all of the time. Unrelenting in its need to be attended to. Like some curious tumour that demanded everything I had and much more.

Much more.

One more idea. Just one more. Another word. Another sentence.

One more.

More words. Another chapter. And another.

And. And. And.

More. Just more.

But I endured. Battled. Wrestled. Fought. Endured.

And completed. Because completing is everything. There is nothing else. The whole thing is just too much to not succeed. There is nothing else other than completion. I saw too many other people around me stretch out their lives by extending their registration. Going from full-time to part-time. Three years to five, seven, eleven, forever. Just adding more time to their lives. More. Endless. And then discover that there is no end. No completion. Planets have stopped rotating on their axes for less.

The process was like digging a hole as deep as you can possibly dig, toiling each day to shift tiny amounts of soil, pushing them to one side, tamping them down, making sure that too much soil doesn’t fall back into the hole. But the digging was everything. Everything.

Picture the hole I dug over three years. It was roughly ninety-six thousands words deep, not counting footnotes. But the hole’s dimensions can be measured in many ways. Not just word count.

Hours, obviously. The time it took to type each word, each sentence, each and every paragraph. To edit and rearrange, delete and rewrite.

I wrote in a tiny cubby hole overlooking a vast reading room in the university library. Perched high above the room like a furrowed gargoyle. Watching people come and go as I remained. Returning each day to dig a bit deeper. To change a word. Delete a sentence. Correct a spelling, for the millionth time.

I am proud of the effort. It took everything I had but I’m proud of myself. More importantly, the effort rewarded me with a career where my doctorate has been valuable.

But I can’t stop thinking about the hole I dug.

You can’t dig a hole that deep and not wonder how else you might measure its depth.

That’s what I’m doing right now.