Really? After all these years? All this time doing the same things and I’ve learned nothing? Nothing? You’re kidding? You’re not. So all those things I thought and felt and hoped and dreamed, all those things are fragments now? Scatterings of matterings? Only they don’t matter now. Nothing seems to. But how does that work? If nothing matters now why do I still care? Care deeply? So deeply that caring is everything? How can all this be? I just don’t understand. I do completely feel that all those things I hoped would happen have not. But then many of the things I never knew would have take place, occurring unexpectedly; not figuring in my reckoning. Most importantly, I never thought that I would be a father. I couldn’t foresee a time when I would be a parent. It always seemed so far away, distant, reserved for other people. Many of my friends had children when they were younger and so I figured that as I got older I would be a great uncle, perhaps, a nice neighbour, but I never imagined I would ever be lucky enough to feel the keen joyous burn of parenthood. Never. I just couldn’t see it. But she is here anyway. And though we may sometimes fight and snarl and circle each other as her desire to be herself and be with herself collides with my daily difficulty with this desire of hers, I always know deep down inside that I can catch her eye and smiled as she nods and when she does the swirl of the universe raises me up and reminds me that our bond is simply beyond comprehension. Far beyond and then further still. Utterly immeasurable. It as if everything I ever knew before I knew her has now been altered slightly so though things may appear to be the same as before they are not, and never will be again. And this kind of knowing that I don’t know is one that I cherish in a way that causes me to struggle to find the true words to express myself. But it is worth the effort to try and at least remind myself, and her, just how powerful this whole thing is, like swallowing the brightest star in the sky and feeling it glow beside my heart, spreading light and warmth and hope and more love with every beat.
It begins again. The working week begins. Although the space between the week and weekend is not always clear as I have to work at weekends too; I always do. This is just what I have to do. I have to make sure that my classes are prepared well in advance because even though my favourite part of teaching is the chance to talk around and between my notes I still always worry that I don’t have enough material. I have been teaching for twenty one years and this is the fear that always grips me. The truth of the matter is that I always have more than enough material, far far more than I normally need but even then this doesn’t satisfy me. I suppose this is because I can’t bear simply using the same material year after year and so it means that each class I have prepared I then have to rewrite and then rewrite and then rewrite. This is intensely satisfying and very necessary but also extremely exhausting. But I cannot have it any other way. Teaching is such a particular joy, one I have been so lucky to have stumbled into. But it is only a joy for me, and for my classes, I hope, if I come to each class and each topic afresh and with genuine vigour. The thought of coming to class having not prepared and ready to look like I really don’t care is only the kind fo thought that haunts me not sustains me. I will not be that so-what kind of teacher, that I used-to-care-but-don’t-anymore outlook that some people adopt. This is because it is such a rare pleasure to put a thought in someone’s head, see them acknowledge the workings of their own brain having had a gentle prompt from something I suggested, to see that spark ignite behind their eyes, it is such an honour that needs to be treated as sacred. And so, to me, anyone who abuses that honour by not caring, and daring to show that they don’t care, that they can’t be bothered, don’t, in my eyes, deserve to stand in front of anyone, let alone ruin that sacred relationship by refusing to acknowledge its sacredness. And though I sometimes grumble and complain, fearing that I am giving all my time and energy away, I realise, inevitably, that I am so honoured to be trusted to say things to groups of people, people who look to me for suggestions and conversations, for stories and different ways of telling them, for explanations and sometimes wonderful complications, that I will always do what it takes to make sure that no person leaves any of my classes feeling that whilst I may not have all or any of the answers, I will always at least commit to giving my all and everything every time.
And then again. Again. Again.
On those dark, dank days when every dream I ever had feels long gone and lost, down the drain, stretched over the time of my life and now rendered useless, like a spring oversprung. When every wish I ever made feels mocking now, as if when I breathed the words into the candle’s flame the gentle rocking of the flame was not my breathing but actually the candle mocking me. ‘Oh really? You want this? That? Them? Really?’ Had I known this earlier in my life my birthdays would have far simpler. There would have been no hope and no excitement. Just a day like any other. Because that’s what happens when we dream, we set up certain days as important, we flag them, marking them in our head as the moment when something starts. This day will be, I say to myself, the first day in that new direction my wish has revealed to me, the new path I will take, following each day dutifully while I wait for my wish to come true. And so I trudge accordingly, not sure where I’m going but hoping that my wish will be there waiting for me when I finally arrive, no matter how long it takes. But it always takes too long. Far too long, as long as it would take to measure the circumference of the earth with the scoop of a teaspoon. Impossible. Immeasurable. Imagine trying such a Sisyphean task; it would be the stuff of legends.
There’s a lot of energy in these words. They are highly animated. They fizz and form a chain of punctuated momentum and so the question is, what do I do with this energy? As I write today I don’t know. When I write tomorrow I won’t know. But its alright not to always know these things. They are, after all, the molecules which fuse to form our future.
When questions circle and hide their intent through subterfuge and complication, as they often do, like people, lives, events, lifetimes, and consequences, how can we really tell when one question ends and another begins? Punctuation helps, it always does. It tells us when to breathe and such instructions are crucial to our survival. So punctuation is survival, then? It has to be, otherwise these sentences would run together off the bottom fo the screen and keep flowing forth and as they do they’ll draw the very life from us because the simple matter will be that we won’t know when to take a breath and normally when we don’t know about something as mechanical as drawing breath is likely to be just before we draw our last.
Breathe. In. Out. One more. And again.
And as before, we type anew and more words form and paragraphs multiply like raindrops in the puddle that is my laptop screen and sometimes when they do we know that they need taming and shaping, putting into place, and we hope that punctuation can help achieve this aim but when a raindrop hits a puddle it doesn’t sit separate and wait for permission, it simply merges, becoming part of the whole. And we all hope when we write that are words fall like raindrops and fill puddles and overflow their edges and then spread further like a tiny rivulet that swells in turns and starts to race just that little bit faster until more water forms and the tiny becomes the larger and then the larger still and the words that are our raindrops reach enough people to soak them with their wisdom and nourishment. But some raindrops don’t reach puddles to form streams and gurgle like torrents, some raindrops die trapped on greedy leaves. And that is not where you want your words to fall, drying in the sun and evaporating without trace.
I want my words to make an ocean.
They always will. They always do. People always let you down. And when they do you won’t be surprised because you’ve been let down before and you will be let down again. And again. And again. Sometimes, it will be an enormous letdown, when someone you love doesn’t love you any more. Or never did. When they reveal that everything you thought was right was actually, totally, spectacularly wrong. So wrong that the word loses all meaning in its enormity, like a planet blocking out the light. And when that happens, and it will, or already has, or will happen again, there is no shelter or shade from the blast of this searing heat, all stripped down bone-bare and beyond.
It might also be the smallest of letdowns, something minor, minuscule even, inconsequential to most, unimportant, in their eyes anymore, but the importance, minor or otherwise, becomes magnified in our minds due to the fact of our disappointment and whilst it might be something as mundane as someone running late, or not calling back when they said they would, or a million other small actualities that result in the facts of our lives being constantly more complicated than we first imagined, it becomes less mundane and much more magnified in our worried minds.
But then the letdowns accumulate. Like trains running late, each letdown has a knock-on effect, altering the timetable of our life and impacting on every rail and at every junction. Not to mention that feeling of not getting to where you want to be, to be delayed, held back, to be caught in someone else’s time, not your own. Someone else’s. Always someone else’s. And the feeling of being on someone else’s time is not a good feeling, always waiting because with waiting comes hoping and with hoping comes disappointment.
Disappointment. The crush of knowing that the thing you thought would happen is also the thing you knew would never happen, but you thought it might anyway; just once, just one time. Disappointment is a weighty reason not to look to other people, a reason that endlessly justifies the decision you made the last time someone let you down – this, this is the time that I will not let someone, anyone, let me down again. Not ever. Not now. Not again. But again is a hard word to avoid and so the next time we make such a declaration, for the same reason, with the same words, their meaning loses some sheen through being said over and over. But not again. These five letters loom large, a monument to the automatic repetition that is my default position.
Am I allowed to want something? Someone? Am I allowed to want so hard that every other thought that fills my head is warped by this want? Not warped in the sense of malice or evil but warped in the sense of bowed somewhat, moved slightly out of alignment. And how does this wanting work? How do I accommodate this wanting? Do I fight the urge, suppressing the feeling by starving it of thought and effort, like a house plant badly tended? Or do I allow the want to be part of my everydayness? Do I greet it in the morning? Let it accompany me as I go about my (currently limited) business? Set a place for it at the table as I settle down for lunch? My want is a constant companion, after all. It whispers in my ear over breakfast and screams in my head after midnight. My want would prefer it if I didn’t sleep. Why would my want want this? Then I would be able to dull its tone, even if only for a while. My want wants to be my pillow, my comforter, the only reason to close my tired eyes and then the same reason to open them up again having tortured for the whole time in between. That is my want. How could I forget? It reminds me all the time. As I type it is as if this want is beside me, guiding my hands, pressing the keys. Perhaps that’s a good excuse? It wasn’t me, it was my want. Wasn’t it? It always been up until now. Hasn’t it? Otherwise, how else can I fuel my fire? How else can I drag myself out of bed each morning and carry on trudging through the day’s relentless mire. More words to write. Another email here. Plans and preparations. The full-time-ness of my career. The part-time-ness of the ways I hope to change course. The pressure I feel from elsewhere. The pressure I feel from inside. The want is boiling now. It is glowing red-hot in the embers of my weary mind. Another tiring night beckons, as faces and dreams and wishes and desires all combine to cause my want to beckon me to where I want to be but can’t. Not tonight. Not other nights. maybe never ever one night. I do have hope but I do feel that hope is just the beginning, just enough to stop you giving up completely. And there have been times, dark times, tough times, painful times, recent times, past times, times to come, when giving up has felt so luxurious, so delightful, so pleasingly wonderful that the temptation is more than that just a plain admittance of defeat; much more, always more, more, just more – something more structured and elegant and planned and prepared but not executed.
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.
I’ve reached that point again where most things, most ordinary things, those ordinary things like work and home and the day to day of our lives, all these things are piling up to pull me down once more. This is not a dramatic cry for help, rather a quieter acknowledgement that the default position I tend to occupy is one of resignation. I am resigned to the fact that today, at this time, as I write, I am at the edge of my tolerance with everything. I’ll carry on, I always do, I always have done, but that doesn’t mean that my carrying on should be seen as accepting defeat, because it isn’t and I am not. It simply means that I still need to live and to work and to go about my daily business, because my daily business is all I have to go about – it is my business after all. There have been times when I have felt determined to carry on, and that that determination has been tiring, wearying, crushing, numbing; a fight in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, obstruction, provocation, or just simple difficulty. There are other times when the need to continue is still the same need but the impulse to continue is less pronounced and more one of gentle effort. But everything is always a fight. Everything. This is especially true when I look out my window to consider the absolute darkness fo the world right now. As I see the awful view of anger and pestilence and ignorance and more anger, the terrible ache of ignorance as it gnaws at people and causes them to rage and fight and kill. When I see grinning, grotesque faces urging harm and hurt on others. Or others clutched by complacency, gripped by indifference and only fuelled by personal desire, making decisions that suit themselves first and others last, if at all. Outside my window, through the glass, out into the world, it is dark and dangerous place to be right now. I am safe right now, that’s true, and I am separate. I am loved by people and feel protected by this. I am wanted by some but, sadly, not by others. These are the basic dimensions of my existence, the current coordinates that locate me in the spaces of my world. And, in defiance of all that I have outlined previously, I won’t be pulled down today.
I simply won’t.
I’m currently full of doubt. Real doubt, the gnawing, nagging kind. The kind of doubt that causes me to not only pause but often hang, like an overworked CPU, trying to find the right code to keep working but struggling with the enormity of the processing required to achieve this. Riffing on the word itself allows me to skirt around the real issue. I could say I doubt there is much to really worry about. With everything I have I should be pleased to not live a life of doubt. I could also say that I doubt that anybody would take my doubt that seriously. What have you got to worry about? Why are you worrying about this anyway? Surely you have better things to do? I suppose I do have better things to do but that could be said about anyone and anything. At any time. We all have much better things to do than doubt ourselves but we could also say that doubting ourselves is one of the things we have to do, better or otherwise. I suppose I mean that there’s an inevitability in doubt. It will happen. It has happened before. It will happen again. It will keep happening. It will always happen. I could say I doubt it but that would just be stretching things far too far.
So how am I going to be more sure?
- I’m going to be really ok with doubt.
- I’m going to work my way through my doubt by writing about it.
- I’m going to let doubt be the real part of my life that it is.
- I am going to doubt more (as if I had a choice?)
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.