Notes From the Wasteland No. 16 ‘Can punctuation really save our lives?’

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.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 15 ‘How to Want Something’

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.

Not ever.

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. 13 ‘I have just about had enough’

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.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 12 ‘I’m never sure anymore’

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?

  1. I’m going to be really ok with doubt.
  2. I’m going to work my way through my doubt by writing about it.
  3. I’m going to let doubt be the real part of my life that it is.
  4. I am going to doubt more (as if I had a choice?)

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.