Forty-eight years old and you are no one. In a world made of money, your only value is to work, consume and die without troubling anyone too much.
Sometimes you feel as though you are entirely separate from the world and cannot touch it. Sometimes you feel as though if you were gone, scarcely anyone would notice. They would just say, oh him
, and go back to wondering what to have for tea. Sometimes you feel as though you do not consist in anything.
Sometimes you feel as though you swam out from shore on a sunny spring day and never were able to return. Sometimes you feel as though there will never be a way to put your feet back down on solid ground.
No one is coming to rescue you.
I fall in love between the end of the first date and arriving home. I fall in love because I need it not because I have anything to give you. Sometimes I feel as though I have only ever loved one woman. Sometimes I feel as though I doubt even that. When you make a story and try with everything you have to make it feel as though it is real, you have to rely on your imagination.
And I am not an imaginative man. If I was, I would write about worlds that do not exist and not the one that does.
Sometimes I feel as though I have loved many women. Sometimes I feel as though I have tried. Sometimes I feel as though that should count for something.
But I never gave anything. How could I? I have nothing to give.
Sometimes I feel as though all I want is forgiveness.
Sometimes I feel as though I have loved you for 20 years and sometimes I think I dreamed it up just to never have to love anyone at all.
No one is coming to rescue me. I'm going to have to find a way to drown.
It is like there is no way to mesh these gears. Sometimes it feels as though I want to be worth something. Sometimes it feels as though I want to give.
You can fool yourself for a short while but you know that you only want to take. You do not know how to be anything other than ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas, wishing you were not alone in the dark.
Sometimes I wake in the dawn and for a moment I do not understand the noise of the birds. Then I realise, they are no different from us. They feel free but they will also die. They are also restless.
They are not unknowable. They are not mysterious. They have a beginning and an end. They do not care about their limits.
The perfect kiss
Sometimes I think about kissing you. I mean, having kissed you; I don't think I ever will again.
I say think but I mean remember. But it is such an exquisite memory it is almost as though I must have created it by force of will. It is not just a kiss but how a kiss should be
. It is the yardstick for all kisses I have had since. I am fond of kissing but only for so long: you I could kiss all night and never tire of it.
And I think, that is how it is to me. How it is to you I have no idea. Maybe you've had better. I have no illusions. I'm good at it in the same halfarsed way I'm good at most things I try. I see the rules; I follow the rules. A rule is that it is for you not just for me but I don't know how you even judge things like that.
I often wonder about how things are. We know as best as we can know anything how things are to us. And it's limited by how we are able to know. But I often wonder how it is for the person I am with. Sometimes they tell you but words are poor shadows of what it is.
Is there such a thing as the perfect kiss? It can only be perfect for me or perfect for you, right? I used to laugh with B at how bad people kiss. They do the Hungry Dog or the Cat at the Cream, or their mouth becomes a churning washing machine of tongue and spit. I didn't like how she kissed but I never told her. There was no way to.
She told me many things she did not like about me.
When I think about what's real, I think about three spheres of reality. Not that there are three spheres, or any spheres, or fewer than any number. It's just how I think about it so that I can think about it at all.
There is what there is. The world and the things in it. It appears to be certain ways to us but we have learned that it's not those ways at all. Reality is distant from the picture of it our brains are able to create. I don't mean brains create reality in a substantial way. I think the real is real. But a brain can only represent things to itself in certain ways, whether through the pure action of the senses or through reason and number.
So it is impossible to talk about what is real because we have no machinery even to engage with it, let alone describe it to each other. We only know some of the ways it manifests. I do not believe you can become enlightened and "see" it or comprehend it at all. I think you become enlightened when you are clear in your mind that you cannot and you are able to accept that with equanimity.
Then there is what people do. It is all stimulus and response but the ways we respond are complex because the rules for our interactions are complex. We imbibe them as we grow. Our actions are shaped in myriad small ways, tiny adjustments conditioned by what we see, what is done to us and by us, and how those things make chemicals wash through our brains.
Have you ever realised you are an automaton? Have you ever stopped and thought, I do not know why I am doing what I am doing; I just seem to be doing it? Have you ever wondered whether you could even choose to do it? Have you ever felt you were the helpless jockey of a runaway horse?
Sometimes I wonder why there is such a gap between what I think and what I feel. I know I do not exist. I know I am an automaton. I know that if I look "inside" there's no there there. There is just a brain representing the world -- and itself -- to itself. And surely that means that ultimately, with no free will there can be no responsibility.
Yet I prize responsibility. I prize the willingness to say that you will take care of what you should take care of and then you do it. Maybe I hold it a virtue because I am responsible.
I do not mean I am trustworthy. No one impulsive really can be. All you can do is try not to promise too much. But keeping promises is not the core of responsibility as I see it. Accepting what you should do for the sake of equity is closer to it. And it is like everything limited by how able you are. I think a strong lesson I have learned in life is to be forgiving of those who are as responsible as they are able to be. But I still don't care for those who fall short of their abilities.
It is irresponsible to care only about yourself. That is why I care how my kisses are to you. That is why I care what people think. Because whether you are doing good or ill is not something you can always judge for yourself.
Perhaps people who do just please themselves are wiser than I am. Or perhaps they do not exist but are merely people who are good at looking as though they don't care but care just as much without its being apparent. Perhaps I appear that way to you. It is among the things I least like about myself that this is possible.
The third sphere is ourselves. Reality begins and ends within your head. Nothing is realler than yourself, we all feel that.
Sometimes I feel like I am something small that lives within myself. I feel that small thing looking out through my eyes, and it has no part of the accretions that you, looking at me, might call me. It does not have beliefs. It does not have understanding of the world around it. It simply looks out with terror that it cannot name.
I believe it is my restless heart. I believe it expands and contracts with love. I believe it is the thing that if it could speak would have been saying, This is a kiss, when we kissed.
It is hurt because it is trapped within a web of interactions in my brain, the thoughts, feelings and ideas that spin around pretending to be a human being.
It is not real. I know it is just some patch of cells, if it is even that, some group of neurons that responds to this or that chemical and represents the outcome as a signal that passes through different parts of my brain and evokes the feeling of a quivering hind.
I think of the brain as a community, rather than a group of functions. Members of that community try to influence other members by using chemicals. I say, try to influence but there is no agency. The cells do it quite mindlessly. Feelings are simply irruptions in the community.
But patches of cells are real enough, aren't they? And chemicals that evoke feelings are real too. But these things are real in the first sphere -- they are parts of the material world. And they might provoke things that appear real in the second sphere -- they might motivate behaviour that you cannot understand because none of it is really anything you can control. Because you are an illusion of being that controls nothing and you cannot know it because in the third sphere, by some magic of chance, you have convinced yourself that the million splinters of acculturation and memory, stimulus and response are actually a coherent entity. It is almost as though we hear the noise of the sea and think it is the sea.
Still, I liked it. I felt like I no longer existed, that I could disappear and be content. I liked it as much as I've ever liked anything. I liked that it was you. I could close my eyes and think of nothing but kissing you, and you would be an inchoate goodness, no longer a person of parts, no longer the memories I had of you, no longer anything but the kiss that you bestowed on me.
I do not know how it was created, what magic of chemistry built the sensation, but I liked it. For a moment, the small, easily bruised, timid fawn within me flourished, grew to encompass my whole world and felt that it had touched what it knew could be but had feared would never be.
What difference does it make that I am or I am not if I feel that I am? Isn't it just the same as looking at rocks, trees and sea? They may be things we create out of a reality too difficult to represent as it is but they are what they are to us. They make no sense in any other way. Even if we spend some small time thinking about what they really
are, we soon tire of the impracticality. We were born to manipulate the world -- literally and symbolically -- and concepts that we can do nothing with we don't waste too much energy on.
Bees dance and we think they do not know what they are doing. They dance in patterns that give directions to food. They convey information without knowing that they are doing it or knowing what they're seeing when they receive it. Or so we believe.
But I wonder. Perhaps a bee, a social being, is delighted to share its knowledge of where food is with its fellows. Perhaps it feels real joy when it dances. Perhaps it too has a small inner bee that swells when it is delighted by what it is doing.
I know I am an automaton but even automata like to be kissed.
I know you are lonely
Sometimes I cannot live another day. I get up, drink coffee and get on with it. I tell myself, At least put on a brave face. But this doesn't take courage. It takes fear.
When I was a child, I thought I was from some distant planet and my people had left me here to moulder among a species I could never understand. Now I know. I know you feel this way too, when you strip away what you think makes you. I know you are a howling void just like me and if you stop for a moment being who you are, you too will implode and become no one.
I know you believe stories that you cannot question because the alternative is a solitude deeper than you can bear. I believe them too.
Asking how I got here drives me crazy. Asking what road I took implies there was another. There was no other. One day I was not here and the next I was and there was no choice because there is no choice in anything.
Reach out to me, sometimes I say. Reach out to me and share my skin. No one has. Why would anyone want to reside in here? I know I don't. It's the only thing I know for sure.
My new year's resolution is to do nothing, be nothing, to cease to exist. This being isn't working but I cannot have a new one.
How many times have I imagined that I would one day grow? As though there were a template, a thing I could
grow into. But there are only accretions, wrapped too tight around a void I am perpetually terrified to confront.
Sometimes when I sit down to write something, I don't know what I will say but I know I will tell the truth. I know it because I don't care who disapproves. No one can think less of me than me.
I do not even think I am here. I know you are lonely but are you afraid?
Sometimes I say, cmon baby, I did not do the things you think I did. And I'm not even sure that's true because if you think it, what else can I have done?
Sometimes I say, love me. And I know all I mean is wrap me up tightly, make me be real, touch me so that I know not everything outside me will hurt me.
All I mean is I want to fool you into making an empty shell mean something, just like we did as children when we held them up to our ears and thought we could hear the sea. The sea never spoke. It turned and moved on. It never said a word and never will until the day it says, Enough.
On the ball
Catherine Bennett contrasts Roman Polanski and Ched Evans
Well Polanski should be shunned like the dog he is, but is Ms Bennett
seriously surprised at the different treatment of a bourgeois film
director and a working-class footballer?
Footballers are in any
case seen by most as Peter Pans, boys who never grow out of the
playground, and need to be disciplined by stern masters so that they can
achieve what they are capable of because they do not really have agency
of their own. They are paid millions to be boy wonders and we believe that
along with their performance on the pitch, and the training they do to
be ready for that, we have also bought from them adherence to an
unwritten code of conduct that infantilises them (within the terms of
our culture). They may not drink, they may not smoke, they may not
swear, they must be smart and presentable. If they are not, we will only
grudgingly cheer them, and if we are not cheering, there is no ambience
for the matches on TV. And that won't do.
Life of excuses
I don't care who's hurt me. I only care who I've hurt. I used to feel bitterness about people who had hurt me but then I learned they were just like me: working within the bounds of who they are.
But me, I feel like I should be broader. All the time I feel that. All week I have been the same neglectful, terrible father I have always been. And even though I say to myself, like a prayer, do not make it worse, work harder, do not break them more, I spin around in my own circle of pain and break them more all the time and can't do differently.
Sometimes I think about the choice I made to be here and wonder whether it really was better for them that I choose that. I won't lie to you and pretend that all I cared about was them and how they would be. I stayed because I could not bear to leave.
It was terrible when I said to B that I couldn't deal with her because I was feeling sad about Mum and she said well maybe you should have phoned her more. It was such a godawful thing to say and I wouldn't have been hurt if it hadn't been true.
When I think about B all I think is that I wish I had given her more. And when I think about Mrs Zen I think the same. I feel -- I know, I should allow myself the luxury of knowing it -- I am capable of being big enough to have made her happy. But if that's true -- and I will not allow myself to wallow in thinking it isn't -- isn't it like everything in my life? Like I have had an extended adolescence and I am still waiting to pupate, to become me
I only feel low when I start thinking that is just a lie I have told myself. That I am not just flawed -- not just weak -- not just lazy -- not just stubborn -- but that I really am nothing much at all.
This week that is where I have been. Believing I am worth nothing at all. That anyone who thinks I am worth while, I have lied to or they are lying to themselves.
I do not want to believe that.
I was watching The Family Man the other night. It left me deeply saddened. And I was thinking, if I was with Tea Leoni, cute as a button, caring, gentle, would I be content?
Well of course I could but why do I want to blame women for not loving me when I am not loving them. I am just giving them a pale, unnourishing gruel. I could be Tea Leoni myself, couldn't I?
Mrs Zen used to think I did not love her enough because I got with her on the rebound from E and that I still loved E. Which wasn't true. I am capable of loving more than one woman and I can carry a torch like it's the Olympics in my loungeroom without that spilling over into other parts of my life. Mrs Zen wanted for herself what she believed I felt for E and felt shortchanged that I didn't.
But I did not love her enough regardless
. And I don't know whether I would have loved E more or less if we had stayed together. By which I mean, love feels like something to give and something to receive, and those two feelings are not always the same. I suppose what appeals about The Family Man is its simple belief that they are.
We can only do what we are capable of.
But what are you capable of?
It is Christmas Eve and I am on my own. I am not out drinking; I have no one to drink with. I am not at a dinner party; I have no one to eat with. I am not with friends; I have no friends.
You think, when you are not lonely, that loneliness is something a person chooses. But that is solitude, the thing you choose, and rarely does anyone choose it, given that we are social animals.
Make friends. It is the obvious prescription. But how do you make them? They are not stories you tell. They are collaborative works and you must find people who want to collaborate with you.
Isn't it true, if you want friendship to be more than the merest acquaintance, that they must be something like you?
But who is like me? Who here is like me? Who here who is like me could ever find me and I find them?
I have always felt -- and I don't know but I think this is not the same for others -- that I am here
and the world is there
. That I exist within a prescribed space and the outside world only now and then reaches in. And I have always feared a little what is there
But all things in life are bearable if you think they will, or even can, get better. It's only when you don't think so that life has stopped entirely to be good.
My love will abide
I never knew until I had you that love is inexhaustible, a renewable energy that expands to fill the spaces in you if you let it. I never knew until I had you how filled I could be, from time to time, how light my heart could be, from time to time, how the small spark of love in me could be fanned into flames with just the lightest breeze.
It is late evening, warm and close. Zenita is asleep on the bed I built today. She tried it out and said it was so comfortable she had to sleep on it tonight.
Little pools of sweat gather on her face. Her Lions pajamas are too hot for this weather and she does not have summer nightwear yet.
Her lip trembles in her sleep. Some small trouble in her dream. I wish only to take away the smallest of trouble and give her a life without care. At least, to not become a source of it.
I am terrible at this. The daily chore of parenthood is something I am unfit for. But I do try. Sometimes I wonder whether it will count with her when we are older. Zenella already seems not to love anybody but herself but she is a teen and impenetrable. I feel guilty that I am wishing Zenita will not leave behind her sweetness. I do not love Zenella any less for it.
How could I? I have loved her for every moment of her life. I have loved her passionately, overwhelmingly, more than I have loved anyone else, more than I could
love anyone else. Whatever she is, I have helped to make her. Whatever is broken, I helped to break.
I wonder whether I can say I have done my best. I do not think I can, if only because I do not know what my best could be and I know I so often fail to reach it in every other thing I do. But I do not think she can feel I do not love her.
I forgive everyone else in my life who tries. I have love for everyone who falls short because we are only what we are. It is only me who I cannot find forgiveness for. It is only me I cannot love at all.
I have known hatred. I have known bitterness. None of it made me feel the smallest bit of comfort. And those I hated, those who inspired bitterness, I feel I can still wish them well. It is only me I cast into a void, to spin wordlessly in an emptiness that nothing fills but my love, my abiding love, for the beautiful people I have helped to make.