The religion is me

It was about 9.15 last night when I walked in the door. I’d driven away from the shop just on 6 and visited a friend. A bottle of plonk (each) later I left searching for a feed. With take-away in hand I arrived back at my temporary ‘home’. I was tired and weary. I made some cursory small talk and was relieved to find everyone was up for an early night. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I finally settled down to watch the latest episode of Mad Men all by myself.

It wasn’t the most dramatic of episodes, but in one unexpected moment I had a flash of insight. Laying there in the dark watching Don, literally cap in hand, I realised why this show resonates so strongly for me, and why I identify so strongly with Don.

I’ve written many times about Mad Men. It’s a subject I keep returning to because it has me hooked through the middle. I’ve explored so much of it in different ways over the years, analysed the show and my response to it a hundred different ways in that time. It seems pedestrian, a non-event, to do it once more. Still…

I’m drawn to Don for his frailty. I can identify with so much else in his character, the impatient bluster, the masculine drive, the raw competitiveness, even the arrogance. What makes all that interesting is his back-story of course, and the vulnerabilities it reveals – well hidden generally, but occasionally exposed.

It’s the very real wound in him, and that male desire to overcome and obscure it which draws me in. Perhaps we’re all like that. I know I am, and last night I understood it.

Fresh in me still was a candid conversation I’d had earlier in the night with the woman who had been mum’s best friend. I told her some things I had not previously shared. She made comment, urging me, among other things, to go easier on myself, and to find someone to partner with. She suggested I was too fussy, that I wanted too much, that I took on more than I should. The conversation ranged across the topic far and wide. For much of it I was silent, listening. I took from it that perhaps I need to relax my expectations, of myself and others; and that life had moved on with me trailing after it. The challenge, it seemed, was to accept mediocrity.

Put so starkly it sounds offensive. That’s not how I took it. I’m resistant to the idea with every fibre of my being, but last night I was open-minded enough to appreciate there might be some sense to it. I refuse to accept I’ve missed the bus. It’s just not in my character to concede that I might have lost. I’m made so that I’ll scheme and scrap and connive a way to catch up with the bus, with no consideration of anything else. The point she seemed to be making is why not accept that the bus has gone? Why not try to be happy with what you have, and what you can make of it? Is that not better than being unhappy trying to have what you (maybe) cannot? Why not, ultimately, settle for the ease of the mediocre middle way?

She may have a valid point, yet I know that’s not my destiny. I may end up being mediocre, but it will only be because I’ve been defeated in trying to be more than that.

I think every life has its own arc. We have our own narrative we play to. That’s what draws us to programs like Mad Men, and characters like Don. His is a fascinating arc; his personal narrative compelling. Though much mystery remains in large part we know what he is, and what he isn’t. Character is destiny they say, and it’s so true.

There I was then watching Don as he searched for a way back. In exile he had been lost and floundering. He needed to find his way back to what he knew, what he was good at, the thing that defined him with purpose. And so he was back in the shop, hat in hand, humbled, whispered at, disregarded, but willing to endure so much that was foreign to him to get back to where he belonged.

I felt the parallel with my life like a razor on my skin. It felt meant to be, the conversation earlier, followed by this. I feel some of that humiliation, though I put it to one side. I am lost, though I struggle forward as if purposefully. Like him I need that thing returned to me that makes me who I am. I’m willing to endure the loss of face if it means I can make it through to the other side.

For some of us we are our own religion. It complicates things, occasionally it tortures us, but it’s also the thing that makes us keep going. The arc must be obeyed, the narrative seen through to its end. We have to be true to that religion, or else we become nothing.

An apt metaphor, for it’s so easy to become a martyr to it. It’s the risk I run, as pointed out by my mother’s friend. There’s no real choice though. Don can only be Don, no matter how much he cleans up his act. Likewise, I can’t be anyone else but H.


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