Coming inside

I spent much of yesterday tinkering with my iTunes library. It’s surprising the pleasure this entails. The hours go by and you look up and realise you’ve missed dinner, but there’s a sense of achievement knowing that you’re this much closer to realising the impossible dream of organising your iTunes library and playlists just how you want them to be. It’s a very modern thing.

I’ve always thought that life must be pretty cruisy when your focus is your iTunes library. It’s an indulgent and idle pleasure. I’ve spent hours at it, days, over the years, but it’s true, hardly any time in the last few years. If ever I’ve begun to fiddle with it I’ve felt a kind of guilt, as if it was an unnecessarily frivolous activity when things were so tight and tough. In any case, when things are tight and tough it doesn’t occur to you, and if it does, there is little interest in it.

It’s a sign then that I feel much more comfortable and confident. There should be a graph somewhere that measures iTunes engagement, the higher the reading the more positive a society is.

I’m not out of the woods yet, but there is good reason to believe I will emerge sometime in the next 6 months, touch wood. There remain challenges ahead – I’m in court next week, and I hung up on a creditor the other day. Still, these are part of the new normal. I can deal with these things. I am burgeoning.

To play with my iTunes is suggestive of a return to real normality. There are other signs I’m keenly anticipating.

I don’t know how to explain this. Not surprisingly the difficulties of the last few years have led to a shift in outlook and behaviour, and even thought. Demands are placed on you that force you to respond – to act in some way often, but also to scramble to stay in the contest: to survive. At times it is all-consuming, and your iTunes library is the very last thing on your mind. So too are other things, and I wonder if prolonged struggle re-architects the mind to deal with it.

There are things I miss greatly, and while some of them are material and practical, some are in the realms of ideas. It’s not that I think any less than before, but I think – by necessity – of other things. There is less purely ‘indulgent’ thought.

I can remember being in a comfortable state in my life where I had enough and more to pay the rent and eat well and socialise regularly; a time when I would carelessly buy books and magazines and plan a yearly trip to some new place abroad. It was easy and unconsidered and there was no real inkling it would end, just the contrary, and my mind had the leisure to consider things beyond my immediate concerns. I liked thinking and postulating and wondering aloud at the things I saw and read and imagined. Once upon a time this blog was full of such ruminations, because I had the luxury to do so.

Then things changed and my immediate thoughts were taken up with thoughts of survival, mingled with grief in a troubling time. It’s been a long time and there have been a lot of bumps along the way and rarely have I been able to indulge myself as I did before. I never really stopped thinking, but it was constrained, and though my mind was as lively and curious as ever, it’s energy was focused elsewhere. I have written bits and pieces here and there, and occasionally stopped to imagine, but it has been sporadic – nor did I own it anymore.

I read a comment the other day by Maxim Gorky writing to some privileged contact about art and culture. Gorky had come from humble beginnings and having found some success writing was consumed by culture. To him it was special, not the least because it was something newly found. To him culture was deeply intimate, whereas to his privileged correspondent it was habit, something he was born to, and as unconsciously “necessary as trousers”.

To put it in context, I feel as if I had that privilege stripped of me. I was the man in trousers. It was unconscious habit for me. I was in long pants for many years without thinking about it, then one day realised they were gone. I am like Gorky now, coming back to it.

This is a description, but it’s difficult to explain how it feels. It feels very different, and I was – and still am – very conscious of it. I think I was probably spoiled. It was a natural and unconsidered part of my life, creative thought mixed in with speculation and the rough and tumble of just living. It was all of a piece. It was how I lived. It was who I was. Then I felt outside of it. These were conversations for dinner parties I wasn’t invited to. I’d follow still on TV and online, but felt separated from it. How could I wonder about these things when the rent was unpaid, or I had to eat porridge for dinner because I had no other food, or when I was sick and could do nothing about it – or when I didn’t know where I would sleep next?

In a way I felt as if I had lost the right to such thoughts because I wasn’t that man anymore. I had been comfortably at my ease previously, confident and maybe even smug, and culture and thought were the intellectual expressions of that. Then I was bereft, full of doubt and with prospects uncertain. Such considerations were a rich mans folly (incidentally, an outlook which explains many of the fissures in society today). I still believed in it, but I wasn’t of it.

This is one of the things I understand now having experienced what I have: you feel an outcast from your own life. It becomes routine, and then you feel an outcast from the world you knew, and part of a smaller, bleaker, less certain world where it’s all about survival.

I’ll know I’m back when I begin to truly think as I did before and I can feel a part of the wider community, and not on the outside looking in. My mind will be re-architected again by natural process, my thought patterns return and my curiosity turned to things around me once more. It will be as simple and natural as pulling on a pair of trousers.

Playing with my iTunes library is a petty thing, but it is suggestive of changing times. Soon I expect I’ll be on the inside again looking out, and not on the outside looking in.

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