It rained yesterday afternoon, and the sky was dim and dark long before night fell. The evening was standard for me. I had some dinner and flicked through the TV stations before settling down to watch a couple of episodes of Mare of Easttown.
It was only just on 10 when I finished watching, and I thought I’d go to bed and spend an extra hour reading. I was due for a new book, and there was nothing in my bookbag, so I went into my study to survey my bookcase. I had it in mind to return to an old favourite for a change.
I looked through the shelves, assessing options. You want a book to suit your mood. Sometimes that’s serious fiction; sometimes it’s something more escapist. I plucked one book from the shelves and considered it a moment before recalling I’d recently caught a glimpse of the (poor) movie made of it in the seventies. I put it back, leaving until the memory faded.
The books on these shelves are my very favourite books. To look at it is to be reminded of times past when you first discovered them – even to recall the occasion when you bought them. You remember the many times you would spend hours in the cloistered environs of a good bookshop, gathering books to buy. There are stories about the stories.
Abruptly, I felt a sense of fury. Standing before all that richness, they appeared to me so many lost moments and promise unfulfilled.
I would read, back then, as if I was an explorer searching for and discovering new wisdom – new to me. I felt enriched by the experience, as if with every book I read, something was being added to me. It seemed a noble thing and, naively it seems, I thought it must mean something. Would it make me a better man? Perhaps not, but it should make me a more rounded one – or so I thought.
All those fantastic hours engaged with a book felt lost to me. They were gone, of the past, and no longer relevant, as was the ethos that led me on. I read more than ever now, but without that glow of enlightenment. And what came of it? Nothing, it seems, not even anyone I can share it with or hand it down to, as I inherited my grandfather’s books.
I went to bed and read a book I found under the bedside table. Throughout, I had this lingering sense of discord. Not dissimilar to the other night, I wondered what the point of living was? You consume to live, whether it be food and beverages, fancy furniture or car, and programs like Mare of Easttown – but where was the higher purpose? Does such exist, or is it just a fantasy?
The funny thing is that as all this goes through my mind, there’s a motif that recurs to me repeatedly. It’s the sense of disconnect I feel between the public and private me. I see myself with others, and I’m always in control, not just of myself, but often the discourse generally. I’m smooth and easy, as if from habit, a strong, resilient, seemingly confident character, turning the conversation whichever way. It’s the person people have come to know and expect of me, and perhaps even admire, but so often these days, it comes to me as something strange.
That control comes easy to me. I don’t need to think about it. I know the tropes and the behaviours are instinctive. It’s not false, but nor is it absolutely true. Why I wondered, does it return to me so gratingly all the time? Is it that I want to relinquish control? But then, I knew, I would try to take it back. Was it exhausting being that way? No, not really. So what? And I thought, it’s because underneath all that there’s a vulnerable human being, but no matter how I ache to do so, I can’t seem to express it.
I’m at a disconnect with myself, and I realised as I lay there I’d become bored with myself – and wouldn’t I be? Nothing is happening.
I don’t believe there’s a meaning to life. If you’re happy to live a safe and happy life, then good for you. It’s not my thing though, never has been. As always, in these moments, I find myself drawn to the edge. It’s what I miss, and the absence of it has been exacerbated by Covid because there’s been nothing to fill the void.
What I need is to live more rawly. I would do that before when I travelled the world, which was a necessary antidote to domestic life. That sense of discovery, and the unpredictability of it, was like a tonic to me. Of course, none of that is possible presently.
And women. There’s a lot to unpack there, but in former times, when I read books for what I could learn from them, women were so much a part of my life. Not one. Sure, I miss the flirtation and all that, as I’ve said before, and the spontaneous and unlikely encounters. Right now, what I miss now is peering into another’s eyes and seeing possibility there. That, and more primitive, life-affirming moments – the teasing sense of anticipation, the first kiss, the amorous fumblings and the snap of elastic on a pair of panties, the moment that you know that yes, I’m here, this is happening, isn’t this good and soon following the absolute surrender to the moment.
Options are limited, but I need the things I do to have some value – to feel as if they’re a part of the journey. Because of Covid, or perhaps not, it feels as if that journey has paused, or I’ve been waylaid. I need to get back to simple experience – not life as observed on a TV screen, but life felt and experienced in the raw. Without it, I feel as if I’m experiencing a kind of emotional scurvy.