Expanding and contracting

One of the many things that confound me today is the apparent need for so many to say anything just to be saying something. What I’m referring to is the trivial, pointless and occasionally childish intercourse between people who might in another circumstance know better. It’s most prolific on the internet, and particularly in internet forums, where contributors dash off a line or two between thinking and encourage others in so doing. It’s a strange, mental regression which I have little patience with. Words are precious, why waste them? Who hasn’t had to wade through pages of nonsense that might have seemed clever at the time, but in retrospect is nothing more than inane? The jewels, the hard information and genuine wit are sparse and deeply buried.

I am pre-disposed to such an opinion. By disposition, I’m more laconic than most and have become more so as the years pass by. I haven’t always been completely so, and understand the tendency to be garrulous sometimes. When you’re younger, when you’re exposed to the full scope of life for the first time, it bubbles over in you and demands urgent expression. I get that, and there is something endearing about it, but my experience is that it pales over time, and in my case at least, leads one to more sardonic ways.

In saying this I run the risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly old man, which I can’t rule out. I grew up being told that if you don’t have anything worth saying then don’t say anything. I haven’t always abided by that, but on the occasions I haven’t I generally regretted it not long after. I always knew when I was being stupid, and it caused no end of disappointment. These days if I err, it’s on the side of silence – except when I get grumpy, when I can be very profuse and eloquent, and occasionally profane (and which is enjoyable).

I’m aware also that in crucial ways I am different from most people. I’ve never sought the kind of acknowledgement that some conversation invites. I have no need of validation, and if someone agrees or disagrees is, in general, a matter of indifference. Of course it’s a different story with people close to me, but to the world, in general, it’s very true.

What it boils down to is that I have no need to say anything unless to request something, share something meaningful, express an opinion I think worthwhile – or to be courteous. Perhaps I can add to that the need often simply to get something external from the internal, but little of that is nonsense. You might argue, but most of this blog falls into that category.

This becomes relevant not just as a general observation, which is what prompted this post, but also in my recent decision to be ‘more charming’.

That decision was based on the notion of taking things down a notch or two, but after writing it last week I had to stop to think what it actually meant, and then my personal history with it.

Firstly, my personal definition of being charming equated to not much more than being more expansive. I can be clipped, and am known to be direct. There are occasions when I change that up, but that’s generally limited to my friends, or when I’ve found someone to flirt with. As much as anything I found I had no interest in being charming anymore. Whose opinion was so important that it mattered? Too few.

Yet I have made a decision to let things go and chill more and to indulge in whimsy and charm. For me, that’s no more than being expansive – speaking aloud the things that I might otherwise simply think.

There was an example the other day when I was telling a colleague in a different department how I was the sole remaining member of the group I had been part of. I told her that I was like the last of the Beatles, likening myself to Ringo Starr, though much preferring to be John because he was much cooler, but not an option now that he has so long departed. It came out naturally and she looked at me and laughed.

There was a time when I was like that all the time, and a thousand times over. It was when I was younger and discovering the myriad delights of being a young, intelligent, curious, healthy and virile male. How good was this? I could go on all day, riffing – quite eloquently, I think – about anything that came to mind. I had recently discovered the beauty of words and my mouth was full of them, and I used them well. It got so that people around me would smile and laugh, and lead some to suggest I should be on the radio, or even have my own TV show.

Looking back now it seems a novelty that wore off by the time I was 30. I still had the words, but the wonder faded, life happened, and I became less inclined to share – to be expansive. With that the open personality I was slowly closed, though never completely. Though I was wary of showing it, I was a sensitive soul who believed in vulnerability – it’s where life flourishes. I grew harder though too, more measured and less spontaneous. Occasionally I would indulge in those larks showing off how clever I was, but less frequently, and when I did it was entirely for my own benefit. It was rare I sought to impress anyone unless I was attracted to her. (And for balance, my personality was sufficiently bright to be compared to George Clooney just a few years ago).

That’s how it has become, compacted, I imagine, by years of struggle and strain. I’m tough as old leather and I think give something of that out. I’m respected and maybe even admired, but not understood (there are people I work with who think me a lovely, kind person, it must be said). I banter, sometimes I tease, but end of day I’m a set of eyes that miss little and say little besides something to the point or some throwaway wit.

I think it will be good for me to be more expansive. It’s probably what I need. It brings colour back into my self – but I’m never going to say something just to be heard. If I have so many words in my life then they must have value, and if not value, then wit. That’ll do me.


A loosening

I dreamt last night that I was offered a redundancy, which I happily accepted. I woke early and contemplated that and other things before wide awake getting out of bed early. I was out the door a little after 7. It was still dark outside, though by the time I had made my short walk to the station there was a glow in the air from an imminent sun. It was quiet, solemn. The car park with the bus station behind the shopping was all lit up by yellow tinted lights against the dark sky, but besides a solitary bus no-one was about. In the air was the aroma of something spicy and sweet being cooked at the bakery.

At that time of morning there’s not quite the crowd at the station. When the train came I quietly found my seat and, as before, listened to my book. The stations go by. The train fills. I’m contained within my headphones though. It’s a very interior world. That time of day encourages a sort of introspection – it’s a rare person who has the energy to be garrulous before 8am. And though the train becomes crowded most others are like me, and there is little conversation.

I listened to the narrative. I looked out the window. Coming into Middle Brighton I witnessed a fiery sunrise spread across the horizon to the east (the right side of the train – I realise now I always sit on the right), reminding me that every day is unique.

I’ve got an existential restlessness. That’s not news for me. It’s not bad either. I always reckon you’ve got to be wide awake to your life otherwise it slips by without you noticing. Everyone’s different, but for me I want to do things. I’m not content to be comfortable, or even secure, which may be a surprise given my recent experiences, but somehow those experiences rather than making me more fearful have instead released me from conventional expectation.

I contemplated this morning letting the rake in me loose. It was a very considered, un-rakish thought process. One might even call it rational, which is my abiding temper. I’m always the most responsible and reliable, generally the smartest, or near enough, and close to the most driven and determined. There dwells inside me another side that has long been repressed, by circumstances I guess, though there has been a deliberate inclination to set it to one side.

I wondered if it were now not time to let the rake in me to return to the surface. There is much joy in that persona, and for so many reasons, and it might serve me well in my relationships – I feel as if I’ve been tethered for so long. It frees the mind in other ways too. It might be a bad thing to be a little less responsible, a bit more unpredictable. It might serve as a kind of mental detox and free me from the spurious obligations of duty. In so doing it may give me, and my life, a little kick-along.

I don’t know. As I said I considered it in purely rational terms and, even so, don’t know if I could just turn it on like that. It is tempting though. I know I need to freshen up. I have become disappointed and disapproving, and none of that does me any good.

A fling, a mental loosening, might be just the thing.

Tender desires

One minute you feel a bit of swagger, there’s a pretty girl on the train and you try and catch her eye. You feel the familiar things and you wonder at it just a little. After all you’ve been through the swagger is still there, still natural, never far away, and yes, okay, there’s something a little lame about it, but, what the heck, you feel a nostalgic affection for it too. The boy you were lives still.

The next minute you feel tender. You’re walking away from the train and ahead of you is a little girl of no more than 7 or 8 in her cute little school uniform. The crowd is thick rushing from one platform to another and she glances around searching for her father. He is beside me, tall and bearded and in fashionably casual clothes, like a creative consultant of some description.

They get on the same train as you and something about the picture affects you. You wish them happiness and joy. You wish the little girl a long life of happy moments. It feels so true and lovely, as if you have caught glimpse of something you normally overlook.

That is me. Different desires, low and high, both true. Swaggering and tender both, and maybe a few other things besides.

Telling, not kissing

I had a mini breakthrough yesterday when I actually told someone parts of my recently chequered past. It was over coffee at lunchtime. I met with a woman I’ve been seeing now and again, but with nothing serious in prospect. She had just returned from a few weeks holiday in Japan, and had very generously presented me with a selection of Suntory whiskies as a gift. The conversation transitioned from her travels to what has been happing in her absence, from plans for the future and hopeful expectations before somehow segueing into even deeper topics.

I’m uncomfortable speaking about what has happened to me. I’m not ashamed, but find it an embarrassing subject, particularly when I am forced to explain it. I’m a private person regardless and, as she observed, quite proud. I think I confessed trying to explain my reticence when it comes to things romantic. I want to, very much, but because of my recent past and the constraints of my present situation, my options are far fewer than in days before this when I had not a concern in the world.

I didn’t explain things to that degree, but said I was not quite right to commit – then, feeling I had to explain that a little told her that there was a lot more I was dealing with than I had told her. Of course, once you say something like that you can’t really leave it there, which is when I reluctantly confessed that I had spent 15 months homeless, hinting at all the complicating factors falling out of that, many of which are still ongoing (and which I don’t really bother about recording here).

She seemed unsurprised. I had probably foreshadowed something, and had admitted to smaller things along the way. Right from the start I had said that I had a complicated life and I was not a good catch – I need to be honest to that extent. She nodded her head. She asked some questions. I imagine it must have been hard for you to ask for help, she said. I said it was, but that in the end you have no other choice if you mean to survive. No-one knows the full story I told her, not even my closest friends.

She accepted it. She seemed undeterred. She may even have been impressed that I had survived and come through it. I reiterated to her that there was a long way to go, but that I was hopeful and determined.

I’m glad I told her. It’s a conversation I have to have more often, and it will be good for me. It becomes easier when things improve – I’d much rather confess to something done, dusted, and successfully endured, than something that continues to bear down on me.

I’ve told her now and we might become friends – she’s a good person and has interesting ambitions. She’s not for me though. I need someone who will lift me. I need a kind of innocence I can believe in.

Beginning next year

When I met with Donna last week I gave her some homework to do leading into the new year. I gave her two sets of paperwork. One was a single sheet articulating the things you’d not done the year past, and the things you wanted to do in the year to come. It required you to articulate goals, but also to detail the things needed, the attributes gained, to achieve them. Finally it required for you to commit to those goals, and to document the person who would support you in that quest.

The other set of paperwork was similar, though aimed at getting in deep to unearth the deep, authentic feelings and aspirations. It suggested methods such as writing with your other hand, or putting it down with your eyes closed. The whole aim of it was to get at the real truth, not just the official truth. Ultimately it was about setting it down to make manifest.

This morning I sat on the front patio of the house with a glass of mojito while Rigby lay beside me busily chewing on his Christmas bone. I sat at a small table and in between sips of my cocktail filled in the first of these forms. It was not overly difficult – I guess it’s not when you’re in my situation. And, I thought, I knew what I needed, as well as what I wanted.

What had I not done this year I wanted to do next? Travel was an obvious selection, though realistically it will likely be problematic in the next 12 months also. The other was be in a relationship. That’s been by choice, but things have changed to the point that I can contemplate it once more. More importantly I’ve come to terms to some of my attributes that has made it difficult in the past – though we’re getting to that.

What do I want to feel this year coming? Loved, secure, relaxed, and happy.

Pretty simple really. The first has an edge because of Christmas day just gone. It’s probably the thing I’ve missed most in recent years. I’ve never been a big one about security, but when you have so little of it you begin to appreciate it. Relaxed relates to that – I’m constantly straining and struggling just to survive. I want that to have subsided by years end. Happiness really will be a product of all that.

What are my goals for the next year? Work, relationships, finances.

I figure there are millions of others who would answer just the same, but once more my situation adds some piquancy.

What do I need to achieve these? I struggled a bit more with this. I put networking and negotiation as my first 2 selections. I struggled for the last before noting down lightness.

I used to be such a charming man. I was quick witted and fleet of tongue and took pleasure in the interchange. My wits have probably sharpened since, and I still take a delight in words, but it’s rare I took pleasure in it anymore. I didn’t lose my charm, I just became more sparing with it. All the same I got by quite well for many years, and there were many still who thought me a charming man. Then with all the stuff I’ve been mired in charm seems a luxury. When every day is a struggle charm seems insincere. I’ve become stronger, but I’ve become blunter too. I like my bluntness, but I miss the state of mind when words come lightly to the lips. I want to be that person again, and need to be.

What are the benefits of this? Better job, improved finances, more friends.

Again, the first two seem self-evident, and absolute necessities. More friends become a requirement not because I’m losing them, but because the friends I have are increasingly becoming entwined with their families. I need more friends for me. And above all I need that one, special friend.

There were other sections I’ll skip over here. The two things I don’t want to be are being too proud and distant. I waste time by being stubborn and being too proud.

Finally this year coming I’m branding the year of redemption.

There was a scorecard at the foot of the page in which I had to allocate a number out of 10 to a bunch of measures:

Happiness – 4; Health – 6; Prosperity – 2; Mental strength – 9; Body Fitness – 6; Relationships – 5; Sex – 4.

One thing not addressed here is something else that needs to change. I feel beholden to so many and so much. In a literal sense I owe people. There’s been nothing I can do about it, but it is a burden I’m keen to rid myself of. I want to be my own man again by beginning to redress the debt I carry, and do the right thing by those I carry it with. That certainly involves dollars, but there’s also a moral debt. So many have helped me. So many have given me their support. I’m very grateful to that, but I don’t want to need it. That’s one of the reasons I refused invitations for Christmas day. Maybe this is me being too proud once more, but I’d rather stand on my feet now that I can than receive help I don’t need.

Switching to yes

With a new job coming up, and more pay, I can now start to think about the things I’ve put off. It’s good to be rewarded with a better job, but the real value of it is that it changes the game for me. It’s the keystone I’ve been waiting for.

There are many things I’ve turned aside from or put from my mind entirely because of the circumstances I’ve experienced. Some of them are seemingly trivial (though far from it when you’re deprived), such as going out for drinks or a nice dinner every now and then, or even indulging in the odd take-out meal. It counts too for my weekly groceries. I can now put a few more items in the trolley and live a little easier at home because of it.

Then there other things – travel, for example. I’m not in a position yet to plan my next trip away, but at least now I can believe it’s possible again. I’ve been spoilt previously, and it’s only been a few years since my last trip abroad. That’s longer than usual for me though, but I’d grown accustomed to a trip away each year. While I miss the buzz and curiosity of being somewhere new, I’ve equally missed the possibility of travel. That’s a mindset. Closed to me was the option of going somewhere new (or even old), and with that the openness of mind and freedom of thought that goes hand in hand with it.

Being a regular traveller had become a part of my identity. Denied the possibility that part of my identity – as was the case in other parts – atrophied. I became stay at home in thought as well as in actuality.

Realistically I can’t see myself travelling abroad again for 18 months unless more changes come. It’s there though as a notion, of not a hope. I can dream again.

That’s nice, but there are more important developments to come out of this job.

People underestimate the sense of belonging that comes with having a ‘normal’ and fulfilling job. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that as I’ve always shunned the notion of need. As independent as you might be, there are still rituals and patterns in your life you unknowingly obey. It’s when these rituals are disturbed and the patterns disrupted that you feel the lack. This has been the case for me.

It’s been years since I’ve been to an office Christmas party. I’m going to one this year. I got off the phone to Donna earlier looking to re-establish our long tradition of an indulgent dinner together leading into Christmas. I’ve not been able to manage that for years. I can look to join in again those things which I must refuse before, and even be bold enough to initiate some kind of social contract once more.

Much against my desire I’ve abstained from relationships for 4-5 years. In hindsight it is this I regret most. 4-5 years ago I was ready to finally to find and settle with someone who might become my life partner. It sounds a bit twee when put like that, but I don’t know how to describe it otherwise. I suspect there might be some revisionism in that proclamation also, but it’s true that I was moving towards it. When things turned against me it became more difficult, but I did not immediately turn away from it. I became involved, but, whether it be my practical circumstances, or my shame at them, I found a major part of myself held back. Commitment is impossible in those circumstances.

And so since then, barring a few incidental flings, I’ve abstained altogether. That can change now. I now have a job, and a job I’m not ashamed of. I can feel normal again, part of the ebb and flow of conventional society. Furthermore I can actually afford to buy you a drink, and even splurge on a grand meal. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself now, but now there is possibility where there was none before.

Life’s a river that keeps on flowing. Or perhaps it’s a river that takes you in its current and shunts you through rapids and over waterfalls and past tributaries, or into them. I’ve had all that over the last few years, but perhaps now, finally, it’s taking me into safer waters again. This was a time, and it will pass, and another time will come, and times beyond that. And in some distant time I will look back and see this time as something that had a beginning and an end, and not an eternal now. And I survived it without going under.

That means that now I’ve turned the switch from off to on. I want what the last 4-5 years have denied me, and most of all I want that connection. I don’t know how to go about that. I’m older than I was before, and I’m off intranet dating. I will be more social now though because I can be, and perhaps I’ll encounter that person then. The important thing is that I can say yes to it again, and that’s a major moment in my life.

Mind, spirit and heart

I caught up with Cheeseboy last night at one of our old haunts, Brown Cow in Hampton. It was a warmish night and we sat drinking pints of cold beer and talking about all manner of things, but much particularly about my predicament.

It’s good, even necessary, to get an outside perspective, and much of what he advised me last night made good sense. For the most part it dealt with the practical difficulties of my situation, and the corollaries of that. I need that perspective, but what really ails me now is my soul. I don’t know if anyone can understand this but me, and no-one can help, but myself.

What was good about last night is that it enabled me to mentally articulate what I need for my soul to be healthy.

Firstly, I have a fine and discerning mind that I love using. I’m far from being intellectually passive. I like to think and wonder and investigate. I like pushing my mind into difficult spaces and nooks and crannies. I have confidence in my ability to assess and potentially understand what I find – and if not I’ll keep searching, keep investigating, keep thinking.

For much of my professional career that mind has been at the service of my work. My brain was properly utilised. It’s always been a great pleasure applying my mind to a problem or situation and gradually decoding it. At times I’ve felt like a magician, hey presto. Most importantly, I was being used to my capabilities. That’s no longer anywhere near the case, and I feel it desperately. I feel myself withering and wasted, craving the opportunity to be myself again.

Secondly, and related to the first, I’m very competitive. I’m driven and hard running. The harder it gets the harder I like to think I get going. My work has always been an outlet for that. To be honest, it’s not really competition with my rivals – I tend to be dismissive of that. It’s competition with the challenge I must wrestle with. It’s personal – I take it on, and it’s it or me.

In that battle you find others you’re happy to fight shoulder to shoulder with. There’s great pleasure in joining with similarly capable and motivated colleagues to overcome whatever challenge we’re faced with. There’s few better feelings than getting it done.

I have none of that now. I have no competitive outlet at work. It’s bad for me because it doesn’t go away, it brews instead. I need to express it, to apply it, to make it so.

Both of these overlap my vanity. This is how I see myself. This is how I want to be. Can that change? Possibly, but I don’t know how. And anyway, I don’t want to change – that would seem too much like submission (which is ironic). In the end the easier solution is to find the way that allows me to be that person, than to try and change that person to another way.

I miss being important. Good old relevance deprivation syndrome.

Finally, what’s missing is intimacy. There are no real emotional bonds in my life. For many years I was happy to go my own way happy to enjoy fleeting episodes of intimacy. I was too busy doing other things.

Now that my circumstances are reduced I feel that lack. I tried to explain that, and had solutions proffered to me that missed the essential point. I’m not lonely. I’m isolated by circumstance, but I don’t crave companionship. I miss being social, but largely because it is fun and now, as it seems to me, because it represents the normality I can no longer possess. But a simulation of that will do me no good because it is not real.

I think a large part of romantic love is being with that one person who understands you better than any other – and accepts you for what you are. I want to be understood – understanding is so underrated. I want to be accepted, flaws and all. I want to be myself, but vulnerable too when I feel it, and strong otherwise as I am. Above all I think I just want to be honest and open, and to share that with the person who understands me and who is honest and open with me.

I need that now because it’s hard going this alone. And because I’ve reached that stage of my life, or that level of understanding, when I can appreciate the simple beauty of it. I want to be able to close my eyes, and for someone to there for me.

I feel better today because I feel clearer – I need to feed my intellect, serve my spirit, and open myself up to intimacy. Now I know, but how do I manage that?

Nothing’s changed in that regard. I need to change my circumstances. I have to be patient, but determined. It’s probably baby steps from here. I have to hang in there. These are frustrating sentiments for me when I want to take things by the scruff of the neck. But it’s reality. What are ‘things’ after all? And where’s the scruff of the neck?

For now little goals and small targets. And reaching out.