Let go of what?

Reading the newspaper this morning I happened across the horoscopes. Though I’m not a believer I scanned them quickly just for the hell of it. I’m March born, which makes me Pisces, and so I read the sage words of my stars. There was nothing remarkable. It was the conventional horoscope, enigmatic and ambiguous, but it concluded with a Zen proverb that I read twice:

Knowledge is learning some thing every day. Wisdom is letting go of something you know every day.

Though I’m a doubter this at least seemed an apt comment on my situation right now. I’m not sure if it gives me an answer though.

This story starts with a trip I made on Friday. Mum’s car is to be sold as part of the settling of her estate and I had to deliver it across town for that to happen. The messy part was that I had to leave it with N, one of the people contesting mum’s will, and the leading agitator to have me evicted from her home. Given a perfect world I’d have avoided the trip – and him – but it’s no perfect world, it’s something that had to happen, and so I shrugged my shoulders and got in the car. He drove me back then with the idea that he would go through the garage here at mum’s home – as per her will – and take his pick. N was surprisingly affable, though the conversation hardly flowed. Last week when I had spoken to him he’d been aggressive, from nerves I think. For all his bluster he’s not someone who enjoys confrontation I think.

All of this is pretty prosaic except for a short conversation N and I had when I arrived at his factory. He made an offer to settle the will, splitting it evenly between us. He said, quite rightly, that going legal would likely be disastrous in terms of time and money. Then he raised the spectre of the ugly side of any confrontation between us, dragging mum’s affairs through the mud and into the public forum. They’re not really relevant to the argument, but I doubt that would prevent it occurring.

I demurred. It was not my place to agree or commit to anything. There was no point having an argument with him about it. I said we wanted more, but that I would need to speak to my sister and lawyer. With that out of the way he brightened up, and became almost friendly.

In truth, despite everything, I find it hard to dislike N. Though circumstances may suggest otherwise I really do think he has a good heart. His problem is that he tries to be someone that he’s not: he’s not his father, and he’s not nearly the strong man he presumes to be. I guess we’re all guilty of doing the same sometimes, but it has a corrupting effect on him because it is so pervasive.

In any case after he drove away with his truckload of loot I was left with a decision to make. Do we accept his offer, or not? I called a couple of friends to see what they thought of it. I always try to be so objective that sometimes I forget what I want, and sometimes so close to things that it’s hard to manage a clear and unfettered perspective. The feedback I got was mixed, some were outraged, others were more pragmatic and I had no clearer idea. Then I rang my sister not knowing what she would say. Sometimes she’s fierce, ready to go to war. Sometimes she’s more demure. In any case she blows so hot and cold that I never know what to expect.

On Friday she blew cold. She wanted more, naturally, but was willing to consider the offer. If you want to be pragmatic then there’s good reason for this. Rather than dragging it out for 12-18 months and copping legal fees in the six figures it can be resolved in a week, and for not a great discount on what we’re currently getting. And it mmeans we can settle things in relative peace, without the nastiness threatened.

Ok then, I thought, maybe we just do it. I still had to speak to the lawyer, and I had to sort out my own feelings on it. I felt conflicted. There was the great temptation of saying yes and getting it done and out of the way. I yearn to return to normal life. I knew this intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it completely. In a way I wanted to, wanted to be convinced to let it go, accept the deal and put the sorry tale behind me. I couldn’t though.

The rest of the day and into the evening I felt as flat as a pancake. Part of it was sheer exhaustion at the whole thing, and the awareness that as always it seems that it all rests on my shoulders (my sister avoids the hard realities). There was uncertainty as to what was right, and even what I felt. Above all I think the whole emotional journey had come to a head.

For once I felt lonely and alone as I tried to keep myself occupied. Even so my mind ticked over, as ever it does. It occurred to me that all throughout the dramas of this year I’ve kept a lot of the emotion at arms length. I’ve not necessarily repressed things as set them aside. I’ve been so involved in the practicalities of getting by that I’ve figured that I couldn’t afford to be distracted by what I thought of as negative emotions. In my mind Friday the image that came to me was of akll the air being sucked out the room, so that I could operate in a vacuum; when I thought about it yesterday the image was of all the colour being bled from the picture.

This year my mum was hospitalised, where she passed away. Afterwards there was the funeral, then the will being contested. I shifted home in the middle of all the drama; I dealt with doctors, mum’s affairs, mum herself, organised her funeral and managed the defence of her will. I’ve battled against people trying to evict me, my own very perilous affairs, and looked to strive against expectation to get my life back on track. For most of the year I’ve felt ‘outside’ of life – the sense almost that the life I lived so happily before is like a movie I can only look back on wonderingly.

I need to function in the face of all that. That requires a clear head, determination, and a positive mindset. I can’t afford to wallow, feel sad or depressed, can’t waste my time feeling sorry for myself. I need to keep going forward even when I feel no progress, even when I doubt the direction. That’s the idea, it will come, keep going. In practical terms it means that I can’t be sidetracked. I have my sad moments about mum, and tears come to my eyes regularly; and occasionally I get despondent. But then I put those things aside.

I feel as if on Friday all of that came back to me a bit. Like all the air I’d sucked out of the conversation came flooding back; like the arguments returned to me in full and vibrant colour. This was not something I could put aside, and maybe there was something in that I had to know. Here, when there was opportunity to see my way clear of the crap I’ve been enduring some feeling returned to me. The irony is that for all of this that I should hesitate.

I do hesitate though. It would be simple to agree to terms, take my share of the estate, and start to look toward my own life. It sounds good just writing it. I hold back though because something about it doesn’t feel right. It’s not about the money – we’re not talking sheep stations here. It’s about mum really, and about some sense of what is right.

Mum put her last wishes on paper, and while I think there is some room for compromise I still believe the spirit of mum’s will should be upheld. I can’t properly articulate it, but I feel that mum’s place is undervalued in such a deal. On top of that she was our mum, not theirs. She was my mum all my life, and while no amount of dollars can equate to that I still think it should be factored in to the final settlement. There’s a part of me, possibly the masculine competive part of me, that just wants to win – to have the final word as such.

Balanced against that are pragmatic realities. What is the value in taking it down legal channels where nobody wins? What cost is there in delaying the resolution of something for up to 2 years, even if we win? My sister is inclined to accept the offer – can I reasonably reject it? Who wins if it gets nasty – as inevitably it would? I’m confident that we would win if it went all the way, but at great expense financially, in time, and quite possibly in moral terms.

Where does this leave us then? What do you think?

It brings me back to the quote at the beginning of this post. I need the wisdom of Solomon to know what is right, but perhaps all I need do is to let something go.

As it stands right now I’m inclined to make a counter-offer and call their bluff. Time will tell.


Such is nature

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I slept another 9 hours last night without thinking about it, which is another sign that I’m recovering from some energy deficit. A few weeks back, just after I shifted house, I was sleeping 9-10 hours every night and fading each afternoon. In the weeks preceding I had driven myself as I never have before, by necessity as it was, needing to pack up a very full house and get it shifted while at the same time ministering to all of mum’s needs, visiting her, meeting doctors, taking care of her administrative needs. It was a sustained period of activity like I had never experienced before, both quite physical – I packed about a hundred boxes and was exhausted each night by the effort – and emotional.

In my experience physical exhaustion is easier to recover from than the emotional. Muscles in fact become stronger with exertion, and heal with rest. It’s not so easy with the emotions, particularly as often there is no respite from the cause of their stress. For much of mum’s illness, and particularly in the last 7 weeks, I felt the strange combination of being on perpetual tenterhooks whilst forever treading upon thin ice. Add in my own personal challenges and it was a lot to deal with.

Mum has gone now. It’s a sad eventuality, but it represents a kind of resolution. Whatever was to happen has now happened. The tenterhooks are gone, the ground beneath my feet now solid. There remain challenges, and new ones as well, but by and large it is easier than before. The body, the mind, seeks to heal itself. The adrenalin that sustained me throughout this effort has now leached out of my system. Sleep claims me longer and more readily in order to recharge batteries run down. And so I sleep 9-10 hours a night until such a time I am replenished again.

Saving the china

out of the way - studies in rationality

I often see people react to disappointment and failure with violence. Nearly every time I wonder at it. There is a part of my character that disapproves of such wanton and meaningless destruction. Though I know disappointment as well as any man I wonder how it can lead someone to lashing out at the dog or smashing a piece of china. What does it achieve? Though I have a fiery tongue and temper sometimes I am much more likely to react quietly. I suspect that more often than not that observers would see little in me suggestive of disappointment or anger. It’s not that I internalise my feelings, but rather I control them with rational thought. I understand how an explosion of reaction may momentarily salve, but at the end of it there is a cowering dog or you are piece short of the dinner set. I’d rather understand, dissect the issue and then either plan to rectify it or move on from it, whatever is most appropriate. I’m cool.

There are moments, however. Sometimes I’ll simmer quietly, may even feel sorry for myself, though I despise that. On very rare occasions I feel the need myself to expiate my feelings with action. It’s been a long time since, but through the years the urge to mutter a few sharp words to the meanest looking guy in the bar has been a strange solace. To put your head in the lion’s mouth and dare him to chomp down has often revitalised me. Forced to act, to be, you return to reflex and instinct, find again your inner self. It may not be pretty – though generally nothing more than a few sly words are exchanged – but it is guaranteed to clear the crap from your system.

Last night I felt some of that. There was nothing violent in me, and once more had there been a witness he would have seen nothing amiss. For  few hours though I’d had enough, and I can taste the bitter residue still. I don’t know if I was exhausted or tired, but I’d had enough. I was sick of doing battle all the time, of trying to make things do, of perpetually being positive. Fuck that. More than anything I wanted my life back.

You can’t know how much I miss the old ways. Circumstance has forced me into a corner. I must do my own thing, day after day, and often to no effect, whilst continuing to deal with what’s happening with mum. Often I feel isolated. I sometimes think of my life being on hold, but in reality I’m in limbo. There is no pattern in my life, and no ease either. My mind rarely rests because there is so much to wonder at and to figure out. Every day I have to come at things fresh, and on each occasion with the positive frame of mind necessary if I am to succeed. It is wearing. Despite everything I am alone. My social life is a fraction of what it was, as are my prospects. I can’t do what I want to do, and each day must make-do with less. I feel as if I’m living in a box.

Last night I’d had enough. I just wanted to shed all that crap and live again. Live again. I wanted to forget about mum, wanted to wake up to find all that I’d lost returned to me, above all I wanted a rest from this perpetual effort. I’ve been more than reasonable I thought, and more patient than is natural for me. But enough. Enough!

There are no spells that free you from the present. I knew that last night even as I wished for one. I remained rational enough to refrain from flinging a mug across the room. I felt it all bubble up in me, felt the frustration threaten to overflow, but there’s no escaping from reality. You deal with what there is to deal with, not what you dream of. The sun rises, day returns, life as we know it to continue. So be it, and I guess there are always surprises.

I have to expect these little mind explosions. I’m not a robot. I nearly wrote that things could be a lot worse – which is true – but that seems such a typical rationalisation by me that I refused it. Things could be worse true, but they’re bad enough, and sometimes it’s reasonable to be selfish and self-indulgent, to grieve, if only momentarily. I’m made to continue, that’s my pathology, to persist and remain positive. I’m very fortunate in that, though sometimes it might be nice to break something just for the dumb pleasure of it.

In any case the next day has come. I’m busy enough, hopefully to productive, fruitful effect. Things will change. My persistence will pay off. The dire situation I find myself in will turn around. Mum will die too, that will change also. Everything changes, and one day it will be different.

Graceful understanding

There are moments when I think the world is trying to teach me some humility. A person such as myself makes his own luck, bad as well as good. I’m not a passive fatalist content to let destiny take its course. Nor am I inclined to go with the prevailing view. I’m open to advice and guidance, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll act on it. I’m an active, occasionally aggressive participant. I try to influence events, though sometimes clumsily, and often with no more motive than a wilful intent to do something rather than nothing. Over the years it’s cost me a lot – money, women, possibly professional advancement; but it has also gained me much, and given me opportunities that might never have come my way otherwise. On balance I think I am ahead, and regardless, it is the authentic me.

My general attitude can be surmised by my response to these occasional doubts. For a few minutes I consider the truth of it: do I need to be more humble? I assess the situation, recognising as I do the price of I’ve paid for expecting and striving for more than perhaps is my due. I wonder what it might be like to be that gentler soul. For a few moments I am drawn to it. Then slowly the reality as I see it re-surfaces: I am what I am. A man’s character is his destiny they say, and if I am to accept any destiny then that’s it. Rightly or wrongly this is who I am. I can’t be something I’m not, and I realise I don’t want to be. I want to be acting on life, not acted upon. And so invariably I have the same defiant and foolish response: fuck the world.

Though I’m writing of it now, it is not something I wonder at in these moments. The sun shines down. I reflect in hindsight. I am calm, not content, but relaxed with who I am. I think I have mellowed a tad over the years and expect – and hope even – that will continue more. I have hopes also of becoming a wiser man, which I tend to think of as a quiet understanding of the world as it is rather than how I – or others – paint it to be. For all my striving I think there are quieter parts in me, more sensitive parts, parts that use judgement and common sense. And there are those parts of me that perpetually reach, curious and hungry; and those aggressively competitive parts of me that will not take a backward step, knowing even sometimes that it is wiser to do so. If there is one attribute that defines more than any other I sometimes think it is defiance.

This is the subject for the day because there have been many moments lately when I have actively wondered if I am being tested; and because these moments arise from the many challenges I now find myself beset by. It is human nature to wonder how different things may have been with a different perspective or attitude, if I had not chosen one path over the other. Those are questions that can never be answered, and so I don’t dwell on them too much. As I’m fond of saying, it is what it is. When I’m weary though from the battle I wonder if somewhere out there is an alternative life I turned my back on.

Lately I have been very busy, industrious and enterprising. Events have forced that upon me, and in responding to those events I have found myself rising to a new pitch. I don’t think I’ve ever been more able than I am now. I feel razor sharp, switched on. The irony is that it seems to no effect. I don’t know what more I can do, knowing that what I am doing is pretty well on the money – but utterly wasted. I am, on the one hand, more effective than I have ever been before, at least in prospect; and on the other hand have nothing, neither opportunity or task on which to exercise it. It seems cruel in a way, and hence, at odd times, I am apt to wonder if there is intended a lesson in this for me.

Last night I received a message that left me deflated. It’s good to share this because in a way it does teach me a bitter lesson. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am much drawn to women. Though I am often many other things, I am also deeply romantic. The irony is that though I meet and become intimate with different women on a regular basis, it is only very rarely that I find myself moved on the emotional level that I truly desire. In it’s absence I enjoy what I can: a drink, a meal, some witty conversation, a different perspective, the occasional sexual tryst. I have a lot of female friends, and am seen, I think, as a generally agreeable, alluring male companion. It’s fine enough in what it is, but far short of what I really want.

Last week I caught up with a girl I was surprised to find myself drawn too. Not in any deep or emotional way, it was not nearly to that point. Rather I went home thinking this is a woman I might actually find myself drawn to in that deep, emotional, and intimate way. I felt encouraged, enlivened, but less about her really than the remembrance that things like this can be. It’s in me, not dead, just dormant.

She was an attractive woman who looked something like Amanda Seyfried, smart, well read, interesting. A book editor, we had much in common. We caught alight sharing all manner of things. We agreed to catch up again soon.

Last night I received a message from her expressing regret. She had really liked me she said, had enjoyed getting to know me, etc, but that an old friend had come into her life and she couldn’t see both of us. I read the message once and then closed it. I felt all the air going out of me. Give me a break I thought, and it was a sad, almost forlorn thought. I don’t do forlorn well, and though I’m becoming accustomed to having my ambitions thwarted I still don’t take it easily. If you don’t except defeat you’re not defeated – except that sometimes you are.

I picked up soon enough, as I always do. I didn’t respond. I slept on it wondering how I was supposed to respond. There was the polite generic response, not really me, but one I’m inclined to dash off as if to prove it means nothing to me and that I’m above it all. Then there was something more formally authentic. Then there was something authentic with a mix of the real me in it. I woke this morning with the words in me.

I know I’m unlikely to ever hear from her again, and that’s fine. This is for me. I have to represent myself properly. To do that I have to be honest, with myself as much as to her.

I’m not sure of the etiquette in situations like this, but since I’ve never been known for my courtly manners I’ll just wing it instead. I’ll be polite and wish you luck – I hope you find happiness; and honest in admitting that I’m sorry that I won’t get to know you better. I’m inclined to scepticism R, and am a man much too hard to please, but I found you interesting and attractive company. I hoped to discover more.

I’ve probably gone and broken all the rules of etiquette in my few comments, so I’ll conclude quietly. Take care, and good luck.

What does it serve in the end? Life goes on, the days pile one atop the other, and moments like these, and things that might have been, swiftly forgotten. It’s worth marking the moment though, and understanding what it means. Being humble may not be my thing, but having the grace to understand the truth and acknowledging it is no bad thing.