Saturday, 24 December 2011


the chainless links
I have a friend who objects my use of reason as a way of understanding life. I think he finds it constraining and possibly unnatural. I've always had something of a scientific bent though and I find reason a useful way of 'getting a handle' on things. What I think a few people I've met over the years dislike about science and rational philosophy though is the arrogance they perceive in it - as if by taking it all apart we can define it and 'own' it (and then use and sell it), murdering to dissect, as the man said.
They imagine that we rationalists are very full of ourselves, very confident, in the manner of colonial masters and captains of industry. I can't speak for anyone else but for me it is completely the opposite. For me reason is a way of getting some sort of grip on the chaos. Maybe for some, irrationality is a relief from the ordered conventionality of their lives. Perhaps they've always done the 'correct' thing - got their qualifications, gone and got a proper job, got their mortgage (insurance and pension), got married and had kids, had respectable hobbies and normal friendships. Perhaps for them a spot of irrationality and disorder is liberating.
Not for me.

I was never into 'drugs' or excessive booze. I didn't need any more weirdness in my life. Nor did I ever get off on driving too fast or climbing mountains. Just existing felt risky enough. This is not though because I had a horribly chaotic or abusive childhood - quite the opposite in fact. Actually I don't know quite where this sense of the impending cataclysm of ordinary life came from. I come from a long line of worriers - the women in particular, but everyone was very preoccupied with stability and security. They were very materialistic but not because they wanted to be rich. They were genuinely terrified of ending up on the street somehow, and it was a very real prospect for them. I guess it was that post-war, working class generation, and everybody was jittery around failure and sickness, but we all went through that, us baby-boomers - not just me.

I think it's safe to say that I had a lot of trouble back then. I didn't 'get into trouble' - there was no crime or violence. No, it was a sort of low-key drifting sort of failure-to-thrive. To give you something of the flavour of it, I was one of those unemployed who couldn't even get it together to sign-on regularly. Again there is a sort of stereotype here of the waster who spends the day contentedly in bed or watching daytime TV, sticking two fingers up at the tax-payer and generally sponging off the state. This was the early eighties after all, and there was Thatcher and the Scargill and The Clash and Billy Bragg and three million unemployed. I was not alone. But that wasn't how it felt to me. I spent the entire time feeling guilty and ashamed, living at my parents, sometimes hanging out with other unemployed friends but mainly feeling horribly lost. It wasn't that I didn't want to work. I couldn't bear the thought of most of the jobs on offer at the job centre it's true but it was worse than that. Looking at those columns of jobs in the Thursday Argus I simply didn't know where to start, and actually I still don't think I would now. It just all looks like a dreary muddle to me. Luckily for me now I have a very good employer who likes my way of working and pays me well into the bargain. I've also found a very lovely woman to marry me who seems to respect the way I am (more than I do if I'm truthful). I said to her early on, so she knew what she was getting into, 'Look babe, I'm never going to be rich. As long as I make a living, having time for other things (growing plants, writing) is more important to me than making money' or words to that effect - and she fell for it! (Poor fool.) And yet I still feel guilty, and I'm still horribly stressed a lot of the time. I do as much around the house as I can, cook, do the shopping, laundry, washing-up, keep an eye on her kids and yet...

There's a sort of taboo here isn't there - talking about yourself like this. It's sort of disgraceful. Unless you fictionalise it, as I have in my novel, so you can say 'that part actually isn't me' it's just not done. It's self-indulgent, self-involved, navel gazing, or people tell you you think too much, as if thinking about the problem (far less talking about it) is what is causing the problem - as if getting under the bonnet to see where all the smoke is coming from is somehow causing the car to overheat. There's another stereotype that therapy and self-help books are an accepted part of life in Britain these days - that men are 'in touch with their feelings', 'metrosexual', 'emotionally literate' but actually for the most part we still tend to think that people with 'problems' should just pull themselves together and get on with it. So I know this is a bit of a risk, me writing like this. The question really is why I imagine it might be of use, or even interesting to anyone else. The odd thing is that I've always thought it should be. I've actually never really understood why men in particular apparently think it's such an unspeakable thing to do, to 'open up' and show, far less talk about, their feelings. There's genuine fear there it seems. I've never understood what they were scared of. Surely if you have a problem, you get in there and see what it is. You don't just carry on and hope it will go away. But apparently most of us still do. What is it - are we scared of what we might find? And if we talk about it, are we scared we might make it worse? Or that it's contagious? Certainly some reactions I've seen suggest the latter. Being boring is definitely a risk, talking about ones self too much, but I'm with the Irish writer who said that no topic is off limits. The only taboo is being boring. I can't judge myself on this, but I don't see why this posting should be any more boring than anything else I've written. Part of the way I was brought up was to think that the things I thought and cared about were a bit of a problem and almost necessarily at odds with what everyone else thought (and that I should therefore pull myself together and just get on with life). I don't hold with that any more (it's just not rational after all). I can't believe I'm alone in finding this stuff interesting. In part, it's simply that I find the way people's minds work fascinating (don't we all?) and I don't have anyone else handy to experiment on.

For my part I've always, for whatever reason, wanted to talk about my problems. I don't know why - no one else among my family or friends does. This was not because I thought I personally was hugely fascinating, but because I thought, if you have a problem you don't know how to fix (whether it be an over-heating car, a humungous debt or a rash on your todger)  it's a good idea to get advice. Other people seem to be coping, maybe they know something you don't. So I asked. Also, if you're doing things that other people seem to find irritating - why not try to explain? Put things straight.
Of course a large part of the aversion many people feel is the fear of vulnerability, of leaving yourself open to strangers (or indeed friends) who might take advantage of the information. That never made much sense to me. It seemed to me that people constantly made up explanations for and made judgements about each other's behaviour anyway (often not very charitable) so trying to set the record straight couldn't do any harm. Probably you'd not change their mind, but it was worth a try. Anyway, there didn't seem to be much to lose, and I'd have to say I don't feel like I've lost anything much. People judge you in all sorts of ways anyway, and if one falls out with them, far from wondering, outraged, what on earth one could have done to upset them, it's easy, for me anyway, to think of plenty of things I might have done wrong. Knowing precisely which one caused the rift though might come in handy.

So I've tried to analyse my life, as rationally as I can, to think about why it is the way it is in the hope that I can do better in the future.
Has it worked? Well, like I said it's still difficult, but yes, there have been some major break-throughs - some interesting discoveries and some things I don't have to worry about any more, or not so much.
I don't want to go into details here - maybe another time but I think a lot of it - not just for me but for a lot of men, is about wanting to be taken seriously, but like I say, that's probably enough for now.


Vincent said...

I’ve just skimmed through this for now. The first adjective that sprang to mind was ‘endearing’. The second was ‘wonderful’. For a third go, it will take more than an adjective. I will transfer this to my Kindle, to read elsewhere. More than anything I’ve read of yours, Steve, this reveals something unique and precious within you.

paulgrand said...

Congratulations, Steve,one of your best blog posts yet!
So much more uplifting than of late!
A very Merrymetrosexual Christmas to each and every one!:-)

Steve Law said...

Thanks, but I must apologise for loading this on you now - it was supposed to be for after New Year but I hit Publish by mistake

Steve Law said...

Thanks again guys. This is actually very cheering.

All the very best

Bryan M. White said...

There's certainly nothing wrong with writing something personal once in a while, and it definitely helps to get things off your chest sometimes. I'm not sure I've ever completely understood the male taboo against such things either, but it's undoubtedly still alive and well.

In other words, a nicely written post.

Steve Law said...

Thanks - I was a little tired of being the disembodied 'voice of reason' (ha ha)
Did you see Vincent's invite after the last post btw? Sounds like a splendid idea.

Bryan M. White said...

While meeting up for a drink sounds like a wonderful idea, I doubt I could make it there from America at this point. I work with a woman who visits England every year. Maybe I'll stow away in her luggage on her next trip. In the meantime, you guys can get together and give me an honorable mention.