Friday, 9 May 2014

This Time it's Personal ~ part 5

In legal jargon, at least in the USA (or at least according to the American TV show The Good Wife, which is an excellent show btw, and very well-researched) there seems to be a thing called a 'Bad Fact'. This, in a court case, is not a fact that proves your guilt. It may have nothing to do with the charges, but it doesn't look good. It shouldn't affect the facts of the case but it might influence the jury. It goes to the character of the defendant, as they (apparently) say.

Life is full of Bad Facts. Last weekend I ran out of diesel. I got as far as the nursery gates, turned off the engine, unlocked the gates and couldn't start the engine again. My bro and I pushed the car into the nursery and I called the RAC out on bank holiday Monday to get her going again. I'd do it myself but last time this happened there were air-locks to deal with. But I'm a member of the RAC. I had stuff to do at the nursery. I called them out. 
On the Sunday, when it happened I was already tired from dismantling the greenhouse in the back garden. We got it done, actually, a lot quicker than I'd expected but at the time I felt pressed for time. I was down the nursery picking something up I'd forgotten so all in all I was a bit hassled. I went to the local filling station in Henfield High Street and they were out of diesel. I knew I was low when I drove back from work on the Thursday but I thought I could go to the filling station in town, but they were out of diesel even then. 
Explaining to my bro, my wife and to the RAC man, I had a small rant about how ridiculous it is for a filling station to be out of diesel. It's like a pub having no beer, or a hairdressers not being able to cut hair.  And on a bank holiday! How incredibly disorganised of them. How bloody idiotic. I pictured them at Shell, sitting on their arses, reading The Sun, not really giving a toss, actually rather enjoying their (petty mindless) power to make life difficult for the rest of us. And then the argument blossomed (in my mind) because it has occurred to me before that the fuel companies don't really care about this. They've closed a lot of the smaller local stations on minor roads, presumably because they make more money that way and the resulting 'externality' (as I believe the term is - when a company makes a change that forces us, the customers to make up the difference) is that drivers have to drive about more to go to where the filling stations are, and also think ahead more to avoid my predicament. I could go on about how customer service is a myth but I won't - you get the picture. So they don't care. They can be out of stock over a public holiday of one of their two major products and it has no effect on their bottom line so we can go fuck ourselves.
All this sort of makes sense (the case for the prosecution as it were) but for the Bad Fact that of course, I shouldn't have let the fuel in the car run down that far. Surely (say the prosecution) I must have passed at least one filling station on my way home from work that Thursday? I could have filled up then. In fact I passed (let me think) nine filling stations on the hour's drive from Heathfield to Henfield along the 272. Why didn't I fill up at one of them? Simple answer - because I assumed I'd be able to fill up in Henfield ferchrissakes! Plus I was tired and I really wanted to just get home. I'd fill up on the Saturday. It doesn't seem unreasonable. But there is another Bad Fact.
But you said 'the last time this happened'. This is not the first time is it? How many times have you had to call out the RAC because you've run out of fuel Mr Law?
Erm... four times...
Four times! This is getting to be a habit.
The car seems to be able to run for ages when the gauge shows empty. I know it's not good for the engine but sometimes I run out of money or I just want to get home. One of those instances in any case was a Landie, which paradoxically, run empty before the needle hits zero. I didn't know that at the time. I free-wheeled into Hurstpierpoint only to discover that the filling station had just that week been closed down.
But all of this could be avoided if you thought ahead more and made sure you had enough money. Everybody gets tired. It's no excuse. We aren't all sitting by the roadside on a regular basis waiting for the RAC man to deliver our fuel are we?
But shouldn't the filling stations be more reliable?
That's irrelevant. You should always be prepared for these eventualities. There is no excuse. Send him down.

Of course for almost anyone else this would be the most trivial of trivial things. They might make a joke of it or have a little rant about filling stations but that would be it. For me though it becomes yet another lesson in how useless Steve is. There are no excuses. It doesn't matter how useless other people are (in this case Shell) I should have allowed for that. And it's no good laughing it off. This is the sort of thing we mean. This is why things are the way they are. Leaving everything 'til the last minute. It's just yet another example of how you can't be trusted to do things properly. It seems trivial but it isn't because it's part of a bigger picture. It's typical of the kind of person I am. 
You might have noticed there how the 'conversation' slips from first to second person and back again - from  Parent to Child - 'we' the parents, looking down on 'me' the child, wrong again, inexcusable, untrustworthy. And it's serious. It's not a trivial matter. It never is. It's not a one-off cock-up, and it's certainly not an excusable (let alone lovable) flaw. I can't brush it off. I can't say 'well that's just the way I am'. It's not right. It's just another way I am not right. There are no mitigating circumstances. I can't blame anyone else. It's not understandable. I got it wrong. Again. As usual.
Contempt, exasperation, dismissal, derision. And shame. Let's not forget shame.

to be continued...

Thursday, 8 May 2014

This Time it's Personal ~ part 4

So, where were we? Anger.
I've just read back over the last three instalments because I don't want to repeat myself too much. 

Anger - that's what it's about. Paul asked me if that last 'rant' got it off my chest. I told him it didn't. It never does. I've known a few people over the years, prone to the odd rant here and there. Like most people I sort of assume it's about expressing your views, getting it off your chest, telling everyone what you think. It's a form of self-expression - like having a certain taste in music or supporting a team. The things that get a person mad say a lot about them. It's a way of saying 'this is me, and this is what I care about. This is what I (won't) stand for.' Or else it's just blowing off steam. For me though I sense it's different. For me it's trying to convince others that there is good reason for how I feel and what I think - that I'm not just some bizarre incomprehensible dreamer. I don't expect people to agree with me, but I want them to take my opinion seriously. Really, it's a plea for understanding.

This, I know, sounds a bit pathetic. Surely a grown man like myself should feel reasonably secure in his convictions by now, after all, what is this whole blog about if it's not about telling all and sundry what's what? And at some level that's right. I do write about things I care deeply about, things I agree with and things I think are wrong. Part of me holds these views very dear, and my ability to see things the way I do, which I think is a little unusual, and which I really value. 
The problem is that at the same time I believe deep down that my way of looking at things is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how good I am at thinking things through, or how worthwhile my insights might be (or how good I am at expressing them) because most people don't see things that way. They judge a persons utterances by how well they fit with their own preconceived notions. They skim read or half-listen, picking out bits that tell them which box to put you and your views in. They judge you by your appearance, by your social aptitude, your friends, in fact by pretty much anything except what you actually say because the point is all about fitting in, not about being right. And I have never fitted in.
At some point I went from simply being a sad and bewildered misfit to being an angry outsider. At some point in my teens I think I started to feel rather than think 'why should I try to fit in?' Because that's how you get on, that's why' you might have replied, but somehow I wouldn't, or couldn't. Trying to fit in felt, and still feels, like being beaten, like being colonised. At some level, I have a deep faith in my way of seeing the world - not as infallible (far from it. Scepticism and uncertainty are crucial parts of my way of seeing things) but as worthwhile and above all, positive, but I am equally sure that my refusal to jump hoops means that what I have to say will be ignored.

It's like me trying to get my novel published. A friend asked me if I really believed my book was great. He was reacting to the fact that my attempts at approaching publishers had been somewhat faltering and brief. His point was that if you really believe in what you are doing it follows that you will have the drive to do whatever it takes to achieve it. I said yes, I really love my novel, and I do. And i believe in it. I wrote it partly because I wanted to write the sort of thing that I would want to read, if I for instance came across it in a book shop or library. And I succeeded. I know it has all sorts of flaws and as they say, no art is ever 'finished', only abandoned. But it also has some really good bits, and for what it is, my first novel, I'm very chuffed with it, and I still enjoy reading it. But the point is, I told him, that that says nothing about how anybody else will see it. My own opinions are irrelevant because deep down I really believe that people will dismiss it because it doesn't fit in. The actual quality of the book is irrelevant.

There is some truth in this. Publishers like books that fit into set genres, and they like them to be written by people they know, or at least, people they can relate to (Eng. lit. degree, journalism, Oxbridge...) or who are already famous for something (or are related to someone famous) I just don't have the connections. Even if my manuscript somehow got read, I tend to feel that it will be dismissed on some pretext. A 'friend' who I gave it to to look at just sort of gave it back to me after looking at the first page. His only comment was that he'd have liked me to use semi-colons. It sounds ludicrous but that's the sort of arbitrary, petty pretext I expect things to be judged on. Did he use the right paper? Did he refer to me in his covering letter as 'Sir'? Has he used the right font in his CV? Nothing to do with the writing. One editor I went to see simply told me it was too long and I'd have to cut it by three quarters. She hadn't read any of it. It was just the wrong size. And this of course brings us back to what I said about capitalism. The market wants a recognisable, predictable product - something resembling the latest best-seller. I'm not pretending to be a great author (hardly) but I do wonder how Proust or Joyce would have felt about these criteria being applied to their writing. Another friend told me what my dad would have told me - that you have to go through a sort of apprenticeship - doing what is expected to gain some sort of reputation before you can claim the freedom to do something original. I don't agree. That's just about status - about putting you in your place, nothing to do with creativity. Or at least, I don't want to do that (I can't) If I have to spend years writing stuff that means less to me, just following the rules, in the hope that one day I'll have enough of a reputation to write in a way that really means something to me, well, they'll have to go without. It's their loss.
But of course they won't even notice. There are all sorts of reasons why my work, assuming anyone ever looks at it, will be dismissed, but frankly it makes no odds to them whatsoever, and the reasons are irrelevant. I just don't fit in. I am on my own. They can safely ignore me without consequences.

Sometimes it feels like this dismissal (which is the best word I can think of to describe it, although it's not quite right) is deliberate, but more often it is merely thoughtless. They just don't care, or they don't notice. They're too busy. Sometimes they seem impatient, exasperated or embarrassed with me. Sometimes they seem contemptuous. Occasionally it feels malicious - like they are laughing at me - enjoying my humiliation. In any case it is the reaction I expect. 

So it doesn't matter how good my ideas are, how good my writing is. There are no mitigating circumstances - no excuses. They don't want to know. They simply want not to have to bother with me. They want to dismiss what I have done, what I think, who I am and get back to what they do, together, as adults. I still feel, often, as if I am somehow smaller than everyone else (I am a little on the short side) a child among adults. What I think doesn't matter. What I say is irrelevant. Nobody's listening. 
I used to go off somewhere quietly and do things on my own. At some point (in my early twenties I think) I began to try to explain to people why I thought the things I did and to try to get them to understand. They really didn't want to know. I tried too hard and made a fool of myself. I became resentful. They really didn't want me around then, so I went off on my own.

Emma says my reaction seems too much under the circumstances but I'd have thought that almost anybody would be angry - furious even - if people really did react that way to them on a regular basis. But of course, they don't, do they? My rational mind throws doubts on this feeling. It can't really be true can it? I sort of know, at some level that it can't really be true. 
And yet it feels so true. And somehow, as yet, the rational fact that the world cannot possibly be like that, has had no effect on the power of that feeling. They have no effect on each other. I simply feel, when I get stressed, tired or hungry that that is how the world reacts to me - with contempt, exasperation, dismissal, derision.

That's why I get angry. 

to be continued...