This was not what I had anticipated publishing next, but it comes with the hope that the spectrum of ideas here will be filtered to avoid writing at length wherever possible. Let’s call it an attempt at empowerment.
Points in Time
The sci-fi talk about ‘fixed points in time’ is something that has really caught my attention before. Without the ability to turn back time, it’s left for us to acknowledge our life-defining moments (if we choose to do so).
Last week, while waiting for a Metro at Newcastle Central Station, a member of Nexus staff approached with a questionnaire about personal safety. Had I noticed police officers or Metro staff on the premises? Had I witnessed any antisocial behaviour? Did I know about the CCTV coverage and the alarm system? All so bittersweet, because a prank-attack 12 years ago at that very station was a life-defining moment. A chain of mental problems far outgrew the incident and haunted me for a long time – to the disbelief of most who knew me and to myself as well.
It exposed me as a vulnerable, weak, insecure teen, a coward, a laughing stock, and a born target. I learnt the value of human nature when friends who declared their support soon welcomed back the perpetrator after declaring an intention to blank him. It’s was never their fault, of course, that it all escalated in my own head. Privacy, like Marvell’s garden, sent thought spiralling out of control. Solidarity didn’t last more than a weekend.
Facing a Challenge
The coping mechanism was a savage turn on self-appearance. That, in one form or another, has dominated the way I have fashioned myself in the 21st century. It’s a subject I struggle to write about personally, because it’s difficult to do so in a constructive and unselfish way. I know how difficult (and often unpleasant) it is to read and hear people laying into themselves. I’m aware of the measures I take – mostly jocular – to maintain a rather sorry need to purge the system of voices that are imprisoned within.
How do you get around issues so fundamentally antisocial and destructive? My way, as with anything, has been to study it, and to lose myself in the fascination of how the mind/body relationship works.
The process began during my BA, when a course on ekphrasis allowed me to delve closer into the obsession with aesthetics, mirrors, self-portraits, and general written response to the visual. This was then expanded to the corporeal by observing a perfectly-suited course in Geneva entitled ‘Body Dysmorphic Discourses’. The recently drafted PhD chapter, dealing with Marvell’s ventriloquism for a Cromwellian portrait, the visual fracture of the Cromwellian regime, and issues of glass and reflection, was identified and informed by all that came before. In a sense, the PhD, like this blog, reflects a unique lifetime of learning.
One might see fit to embrace a harrowing affliction if it provides beautiful insights that might otherwise not have been realised.
The hope that spending time up North would wind the clock back a few years is having some mild success. I’ve been more concentrated on work, finding more in less, lowering expectations, and finding a little luck on occasion.
It’s also given me a better relationship with the camera, which is itself remarkable because of the number of insulting remarks that I seem to unwittingly attract. I take a sarcastic pride in knowing there’s evidence as well. The particularly striking examples are ‘damaged goods’ a few months ago, which really hit hard, and then a girl in Sunderland being abusive, which has become a recurring topic of humour at home.
Why does this happen? Watching Cherry’s Body Dilemmas on BBC3 a few weeks back – a documentary which lost then recovered my sympathies – what surprised me was the apparent universality of low body confidence in women. Could I be forgiven for my surprise when I’ve had a good half-dozen targeted insults in recent memory? I’m still not sure I buy that widespread female absence of confidence in such straightforward terms. It’s uncomfortably ‘fashionable’ to be body-conscious right now, and I don’t fathom the humanity that would lead to someone deliberately insulting another. Just because I’m male does not make me immune. To label somebody ‘damaged goods’ or similar, I don’t know how I’d live with myself. Perhaps I’m wrong in assuming that an entire gender of apparently under-confident and body-sensitive women could possibly abide by similar principles.
Is this why people are more ready to lash out for no reason? Is it the acute awareness of how powerful image insults can be? Are women looking to treat others in the same way they are treated themselves? Of course, I can understand that. But, for goodness sake, why me? Does the vulnerability written across my face make me an open target? The questions go far deeper than those around me often realise, but that more of these hurtful remarks are heard by others offers some silent vindication at least. There’s always some benefit to not being completely isolated.
Behind the Bubble
I live behind a thin and fragile veil: constantly feeling to see if it’s there, reaching for protection when my surroundings change, and working out how to adapt to find peace. Personal privacy is a strong part of that.
Privacy is an interesting phenomenon in a family home, often where it’s most vulnerable. But then, ‘privacy’ has not always been about seclusion, and domestic privacy over the centuries has not always allowed that privilege. Privacy is what the individual makes of it. As such, having a structure and control imposed over personal privacy is not always a bad thing. I’ve long witnessed the distress and destructiveness of privacy in my favourite poet. I’ve long witnessed it in myself.
I’ll continue to learn from my own experience, channel even the most dismal into constructive interests, and attempt to become a better person. But I have enough in the locker now to say something outright:
I know how many people claim that looks aren’t important. Stop kidding yourself. That’s something we like to believe in ourselves and say only to make ourselves seem like wonderful, non-judgemental beings. We can believe what we want, and lie about it if we must, but challenge yourself to have a little class before you use appearance as a weapon. There’s enough ammunition in things we can do something about.
However we record them, we make our own memories…