Facing a Challenge

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

David Tennant: Doctor Who - The Waters of Mars (2009)

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 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 beyond 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.

Body Dilemmas

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, where it tends to be 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:

People claim that looks aren’t important. That’s something we like to believe in ourselves and say only to make ourselves seem like wonderful, non-judgmental 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.


6 thoughts on “Facing a Challenge

  1. I was going to comment on your About Me page, but I guess you have comments closed. Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for your encouraging comment earlier today. I greatly appreciate it. It meant a lot to me.

    I love your blog! You are such a gifted writer. Your style is so poised and I feel like I’m reading something worthwhile after I finish. 🙂


    1. Thank you so much. 🙂 Sorry about that – I never expected that anyone would ever want to comment on the About page. That’s enabled now in honour of your kind words.

      It was my pleasure, and I’m so glad to make any bit of difference. I’m really pleased that you sound spurred and defiant rather than defeatist. I know hate-merchants do cause worry even though we feel they shouldn’t, but it’s your sovereignty, and you can block them out. Your posts are so engaging, and I’m all for seeing faith make such a positive difference.

      Thank you in turn for your lovely remarks. My esteemed PhD supervisor would assure you that I’m certainly not gifted in any way. I just wait for the right subject and the right moment to ensure that my piece comes out legible and complete. Consequently, I don’t post often enough. Even short pieces can be really taxing. But it means a lot to learn that there’s something worthwhile in there. 🙂

      You were writing about a consciousness at who reads your posts, and I understand that. Research-based posts here mean that a small number of academics pass by on occasion, and it’s difficult when I know I’m writing more personal material. Once we divulge, there’s no going back. I’m embarrassed that this is the first impression someone might receive of me. I think we can feel compromised in the internet world for admitting to weaknesses. So it’s nice to have something friendly resting here. Hope you won’t mind if I follow your writing more as well.

      All my best 🙂

  2. You’re sweet!

    You are a fantastic writer. I wish I could write half as great as you. Thanks for the follow, also. My blog is kind of all over the place but hopefully it will make you laugh on occasion.

    Keep in touch, please!

  3. There is presently no Doctor Who tag on this post, but it is with reference to that theme that I submit this comment.

    My sense is that there are people for whom your loneliness is an issue, people who want to help (again), people who are knocking at your door – people whom it seems you will not let (back) in. From confusion comes speculation, and I wonder whether your worry is that they are not merely knocking, but Knocking Four Times.

    1. As ever, I appreciate the sensitivity behind your words. You only wrote ‘knocking’ three times. And this weekend, my threshold was crossed. 🙂 People have said that I live my life in shadow, and that’s all too accurate. Perhaps I really do rely on my Suns coming up again and again. But your metaphor does hold. I still have the memories of adhering to the wrong knocks and being poisoned. I certainly don’t emerge as M.S. (though I do own a fez). x

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