Facing a Challenge

Science-fiction talk about ‘fixed points in time’ is something that really piques my attention. We have to deal with our life-defining moments. They cannot be undone.

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

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?

It’s all so bittersweet, because a prank-attack 12 years ago at that very station was a life-defining moment. A chain of mental issues 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 about human nature when friends who declared their support soon welcomed back the perpetrator after declaring an intention to ostracise him.

It was never their fault, of course, that it all escalated in my own head. Privacy and contemplation allowed thought to spiral out of control. Solidarity didn’t last beyond a weekend.

Facing a Challenge

The coping mechanism was a turn on my own 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 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 sound the 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 undergraduate degree in Bristol, 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 expanded to the corporeal in Geneva when I followed a perfectly-suited course, ‘Body Dysmorphic Discourses’, convened by Professor Deborah Madsen.

My latest PhD chapter, which deals with Andrew Marvell’s ventriloquism for a Cromwellian portrait, the visual fracture of the Cromwellian regime, and issues of glass and reflection, was both identified and informed by all that came before.

In a sense, this PhD reflects a unique lifetime of learning over and above a singular subject.

Dare we embrace harrowing afflictions if they provide insights that might otherwise not have been realised?

Body Dilemmas

Spending time up North recently has pushed the reset button a little. I’m more concentrated on work, finding more in less, lowering expectations, and even 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 attract.

There’s evidence as well. The particularly striking examples are ‘damaged goods’ a few months ago, which hit hard, and then someone in Sunderland shouting abuse in the presence of my sister, 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, I find myself quite surprised at the apparently widespread low body confidence in women, given how readily some of them throw targeted insults at me.

Just because I’m male does not make me immune. The questions go far deeper than those around me often realise. But when these remarks are heard by others, it offers some silent vindication. There’s always some benefit to not being completely isolated.

Behind the Bubble

I live behind a thin and fragile veil, constantly checking 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. And that’s 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 access to 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 experience 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 of ourselves, whether or not it is true. Just, challenge yourself to have a little class before you use appearance as a weapon. Try things we can do something about.

5 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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