Dedicated to the few and faithful.
These end-of-year epilogues have become invariably sad affairs. Of course, I would prefer that it was different, but I still believe that they help me channel energies in a better way.
Last year – in what I still believe to be my best ever contribution here – I said that structural positives had been offset by surface negatives. Now, the poles have changed. It is the negatives that have become structural, while the positives feel so superficial that I’m not even sure that they scratch the surface. The overall effect is a damning one.
The common ‘body politic’ metaphor carried great power in early-modern England, and it resonates within me personally. If we align ourselves to the economy and become mere microcosms of the larger system that operates around us then I too am receding. Here writes an underperforming, uninspired, woefully under-confident shell, who remains without a credible plan to turn it all around.
That I know the root of the problem is both a blessing and a curse. There’s no searching for answers – or so I’ve thought – but rather a search for fixes. But finding either of these is hard when you’re powerless to affect the results.
The biggest mistake I made this year was following well-intended advice that was clearly not meant for such a spectacularly poor human. The second was not finding the strength to resist the process when I knew how damaging it was.
There are common myths banded about which, to me, seem categorically untrue. Among the worst of the genre is that the things we seek will happen upon us when we’re not looking or when we least expect them.
This plays on emotional opportunity cost. To try one’s hardest and still fail is sometimes comforting but always bleak – because we know that the failure is conclusive. When there’s nothing more that can be done, it’s simply the case that what we have is not good enough. And to live with such dejection constantly is like a cancer; it consumes away at a rate that allows nothing healthy to live.
But despite all of this, attempting to persuade anyone that what they seek will come when they do not look is even worse. Nobody can guarantee that. And when it fails to work, all that’s left is to castigate oneself for the time not spent trying. ‘Effort’ is a double-edged sword. Without reward, there seems no point. But even the timeless ‘carpe diem’ has more integrity as a motto.
Let go. Do what you have to do to make it. Feel all the bounteous glory there is to feel.
I don’t wonder this has become my new favourite of the Alphavillean oeuvre – made richer and more gripping by its ethereal live incarnations. Seek out the background doves: a wave of beauty and wonder.
Dance like no-one is watching,
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Sing like no-one is listening,
And live like it’s your last day on Earth.
[The things we’ve got to do…]
There are also myths that I propagate myself, to some disparagement. That there is a universal ‘pecking order’ is one example. Perhaps not all of us know where we stand in the great line of accomplishment and appeal. It’s better that we never need to know. But some of us end up discovering and even obsessing about it nonetheless. And observing the world under this lens, it’s evident how so many operate by embellishing their place on that chain.
It’s left to wonder, when my neck was targeted just shy of the millennium, or when people have no problem saying whatever they like for whatever reason they like, whether this sort of thing happens because somebody is identified as so low on the scale that they simply do not matter. This is the explanation I’ve come to adopt whenever I’ve felt victimised.
I remember writing an imitation of Milton long ago. O Half Loss of Sight. I’m still hooked on those words from Samson Agonistes: ‘The vilest here excel me: They creep, yet see’ (74-75). Sight becomes the means by which the speaker instils ultimate inferiority.
Living in a world where human nature is so disturbing; where words carry little integrity; where men are violent yet still raise families and command love, one can be tempted to think along similar lines. The vilest creep, yet live. Some of us purely and simply do not belong.
I envy those who revel in self-positivity. It’s shameful perhaps that, to me, self-opinion counts for nothing. Thinking yourself beautiful does not make others believe it so. Thinking yourself successful does not make it real.
And I don’t mean to deny achievement, for the year has not been entirely without it. I’ve earned a place in two volumes; an article for the Marvell Society Newsletter extending from a review of the summer conference; and a place in the Leicester Early-Modern Seminar Series. I preside over a personal finance blog independently rated at 15th in the UK, which is attracting interest and investment from large companies.
An eye in every storm, even where you least expect it. The Andy Blueman formula.
I am a semi-capable being. Just, at home, on my own, that means so little. And while my family has long supported my lofty yet unprofitable endeavours, their patience has started to run thin. The constant reminders of ‘wasting your life’ are a very bitter pill. Only, there’s no self-delusion here. Nobody is more aware than I am of what has been spurned.
When we scrub self-inflation and all of its progenitors away, what others think is all that counts – unless we plan to lead completely solitary lives. Self-determination is meaningless if everyone is driven away and nobody engages because of it. If nobody sees the appeal in someone, it just cannot exist in them. Sad, but true.
The basis of psychological wellbeing is created by the building blocks of others’ approval. Nobody deserves to feel unattractive – it’s heartbreaking – but it does happen. There’s no ‘runner-up’ or ‘second-best’ prize. And I think forces are allowing natural selection to come back to the fore.
This is a different kind of narrative to Skimming Stones, but there are glimpses of the same emotive crest that leaves an unshakeable impression on the soul. It speaks for numerous problems and discriminations: not only the real, but also the dysmorphic. Understand how I often believe that people regard me, and let the message take you as it will.
I’ve published little this year, and abandoned much, but it has all meant a great deal. The culmination of this deep-rooted psychological attachment with my favourite poet provides a story through his poems that is almost too beautiful and terrible to imagine.
It’s a tough self-interrogation. The stigmas about my own weaknesses that I can barely face mentioning here all have to be addressed somehow, and then masked with equal dexterity. I face my own fears as I read Marvell facing his, and know that the longer time goes on, the truer and more terrible this unholy marriage continues to become.
… In spite of history,
There’s enduring mystery
Of how humans fight the facts,
The memory of their acts.
So many new false dawns,
Bright days turned to storms,
So much hope and trust we looked to future dreams
Seen in two such different ways,
Each hoping that the days
Would bring a lasting plan,
Some gold beneath the sham,
And frailties would come along
As something strong,
And you would really love me
Instead of what you do…
I’ve paused to smile. Every year, I reference Prufrock as the quintessential foil. Nothing ever changes and there are no second chances.
My resolutions only ever tend to be renewed droplets of hope that a break will come. But by now, it’s evident what a futile exercise that is. My mind has burnt out of trickery. Belief is little when it lacks the faith that gives it substance.
No. I’ll remain on the periphery between security and insecurity, success and failure, driven by self-torture and a respectful fear of being positive. If that’s all that creates meaning for this soporific little guy in such times, it cannot be left behind.
But I do care that friends know what love is there for them. Without that, there would be nothing here for me and no strength left to write. Thank you immeasurably, as ever, for keeping a flame alive.
I leave you with incontrovertible evidence that rewards can exist for perseverance.