This week marked the fourth anniversary of Writing Privacy. Time for a long-overdue makeover, I thought. And perhaps more importantly, time for a change.
This blog began in the distant hope of finding solace. I had arrived home from Switzerland in February 2009 with an overwhelming sense of loss and failure. My health had gone. Even to my dear grandmother, a woman who is never without compliments, I had become ‘frighteningly gaunt’. My long-term relationship had gone – or at least, it never recovered. My job had gone – my source of appeal and my opportunity. I came back home on my 25th birthday to rebuild my adult life again, only half the man that had left these shores.
We all want to move onwards and upwards in life. Once we set a benchmark, it’s difficult to live within it, beneath it, or inside it. It’s been hard not to feel caught in that net for the last four years. After taking such an illustrious chance at the age of 23, to leave it was a step so far backwards that it has long seemed impossible to know what can return me again to the brink of the frontier.
In the ensuing years, I think I’ve quietly fashioned myself as a victim of all that I’ve surveyed. God knows, I’ve had all the ammunition I’ve needed, and that’s not entirely my own fault. In fact, I’ve often cruelly delighted in finding witnesses to the kind of behaviour that’s sustained a low ebb. I’ve been set-up, tricked, mocked, scammed, shamed, and ignored. As I’ve hinted recently, if you don’t feel appealing in yourself as an individual, it’s hard to believe that the life you lead means enough.
Perhaps we don’t notice this (or want to notice this) about ourselves, but we live to impress – if not to impress others, then to impress ourselves enough that we’re able not to worry about others. It’s a vital cog in the pursuit of inner-peace, I think – a hard-sought after thing.
In the final pages of my thesis, I’m writing about ‘The Garden’, Andrew Marvell’s most obscure and fascinating poem, suggesting that these very concerns are prevalent there as well, as much as the speaker attempts to dismiss them.
It’s not difficult to see how the speaker uses solitude as an excuse for evasion. First of all, he becomes so caught up in his bounteous surroundings and the ‘amorous’ green that he barely notices the women being pursued by hot-blooded suitors (St. 3-4). Then, there follows an erotic scene, but with nature, where fruits crush themselves upon the speaker and flowers ensnare him (St. 5). Intoxicated with his environs, he retreats into a solitary ecstasy that hinges upon an apocalypse of green (St. 6).
I’ve questioned the hidden depth of ‘green’ thoughts and shades several times before, and it’s an enigma that I’d love to leave my own mark upon. For me, doubts about the purity of ‘green’ are substantiated by the penultimate stanza. So much for a mind’s paradise in the superabundant garden… Barely has the ‘perfect’ world of green begun before we’re back to an obsession about the absence of women.
Such was that happy garden-state,
While man there walked without a mate:
After a place so pure and sweet,
What other help could yet be meet!
But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share
To wander solitary there:
Two paradises ’twere in one
To live in Paradise alone.
(‘The Garden’, 57-64)
To me, this is neither dismissal nor misogyny, but a confession of inadequacy from a desperately vulnerable man. It’s not the explicit outcries of Damon the Mower, but discrete echoes of the same sentiment nonetheless.
In the Mower poems, as welcome as the presence of Juliana must be to the adolescent hormones, she’s an unwitting and quixotic torment to a well-meaning but incompetent Damon. In ‘The Garden’, the speaker resolutely undertakes to rid heterosexuality and overcome that same kind of dependence. But I think this stanza admits defeat.
In lamenting the circumstances that turned Adam from a self-satisfied asexual being into one with new desires and dependencies that the speaker cannot adapt to, the poem becomes a crippling expression of loneliness that hides behind a facade of false-contentedness and forced detachment.
That’s the catch of Marvell’s ‘delicious’ solitude as damage limitation. It becomes addictive and necessary to avoid exposure to what is most wanted and the torture that comes with it. But at the same time, it’s avoidance – the opposite of a solution. It denies opportunity and allows for little else than endless contemplation of the insecurities that both establish and perpetuate that unnatural need for permanent isolation.
No wonder the mind explodes into green: both health and sickness; ripeness and unripeness; fulfilment and emptiness; everything and nothing.
That final couplet seems like the most gripping of conclusions to all that’s come before, both here and elsewhere. Two paradises in one to live alone. Without the torment of women and of loneliness, one suspects he would be twice the man.
Green shades and green shadows: fragments of what could be.
The PhD crew at Leicester occasionally talk about how deeply we each associate with our own work. It’s a known fact that I am autobiographically aligned with mine. I look at the fruits of my recent labours, and wonder if anybody else would come up with a synthesis so deeply embroiled in the deepest reaches of their own minds.
But I love it. Genuinely, I love it. I would gladly be defined by my private intensity. And I want it to be known, for the legacy of the last four years, that the sensation of my own anguish and torment being put to valuable use and establishing a particular way of seeing provides a value of purpose that I’ve never truly recognised. I’m not sure I dare call it fate, but the nature of innocence and experience has been able to guide my progress in a way I would not have otherwise found.
This may not be the most groundbreaking of theses that began in Switzerland and crawls to a close in Leicester, but by my blood, it will be my own, and it will be fiercely precious to me, if not the academy. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly of all – if it is successful, it might just be the doorway to reshaping that frontier and putting so many of my demons to rest.
Dedicated to one of my oldest and dearest friends – a very special Canadian lady, whose unyielding kindness and blinding force of will to help me inspires me to help myself.