Fifty Shades of Green: An Epilogue, 2015

In the absence of just about anything else, 2015 can best be described as a career year. It began in January with a new job at the London School of Economics and ended with a new job at the University of London. Those are the facts.

Just contemplating that for a moment, I cannot quite fathom what has happened. As someone who kept his first retail and bar jobs for two years each, it feels highly unusual to have jumped puddles so quickly.

The determination to prove myself following all the rejections faced in 2014 led me to attack the job at a ferocious pace. After just nine months in post, the role I vacated at LSE had grown enough to warrant the removal of half the responsibilities for the new candidate.

Equally, the move to London, with its costs, stresses and pressures, inspired levels of proactivity and opportunism that had been sorely lacking. After ten years at university and on-going struggles as a freelancer, it has become impossible to ignore the fact that there is too much catching up to do to stand still on the bottom rung.

shades-of-green

It has surprised me how comparatively easy it becomes to get opportunities once you have a reputable institution to hand. As I made clear in my farewells, there is an immense amount of gratitude to LSE for taking a chance on me where nobody else would. I didn’t leave because I wanted to – rather because I couldn’t afford not to.

This becomes the focus of the year for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s a huge amount of relief at the first clear demonstration of career success since this journal began. Secondly, it is the only demonstrable success of the year, by some distance. And thirdly, it’s indicative of a broader change of behaviour.

This march of progress may reflect the better side of that change of behaviour. I’ve worked hard, fought my corner, sniffed out opportunities, and made the most of them.

But I’ve pushed myself to the limit as well, and there are signs that cracks are beginning to show.

Half my ideals and behaviours are so languid and archaic that they don’t fit with the modern era, where the other half of me has been inadvertently dragged. It’s stung me hard at times – in ways I’ve never experienced before.

“It seems the paranoid are sometimes actually being followed.”

In October, I was labelled a ‘green’ man. It was meant in a friendly way, but not as a compliment, and I certainly didn’t take it as one. It came as part of an episode that blew up a slightly odd friendship, and I’m not sure I’ve recovered from it.

In fact, several bridges have been broken. And, if I’m honest, ‘green’ is quite accurate, but perhaps not just in the way it was originally directed.

Green is meant to represent a sense of the new and fresh, the blissfully naive and undeveloped. I’ll add gullible to that too, which sits between some of those lines.

But if anyone knows how dangerous and multifaceted the term ‘green’ is, that would be me.

I’ve made a point over the years of demonstrating how Andrew Marvell’s lyric poetry turns on its head when you understand ‘green’ as a dark force – of envy, of jealousy, of greed, of sickness – rather than one which exalts nature.

It’s a term with a dark heart, and I think the other facets of 2015 have awoken these darker traits. I’ve been more outwardly jealous and bitter than I would like to believe was possible, and that’s especially tough to admit because I’ve done so much to suppress it in the past.

It hasn’t been without provocation, it must be added. I’ve anguished at length over what to do, and how to rebuild. But I cannot escape the verdict that all my reactions this year have been warranted.

Andrew Marvell Plaque of 'The Garden' by Lauderdale House

Our social interaction becomes more specific and more schematic as we get older, it seems to me. The main gap people have in their lives is for a partner. Once you’re out of contention, or once that gap is filled, you’re instantly forgettable. And where in the past I’ve solemnly let myself be forgotten, I’ve been more forward recently in calling people out on their manipulative ways.

People hate this being mentioned, because it’s the easiest thing to accuse others of when it’s done to you. One big round of hypocrisy. It’s a point of no return, and there’s no going back from it. You either go quietly with dignity intact, or you go by saying your piece and leaving a mark.

Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered, the result is no different. While you can attempt to shift the blame by calling others out, the need for self-improvement is no less urgent.

I’m the sort of person that is useful as company until something better comes along. A stop-gap. A quidam. That’s the way it’s been for as long as I can remember, and while I’m often grateful for it, all it does is perpetuate the idea that I’m not good enough.

If you’re particularly unlucky, someone will make it their business to give you a damning verdict. On a scale of one to ten, I’m apparently lucky to score a one.

Wills Hall Gardens

Green Shades, Greener Shadows

So, now that this has become such a familiar pattern, should it be any surprise that I seem a bit ‘green’? I’m still woefully timid. I expect people to find me substandard, and I have no idea how to change that. As I explained in October in my defence: I don’t have many reasons to assume anything else.

But that earned me a lecture on being more of a man, because I refused to take advantage of someone who wasn’t thinking clearly.

My thanks for acting honourably was a metaphorical slap in the face, and another layer of psychological netting that all the drink and the extra disco work in December couldn’t help me clamber through.

Where Marvell mentions ‘green’ in his poetry, there’s normally some imagery of shade or shadow lurking close by. It suggests that people who are ‘green’ will rarely stay the same shade, or that it’s rare to experience one sort of green without tints of the other.

The older you get, the more people expect of you in terms of confidence and self-assurance. By the same token, the longer you go without true fulfilment in your life, the less of those attributes you’re going to have. It’s a pattern of opposite trajectories that cannot easily repair itself. Lines become further away from crossing than ever before.

Professor Frank Wilczek at LSE

2015 was helping me to build confidence. Then it blew another great hole in it. I don’t know where to go with this other than to numb it all out and expect time to do its normal slow rebuild.

But at least I know that by describing it in this much detail, I’m more in control of it than I have been in previous years. I’m certainly not wanting for everything.

I’m grateful, for once, to have a career to cling to. I’m grateful for great colleagues this year that have helped me feel like good company, even if it’s only because they are professionally obliged to spend time with me.

This is dedicated to them, with the usual pledge that I will be better for what I’ve learnt, and that as long as you have time for me, I will always have time for you.

May all that you seek be the least that you find in 2016.

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