Where to start, a few practical notes I suppose. I will soon be re launching a new web space more streamlined and minimal with mostly blogs and photos, as I couldn’t give a fuck about most of the shite I have done in the past, it seems a million miles away from who I am now. A couple of years ago I began blogging (refer to previous posts) intending to keep it going as a monthly output aware that my “long dark night of the soul” which is now coming up for seven years in length, (and here it must end) is however painful a rich and creative force in connective potential. Anyhow like almost every aspect of my life I let the blog slip away despite torturing myself over it’s absence almost every day of my fucking life since, are you getting my psychological profile yet? “Rhona is her own worst enemy” featured in all my school reports. I keenly wish to remedy this by committing to a monthly blog; I have missed Jan so I will try to publish two this month in order keep on track. Please bear in mind, I have zero editorial skills, I just need to purge.
Who do you feel you are?
There is a time, which is now for myself and others when either an opening or closing occurs. It reminds me of musical chairs as a kid, can you remember the excitement of that? It was one was my favourite games as it was so charged with adrenalin, and anticipation. All of us creeping cautiously around, dreading the bit at the top of the chairs when you take slightly longer to turn the corner onto the next chair, some people would cheat allowing their hands to sweep over the chair almost touching in waiting every second with every fabric of our being, for the music to stop, and when it did it was so exciting, especially if there was only a few of us left with the chairs spaced out to make it harder. The adult presence refereeing the event made it all the more tense and official. I’ll never forget the thrill of musical chairs, I’m remembering church halls and gym halls and community centres with a teacher playing the piano, birthdays in the most cramped of living rooms with someone manning the Hitachi cassette player, back gardens… lovely stuff.
A different kind of musical chairs takes place in adulthood in particular mid life, people grab the nearest person, or place, or thing, grab their partners for what they feel is the last dance, a dance that may last a while but none the less one that feels to be their last which drives the need to secure an imagined base for when their own personal music stops.
I have learned through watching the lives of many older people than myself, sixty and beyond that there is the potential for enormous growth throughout all of our lives at any time, and the call to us from within to want to grow doesn’t stop until near the very end, that is our true nature, whether we choose to listen to it or not is another matter. As we know life is impermanent, everything is changing and everything goes, nothing is forever and nothing can be relied upon to be a constant force other than the elements of nature, and tragically the dark forces of our human existence have altered even those. Our struggle to understand and cope with this feeling of impermanence from birth to death is the fear that ties us to people, patterns and places long past their sell by date.
Yet despite guffaws of “50 is nothing” it does present us with a leaving boat, a time where we are given a chance to change track and gather all our energies and resourcefulness (for it will all be needed in order to do so,) and create what will most likely be our last full steam ahead gear shifting moment to propel us into perhaps our last twenty years in this lifetime. It is not negative rather realistic to acknowledge this last boat of true self, for it is leaving and if missed it will take our hearts and souls and our drives with it, leaving us on the edge of the shore like most of our ancestors with a self imposed exile for company for the years that follow, inhabiting a lonely force heavy with failed duty to self which we will try to accept best we can believing that our “best years” were hollowed out in past decades. Though thankful for the bricks and mortar that surround us (and that is a blessing) and perhaps even with “the magical other” for company and a pool of friends in which to dine and chat with, we will become merely creatures of routine and habit, the structures and routines that will bind us, until we die.
This is what I see and feel in the people around me; In all their guises, rich and poor, famous and publicly unknown, financially secure, married, unmarried, mothers and fathers, academically brilliant, widely admired, a mixed bag of us all, none the less I can see the two paths ahead, and very few make it on board.
Yes life is indeed about what you do with the hand you are dealt rather than the hand itself, I agree completely with this philosophy, for some of us it’s a tougher journey to get there is all. I have been close to enough people born into privilege all with great hands who will never need to worry about housing, health care, retirement, caring domestically for themselves or their ageing parents, it will all be sorted by a bank transfer, it always has been. However I found those people to be the least exciting (sex aside) with the least natural capacity for depth, unlikely to be creative powerhouses, and above all the least willing to self examine. For most of them are so reliant on the safe structures in which they grew up that provided them with so much material stability that even after accumulating more than enough wealth to be comfortable for the rest of their lives, it none the less leaves them terrified to venture into the unknown, whatever the human cost. It seems that they are bound by a much more complex and powerful family legacy than even kids born into the working class like myself. Feeling an obligation to this legacy that they cannot after many years live without. I know a beautiful woman born blessed with material wealth and all its fast tracking who often works eighteen hours a day, sleeping under her desk until a deal closes that many of her peers envy, yet she has kept the same hairstyle as her mother since childhood, which despite moving towards middle age is still in the same little girl style which to this day is only allowed to be cut by mater and mater only. Another who has several houses, an all year round tan, a ton of clothes and an unused Ferrari she keeps as a relic of her city days, which she owed to Thatcher’s heyday, her ultimate mummy dearest.
I won’t lie I have deeply envied both these people at times and all like them as they have never known poverty and struggle. Yet despite all the trappings of mummy or daddy’s wealth passed on, which comes with an unwritten proviso that they pretty much follow in their footsteps their entire lives, they display a defensive anxiousness when any threat to their structures arises, choosing instead to hide behind the corporate façade, wining and dining and busy and meeting and closing, until eventually the body gives in no doubt. From what I see this cycle doesn’t bring them any closer to nourishing partnerships, or to themselves, marriages present as merely a length of time they have endured the company of another, which is filled with activities and events, something else brought in to fill in the time between working hours and holidays which they fear will leave them with only themselves for company, and the daunting question of who are they without the big daddy building they go to everyday and all its rules and regulations? For them it doesn’t bare thinking about they must simply “keep calm and carry on” how I hate that fucking mass marketed philosophy, which has made its way onto domestic items such as coasters and tea towels. I propose a new one- “life is constantly changing”
Like most of us I was brought up and surrounded by people who never got to be themselves, such are the sacrifices of the war generation and before and before and so on. Most of them were trapped in marriages they found themselves in as if law dictated they must serve a sentence with someone they did not love, but found to be polite and a good dancer so what the hell, and the two became a couple and the couple had or acquired children and the children kept them busy, the men enslaved to jobs with little fulfilment other than food and a roof which are essential to basic survival of course but play no part in the nourishment of soul.
Too soon these figures grew bent and gnarled, regimented in routine like vehicles on a track that couldn’t make right or left turns for fear of de railing, many ironically died soon after retirement. Unexplained lives, mysterious “never married” uncles, chain-smoking in bed-sit rooms in sibling dwellings their entire adult lives. Days punctuated by washing, eating and shitting around various television programmes and the odd game of clock patience. Relatives who did not speak to one another for years, baring grudges that went back decades, simply bound out of a pointless bloodline duty, dark secrets kept under candlewick bedding, whispering elderly neighbours mouthing the words that dare not be said for a fear a child would learn part of another wretched souls tainted history.
I had a great auntie who was “difficult,” married to a down trodden man my great uncle who was born old looking, a man by the time I came along who’s boundaries were already restricted to his work, his home and the car on Sundays with a perhaps a foxes glacier mint whilst driving. My mum explained their marriage to me fairly recently best she could without compromising the “just get on with it” values of her generation, of course the story made no sense as it unfolded, it seemed her uncle felt obliged to marry based on something he had said to her auntie right at the start of their journey that had he backed out would have caused much social embarrassment. Apparently the poor soul was in tears to his young niece, my mother on many occasions once the deed was done, certificate signed and the rings binding them for a purgatory they made as bearable as they could. They had no children so there was no obligation of that kind at the outset, and from what I could decipher it sounded as if he like most of the human race felt compelled to imprison himself out of a fear that he would never be able to investigate. This sadly is not a new concept and forms the bases of I believe many marriages if indeed not most to this day, gay or straight.
My auntie was always a dogmatic force and considered suspicious, though in the family dynamic she was always protective and a great ally to her niece my mother, more so than my grandmother who’s brother was the groom and prisoner in question. I fairly early on was able to see beyond the harshness of my great aunt and her inability to control her opinions and feelings, for beneath her as clear as day to me was a creative and passionate potential who longed to break out, and she did too as a young women during war time which she enjoyed with a vigour that she would yearn for all the way to her death bed.
She was for one a smoker for a while, unheard of for a woman from the old style working class. I saw photographs were she sat on seaside rocks in trousers no less, with a smile and a fag. There was talk in later years that she had been sexually promiscuous during the war with American soldiers and the similarly displaced at that time. Although in those days for woman one or two sexual liaisons with anyone outside of marriage was running the risk of being fast tracked to the nuthouse.
As a child I listened to the tales with keen eyed curiosity, at this unfolding character with a life force too potent to prevent her from being anything other than who she truly was, and that was a crime in those days, it still is to some extent if it questions the institutions that we grew up in, but not to the magnitude it was then and not with same consequences.>br>
In the years that followed the war, when rationing subsided and life was “back to normal” her own rationing began, and she joined the others in not being herself. There was a period where she turned to writing poems, in a two big ledgers about the hum drum every day things that happened in her tiny world, they all had to rhyme, whether it was about my mum and dad moving house after many years living in the same street as their family (another condition of life then) or me arriving, or a neighbour v council dispute to which she was always involved in, they all made it to the ledger in that handwriting they had back then that breaks your heart when you see it now. She was definitely the dark powerful force of the family, unable to conceal her shadow from the world. I used to love staying the night in her flat and spending the day with her and her chain smoking constantly swearing neighbour Jean who would mid flow always say, “Excuse my French.” Another exciting element to those visits was the acceptance of me wanting to go trouser shopping, and drawing for hours on a large roll of paper that my uncle brought back from his work at the brewery, where I made detailed plans of the interior of a spaceship that flowed easily from a plan in my head. She took me swimming at the Commonwealth pool and shouted encouragement from the sidelines, fake fur hat still on despite stiflingly warm conditions, chips to follow and back to the flat to my architecture.
When part of my true self emerged years later in my late teens early twenties it was all the more shocking when my auntie turned against me, she took the time to write me a five page letter which I subsequently carried around for years later as self harming document, which in basic terms told me I was evil and disgusting and it was a blessing that my father died years before so he wouldn’t have to witness my disgusting god hating gayness, and how my behaviour in all its forms was to blame for the entirety of my mothers pain as well as her physical ailments. She blamed as they all did at times the adoption, and how things could have been different if only I was a different baby. Of course in these days when such huge harpooning of the heart took place, there was no kind way of dealing with it, no “process” anybody to discuss it with, and a bottle of spirits was always your first therapeutic port of call.
I did for many years believe the contents of the letter, the philosophical teachings of the middle class lesbian feminist separatists whom I infiltrated for a while in the early eighties helped me understand it better. Activism was added to alcoholism, which gave me a focus and a connection with my personal injustices and the collective struggle, yet the hurt would not subside, nor would the guilt, but at least it could be numbed.
I later learned in my thirties when I was writing my book “1979” that my great aunt had suffered in a first marriage to a man who went to war and declared in his letters from afar that he was homosexual, can you imagine the shame she felt back then? The hurt and the betrayal, so piece-by-piece I completed the jigsaw portrait of my great aunt and the immense hurt she caused me. These patterns and pieces all make up the tapestry of all our all lives and the cameos people play throughout, and my fascination for this has never ceased. It’s amplified as my life deepens through an increasingly lonely path in which I try to make sense of it all and attempt to turn it into pieces of work.
In my late twenties by then a rising star of stand up comedy whilst performing at the Edinburgh festival, I reluctantly but dutifully visited my great auntie on her deathbed in her sheltered housing on the outskirts of the city. Deathbeds are always ugly in my experience, perhaps the dying peacefully ”surrounded by his/her loving family” scene’s reported in obituaries represents most people’s reality, but I doubt it. For my auntie like many childless of her generation and class who far outlived their downtrodden husbands she felt truly grateful to have at least a Macmillan nurse present and god bless these guys. Auntie held on for me no doubt about it, for she died the next morning. I stroked her skeletal head, which contained eyes long blind, and thanked her for helping me with my swimming, as it became such an important part of my life. I left sorrowful and disgusted at how cheated she and everyone seemed to be, and hoped that those miserable days in her tiny bed in her tiny room with a bucket of piss and a changing shift of nurses would be spent dreaming fondly of the war and the part she played in “lifting moral”. For her life had failed to take on fulfilling meaning ever since. There was no mention of the letter, not ever, it became part of the flotsam and jetsam of my life that got lost in one of my many moves, yet still to this day I think and dream of her as I did only last night, could this be a warning? The great reminder of your own life’s potential to break your heart, if you succumb to it and not take up the struggle to be one’s true self.
Away from London back home where I grew up in my small Scottish fishing town tradition still rules, a new middle class from the old working class has emerged, expensive cars, holiday homes abroad, Pilates, wine on the table, choices my mum’s generation could have never have imagined, yet the old order still applies. If you are a working class young lad you are expected to participate in “manly pursuits” such as boxing and football/rugby which will keep you from straying into darker quarters, and if you are a girl educated or not, the focus will be appearance which will be flaunted for online strangers who will hold the key to your self esteem. Drugs are still the most feared pastime for any parent but generations of alcoholism are an accepted norm. People drink bottles of spirits a day but with no family intervention of any kind let alone a conversation. “They function” they “keep busy” is usually the comeback to my astonishment. People buy homes near their ageing relatives from as soon as they are old enough to work and have a child themselves, the plasma now the hearth of each family, a generation of children well versed in technological devices long before puberty but devoid of the pleasures of direct experience, such as strawberry picking, fire making, and a chase of the farmer and such like. Where cultural and artistic expression are still regarded as that thing up the town that all these media types do in the festival. I see people there waiting patiently and politely for months on end for their turn in the chemo cue, one, which is growing at a rate no one, could have anticipated. Not even the sociopaths who put the toxins in our food chain, yet they wait and wait despite how much their enslavement to a working life has contributed to the tax system that is abused by those who have the most, and protected by a governing elite who have no investment in changing that.
“A damn good kick of the ball” as my Scottish male friend says referring to his time before marriage and family should mean more than getting pished without the fear of consequences, a few trips over seas and an above average quota of fanny surely? Though I for one cannot discount the pleasures of all three for I have enjoyed them in abundance too, but as the much needed mid life crisis swells up from within we must ask what do we need to be in this remaining time? We must forget our family legacies and our institutionalised learning’s; aside from the fables that taught us kindness and gratitude, and above all disregard the advertisements they are someone else’s prison bars.
I truly believe if we could join up the unifying force of self discovery something my poor old auntie could not bare to see in me, for it was a terrifying image to her own self projected fears of shame and failure. If we could be sure of what we really feel then we can be more sure of our actions which in turn affect others around us, if we began with a responsibility to ourselves in the search for our own true identities, we would find more in common as a basic human need than the differences we create and focus on among us that causes such extreme and violent hatred and bloodshed. After all, fear manifests in the action of projecting outwards onto others.
I agree with John Lennon in that the great thing about fame is you can be miserable in comfort,(not saying I am however) but sure, one requires their financial security it does help ease the journey.
It certainly buys one some autonomy in which to conduct our affairs and look after ourselves now that compassionate state care is being eroded. We live in very different times from when John said that, we are now in an insanely material focused age where profit and shares are considered by many to be more important than our souls, encouraging business without any ethical limits to bring excessive wealth to power to the top tier, yet whatever the trappings of a consumerist free market society. How much worth are the accolades and the notches on ones belt if we build a fence around our hearts? If one remains so dishonest and guarded towards once self? For the heart and soul speaks to us, it calls us into our centre of being. Its all we can fight with against the contemporary dehumanising forces of comsumerisation and free market capitalism, and as the personal much needed mid life crisis swells up from within don’t we owe it to the toil and sacrifice of those before us let alone ourselves to ask who are we really?