Thursday, 18 January 2018

Barking Up the Wrong Man

Don't you just hate meddling characters? I know of two, though one was far more maddening than the other. I just couldn't like her, although in her lovesick state I don't suppose she could prevent herself from being tiresome, since she was so invested in her crush she couldn't see, as the recipient of her affections put it, 'she's barking up the wrong man.'
This was not a tree (or a man) she could climb. His heart and mind lay with another; another who didn't return his feelings yet consumed him day and night, and he, like her, wouldn't be told his pursuit was in vain. The lovesick girl made clumsy overtures, while the lovesick man had grander plans which were far more dangerous to anyone or anything that stood in his way of getting the girl. The other girl. The one he loved who didn't love him back and had twice married someone else. And with one had a son.
Both the lovelorn wanted something to materialise, however the girl had more realistic expectations. She saw what was for him out of reach, as did his work colleague and friend, yet only managed to infuriate him with her overzealous interest, whilst he went above and beyond to make his fantasies true, not realising (as we all sometimes do) that it's impossible to predict the behaviour of others.
His was more than a crush. Hers was mild by comparison and fairly typical when all you want is for someone to like you back. Or to notice you in that way. And yet, although this man got increasingly erratic and delusional, it was her I grew to dislike. A lot. She got under my skin so that I too barked up the wrong man and sided with the anti-hero.
Does it matter that this anti-hero was fictional? No, because Highsmith Country is peopled with characters that on the surface lead ordinary lives. They're liked (for the most part) and deal with themes that still happen in the world at large, despite the changed and changing times. Disbelief is quickly suspended when it comes to human nature. Highsmith just pushes the situation a bit further along, to its extremist point, until the characters break.
And on the way to that cliff edge you identify because life as most of know throws curve balls, maybe not exactly the same as in novels, yet still the circumstances in which they arise may exhort you to perhaps act out of all proportion, out of character. Or they allow the fantasy you use as an escape to take over until the door dividing the two can barely be slipped through, as it finally does in This Sweet Sickness.
Overwhelming emotions cloud thinking, like wearing glasses with a different coloured lens, not always of the rose-tinted kind, and these emotions, if unable to be controlled, need to be fed and the consequences of that can be fatal. Reality departs as paranoia sweeps in, or worse, a red mist that places you at the centre as well as detaches you from the situation and any others that you've involved or somehow they've mixed themselves up in.
The Situation, as Highsmith's David Kelsey refers to it, has similarities to A Midsummer Night's Dream without the comedic element, for what starts out as a straightforward case of unrequited love turns him psychotic, which then escalates to murder, and later suicide.
Attraction is indeed a sickness, chemically, though I question its sweetness, having very little experience of a mellowed relationship i.e. beyond the intense stage where I've been told it's more cosy and comfortable, because, to be frank, for a private person such intensity is a struggle. And if it's mutual, it's not just yours you contend with but also somebody else's so it's a double whammy.
One-sided? Well, it's easier if you can accept it as that and actually like distance from your 'pin-up': the one that to you oozes perfection or charisma. But there's healthy teenage-like crushes and then there's creepy obsessions. It's (I think) okay to hold a torch for someone if you don't exert your will, interfere in their lives or invade their privacy, especially if you know your feelings aren't nor are ever likely to be reciprocated. Although I'm not talking fan worship of some star because, seriously, that can be borderline...but somebody ordinary who you encounter. I mean, who hasn't occasionally barked up the wrong man (or woman) and tortured themselves?

Picture credit: Statue of Liberty, Henri Silberman

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Too Passive By Far

Each of us, I think I can safely say, thinks that everyone else's life is far more exciting than our own; that things happen all the time to other people, whereas all that happens to them is the status quo. The same continuation of old, or if not old then the new is not the right kind. It's not the kind to shake up a life or to make others go 'Wow!' Genuinely.
If effort has been required to get that 'Wow!' then it's the not same as someone who has had things happen to them with no effort, no input at all. Because sheer effort produces different endorphins and lacks the 'Oh my God' effect. It's less fairy tale and more determination-based. There are some that put in God knows how much effort and get nowhere at all; there are others that want a quiet life but are still hopeful unbelievable things will happen, that adventures will come unbidden to upset their humdrum life. These others aren't risk adverse they just don't know how to create or even if they'd be willing to go on a ride should anything magically appear. An amazing offer could land in their lap, and yet although it might have been hoped or longed for they'd still be torn between it and their comfortable shell. Caution would not be thrown to the winds, however dull their existence seemed. The dullness in itself, they realise, is a comfort.
Though life really is made up of repetitive tasks. Just think of anything you do day in, day out, possibly without being wholly conscious as it's that ingrained. Scary isn't it? when you begin to think of it like that, when you begin to look at life that way. Teeth get brushed, the clothes and face get put on, breakfast is eaten, the bed made etc. and so on. Mondays and Tuesdays you're here, Wednesdays you're there, Thursdays you're off, Fridays you see so-and-so, and at weekends you shop for the week ahead. When you begin to think in those terms isn't everyone's life, to a degree, regimented? And how instantly depressing!
Do any of us really do spontaneity? And I mean completely and whole-heartedly because there's always something to stop us. Usually what that something is not finances, it's a responsibility that doubles as an excuse, such as putting out the bins or an animal, or even the fact the trip is unplanned or, its opposite, needs planning. When you've managed without holidays and have grown used to a set routine, the mere thought of doing anything different or differently halts making arrangements to, for the world seems huge and the whole idea unfathomable. Too stressful, even, and not worth getting yourself worked up over.
So, then who's at fault? The person leading the unexciting life or how we collectively measure life and what each of us do with it? Is it just the nature of life: there's those that grab and those that sit back, and some that have all the luck as they say?
I think researchers would tell you that the majority of lives are uneventful, or that any adventures if had are brief and everyone somewhere down the line experiences monotony, be it short or long in months or years. And even possibly those that have had more than their fair share, be it of their own doing or chance, would prefer a less tumultuous life, though I think you'll find if circumstances bring that about they like it very little.
Balance is not easily achieved whichever way you naturally lean, but then your mood in regard to it is not constant either which seems unfair when life considered as a whole can appear too rushed or too slow, too filled or too empty, especially if the choice doesn't feel as though it was ever presented. Some people are better at rolling with whatever unfolds and some people aren't; some people like everything in their control and therefore retreat when an unexpected event fails to meet their exacting criteria, whilst those who aren't energised by or shy of life take a philosophic view where anything that occurs is measured as living.
That must be a nice view to have, a nice way to be, for I presume in that place there's no second guessing. Everything's how it's meant to be whether you personally had a hand in it or not. And so, I've reached the conclusion that it must be a perceptual attitude, one that's either with you from birth or attaches itself to you at some point, because in my thirties I've been far more successful at shutting life out than letting it in.

Picture credit: Loneliness, 1970, Alice Neel, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Nothing Book

Before the advent of a new year I'm always asked if I'd like a new Nothing Book. Last year I refused as I still had some pages of '16 left and was unsure if I wished to continue the tradition. Well, I did carry on but with less enthusiasm than ever before, and boy, did I eke out those last few pages. I rationed my entries with such gaping holes in-between that had it been a woollen jumper I would have been, quite rightly, mortified; but since it wasn't there to be seen whenever I took off my coat it was an easier burden to bear. It's much harder to parade shame when the cause is shoved in a drawer and not on your actual person, though you might still look worried or pale when the pushed-away guilt arises at an unrelated and ill-timed moment. You might even to others look cross because it's a task you're being unusually neglectful of and only you can feel its nagging.
It is, however, an ache you learn to put up with as entire months are missed. The drawer called and its calls were dismissed; my head urged me to write whereupon I gave myself a firm talking to, for what was the use? what was the point? who was it for? Save it for something momentous, not for monotonous trifles or grey-dead feelings. Even anger was better to record than dullness or whines.
So, 2017 passed in which I commented less, and life felt more cut and dry. A richness had gone because I didn't care. Who would be there to make sense of it anyway when I cast this body off? Despite the fact that it was an exercise that cleared my head and was proof, should these Nothing Books (for there are two boxes of them!) outlive me, of my existence. Still, I had wanted to see if I could rely on this medium less...maybe do without altogether, and I had made progress though my unwritten thoughts made it somewhat embittered. Unexpressed, they left a sour taste which meant that some of the time which would have been engaged in writing was instead spent rinsing my mouth and scrubbing my tongue. My gums therefore were healthier but my penmanship was altered.
What do they say? If you don't use it, lose it. And list-making, in my view, doesn't count, for it cannot compare to a flow of words, seeming to write themselves, across a blank page. But when I did take up my pen after an interval I was much more critical of my efforts: there were imperfections in my letters and careless spelling mistakes in combination with a bit of dyslexia which was uncommon. As if being a lefty wasn't trial enough! Words are sometimes smudged by the movement of my hand as I can't do that upside down over-the-top-of-the-page thing. Nor do I, you might like to note, reverse my knife and fork, though I occasionally struggle to cut with 'normal' scissors. But playing hockey is the only real difficulty I think I've ever had, and there was nothing that could be done to solve that, though I really think Miss Clark could have been more sympathetic and not scolded me quite so much for it was mostly the design of the stick that caused the handicap. Although to be fair, if her displeased looks were anything to go by, she didn't rate me as a basketball, netball or badminton player either, nor as a gymnast. Dancing, however, was not something she taught and there I did a little better for Ms Brown took pity on those who tried, rather desperately at times, to overcome their clunkiness, and in that I wasn't alone.
That's the type of thing you put in Nothing Books. Odd remembrances and current grievances.
Games mistresses who made your experiences of school a little unpleasant and bosses who irritate and irritated you. And then there's the words you choose, because, for example, Games Mistress sounds much more Mallory Towers and jolly hockey sticks than masculine P.E Teacher; and so in this way you mix your reality with fiction and make out this is the universe you inhabit to soften the blows you receive.
It's a practise that once firmly established in your life is hard to let go of. Even the choosing of the Book is sacrosanct, for it can't just be any old notebook. Each, for those of us who do or did practise it, have their own preferences: hard or soft back, pocket or medium-sized, lined or unlined, white or cream pages, possibly edged with gold. There's a discipline to it, a science of taste, just as there's a loose method as to how or what you record and when.

Picture credit: Helene Hanff, AZ Quotes