making luck

What is luck? There could be a spectrum for luck. Big bad luck (terminal disease), small bad luck (tripping over and looking silly), big good luck (winning the lottery), small good luck (finding a pound coin), and everything in between.

Put in those terms, you might think perhaps there is a spectrum, different chunks of luck which you may or may not be afforded. But still, it is possible to consider luck singularly, as a one entity or phenomenon.  In which case you might claim it’s impossible to attribute causal reason to luck and happenstance. It is ungovernable and purely random.

But there is a common, lazily trotted out motivational phrase which deeply irritates me. “You make your own luck,” people say. People who say this usually appear comfortably off, moderately successful, possibly smug. At times it appears self congratulatory. As if they might have been served a good helping of luck at one time or another, whether by their birth into wealth or a fortunate career turn, and they wish to acknowledge that luck while also communicating that they are deserving of the luck because they worked hard. At times it whispers faintly of guilt.

[I DESERVE THIS! I DO! I HAVEN’T JUST BEEN HANDED THIS BECAUSE DADDY IS RICH! I DESERVE IT!]

I most recently heard the view espoused by a well groomed middle-aged white man of affluent appearance to a sports’ hall of hundreds of people: young people and their parents. To exemplify resilience and achievement against adversity he also used a recent Premier League football match in which one side apparently overcame a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. I don’t really know anything about the chap (‘chap’ feels appropriate) but I found it all nauseatingly trite, almost propagandist.

A patronising implication of “you make your own luck” is that if you buckle down and work hard at something, conform to the system, you will be successful. It will happen.

But if you work hard at anything, surely the aim is that you will ultimately earn rewards. You will improve or develop and good things may come as a result. Is that luck or basic cause and effect?

Sure, if you go around scouring city centre pavements, you’ll have a better chance of finding some pound coins. (Although would it be ‘lucky’ if you did?) If you religiously enter the lottery every week, you’ll have a better chance of winning.

You might always get a break (perhaps a medium chunk of positive fortune), but this is not really the same as luck: wild, random fluke. Not if there is a direct relationship between solid effort, industry and progress of any kind.

It’s misleading to say there is a simple direct correlation between working hard and success. Although a degree of positive fortune is often needed to grease the wheels of achievement, and perhaps young people do need the constant reinforcement that there is virtue in working hard, in being disciplined.

Modest people occasionally attribute their success to luck. “Me? No, I was just lucky” they might say. “Right place, right time.” But again, their ability and work until or indeed beyond that point is likely to have a strong bearing on sustained success. It was not plain, out of nowhere, here-have-a-million-quid luck.

Luck is often discussed in isolation from big bad luck because it is a whole different kettle of fish. If your plane falls out of the sky or your baby contracts an obscure terminal disease, that big bad luck is exempt from anything we have done. It has no relationship with our actions. In the aftermath of a devastating accident and multiple fatalities, nobody claims, “pah.. well, you make your own luck”. But it is still luck, fortune, chance.

Should bad luck be divorced from good luck? And if you can’t create bad luck, can you really create good luck? Surely luck is just luck: bald, featureless, arbitrary, ungovernable. To suggest otherwise, to suggest it can be created by working hard, that is self-serving nonsense.

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Dear March 2017 Me

Dear March 2017 Me, thanks for your blog message of just over a year ago.

You’re in quite a state, aren’t you? Well, there’s good news and bad news. You’re all still alive and living in the house, just as you were 12 months ago. You haven’t had to find or been able to find additional work, however you prefer to look at it. You have looked, applied for a few things, but nothing has really come off. And that’s ok.

You’re still getting by here in April 2018, paying your share of bills and mortgage. Not a whole lot has changed, except one pretty major thing. You look set to become a Dad around sometime in September.

I know. I KNOW, alright? Don’t freak out. It’s hard not to, yes. I should find some words to explain why you should not freak out but they are not exactly coming to me right now so perhaps you should freak out a bit. Or maybe wait a while. No point freaking out back in March 2017. Wait a little longer until you catch up with us here in April 2018.

Time is confusing, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, impending parenthood does not mean you are now on more solid financial ground. Far from it. You still lurch nervously from month to month. You have just done your tax year calculations and found everything to have slumped by a few grand on the previous year, as expected. But try not to read too much into it. This is difficult because we are measured and judged by such things as our annual incomes and our net profits. Not least by ourselves. You know your flash self-satisfied neighbour dickhead with his new Mercedes earns three to five times more than you. You wonder how you are quietly judged for being at home quite so much.

But you can choose to flip it, to disregard it a little, to treat it more as a month-by-month thing – as you do. You are tightly controlled by those numbers in your bank balances. Some months they are frighteningly low and you don’t know what you’re doing, what the future holds, how you can live with yourself when you’re able to offer your family so appallingly little – here, Happy Birthday, have a satsuma – but it can all change with a sudden decent, promptly-paying job.

Sure, it’s extremely unlikely that any big bucks opportunity will turn up to give you any significant financial cushioning. Something, say, that would allow you a short overseas holiday and some decent continental sun on your face. However much you crave it, that would require serious funds in order not to feel horrendously guilty about all the rolling expenses.

But on the small month-to-month scale things can turn around quick enough. It’s how you cope with the bumpiness, the choppy seasickness, the rollercoasting anxious pukeyness of it all: that’s what matters.

It feels like you have little choice but to cope with it, and you often feel like you don’t, like you simply revert to beating yourself up, telling yourself how much of a useless self-indulgent lazy shit you are. She doesn’t like that of course and tells you not to do it, how you must not do it, you need to stop doing it for your own health. But it’s a difficult, deeply embedded neural pathway to reprogram.

You are open to new opportunities here in 2018. You still occasionally glance at job boards, but feel evermore cut adrift from traditional workplaces which value solid consistency and certifiable skills.

The fact you don’t do much with yourself is a good thing financially. You finally allowed your 8 year gym membership to lapse, despite using it regularly until the day it expired. It was another cost you did not need, although it was somewhere else to go, an escape, an outlet, sometimes even a social outlet. Outside of that you walk the dog, listen to podcasts, you work when you can; you have a library membership and Netflix and Spotify and hopefully before too long a demanding small person whose bodily fluids you will have to endlessly field. You have independence. That will be plenty.

So March 2017 me, yes you get through it all ok. You ride it out. It isn’t easy and it never gets easy. But you know, the same goes for you and most of the population. In the grand global scheme of things you have plenty to be grateful for.

For now anyway. Until everything gets gradually even worse with the economy, Russia, business gets worse again. How much worse can it get? Probably a lot. Damn. Now you’ve got me nervous again. Hey April 2019 Me, is everything ok?

Lots of love,

April 2018 Me

 

 

trying harder

It was like I’d suddenly announced a newly sprouted penis, such was my brother’s whooping theatrical incredulity at the news. On revealing the pregnancy to him and his wife at our childhood home, they seemed shocked and surprised and pleased. Their children, aged 11 and 8 and also in the near vicinity, understandably seemed more indifferent.  “Weird” was the verdict of my niece.

I sensed that although my brother and his wife had never probed and would never concede it, they had more or less assumed this was off the agenda for us. It would not happen. Perhaps it was wonder enough that I found someone with whom to share my life after so many barren years in my 20s, a period when they appeared to smirkingly speculate about my sexuality from time to time.

And now we appeared to have our modest lifestyle sorted: our dog, nice enough house and our relatively low income. It was clear I was not earning much money. My other half was doing ok in her steady job though and we were getting by. Surely we would not upset that with a new human being. That would be silly.

But this pregnancy news presents a whole other dimension.

Later on, after the initial shock had subsided, a mile or so into a long walk with the dogs and kids, my brother said, “well if you sat down with a spreadsheet it wouldn’t work, but…”  While this was eventually followed by a more positive spin and ways it could work out with the help of our parents, those words stuck with me. They rang around my head for days because I knew they held a cold bleak truth.

I still scrap by month to month, sniffing out the next few hundred quid, and the next few hundred quid. I work hard but continue to exist with horrible insecurity. My mental landscape is defined by my bank balance, how achievable the next bankable few hundred quid will be, when it will arrive in my account, how much I will have to politely chase for it, what the next job will be.

How sustainable is that when your wife has to go on an all too brief maternity leave, when you are looked upon to provide more, to ‘man up’, to try harder? It is not all that sustainable, admirable, manly or generally good.

Waves of sickening nausea are not currently hers alone. Profound worry now skewers me regularly, deep in the pit of my stomach. Guilt for my slightly indulgent lifestyle which I often feel when closing a book and finishing a coffee at lunchtime. Are you working hard enough? What more could you be doing? Are you just in essence a massively idle prick? Sometimes I voice this and am severely rebuked by my wife. ‘This is not helpful to you or me.’ Of course she is right, but it’s a program I have difficulty overwriting.

There was a meltdown of sorts while walking the dog alone a couple of days after telling my brother, back home. Leaning against a gate at a favourite spot, watching the sun set over the rolling green hills the bigness of it all came crashing in, the life-changingness, the responsibility, the finances, the money, the insufficient funds, the emasculating inadequacy, the potential being who will ultimately hate me for their boring empty scrimping frugal childhood. Panic and despair and frustration and stupidity and an almost out-of-body sensation. My red face and tears confused the dog. That was weird.

Should I look for other work and another reliable income stream? Easier said than done perhaps, but I suppose I should try. How I despise the idea of a boss, authority, judgement, tediously mind-numbing work. How will we manage with the dog? She could go and stay with my parents and their dog and that would be fine. I would hate it though. I would painfully miss the creature, the only thing that reliably makes me smile most days. And I would trade it for probable misery and money? Would I? Please no, don’t let it come to that.

Plenty of people do this though. They take on more work when faced with greater responsibility, arguably the ultimate domestic responsibility. They unthinkingly make sacrifices because they would do anything for their kids. I am no different and should accept it, buckle up.

Adaptability is something I have traditionally considered myself good at.  I have moved a few times across a central belt of Britain, had a number of very different jobs, experienced no small amount of change. A few years ago now, for around eighteen months I wrenched myself into a recruitment consultancy largely populated by idiots. It was awful but it was regular reasonable money.

This impending phase of work appears the most formidable: a biblical swell of digits which I will heroically surf upon or drown beneath or thrash through.  I cling with dumb hope to ideas: being miraculously saved by a huge job, a new professional relationship bearing spectacular fruit, an old one coming back around, offering something solid and dependable, some random opportunity. Wishful thinking.

first scan

Everything dissolves away when you see those wiggling pixels on that screen for the first time. All the cynicism, the fears and worry. It represents so much, that squirming shrimp-like shape, jiving around in its bat-cave, that tiny zone of distilled life where a pulsating beatbox can be seen jack-hammering away with absolute urgency. For a morbid moment you wonder about the entire working lifetime of that heart, where or when it will stop. Worst case scenario: weeks or months. Best case scenario: a century? That heart is the conductor, the boss. How little we think about our actual hearts, how much we unthinkingly bastardise the shape for emojis, the word to mean anything we have feelings about.

The detail is phenomenal. The arc of its head, the blimp of its nose, feet, toes. You will get photos printed, and accidentally avoid having to pay for them. Photos will be taken of those photos to email people. Your mum is desperate for you to tell your brother now, but you want to be able to see his face when you do. Not so easy.

Later that night you beat yourself up for not thinking to take a video on your phone.

Earlier that morning, while walking the dog, you had pondered again the whole ‘living in fear’ subject. It’s constantly hard for you to avoid, in large part due to your unpredictably sporadic work and finances. But you remind yourself this baby thing is no different to big relationship commitment. Never committing might often seem like the easiest option if you’ve been badly burnt or consistently suffer rejection, as I did for roughly a decade. There is no risk because there is no chance of being hurt, destroyed, or just as painful, having a relationship slowly and sadly fade out. Risk can be eliminated if you choose not to invest, not to work. A big part of boringly conventional life and love involves taking a deep breath and hopefully, cluelessly leaping into the unknown. It’s almost universally terrifying.

You squeeze her hand in the darkened room. The cheerful, likeable young Welshman, angles the screen towards her. You see tears glisten in her eyes and manage to contain your own.

pregnancy test

From that moment, life is subliminally changed, shifted, promoted. It is injected with a profound undercurrent of hope, anticipation, expectation, fear and deepest concern.

You exchanged gifts in the living room to a carelessly selected Spotify playlist of Christmas songs. You weren’t pleased or proud with the gifts you’d given her, although neither of yours was especially inspired or imaginative. You had agreed not to ‘go to town’ with them this year.

You’d been heartened by a chunky workflow in October and November which made you think Christmas would be less riven with financial angst than usual. But the jobs tailed off abruptly in December, one or two had failed to transpire. Did that client go elsewhere? On top of which was the annual mystery of January. Would that be totally barren? How careful did you have to be?

So when it came to the exchange of gifts, you were disappointed with your offering. She kindly seemed not to care that much. You’d like to think she didn’t, but there were other things on your minds.

She went upstairs to the bathroom, peed into a cup, dipped the plastic test thing in it, waited. You followed up shortly, confirmed the instructions on the packet. Fairytale of New York wafted up the stairs from Alexa as you took a deep breath and inspected the thing and saw the line indicating yes, she was pregnant, you cheap lousy faggot. She looked up at you as you held her, her face all creased up like when you proposed. You marked the moment with confidential silly selfies.

Even in the thinking about it, during the trying to conceive, you see all the stuff: all the terrible bad things that can happen, you are hyper-sensitised. Headlines, tweets, television documentaries, news articles, radio phone-ins you happen upon in the car. Illnesses, disabilities, behavioural issues.  You know the high statistics around the likelihood of miscarriage: the biggest and most real fear. A cheap bestseller you happen to start reading concentrates on a midwife and her experiences of all the terrible things that can happen during labour. Because you feel barraged by this, and because it is still so early in the grand, hopefully 9-month odyssey (you preface everything with caveat words like ‘hopefully’ and ‘all being well’ so as not to tempt fate) you suspend yourself, never quite giving permission to enjoy it, to be excited. Does that permission come later perhaps, much further down the line?

You took a dizzying circuit of Ikea in the week, ostensibly looking at rugs. In the clearance section an eye grazed over baby cots and your belly lurched with the potential new dimension of reality.

Right now caution and fear underwrites everything. She is something of a hypochondriac at the best of times, sensitive to all health issues after losing both her parents before she was out of her twenties, bearing a burden of care for her dying father, having a thyroid condition requiring constant medication. You know you have always been a more glass half empty sort of person, a realist, you like to think.

Life has ticked on a few weeks. She has told more people than you – close friends and family. You told your parents later on Christmas Day – partly to embellish more underwhelming Christmas presents, partly so you could take a rare photograph of your father smiling. That’s all for you, until now. Last weekend a dinner at your best friend’s, planned for a few months, was cancelled when you sent a text message checking all was well a few days beforehand. His socialite wife had double booked them, really sorry. Having few friends, you had been looking forward to it for a while, but it seemed a forgettable fleck in their busy calendar. It picked a neurotic scab, the suppressed knowledge that you are not your best friend’s best friend. He is yours but you are not his. You rarely feature on his dozy radar.

You have long understood though, that people your age with a reasonable real-life social network are usually connected by their children, by being parents.

For now life remains suspended, anticipated, hoped for. An incomprehensible amount of stuff could change in the foreseeable future. Or it might not.

connection speeds

For the past three years, approaching Christmas Day I’ve done a job at a children’s hospice. They arrange for an excellent Father Christmas to visit the place in an exciting way through some local emergency services and I take pictures of it.

This year the whole thing was marked by the absence of a huge character. In previous years this kid, aged 9 or 10, had been the biggest character by far. He was the boss kid, organised everyone into place, set the agenda, demanded people sing Christmas carols louder – although he was always the loudest. He was the first to run over and leap into Santa’s arms, improbably confident for any kid, endlessly energetic, he just did not stop.

A few weeks ago this kid died. Before Santa arrived I was chatting with a couple of staff and one of them mentioned it. Oh, HIM?!? Really? No…

My brain struggled to process the information. There are all sorts of children at the hospice. They span across boundaries of social class, race, nationality. These horrific life-limiting conditions can happen to anyone. We are all at their mercy. A number of the kids look sick, wheelchair-bound, disfigured in some kind of way, as if they are suffering. This kid did not. This kid did not look sick in any way. Part of you wondered if he was an imposter, a fraud. He was clearly fine! Look at the chopsy git!

Light Googling revealed local news articles saying the kid had an extremely obscure medical condition of the type only a handful of people suffer in the world. His parents had a number of his organs donated when he died. How must that itself affect you? Knowing your dearly beloved kid is being sliced up for his organs?  Perhaps the knowledge that parts of him are living on, helping other people live on, perhaps that outweighs it. It must.

Here was a kid infused with a life-force and energy so vivid and animated and in-your-face loud. In certain moods it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to find him an annoying little gobshite. Then you found out he died. It affected me more than I might have expected, because I dumbly hadn’t expected it. But if you keep going back to a children’s hospice for a few years running you are likely to encounter sad stuff.

But still… not him. Not THAT kid.

It hit hard because of where I am at personally right now, how we are thinking about babies a lot, attempting to conceive. You don’t know where this path might lead you. Awful stuff like this can happen to anyone. Much is down to dumb luck.

It can fundamentally change your life more than having healthy kids. The practicalities of the day-to-day might be wildly complex and cumbersome. You can be caring for them for much longer, until they are adults and you are nearly dead. It might feel like they have stolen your life and you resent them for it – as explored in Graham Swift’s 1996 novel and its film adaptation Last Orders. As with stupid random death, there’s no reason or rational explanation for any of it, which can be the most difficult thing to fathom. That lingering unanswerable question: why us?

Over the following hours and days my brain kept circling back to this kid. I shared some not especially good pictures of the kid to a memorial page I found on Facebook. It felt like an obvious thing to do.

***
Last night, Christmas Eve Eve, we went to a drinks and nibbles evening at the house of some friends on the other side of town. It was an unusual thing for us to socialise like this. We don’t have many friends as a couple or go out that much generally. I can’t remember the last party or social gathering I or we went to at somebody’s home.
The evening was pleasant and the people were nice. It was fun chatting to the really young kids and the not so young kids. On leaving in the middle of the evening to get back to the dog, an elderly lady called out to us from next door. She was leaving after posting Christmas cards, feeling a little wobbly. I held her hand and walked her back to her front door, a few houses away, listening to her talk. In such situations you are always unsure how weird or strange it might get. Had this been orchestrated a little more than it seemed? Had this lonely old lady been waiting on the doorstep for someone to leave the party next door? Might she invite us in? (The week’s new mini-series of The League of Gentlemen was fresh in my mind). But it didn’t get weird at all. It was fine.

Such stuff gives me a gratifying sense of connectedness, which I suffer a marked deficit in. I work largely alone, don’t have many hobbies or socialise with anyone. I chat with dog walkers and plenty of them are quite odd. Now and then I feel this is something I should get up off my arse, be brave and address somehow. Yet I shy from it because people often irritate me, or so I tell myself. And because I don’t know quite what to do. A book club?  Football? Evening classes? Nothing really appeals.

People my age tend to have their social circle expanded through children, other parents. As of now, we have none. You see documentaries and news stories about old people who say the secret of their longevity is as much social interaction and keeping the neurons sparking, as it is exercise or diet. Basic human connectedness is important, but today it is worryingly easy to relegate, ignore, forget.

weak jizz

Don’t tell anyone, right? It’s doubtful you exist, dear human reader, so I’m fairly sure you won’t. But if you do, don’t.

Thing is, we’re trying. To conceive, reproduce. We’re actually doing it. We haven’t really told anyone but we’ve been trying for a couple of months. It’s the first scary hurdle of a virtually infinite challenge, and it’s one which we might fall at.

Attempting to conceive unleashes a strange mental gymnasium of angst and worry and fear and thoughts about biology and science and what might work best and what might not. At 37 and 35 we are not quite hitting the panic button, but we are not too far off. You have a sense that this thing might have been much easier 10 years ago.
As a bloke you can have efforts where you feel strong, where you have that control and confidence in your jizz. Maybe when you reach the big moment you feel like you can spurt and project your jizz a good distance, get it up there in the mixer, where it counts, lump the jizzball up in the box and see if one of your guys can get their heads on it, in it. I don’t know. I am not 100% on all the science and biology.

On other occasions, maybe when you’ve been trying the thing (sex) regularly for a while and you do not feel so fresh, you have occasions where the big moment feels floppier. It is like a juddering staggering over the line. You don’t spurt, you dribble. You are just grateful to have made it and relieved it is over.

Although, when that happens you sort of hope none of the guys make it because that thing you just did, that can’t be great quality jizz, can it?  If any tadpoles from that lame show somehow make it, they might create some substandard, weak fusion. This might produce a being which is slow, lazy, backward, or, or disabled somehow. Is it terrible to think that? Have I doomed myself just by thinking that? No kids for me now. But what if bad stuff happens and problems occur and things are not right? Would it all be down to my tepid casual jizz somehow miraculously making it to the payload?

Is that how science works? That can’t be how it works.
It’s done for another month now anyway, which is sort of a relief. Most of my 20s I furiously bemoaned my intense sexual repression. Now, not all that many years later, I feel grateful for the respite.
——

We had an extended family meet-up at the weekend. Planned around 6 months in advance, it bought together our family with the one discovered 12ish years ago thanks to ancestry digging and my grandfather’s roving eye.

Our three generations mixed in an impressive, newly renovated home in an affluent outer Birmingham town.

Their family have two daughters a little older than me and my brother. This was the stunningly spacious house of the elder daughter, aged around 44, happily married to a partner met at university (as my brother), with two beautiful kids, one boy, one girl (as my brother). Not having children, it’s difficult not to feel an outsider when they are chatting child things with my brother and his wife.  Kids’ clubs, music lessons, schooling: the stuff of which we know nothing. So we stand there and smile, anxiously stroking the knowledge of our secret efforts and weak jizz.

A short while later the younger daughter arrives. Aged around 41, she lives a distance further away with a partner of only a few years. They are unmarried and have no children. She makes a remark about having a smaller house and you sense a tension, the younger sibling underachiever thing which I am highly knowledgeable about. An enormous amount of time, effort and money has been ploughed into this house – a large part from their retired accountant father. You wonder at the parity or inequality of the contributions, which is a hard thing to measure for any parents I suppose. But when one side appears to have so much more in property and children, it’s difficult.

It is all kinds of difficult. There are multiple neuroses and resentments. He / she has / had so much more than me. My time has passed. I will never have that, them, this.
The journey to and from Birmingham presents a strange role reversal. I drive, my wife sits alongside me and my parents sit in the back. Dad fell off a bicycle and badly broke his arm a week earlier; my wife suffers occasional travel sickness so likes to sit up front. On the dark return journey back south the rear view mirror shows outlines of my parents’ slumping snoozing heads. They sway and bob, zombie-like. It’s dangerously hypnotic and slightly spooky. Inoffensive pop music plays from Radio 2 as we hurtle south down the motorway. Glancing left, I see my wife’s eyes shut, restful. I feel alone and responsible in my consciousness.

If we are successful at reproducing a small person, that person is unlikely to have the same relationship with their Grandparents (my parents) as the one my niece and nephew have enjoyed for around a decade. We may not be as able to lean so much on my parents for childcare support. (My wife has no living parents or super close family). It is not inconceivable that we will attempt to raise a child and care for dying parents at the same time.

Such stuff, together with ideas of success and charitable family donations – who has more, who has earned more and been given more – it all feeds resentments, needles down, can ultimately divide family.  It never occurred to me until recently, but above everything else I might end up most envying my brother’s potent jizz.

impermanence itches

My wife regularly leaves piles of stuff around the house. Stuff she intends to clear, dispose of, organise or tidy up. But stuff which stays there for days, maybe a week or more.

Laundry, spare bedding a guest has used, tubs of peanut butter, items to be cleaned and then recycled. Naturally,when I ask her about the stuff, tease or cajole her, she says she’ll sort it. But she has this way of allowing things to drift on indefinitely, of taking at least twice the time if not considerably more that I would take to do something. Perhaps this means she does ultimately do it better – she will not just squash duvets into bin bags and chuck them in the attic – but we have to sit and wait, slowly go grey and age for a period of time before that happens.

I try to get a sense of plan, what the idea or intention is, then make incremental changes towards it. But even asking for a plan can be dangerous. You are pressuring and nagging, spoiling the time off she has allowed herself. I’ll often try to just sort things myself if I can. But if I can’t, if they are her things and I don’t know what to do with them, and they still sit there staring at me, piling up, making the place look untidy, then I keep moaning, sometimes gently, sometimes less so.

We’ve been struggling to fix pictures onto walls lately. This is a supposed pleasure of owning a property. It’s taken us around eighteen months to find and buy some pictures we like. To hang them on walls is such a seemingly simple thing – but one we both struggle with. (My own rank incompetence when it comes to DIY is an ongoing source of frustration and shame). We have dented and chipped and damaged walls. Our dining table is currently littered with touch–up paint pots, more paint which we might one day get around to using, picture wire, those sticky picture tabs. It looks like we just moved in, we are in a state of flux. It is impermanent and it irritates me.

In my twenties and early thirties when single and moving into new flats every 18 months or so, I did it all quickly, unpacked and arranged boxes and had books on shelves as soon as possible. Within a few hours I wanted to feel settled, or roughly settled, and I did. I have never liked disorder and untidiness, strewn boxes or clothes or washing up in the sink for ages; the drifty uncertain indefiniteness of it. It is at marked odds with my wife. Together with her three siblings it took them around three years to start clearing the dusty dark, memory-clogged family home where their parents had died, where two of them still lived but had no future. Things grind slowly with her lot. We were both single for a long time before getting together, used to doing things on our own terms, in our own time.

Maybe it’s a common division between people: the careful planning perfectionists and those who just want to get it done. It might also be connected with our different perceptions of time, an area explored in Miranda Sawyer’s excellent book on the mid-life crisis, ‘Out Of Time,’ which I read recently. My wife is like many in never feeling like she has enough time, always frantic and stressed and slightly flappy. Whereas I usually feel like I have plenty of time, too much even, and feel severely guilty as a result. (See previous posts). I tend to work quickly and get things done fast, if not always well. So I should be able to get everything settled and sorted fairly easily, shouldn’t I?

Where did my need come from?  This need to be settled as soon as possible, this outright fear of casual untidiness?  Is it not a bit weird too? Especially when nothing is permanent. Everything is transient and providing your environment is roughly habitable we should accept imperfections. Although that itself is a sound stoner excuse to never tidy anything up.

Aged 6, our family moved a few hours across the country. This upset me a lot at the time. I dimly recall sitting with a comic in the corner of an almost empty living room near the circular wooden base of a lamp, crying. People were moving other bits of furniture around me, the living room of my young childhood and entire living memory was thinning out. I didn’t want to leave this house and the friends I had here in this town. What was so wrong with it? This was my whole life. Where were we moving?  It could have been the other side of the world. I didn’t know or care. I even had the wrong comic. I read the Dandy and my brother read the Beano and apparently they had no Dandy so I had to make do with Beezer – bloody Beezer! Who even were these rubbish cartoon characters? It was all so unfair.

It wasn’t like I was an army kid, moving countries all the time. But even so, was that a source, the fear of being uprooted and unsettled? We all must face it at some point, even at several points over a lifetime.  I am not totally OCD.  I can cope with a few bits out of place. But I do always want an uncluttered physical environment – which can be virtually impossible to achieve. Don’t we all on some level want to be settled and sorted, with a clear vision of where we are and where we’re going? The idea is calming and zen, but it’s equally impossible to achieve.

All the same it is easier to get closer to it if everything is sorted, if the washing up is done, if there are not exposed bits of chipped paint appearing to gesture wanker signs at you from a wall.

Now we have committed to decorating a whole room, painting, trying to hang pictures again. I fear how it might drag and drift.

Postscript: it did not drag and drift. We did it in a long weekend.

the power of guilt

Guilt is a powerful bastard. It becomes a more powerful bastard as you age, gain more responsibilities and grow painfully aware of your many shortcomings which are not likely to change.

Guilt can command and overpower rational thoughts.

“I’m sorry I’m rubbish I’m sorry I’m useless pathetic. Ok you don’t like it when I talk like that I know, sorry sorry sorry. A sorry excuse for a…”

It can distress and paralyse and cause serious anxiety. There’s little you can do or say to overcome it.

Because life is this ever-fluid, malleable, unknowable thing.  Unless you’re mega rich or comfortably retired, it is not solid and unmoving. You can’t know what will happen in the future, and right now the world is a particularly scary place with uncertainties piling upon uncertainties.

Worries over sketchy work and financial situations are unlikely to be helped by news headlines dominated by Brexit fears, interest rates, the crashing pound, inflation, the gig economy, stunted wages and the cost of living. No. All that stuff makes it much much worse.

I wrestle with big guilt on a daily basis. My wife contributes much more to our unit. While we split the mortgage and bills down the middle, or at least we have done until now, she earns considerably more money, buys most of the shopping, and is out of the house a lot more.  She has the extra padding of more savings (thanks in part to dead parents), on top of a reasonable paycheck each month and financial predictability.  I’ve virtually forgotten what this must be like, (but it must be amazing). I have the padding of comfortably-off alive parents upon whom I can always call for help, but personal pride tends to muddy that.

She has a life outside of work and me, largely revolving around her running club and socialising with club members. I don’t. I can’t afford and don’t feel I deserve one anyway. I have the dog and a slightly indulgent, free but neuroses-packed lifestyle. We don’t go on holidays, we don’t go to pubs or restaurants.  I stay in and try not to spend any money on anything. This succeeds in the main because I’ve always been fairly good with money and being tight with myself. Netflix, Spotify, a modest amount of booze just about covers me for entertainment.

Sometimes I think she’d be well within her rights to give me a harder time.

“Come on now. You’ve given freelance life a good go. Give up, grow up and go get some boring office job you’ll hate but will at least give us some semblance of financial stability. It could allow us to enjoy life more as a couple. We could go on modest holidays or little breaks, perhaps visit a restaurant now and again. Wouldn’t it be worth it? Which kind of ‘freedom’ works best for you? So you’d just have to tolerate an office five days a week, like most people in the world. If you could find a job, that is, which granted might not be easy but you could at least start looking and applying for things. You never know.”

But I don’t get any of that from her. Instead she gives me a bewildering amount of support and I feel immensely guilty because I don’t feel I deserve it.

Complementing guilt is fear: fear for the near, medium and long term futures, what we can and cannot achieve with limited funds due to my being such an inadequate man.  Fear of major costs: car repair, boiler repair, something going wrong with the house, new mortgage repayments, a… a child?

We had an intruder garden-hopping out the back a few weeks ago. He tried to break into our neighbours’ shed and I’m fairly sure I saw him casually sauntering off down and adjacent street, probably after nipping over the fence and through our garden. Now, whenever I hear any noise out the back in the middle of the night, I am quickly awake and alert and worried. Of course it could be a cat or a fox or a bird but I am nervous anyway, thinking of worst case scenarios, someone breaking into our house, stealing the dog, attacking us in our bed. Could this be mixed up with my own personal fears, guilt, insecurities, how they are always closer to the surface and most vulnerable in the middle of the night?

There’s plenty for which I should be grateful and am. My wife, house, dog, freedom, general lifestyle. You can call it a trade-off, swings and roundabouts. I have all that and I don’t have to spend five days per week in a miserable office pandering to an idiot CEO I have never respected. But equally, if I don’t want to play that game maybe I shouldn’t whine so much about earning very little and having to weather such financial and psychological turbulence.

Shortly after finishing the first draft of these words I secured a biggish job. While not a life-changer, it could be a two-monthish changer, giving me the ability to breathe a little easier in the run up to Christmas.

As the criminally underrated philosopher Ronan Keating once said: “Life is a rollercoaster, just got to ride it.”

too much time

There’s no small degree of shame in still feeling, aged almost 37, that I have regular phases of being a time-rich, time-fat, time-criminal.

Seeing the world and all its people around me, it appears I have a preposterous, borderline illegal amount of time. And I am guilty of doing nothing of real value with it. I could always be doing more.

All this time should be treated with an intelligent, industrious strategy. I could use it to create something of genuine substance. Or to at least try. But I don’t, because… because I am lazy? Scared? A coward? Therefore I am financially unstable, unrecognised and unsuccessful and have a poor delicate pitiable ego.

When you have plenty of time on your hands these days, those hands (or at least one of them) invariably reaches for a smartphone and opens an app.  This is almost involuntary, instinctive, which I really hate, I properly HATE: how I have been programmed, how I do it without thinking. Ugh. I am one of them.

There’s your phone sitting there. Pick me up, it smugly whispers. You are bored, not engaged enough with anything else, so you do, with as much deliberate calculation as you scratch your nose. You open up the internet world of all the people who are so much better than you, and you idly pinball around grandly-followed accounts, variously hating their nauseating bilge and yourself for reading it.

This battle is brutal and constant and played out entirely in the confines of your own head. You have to manage the head stuff sensibly and smartly. The brain is this all-powerful unfathomable supercomputer of electrical connections and associations. You can’t control it but you need to manage it and know when the connections and associations it’s making are unhelpful. The paths it takes are usually well trodden and it takes a serious amount of work to install bypasses or diversions. It can feel impossible to do. I am struggling, I am not busy, I am not making enough money, I do not know what will happen or how much money I will have in a month, bills, when there are birthdays of my niece and nephew, council tax, two months, a fat insurance payment due, three months, car repairs? Then it is around Christmas, then there is mortgage mortgage mortgage, always. Fuck Christmas. Fuck everything.

No, that’s ok man, says the chill hippy angel on one shoulder. That’s just the way it is. You’ll cope, like you coped before. Things will work out somehow. You should accept that all the stressing and mental self-hate is pointless.

No, it absolutely is not pointless and it is not ok, says the manic hyper demon on the other shoulder. You should be doing more. There is no way you can have exhausted every possible avenue. You are a shambles, an unsuccessful failure with not the faintest clue what you are doing. You should be ashamed of yourself. How bloody old are you now anyway? Get your shit together, you tedious individual.

I know I know. Sorry.

You look at all the rich dickheads, the comfortably off twats, idiots in Range Rovers, people going on holiday to nice places, skiing. Fucking skiing. Your shit Facebook photos make me want to cry for a confusing number of reasons. I’ve never been anywhere as beautiful as that. Why are you so much better than me? How are you so much better than me? Because you have shackled yourself to a career, an employer, a boss? Conscious lifestyle decisions, or just the ways we allow life to shape us? But still, it is so enviable. Don’t we all envy each other through our lens of wild misconceptions?

But still, still I feel capable of so much more than I have ever achieved and ever believe I will achieve. And that hurts. Still I attribute too much meaning to people with big social media followings but shit content, and that hurts too. And still I have fairly paltry social media followings despite having the time to build better, but I haven’t, for shit reasons, and that needles away.

Calm. Hush. Stop.

There are always the quick and easy checklist tasks you can do and you do frequently do. There’s stuff you could be doing with a phone or sitting at a desk: writing some vapid bollocks professional blog post nobody will ever read (not even your wife, despite needily mentioning it several times before starting to feel truly pathetic); taking photos, posting a new webpage, rehashing an old webpage, commenting, blogging, checking, Googling, monitoring, considering how you might upgrade equipment on a limited budget. You sniff around in desperate hope of hope – a spike in web traffic, a paltry new sale, a lead. You psychologically self-harm by checking your bank balance. Few of these are genuinely constructive or profitable things to do.

You tend to go round in increasingly maddening circles, feeling foolish and useless until your head hurts and your inattention and easy distraction mildly disgusts yourself. This is worse than ever at the moment. I have struggled to focus on anything for a length of time: a book, film, podcast, task of any kind. Everything sags and wilts and bores. Everything is slightly pointless. Everything is in limbo. You wonder how indefinite this cycle can be.