caravan of love (and loathing)

We sit in a large and improbably well-furnished caravan, all my family.  It’s Sunday and early August in a grey squally windy West Wales.

The caravan has been leased by the parents of my sister in law, my brother’s wife. It has all modern appliances: an electric fire, fully appointed kitchen, dining space, nice pictures and tasteful furnishings. While peeing it strikes me that there are two pretty coastal canvases in the main toilet (there was another en-suite) but we have yet to find a picture for our bedroom in the house we moved into over a year ago.

Our family hasn’t met up for some months and seeing my brother’s kids, 10 and 7, is a thrill. A first exploratory stroll on the beach with just my niece and the dog is a joy. Unbridled delight peels through both their faces as we run about like lunatics on the large deserted expanse of sand.

But this is not the classic summertime weather my mum has hankered for, having somehow never visited a beach with her grandchildren until now.  Mum and Dad arrive around lunchtime and come to meet us on the beach with my brother’s wife. It feels cinematic, watching their distant outlines slowly become more recognisable. We walk to a café overlooking a stretch of beach where Dad is embarrassingly rude to a young barista who gets our order slightly wrong and my brother and his family mock Mum’s old phone, before we head back to the caravan for lunch.

Now it’s approaching the end of the afternoon, the time my wife and I were thinking of leaving anyway. We all sit in the caravan, drinking warming hot drinks after a bracing post-lunch walk and play on the blustery, sand-whipped beach. Sand is still stuck to my scalp and hair, despite me not having much hair.

This is when it begins and my sap starts to rise.

My brother has this regular shtick of proclaiming himself and his family poor. His perspective is wildly skewed by his Oxbridge peers, the social elites with whom he works and one friend specifically. Dave (his real name because fuck it) is a hot shot millionaire investment banker. I didn’t get a favourable impression of Dave many years ago at my brother’s Stag Do. Oafish, overconfident, loud. The impression has stuck with me.

My brother doesn’t see much of his children during the working week, with which I sympathise. But it’s a decision he makes about living in Oxford and working long hours in London, it’s a compromise that comes of earning a strong salary which I suspect is no lower than £65,000. His wife is a university tutor, researcher and academic. Despite being on an unreliable rolling contract of sorts, I would guestimate she earns around £30,000 minimum. They live in Oxford, they are healthy, they have good jobs, beautiful healthy children, a high quality of life.

But compared to Dave they are poor. Therefore they are sitting in a lovely static caravan donated by the in-laws for their holidays moaning about their poverty and how to fund the university education of their children. They apparently do not have much extra disposable income. You might suggest because of their standard of living. Regular private music lessons, theatre trips and visits to amusement parks. (Or is that what you just have to do when you have kids that age? I don’t know).

In response to my brother’s introduction of university expense, our father suggests starting up an entirely dedicated account, a fund for their higher education. Our parents seem to have lots of money, partly due to hitting the generation sweet spot. They were never spectacularly successful in their careers – although Dad still works and has for a number of years earned a respectable, reliable annual income while doing essentially part time hours as a specialist consultant. They have always been prudent, made investments, and have a lovely house. They go on holiday frequently, and recently bought an expensive long haul package to Central America. I often feel like, if I had less inexplicable pride and hang-ups about asking for help, they could donate more cash to help me develop my business.

Across the caravan from me sits my wife, firmly ensconced in a game she is playing with my niece and nephew, unhearing of the wider conversation. We had discussed this on the way here, how my brother wheels out the poverty line, how it pisses us off, how she might say something if he presses it. I raised an eyebrow when she said that, unconvinced she actually would given how she is so averse to confrontation. Now it’s unclear if she’s taking the conversation in. She later says she wasn’t, she heard nothing, was too involved in the game.

Meanwhile I sit there and stew. Poor? He is really poor, is he? Fuck. Off. What if he could experience my schizophrenically jittery bank balance, cluelessness about the future, pathetic self-doubt and crippling worry that we will never be able to afford children? He probably wouldn’t give a shit. He would most likely cackle and trivialise it, smug posh personified.

My wife and I have recently begun speaking seriously of kids, if we can do it, financially, physically, mentally. It’s fast approaching now or never time and we are getting increasingly regular yearnings, feelings that we want that relationship with a small human. Selfishly, I want to be outlived by someone who cares about me. (Is that a legitimate feeling or extremely self-indulgent?) We feel maybe my family has written us off, given up on us. ‘They don’t want any now. It’s over for them’.

But we have lately discussed whether my ever rickety, insecure work situation might be a good thing, save on childcare, if my wife can retain her job post-maternity – although many can’t and don’t and are royally screwed over.  There are so many overwhelmingly unknowable ifs and buts.

I feel my face getting hotter and redder and crosser as my parents discuss the financial options for funding their grandchildren’s education, as my brother continues to claim he is poor. Hitting the food banks anytime soon then, brother?  And I start packing up some bags. We leave with me Britishly repressing a swarm of waspish emotions.

friendship fades

Building and maintaining friendships is one of the many areas of life in which I have never excelled. I wonder if lots of people feel this, or if are there people with loads of friends, contented that they have aced that side of things.

Throughout pretty much all my twenties I considered myself quite a loner, I lived alone and did stuff alone, holiday, travel, meals, sex, endless cinema trips.

Friends come with success, I suppose. If you are enjoying a heap of it and you have followers and alliances by the bucketload, you are magnetic. You are never stuck for a drinking partner.

I have never considered myself successful. You might try to spin it nicely for me if you are my mum or my wife or someone who likes me, but the truth is I have never been all that successful in anything. In fact, my current bank balances indicate I have never been less successful than right now.

So, in large part due to having few friends, in some part due to feeling like a big fat loser (although I am not overweight, yet; there is at least that) I felt a little burned recently. Yes, poor me. Poor little hypersensitive me. Out with your mini violins, if you will. Thank you.

Friends and people come into and go out of your life over a lifetime. They fade in and out, intersect and drop away like an elaborate red arrows display, from nursery school to the retirement home. You might feel entirely secure that a friendship is made for life, but things can always change: circumstances, priorities, people themselves. Or a more dramatic thing might occur, a falling out. Either way, if you have even one that sticks for the duration, you have done well.

Even then though, that one will probably fade in and out of your life. There might be a spell when you might not see them for a year or two or three; perhaps longer, and you miss them from time to time. You wonder if they miss you, if you crop up on their friend landscape.

Social media today gives us an indication of whether we do crop up or not. If you see them regularly Liking your stuff, it’s like a friendly nod so you think you do. And that’s enough. If you don’t, you suspect you are not on their radar or they do not give a hoot.

It feels juvenile and silly, being aggrieved that someone you thought was once a firm friend does not Like or engage with any of your stuff, ever, over months and years, someone you know who follows you – although you are aware they follow hundreds or thousands of other people too, but they regularly likes all the inane shit your mutual friend posts. But they never like YOUR shit and frankly this feels unfair and you want to cry to the teacher about it.

Pathetically, this is a specific case for me. He originally reached out to me on social media several years ago when I was in a very different place in my life, largely alone and miserable in London. We met for pints with his work colleagues in Soho. It was kind of unorthodox so I was initially nervous but that quickly smoothed out with the beer. I was touched and sincerely grateful someone gave a shit about me. On top of which, this guy was electric company: witty and smart and unlike anyone I’ve ever met. He introduced me to other witty and smart people, some of whom I still have a connection with. I moved away from London but kept meeting him and his friends (he was almost always with other friends and colleagues) on business trips back, until those trips became less frequent and fizzled out completely.

We had a sort of double date in my city a few years ago, while he was with someone local to my area. I had great fun and think my now wife was appropriately charmed too.  Then I questionably attended one of his joint birthday parties in London, but it ultimately felt slightly weird of me to have made such effort.

I hadn’t seen him for around two years until last weekend. In the intervening time we’d both got married in similarly small scale functions. This was despite him and another friend trying to dissuade me from marrying the last time we’d met – due to a ranty post here about how much she was annoying me. (This place is an outlet for many frustrations, not all of them rational. I deleted that post). We hadn’t been to each other’s weddings and that was totally cool. We had drifted and in no way could you say we were close friends.

But I still genuinely valued the connection and really liked the guy. I wanted him to acknowledge me and like my stuff. So when I saw he was coming to my city for a mass cycling event I suggested we meet up. After a while I prepared for the idea he would not reply, that he could not really be bothered, I did not figure on his busy friendship radar, maybe I would get some excuse in a few days.

Before too long though, I did get a reply and we met in a pub. My wife dropped me off and I walked down to the pub, not knowing if he was going to be with a large group of beer-guzzling young things in their mid-20s. He has a decent Twitter following and strong seeming engagement. It didn’t seem wildly unlikely. Thankfully he was only with one other, a nice, comparatively mellow sort of guy I’d met once or twice in Soho.

This meeting was fine but with an inescapable whisp of awkward. I felt that I had imposed this meeting when he couldn’t really be bothered on a hot day after a long bike ride, and perhaps he couldn’t really be bothered regardless. Not having that social energy was totally understandable.  There was also the fact that I knew much more of his life than he knew (or maybe cared) of mine.
“When are you moving?!” he asked / demanded in his characteristically urgent manner, keen to show an interest, as he always is.
“Erm, I moved about a year ago and I’m a bit upset you clearly pay so little attention to my life,” I said, half joking but not really joking.

He’s a difficult to pin down enigma with an infuriating email technique of only ever asking questions, never answering them, when he does actually reply. He discloses little about himself, to me at least, although there’s clearly a lot to him, a lot to know.  He builds an impenetrable wall of charming bravado and hides behind it.

After two leisurely pints with them, they wheeled their bikes through the pub and out onto the street. There was apparently no question of meeting up again later in the evening, after they had returned to their digs and freshened up. Me and him hugged and waved half-hearted see-yous, I warmly shook the other guy’s hand. We turned in opposite directions and I wasn’t sure we’d see ever each other again. What he really thought of me and our friendship was impossible to tell.

Our meeting left me saddened and contemplative of friendships and friendship as a thing; how firm they can seem in isolated moments or a series of isolated moments, how those shared experiences can bind you, how it can all easily unstick and unravel, how there are always two different sides and they can be extremely different, how transient and ephemeral they all are in the long run.

unfriendly rivalry

There’s this guy, right. Let’s call him Mike. We’re competitors of roughly the same age. We work and live in the same city and we’re originally from a similar neck of the woods about an hour and a half away. He has more experience and is WAY more successful than me. Rightly so. In fact, I probably don’t even register as a competitor to Mike. But I go through small phases of obsessing about him and his riches. I’m not proud of it.

Mike outright ignores me every single time our paths cross, whether we are working shoulder to shoulder or sitting in close proximity working at laptops: never a glance, a faint nod, certainly never a word. He doesn’t seem to actively sneer or disdain me as one of his allies does when his face unavoidably confronts mine; more a simple quiet indifference, a casual obliviousness effortlessly sustained over several years. I’m not even sure what his voice sounds like.

Everyone in the city loves Mike, worships him, kisses his feet. Whenever there’s an online request for such services in a Facebook group, it’s Mike’s name you will always see recommended the most in the comments section. People can’t speak highly enough of him. He has the highest profile, the most followers, the best contacts, the biggest network. This is in no small part because he was essentially incubated by The Large / only media publisher in the city. It’s effectively state news here; there is only one outlet. Our local media landscape is not healthy or competitive.

For a few early career years it seems Mike was a general office dogsbody who concentrated on working up his skills and Twitter followers before being set free to go freelance. In that time he also built great contacts with important media folk and with all the big PR agencies in the city, who knew he has a direct route back to the only big media outlet. He holds enviable cards.

Annoyingly, Mike is great at what he does. There is no denying this, and I suppose it’s why the whole city appears to approach climax at the mere mention of his name. As far as I can see it is not for his overflowing charisma and brilliant jokes. Although many have insisted to me that he’s a nice guy and professionalism orders me to politely smile and nod.  (Oh, right. Is he? Not to me he isn’t, so… you know, forgive me for thinking he’s a smug prick).

That said, I’m sure he probably is a nice bloke to his clients and partners. I hated seeing an indication that he liked dogs, which as a dog-lover myself forced me to concede something about him. That he couldn’t be a total prick? I don’t know. I’m not sure exactly what. But I would have preferred if he hated dogs or was at least as indifferent to them as he is to me.

Mike is also sort of an alien. One time a couple of years back we were sitting next to each other, working at a football match. It was properly pissing down. I was wearing full waterproof gear, over-trousers, jacket and hood. I was still getting soaked to the bone, rain trickling down my wrists, seeping through the ineffective trousers. A couple of feet away he sat there, just in a jacket and jeans, no hood. Somehow he did not appear to be getting wet. Rain just bounced off him, visibly repelled by his dry wiry hair and general excellence. It appeared that Mike was innately waterproof, weirdly ‘other’.

He drives a nice new big white BMW, almost certainly gets tip-offs from media contacts about breaking news stories, knows and is probably highly respected by our industry peers working for big agencies, gets lucrative contracts with the large organisations. You will always see the back of his head in grainy smartphone pictures at award ceremonies, at conferences or events. And if it’s not him, it’ll be someone you know is a close ally of his, people you suspect he has referred because he’s busy or can’t be bothered.

We were working at a thing recently, the only two of our kind at the thing, shoulder to shoulder, pointing lenses. The people all looked and smiled down his lens of course, not knowing or caring who the hell I was. Mike was the Main Guy who everyone knew and this was his territory. He was all smooth-moving, elegant and waterproof. I was the bumbling interloper, the awkward fraud, the clumsy imposter. He was a few seconds late for one of the key moments which punctuated the event and a main organiser delayed proceedings, visibly flustered by his absence. “Where’s…  where’s Mike?” She vaguely appealed to me. Other people looked for him too, twitchy. I shrugged. Throughout the course of the event we were there in the middle of it, and away from it working at laptops a few feet away. We amiably spoke one-to-one with the person sitting between us. Between me and him though, as ever, not a glance, a nod, a word.  His pictures were everywhere the next day. Mine were nowhere.

Heading back to our cars in the car park afterwards, he was walking with an older gentleman, as I neared.  He turned to look back over his shoulder, saw it was me and instantly looked away as if to try and conceal the fact he had looked and seen me. Two minutes later I followed his shiny white BMW out of the car park in my much inferior car.

when worry wains

Oh hello, how you doing? Good weekend? Mine?  Well yes actually, this May bank holiday weekend was excellent because we did very little indeed.  And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to talk about my weekend because look, few hundred more words down there.

When a guy in the pool mentioned the upcoming bank holiday I was annoyed. Really? There’s another bank holiday? We only just had Easter. I was mainly annoyed because bank holidays and weekends don’t tend to mean as much to me as they might to those in regular employment. I still feel the press to work, to go and sit at my desk if I’m not out of the house working. And because the bank holiday would present yet another obstacle to me being paid by various clients.

Getting paid remains one of the most infuriating things about freelance life. A job is never over when you have delivered the work. The job is only ever over when you see the money in your bank account, and sometimes not even then. Between those two things there can be weeks and months, endless emails and phone calls politely prompting and reminding with appropriate levels of levity and seriousness. It is a battle to maintain tight-lipped professionalism when conducting a simple online transaction can be the simplest thing in the world, and when these are never monstrously large sums.  Naturally they matter to me though. I make very little money and every few pounds matters to me.

It is this worry and stress about getting paid and not getting paid which you live with, day to day, your mental climate dictated by what those numbers in your bank accounts say, how many digits long they are, how much they are likely to plummet with further outgoings, bills, monthly business expenses, mortgage payments. They impact your esteem and ego. Having recently calculated your annual income, it is pathetic, paltry, embarrassing. You are plainly not successful.

And yet here you are, existing actually quite nicely. How does that work? You like your lifestyle, your house, your wife, your dog, your walks. Outside of worrying about money and work, the car screwing up, scrimping a bit, never going on holiday, most other things are all pretty good thanks.

-But do I deserve this? Have I earned it?

Please shut that shit up right now brain, just for a moment, just for a weekend. Relax and enjoy what you have.

Nobody said that outside my brain. It was something that seeped in gradually as we sat there in our quite nice conservatory, reading our books and drinking tea, rain flecking the windows, clouds flying overhead, the dog grumbling and sighing on the floor. Simple pleasures. We could have been 10, 20, 40 years older. But we are certainly not young-young now.

Although that itself presented the topic of discussion which forever bubbles away under the surface. Children.

Do we want them? The selfish knee-jerk rationale for ‘certainly not now anyway’ is my perpetual floundering sense of worry about work and finances. Bringing anything else into that equation would probably send me spiralling towards nervous breakdown, or at least more consistent fear and self-loathing. Either way, it would not be good. Would it?

Although a flipside might be that it occupies me better and makes me feel like I do have a purpose and reason and I am not an entirely useless semi-unemployed piece of shit. (Unless I am entirely useless at it, which is possible). It could also be ok to flexibly work around. We could work it out. Could we?

But we are happyish now, with this, with us, our fur baby down there. This is ok. It would all be terrifying, and who knows if we even could have kids? 40 is now closer than 30. We are not exactly in the bloom of youth.

You live with a dark premonition of profound regret in later life. Isolation too, having no family and nobody around you. In later years you might see your extended family – niece, nephew, brother – maybe once or twice a year at best? So, no support, nobody who really gives a shit in a country with a massive ageing population and an NHS which could by then be fully disintegrated. And what if one of us dies much earlier than the other?

We had those discussions, as we do. They come and go at almost tidal intervals. Mostly though we enjoyed the house, the rain, the dog, our books, pockets of peaceful unoccupied space in our brains usually occupied by worry and stress, Mozart filtering through from the other room, still somehow feeling faintly fake (is this really our life now?) but fuckit, day bleeding slowly into night, just being there together and not doing much. The dog groaned loud and long, turned over. We both looked at her, the beautiful embodiment of calming therapy, then at each other, smiled. For a time it was peaceful and meditative, to be cherished.

Worry will come back, of course it will. Stress, anxiety, nerves, all that; you can’t keep them at bay indefinitely. But you can effectively keep it at arm’s length for a time. It turns out, surprisingly, in the right circumstances you actually can.

Dear April 2018 Me

The future leeringly dangles hopes and fears in our faces.

Right now, in the week the UK tip-toes towards the Brexit activation button like a manic young child who has been specifically told not to do something, it feels like I am staring down a long dark barrel.

Now feels really hard, properly hard. I really hope Future Me who glances back at this sometime in the next few months or years is feeling better than I am right now, that they’re in an improved state of mind, that they don’t feel like crumbling and crying or screaming at the dreadful unfairness of it all every twenty minutes or so.

If they feel worse, which they may well, things must be terrible.

Is April 2018 Me back home in the village living with my parents? Did we have to give up this house because we couldn’t handle the mortgage payments, and bills, and general cost of living?  (Everyone speaks of how tough it is getting on the housing ladder but there’s less coverage about the humiliation of falling off it after climbing one rung). More to the point because couldn’t handle the mortgage. My wife was always comfortably doing her bit, employed in a serious job. But I let the side down, as I had been doing for months. Despite trying hard, doing everything I could think of, nothing was working. All that constant talk of things being financially unsustainable actually had a conclusion, a sad ending. As it turned out, I could not stumble along indefinitely.

This came after the point of no longer being able to bail myself out with savings from the dedicated tax account. It came after I finally, painfully swallowed hard and was forced to accept bailouts from my wife. It came after the even harder, sickening acceptance of accepting help from my parents. Have I, April 2018 Me, felt sick with guilt and shame and inadequacy for well over a year? Even after all the charity payments I shamefully accepted, am I still unemployable, still fucking useless, still of no professional value to anyone?

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Maybe April 2018 Us are still the house and getting by. Maybe I swallowed my pride and went back to an office, a call centre, a factory or a supermarket: anywhere I could get a job of some kind and regular money and they wouldn’t care that much about my qualifications. (Or is even that too much of a fantasy?) Did we have to give up our beloved dog though, because we’d both be out of the house for too long? Or sort of give her up? Give her to my parents? She’d have a decent life there, I suppose. All the same, I bet it broke my heart to leave her there and go spend my days in a workplace with idiots I probably hate.

Maybe I’m dead? Maybe she’s dead? We’re both dead? We’re ALL dead? Big nuclear war. BOOM. No more United Kingdom. Brexit-shmexit. All sorted.

Or, am I just about solvent now, Future Me, paying the bills and mortgage but miserable as fuck on a daily basis? Is my hatred of my work, my misery and bitterness and resentment, is all that badly straining my marriage?

*

A contract on which I was waiting and hoping would have offered considerable financial comfort. In December 2016 I was told it was not competitive and should begin around late January. Then it became competitive. Then they lost it. No contract.

Other things are not happening. Nothing is encouraging. The general economic outlook appears decidedly turbulent. There is an income of sorts but it comes in dribs and drabs and is nowhere near enough. Unsustainable.

Yes I look at jobs occasionally, feeling crushingly underqualified and out of touch for most, overtaken or even lapped by bright-faced smiley people ten years my junior. No, I can’t do that. No, I have no idea what that is. What have I done lately that’s anywhere near as impressive as that? Fucksake.

Now feels really hard, stressful, anxious. But tell me, buddy, Future Me, pal, April 2018 Me, mate: we get through it all ok, right? Don’t we? It’s not worth worrying quite this much about, is it? Is it?

Lots of love,

March 2017 Me.

middle of the night

We woke at around 3.30am, I sensed me a little before you. The wind was howling as it had been for hours, rattling the blinds and slamming the window. It was somehow perceptible even through sleep, through dreams.

They were unpleasant dreams, both of ours, as edgy and unsettled as the weather outside. Perhaps because of it. Someone brutally attacking our dog while out on a walk in my dream, followed by a wider world issue, a war, trying to edit a photograph I’d taken of South America from space. It looked good and felt important.

In your dream my Mum had a stroke while we were on the phone to her. It upset you, clearly reopening your large allotment of brainspace dedicated to illness and death. It made me fearful.

Did we wake up around the same time or had one of us woken the other? Who can say? Now in this middle of the night unsettled wakefulness, everything seemed fearful. There was a grave sense of immediate dread. What was that creak? The dog shuffling round or an intruder come to kill us?

What if our fearful unconscious synchronisation of unpleasant dreams actually meant something? Like it might in a film. What if something had happened to Mum, or Dad?

Considering the reality was distressing. I realised how I take my Mum for granted, her permanent twittering, eminently mockable presence. I imagined what a colossal hole it would leave in our family if Boom, game’s up sorry, no more Mum. It wasn’t impossible. They were both of a certain age, although both in ostensibly rude health. It could change everything about our family. It was frightening and shocking to ponder the reality if death were to happen like that, rather than creep up quietly. She does so much, far more than Dad, more than she should. She moans but you suspect quietly loves most of it, feeling needed, being so much better at handywork than Dad.

Shit. I hope she’s ok.

Has North Korea tested another long range missile? Or maybe they’ve actually gone for it and made the Japanese mainland with one, sparking World War Three. Perhaps that howling wind isn’t entirely natural. The distant fallout from something? What if a major global incident like that happened in the middle of the night UK time, around 3 or 4am when most people are asleep, unsuspecting, not checking Twitter every half hour, able to slide away and die almost unconsciously as passive Putin’s shockwaves rippled out? Would that be the most humane way to conduct nuclear war and destroy a civilisation? Maybe it wouldn’t work like that.

The brain freewheeled on and on, entirely conscious. You tried to tame it, control it, put yourself on a football pitch because dreams of playing football were the best, if they stayed with you playing football. It didn’t work.

Everything was unstable, on edge, dark, unsettled. The wind flumped the window closed again. You got up to pee, I checked my mobile phone. Nothing.

being good enough

Not being good enough is a delicate nerve for me right now. Sure, it probably is for you too. For most people even. (Not for Donald Trump).

That sense of not quite cutting it, not being up to a standard, and it being told to you or even gently suggested to you: that burns. It burns deeply for me for a few reasons. The giant elephant in the room of my lonely consciousness never lets me forget I am a disappointment, first and foremost to myself.

I had opportunities, I have a brain, I had a fairly middle class upbringing, an able healthy body, regular social skills. My current age is 36 and I am struggling to scrape a minimum wage level income. I am never sure what lies ahead. I should be better than this now. I should be able to provide and support a small unit. I can’t accept what I perceive as a lack of success or achievement or stability. It disgusts me.

Sometimes it’s attributed (by me) to not ‘playing the game’, brown nosing as I should, seeking out affiliates or mentors, not explicitly going out and seeking approval. This feels lazy, like I think I’m some stylish maverick renegade. Which I am not.

Other times, and it’s as lazy as it ever was to express it on these pages, as I have done countless times, but I do not think my brother is devoid of influence. As kids he was always miles better at everything, being two and a half years older. And he gloried in his superiority, revelled in it, figuratively pushed my face into the dirt whenever the chance arose. I could never say or do anything in response to make any impression. My existence felt laughably trivial, and to an extent still does. He lunches with high powered politicians for his work, reads big historical tomes for pleasure, thinks he has the measure of everyone’s amusingly simplistic political stance within seconds, views himself as apolitical. I grew up knowing that nothing I could do would ever compare to his achievements. And it hasn’t. It feels like I haven’t cruised at a steady altitude around his atmosphere. I’ve scudded and scuffed right along the bottom, like someone struggling to land a parachute in a gale.

When it’s reasonably suggested to me by colleagues that I might not be up to a job, there are other better options, naturally it chafes. (Fuck you, man! Who are you to say I’m not… not… no, hang on. Wait there. Yeah, ok that makes sense actually). It takes me back. They’re right, of course. I am shit, especially compared to those other better people. I will always be shit. I have always fumbled along, eschewing further official qualifications, proper training, even much advice. I continue to make it up as I go along.

And I know we all do this to greater or lesser extents. ‘Fake it till you make it’ etc. But still. Look at me, 36 and not a fucking clue where I’m going. How I’ve stumbled along to this point with a good house, nice supportive wife and hugely therapeutic dog I have no idea. It’s totally unjust and I do not deserve it.

What IS being good enough?

Will I ever feel like I do deserve it? What is being good enough anyway?  Being good enough to me is, I suppose, having some security in your income and future, knowing you are roughly set, and that you’re consistently working hard, day-to-day – even if you hate what you’re doing while you’re doing it. At least you’re producing and contributing with meaning and getting reasonably paid for it. You can live with yourself at the end of the day if you’re doing that. You’re not sitting on your arse staring anxiously into the internet for too many hours a day.  But if you haven’t done that, if you haven’t done much of any value or worth or profit, if you have stared anxiously into the internet for too many hours of the day, if you have spent far too long composing yet another whiney wibbly poor-me post for your dickhead anonymous blog thing, and then you go to sit down on the sofa at the end of the day, you feel like a total goodfornothing useless piece of shit.

Strong discipline and high volume. That’s what is demonstrated by people achieving professional success, whatever their line. I have discipline and I can work hard enough to generate volume. But it’s never structured. It’s never consistent. It’s always bobbly and littered with frustrating ruts.  I wonder if I am just a little too lazy, just a little too ready to make a coffee, read a book, walk the dog a little longer than I should, hope I get an email or a call, trust in a turn of luck.

2016 – a fine whine

When the urge to write here strikes I open a Word document (which is why the formatting is sometimes skewed) on my Windoze machine and hammer at the keyboard. Afterwards I have a brief skim of the last post here and find it’s almost IDENTICAL to what I just wrote, making everything seem all the more pointless. But fuck it, eh?  Robots may appear to like it in order to get me to visit their blog, but nobody really reads this shit except me, several months or years later.

——

It continues to be a professionally difficult time. Since the summer I have limped along with dribs and drabs of work, feeling by turns largely underemployed or totally unemployed. But I haven’t claimed any benefits of any kind. Some vague middle class pride stops me contemplating that. Things aren’t that bad yet. I can still fudge and fumble through.  So I still doggedly persist with work that doesn’t pay much, if anything. I still keep doing the speculative work I enjoy but which makes little business sense.

The impact of this has been considerable. You feel worthless. You have skills, fairly decent but not unusual skills. They are common skills and services available at a cheaper rate than the rates you are trying to sell them for. Because there are plenty of people in the same boat. There are plenty of younger people offering the same services, grateful for any sort of payment.

Clients, customers, buyers: they often care little about experience or quality of work. They just want it done. They just want the service. They don’t want to forensically analyse it. This leads to a bun fight between similar service providers.

Network Power Failure

Contacts and connections, strong networks of people: they all help. People who have been effectively incubated within a larger organisation – a media company or an agency – have a great advantage. Even if they don’t know it at the time, if they are a dejected office junior who makes lots of cups of tea and coffee for what feels like forever, it can ultimately be a great springboard and pay off in the long run.

If people first like you as a person, there’s a strong chance they will rate your work out of a basic involuntary human compassion. If they know you and like you, there’s a strong chance they will push work your way.  So if you leave an organisation on good terms and go freelance, you’re in a positive position to make freelance life sustainable.

Equally if you have a community you regularly see, that is hugely beneficial. So called ‘Mumpreneurs’ will often have parents at the school gates, as well as other clubs. Indeed any parents are likely to have a community of other parents they regularly see. If you’re in any kind of group you see frequently, the chances are you’ll have warm contacts who can help connect dots or give a hand up.

Not having anything like this puts me at a big disadvantage. (Another ‘poor me’ post, yes). I often look sideways at similar competitors and creatives, knowing their background and where they’ve come from, knowing that they spent a large part of their early career within x or y organisation, which is clearly still feeding them a good amount of work.  I see parents who are building themselves up via other parents. It eats me up a little, and is arguably my fault for never fostering that loyalty with one organisation or group of people, never staying put somewhere long enough.

Or it could just be back luck. That solid reliable saviour excuse. (Poor poor me).

Awkward Competition

Over the course of the year another person has emerged on my professional landscape. It feels awkward and confusing because I like the guy and half want to be mates, partly because I have very few mates and almost no social life. He’s modest and affable. I’ve come close to asking if he fancies a pint but bottled out. We’ve mentioned lift sharing a couple of times but it felt like he swerved it.

Another part of me hates the bastard through nothing but envy. He’s a competitor who hasn’t been doing the work that long but appears to be doing much better than me more through a quirk of commercial circumstance rather than ability. While his other music industry career looks really fun and cool and must pay reasonably.

Isolation Battle

Isolation continues to be a constant struggle.  The feeling of being so devolved from the world, from real people.  Even though real people often annoy me quite quickly, it feels like I should have more of those relationships: professional and social. It feels like I have never been as cut off from people as I am now. We moved out of the city so I don’t hang out in coffee shops pretending to work as much. I don’t go for random pints with a Kindle. I am not even around other humans but not conversing with them.

Not having regular ‘real life’ contacts seems artificial, cowardly self-defeating somehow.  Like you’re creating this strange bubble which will only generate further mutual alienation: you from other humans and other humans from you. You should stop being a dickhead. Just pop it, dive in, join groups, attend events, make an effort, try to engage with the world again. The effort it takes though. The indulging of all the loud look-at-me idiots along the way. Ugh.

Underemployment Shame

It feels shaming to be so underemployed and unbusy when you feel so potent. At 36 I should be out there achieving and accomplishing and doing. I should be earning and investing and making and providing. I feel sharp enough and fit enough and able enough. I should have built something by now. At least a network of contacts who rate me enough to give me work.

None of this is happening.  It feels like mass rejection. I am not great at aggressively promoting myself but it seems nobody is even faintly interested. The tide of failure drags you further out, sweeps you into this morass of nothing. There’s a gradual self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. The longer it goes on the more you believe you’re not worth it; in the same way Donald Trump believes he is worth it.

Instead I am doing housework and walking the dog. When I find myself enjoying it, smiling back at the infectious energy of the young labrador, I sometimes feel instantly guilty, like I do not deserve this life, house, wife, car, freedom, dog.  I have not earned it and do not earn it day-to-day.  I am not doing enough to make more money, I am being lazy. Yet somehow I have all this stuff I always wanted.

You see bad stuff on the news, poverty and war, and you feel a crippling shame and guilt that you don’t even do a boring miserable job for an “honest day’s” pay. That would be ok. That would be something. It almost makes you feel like carrying out some wanton act of self-sabotage. It needles towards an unhealthy self-loathing. You might at least be able to rationalise that the good stuff is a reward for psychological pain, angst and torment. You can feel no further emotionally advanced than a despondent teenager.

Work and Worry

In between walking the dog and doing housework I spend a considerable time sitting at my desk. I try to do things that feel constructive, like making my business more discoverable online, slowly honing certain skills. Although much of it feels like hopeful guesswork.

Most of the time I just sit here and worry: about lack of work, an unsustainable business, plummeting bank balances, the future, remaining childless and if we’re ok with that, not being ‘A Man’, not contributing enough, not having enough followers or engagement. I wonder if spending so much time in my head, devoid of human interaction, is driving me slowly mad.

Then there’s the wider world, Trump, Brexit, Syria, Yemen, Russia. If you want to do some solid worrying right now and you have an internet connection, a television or radio, you are spoilt for choice.

In an angrily indignant mood at my own supposed misfortune, sometimes I’ll steep in pathetic self-pity. I’ll quietly rage against the social class system, against how it clearly pays to go to the right school or university, be born in the right family, brown nose people, to suck dick or be a raging sycophant. Everything is fixed. Sure, you can get lucky, but hard work doesn’t really pay off.

Or I’ll bitterly compare myself with others who appear to be doing so much better than me and think if only… If only I had that network, knew those people, had that confidence, was able to sell myself, didn’t shrink from selling myself.

There’s this well known thing of “fake it ’til you make it”. You pretend you’re bigger and better online than you actually are. It’s an accepted part of the digital world and social media life, the way we broadcast idyllic life highlights. But it sits uncomfortably with me and always has. Hence this blog, hence my lack of much professional success. Fake news is now a thing. Faking generally is now fine. Public artifice and plasticity is expected. Lies and untruths: it’s all cool. It’s all strongly advisable.

nothing new

Haven’t posted here for a few months and there’s unlikely to be anything new. The same old neuroses and fears wheeled out in a different set of words.

The other week I made the associated Twitter account private. I’d seen it presented by Twitter as a suggested account to those who follow my two professional accounts, which scared me – the idea that professional contacts might put it together. Although I’m fairly sure none would, that hardly anyone would care.

While I have prangs of fear like that, there’s also a conflict. In my view, this blog contains some of my best writing. That is, amongst my scintillating content about the elegant sleek sophistication of taps and bidets, business critical enterprise software and essential felt roofing materials. Part of me would like to use and promote this place more. But it’s scary because it is so personal. But it being so personal is what makes it good to my mind. Round and round we go…

Work and finances are the constant nagging neuroses. Now is a time of huge global uncertainty, of continued economic uncertainty. It can nudge you into panicking and make anxiety worse. If Donald Trump can become the US President, then literally anything can happen. You can spin this in positive and negative ways. That dream job you think you could never get?

Still I regularly feel like I’m cheating, like I should feel guilty for not doing more.  I am doing everything I can think of to drum up business but business is not flowing freely. Jobs and work are bitty, stop-start, dribs and drabs. A lot of totally speculative work where the chances of making a few quid are stacked against me. Come the 2016/17 end of year accounts it wouldn’t surprise me to find minimum wage levels of annual income.

Without such worries I could exist perfectly happily. With a life-changing cash windfall these concerns could be snuffed out. I could happily occupy my days walking the dog (I could occupy days doing this alone), doing a little housework, reading books, watching films, drinking coffee and whisky, watching seasons pass, being a loner dreamer fool, perhaps writing in this blog thing from time to time. I feel guilty because these are things I already spend time doing because I am not that busy.

I could spend even more time sitting at a desk generating self promotional content which makes me look like a desperate dickhead, or frittering away cash on advertising, or attending networking events, or any number of things. Which is why I beat myself up when reading a book or walking the dog. But I do do these things as well. They just seem ineffective, as much as I continue to hack away in an attempt keep visible. Which is how I can just about manage to forgive myself when I feel guilty, and like I don’t quite deserve this life, wife, house or dog.

It feels worth remembering that I have never, at any point in life, felt that busy. Not consistently, not in the way I see other people are, dashing around on train platforms glued to smartphones, busily flapping and flustering and talking fast about meetings and how much they have to do. My wife is one of these people. And I think perhaps I was never shaped to be that frantic person everyone looks to. I never needed to be needed quite so much, or maybe I just wasn’t needed. I never stayed anywhere long enough or fostered enough loyalty in anyone. I alienated way more than I invited. I was moulded into being a wallflower who might step forward now and again, who abhors exhibitionists and needy loud theatrical voices. Like my brother.

And yet all humans do need to be seen and heard and valued. (Someone somewhere used that combination of words and it chimed with me). We need recognition, professionally and personally. That’s how self esteem survives. Without that, everything is harder. And that’s what I find tough: the idea nobody gives the faintest shit about you, and the hard brutal evidence that that is the case. You are professionally of no use to anyone, sorry. There are hundreds, thousands of people just like you.

*

We still talk about kids occasionally, but agree that now is not the time, not with work the way it is. Not with me being a woefully inadequate provider and a useless businessperson. She hates me talking like this but I feel it is not untrue.

All of the things mentioned in previous posts still hold true. Part of us thinks we’d be ok with never having them, we’re occupied enough, fine with being slightly selfish. Then you see the smallest thing in the street, or in a film, an emotion pipe cracks and something starts leaking out which leads you to question everything.

We love our young dog, possibly too much. We wonder how much of a surrogate child she is, our baby, and if this is alright. Being a morbid idiot, I think not infrequently about all the possible horrible things that might happen to her, her dying and how hard it will be. Even though that will hopefully not happen for over a decade and we could all be dead in the Trump apocalypse by then anyway.

the strength to reproduce

Becoming puppy parents has brought a keener focus on the idea of being human parents.

Over recent weeks we’ve adapted and realised what it is to be a parent of sorts, to have responsibilities, to have a cute little dependant, to no longer be quite so free.

It’s hard not to apply this to thoughts about children. But still we waver indecisively.

Are we capable? Are we strong enough?  Both of us: physically, mentally, financially. Are we selfless enough?  Being child-free until your mid-thirties means you’re comfortable having time, hobbies, relative freedom, being selfish.

Time imposition

I resent the amount of time it takes to do laundry. The monotonous drudgery of sifting clothes, washing, hanging stuff up to dry and putting stuff away: it takes so long it makes me angry. I suspect more advanced civilisations exist where they push material through some kind of tube and it is done in seconds, like a car wash.

Time dedicated to laundry at this point in life would pale in comparison to the amount of time and gargantuan imposition a small human being would bring. (And the added laundry load doesn’t bear contemplating). Would we want our lives changed so drastically forever?

Puppies have immediate rewards in cuteness and plain undiluted joy. As well as a lack of major additional laundry. (Old towels is about it). For all the hard work of training and cleaning up piss and shit and vomit, there is obvious pleasure to be had from early on. They also sleep for a good amount of time, letting you do other things. It is not relentless.

Is this really the case with those alien baby things? No.

[Read: Sorry Sperm]

Health

Of course we might not be able to have children anyway. We’ve never tried. There could be all sorts of health complications. I might not be spunky enough after angrily frittering away my most potent stock over the course of my lonely twenties. She has a number of health complications meaning she takes regular medication. Neither of us are ‘young young’. There are no guarantees.

I also have concerns about her, for which I feel guilty but cannot escape. Is she physically and mentally strong enough for all that? She is easily drained on both counts, quickly fearful of any potential health issues. This is perhaps understandable given the early loss of both her parents. Would motherhood summon a total neurotic meltdown, a tsunami of postnatal depression? Do I deep down believe she is strong enough? A brutally hard and maybe impossible question to answer.

If we did it, would I feel greater financial pressure? Already I feel painfully inadequate about my puny earning power. I am impelled to constantly buy equipment in order to keep up and advance professionally. Whether I actually do or am is a moot point. But this doesn’t help. Even so, we get by ok month to month. We don’t really go without, except holidays and socialising. That doesn’t really happen, partly because we have few friends. But if she’s off work and I’m stumbling along with my few hundred quid here and there way of earning, would that be enough to comfortably support a family? Possibly possible, but not comfortable either financially or mentally.

Feeling even more inadequate and insecure about my earning will help nothing and nobody.  Could I do anything else?  Could I actually get a different job earning a more respectable wage? And if I did would I be totally miserable?

[Read: Pondering Parenthood]

If we don’t

It’s ok if we don’t, of course. That’s the liberated twenty-first century view. You can do what you want. You don’t have to make excuses to anyone and there are plenty of solid rational reasons not to. The biggest fear is probably what older versions of yourself will think. Will 40, 50 or 60 year-old versions of ourselves be wracked with painful regret about a life unlived, or unfair resentment of each other?

Or can you coach yourself into being philosophical about it all? Spend time with nieces and nephews, try and volunteer doing something with young people, without implicating yourself as a pervert.

Even then, will we have enough to keep ourselves occupied? Will there be a gaping hole that can’t be filled which ultimately separates us?  There are far too many unanswerable questions in all this. You can’t ever know, one way or the other. You can overthink it until your head hurts a lot.

Scary clocks are ticking, not yet with major serious urgency, but they are ticking nonetheless.