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.

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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.

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.

chance of happiness

Moving property is an epic headache. It involves a ton of faffing, an almost insurmountable swell of administration, packing, boxes to carry, payments to make, contractors to organise. Even if there are two of you sharing the load, it’s still possible to shrink and crumble.

When you finally get into a new property there’s an equal bulk of stuff to sort out, boxes to unpack, providers to arrange. We found a house in reasonably good condition, not requiring much by way of immediate work. “Well-appointed” is a term I recently learned. Still though, there are things that aren’t ideal, stuff that cannot be fixed or remedied quickly. The missing door of that otherwise nice enough wardrobe, that rotten slat of wooden decking, the decaying corner of a shed. That large tree in our garden is some responsibility. Is it ok? What if it blows over into our neighbours’ garden? What if its roots screw something up?

Amidst all those fears, anxieties and neuroses are unusual sudden zings of excitement, prickles of, of… could it be, happiness? Some moments you feel yourself involuntarily smiling at things, your new life, all the possible futures. This conservatory is awesome! I feel distinctly middle-aged about feeling that, but I have a great view of some distant trees and fields and do not care.

You will always have worries about work and business and finances. Only a privileged few people don’t have those worries. But this place might be your anchor. This place might be great. This place might really be home. You snort an empowering sense of hope, a fleeting bubbling thrill about what happens next.

Until you remember the wider world and all its Brexshit, the economy and business and mortgage repayments. You must stave that off.

It’s not like there was unconfined misery back in our small city flat. It was a home of sorts, comfy enough, if extremely loud with bustling banging clattering shagging neighbours, and it never quite felt grown-up like this does. This feels frighteningly grown-up.

You look at all the new rooms and wonder what domestic scenes will play out in them. We plan to stick around here for a while.

Where will we have our first big argument? Might we keep a dog in this part? Conceive a child here? Have a heart attack there? Agree to divorce over there? Learn about the death of someone in that corner? Will she bury parts of my mutilated corpse under here? (Could explain her slightly excessive interest in life insurance).

Another zing flowered up the other day, exploring our new neighbourhood and finding all the paths and tracks through woods and fields, right on our doorstep. There are chunky sizable walks to be taken. Although we’re not based far from a constantly droning artery into the city, there is definite breathing space. You can easily distance yourself from the clutter of urbanity and domesticity. Relative tranquillity is a short wander away.  A walkable affluent village is pretty, the pub appears incredibly inviting, old, wise and characterful.

Of course there’s plenty to do here in the house, things to fix, decking to creosote, furniture to varnish, intensely boring grown-up things, people to contact and contract, assurances and insurances to get. But still, it feels like there’s a chance of happiness. At least until Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin use the UK as a nuclear frontline.

Chance of Unhappiness

*Scribbled a week on.

There’s a chance of unhappiness too. You can suddenly be struck with the fearful what ifs.

What if this doesn’t all work out? This house, this home, our relationship.  It’s taking quite a while to really feel like home. It still doesn’t feel like our home. It’s still echoey and a bit empty and not ours. It’s still like a rented holiday home.

We still don’t have curtains there, a door there. It doesn’t feel as cosy as our flat. Is there too much space?

Why are we so fractious with each other? Is this where we will end as a couple? Where our marriage slowly disintegrates? We were ok in the flat but here everything seems a bit clunkier, fumbling and awkward, new and unsettling.  Our relationship was born and steadily grew in the flat. The flat was our womb. It was all natural and intuitive, there was a comfort to be had in everything being temporary. Here, we’ve displaced it by taking a jump to something different: real, grown-up permanent life. We are anxiously kicking and screaming.

Under observation

You feel a strange pressure as a couple, relatively newly wedded and now mortgaged. You feel observed by people, casual figures of amusement, even if you’re not at all because everyone is busy living their own lives. You imagine them excitedly thinking: what’s next?! Because there’s this screamingly obvious script of convention that says we must have babies soon.

Look at the world right now though. It’s fucking horrible and appears to only be getting worse. Look at all the hate and division and racism and powerful idiots and the economy and finances and wages and living costs and childcare prices and university fees.

On a more personal level you’re weighted by a compelling body of evidence suggesting your fragile infant bubble of domesticity might just fail. It regularly happens with marriage. Statistics bear it out. We will try really hard to make sure it doesn’t but who can ever know what life will be like two, ten or twenty years down the line? We might be dead of obscure diseases or nuclear war.

Building a home takes work and time, yes. Potentially rewarding in the long term. But there’s a real fear that it could go to shit if we’re not careful, if work doesn’t pick up soon and my cash ebbs away and I get increasingly stressed and worried, impatient and snappy, if we never find a replacement wardrobe door and the living room always feels a bit too spacey.

earnings and insurance

I enjoy my work when it feels like it’s working.

When it’s less busy then naturally you’re nervous and you have to deal with that. Some days you’re able to sensibly rationalise and it’s all ok. Other days you might catastrophise and beat yourself up until you’re a sobbing mess. Such is the lot of a self-employed person.

Another big thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is not making much money. What we earn, how much money we make over the course of a year: it’s a subject people don’t tend to be that open about. It’s highly personal and reflects notions of ‘success’, self-worth and ego.  My bank balances seem to indicate that I do reasonably fine week to week and month to month. I am careful and conservative with my cash.

But when it comes to calculating net profits, balancing against all the expenses – and sometimes my expenses are quite high due to expensive equipment – it can be embarrassing. Is that… is that it? Really? Did I do something wrong?  Only I was expecting it to be a bit more. But that number looks pathetic, like I might be a new graduate still living at home with my parents.

It would be ok if that was the case. But I’ll be 36 this year and am now some way down the long road to my first mortgage.  This is not something I could have achieved on my own, with my crazily fluctuating self-employed earnings. Marrying someone with a steady salary who has not so long ago lost her parents and sold her family home, albeit splitting it several ways: that made it possible.

If all goes well and to plan and we get a house with more space, we might start thinking about reproduction. First we will think about a dog, (not reproducing one, just buying one). But we might think about reproducing a human, if all bodily things function as they should, which they may not. You never know, do you?  But that has me thinking about responsibilities and earnings. Is it ok to carry on doing what I am doing and by and large it being ok, but getting to the end of a tax year and looking at my finances and being faintly embarrassed by my paltry profits? Is it enough?

I look sideways at people in the street in this city which floats along in its bumbling semi-crooked bubble of public sector cash, and I know that there are hundreds of people my age who are doubling, more than doubling my annual earnings.  There are loads of pleasant competent people earning twice as much as me, but probably working and worrying half as hard. And some of them might not be that competent.  It grates. There are people sitting in government and university clerical jobs with infinitely more protection if bad shit happens.

Wife and I were looking at scary grown-up things like income protection, life insurance, mortgage cover. I asked some steadily employed friends what cover they had and in comparison I felt massively exposed, adrift on my own as a sole trader. Sure I can pay for similar cover, but these things are not at all cheap, particularly when added to a hefty new mortgage commitment.

It’s another big neurosis. In reality I am unlikely to suddenly think ‘YES, now I will become a civil servant or get some other sensible job!’ In reality don’t think I could get such a job now. I probably look like a flighty risk on paper. But still, you keep looking sideways at people and thinking how much less you have, how much more (you think) they have.

It’s the old comparing yourself with others thing, not being able to appreciate what you have, with a dash of life not being fair thrown in. You can try to sensibly rationalise, or you can descend into that pit of uncontrollably sobbing what-ifs? Which end you tilt towards depends on the weather in your head.

risk and reward

Sometimes you can be mature and philosophical about life having little sense and reason. Other times, it’s harder. This week has been hard.

It started on Monday with news of the tragedy in County Donegal, where a car containing several generations of a family sank, and everyone except a small baby died. A woman returned from a hen weekend to find her mother, sister, partner and two young boys had died. The baby was rescued by a heroic passer-by who swam out to the car. It’s hard to even conceive of that woman’s grief. It hurts even trying to think about it.

How do you tell someone that news?

It sounds like a thing of fable, a story passed down through generations, but it’s chillingly real. Tragic, awful stuff happens. It could easily happen to you or me. There is no sense or reason.

On Tuesday morning news of the Brussels terrorist attacks started to filter through. An IS bomb at the Belgium city’s airport was followed by explosions on the underground system, with a death toll currently at 31 and likely to rise.

This was less random, of course; more deliberate and calculated and not such a surprise. A threat had existed for a long time, especially after last November’s Paris attacks, and it remains there in most large cities. This is a time of permanent risk.

It struck me that during the last International football break we had the Paris attacks, and during this one we have had Brussels. Perhaps IS are merely upset by breaks in the domestic football season?

The World Half Marathon comes to my home city on Saturday. Much of it is here already, including a large expo at the city’s indoor arena. It’s a big deal for the place, thousands of people piling in and spending money, including Olympic star Mo Farah and elite runners. Walking around the city centre, you can sense the population bulging, the mass of keen, healthy looking people in trainers and sportswear.

On Saturday I will be working in and around the centre of it and part of me is nervous. In the current climate, how can this event not be considered a prime terrorist target? Surely it would be simple? A huge volume of people from across the world concentrated in a medium sized city for a big event with the word ‘World’ in its title. A city with a diverse population and a recent history as a breeding ground for Syria-bound IS fighters; a city which has long been considered ripe for terrorist scares, albeit quietly.

You think of the Boston Bombers, you think of the 2010 British comedy film Four Lions, where the London Marathon is a target, you think it could happen.

You walk past young white men and think nothing. You walk past men who bear a passing resemblance to the men in that grainy airport security photo which was on the front page of every newspaper on Wednesday morning: you think something.

My flat is next door to another flat where a number of young Arabic guys live. They have large and loud gatherings most Friday nights, where around 20 men pile round and talk loudly, animatedly, making shrill wooping uleleling sounds, before stampeding in twos and threes down the hollow echoey stairs at around 1am. You try to be as liberal as you can about it.

Other areas of the city are roughly segregated by ethnicity. There are often talks of regular dawn raids in the next inner city suburb over from us. You have to trust in the intelligence services.

Events of the week, combined with my only sporadic busyness, have left me feeling a little spaced out, dreamy and nervous. I have felt a lot like blankly staring out of windows and drinking coffee or whisky.

Personally, I am at a point where exciting change could be right around the corner. Marriage is feeling cosier than I anticipated. (A little over six months now – better than some).  Beforehand, a friend had said it cements everything and I had thought it over-romantic nonsense. Now I can see the truth in it, the greater solidity, (excuse this next bit), but love for my wife developing and growing in a way I hadn’t really expected. I feel closer to her than ever, closer than I ever have to anyone.

When pinballing aimlessly from female hope to female hope (years 2009-12 of this blog), I harboured a dream of immediately being utterly possessed by ‘The One’, of falling in lust and love with her and everything clicking instantly and magnificently from the first moment; of us naturally getting each other all the time, being constantly entertained and amused by each other, being perfectly synchronised and on each other’s wavelength. Now I see how ridiculous that is.  There are natural curvatures throughout relationships, up and down. They are not straight timelines.

Big things we’ve been waiting for and hoping for, they might actually transpire soon. The edge of change is a tantalising and frightening place to be. Firstly, moving to a house. It could all go wrong of course, but it might go right. And if it does goes right, I might have a mortgage, a nice house, we could get a dog, if lucky perhaps a child. Who knows?  Sometimes you can’t help gazing out of windows and trying to see the future.

But if either or both of us get killed by terrorists on Saturday, none of that happens.

in sickness and in health

The last couple of weeks have been strange and difficult. Middle of the night ultra-anxiety; big, unattractive belly-shaking tears of fear and panic; excessive contemplation of death: all that. And not my own death either. Her death.

She developed this horrible skin condition which is apparently quite common but I’d never heard of. Hives or urticaria. She had it chronically bad: red marks, weels and inflammation from the scalp of her head, up her neck, across her face, all the way across her body to the balls of her feet. It was horrific. Something was eating or at least mutating my wife.

She woke up in the middle of the night crying at the pain and discomfort. Utterly fucking terrified, I applied a cold towel compress and vacated the room, eliminating my own body heat from her irritation. I walked down the hall to the sofa where I sat, read everything I could find on the internet about this thing and cried myself to sleep.

Over the course of two weeks and fluctuating levels of distress and discomfort, we went back and forth to see GPs, and dermatologists at the hospital. I spent several consecutive nights on the sofa, battling manfully against a snotty cold, suffering massive worry, catastrophising hugely, drafting her funeral eulogy in my head, wondering what my life would be like after she died. I pictured myself walking a dog and that being enough. It wasn’t just in the middle of the night when I wondered about her dying. I thought about it all the time, this constant sinister ticking: butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies?

I didn’t want to lose her. It took me a largely miserable decade of being a loner to find her. We are not long married and planning a future, thinking about buying a house, getting a mortgage, maybe even (finally) a dog, and possibly reproducing if we can.

Did she have fundamentally flaky genes, having lost her mother in middle age? Will she ultimately not make it past a similar stage before something strikes her down? Will health deny us the chance to grow old together, to become old people? I always wanted to become a properly old person. Nobody has that guarantee, I know – health and chance and anything at all can shit over your life for no good reason; but all the same I really hope we get old together.

At its worst, walking down the street and seeing old people would make me mildly upset. As would seeing babies and gleeful children. Would we be able to have them? Really? Would we ever be parents or would there be further medical complications?

She has complicated thyroid issues and Grave’s disease (not exactly a promising sort of name, even for a disease). This means she’s predisposed to the whole range of auto-immune disorders. You don’t want to go Googling that stuff. With urticaria, there’s a general dearth of medical knowledge and research. Also it’s idiopathic, so you might easily never know the cause of your outbreak, whatever you try and however you eliminate things from your diet or routine. (We’ve tried a lot). There are informed sounding medical blogs and self-published books by American sufferers, but little more.

Over the last day or two, since the last hospital visit, it has mercifully eased and we are back sleeping together. But the fear will probably never go. Take nothing for granted, try to enjoy every tiny nice moment. You never know, it might all be fine.