ok not knowing

This morning I took a rare, indulgent browse of this blog and scanned some posts from around a year ago.

All had a dour, fairly miserable, nervous tone about Christmas.  The walking into a lamppost thing was unfortunate and painful but I wouldn’t disagree now with anything written then.

Comparing year ago me with today me reveals marked changes.  Most significant is the fact that I am no longer as lonely and frustrated about humans in the most general sense.  There is now a special person who I am extremely fond of.  Oh go on then, who I love.  And, to paraphrase a romantic musical, that does quite considerably change stuff.

This year Christmas won’t be the same as last, because I’ll be with somebody.  Hopefully I shan’t be out drinking alone watching dour bottom of the table Premiership clashes or walking into lampposts.  Not that I can totally rule out those possibilities.

Indeed, the spirit of the loner remains and I doubt will ever leave.  I still regularly take solo trips to the cinema and walk alone with a camera for some distance.  I still hanker for a dog.  I still have many of the same professional frustrations, perhaps even more than a year ago.  I’m certainly in an even more uncertain professional place now, in that precarious blurry limbo between self-employment and unemployment, with little idea what the coming few months will hold.  I doubt I’m alone here.

But I’m also relaxed about everything; sporadically scared and fearful of the future, but a little more fatalistic.  Having a person who believes in you can help with that.

*

We took a cross-country roadtrip to visit her distant aunties this past weekend.  They are particularly close to her after she lost her mother several years ago, and her father a couple of years later.  The three sisters were very close.

It was a whirlwind weekend of different experiences, environments and people.  Much discussion, mostly about family and relationships.  A considerable amount about spirituality – it seems to me the need for such belief grows stronger with age.  Perhaps it gets harder with old age to admit that it might just be this life and no more.  I listened and smiled and learned the names of lots of dead people and disagreed with things in my head (anti-euthanasia, spirituality and reincarnation, three and a half thousand pounds on an operation for a dachshund).  I voiced nothing, remained polite, kept smiling.

After two days staying with one auntie we packed up.  Heading back west, we stopped to visit an old family friend at a chaotic but cosy house with large dogs and a deviant lingering cigarette scent throughout.  A 70 year old party girl had her 30ish year old affable goddaughter visiting, and our coincidental quartet worked agreeably well.  Two hours of weak champagne, bruschetta, tea, dogs and bawdy laughs, then we headed off again.

The final scene was a pretentious, dimly-lit ‘exclusive’ hotel where frantic James Bond scenes may have been filmed in the corridors.  There we met her mole-ish Scotland-based half-brother for discussions about their father’s estate.

It felt in turns like a film as we bickered loudly over SatNav directions and mock-fought at service stations, the glowing winter sun casting long shadows across car parks and motorways.  It struck me at one point like a specific film, 2009’s charming and funny Away We Go, where a young couple go on a north American road-trip looking for a place to live.

Though her employment seems more secure, my girlfriend is not particularly fixed to our current region; she’s open to the idea of exploring or moving away, however far.  Travel is particularly appealing at the moment but only a pipe dream.  I have little motivation to ‘work’ in the conventional sense of finding a regular office job – although that is exactly what I’m seeking out of pure obligation.

Finding each other in 2012 was enough.  Hopefully there will be more discoveries in 2013 and hopefully they will be equally pleasurable and not lampposts to the forehead.  Not knowing is kind of ok for now.

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of love and death and dogs

You feel a frighteningly alien type of happiness as you walk through the airport, the passport check and out to the bus stop.

This in spite of the unsettling dispute between passengers which occurs around you. A man sitting at the end of your row had snapped at a timid looking middle-aged lady for committing a clumsy faux pas in trying to move ahead of him as he removed his luggage from the overhead locker. She looked upset, told her husband when they finally reunited, and he confronted the man while he waited for his family outside the toilets. Voices were raised as you moved away, torn, peering back over your shoulder.

You see him now on the car park bus, looking mildly ruffled but not sporting any bloodied nose. You hadn’t missed seeing a fight.

The bus deposits you by the glorified key collection portakabin and you move towards the main door in advance, ready to jump out first, ahead of everyone else. Glory! The sun shines. You get into the car and begin to drive, touching hands across the handbrake.

Bright blue British summertime skies on crossing the Severn Bridge back into Wales. It heralds a sense of hope and optimism and gentle careful maybe. Although in the background lingers an unspoken mild fear of lurking menace, a dark corrective, a toll to pay because you don’t, you can’t, deserve this. Can you?

She stays at yours that night and leaves to drive home the next day. The strong warmth and sunshine and good feeling persists. Your client’s idiocy is easier to brush off, you don’t bother calling him. He’s typically grasped the wrong end of the stick by email. Or the wrong stick entirely. Fuck him.

You go out for a short walk, listening to two new albums – one of which by Passion Pit, the irresistibly euphoric band who just make you smile, who have been known to make you dance in supermarket aisles after your team wins a big match. Then the new one by The Gaslight Anthem, which also seems good. Town is full of Olympics branding, people in tracksuits and official purple polo shirts, trading standards brand protector jobsworths. It feels different: hyped and ready for something big, which you also sense may be nothing at all.

You go home soon after and continue trawling through your photographs.

Your mobile rings while you’re on the landline phone to your Mum. It’s her. You answer, ready to say you’ll call back. But she’s.. she’s crying, in tears, beside herself. Your Mum had asked one question about your holiday before talking about her back garden. You say you’ll call her back.

The boyfriend of one of her best friends, who she speaks about all the time but who you have still yet to meet, was killed in a car accident at the weekend. She visited the couple’s house the previous week. Her friend didn’t want to spoil her holiday and had waited until now to tell her.

Not wanting to sleep alone tonight, she asks you to come over. You pack a few bags and drive an hour down the motorway through a beautiful sunset, past the spot he was killed. You listen to The Gaslight Anthem album again, because Passion Pit now seems deeply inappropriate. The frontman gurns a heartfelt ballad after a string of bombastic Springsteen-esque anthems. Over-earnest? Slightly samey? Still listenable. The industrial chimney chuffing coastal town you pass through looks especially serene beneath the pink hue and arrowing low diagonal light.

You arrive and an emotional, tear-filled evening ensues. It unavoidably reawakens a sense of loss for her parents – neither of whom died too long ago; her mother around five years and her father just over one. Dark thoughts emerge about her life being all about loss and you try to assure her it absolutely isn’t. You go out for a walk around her neighbourhood and breathe, before circling back home and attacking her father’s excellent collection of whisky, which nobody else ever drinks. Tonight it feels deserved.

You tell her how you see it.

You say there is hardly ever reason, logic or fairness in death; to seek it is pointless and damaging. Anyone can die suddenly, tragically, pointlessly. We could all contract some horrid disease which simply sees us off within a month. It happens. But most people tend to die much more slowly.

You try to speak of loss and pain, trying to counter her hurt feelings of futility. With emotional investment of any kind comes risk. Your thankfully underdeveloped perspective of grief still felt relevant. Say you get a dog. You love the dopey mutt for ten to fifteen years and then it goes and dies and you hurt like hell. Does the pain mean you wish away those ten to fifteen years? You avidly follow a football team and care deeply but are put in bad moods more often than good.

It’s also possible that either one of you might eventually end up badly hurting the other, but you appear, gradually, tiny step by tiny step, to be accepting that risk. It’s simply a part of life that at some points we have to either be brave and either accept the chance of pain, or never feel anything.

She nods, sniffs, you wipe off a stray tear. They’ve stopped rolling down her cheeks quite so rapidly. She curls into you and you stroke her hair, scratch her behind the ear: the running joke that your affection for her is too much like that for a dog.

Dissolving LTRs and knowing

Well jeez.. I thought, upon listening to my friend tell the latest sad tale in the pub.  I wonder if I’m more messed up from my general dearth of serious long term relationships, or if are they by having them and screwing them up so royally?  Realising this was a self-involved moment happening inside my head, I refocused on what he was saying.

It seems that there’s a time between the ages of, say, 25 and 35 when shit has to get real in long term relationships (LTRs).  Females invariably take the lead in wanting to reproduce and men get scared.  They either grasp the nettle and realise this woman probably / definitely is the one.  Or they don’t.  Confidence can falter at these crunch decision times; paralysing fear isn’t uncommon.  When one party doesn’t know or has cause to doubt, all the cards can come crashing down.

Over the past few months I’ve learned that two couples who I and most of the world considered to be solid couples of a good number of years, were actually no longer couples at all.  Yes they lived together, maybe even slept in the same bed from time to time and who knows what else, had been going out for around ten years previously; but in their heads at least, they were no longer a couple.

Case One is the captain sensible of our school friendship group, one of these guys who always seemed to glide pretty effortlessly through life, education, a career and love.  As far back as school he was pegged as the guy who could be depended on to get married and settle down first.  They got a mortgage together reasonably early, then nothing else happened.  She was awkward to be around.  Nice enough, but flighty and unpredictable.  “ISSUES” almost imperceptibly stamped above her sunken defensive eyes.  After a year or so living together under the pretence that all was rosy, they’re now fumbling off in separate directions.

Case Two was only revealed to me yesterday in the pub.  He is possibly the most hypersensitive and indecisive guy I know, whilst being handsome, clever, able and acidly funny – happy to dish out but rarely take.  They also got together young: he in his early 20s, her in her mid 20s.  With a couple of years on him, she seemed to care less for marriage but has been crying out for kids for some time.  He has been indecisive, nervous, scared.  In more ways than one it requires a set of balls he’s never demonstrated.  Her clock is now ticking with more urgency.  He has admitted to depression but is only just beginning to seek help.  Now it transpires that in their own heads they too haven’t been a proper couple for several months.  They are, my friend believes, on the cusp of probable separation with tangible consequences.

While the guy of the latter couple never won my sympathy and from my limited experience in recent years I’ve often considered him hugely selfish, these are all fundamentally decent people.  Of all parties, it’s him I fear for the most.  From a privileged background, he’s arguably always been used to a bubble of protection, mollycoddling, mothering and dependency.  Not having the courage of my convictions and giving up too easily is something I loathe myself for, but this guy makes me look like some kind of Richard Branson impresario.

It seems to me that rational, clear-cut decisions need to be taken in LTRs, however difficult they are to make – although I’m clearly no expert in such matters.  Otherwise the festering stench of malaise can become heartbreaking and send people mad.

“How do you ever know?” is a regular question, one memorably discussed with another friend (and represented somewhere in these pages) before he separated from his wife and emigrated to Australia with the female subject of an office affair.  He was more confident of knowing after being intoxicated by everything about a new colleague, than he was when he was obliged to marry his young wife.

*

We parted outside the pub in the early evening, my comparatively happy married friend and I.  His reasoning about knowing was typically pragmatic and well-reasoned:  I knew I never wanted to be apart from her for the rest of my life.  It sounded so simple.

He hadn’t been persuaded to buy a few more minutes by asking his wife to simply pick him up from the pub, steadfast about walking back across town to meet her at the multi-storey car park.  It reflected his easy-going nature and antipathy towards any kind of confrontation: something we’ve sporadically argued hard about over the years.  Maybe his way was best.

We mumbled halfheartedly about dinner sometime, took a brief manly clinch and pushed each other away before fuzzily pacing in opposite directions.

It was a sorry state, those disintegrating relationships, but probably not untypical of people our age.  As our friendship group begins to nibble into the 30s, I came back to my earlier question and wondered at our relative baggage.  Is it harder to be optimistic about domestic life after going through a traumatic failed LTR of nearly a decade, or harder having been alone for more or less that whole time?  Is less baggage more baggage, or is it less baggage?

I was drunk.

great expectations

A question re-illuminated by events of a couple of posts ago was this: how far should your expectations of a female (or male) be adjusted?  Or, how far should they be toned down?

For a romantic idealist who wears their heart on their sleeve, they’d prefer to be completely wowed by a female.  At least for a brief period.  Sure it’d be unlikely to last forever, but initially they would want that early phase of fuck me, she’s a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

But what if that never happened?  What if there wasn’t ever that exhilarating romantic spark with anyone?  Maybe you could only feel that in an unrequited way, with dynamic females who had been snapped up a good few years ago.  And maybe part of the reason those females are so dynamic, magnetic, electric, is because they’ve pretty much always had the attention.  They’ve never spent much time sitting alone in rooms wondering if they’re fundamentally unattractive.

So what if you met someone and she didn’t exactly knock your socks off?  What if she was just fine to be around?  If it was enjoyable hanging out together, and doing a little more besides.  You weren’t deluged with other offers, so why not?

Should that be good enough?  Should you allow yourself to make that compromise?  Because that is what it feels like.  Or should you go on searching in hope of someone who wows, someone you may never find?

Would it be wrong to lazily throw in the towel like that?  Or is that precisely what people do all the time?  They settle.  Especially if one party is a dominant and decisive, and the other is lazier and doesn’t have the nerve or inclination not to settle.  Because it works well enough.  I absolutely have a certain couple in mind here.  I have no idea how he landed her at all.

It’s arguable that the longer you go on bitterly kicking down the picky single lonely path, the less likely you will find someone you’re wowed by.  More likely perhaps that you’ll gather additional neuroses about how you’d like A Person to be, and collect further constipating baggage through constant over-analyses.  By not thinking: fucksake, just do something you prick.

A friend suggested that, if you asked many unmarried couples whether they’ll go on to get married and have babies, a good proportion would just shrug and say they don’t know; they’re just having an ok time as it is, see where it goes..  There’s no need to overthink it if there aren’t any real fireworks.  Don’t make a drama out of it.  If you find you’re having an ok time, go on having an ok time.  Take each game as it comes.

Therein lies a beauty of being relatively casual.  If someone else should happen by, it’s not illegal, there’s no til-death-us-do part sin, especially if you’re both on the same page about things.

But romantic idealists beat themselves up.  They’re such soft pricks they’re nervous about other people liking them; even ones they don’t know if they like much.  Although a kooky inverse vanity can inflate that impression.  There might not be as much meaning involved as you think.  They might behave the same with any guy and feel exactly the same as you.  They might be a level-headed, mature, sensible person, which is a dangerous assumption to make, but you never know.  They might exist.

It’s still unsettling, all the same.  Now stop cupping my face like that, quit with those soppy doe eyes.  Please don’t like me too much; I’m a prick.  Everyone knows it.  Here, I can even prove that by being honest and saying I’m not really that into you.

Although perhaps I could convince myself into being into you, in time, maybe, perhaps, possibly..

No, I couldn’t.  Shut up.

musical happy clappy joy joy

After a day of meetings in town yesterday, I hung around.   The dinner time zone was spent working in a coffee shop, then I went to a small gig which had caught my eye on some listings.  The snippets of music I’d heard online sounded ok, the admission price was reasonable.

But it entirely failed to speak to me live.  It felt as if it could have ben transposed to some kind of evangelical religious congregation in the deep south of America.

It shrieked about the goodness of life, love and sex, in terms not bereft of musical ability, but exposed with such threadbare unweathered naivety, it made me want to vomit.  The frontgirl was a hippy, plaited hair, Irish, adorably open manner, slightly out there eyes, probably entirely middle class upbringing. 

Obviously I speculate wildly on the latter.  She evidently felt the earnestness of her music and lyrics.  As did her band, tight eyed, looking to the heavens, smiling blissfully, singing over and over:

“When we kissed, the world fell in love!” 

It wasn’t necessarily intended romantically, she’d explained before beginning the song.  It’s about that explosive feeling you get whenever anybody kisses you, even your little nephew or whatever. 

The sentiment made my stomach gurgle, as if it was considering ejecting bile. 

Expressing yourself in music through SUCH rose-tinted spectacles appeared to me, to be foolhardy.  Religion was never once mentioned, but the way in which it evoked praise and faith to a higher power was impossible to avoid and didn’t sit comfortably. The world isn’t perfect and ideal, life isn’t always a bed of roses.

A sad git like me will always find it difficult to always empathise with the brilliance of love and faith and other people and infinite heavenly sex and permanent hippy, happy bounceyness. I find it all rather facile. 

Unreasonable, almost.  Open to chiding.

Or maybe I’m excessively cynical. 

It wasn’t a musical experience I took nothing away from but one which, given the general audience reaction of reflected splendour and praise, made me feel alienated and disconnected. People do apparently believe other people are awesome and sex is forever religious.  And it doesn’t appear to do them any harm either, although they do look starry-eyed, spacey and stoned.  And maybe that’s not really all so bad.