Monday, 15 February 2010


My philosophy (pretty much conclusively, actually) is that if you're not busy doing or saying something important, you should be concentrating your efforts on listening, and learning. So I'm always "learning", even when I'm supposed to be busy doing things. And I say things more or less by accident, except for when I force myself to write, like here.

This is going to be one of those tangential posts I warned you about in the title of this blog and in the introductory post but then never really delivered. I am a total mess, and I would like to now try and explore this mess, in as unmethodical a way as possible.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem once. It was called Ruth, about a six-year-old of the same name, and a stanza from it got me focused for a while the other day on what was upsetting me:

"Beneath her father's roof, alone
She seemed to live; her thoughts her own;
Herself her own delight;
Pleased with herself, nor sad, nor gay;
And, passing thus the live-long day,
She grew to woman's height."

I like the fact her whole childhood is spent in this reclusive independence - that she never recovers from the insult (her mother's just died and been replaced); I like the matter-of-fact way in which it's presented. To me she's a heroic figure, a little reminiscent of Vincent (bottom of page) in terms of her blunt unwillingness to "accept" reality at the price of rejecting parts of herself.

Edgar Allan Poe himself (who features prominently in Vincent) seems a very good example of what I'm talking about. His claim to fame was, apparently, his mastery of the recurring themes of the macabre, mystery, and melancholy in his stories. But, read today, his terror tales are quaint, his whodunnits frankly stupid, and his stories of human misery, though not exactly unaffecting, more noteworthy for their general grandiloquence. Or maybe that's just me.

In any case, he gives the distinct impression of a young boy very excited about his ability to use big words, show off his deductive skills and tell scary stories over the campfire with the flashlight half under his chin. In other words, he gives enthusiastic voice to what most of us adults only secretly want to do, both by what he conveys and by what he occupies his time with, much like Vincent, and Ruth.

These people, more often fictional than not, truly inspire me. And the thing is, it's not so obvious that I shouldn't be one of them. I was a prime example of everything this represents until about the age of 14. I had something of a crisis of identity when I discovered that other people and my effect on them are part of what makes me who I am, and have spent most of my time since trying anxiously to make sure I notice people, and their reactions to me, hence the "listening" I mentioned earlier.

But the truth is I can't do it. I don't particularly care about "people". I'm not talking about misanthropy - or I guess if the previous sentence was misread the way I mean I'd actually be implying sociopathy, so not that either - but about the level of attention and place in my heart for the reactions of the anonymous collective, of strangers, of "the general public", of any group. I couldn't give a flying fuck. It's probably inborn. I can't help not giving two shits about facile appraisals of my character and conduct. That's why it never makes any impact no matter how positive and is so extraordinarily simple to deflect when it isn't. It's all just a mental construct, with no impetus of its own, kept alive purely on my stupidity.

The idea behind writing this blog was to inch in the direction of presenting myself - of introducing myself, really - through what makes me who I am rather than what makes me easy for other people to deal with. I think the mistake was in the decision to go in inches. It's not a question of balance, like people keep telling me. You don't divide your life between being alive and pleasing other people. The situations that require outright fakery are rare and extreme. A lot of the time you'll obscure the truth or embellish it because it seems useful to get a certain reaction out of people, but it's almost never something you owe them. You do and say what you want and refrain from doing or saying that which you don't.

Basically, fuck everybody.


  1. This would be a lot more inspiring if you actually did stuff you wanted to do, rather than just not doing anything other people want you to do. If you're not actively doing things which reflect your own personality, then this is all just an excuse for laziness, nothing more.

  2. That's actually an interesting point. The idea I've been considering in the past weeks is that it's probably better even to just not do what you don't want than to do what other people want, because then at least you're not stepping backwards. Though in truth it's less a decision than a simple reality of being completely sick of it.

    I don't remember calling myself inspiring anywhere in this post, but accusations of laziness are a little amusing, coming from you, or at least would be if I were in a better mood.

  3. "accusations of laziness are a little amusing, coming from you"

    Not at all. I recognize in this post the same patterns of rationalizing laziness that I see in myself. If I didn't know laziness so well, I wouldn't be so quick to criticize it.

  4. Criticism is not always actually relevant

  5. Not relevant, my foot. If you don't understand what I'm saying, I'll go point by point.

    You say right at the beginning that your philosophy is that if you're not doing something, you ought to be listening. But the end of your post ("You don't divide your life between being alive and pleasing other people. ... You do and say what you want and refrain from doing or saying that which you don't.") makes it clear that this listening never extends to actually doing anything, it's just a passive act of perception. You're continually "learning", but you're not learning for anything.

    So you're constructed this nice little philosophy which closes off half the things you could be doing in life, without making any indication that you've found anything else you could be doing. This is what I'm referring to when I speak of rationalizations for laziness. You're making a quasi-rational argument, ready to be hidden behind whenever you just don't feel like doing anything today.

    You portray your stubborn insistence on never doing anything anyone else wants as something you have no control over ("I can't help not giving two shits about facile appraisals of my character and conduct."), but you must realize that's nonsense. If you tried, of course you could force yourself to care. But you're not going to try. It's that choice, and not any quirk of your DNA, which is going to prevent you from doing what other people want. You're trying to shift the blame to things which are out of your control ("It's probably inborn.") because you can't be held accountable for things out of your control. This is nothing more than an excuse for sloth. Whenever someone says you should do something (even if it's for your own good), you can just say "I'm incapable of being interested in what you're saying, so go away.".

    Now, you could rightly point out that you said in this post "I am a total mess", and that these observations about how you are constructing a worldview around inactivity are therefore not contradicting any of your own self-perceptions. You could say (though you probably wouldn't): "Well, sure, I'm never going to do anything, but I understand I'm a mess so why are you harping on about it?" That's where the sarcastic "inspiring" comment earlier comes into play. Look at the tone of this post. Lots of harsh language, references to your fictional heroes who you think you're emulating. This is not the tone of a person who thinks he's messed up, it's the tone of a person who thinks he's being defiant. On a rational level you may see your own inactivity, but on an emotional level you're still spinning this inactivity in your head into something which looks like an act of rebellion.

    But what is it that you're rebelling against, exactly? Society? Your parents? Me, whenever I want to do anything at all with you? Or are you really only rebelling against yourself, by sticking yourself on this path which doesn't lead anywhere?

  6. The title of this post might have given you a hint.