The Missing Void

I’d make a good monk.

In fact, I often fantasise about a reality in which I ran away to live in solitude and dedicate myself purely to the pursuit of spiritual understanding. Even as a non-religious kid, the idea of becoming a Christian nun was oddly appealing to me.

I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time in acseticism and isolation. Often avoidant asceticism and isolation. I enjoy it, and adapt easily to it. And the idea of the asceticism and isolation being virtuous has enraptured and raised suspicion in me in equal measures over the years. It’s an awfully good excuse to run away from all my irrational fears and places of deepest discomfort…

Right now, however – quite in contrast to my previous post advocating my most extroverted self, and quite in contrast to frustrated desire for new people and conversations and stimuli I’ve been feeling throughout this pandemic – I’m not confused or ambivalent towards the idea of asceticism and isolation. I crave it wholeheartedly. To turn everything off, and sit in fertile silence. More completely than I ever have before.

I’ve let too much of my world become noise, and I want to tune back into meaningful sound – be it bold and brave or light and sweet. But first of all, most of all, I want Nothingness.

The Next Source

My friends organised a virtual murder mystery party the other night, and I was assigned a flamboyant celebrity character to embody for the night. And, not long into the night, I thought, yes, I’ve missed this.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about certain aspects of myself that I have disowned over the years. One of which being my attention-seeking, overtly unconventional, indulgently outrageous aspect. It used to be that I couldn’t help being that way, but being that way brought me so much pain, in the form of shame and self-hatred, that I eventually quashed it. I made myself less. I made myself smaller. I made myself easier to tolerate. It’s such a common fucking story that it’s hardly worth telling.

I thought the attention-seeking and the outlandishness were the wrong part. I thought the shame and self-hatred were caused by them. So I toned down the former and, indeed, the latter subsided.

In the subsequent years, I began to understand it was the shame and self-hatred that were, in fact, the problem, and over time I worked on them and, one way and another, disentangled myself from their grasp.

But, even though I still considered the playful rebel an intrinsic part of my identity, I couldn’t even admit to myself the extent to which I had diminished it. If I have ever fully embraced that side of myself, it could only have been in early childhood, because as far back as I remember, the reckless abandon, exaltation and satisfaction of its expression were always followed by excruciating self-consciousness and remorse, that prematurely cut them dead.

I believed, very potently, that it made me a bad person to indulge my desires so openly. And I also thought that maybe it shouldn’t. And I also didn’t want other people to think that I believed that it made me a bad person. I wanted them to believe that I didn’t care. I wanted to believe that I didn’t care. But I cared with such exquisite clarity that it gradually immobilised me.

I have been trying to unfuck myself for such a long time. My entire life’s endeavour has been trying to unfuck myself. And it’s funny, really, how the source of the fuck has been so very elusive all these years. I’ve tiptoed down so many shady back-alleys and climbed down so many winding ravines, tirelessly searching for the source of the fuck. There is always another source of the fuck. Like a desert mirage, the source of the fuck is always just out of reach.

To locate the next source of the fuck, I must first embrace my brashest, bluntest, boldest tendencies. I have been actively avoiding this my entire adult life. It’s been a limit I’ve been unwilling to cross, even though I’ve known I needed to. Because I don’t fucking want to. And I really fucking want to. And it’s all just very confusing.

A baby, a house, a dog and a Volvo

A comfortable life is not what I’m after.

Maybe I’ll be happy with a baby and a house and a dog and a Volvo.

I wrote that in my journal once.

I will never be happy with a baby, a house, a dog and a Volvo.

It’s not that I don’t want them. The reason the supposition is so tempting is because I really do. In fact, I am working my way through the list – I bought a Volvo a few months ago and every time I look at it I still feel a wave of something somewhere between excitement and satisfaction.

But I’m also the idiot who wanted to live in my rusty Golf with a German Shepherd called Cyril and the soggy footwell that I couldn’t for the life of me find the cause of, and set off into the sunset with no money and no plan.

I don’t fit in the conventional places. I begin to die when confined.

When I wrote that phrase in my journal, I was facing the prospect of conceding my wildest dreams for a conventional, comfortable existence. Settling for a peaceful life. I was trying to convince myself it wouldn’t be so bad.

And I did concede. I sold my soul for the promise of the middle class dream, whatever that is. I thought I could live with it. I don’t know why.

Luckily for me, it was the farthest thing from peaceful I think I’ve ever known. If it hadn’t been I might still be there now, languishing amongst the material, completely deprived of true sustenance.

Insignificance

I’ve spent a lot of my day poring over data for my master’s thesis. The data is messy, and deciding how best to deal with it has required some furrowed brows.

In the end, my furrowed efforts were not fruitful – at least not in the traditional sense.

I have yielded insignificant results.

Now, the level of insignificance is actually rather startling, so I’m not over the paranoia that I’ve in fact just gone wrong somewhere. But, assuming the insignificant results are truly insignificant, well, that’s actually rather significant.

The thing one would expect based on existing knowledge is not true. The thing one would expect based on intuition and common sense is not true. Something else is true instead.

A research paper with a question mark instead of a full stop is not desirable. It’s acceptable, but not favourable. It’s disappointing.

Much more satisfying is to tie everything up with a neat little bow. This is what we seek to do. This is what success looks like.

We are rewarded for the successes.

But we are rewarded by the failures.

It’s the failures that keep us moving forwards.

Renovate the ponds

When I was a kid I knew I was a big fish in a small pond. My immediate environment did very little to challenge my innate capacity. In fact, no one had any real idea of my true capacity. Nobody ever really thought to check, or knew how to check, or had the time and resources to check. It lay there, dormant and, to some extent, atrophying.

I have a high IQ, and that meant I noticed the contrast between who I could be and who I was permitted to be more keenly than some others. But that’s not the kind of potential I’m talking about. Almost every child is a big fish in a small pond, because our ponds are shallow and paltry. In fact, my ability to score well on a test got me special extensions built on my pond, and it was still woefully constricting.

The spellbinding truth is we all have unfathomable human potential. We are, as a collective, a kadeidoscope of wondrous, talent-filled possibilities. And it’s sinful how much that goes to waste because we’re never given the support or space to explore it. Take us to the sea!

It scares me, sometimes, to think about all the ways school will inevitably fail my son as he grows. And the alternative – to keep him out of school and take on that responsibility and inevitable failure myself – terrifies me too. And that’s just one kid.

I have no answers here, just many troubling questions.