My post-modern brain

My brain got called post-modern in passing the other day.

My first thought was what actually is postmodernism? I know Jordan Peterson doesn’t like it but I’ve never really paid attention to its exact meaning.

So I looked it up and realised it is basically extreme relativism, but even its definition is kind of relative, so..?

Yeah, okay, that’s kind of my jam. And yes, I have found myself lately talking a lot about the subjectivity of truth.

Here is where I may diverge (or maybe not, what do I know?). I think there is such a thing as objective truth, I just don’t think we’re capable of comprehending it. And I think, even if we were, it would be so abstract to our human selves that we probably wouldn’t be very compelled by it. And so, for as long as we are still humans, I think we need to make the most of our subjective truth by moulding it to fit our purposes.

Floating amidst the chaos of no one true answer, we need to lay a path for ourselves that takes us to where we’d like to go. And maybe objective facts are what we use to lay that path, but the direction it takes ultimately comes down to how we choose to perceive and use the paving slabs available to us.

It’s not that there is no meaning, it’s just that the only meaning that can feasibly matter to us is the meaning that we make. And if we don’t accept that, we’re missing out on the opportunity to make a better meaning.

Explicit instructions

I put a sign in my sitting room above my notice board saying “breathe air, drink water, give thanks”. Last month I put a sign above my bedroom door saying “strong back, soft front, wild heart”. That one’s more poetic because it’s courtesy of Brené Brown.

I can’t say I welcome many visitors, even when we’re not in a national lockdown, but it’s the kind of thing I feel a bit sheepish about anyone seeing. Like I’m one of those people putting inane inspirational quotes around the place. Oh God, am I one step away from “live, laugh, love”??

But, to bring in yet another cliché turn of phrase, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a pretty big deal in my life. I do better when I externalise things. If something is important, it’s probably better if it’s in my field of vision. So I’ve adorned my walls with explicit instructions, and there are probably more to come.

The first day after I put up “breathe air, drink water, give thanks”, something upset me, and I sat there glowering at it. No. I will breathe, but I will sure as hell not breathe mindfully, which I know is what you mean. And I will not drink water, I will drink coffee, and maybe cola, to wash down the chocolate. I will watch TV and avoid paying any attention to my emotions, and you can get fucked if you think I’m going to transmute them into fucking gratitude. So shut up. I’m this fucking close to pulling you down.

We faced off for hours this way, neither of us willing to give in, and then I went to bed. And then, the next morning, there it was again, as staunch as ever. I had to admire that. And, after some rest, I had to concede it had a point, and I probably should have listened sooner.

It’s a beautiful thing when you can get called out by your wall.

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.