Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Notice that the LSOABBC has decided, presumably after much soul-searching to enter the “real world”, though he seems a tad reticent to reveal what it is he’s actually going to do. I can only wish him the best of luck. Choices in life are fairly narrow these days, relative poverty doing what you love or relative comfort doing something slightly (or much) less engaging seem to be the basic options, though of course in global terms, having those AS options is still an enormous privilege.

Still, there’s something about the news that saddens me. Perhaps not Sam’s decision itself but the fact that increasingly, anywhere outside the corporate sector is a No-Man’s-Land financially. I’m lucky enough to live and work in the shadow of Canary Wharf, not a place that aesthetically I have any strong objections to, I have to confess, (sorry!) but the prospect of someday having to work there chills my blood. I would say that between my world and theirs there is an absolute and impassable gulf. Some people manage to fake it for the money, and money, especially if you’ve got kids (which I may well have in the future) and live in a city as expensive as London, is a pressing concern. Still, pressing or otherwise I am not going to be able to do this. If it was my only option, if I had to, though this sounds hysterical, I’d rather you shot me.

I’ll give you analogy. My Uncle Tommy.

Now, Uncle Tommy has been dead for about five years or so, having effectively drunk, smoked and foodwise, pied himself to death over a forty year period. He started out with a trade in the shipyard and ended up running a pub, the better to satisfy his seemingly inexhaustible appetite for fags, booze and pickled eggs and his desire to avoid the inconvenience of having to actually walk to the Local (and thereby get a bit of exercise). At Fifty-ish, he was told that if he didn’t alter his lifestyle soon he’d have to have his left leg amputated: as it was he had first a stroke then a heart-attack that finished him off before the surgeons could start getting rid of him piecemeal. The question was, even when faced with the possibility of loosing one or both legs, life in a wheelchair, even death, why couldn’t he stop? The answer is that he was habituated to it, his ideas of himself were inextricably linked to his being in a bar, with his Rothmans at hand and a pint fizzing in his fist. That being otherwise was such a radical jettisoning of all that he was, the base, sub and superstructure of his being, that a change of “lifestyle” of the magnitude that was required (no longer do any of the things you currently do, change your value system from top to bottom, become in effect, another person) would in itself entail a kind of death. A willed self-sacrifice, a kind of immediate suicide as opposed to slowly succumbing to the destructive, comforting work of whatever poisons his life was constructed around ingesting.

Well, we’re all only flexible to varying degrees and with regard to certain aspects of our existence, and work-wise I am Tommy. Offices fill me with dread. I worked in them, post-Uni, got sacked from a number, slipped down the employment ladder until five years after having graduated I was working in a warehouse in Leeds on a temporary contract during the Winter and alternating that with the night-shift at an ice-cream cone packing factory which was about to be closed down by the environmental health people during the Summer. Pay and conditions were appalling and non-existent respectively and the people I worked with were a fairly unreconstructed crew. Even so, I couldn’t set foot back in an office. Soul-curdling is the only word I can use to describe the effect they have on me. The sentiments summed up in this poem pretty largely echo my own:

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplicaton of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.
Theodore Roethke

Eventually I was lucky enough to be able to escape into teaching, though I work in the low-pay, (and low-stress) minimal-rights, private sector. At this stage in my life I have no pressing financial concerns, no dependants, no debts hanging over me, but certain things, children, a foot on the property ladder, better still, a nice house in a decent area with good schools are all inaccessible to me at the moment, nor of course am I getting any younger, closer now to forty than to thirty, the range of options open to me narrowing with every passing year, the gap between those “inside safe or outside lost” (to quote Pynchon) growing yearly too. The pressure is there and it’s persistent, the voice is there in your head asking repeatedly, “How will you live in ten year’s time, in twenty year’s time, what about when you retire?” The doubt gnawing at you that maybe you’ve got it all wrong, idiot, with your deeply impractical passions for literature and music and that the truly smart guys have been playing the game from the word go, had all these things sorted out years ago.

But, for better or worse, this change, the total and utter self-abnegation that it would require of me, is something I’m incapable of. My problems are not fundamentally psychological (“how can I become the right kind of person, Doc?”), I don’t need a psychiatrist, I need to bring about some kind of change in the way the world’s set up. For people in my situation, the solution, the salvation is evidently political.

At random, (I’m thinking out-loud here) two things spring to mind, the first is a conversation I had with an Azeri women a few years ago re: life pre and post the collapse of the Soviet Union, she summed it up, with typically robust humour, like this: “Then it was very difficult to travel, because our government wouldn’t let us, now we have the freedom to travel but nobody has enough money to do so. Then we had certain restrictions on our freedom and we worried about the police coming to the door in the night, now I don’t do anything except spend all my time trying to make money and worrying whether my house will be broken into by thieves in the night.”

The second is the concluding chapter of Richard Yates towering (I mean TOWERING) novel “Revolutionary Road” in which the big-talking but finally cowardly central character Frank Wheeler, after his wife’s death as a result of a self-administered abortion (in which, due to his final reluctance to get them out of the Mid-Fifties U.S. Suburbia he claims to despise, he is heavily implicated) sells out to the American Dream and abandons the fantasy of an artistic life in Paris. In the closing pages when Wheeler returns to Revolutionary Road fellow (equally inadequate) suburban revolutionary Shep observes him, thus:

Courageous! What kind of bullshit was that? How could a man be courageous when he wasn’t even alive? Because that was the whole point: that was the way he’d seemed when he came to the door that March afternoon: a walking, talking, smiling, lifeless man…….You couldn’t picture him really laughing, or really crying, or really sweating or eating or getting drunk, or standing up for himself…. And it was even worse than that, he was boring. He must have spent at least half an hour talking about his half-assed job, and God only knew how many other hours in his favourite subject, “ my analyst this”, “my analyst that.
On a lighter note I notice that PMPEP after having tried to be nice for two posts is reverting heavily to type and currently calling no less an eminence than the Pope himself "a fucki%$ cocksuck*%" over on Frothing Spleen.
Tsk, tsk,tsk.
You go, girl!

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