Maybe you’ve crashed again – and you’re
in the dark familiar place. As ever, one mess-up
reminds you of all the fiascos you’ve generated
in the past and, more broadly, of your fundamental
idiocy and – beyond that – the doubtful nature
of your entire existence.
The next steps from here are well known: retreat,
despair, flagellation, feeling yet smaller,
ever greater doubt and deeper self-loathing.
You have mined this cavern expertly over the
years. Maybe – before this latest mini catastrophe
- you’d been feeling a bit stronger, you’d
come to expect a little more of life. As if!
This is a return to reality; you are back
now where you assume you belong, the sad subterranean
place from which you should have never have
sought to escape.
But what about if, this time, just for once,
as a mad experiment in living (and with little
left to lose), you tried a different route,
you chose a fresh approach to despair, you
chose to argue with it using a strange weapon
moulded out of an attitude of radical melancholy
and defiant vulnerability.
What if you told yourself a few sharply different
things. For a start, how on earth were you
to know? How are any of us meant to lead the
unblemished lives we cruelly assume it’s
our responsibility to lead when we possess
so little of the information, about ourselves
and the conditions of life, that are required?
Why do we keep feeling surprised and angry
that we fail around love and work, friendship
and family given that we have so few of the
tools necessary to live with any semblance
of wisdom? The schools don’t work, the books
don’t know and our minds are desperately
intermittent ambiguous and misfiring organs.
The point is not whether or not we will mess
up but just how badly and in what area. Failure
is the ineluctable norm.
But there are options to how we tell the story
of each new reversal. We might thread these
into a narrative of continuous gloom, or we
might assemble them into a more compassionate
and imaginative (and sometimes warmly funny)
tale. Sometimes failure might just be a mishap
rather than a sign that we don’t deserve
to live. A rejection might not have to be
a harbinger of unlimited doom. It is open
to us to arrange the very same facts into
another kind story.
Nor should we torture ourselves thinking that
others wouldn’t have made our mistakes.
They didn’t come from the same place as
we did. We had our own distinctive histories
that made us particularly predisposed to blindness
and weakness in specific areas.
What is sure is that none of us is ever beyond
regular encounters with total stupidity. We
should accept our idiocy with grace. We need
only think ahead to old age to lose any remaining
brittle attachment to dignity. In a little
while, sure enough, we’ll once again be
as helpless as an infant but a good deal less
sympathetic, with prostate issues and an adult
bib. The best wisdom we’re capable of involves
never losing sight of our own ridiculousness
- in a kind way.
Naturally, the reality of our inner lives
can feel unusually desperate to us. But that’s
only because we don’t know the lives of
others in sufficient detail. If we did, we’d
find all the same longing, compromise, misery
and awkwardness. We aren’t uniquely awful;
we just know ourselves unusually well.
What we need is the darkest kind of celebration,
a politely giant fuck you to the universe
for the way we have wound up as bits of semicoherent,
semi-conscious suffering biological matter
pinned to a spinning rock near a fading star
without a clue of how to conduct ourselves
meaningfully. All who can recognise the miserable
facts with dark humour are our natural friends,
to whom we should turn and share bleakly funny
jokes as we head to the gallows and the ultimate
catastrophe that awaits us all.
We may be experts at beating ourselves up,
but this is a banal sport we’ve triumphed
at for too long. Let’s try explore the forgotten
glamour of giving ourselves a break and, once
in a while, of turning towards light, reassurance,
and a bit of compassionate cosiness.
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