Minor News – Book Now Published

frontI have assembled these little pieces into a 5 x 8 inches paperback book (on 216 cream pages with a matt cover), now available at the usual sites. The ISBN is 978-1535269339. Hopefully the typeface and the overall design are agreeable. I was able to include the pictures, which I hope enhance the book.

If you would like a copy, and if your use Amazon, here are the links to the main UK and USA sites:

Amazon UK
http://amzn.to/2jMxwLa
Amazon USA
http://amzn.to/2kI3GpE

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Friendships – Severing

I remember my first panic attack (the usual, standardised panic attack you read about in medical books or on the Internet), the night before my final A-level exam. I had, of course, experienced throughout childhood, from the earliest of times, various intensities of alarm, fear, anxiety, sometimes strongly, sometimes debilitatingly, but never before had I experienced the profound depth of the panic that assailed me that night, the night before I would visit my school – in order to sit the paper – for the very last time. For with a sudden, unexpected, devastating realisation, I collided with the thought that I knew no one, had no friends, no acquaintances even, outside school. Even those two or three close friends I had, and with whom I would meet up independently of our going to school, even these few were heading for university in only a few weeks, and I would, in fact, make their acquaintance again, briefly, on only two further occasions.

I would have to manage on my own, and I had no idea how that could be done. No university or college course, with its fresh studies and new friends, beckoned me, for I had no idea as to what studies, what career, to pursue. Nothing seemed in the least bit appealing. I could not transfer my private joys and preferences to new locations beyond my private sphere, for all I ever craved was an interesting book and a peace and quiet, and pleasant environs, in which to read it. And facing in that direction, I could see no path to a career or to a future life, or to new friends.

I had some small sense then, and I realise now, that I needed an adviser, a guide. Even the Internet, as yet twenty years in the future, may have saved me. The potency of that panic attack opened such a deep wound of despair that has from that night never lessened. There is a sense to the idea that that panic attack never, in fact, stopped happening, and is happening still. The psychologist, perhaps, will say that this tells them something about me, but from my point of view, as the one who suffers the panic and despair, it tells me about the world, it tells me about the world that modern culture has created and imposed on us all, and it tells me that I do not belong in this world, that my desire for peace and time to read is a folly that cannot, and perhaps should not, be satisfied.

So I have blundered through this world, in all, for six long decades, hoping and hoping to find that secret of how to secure my heart’s desire, but always failing. I cannot find that for which I search, perhaps because I do not even know how to conduct the search. I am obligated to do things I do not want to do, pressed to satisfy the requirements of others and denied the option of satisfying my own wishes. The futility of this existence is beyond explaining. The hopelessness of its despair is beyond all comparison, and it is so vast that it fills the universe, and is already there no matter the direction I travel, or for how far.

This little text, I realise, confounds more than it clarifies. Adrift on this sea of hopelessness, I do not think I have ever caught a glimpse of land beyond those few illusions that proved false. This is the alienation that casts for each an unchallengeable mould that contains and constrains everyone. The mystery is that so few, so few, seem to have even the slightest awareness of their predicament.

Interesting Things – Saving

Since childhood, I have only ever been able to get through each day and face the fact that another must follow, then another and another, by throwing every grain of effort at Interesting Things. Some days are barren, and there are no Interesting Things that will let me pick them up, and so I must endure the torment of a tedium whose source I do not understand, so cannot stand against, let alone defeat. Hold on. Hold on, there will be Interesting Things tomorrow.

When all effort is exhausted, and a fork in the road offers me either the option to abandon this charade and stop now, the pills are ready, or to hold on for another day, for Interesting Things will come, they really will come, I have managed (obviously) to take the latter path. This capacity I have to be distracted by Interesting Things, distracted enough to prolong this hateful journey, is such a tremendous blessing that I so, so much appreciate, for I know that others have not been granted it, or anything like it, and I know their suffering is so very great, and I would help if I could, but I do not know how.

Before books, and long, long before the Internet, I had my Box of Interesting Things. The cardboard box itself had contained the transformer for my 00 scale electric train set, and it was so well constructed and so sturdy that my mother decided to keep it ready for some eventual storage requirement. And before I knew it, this Box – the size of a shoebox – had taken custody of a whole variety of Interesting Things. It became my Box of Odds and Ends, whose contents easily exceeded the greatest possible marvels, because I was only a child, and greater marvels – a few, anyway – lay some way off in the future.

I cannot now remember the sheer diversity of all the wonderful things I collected, but I do remember some: horseshoe magnet, spare tyres for my toy cars, paper clips, mirror, string, empty cotton reels, drawing pins, short ruler, pencil-sharpeners (several), sticky tape, key for winding clocks, batteries, pen knife that in my hands had been reincarnated into a new life (for my great grandfather, in whose house I had come to live, had died the year I was born, and who now would cut the string on parcels or open stubborn envelopes or ease coins from between floorboards?), pencils, erasers, magnetic compass, compass for drawing circles and arcs, bulldog clips of various sizes, shoelaces, pencil caps, pencil extenders, the program issued at the school’s nativity play in 1963 (in which I played Joseph, having appropriately already fallen in love with Mary, Mother of God, who was Jane), empty pill jars and spare corks to stop them, nail file, and a few toy soldiers who had lost contact with their platoons.

But then books came, and more books, and now they fill the house, thousands of them, as my Box of Interesting Things developed a more abstract aspect so to speak, expanding outwards from little physical things to include all these years later the thoughts and experiences of others, spreading out across the world like a greedy fire to consume, and thereby brighten my life, the tales of travellers and dramas of playwrights, of histories of distant times, of fabulous fables and arduous endeavours, and passing over at great length the earnest thoughts of profound philosophers. Here in this sanctuary, in this Box I have filled, lie worlds within worlds of wonders and marvels. This is what has saved me from such a bleakness that I struggle to describe, from this despair in the face of a pointlessness that fastened its jaws to my ankles in childhood, and which I know now will never release me.

There are many things that I dread at various levels of dismay, but the most profound, the most terrifying, is that fear of waking one day and finding that Interesting Things are not interesting any more. Of all the evils that this world may yet shove through my door, this is the one that unnerves me the most.

Men – Hewing

I am five, and I remember the joy of running home from school through the silence of the park, to the quiet sanctuary of my own private room, to escape the frantic volume and din of voices that lasted not all day, of course, but whose incessant clamour grated on my nerves, like a pain growing larger as the hours passed, under the barrage of chatter, under the barrage of just the teacher’s voice, sometimes. My thoughts were derailed, the printed words in my books became just ink on paper that meant nothing, nothing beyond the fact that, now, in this confusion of noise, they would not speak to me, and my eyes skated over the papery surface like a man on stilts who was bound to slip and crash through the icy surface he had been foolish enough to venture onto, down into the freezing embrace of meaninglessness.

An_urban_footpathAfter the park – after the quiet footpath had cut between long, long properties to either side, to take me to that row of houses where I lived – back in my own room, at last, there was not silence, but peace. Through the half-open door, I could hear my mother in the kitchen, clattering quietly with this utensil, then with that, sliding the tray under the grill to make cheese on toast, and I knew that in a minute she would call me, and for the moment I could read about planets, or draw a dinosaur, or make a castle by sticking together bits of cardboard that my father had saved for me. Oh! – and there was such a space in my head, an uncluttered, unencumbered space where I could think, where I could travel in time, wander between the stars, or feel the weight of my armour before the assault on the castle began.

And still I seek such solitude and respite from the troubled and troubling world, where everyone else lives and chatters, where they make such a noise. As I write this, my neighbour is having their backyard cleared out, shrubs cut back, trees cut down (all of them, every single one, where at the bottom of the garden there had stood for at least ninety years a tiny wood as large as a tennis court) and the men have a machine, that pulverises all the waste wood, that makes such a horrid shrieking of destruction that, again, my thoughts are shattered and words break free of their meanings.

Interlude – Interposing

The numbered sections, the appendix, and my wife’s poem that I have already posted to this blog are intended to be read as a whole, as a single work. And I think it is finished, now. And to this end, I shall do all those things that must be done to produce a little paperback at Amazon’s Createspace for people, like me, who still relish the joy of reading a real book made from card and paper, with wide margins (well, in the books I publish, anyway) that draw the points of one’s pencils (try a really soft grade of graphite, such as a 6B) to doodle notes and make comments, and try out one’s own sentences.

I will continue posting (on roughly the same theme) from this point, without any clear idea as to what I may eventually do with these pieces. Maybe another idea for another project will come to me, with a different objective.

If you have not come across The Coffeelicious publication hosted by Medium, do take a look. And do rummage around Medium, too. I am pleased to say that Coffeelicious have accepted me as a contributor, so some of the pieces that I post on my own blog, here, will be added to my page at Medium and to The Coffeelicious as well.

A Final Appointment

(A poem by my dear wife, Jocelyn Almond)

There’s a big, old, kindly fisherman,
So some people say,
Who performs a special duty
Until Judgement Day;
And everyone shall meet him –
Everyone good who dies –
Because he waits to greet them
At the gates of Paradise.

At the end of every weary day,
When I was very small,
I’d find my mother waiting for me
Outside the gates of school.
Now, if one thing keeps me going
Through this sad and weary life,
It’s the thought she’s waiting for me
At the gates of Paradise.

Darling, if I die before you
And ascend to Heaven above,
Heaven won’t be Heaven
Without your precious love.
Until you’re safe there with me,
Nothing will suffice,
So you’ll find me waiting for you
At the gates of Paradise.

Appendix: Box – Bewildering

I sometimes recollect a waking dream I once had, about ten years ago,[1] in which I am waiting in the afterlife, having been there for some time, to take up my new life, the life I am having now. All the souls that have volunteered to be reborn – following the stories that Robert Frost tells in his poem ‘Trial by Existence’ and Plato tells in ‘The Story of Er’ in his Republic – are assembled on a vast grassy expanse, where first we must select the very life into which we will be born, for all the lives are already fixed in the divine plan, and all we have to do is choose the one that we want, according to some scheme as to which sort of experiences we need to have next, for all lives offer their own lessons, and our task, as we enter into one life after another, is to choose those lessons wisely so that we may grow as moral agents, and gradually come to an understanding of the human condition, and why it must have the character that it does. (And I should add that because all the lives are fixed in the divine plan it does not follow that we lack the free will that we usually think we have, for it is our own capacity for free choice and the manner in which we exercise our power of agency that fixes the divine plan in the form that it has.) And all the available lives are written out on sherds of pottery, or on little pages of papyrus or parchment, that we are free to rummage amongst. And here is my life, written out neatly, showing how I will find my dear J and how I must look after her, and how I will reap such joy in doing so. And it seemed to me that this particular life had been passed over, time and again, and that no one really wanted it, and I was worried then as to how my dear J would cope if no one came to look after her in her long illness and disability, and I could not choose a different life. After we had all chosen the life we wanted, we were all given a wooden box, large enough in fact to be a small chest, in which were saved things that will be useful, perhaps even needed, for our future lives. And we all sat on the grass, for the moment absorbed in the contents of our boxes, pulling out books or keys, or items of jewellery, or models of animals or houses that rep­resent our future realities, and we turned to each other in our delight so that we might congratulate our neighbours on their good fortune at having those things in their boxes. But in my waking dream, my box was empty, with respect to which (I do not know why) I felt embarrassed and ashamed. So when my neighbours turned to me to ask if I too had received wonderful things in my box, I replied that yes, I have quite wonderful things, when all along my box was quite empty. With a mixture of disappointment and horror, as I gazed into the interior of my wooden box, I knew then the awful reality of the hardships that would come to me in my future life, but I could not give it up, because I knew now how much my dear J would need me. So I would have to undertake the living of this life without the sort of help that oth­ers would have for their lives. And as it turned out, the help I did receive was, of course, J herself. For she gave me my instructions and directed our course. My hateful anxiety and depression, present from childhood, were under her authority, and my days ordered according to her needs and her plans. Not that I would have no impact whatever. No, of course I did. But as I have explained, J was my Captain, and I was a deckhand, and oh my goodness, I liked it like that. In my waking dream, I still have my box with me, and I look inside it from time to time, for it occurs to me that there really is something there to help me, and that in all this time I simply could not see it, and perhaps one day I will. But every time I look, the box is still empty, and I still feel the embarrassment and shame of being given an empty box. For now that J has gone, the emptiness of that box spills out over everything, rendering everything empty and useless and unwanted. The only thing I ever really wanted, that I want still, and which perhaps could not be represented by any object lodging in my box, was conversation with my dear J, that and the joy of coming home to our little house where we could be at peace with only each other, but where peace now eludes me. Like the fish that is unaware of the water through which it swims, for all those years I think I was largely unaware of that marvel­lous treasure – conversation with J – that so filled our hours together. I see it now, and as the months pass, my losing it becomes more and more painful. The closing period of this life that I have chosen is a horrible affair, and I do not want it. Oh my goodness… I hope, I hope, I so hope that my dear J is waiting for me at the gates of Paradise.[2] I have so much I want to tell her, and I so long to hear her response, and all the things that she will, I hope, want to tell me.

[1] This Appendix extracts a section from my book Another Grief Observed (Swaying Willow Press, 2015), written in response to the death of my wife, Jocelyn Almond. The title is added anew.

[2] See her poem, which I shall post in the very next blog, tomorrow.