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.


62: Mountain – Moving

With every awakening comes the same wish that things could be other than they are. Of things close at hand, the wish that amongst them be my purpose, and of things further off, that same draw­ing in of breath, a gasp perhaps, solicited by witnessing everywhere the sheer weight of suffering that bears down on others as much as it presses down on me, but also the fury, the anger and an­guish that much of this wretchedness is caused by something as simple and mean as the abuse of power. For there is that elite which rules this world for their exclusive benefit alone, that mighty elite, mighty in power but nothing else, who bend us all to their will, to make what happens exactly what they want to happen, for the indulgence of misery and the pure pleasure of exercising their power, like a child in the bliss of their exhilaration as they stamp on a mouse and taste the pure pleas­ure of their brutality.

But what is to be done? I do not know. Every few years we may, if we so wish, vote for the per­son we believe possesses more humanity and more decency than the others. Though, as likely as not, many will vote for their favoured candidate motivated only by their own self-interest, drawn in with the promise of tax cuts, or the hope of relishing a bit of bene­fits scrounger bashing in the form of policies that will drive the weakest and the most vulnerable to suicide, or take away someone’s means of sustain­ing themselves, so that they can­not sustain them­selves and die of starvation, alone and cold in the darkness of these hateful times.

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So I awaken to find that I am still alive, and I must live on through this horror. I would mend it. I would mend it all, but I do not know how. It is easier to move a mountain with a teaspoon, given a strong enough teaspoon and enough time.[1] But mend the evil of the world? It cannot be done. We must bear its onslaught and wish in utter futility for something different.

[1] If that were the deal, if God were to come and say, ‘Move this mountain four miles to the west, and here is the indestructible teaspoon that you must use, and I will end all evil on this world forever, and I will make you live long enough to complete the task,’ I would take the spoon. This would be my purpose, and I would set to with enthusiasm, concerned about only two things: will humanity be able to survive the intervening eons that must pass before I can move the mountain, and will the planet itself last long enough for me to finish the job? For the roughest of calculations suggests that moving a mountain with a teaspoon must occupy one’s every waking moment for at least a few billion years. There is also the concern that in moving a moun­tain with a teaspoon one will not avoid pulverising it to chip­pings and grains, and as quickly as one way try to heap it up again at its new location, will the wind not simply blow it away? Will God allow for that? Or must I forever chase downwind after the receding mountain and try to bring it all back again, and maybe find a way to cement it all together? When it’s all fin­ished, can I keep the teaspoon as a souvenir?

50: Death Mask – Forming

Like a ghost upon the battlements, who will not rest until his revenge is secured, I pace the news­rooms and websites, TV sites and message boards, spying out the evil of this world.

For I will bear witness to it. It has become my duty. These are my times, and I am ashamed of them. My visage scowls within with such a rage of withering witnessing, that were that scowl trans­ferred to flesh and muscle without, it is that visage that would be viewed by the world who marvels that such a man could exist, or bear to be seen by others in such a horrid condition of distress. For however intense the suffering of he who witnesses, his pain is such a small slice, a flimsy nothing when compared to the deep, deep suffering that others heap upon others, that it may be regarded, in the ultimate ledger, as a mere scratch, a moment’s glimpsing of failed humanity. It is but a blink of awareness that is a useless prize, for what now for him, for me, who witnesses? Where is the tribunal that will hear our plea for those who suffer, where the judge whose mighty gavel can beat out new orders for the guilty to obey, to cease, to cast aside their cruelty?

We are powerless against those powers who will have their way today, and tomorrow, and all the tomorrows of that tomorrow, until the end of time, it seems. If only the shame of it could be moulded to a new power that could avenge the inhumanity of it and deliver a righteousness for all, for everyone oppressed, for even the slightest harm, for the single tear that dries on a child’s cheek.

We, who do not do these things, should pool our shame and raise a cry so potent that the earth will shake its vengeance.

But no … the reality of it is impotence, power­lessness and a permanent sickness of the soul that pulls and rends and lays my startled thoughts like little bits of wet bandage upon the death mask of this world. Such sorrow, such sorrow.

29: Power – Dominating

If others feel as I do, how do they manage to continue in their petty lives, concerned with trivia and stupid things, craving possessions and admiration, oblivious it seems to transience and the doom of death that awaits us all, no matter the glory that for some floods from their ‘success’ in dominating others and turning their exploited labour into one’s own private possessions with which to beat those al­ready long oppressed? How can anyone ever be content with that? How can domination of others ever feel so good? Why embrace that domi­nation with such a determination and commitment that political parties are brought to bear upon main­tain­ing its continued success, no matter what suffer­ing is heaped upon those who do all the work for the single purpose of satisfying the few who have that pernicious power to dominate?

The pieces of this puzzle will not fit together unless we add bully, persecutor, browbeater, sadist, tormentor, destroyer of lives. The nature of privilege is in the end nothing but the entitlement to abuse, to take from others and have for oneself, to own their labour and therefore own them as a master owns a slave. And, oh, this is a sickening thing. It is detestable beyond all words, words that could never capture its vastness and its vileness and its outrageous ugliness.

The rich, the powerful, our masters say that we are envious, and that really we want only what they want. They are so small-minded they actually say that. No. We would rather die than be like them or have what they have. All we want is to get out from under their dominion. We want our lives to have that character they would have if the overse­ers of our wretchedness had never existed. That is all revolution aspires to, to turn ourselves from this misery and face something less miserable.