Beneath The Lines…

The Subtext…

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I wanted to be a writer. I wanted the freedom of thought that would allow me to create my own kingdoms and to find my own treasures. I wanted something that others probably believe is unobtainable. I wanted to be a writer.

So, I set about the task of teaching myself how to write. I started off with short stories. One of my earliest was a tiny tome called, Shark Island. I think I still have it somewhere but can give you an outline of its voluminous plot.

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Basically, Bond on an Island with lots of baddies and a beautiful girl. Throw in a gun, a speedboat and a gyrocopter and you have it. Not a literary success with any audience other than myself, but a start.

From there on there came some painful poetry, etching out emotional turmoil on philosophical feet made of mud. I wrote diaries that plotted my way through adolescence (poetry I dared not admit) and then, much later, back came the poetry; this time less embarrassing. I wooed my wife to be with a few rough sonnets, strawberries and cream, and a bottle of champagne over the back-door dustbin. At least the writing got me something of value.

 

But writing is what I want to do. I want to make my living from it. I want it to be the vehicle of my travel and experiences and I want to be able to think of myself as a writer and not just as a “wanna-be” writer. This thing here, this therapy or biography, will probably sit in the digital graveyard of my notebook collecting digital dust and being visited by nobody. But that is rub of it.

What is it that drives a writer? For me it was a form of release. It was not that I had all these stories up in my head, waiting to escape, but that I had real dreams and an “off with the fairies” mentality. I have never particularly subscribed to the real world. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not an escapist fantasist who will dunk his head into the nearest pile of somnambulant sand and wait for it all to go away. No, for we have wings and can fly, we will travel and experience, we will discover, we will path-find; we may just, one day, create something that people will read and remember and possibly share with others. It sounds a little vainglorious on the page but it’s not supposed to be. Writing is cutting through the weeds and discovering a garden that has been lost for a time that is so distant that nobody truly remembers it.

That brings me back to this particular venture that I have decided to undertake. It is often toil, sitting down as often as I can to write some words on some topics that may just interest some readers.

 

Me: failed teacher; failing writer; and recovering human being.

Some time ago when I was in the pit, my counselling sessions gave me solace. It was never the case that it was merely somebody to talk to. That would have been a waste of everybody’s time. The point of it all may have been looking for answers, but in that, it failed. I discovered many more questions than answers. In fact, I think that I discovered just one answer and that one had been staring me in the face for such a long that I had stopped noticing it.

People call it, ‘the elephant in the room’ and I know that my elephant had been depositing lots of semi-digested elephant material on the floors of each of my rooms, so much so that it was difficult to wade through from one to the next without slipping and getting covered in all of the evil stuff. Some people may take issue with my thoughts on elephant issue, believing, probably rightly, that elephant faeces is far preferable to many other forms of faeces from other species. At least the elephant stuff is organic and lacks the toxic sting of carnivorous creatures. In the top ten of the worst shit that anyone has ever trodden in, I believe that elephant dung would come about 268. Dog dirt on the other hand would always creep in to the top ten and I, strangely,  have produced some  surprise top-twenty matter on a number of occasions. So, the big grey thing was my long-time profession, teaching; why was I still doing it?

 

Beyond the mortgage and the sense of having an acceptable profession, there was very little that recommended itself to me. What could I do? The answer was simple; stop. This wasn’t a solution, but it did relieve the pain and immediate symptoms for a while. As many of you will know, mortgages, university fees, bills, and a boat-load of other essentials, make it a non-negotiable that almost every adult must work. Work, after all, is the curse of the drinking classes as it restricts the amount that you can regularly imbibe in order to escape the fact that work is waiting just around the next hour. For me, work had become the steady beat of a light hammer that was forever knocking my potential creativity into a recognisably normal shape. That’s what teaching is all about, making everybody fit and making everyone follow, no matter how ludicrous the path has become.

I had previously thrown in my hat before so I could do it again.

My mantra was that I could never be defeated. In the past, no matter how many times I had been knocked down, I got back up again and remade myself. A little of Chumba Wumba sneaking in there just to make it sound cheesy. But if it looks like cheese, if it smells like cheese, and if it tastes like cheese, be careful, as something may be playing a practical joke on you. I’m back with Hemingway again and his old man who finally accepts defeat when he was within touching-distance of success. What’s the message? Do we all just resign ourselves to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take it on? How many times do we take it on? If a door refuses to open, do we continue knocking at it with our foreheads until unconsciousness dictates that we stop?

 

The world is full of inspirational stories; ones that make you feel humble and ones that force you to count your blessings. It’s good advice, but please forgive me for not letting it lead my life. In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king. I don’t wish to be king and I also don’t wish for blindness. I have advantages due to being born with an average intelligence, average sporting abilities and average advantages. We were never extremely poor. We never had to beg. We never starved. I was never disabled. My parents were not drug addicts. We were never caught up in a tsunami or earthquake. We never suffered from persecution or found our line subject to ethnic cleansing. I do count my blessings but count these as accidents of fortune. It would make more sense to contemplate the blessing of having a meteor, the size of six football pitches, narrowly miss the earth, or not.

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Then there is the phoney positivity which we pass on to the young as if it is Bible. Put a smile on your face and the world becomes a happier place. In my book, a smile into the face of a world that is indifferent to suffering merely endorses and condones that abysmal state of being. Ignoring the wrongs of the world in favour of an inner sense of wellbeing is the worst thing that any caring human being can do. A smile into the face of horrendous adversity denotes a madness at the core of its wearer; or the fact that drugs are involved.

A whole industry has recently developed around self-help psychiatry, goal-achievement and general wellbeing. It is possibly all benign and well-meaning; its accumulated riches for its creators merely side issues. After all, it’s all for the benefit of mankind isn’t it?

 

Dale Carnegie, that doyen of self-improvement, salesmanship and mastery of advantageous interpersonal skills, once found his way into my life courtesy of a sales manager I had the misfortune to know. How to Win Friends and Influence People landed on my desk one day accompanied by a knowing smile. My snort of derision soon chased off my would-be benefactor’s sunny disposition, but I took the tome in the way that it was intended. I still have it on my bookcase even though not one page of it has ever been read.

I’m looking at some old photographs of him as I write and am reminded of a guiding Ghandi of the Anglo-American world. If I’d have dipped into his pragmatic philosophies I would have gleaned such gems as, “If you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic” or, “The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.” This is man who knew the essential self-serving nature of individuals and how to harness it for your own advantage. But I would take him to task on the nature of art as I believe that art brings illumination through pain rather than pleasure; take Fifty Shades of Grey for example. His optimistic glass-half-full metaphors even take his followers into the realms of soft drink manufacturing, “When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade” or “When you find cocaine in your glove compartment, make Coca-Cola.”That last one was mine rather than his. Having said that, he does have some good horse-sense in what he sold:

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living.”

I hear you, Dale, I hear every positive thing that you are telling me. I have seen the errors of my ways but will not mend them. What friends I have, I have made through the process of attrition. I was always loyal and always cared about my mates, but sometimes I was disappointed in them. I was a judgmental bugger without even realising it. And the other thing, Dale was right on this one, I was too earnest, too ready to offload my thoughts onto others, too evangelical in my beliefs: too much like a pain in the arse that Carnegie would later warn me against being; if only I’d read his book.  People who have the most friends tend to be inoffensive, waring of venturing opinions as a form of conversation starters and will never cause offence. Whereas, the sound of my own voice was something that I have spent a lifetime listening to, either externally or internally.

 

This is my voice droning on again and trying to make sense of it all. I haven’t lost the plot as I never had one in the first place.

 

Lose the plot:
  1. BRITISH informal
    Lose one’s ability to understand or cope with what is happening.
    “Many people believe that he is feeling the strain or has lost the plot”

Are You Burning Out?

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Signs of burnout:

· You are exhausted all the time, no matter how many hours you spend in bed

· A sense of isolation from other people, and even from yourself, to the extent of becoming a virtual recluse

· Ineffectual, no matter how much work you put in

· A feeling of emotional deadness

· Chronic anger even in the previously mild mannered

· Loss of empathy for other people’s problems even when it is your job to be empathetic

· Feeling of being trapped

· Increase in cynicism

· Loss of sense of humour

· Loss of sex drive in a relationship but increased interest in casual sex and other activities that can become addictive such as drinking, shopping and internet chatting

· Increase in physical problems including back and heart pain, headaches, frozen shoulder, chronic fatigue, adrenal and thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome, post-viral illnesses, viral meningitis and even heart attacks

· Rising dislike for yourself and others

Read After Burnout Review from Goodreads.

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I was extremely pleased to read this:

 

An Educator Burns Out, Loses The Pieces Of His Sanity, Finds Those Pieces And Uses Them To Recontruct A New Self.

With great humor and raw honesty the author takes us through his disillusionment, his depression and aniexty. His journey through medications and discovery of the “madness” finding in so many people. While trying to sort out his mental/emotional crisis, he is also dealing with a daughter that has issues of her own: a severe eating disorder.
The journey of this one man, this one teacher, to rebuild himself and his family is often raw. It’s truthful and real. You’re never sure how things will turn out, just like life.
A great read! I recommend this book to anyone stuggling with society’s expectations, career burnout or mental health issues.

 

Thanks go to the reviewer.

Thanks, Angie.

The Importance Of Night

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Almost twenty-minutes past three and I am sittng here in the darkness, without my glasses, whilst my wife and daughters sleep upstairs.

I woke thinking.

Now someway into my veritable older years, though the boy inside me queries this, I have those nocturnal meanderings that lead to a gnawingly inward frustration.

It’s over two-years since I finally wobbled beyond wise words. My ‘burnout’ was a forest fire that destroyed everything that I had come to depend upon in my daily existence and spiritual certainty. Even then, I still had a belief in the whole business of God.

I was a character in some cosmic saga and my lines were being written in a sympathetic ‘it will all work out in the final chapters’ manner. It was a nice thought, but it was a thought that gently drowned me into inactivity. Why should I bother to make the hard decisions when they had possibly already been made for me?

It takes many deaths before we awaken to the possibility of our own.   

I think the fifties decade is the one that begins to place the Grim Reaper before us on an ever more frequent basis. People die. It’s not just people we vaguely know or celebrities we have grown up with. No, those now dying are our friends and our family. At this point, life stops being endless, ceases to be something that will happen tomorrow, and starts becoming a little urgent.

We have just returned from holiday in the past week and yesterday I was talking to my wife and commented on how full ‘holiday days’ are compared to non ‘holiday days’.

We were camping in France and we based our stay around the beautiful Lake Annecy. Our camping was a mixture of hard and soft camping with ten days being spent in mobile homes whilst the other eight was real camping in tents. We had our bikes (five people in my immediate clan) and the car was full to bursting with everything that we were to need and lots of things that we had forgotten that we would need. But we were on holiday and that meant that the days were ours and needed the respect that they deserved. So, instead of just letting them drift by, we filled them full of ourselves. Cycling, walking, talking, cooking, meeting, talking some more, seeing, site-seeing, BEING! We did it all.

Like most of our best holidays, the weeks were book-ended by potentially disastrous events. The car broke down, badly, and or final dash for the ferry saw us driving through the most torrential of storms which demanded my wife and daughters’ abject fear and my 1000 percent concentration. We survived both. When we got home we were well and truly knackered, but we had done it; we had filled the days of our holidays with meaning. We ‘did’ rather than procrastinate. It made sense. Back home the doing seems to get pushed to one side for that great big empty balloon of a thing called ‘everyday life’. And that is what we genrally do (or don’t).

Have you ever been to a funeral and said to yourself, “This is too important to waste”, then gone straight back to wasting it the next day and the day after that and the one after that…infinitum? It’s the holiday thing. We have a brief epiphany, a break from the everyday, a glimpse of what could be, then the blinds come down and we are back in the darkness of the mundane.

The thing with the mundane, the everyday, the normal world, is that it’s not taxing. It may be ultimately a stealth-tax but we don’t immediately feel it. We are not left exhausted by our attempts to seize the day and don’t feel the need to stuff all of our energies into a few weeks that will come to an end.  Unlike life, holidays are finite. And that is ‘rub’. Life does end. It’s a holiday that starts with a breakdown and finishes with a dramatic storm that threatens to derail everybody’s safe passage.

So after those fine words, I am still confused as to what my true holiday should contain.  

I have a decision to make in the next few days.

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I can’t put it off. The clock is ticking. 

 

 

The Problem With Believing In Oneself

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I was out cycling with a good friend last night. It acts as a catch-up as well as a talking therapy session. The exercise is our form of meditation.

The ride has several stages. The first is the preliminary greetings. This is followed by a few funny anecdotes from our daily lives. Then it becomes a laughter session. Both of us like humour and both of us can be quite humorous. Both of us are in recovery from the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune that others call normal life, so the stuff that we find funniest is the stuff about ourselves and what fuck-ups we have become.

We can’t talk to many other people about our thoughts and lives because they wouldn’t get it. The rest of the world seems to be doing a reasonable job of getting on with it. We get on with it, but IT then becomes a pet lion that decides to show its love of you by chewing your legs off. Life is devouring us, little by little, but we can still laugh.

Our rides normally end in a warm feeling of having shared some moments with a fellow-traveller. Our roads have been similar for a number of years and each time we come to the end of one of them, we do a tentative fist-pump.

Last night’s ride was slightly different. For a start, we both arrived racked with guilt over another episode of, ‘Wow, Haven’t You Fucked Up Your Lives!’ I had been thinking of what I had become after having hoped for so much. My friend was chewing himself up over his inability to be there for his children when he thought they needed him. In truth, although divorced, he does lots for his kids. We shared our thoughts, shrugged in mock bravery, cycled, laughed, and swore at the fact that the world was really going to shit in a hand-cart whilst we were cycling.

One lovely lady told me recently that I needed self-belief. She was suggesting that I was a good writer whilst I suggested that she was being too nice. The truth is that I have little self-belief and believe only that too much self-belief is one of the root causes of my present situation. Always an aspiring writer and never an aspired one.

So here goes with a self-esteem quiz:  

1. On the whole I am satisfied with myself.

2. At times I think that I am no good at all.

3. I feel that I have a number of good qualities.

4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.

5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.

6. I certainly feel useless at times.

7. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least the equal of others.

8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.

9. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.

10. I take a positive attitude toward myself.

Devised by the sociologist Morris Rosenberg, this questionnaire is one of the most widely used self-esteem assessment scales in the United States. If your answers demonstrate solid self-regard, the wisdom of the social sciences predicts that you are well adjusted, clean and sober, basically lucid, without criminal record and with some kind of college cum laude under your high-end belt. If your answers, on the other hand, reveal some inner shame, then it is obvious: you were, or are, a teenage mother; you are prone to social deviance; and if you don’t drink, it is because the illicit drugs are bountiful and robust.

How did you do?

Go Forth and Multiply

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King James Bible
And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

We didn’t sleep well last night. I was awake and struggling to return to the earlier shallows of dreams. Sophie was awake. She knew that I was awake. I knew that she was awake, but we did not communicate. We were deep in thought.

A few hours earlier, she had asked me to drop this ‘mental illness thing’. I knew she meant business. This had followed on the back of some news I had imparted to her about the events of my day. ‘Events’ make me seem busy, occupied, in demand. However, it’s just a word.

My Events:

Agencies? Begged me to do this new supply gig, begged. I said no. They phoned again and begged some more. I eventually said yes. I was originally booked into a Catholic school who had requested me. So that was given to somebody else. I told the other agency that I would be elsewhere next week so they cancelled my two remaining days. I went along to a second interview at a college on Tuesday. Spent half an hour there and lost a full day’s pay. They haven’t bothered getting back to me. The new school agency phoned me at 4pm, on Friday afternoon, to say that it had been cancelled for next week. I asked them if the other school was still on and they said they had given it to somebody else, but not to worry…because? Fuck, fucking nose 👃

From a text to a friend.

It doesn’t take much imagination or empathy to understand my then state of mind. After telling my wife, she, too, fell into despair.

“We are going to lose the house!”

I thought about telling her that it was too big to lose, but thought otherwise.

“How much of your savings have you left?”

I had been watching my savings since June. I had been watching them diminish. I had been telling myself that there would be a cut-off point, a moment when decisions would have to be made. Up until now, I hadn’t done anything.

Voices were raised for the first time in almost a year. She told me that she was taking the girls to the cinema for the night. She needed to get out of the house. I accused her of abandoning me and she agreed. To add fuel to the fire, she told me that we would have to sell the house and that it, “would break her heart.” She was right and I was wrong; I know that now.

I am fifty-five years old. I have no recognisable source of income. I still have children to raise and a mortgage to pay. I need to decide what to do about it.

My best plan was to procrastinate. Yet I was there, at that moment when something had to be done. My dreams had been just that, empty thoughts drifting over a harsh landscape, hoping to find somewhere to lay down roots. I am writing now, still tired from the night’s non-sleep. My wife is hanging out washing and not communicating. Well, she is, but not in spoken terms.

Our usual routine for Saturday morning is to wake up, make two mugs of tea, sit in bed, talk a little and peruse the day’s news headlines. We used to read newspapers that were made of paper. In the distant past, before ‘the will of the people’ determined that we would be leaving Europe, we would share French or Spanish property porn. The act of looking for dream houses in foreign countries lifted us. Now that is gone and the only thing my wife could say to me was, “You need a plan.”

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The moment in The Italian Job when a plan is needed.

We never found out what happened to that bus and its hapless passengers. My hope was that somehow they would be able to pull the bullion back, rebalance the vehicle, and then escape through the from door with their hard-fought, but ill-gotten gains, intact. The law of gravity and probability would have told me otherwise.

The plan I have is to get out of teaching and into something that wants me and that I want. Writing is there, but that is part of the dream. It’s not yet real. Nobody pays to read it. I can learn to work with my hands which will involve an apprenticeship of sorts in North Wales. I need those skills and I need to be out of the false structures and regimes that have govern my recent life. I have a pension of sorts (and a pauper’s plot) so, I could take that now. I…

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There’s that bloody rock again.

 

I could go forth and multiply my chances of doing something worthwhile; and keep my marriage. 

It was Hamlet who struggled with indecision, forever wondering if he should act or not act. He even had a dead Dad who spoke to him every now and again. Perhaps what is happening to me is that I am slowly turning into a Shakespearean tragic character. That could be a question, an answer, or another prevarication. Who knows? It is said that those people who do not mobilise themselves in times of war tend to be the ones most likely to lose their lives. When outrageous fortune is flung against you, it is a wise decision to get out of its trajectory.

My hands have for many years been those of a wanna-be writer and poet, but they will now learn to work for their living. They will saw wood, mix concrete, and build fences. They will cut and callous and grow hard against the coming winter. They will grasp onto the very fibres of a life that needs to be pulled back into being. I have spent too long knocking at the door of education and will now move on.

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When we first moved into our then dilapidated home, we were met with radiators that were as useful as this. Like the rest of the house, they were old and obsolete, in need of replacement. We found out that it wasn’t the fault of the radiators but the fact the central-heating system predated the Ark and hadn’t worked since the great flood.

My friend told me recently that we are all destined to become radiators.

When we are young and dynamic, people notice us. When we get older (he thinks fifty is the critical age) we are not even noticed in a room.

We are ‘radiators’.  

But can they multiply?