Going nowhere on a tragic cycle…

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The problem with tragedy is that it never has a happy ending.

Tragedy ends in death.

It starts with a bad decision, leads on to disgrace and downfall, scrapes you through a period of suffering that appears never likely to end before there is a realisation, ‘Fuck, that’s what I did wrong’ or, ‘Fuck, I still don’t know what I did wrong.’ Regardless of self-awareness or not, the tragic circle wants to play itself out.

You, if you be the tragic hero, have been brought low for a reason: hubris, peripeteia, anagnorisis, hamartia, or just the fact that the unknown gods are wanting to have a bit of fun with your oh-so-mortal concerns, once it happens, you are doomed.

And then you die.

Not fair, but then apart from democracy what did the Greeks ever do for fairness? As far as I can see, they spent their time in white sheets, bestriding the known world, creating stories that spoke of our eventual doom, admiring each others’ butts and keeping their wives in a state of servitude that made slavery look humanitarian. Deeply flawed themselves, the enlisted a guy called Aristotle to run out a series of rules that would govern the purity of tragedy. It wasn’t the Bee Gees but it did stay at number one for an awful long time.

So, Mr Morbid philosopher, why is it that you are so interested with me at this moment in time?

Reminders of tragedy surround me. I walk into a school or college and Macbeth springs out. Willy Loman makes a dramatic entrance or Tess Durbeyfield ambles along. And at the back of all this is me, the witless teacher who is being employed to stand in front of groups of young people and explain the importance of the tragic. Some deep irony, I am thinking.

Now, if what Aristotle says is to be believed, there is no way out for me; I’m as good as a gonna already. What’s the point?

The point is that I have to earn my right to be released into the dark embrace of an even darker infinity of complete darkness. Why struggle when the fisherman of fate has got you, hook, line and sinker, and he’s pulling you from the waters of Styx by your very own testicles. What a ball-ache? No wonder we are leaving the Common Agricultural Policy – it’s got Greek written all over it! Tragic.

So, back to me and my little problem with being trapped in the role of a tragic character.

I am not a hero, never wanted to be, not even when I had a Jesus complex. I have not committed any great error of judgement, unless one thinks that going into the teaching profession was significantly grave to determine that I should be staked out on the bare rock of Mount Olympus in order to have my eyes eaten out and my liver exhumed (only for it to be played out again at the next day’s matinee showing).

Yet here I am, standing at the foot of some great precipice, staring up at dark clouds that are threatening to dump their even darker load of shit upon me just for the sake of theatrical rules. It is simply not fair.

I am an ordinary man. I have had moments (usually sleep or drug induced) when I may have thought otherwise, but after much self-evaluation and expert analysis, I can sadly say that I am normal. So, why, why, why am I being employed as a plaything of the Gods?

And what makes it ever so galling is that these bloody gods are not my gods or anyone else’s gods as they have been bloody well dead for centuries. It’s like being stalked by a ghost of somebody who was, in life, and agnostic a non believer, a sceptic. You don’t bloody exist, this tragic wheel on which I have been tethered does not exist, these coincidences of literature that my students are studying do not exist in the way that a non-existent Fate would have them exist. But when I look at my arms, I realise that the reason that I can’t move them is that they are tied to some forever turning wheel that will not let me get off unless I completely check-out.

Reminder to self: what strategies can I use to get out of tragic proceedings?                    

 

Me, the Viking.

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The sixties was a time of discovery in British education. I didn’t know that because I was one of the lucky ones to be schooled through it. We had teachers who were new to the profession, teachers who had grown up through the war and grown some more in the fifties and then into sixties. They had seen the world change. And it had been for the better.

History had always been my favourite subject, well that and art. Art had been about creating, represtenting and shaping what I saw whilst history had been…well, it had been about the same stuff.

I was always aware of how important history was to our village. We had an ancient church there and a line of descent that demanded an annual recreation by The Sealed Knot Society. This was the civil war remembrance group who dressed up and fought out the Battle of Thornhill, a decisive play between the roundheads and the cavaliers.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was always a secret cavalier. They seemed romantic in comparision to the workaday Cromwelliams. Cromwell was about not singing, not having your hair cut on Sunday,  wearing black clothing. Perhaps that was why I never took to Goths during the eighties.  Anyway, I loved history.

One memory stood out amongst many other significant ones. It was the time that our teacher measured the circumferences of our heads to determine whether we were of Anglo-Saxon or of Viking descent. Post war meant that Anglo-Saxon was, ironically, the most patriotic as it was seen to be more aligned to the natural English bloodline; we still had maps with pink on them to show the extent of the empire.

As it turned out, in a massively Anglo-Saxon head measuring school, that was Church of England in denomination, I was a big headed Viking. Raider, reaper and raper, I ought to have hung my big scandinavian head in shame, but I didn’t.

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Evans, Evanson I was and that I have remained.

Just Another Fryday

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Out of the frying pan and into the weekend. 

I have always thought that the working week has been organised by somebody who doesn’t read the label; Fragile, This way up!

So, after a reasonably long working week, we get two days off to celebrate, relax, commiserate and fret.

Weekends are the product of the need to work and the need to show thanks and obedience to God and our other masters. We give thanks for not having been dragged off for lunch by a Dire Wolf or not having succumbed to a deadly dose of Black Death. Nose, arms, ears, feet, toes and our pleasure bits are still in order so let’s make hay. The problem is that the hay is just as much an illusion as the expanse of weekend that lies before us. Two bloody days! Forty-eight hours! Such a tiny amount of time to rebalance our bodies and minds.

But the fact that I am not in charge of an unruly tribe of early teens (unruly in the terms of a viking raiding party) means that I am not as incapacitated as I would have been. Kids now call me Mike. They thank me for lessons. They say nice words to my face. I may have died and entered some surreal world of educational derangement but it’s alright by me and long may it last.

Little bastard-devil on my shoulder is now up on tip-toes and whispering in my ear.

Like dandruff, I have metaphorically dusted him off.

Madness, meditation, and madness.

She stops and nods at some of the patients come to stand around and stare out of eyes all red and puffy with sleep. She nods once to each. Precise, automatic gesture. Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-coloured enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils – everything working together except the colour on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big, womanly breasts on what would of otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, P11 copyright © Ken Kesey

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We are all constructs of our environment and upbringing. Murphy got caught up in a mental institution whilst some of us just get trapped in the other world.

I have watched madness close up. It looks like normality. The people who purvey it appear to be super-normal. These folks are the projections of a society that truly believes in what it is told. Everything is real, everything is as we see it, everything should be taken on face-value. And the androgynous being, striding the corridors of our chosen institution, is there to provide guidance and direction.

The basic fact is that once we are in, once we have bought the ticket, it’s hard to get out.

Meditation. That’s the answer. So I checked the digital world for help. I was met by beaches and gentle waves, trees and gentle leaves, streams and gentle flows. In the midst of all of this was the course, and the accompanying books, to help in the quest towards owning an empty mind. Nah, it’s just putting face cream over the wrinkles.

I have disconnected with the madness of all that I see around me. Going into schools and teaching as a supply/substitute teacher has opened my eyes to something that I long suspected, the world is going mad. Inparticularly, many of our younger citizens are now so anti-social that it is difficult to communicate with them. I have been in one school for just over a month and have watched its deterioration as groups of students roam unhindered along the corridors during times set aside for lessons.

I was told that it was, until recently, a good school. Then came a change of management. Then came the dilemma, how do we improve such a good school. The answer for many in that position is to bring about change, leave a mark, set down a better path to follow. In less that a year the school would be unrecognisable. It’s Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ridding the world of adult reason and allowing unfettered anarchy to fill the vacuum.

The irony is that it was a strong, unswerving individual who made the school a good one in the first place. Not Nurse Ratchet, but somebody not to be argued with.

This is the puzzling crevice through which falls our reasonable understanding of freedom and democracy.

Too little and we are prisoners, too much and we lose the integrity of our reason.

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Psycho Paths Lead To Greatness

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There is something unnervingly hypnotic about a psychopath. The eyes have it. They stride into ours and rearrange what we think is normality. In some ways it’s akin to having a change of internal scenery with the sofa inhabiting a different area of the room whilst the armchairs are perfectly placed on the ceiling. When that happens, we are left to follow the madhatter down the hole.

Mankind likes a monster. We like the gothics of Dracula, Frankenstein (the real monster being the doctor) and a Mr Hyde (the real monster being the doctor). They tickle our fears whilst taking us into a realm of darkness that we can emerge from at the end of a reading or viewing. Once we leave the covers of a book or the darkness of a cinema, we are free to enjoy the sanity of the everyday. The only problem is that the everyday is more frightening than fiction.

Scientists at Harvard have come to the conclusion that psychopathy is a trait that many of us share. They even go so far to say that the more psychopathy we have the more likely it is that we will succeed in life. A lack of empathy, a conscious effort to make others see us in a false light, and a driving desire to turn everything to our own advantage. Aren’t all the self-help books for success all about this? Ask not what you can do for others but what others can do for you. And the sad thing is that the others find this trait appealing.

Contrary to what the movies might have depicted, they are not the knife-wielding demons of movies like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Patrick Batemen in American Psycho.

Many are walking among us, leading completely normal lives, and are even some of the most successful members of society, precisely because of their psychopathy. These are the ruthless business people who do whatever needs to be done, regardless of the human cost.

Newsweek

Research suggests somewhere between 0.2-3.3% of people have psychopathic tendencies.

We may work with one. One of them may be our boss, headteacher, member of parliament, or church leader. We may even be married to one.

HOW TO TELL IF PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE PSYCHOPATHS

Antisocial, the medical term for psychopathic, personality disorder is defined as having unpredictable, erratic and overtly dramatic behaviours.

According to the NHS, a diagnosis can be made if any three of the following criteria apply to the person’s everyday personality:

  • Repeatedly breaking the law
  • Repeatedly being deceitful
  • Impulsive behaviour or being incapable of planning ahead
  • Being irritable and aggressive
  • Having a reckless disregard for their safety or the safety of others
  • Being consistently irresponsible
  • Lack of remorse  

 

When studying texts from the Second World War, ones that deal with the death camps, I am often at a loss to explain why decent people sat back and let it happen. Other, apparently normal, folks actively participated in those evil events. I look at my students devoid of explanation and some way off understanding. My job is to inform them, make them the type of decent human beings who will heed the lessons of the past, but I too was part of the generations growing up after the war and we have not learnt. Indeed, we now seem closer to psychpathological politics as we have ever been since then.

Could it be that we are beyond being saved?

Or could it be that we are predisposed to act and think in this Fascist fashion?

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Could it be that this is the path to success?

 

 

Blessed are the Piss-makers.

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Subject A woke up in the middle of darkness and felt for the glass of water at the side of his bed. He found it just as his fingers decided to add some urgency to their search. The resulting action was a slow, slow-motion tipping of the glass and its contents off the bedside table and onto the floor.

His wife stirred beside him, but did not wake.

“Shit, shit, ducky shit,” he muttered to himself. But the spilt milk, or water on this occasion, was the least of his worries.

Subject A felt the dryness of his mouth and tongue. He struggled under the pounding in his head. And he felt the sure and powerful flood of his vital blood coarse through his veins.

It was Fryday and the wolf was returning.

Keeping himself together, he eased out of bed. He left behind a fresh layer of hair on the sheets which he would have to blame on the cat later. The cat was sleeping in another room. She would know that he was moving about, but she would also know that it was wise not to investigate.

Subject A descended the stairs and walked to the door.

With all the stealth he could muster, he undid the locks and eased it open before stepping outside. He always found this last procedure to be better and quieter than merely stepping through the door.

Outside, he breathed deeply beneath the cold, full-moon that gazed lovingly down at him.

 

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In moments, he was off and running towards the open common-ground where he hoped to find some rabbits, a piece of virgin ground to crap upon, and a tree to rub his scent over before he anointed it with his bursting bladder.