27 August 2019

Double Fantasy


Victoria Road is lined with cars on both sides, shockingly nice ones at times, like a Ferrari or a Porsche just there, just parallel parked next to something else. Woke like I am, I both hate and desire that Porsche SUV, the perfect representation of what I would immediately buy if I managed to properly sell out and also get more for my soul than it's actually worth. Cars get stolen regularly on the street. There are urban myths now I've heard about mean in balaclavas stealing BMWs and Audis. Our neighbour's car was taken. The corridor of cars creates a need for lovingkindness, for people to give way in a polite middle class way, to let others pass, and I find this bit of British life, this cordial attitude on the road, to be evidence that at its core, the story I tell myself about England is more-or-less right. People wave and flash their headlamps, You go ahead, you were here first to be fair, lovely weather anyway, isn't it.

This cordial attitude breaks down at times, often in dramatic ways, like the car that ploughed in another neighbour when they were parking and which sped off and which was never caught. You stand around shocked by the incivility of it all, they just drove off did they? Remarkable. Then, at other times, it breaks down when two well-groomed men, parodies of themselves, in large German cars will be head to head and neither will give way. A pissing match will play out, build to the most obvious ending of one of them finally giving way, but it can go on for minutes sometimes. They are the sorts of men you expect would not want to give way. They are not woke, clearly not worried about their carbon footprint. They sit there, in their white German cars and shout at one another, making their point like it matters. I have to stop myself from going out their in my pyjamas, and telling them the truth. I've been watching you from the bay window there, from my house. None of this matters. You're both going to die — we're all going to die.

Of course, I'm not aggressive enough to do that, but who can blame me: it's becoming increasingly obvious in the growth of my thin beard, that I have a comically low amount of testosterone, undoubtedly due to my plant-based, protein-deficient diet and the fact that my parents let me cross stitch images of Precious Moments figurines as a pastime. The contrast couldn't be more obvious. These men are driving fast and interrupted me nervously waiting for a letter from my employer, doing exactly the sort of thing a man with low testosterone might: keeping my mind off of it by watching old interviews of John Lennon on YouTube. It's a weak self-indulgence all the way down.

I went for a long walk on Friday, the first day the letter didn't come. I walked up to town and thought I might watch a film and was one touchscreen step away from seeing the new Tarantino film before I felt guilty for wanting to watch something roughly in the male gaze genre, and decided I was too woke for this, wasn't I. We've cancelled Tarantino now, haven't we, and even if I could maybe put that thought out of my head, I would be counting how long the men were talking rather than the women. How minorities were being represented. It would go on and on, wouldn't it.

So I kept walking. I had a coffee and thought about having a vegan cookie, something my wokeness would allow theoretically if I was capable of eating like a normal person, which I certainly can't at the moment. I decided against it, exerting some self-control, which I suppose could be considered Spartan. Manish. I had a series of violent dreams and woke to my daughter saying she was sick and ended up sleeping the rest of the night on the sofa. Someone on Twitter said that the beard you have is the one you have. A tautology, sure, but all the best truths are stated as tautologies. I get up and make coffee and look in the mirror. Maybe it is filling in some, I can't tell. I've been watching you, I think, none of this matters.

23 August 2019

Misanthropy

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At the foot of Snowdon, the Pihlajas of Harborne set out with the kind of gusto that can only be felt when you're eight and looking up at a mountain you are about to climb with no concept of how hard climbing that mountain will actually be. I was Dad, in the way that I am really Dad sometimes, pointing at the map and making pronouncements like I know something about something — here, this way and then up that way and if you look, you can see there where the train goes up. Dad knows because Dad can read the map and look up and make sense of it in the landscape, like a magic trick. Dad might not know specifically, but Dad knows from experience, whatever it is, Dad knows, can know, he just needs to have a look then he will make his pronouncement. Just, everyone, quiet down for a moment.

Dad certainly has its limitations, it is without any doubt, an evolutionary ruse. What certainty, what truth — like foreign job postings that have been catching my eye in the way that they shouldn't now that we have indefinite leave to remain. Dad shouldn't be thinking like this, but Dad can't seem to help it, remembering a time of not Dad that comes when autumn comes, whatever that youthful, not Dad desire for radical change is and how it comes to be tied to the seasons. I went to Japan in the autumn. We came to the UK in the autumn. When I was doing my PhD, I called it Japanic, the feeling that I just wanted to drop everything and get my family on a plane and go back, find whatever wormhole I crawled through and go back — if you came one way, you must be able to go back. Now I have the same feelings about Sweden in silly ways when I'm standing in the Ikea food market and see the knäckebröd and the umlauts and think, Here I am in Brexit Britain, of all places.

I didn't know it, but climbing Snowdon on a Monday in August must be a typical Dad thought because when you look around yourself about forty five minutes into the hike, at about ten in the morning, there are people everywhere, Dad all around. With my penchant for apocalyptic thinking, I imagined this being compounded day after day and week after week, the millions of paper cups of coffee with their plastic lids sold at the halfway house and how much rubbish must be produced in one day, even if most times Dad does the right thing and throws it away, it still ends up somewhere. Perhaps this thought isn't typically Dad — it must not be because I saw Dad with cups on the trail — but the mechanism I use to take my mind off the uncertainty of the future, is very prototypical Dad, direct from the Dad Handbook: I'm short with the children and say things that I end up regretting when they ask, How much longer is it. You recognise the sorts of awful things Dad says when you hear some other Dad chastising their kid and you think, Jesus, Dad, he's 9, and then there you are, Dad yourself, expecting your own 8 year-old to press on, to have a realistic understanding of the abstract concept of time, something you yourself don't even really understand. Getting upset when they ask how much longer it will be. What’s wrong with Dad, what the hell is wrong with all of us.

We pressed on and at some point it rained and then was cold and then was sunny and then there it was, the very top and people going on in a single file line, like pilgrims headed to maybe kiss the stone I thought, or to ask for forgiveness, or to do whatever it is that you do at the top of a Welsh mountain. The kids ate at the edge and we took pictures and eventually, we had seen the top.

12 August 2019

It starts

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The vicar mentioned said it yesterday — the weather has turned autumnal. This is British autumn, which begins at the end of July and continues on in fits and starts until November or early December when Christmas takes hold. It's raining and cool in the morning, and when I set out to run even this afternoon, I could get feel it still. I ran slow and fat, after a few days of mania, induced by some phantom stress and vivid dreams, or the lack of structure of the summer holiday where I am taking annual leave, but also still working on things that seem to be coming up. A grant application kicked back for an error. A pay appeal. Dissertation drafts to comment on. I'm on holiday, but not in the way that other people manage to be on holiday, where they go away and forget about everything. There is no money this year, at least I don't think there is, so I'm playing defense still, getting mixed signals. I probably shouldn't tell anyone the newest news — it's likely to change anyway, isn't it.

I'm growing a beard in the meanwhile, to occupy my mind. As a beard and an distraction, it's not really working. There are only so many cocky men on YouTube with beautiful, flowing, long beards  and wildly divergent views on how you should or shouldn't trim your beard that you can watch. There are only so many beard oils and balms — it takes passive time and you never notice the changes day-to-day, even if you stare at yourself. Even if you trim five or six stray hairs. I finally get the energy to run and think — think about my beard and then about my pay appeal and then the climate crisis and then about the dreams I have been having, the vivid ones that I wake up from and wonder what a body is anyway.

When I eat too much, I sleep soundly and remember my dreams. I had a dream about the house in Gurnee, the one my parents sold last month. I was there alone, at the table, waiting for something and then I called my dad asking where he was, had they come home from church, were they at church and he said it's nine thirty-one and I woke up suddenly. And then last night I dreamt I had driven out to Johnsburg and my daughters were with me, and that house, the one that my body remembers, was exactly the way that it was when I was seventeen. I woke up and fell asleep again on the sofa. They say that in jail, you shouldn't try to sleep the whole time, you should keep a schedule. You should let the time serve you. You should write something. You should process something.

So it's memories, its things coming back to me as I sleepwalk around for the month. I remember that in 2005, I had a John Lennon poster in my apartment in Matsuhama. I don't remember buying it or why I had felt the connection with Lennon initially, but then I was dating Yoko and I felt like it was all coming together in some storyline that had been told before. Yoko Ono was seven years older than John, too. We were in Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy exhibit in the Museum of Liverpool and that shirt, that New York City t-shirt he was wearing in that poster was there. I took a picture of it and it was raining outside, wasn't it, for a while and we had to wait for a minute for the rain to pass before we could leave.

I tell Yoko it's a sickness, when I can't stop eating, I'm sick, I don't know if it's a sickness. I want to fall asleep again — can I sleep until September and I have to get on the plane to Japan and work again, work until there is nothing to think about but work. Perhaps it's just a desire for routine. I'm an animal, I need to do the same thing or I lose my way. At least today is mostly done and I had some control. My beard got slightly longer. I ran. I went for a walk. It'll be September soon enough.
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