Thursday 25 April 2013

Crisis, what crisis?

What is this mid-life crisis I keep hearing about? I've never had one and I don't know anyone who has. But out there somewhere there are said to be thousands of people (mostly men) who suddenly go crazy and do the most unlikely things, causing domestic havoc in the process.

It seems that one day they wake up, take a good hard look at their life and think "Holy cow, I've turned into a boring, unadventurous, soulless couch potato and if I don't do something drastic, the next thirty years will be just more of the same. I need to reinvent myself before it's too late."

And the next thing you know, the guy's shed all his inhibitions and gone totally wild. He's got a mistress twenty years younger, he's bought a motorbike (or a sports car), he's going to all-night parties, he's dyed his hair pink, he worships Rihanna and he's writing a book about serial killers.

Or so they say. I'm embarrassed to admit that the whole syndrome passed me by while my attention was elsewhere. While I was fuming at Mrs Thatcher. Or selling academic textbooks. Or going on ban-the-bomb marches. Or having orgasms. I had no idea I was meant to be in a desperate existential crisis, seeing the ruins of my pathetic life laid out around me like a heap of rubble.

I confess I had no craving for a nubile young nymphette, or a souped-up convertible, or a purple Afro. I was quite happy as I was, doing my familiar thing.

I say I'm embarrassed to admit it because a part of me quite likes the idea of suddenly breaking loose, throwing all caution and entrenched habits to the wind, and doing something spectacularly, jaw-droppingly unexpected. Something that sends a giant shock wave through my neat and tidy existence.

Not today though. I'm not quite ready for it. There's Emily Watson on TV and I'm well into this cracker of a novel. Tell you what, I'll just pencil it in for tomorrow.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Who am I?

Are we really more self-aware as we grow older? Is our picture of ourself really more accurate, more truthful, less prone to wishful thinking, or is it just as distorted as when we were young?

Can I ever see myself as I truly am, with all my strengths and weaknesses, without painting myself as an imaginary saint or an imaginary sinner?

It's very hard to see myself objectively without some sort of glossing or tweaking interfering and turning me into the Nick I'd like to be rather than the genuine Nick.

I see all the time how others have a mistaken view of themselves. They imagine they're quiet when actually they pontificate non-stop. They imagine they're tolerant even as they're denigrating some minority or other. My self-image might be just as warped for all I know.

I've definitely shed some of my more fanciful ideas - that I was a budding author, or an aspiring entrepreneur, or a red-hot revolutionary, or a sex-magnet. No, hang on, I never thought that....

But maybe I've ditched all those wild ideas and just replaced them with some equally wild ones. Now I think I'm a worldly-wise oldie or a political know-it-all or a caring and sensitive veteran of life's challenges.

The more likely reality is that I'm just the same old half-intelligent, well-meaning muddler who somehow staggers through life without unleashing total chaos and upsetting everyone in sight. Whatever special talents I claim to have are probably more fiction than fact.

It's not much use asking others how they see me, either. They may be spot-on or their image of me may be just as warped as my own. If they're convinced I'm a timid introvert, then they'll stick to that, despite all evidence to the contrary. Quite often, people see what they want to see.

Who can identify the real Nick? Certainly not me.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Attention please

I've never been an attention-seeker. I'm quite happy to be invisible, out of the limelight, hidden away. I don't need other people to validate me or confirm my existence. In any social gathering, I'm content to be hovering somewhere on the sidelines while others gather a crowd of people around them.

I'm always intrigued by those who need a constant audience, the bigger the better, and whose every waking moment seems devoted to keeping themselves in the public eye. They'll wear the most outrageous clothes, tell the most appalling stories, divulge the most shocking habits, simply to keep other people watching. I really couldn't be more different.

It seems to me that courting attention is hazardous. I wouldn't mind all the praise and appreciation, but it would come with a side order of abuse and hostility that wouldn't be so pleasant. I find it hard enough to deal with abuse from one person; mass abuse from all and sundry would have me weeping in the bathroom.

Of course some attention-seeking is just a cry for help. The flamboyant, extrovert, loud-mouthed windbag who seems totally self-confident might secretly be chronically insecure and desperate for love and reassurance. Who can tell?

No, if you went to a big party I happened to be attending, you might never notice me at all. I'd be the shy, nondescript guy in the corner, possibly having an intense conversation with some equally shy, nondescript person, or possibly just nursing my drink and scrutinising the other guests. Far from seeking attention, I might be so unobtrusive that you'd leave two hours later without having even registered my existence. Which is just how I like it.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Life's too short

I wrote once about all the things that aren’t worth wasting time on, things that don’t inspire or enliven me but just get me down. They still seem very true, so I thought I’d repeat them. Yes, life’s too short to:

Pretend I'm someone I'm not. It's so easy to put on an act in response to what others expect of me, and hide my real self. But all it does is make me feel false and cowardly. It also leaves people with a phoney idea of who I am.

Exhaust myself in a gym. Natural forms of exercise like hill-walking are more fun and more scenic. Struggling with machines in a sweaty gym is totally artificial and not at all essential for my health.

Listen to moaners. The hours I've wasted listening to people moaning away about their workplace, their neighbours and their relatives. I prefer to spend my time with people who enjoy life rather than moan about it.

Think about the Royal Family. I couldn't care less about the Royals. They're just a bunch of parasites sponging off the rest of us and giving little in return. It's about time they did some real jobs. How about plumbing?

Idealise politicians. I no longer kid myself that politicians who promise a bright new future mean what they say. I've seen too many false dawns and blighted communities to be convinced any more.

Bear grudges. Better to let bygones be bygones rather than brood over old grievances that will never be put right. Yes, we all get treated badly from time to time, but simmering over it for years only makes us sour.

Dwell on things I can't control. Likewise, there's no point in harping on about things I have little influence over. Like drink-driving or homophobia or religious fanatics. I concentrate on things I can actually do something about.

Keep the house spotless. I'm not one of those houseproud obsessives who clean and sweep non-stop. There's always going to be dust and grease marks somewhere. As long as the place is presentable, that's enough for me.

Shop till I drop. I can't stand shopping, I do it only when I absolutely have to. Spending an entire day in a shopping centre, buying things I don't need and being assaulted by endless Musak, is my idea of hell.

Worry about my failings. Like everyone, I make mistakes and I upset people. There's no point in beating myself up over it or wishing I was more perfect. I do what I can to put things right, and then I move on.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Opting out

It's still quite a brave step for a woman to deliberately abstain from sex. It's still a far from acceptable attitude. Men (and women) who think you should always be sexually available can get shockingly critical and abusive.

Frenchwoman Sophie Fontanel has written a semi-autobiographical book about her experiences as a sexual abstainer, something that is still very much a taboo subject. It has struck quite a chord with readers who feel under pressure to have sex.

She says the first ten years of her adult life were full of disappointing sex - mechanical and often pleasure-less. So she took the radical step of refusing sex entirely for the next twelve years. And apparently hardly missed it.

The real shock though was how nasty other people were about it. They showered her with insults. She was called frigid, abnormal, bitter, neurotic, a lesbian, a reactionary Catholic. Even the most seemingly sophisticated people joined in the cat-calling.

But when she wrote about her experiences, many readers expressed gratitude for her raising the issue, as they also felt badgered to have sex they didn't want.

She insists there's nothing wrong with abstaining. "Some of the most interesting characters exist above sex. It's not an infirmity. No sex is infinitely preferable to bad sex."

Well, good for her. Why should it be praiseworthy to be always jumping into someone's bed but disgraceful to be saying, "I've had enough of crap sex, I'm opting out altogether, so don't even think about it"?

In fact there are large numbers of asexuals who have no interest in sex at all, but they tend to keep quiet about it because of people's derision and incomprehension. Odd as it may seem, their attitude is just as natural as the more fashionable quest for sexual pleasure.

Pic: Sophie Fontanel

Thursday 4 April 2013

Brain teaser

I often feel intimidated by people who are smarter than me - or who I believe to be smarter than me. And I know other people can feel intimidated by me for the same reason.

I guess this trait is a sort of domino effect right the way from the total dimwits at the bottom to the MENSA geniuses at the top, with upwards intimidation at each level.

I succumb to it all the time. As soon as I perceive someone to be brainier than me, I promptly become more cautious in what I say or do for fear of haughty scoffing the moment I open my mouth. I check my every utterance for signs of moronic stupidity. I check my posture and mannerisms for obvious cretinicity. I tweak and adjust my remarks to make them sound more intelligent, more sophisticated. I monitor the other person's reactions to see if I've succeeded or if they can easily see through my pathetic attempts to seem sharper than I really am.

And I always over-admire public figures who seem super-intelligent. I'm transfixed by how articulate they are, how slickly analytical, how impervious to bullshit, how they cut straight to the chase. Their private life may be a total disaster area, they may be monsters to live with, but one whiff of that forensic intelligence and I'm theirs. Everything else is irrelevant.

I can tell myself that it's all a trick, a cunning sleight of hand. That people give the impression of high intelligence in all sorts of phoney ways - obscure literary references, technical jargon, clever theories, oddball opinions. But I'm still taken in. I still get duped by the superficial brilliance.

As for other people feeling intimidated by me - how absurd is that? I'm just an average dude with an average intelligence who has somehow managed to get by in life without too many horrific pratfalls or dreadful miscalculations. The idea that I might be super-intelligent is about as daft as thinking the moon is made of chocolate.

Yet some people clearly do think that. There are times when I sense the same furtive caution and tweaking that I'm so guilty of myself. When I sense the secret assumption that Nick can somehow run rings round them in the thinking department. I hate to disillusion anyone but....

Pic: the super-intelligent, mega-brainy Tina Fey

Monday 1 April 2013

A lack of trust

There are people I trust completely, people I would share anything with, however embarrass-ing or painful or mean or pathetic or peculiar. People who will sympathise, understand, give helpful advice, and also keep it all to themselves. People I feel safe with.

When it comes to people I don't trust, though, I share absolutely nothing of any importance to me, I'm extremely cautious and I stick carefully to neutral topics. And I lie. It's frightening how much I lie rather than tell them the unvarnished truth.

I pretend to be polite and courteous when I'm really seething with rage and dying to make some vitriolic comment. I pretend to be ultra-masculine when I'm really feeling girly and giggly. I pretend to be competent and capable when I feel like I'm fucking up left right and centre. I pretend to be enthusiastic about things I couldn't care less about.

Anything to preserve a bland, anodyne atmosphere that doesn't tempt me to reveal what I don't want to reveal. Anything to ensure the real me is securely locked up and hidden away, not to be glimpsed by unsympathetic eyes.

I hate it when I have to spend so much time lying and pretending. But what else can I do? I don't think I'm especially mistrustful of others. But with certain people, I just sense instantly that to be frank with them about anything at all would be dangerous. They want me to conform to a certain image, a certain role, and if I said anything that contradicted that image, they wouldn't like it. So I keep everything well buttoned-up.

It's especially hard to trust people in today's opinionated society, when we're all encouraged to sneer and scoff at things we barely understand. Who will take the trouble to listen to me properly, to hear me out, to do justice to my most delicate disclosures, when knee-jerk reactions are the order of the day?

I don't bare my soul in a hurry.

"I don't trust easily. So when I tell you 'I trust you' please don't make me regret it" - J Cole