Thursday 27 June 2013

A move too far

You don't hear much about couples who disagree about moving. But from what I can gather, it's quite common. One person wants to move but the other passionately doesn't. And even if they end up agreeing, it can all work out badly.

A person can want to move for all sorts of reasons. They might just want somewhere bigger and better. Or they might want to move for work purposes, or to be near their family or a frail relative, or they think the area they're in is dangerous or not good for children.

Their partner is having none of it. They're happy with their home and happy with the area. Lots of their friends and relatives are there, it has great parks and shops and facilities, it's full of "people like us", the kids would have to change school, they wouldn't know anyone in the new place, it's a leap in the dark.

So they're at loggerheads. They argue and fume and bully and stamp their feet, but neither partner is giving an inch. They both have their reasons for not relenting.

And what happens? In extreme cases they split up and the one who wanted to move does so. Or they agree to stay put. Or they agree to move.

But if it's not genuine agreement and one of them is just giving in to end the conflict, there's often more trouble on the way. The person who agreed to stay put gets frustrated and resentful and harps on any negative aspect of the local neighbourhood. "Did you see that? Another nasty mugging. And just in the next street."

Or the person who agreed to move hates where they've moved to, hates the locals, hates the crummy shops, hates the schools, misses their old friends, is profoundly miserable and depressed and just wants to go back. They can't imagine why they ever agreed to move to the arse end of nowhere. Every day they're living there is torture.

Jenny and I have moved several times. Luckily, despite initial disagreement, we've always agreed in the end - and genuinely agreed. We've moved into bigger and better homes and we've moved to a completely different city - from London to Belfast. It always ended happily. But for some couples, it's the battle to end all battles, and it ends badly. Home Sweet Home turns very bitter.

Monday 24 June 2013

Warts and all

Is there such a thing as uncond-itional love? Is it really possible to love someone warts and all, despite their many infuriating flaws and faults, and not walk away in disgust at one enraging quirk too many? However much we love someone, aren’t we always full of secret ifs and buts and maybes?

I think unconditional love is very possible – unless there’s some serious wrongdoing involved. Most character traits are livable with if you’re sufficiently tolerant and flexible, however weird or annoying they might be. There’s not much that’s genuinely impossible to handle. Unless the other person is a serial rapist, or terrorist, or bank robber, or pathological liar, most personal behaviour can be adjusted to.

There are several people I love to bits, and I think I do love them warts and all, however nasty or vicious they can sometimes be. I can live with their unreliability, bitchiness, amnesia, wild emotion, paranoia, or grumpiness, because I love them as a person and well, those traits are just part of the person so I absorb them along with everything else. I don’t pick and choose what I accept and what I don’t.

Of course I’m probably fooling myself. The people concerned will no doubt say that my love isn’t as all-embracing as I imagine, that there are loads of things I recoil from or get judgmental about, loads of things they keep secret or raise very cautiously in case I throw a wobbly.

I think unconditional love is not that common. Certainly there have been plenty of people in my life who have given the impression of loving me wholeheartedly but in reality their reservations were rampant. Starting with my father, who always maintained he loved me but in practice really wanted me to be just like him.

When it comes down to it, many seemingly tolerant people are actually hideously judgmental and would clearly like to change everything about me if they had the chance. I can see them bristling and steaming at my every utterance. Not many people truly accept me for what I am.

Unconditional love is not easy when we’re all so full of preconceptions and assumptions and fixed ideas, but it’s possible. And when it does happen, it’s a very beautiful thing.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Rotten writers

If writers can only create their master-pieces by being thoroughly selfish and mistreating their family and friends, is that a necessary price to pay or would they be better off writing less and being more likable?

An article today points out that although James Joyce wrote brilliant novels that are acclaimed all over the world, as an individual he was quite unpleasant. His wife Nora is said to have described him as weak and neurotic, ruining her life, drinking too much and squandering money he constantly cadged off other people.

The private lives of many other writers and artists have turned out to be equally unappealing and hard for others to cope with. Behind the glossy public image there is often a less savoury tale of long-suffering spouses and domestic mayhem.

It’s standard practice to play down their shocking personal behaviour and insist that it’s the necessary downside to works of genius that will be feted for centuries to come. In any case, their dissatisfied partners are always free to walk out and find someone more attractive.

There again, it can be argued that they just happen to be inadequate individuals, and their objectionable traits have nothing to do with being writers or artists. They could stop writing tomorrow, and still be a total pain in the arse. In fact their frustrated desire to write might make them even more obnoxious.

If they stopped writing, maybe they would just take up some other all-consuming interest that would make them just as selfish and just as careless about other people’s needs.

Some people would even suggest that their flawed private lives make their creative output more interesting. Doesn’t a book written by a notorious philanderer and drug-addict have more of a frisson than one written by a polite, neatly-dressed tea-drinker? And isn’t it impressive that they even managed to write these extraordinary books despite all their personal failings?

At the end of the day, I guess it’s simply a question of what others are willing to put up with. If their nearest and dearest are prepared to suffer all manner of indignities and mistreatment in the name of public esteem and a distinguished artistic legacy, then who is to say they shouldn’t? Is it any concern of ours?

Picture courtesy of the Missouri Review, University of Missouri

Thursday 13 June 2013

Sharp as knives

I was re-reading this old post about some insults being more hurtful than others, and I thought how true it still is. Some words are just water off a duck's back, others are like six-inch knives. It all depends on how you see yourself and what crushes your self-image. These are the insults that wound me:

"Mean". Who wants to be known as mean, either emotionally or financially? Never showing warmth or sympathy or understanding? Or keeping every spare penny to yourself? Not me. Generosity is much more attractive. And it spreads happiness.

"Cowardly". I like to think that if someone was in trouble and needed help, I would do what I could even it was a bit dangerous. And I like to have the courage of my convictions, saying what I really think and not what's polite or convenient.

"Bad-tempered". My father flew into colossal rages, terrifying me and my mother and sister, and I vowed never to be the same way. To this day I seldom get angry, and I'm very patient with other people's failings and idiocies (and even their insults!)

"Stupid". Stupid I am not. I may be slow to react, I may consider things carefully, I may see things from a strange viewpoint, but that's not stupidity, any more than the obvious, predictable response shows intelligence.

"Lazy". I don't know how to be lazy. Not interested, maybe, or having better things to do, or not seeing the point, or not wanting to be a dogsbody. But not lazy. If I'm really committed to something, I'll put my heart and soul into it, I'll do whatever it takes.

"Anti-social". I like my own company, I like to sit and think, but I also enjoy being with others if they're funny, intelligent, open-minded and compassionate. Unfortunately a lot of people are dull and narrow-minded, and I avoid them for my own sanity.

Now if people call me a leftie, or a nutcase, or ungodly, or effeminate, that's just fine. I freely admit to being all those things - in a big way. What's to object to? But some words are thorns. They pierce me easily, and it can be hard to pull them out. They can get lodged in my psyche like splinters.

Friday 7 June 2013

The slippery slope

Just how corruptible am I? I like to think I'm honest and decent, but if I found myself in a situation where I could bend all the rules and get away with it, would I yield to temptation?

If I were an MP and I knew I could fiddle my expenses outrageously, and I knew most MPs saw it as normal behaviour, would I join in? Or would I resist the trend and keep to the straight and narrow?

If I were a high earner and I knew I could fiddle my taxes and not pay what I ought to pay, if I knew I could salt money away in a secret account, would I bury my scruples and scoff at the public interest?

I'm not likely to be in any such situation, given my humble employment, but I sometimes wonder if my self-righteous objections to such immorality are truly sincere.

After all, I'm corrupt enough when it comes to the petty everyday rules I happily cock a snook at - ignoring speed limits, dodging bus queues, embellishing my CV, squandering fossil fuels. Would it take very much to up the ante a notch or two, to be a bit more ambitious in my misdemeanours?

Actually I think it would seriously go against the grain. I'm not cut out for badness. I believe in social rules, I believe in personal responsibility, I believe in fairness and justice. Large-scale, flagrant screwing-the-system is not in my nature. I would feel too guilty, too selfish, too degenerate, too shifty. I would feel like the infamous used-car salesman. And how low-life is that?

No, I shall continue to look down my nose at those who are willingly corrupted, in the full knowledge that were I in their shoes I wouldn't be so decadent. I would be the steadfast goody-goody refusing to join in and despairing of the weak-willed suggestibility of the human race. I would sit tight and leave them to it.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Ignorance is bliss

If you asked me which was best, anonymity or celebrity, I wouldn't hesitate. I much prefer to be anonymous. Celebrity is such a burden, I can't imagine how people endure it without going completely crazy.

I love being anonymous. I love being able to walk the streets and go about my daily business without attracting any undue attention. I love not having to worry too much about what I look like or other people's expectations.

Celebrity on the other hand must be a daily nightmare. You can't even amble to the corner store without people staring at you or complimenting you or taking photos. The slightest imperfection in your appearance or clothing will be noted and remarked on endlessly in the media.

If you're interviewed, you have to field sneaky questions designed to winkle out something embarrassing. You're constantly pursued by a false public image that defies any amount of trying to explain the real you. And if you flee all the attention by avoiding public exposure, then you're accused of being a loner, a recluse, a camera-shy eccentric.

I'm not just saying that because I'm not a celeb, because my life happens not to attract any widespread interest. The idea of being a relentlessly-scrutinised celeb makes me shudder with horror. It must be like living in the proverbial goldfish bowl, unable to escape the gawping faces and asinine remarks.

I much prefer an existence in which I can stroll around my very beautiful neighbourhood with most passers-by knowing nothing whatever about me - not even my name or occupation or who I live with. I'm very happy just to be the tall guy with glasses who sometimes strokes cats and mutters to himself. I don't want every detail of my life to be promiscuously chewed-over by strangers. I'll keep myself to myself, thanks.