rfm’s 2012 round-up part two of two: life outside the bubbleJanuary 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Posted in musings, not bloody music | Leave a comment
Tags: depression, fernando pessoa, shameless self-congratulation, the book of disquiet
I turned 40 years old in January 2012 and, as if in recognition of the fact, was presented with some properly grown-up situations to process during the course of the year. Away from music my life tilted around two main pivot points: the pregnancy of my wife Anne and the death of my life-long friend Chad.
The horror of losing a close friend, a contemporary, to lung cancer is something that revisits me often and with a force that resists dilution. I continue to dream about it and to miss him enormously. An account of the day of the funeral with the eulogy I gave can be read here. I’ll say no more about it for now but could I just quietly urge those friends of mine who smoke to have a think about what they are doing. For what it is worth, I found the book Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking very helpful when I stopped myself years ago.
We discovered that Anne was pregnant whilst preparing to move house. I was packing boxes as she came to show me the stick with the faint blue line in its little window. Was it blue enough, we wondered. Was it liney enough? “What did it look like prior to pissing on it?” I asked prosaically, my inner scientist taking charge as my inner romantic fell to pieces in a haze of joy and excited terror. The experiment was repeated, the conclusion confirmed.
Sadly, the pregnancy, especially the early months, has been tough on Anne. Throughout the first twelve weeks – when it is customary to keep quiet about being pregnant – she was violently and continually sick all day. The nadir of this period being a trip to Accident and Emergency in Leeds General Infirmary instigated by a call to the scaremongers of NHS Direct. We found ourselves amongst the drunken and blood-spattered in the early hours of Saturday morning suddenly petrified that what at first appeared to be an infection caused by exhaustion and dehydration could now be a threat to a satsuma sized foetus. Fortunately, the panic was not warranted and we left reassured at 3am. What a night.
Our house is now filling with generous gifts from already sprogged-up mates keen to empty their spare rooms into ours. I’ve also discovered what a sobering experience a trot around Mothercare is – a giant shop full of stuff I previously did not know existed but may have to find hundreds of pounds for shortly… The due date is 27th February. I’ll keep you posted.
Other life-tests have been administered. An important family drama is ongoing, though this is not a suitable forum to discuss it. Our friend Rob, partner of Anne’s cousin Sarah – who was also pregnant at the time, had a debilitating stroke at the tender age of 28. We moved house, as previously mentioned. My busiest time at work was sabotaged by managerial idiocy. I even got into a fight and took a punch to the mouth whilst protecting Anne and myself from some drug addled scrote who accosted us as we walked to work at 8am one morning. I won too – I was magnificent!
Still, with all this energy sapping responsibility to shoulder it is no surprise that my ol’ nemesis depression came knocking. Previously when I started to notice the tell tale symptoms of the slide I have taken care to batten down the hatches, informed all those that need to know and prepared to ride out the storm. This time though I took a conscious decision to fight it out. Amazingly, and for the first time since my first diagnosis and medication fifteen years ago, the tactic worked.
My illness did not like this one bit. It wailed, it howled. It soaked me in red hot anger. It mocked my attempts to thwart it. It dunked me in self-loathing (my first thought on waking, every morning and for weeks on end, was ‘I hate myself’) and kept its foot on my neck as I floundered about. But in the end I won. The experience was awful and left me as weak as a kitten with emphysema but here I am. This victory has, to say the least, been good for morale.
How was it done? Well, with plenty of teeth-gritted willpower but also with a lot of help, advice and understanding from those around me: Anne, my friends and family, my amazing work colleagues and the healthcare professionals who took care of me. I’m also on the most successful medication yet prescribed for me (though I may have to change it soon due to it fucking with my liver – a story for another time). Special mention must be made of my current counsellor and Occupational Health nurse. I won’t name them as they certainly wouldn’t be expecting to be discussed on a noise blog. The counsellor, new to me, proved attentive and inventive and got me to look at the issues from a different angle. For example:
Me: I’m struggling with self-loathing.
Her: What does it look like?
Me: I’m sorry, what did you say?
Her: If it was an object, what would it look like?
Me: (intrigued) OK… (warming to the idea) it is animate, maybe covered in oily fur like an otter…
And so on. The Occupational Health nurse was elegantly practical in her advice. For example:
Me: I’m so bone-weary that I worry this fatigue will tip over into depression. The ‘daily deficit’ is such that I can’t catch up.
Her: When is this at its worst?
Me: Late afternoon, maybe 3pm onwards.
Her: Then I’ll arrange for you to go home early at 3pm for a few weeks.
Me: (sighs with relief) Genius, thank you.
I’m very lucky to work for an institution large enough to offer these services. Thus a two pronged attack developed. Encouraged by my counsellor I played whack-a-mole (or whack-an-otter, if you like) whenever my illness raised its head. I confronted it, questioned it, deflated it with interrogation. Encouraged by Occupational Health I took care of myself and recuperated when possible. Together these tactics proved more effective than I dared hope.
So, I sing a happy song but add all this ‘real life’ stuff to the music stuff – to midwich and the blog – and you’ll forgive me for not having much time for wider culture in 2012. TV passed me by, apart from maybe Jonathan Meades’ series about France which was diverting and intelligent. I watched a lot of films from Hong Kong in the living room of Daniel Thomas – check out Killer Constable and Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter – but only ventured to the cinema a handful of times: Prometheus was dog shit, The Master was about two thirds masterful, The Imposter was fascinating – as I find almost anything to do with questions of the fake versus the authentic. There were no expensive holidays filled with Renaissance masterworks this year, nor much in the way of visual art at all.
One thing I did manage to do a bit was read. The blogs and fanzines praised last time – the ever inspirational Idwal Fisher, the ever ambitious Bang the Bore, the ever inventive Spon, the continuing-despite-being-half-in-jail Hiroshima Yeah! – remain top of the pile in this round-up too. The books I read in 2012 are pictured above. I just about managed the book-a-fortnight pace I set myself in January but only by including some novellas and re-reads. You’ll see The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst again, already featured in a previous end of year photo. I suspect that I find this true story so haunting and irresistible that I will revisit it regularly. Mind you, I can give myself credit for the 900 pages or so of Middlemarch, occasionally said to be the greatest novel in the English language. You don’t need me to tell you it is wonderful. It is wonderful. The books I enjoyed most in 2012 were the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Storytelling of the most robust nature. However, book of the year and an intriguing bedside companion for months was The Book of Disquiet by Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa (edited and translated by Richard Zenith, Penguin Modern Classics edition).
Pessoa was known as a literary figure around Lisbon but the true extent of his genius was not recognized until after his death in 1935. A trunk full of unpublished writing, under numerous pseudonyms each with fully realised back stories and styles, was discovered amongst his belongings. In this trunk was found a large envelope, labelled ‘The Book of Disquiet’ and full of fragments from the ‘factless autobiography’ of a fictional Lisbon bookkeeper called Bernardo Soares. Pessoa was engaged in stuffing this envelope on and off for many years.
These unnumbered papers – accounts of dreams, ‘autobiographical’ scraps, musings, snippets of literary theory – add up to a philosophy that is nihilistic, misanthropic and solipsistic, that champions a life of intellect and inactivity and that scorns the life lived. The thrust is more or less entirely at odds with what I believe to be the case and yet it is written with such beguiling skill and humour that it is charmingly hypnotic. The structure makes it perfect for dipping into, thus a great bedside volume, and it is so eminently quotable that I’m not even going to start trotting out the many droll observations and arresting thoughts that it contains. A crucial and influential book made all the more magical by the circumstances of its writing and discovery.
…and that will do for 2012. I’ll see some of you at the final (for now) midwich gig on Wednesday. Reviews of stuff received here at Midwich Mansions in December and January will begin shortly. I’ve had trouble with the post recently so if it has been over a month since you sent me something and you’ve not heard from me about it then please get in touch.