There are few things more hellish than losing one's child. Two years ago in October, my brother died just short of his 39th birthday. Before that point I had never given much thought to the concept of hell, being as I was a staunch atheist with little interest for anything outside of the practical realm.
But when my brother's death hit I had a revelation. For a non-believer like me, hell is on earth. This time, its epicentre was my mother. I saw hell when I looked in her eyes. I felt its bleak horror creeping out and spilling over into the tiny world of our remaining family - my father and me. I kept repeating in my mind, hell is on earth, hell is on earth, I see it, I see it, hell is on earth.
Two years my brother's junior, I am now the same age he was when he died, and have had two years of reflection and therapy behind me to make more sense of this experience. I can now acknowledge that the complexity of the events that have led to my brother's death is so immense that I could spend the rest of my life trying to make sense of it all and will probably not get there. So this is less an attempt to understand those events and more a mechanism to record my thoughts, with all the guilt, alienation and ugliness that this involves, so that this story, for what it's worth, does not vanish into the depths of my failing memory in years to come.
I'm also aware that this blog has serious tumbleweed issues and probably won't be read by anyone unless I link to it from other places (Facebook or e-mail). This makes privacy settings quite difficult to manage. I'm ambivalent about this. I may start writing in public mode and later change the settings for some or all entries to restricted or private.
The tag for this project will be "A STORY".
The themes I will discuss will encompass personal and family tragedy, growing up in the midst of tumultuous historic events in a country now defunct, and reflecting on my past. I suppose this will be partly self therapy, and partly a mechanism to retain these memories which are both painful and precious to me.
My offspring has added a particular type of sound to his repertoire to announce that he is bored, and the only thing that seems to fix it is frenetic entertainment involving whirling him around the room, rocking him and/or moving his arms and legs (preferably all the arms and the legs at once). The bored cry then disappears and is replaced by a content half-smile or a wide-eyed curious stare. As soon as the entertainment stops, the cry returns. This is in addition to his previously developed trick of screaming his little lungs out unless he is held by someone - this applies at all times of day and night, and makes doing anything other than holding him extremely difficult (like going to the toilet, for example).
One of the perks of this job is the fact that by carrying him around on me all day long I'm getting a good full body workout...
Anyway, BBC's version of War and Peace is beautiful and entirely anglicised. Despite mixed acting levels and sexualisation of the source material, I enjoyed the series. But having just finished the last episode, which portrayed the brutality of war, grief and loss unexpectedly well, I am now struck with a realisation that has never occurred to me before:
The reason we believe that adversity is supposed to bring us enlightenment, is because so much of humanity's creative output tells us so.
Much of Tolstoy's novel towards the end is about the transformative power of grief and about forgiveness; the main characters achieve a sort of personal enlightenment through it, become better people. Countless other works of literature, art and music focus on the same message, over and over again: that grief transforms you, makes you better, makes you care more for others, gives your life meaning. This message then permeates our culture and makes us believe in this as a way of life, the way to be.
Trouble is, grief is not by its nature transformative. I know this now, as a 37-year-old adult who has so far been through some horrific, hair raising experiences. I honestly can't say any of it has made me a better person. The people close to me who have also been affected by these events, have only been made worse for it, much worse. Angrier, bitterer, more hating, more short-tempered, more broken, less forgiving. I can count on the fingers of one hand, those who seem to have become better through adversity - and this is only because their circumstances have improved with time and this has permitted them to relax.
So I don't know whether to dismiss those literary and artistic examples of transformation as beautiful bullshit that's moving to read but has no bearing on reality. Or whether to acknowledge that I'm missing something and not trying hard enough - even though surely telling someone who is grieving that they are not doing their best is just a tad inconsiderate.
I have more to say on the subject, some of it far too personal for this post. I don't really use this site anymore to record the details of my life. So I'll leave it at that for now. Maybe later I'll write more.
I was talking to A over e-mail (he is away at the moment). In response to my previous LJ entry, he said, "It is interesting how you talk about the distance and what emotions it may or may not afford you or entitle you to. However, I feel the truth is closer to when a person we know, even admire, for whatever reason, however distantly dies, it hurts, and everyone's processing of that hurt is so personal - there are few rules governing who has what rights and where."
But it's not about that. When I talk about not being entitled to emotion it's largely influenced by what I hear coming from people in situations like this. I looked at V's Facebook this morning, and it was inundated with messages of "Why?" "We love you" "You were beautiful" from people in a public display of grief, as if they were pretending that Facebook had the power to communicate with the dead. And I felt a little weird because of this. This entitlement to grief is quite the phenomenon, not just because of how easy social networks make it, but in general, in humans. And it seems to offend those who are close to the person; in this case, one of my friends said simply that "We appear to be able to love others only in death". i.e. only feel the void they leave when they are gone. It's especially poignant with suicides by people who may have done it for reasons of loneliness and alienation.
So as a one step removed person I don't feel entitled to grief. Though I feel it, still... I feel very, very sad for everyone I know who loved him and who is in pain right now.
Here it is. So weird reading it now.
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.
He was a poet, a very good one at that. I used to hang around with him a long time ago. Almost 15 years back, I wrote a Livejournal entry about him and his obsession with Tom Waits. He read it and didn't like it much; I sort of apologised but kept the entry anyway. We remained in each other's peripheral vision over the years.
I'm not big on over-the-top emotion, especially one I don't feel entitled to (as I wasn't close to him). Yet, he was a friend to a number of my friends who I hold very dear. Tonight, they are all restless, distraught and disturbed, and will probably remain so for a very long time. I feel a part of their pain. I wish with all my might for this not to have happened. But it has, because life - and death - and other people - do not owe us anything. And, as I keep thinking, another man's soul is darkness.
Sometimes, tonight, I wish I believed in afterlife. But I don't, so this is all there is.
So, all I can say is, V, rest in peace.
When we breathe and the air comes out it does so quickly
Effortless and without motion not engaged in rampant movement
Eddies reflect in the dancing air in slivers of dust filled wonder
Floating motes of wisdom failing to evolve
And how does the omniscient snail draw itself from its shell so smooth
How does it unsqueeze and grow within it
How does it remember when to stop or force itself from its home?
Is this an evolutionary angle we forgot to explore?
Is it the solution to a skeleton, keep on making it like an ice caking marathon?
At first the stalagmites form, each drip deposits minerals
they cling to each other by accident
Then, later on when the lobster crawled
Out of the water to catch a morsel
It grew claws
And they had to be hard
To protect it a shell formed
It became too large to fit in it
It could not eat more
And then to walk without the support of water
We needed our shells for structure and grew skins for defence
Being food is not dishonorable but now we need cunning to protect
ourselves from predators and wrap our bodies up pretending we
preserve innocence, pretending flesh colours
And still I have a question
When did the snail oil become all these machines
these devices we have to wear that tell us where to walk
these motivators and circuits that direct us with advice
and sell us a grave site, a hard case to keep us after we have finished
A couple of weeks ago I was in a pub with a group of people, some of whom I didn't know. I was having a chat about tattoos with a chap sitting next to me (standard pub conversation filler, no big deal). Due to two pints of Old Rosie swishing around in my head, I decided to take my top off to show him the large Piranesi tattoo on my back. Everyone stared at me, then the chap's wife went, "Oh, is this Carceri III?" It then transpired that she is the curator of the Royal Institute of British Architects collection at the V&A. They have several Piranesi originals in the collection.
If I'd known I would have behaved a bit more "professionally" (i.e. acted less loud and drunk, I guess).
Despite my unnprofessional behaviour, we exchanged details, and yesterday she e-mailed me with the list of Piranesi works with catalogue numbers for me to look at...
I'm surrounded by packed boxes and various other things I apparently own (Brompton bike, 1970s globe shaped drinks cabinet, skull-shaped walking stick... ??). Party of one to celebrate the end of an era.
I'm out of Crouch end next Saturday, moving in with a partner (one of them, A) only for the second time in my life. I'm a homeowner for the first time. I'm leaving behind this red-and-white witch's house, which I shared with my dearest friend of 15 years, Mr B aka Ginger Menace, my one and only flatmate.
Party poppers smell quite nice. The boxes and my Brompton bike are now covered in confetti.
It's a large Victorian (1880s) semi-detached house in east London, of brick and timber construction. There is a big garden with a WWII bunker in the middle of it, buried under a thick blanket of grass (I think a family of rabbits might live inside). The house even has a cellar, although it's very badly built, unventilated and full of moisture and mold. The kitchen is enormous. The house is beautiful, but with tatty interior decor and will need a lot of work, some of which is more than cosmetic. To add pique, its previous owner is a charity, and for the past 35 years (since the year of my birth) it has been used as a shelter for women escaping domestic violence. I'm moving in two weeks' time. Couldn't be fucking happier.
~FOUR HOURS OF TATTOOING AFTER TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHT CAUSES RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME~
~DOMINATRIX ASKS FOR ADVICE ON FALLING IN LOVE WITH GAY MAN, TALKS ABOUT DEFECATING ON CLIENT'S CHEST~
...etc. Coming up with anything longer than a handful of sentences seems quite hard these days. I blame Twitter. Perhaps more will follow. But before I go, one more from earlier this evening:
( (Text below by a friend of mine) )
( The sea... )
I'm in a bar next to the swanky hotel near Amsterdam Centraal, sipping Westmalle Dubbbel, waiting for A to join me after his conference, and reading Mating in Captivity - a book I have enjoyed immensely from the first word (thanks, captain_g, waylay).
In particular, this:
Aggression, objectification, and power all exist in the shadow of desire, components of passion that do not necessarily nurture intimacy. Desire operates along its own trajectory.
I have a lot to say on this topic, having lived the textbook case that the author is describing, the opposite thereof, and also a working combination of the two. But I'm only on page 31 of the book, so we'll see what else is coming up.
(Tonight in Amsterdam, what is coming up is a gorgeous dinner and cocktails!)
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.
I was interviewed by the Independent and touched Stephen Fry's hair! And how was your weekend?
After many ambivalent thoughts and feelings about it, I joined the Russia LGBT protest outside Downing Street on Saturday. Apart from speaking to the Independent journalist, I ended up explaining my thoughts on it to other people so many times that I wished I had written it out on a handout.
Mostly I believe this protest - or any other protests against this particular issue - is not going to make any difference; initially I thought it might even be harmful, but that was perhaps an over-reaction on my part. I believe that these laws are nothing to do with Russia's LGBT (the government couldn't care less about them), but with gaining votes and isolating the Russian Western-phobic majority. But as much as I am convinced that banning Russian vodka in Western gay bars and banning Russia from the Olympics are utterly pointless and nothing but the last straws for Western liberals to clutch on, I still enjoyed being at the protest, with its wonderful atmosphere of belonging, and I loved hearing the amazing Stephen Fry speak out for a lost cause with the passion that made achieving it sound almost believable. It is important that these things don't go ignored, no matter what.
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.
Two years ago this week, on the night of the infamous London riots, I met two rather eccentric looking gentlemen at a dinner party in Hackney. Our very first conversation was about the bus that was burning outside their flat in Dalston, while listening to police sirens outside, eating soup and drinking cider in the relative safety of our host’s apartment.
Over the course of the next few months, I got to know them better. One became my lover, the other my friend. Through both of them, I was introduced to some inspiring people, had the best times of my life, felt accepted and appreciated more than I had ever been before. I became aware of my own freedom and the opportunities around me without the burden of control and insecurity that are so often falsely sold to us as the necessary peripherals of a relationship. I gained new understanding of my own capacity for empathy and compersion.
My old friends embraced my new partner with open arms, because of his compassionate and peculiarly eccentric personality and his readiness to spend time and effort on the people who are important to me. They embraced my new friend because of his artistic flare, extroverted nature and the effortless way in which he makes connections with others everywhere he goes.
In the heart of it all is an extraordinary love story that I am happy to be a part of.
Looking forward to the good times ahead.
Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.