I’ve been sitting watching The Last Five Years, a documentory on what David Bowie did in the last five years of his life. Well, I say sitting, I’ve been dotting and darting around picking up things, binning others, squirting polish, wiping things down and generally making my home looking sane(ish) and presentable, for a writer and a photographer to come ’round and do a piece on me. I am still laughing at the idea, weeks after I was asked.
I’m am a single 46 year old single man with no children and less than perfect mental and physical health. I’ve achieved quite a few marginally cool things whilst simultaneously failing to do some of the quite basic stuff, like hold down a ‘proper job’, have a family and collect a lot of trappings of a ‘normal’ life along the way. That said, I am in a far better place than I was at this time last year and I can look back with a small sense of achievement at how I managed to take any adversity that was thrown at me and turn it into something more positive. I can say with all honesty that I could probably say the same at the end of every given year for the last decade or so, although to be fare, I did have an awful lot of catching up to do compared to anyone with a modecum of brains or talent at this point in their life.
It’s frustrating losing it all like I did in my late twenties, losing my mind, my job, my friends, my home and pretty much everything else. I became vulnerable to exploitation, addiction and debt. Most people who drop that far either kill themselves or slip into living on the streets. The only thing that prevented this was a stubbornness at my core that made me dig my fingernails into the rock face of the metaphorical cliff that I had gone over. I have to keep telling myself this over and over again and trying not to be that hard on myself. This isn’t helped though by living in a town where so many people of my age who took the safe option of either getting cushy jobs in the public sector, or hitching themselves to a monied partner, rewriting their back stories to include arty backgrounds that never really existed. It takes guts and real strength of character to follow your own path in this world and getting a few tattoos, some alternative looking clothes and a silly hairdo doesn’t cover up the fact that you spent your working life trying to get good performance appraisals and higher pay grades. I don’t suffer fools gladly either, all those people who have it all handed to them on a plate and yet still manage to screw things up for themselves and other, or worse still, those that are so unaware of the consequences of their actions and make life horrible for everyone else in the process.
The thing is, how do you deal with things when you are so far behind the rest of the runners in the race of life? Whenever I have had dealings with the mental health services, they are always keen to tell me than life is not a competition and that I should ease up on myself , maybe meditate a bit, do some yoga, go on a mindfulness course… Yes…. Well… That might work in the short term to alleviate the strain on a fragile mind but in the long term, if you have any sense of self respect or any ambition, all it will leave you with is a situation where you will look back with dissatisfaction at an unfulfilled life and a financial situation where you will feel like a sitting duck, waiting for every small problem to blow up in your face through lack of resources. In other words, you are being told to give up, let the world wash over you and just drift along between every disaster going, always in reaction mode, always falling that much further behind.
It is said that across the gates of hell is written “abandon all hope all ye who enter here.” I never have, well not for at least a decade or so. I no longer let things slide, I no longer allow things that would have eaten into my self esteem or self confidence slip past me anymore. I have been accused of being bitter as when someone does something hurtful, I do not let it drop but instead either address or redress the issue, neither will I let people who should know better to get away with shitty treatment of other people anymore. Personally I regard that as a positive act, celebrating healthy self esteem. I might stew on a situation but in the end I always use that bad energy as rocket fuel to do something good with. Like the time I took an attempt by a local narcissist to try an put me down in public and turned it into a painting that found its way into a prestigious art show. I hasten to add that I did it for me though, we can only really change ourselves, someone that far gone has invested so much in their own delusions that they are impossible to fix, you can only avoid them. Revenge is useless but cleansing that bad energy and using it for good is a positive and ultimately healthy act. I would hate to have to look back on my life and only see a string of horrible things done to me that I haven’t addressed and a string of situations where I have ended up being subservient to others, that would indeed be hell.
I really admire people like David Bowie or Dennis Potter who kept on going to the bitter end and I truly hope I die in the middle of making some art, still making art to my last breath. I watch all the human detritus sitting outside my favourite cafe each morning with utter scorn and contempt as they hark on for hours on end about what they used to do and who they used to be. I’m only interested in now and tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, as long as my health and sanity allow. This could well be our only go at life and if we waste that on not doing anything constructive, that surely is a hell-worthy sin.