The Bad Joke

‘Hello, can I have two teas and a bread roll?’ says a woman’s voice from behind me. She’s standing at the food counter with her tray. The world is closing in on me rapidly – I can feel the walls encroaching on me on all sides. I can feel my life becoming narrower, more pressurised, more constrained. Sometimes it feels like there’s nowhere left to run, doesn’t it? I’m feeling like that now. I’m sitting here in the staff restaurant feeling that there’s nowhere left to run. It’s a very tangible feeling – I’ve reached the end of the road.


I have this idea of writing an experimental novel. I’ve been toying with it for a while now. The novel would be about me trying to escape from myself. It would be about my convoluted efforts in this direction. My worries and frustrations. The futility of it all. The pain and hopelessness of it all. The sheer misery of it all. Misery is so much better for writing about than happiness, isn’t it? It is for me, anyway. I wouldn’t know what to say about happiness and being happy. I can’t find it within myself to wax poetical about happiness and joy. I know that’s what people want, of course. I know that’s what they’re looking for. I’m never going to make any money writing about misery, and all the multitudinous forms and variations that it can take.


I’m sitting here in the canteen feeling that I have been institutionalised. I can feel the stultifying weight of my own institutionalisation pressing down on me. It suffocates me. I can feel my possibilities narrowing down until they reach the point at which there is only the one possibility, and that’s the possibility of having to do the thing that you were always going to do anyway, the thing that you can’t escape from doing and never would have been able to. Like me picking up this cup of coffee in front of me on the table and having a mechanical sip of it even though it’s gone cold and there’s no enjoyment left in drinking it. I’m compelled to carry on drinking this cold cup of coffee – I submit to the necessity of acting out this pointless routine because there is no choice. Not at this stage there isn’t, anyway. Maybe there was at some earlier stage, but not now. Although I can’t help suspecting that even the freedom that I imagined I had, or felt that I had, was only ever a tantalising illusion. It was only ever there to taunt me – to give me the impression that I could have done otherwise, that I could have stepped off the rails that led to the doom of my present situation, if only I had the gumption to do so.


There’s nothing like the memory of that potential freedom that one once had but did not avail of to make one feel bad about one’s wretched current miserable state of institutionalisation, is there? My mind is a creaking old institution, never mind anything else. It should have fallen to pieces years ago and yet somehow it still persists! It does this pointlessly, in defiance of the fact that it should have crumbled away into dust a long, long time ago. It exists mainly to mock me I think, although maybe that’s an egocentric view of things. Maybe it’s not really there to mock me at all. Maybe I’m just taking it personally when I shouldn’t. I’m taking personally what was never meant to be taken personally – I think it’s all about me but it isn’t.


Sitting here, suffocating under the stultifying pressure of my own lack of possibilities, taking stock of the fact that I’m taking stock of the fact that I’m trapped in my own head, taking stock of the fact that I’m a prisoner inside my own mind, I can’t help wondering what the point of such a ridiculously constrained existence is. When you constrain something too much it becomes pointless; it becomes self-defeating. It becomes a bad joke. All around me I can hear the clinking of cutlery and the murmuring of a dozen different conversations all going on at the same time. They all merge together of course and that means that I’m spared having to listen to what individual people are actually saying. The over-all effect is actually rather soothing. It’s like the lapping of waves. Lap, lap, lap, go the waves. Lap, lap, lap. They are the waves of ‘no self’, I realise. The waves of ‘no self’ are lapping all around me. They were always there but I never noticed them before; I was always too preoccupied with my own perennial worries and concerns.


They never really teach you about the hideous misery of being a self when you’re at school, do they? They never inform you, they never tell you about the pure pointless misery of it. Are we as well not knowing? Is it better that way? Or should we be told what to expect? They always tell you this ridiculous lie about your future happy self. If you play the game right. That’s the ‘happy shiny people’ lie isn’t it? The one we are told every day in all the adverts. There is nothing downright nastier, nothing more vilely nefarious than this filthy disgusting falsehood. It’s an abomination, and yet this crappy old world of ours is based on it.


When you think about it it’s kind of funny, isn’t it. There’s a certain irony in it. Are some things good and others bad, I ask myself? Or is it bad to think like this? Is it wrong? Is it wrong to judge? Is it wrong to be a self? And if it IS wrong to be a self, then what should you do about it? What steps should you take?This is a joke of course, albeit not a particularly funny one. It’s not like when you laugh out loud, it’s not like when you let out a great big belly laugh that makes you straightaway feel better. It’s not like that at all…





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