Did you ever have an overwhelming sense of your own greatness, a sense so undeniable that you just weren’t able to put it back in its box? I was going to say, did you ever feel an absurd sense of your own greatness – but no, it wasn’t absurd. Far from it – there was nothing absurd about it at all. It felt right, it fitted perfectly. I had never known anything to feel so right.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘you shouldn’t be sniffing so much of that stuff, my friend. It isn’t good for you’. Well, you are allowed to have your little laugh, I guess. Go ahead. I’ll give you a moment or two to have your fun. Go on, have a good laugh why don’t you? Laugh it up. Laugh it up. Take a cheap shot – god knows everyone else does!
I imagine people might say, well – you don’t seem to be that amazingly great. Not on the face of it. No offence meant, of course, but there’s no actual sign of your greatness. And if you happen to know me a bit better, you might point out to me (in a kind sort of a way) that there’s nothing particularly great about my life, such as it is! Nothing to write home about, that’s for sure…
But that’s the whole point really – the greatness that I’m talking about has nothing to do with the actual concrete details of my life, or my situation, which – as I would be the first to agree – shows no obvious sign of greatness.
That’s the amazing thing – the greatness of which I speak is completely independent of all physical circumstances and so there’s no way for you or anyone else to invalidate it by pointing out that I’m a mess, or that my life – such as it is – is a bit of a disaster. You can’t invalidate my greatness that way because none of that stuff counts! None of that staff matters at all!
Can you imagine how liberating that is? People talk about being ‘too big to fail’ (whatever the hell that means) – well what I’m talking about here is being too great to fail. You can fail as much as you like in fact, but that doesn’t in any way detract from your inner greatness! If anything it enhances it! If anything it sets it off!
Sometimes (at incongruous moments such as when I’m doing my weekly shop in the local supermarket) I find myself filled with a sense of unimaginable inner glory. Tears of joy stream down my face as I walk through the aisles. I can hardly see straight. At times like this I recite verses from the Chapters of Coming Forth by Day in order to ground myself:
‘Thou knowest the names of the Arits and Pylons’, I breathe exultantly, ‘and the names and the names and the secret names…’
Of course I totally get it that sometimes we are terribly afraid of our inner greatness and that’s why we invent all sorts of meaningless social games to play so that we can fail miserably at them and get to feel bad about ourselves. We can then despise ourselves and hold ourselves in contempt (just as others do) and there is comfort in this. There is refuge from the unrelenting torment of our inner greatness. In no way do I disagree with this. I totally acknowledge it. I’ve been there, I can promise you…
I was on a rant, I was on a rave. Flecks of yellow foam flew from my lips as I spoke and my audience cringed in mute, fascinated horror. And yet I never said a word. I never spoke a word because I had nothing to say! I had been stricken dumb. I had no voice. I was hiding, I was incommunicado. Don’t ask me where Communicado is, I don’t know! I’m very far from knowing where it is. I am very far from knowing anything – I had burrowed like an infected sand-weasel deep into the dunes and burrows of an alternative reality. I was the time traveller. Men came to hear my words but left in disgust when I said nothing, grim unforgiving expressions on their faces. Women didn’t bother. They walked by without even so much as a sideways glance. I was less than the dirt on their shoes. I was lower than the low I realised – even the unclean spirits were repulsed by me. They were sickened by how low I had allowed myself to sink. I burrowed deep into my own private universe looking for something that I could not find in the real world. I was looking for safety. What a safety look like when you find it, you ask me? Does it have a particular smell? Does it have a particular hue? Can it be likened to any everyday object? I don’t answer you however – I’m well on my way to my next adventure. What will I be next time round, I wonder? Will I be a hero next time round? I always hope I will be but the game never works out that way! It never works out the way I want it to. It turns bad for me in a flash. I pretended to be nothing, I pretended to be a stone. They were hunting me but they could not find me. They could not get the scent. I could crouch in a hollow for a thousand years without a single thought passing through my head. Even I didn’t know that I was there! I didn’t know anything. The trail had gone cold – the telepaths had given up the chase and gone home. The scanners had eventually stop scanning; the all-seeing mind rays swept through me no more. ‘It’s an everyday story of paranoid folk’, I pipe up cheerfully. It’s an engaging family comedy with a moral there for everybody. It’s an everyday story of everyday folk, but it’s played for laughs. It’s an everyday story of dead folk who become vampires and demons in the underworld. I am full of pride and swagger drunkenly into the town square: I take on the Great Story-telling Machine in a duel but it beats me and I become a character in one of its stories.
We can adapt to such frighteningly petty lives, can we not? It’s an endless sequence, an arithmetical progression that leads us on inescapably to the pettiest of all petty worlds, only it’ll never reach its logical conclusion. That’s our curse, if we could but see it. It’ll never reach its logical conclusion because it’s a limitless sequence, a limitless progression. Only it’s not a progression at all, is it? It’s a regression. Silly me – I got it backwards. We have such a frightening facility for adapting to petty worlds, don’t we? So frightening – if only we could see it, but we can’t. We can’t see it because we are so well-adapted to the pettiness, to the downright small-mindedness of it all. we’re so phenomenally good at adapting, so very, very good, and that’s why we can’t see how terrifying it is – this thing that we doing without knowing that we are. This thing. This thing that we doing. What happens to all the fear and horror that we should be feeling and yet are not – that’s what I want to know? Where did it all go? It must go somewhere, after all. What underground engines does it drive, my friend – do you ever ask yourself that? What infernal mechanisms does it propel? This world of ours, huh? What could we say about it? It all looks so placid on the surface, this is pretty as a picture. The occasional bubble of swamp gas rising gloopily to the surface perhaps, releasing as it does so the foetid odours of the depths, but that’s all. You’d quickly forget about it. A moment of embarrassment at the dinner table, perhaps. It a momentary awkward silence, before some brave guest chirps up with a cheerful but impossibly inane comment about some frighteningly superficial topic. Life’s made up of frighteningly superficial topics, isn’t it? We leap with the greatest agility from one to the other like frogs hopping from lily pad to lily pad, trying our best to avoid the inevitable belches of toxic swamp gas as they get dislodged from the impenetrable depths of our lives. How do we do it, do you suppose? How do we do it. I’d be the first to confess that I’m not having a very good day. I’d own up to it in a flash, if you asked me. I’m safe in the knowledge that you never will, of course. Where will it all end, I wonder? Will it ever end? These religious fools with their pronouncements about the end of the world. Their pathetically self-important and humourless announcements. Can they not see that the true horror is to carry on as we are, everyone too afraid to say anything about it, but also too well adapted to the lies to know that they are afraid. They wouldn’t believe it if you told them. If you are afraid enough you’d believe any lie, no matter how ridiculous, no matter how banal. Did you ever think that? The Day of Reckoning is already here. It’s come and gone – we’re just in denial of it.
‘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…
We make up these little realities for ourselves all the time, don’t we? We make them up and then we proceed to drive ourselves demented trying to protect them, trying to say that they’re real, trying to make sure nothing happens to invalidate them. Obviously they’re totally invalid in the first place – they are invalid right from the word ‘go’. They have to be if we made them up, but that never seems to occur to us! This really is a sad reflection on the state of our being if you ask me – very sad reflection…
A sad reflection, a sad reflection, the sad reflection… The words go around and around in my head. Am I exception to the rule, I hear you ask? Am I the exception, am I the exception, am I the exception? The words in my head, the words in my head, the words in my head. In my head. Spinning around, spinning around, spinning around. I’m in a spin and I am the spin! I’m the spin doctor. I’m the spin doctor. I’m the doctor of the spin and am always trying to doctor it to make it better.
No, obviously I’m not an exception! There are no bloody exceptions, that’s the whole point. There are no exceptions. Everyone thinks that they’re the exception but there are no exceptions! It’s like when you get a dose of the old paranoia – you know that when other people come out with crazy-ass shit like the crazy-ass shit you are coming out with then this because they’re totally paranoid, but that doesn’t apply to you! Oh no – you’re not paranoid, you’re the exception. You are the exception to the rule. It happens to be true when you say it!
Crazy-ass shit, crazy-ass shit. Let me tell you about it! Boy do I ever know about that crazy-ass shit! I could talk about it all day, I could talk about that stuff until the cows come home and that’s a fact. I could tell you some crazy-ass shit that you’ve never heard before! I won’t, though. I don’t want people thinking that I’m a looper. No sir I don’t. Keep your little minds to yourself – don’t you be judging me. Or is it me judging me via my assumptions about you judging me? Is that what I’m at? It’s so hard to escape the prison of the self, isn’t it? It’s so very hard. There’s no such thing as time off for good behaviour, that’s for sure. No sir there isn’t. No such thing, no such thing…
I’m no exception, anyway – that’s the point I’m trying to make. What you think all of this stuff is that I’m coming out with? I’m making up realities in my own head and then I’m getting all caught up in them. I’m getting all tangled up. I’m hanging on tight to them, trying to make something of them. I’m trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I’m trying to say that all these made-up realities actually mean something when they don’t. When they don’t at all.
You know that thing where you start a conversation and you don’t know where on earth you are going with it, and even as you open your mouth you know that you shouldn’t have done? That you shouldn’t have started the conversation, I mean. The second you open your mouth you know that you have made a mistake and yet you go ahead and do it anyway! I presume you do know that feeling – I mean, I’m not in any position to know if you know what I’m talking about or not but I’m presuming that I’m not the only one that this has ever happened to! And then of course the next thing is that you try to dig yourself out of the hole that you’ve created for yourself and the hole – as we all know – only gets deeper and deeper as we do this. As we try to dig ourselves out. How deep is a hole? How long is a piece of string? I hate it when people ask this actually – it really gets to me. As soon as I realise that someone is about to come out with this rhetorical question I start to cringe and I can generally tell if someone is going to come out with it before they even start. And no, in answer to your unspoken question, I’m not a telepath. I’m just very sensitive. It’s such a maligned word ‘sensitive’ isn’t it? ‘Oh he’s sensitive’ people say and then they piss themselves laughing. What they mean by ‘sensitive’ is of course that you are some kind of tragic snowflake and that your life is an endless series of ‘one imaginary crisis after another’. The very thought or suggestion that someone might be a bit of the tragic snowflake is enough to bring out the malice in people. Pure malice, like a drop of venom dripping from a cobra’s fang. Drip, drip, drip… You know that cobra’s just dying to bite you – it can hardly contain itself! It wants to bite you so badly. The sunlight is glinting off the venom drop as it falls in super-slow motion to the ground. How slow can time go? How long is a piece of string? You know that the cobra’s venom is meant for you. You know that it’s thinking of you, and that its malice is meant for you alone. It’s itching to bite you. It’s itching to sink its fangs into your flesh and you know how quickly it could do that! There’d be this blur of movement, faster than the eye can follow, and then that would be it. You’d wander off somewhere of course. You’d go looking for help, for medical attention, but you wouldn’t get very far. You won’t get very far because your number’s up! You know that feeling you get when you know your number’s up? I presume you do, anyway. I assume that you do. I sure as hell know that feeling anyway – it’s a very panicky feeling. Panic’s a stupid thing, isn’t it? I despise panic so much, particularly when it happens in me! Panic is like ‘oh what shall I do, what shall I do?’ And then there’s this ridiculous flurry of activity. And yet the whole point is that there’s nothing you can do! That’s the whole bloody point, for God’s sake. You’re screwed and that’s why you’re panicking. You’re totally screwed – you wouldn’t be panicking otherwise. On the contrary, you’d be chilled out because you know that there is something you can do! All you have to do is do the thing that you need to do and then – Bob’s your uncle – you’d be fine! So when your number’s up and you know it then you start panicking, you give way to a flurry of pointless activity – ‘what’ll I do, what’ll I do, what’ll I do, what’ll I do?’ you ask. Try to tell me that that isn’t pathetic! Try to tell me that that isn’t worthy of contempt! My whole life is something of a pointless conversation, do you know that? I keep on trying to make it come out okay, I keep on trying to guide the conversation in a positive direction, but everything I do only serves to make it worse. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as the saying has it. Trying to make the fucked-up lame-ass conversation work out in some way obviously isn’t the answer; that’s like ‘apologising for apologising’ – that’s just compounding your crime! Everyone will really hate you then… So what the hell do you do, that’s what I want to know. What do you do when your whole life is like a lame-ass conversation you wish you’d never started?
I was drinking the King of Beers. ‘This is a fine set-up’, I told myself. ‘Here I am sitting back, chilling out, and drinking the King of Beers!’ That makes me kind of special, the way I figure it! It says something about the type of person that I am. This got me thinking – is it special to exist in the first place, or does specialness have to come afterwards, as a result of some special action that we take? Is it special to exist, in other words, or is it just ordinary, and if it is just ordinary, does that mean that existence is essentially rather boring? And is that why it is so important to make things be special so that they won’t be so terribly boring? Are people boring if they’re not special? Am I boring? Am I really special or am I just stupid and self-centred to think that? Then my thoughts took a different tack – is it special for something to be special, I wondered? Or, in some subtle way that most people don’t understand – because they’re too crass in their thinking – is it more special to be ordinary than it is to be special in the ordinary, boring old way? My thinking had taken me full circle as you can see, and I was none the wiser for it. I was none the wiser full stop. Then I thought: ‘If there was such a thing as ‘the real thing’ then could you mimic it?’ Could you find out what it was and then duplicate it? Could you find out all about it and then simulate it very, very accurately so that no one would ever know that it wasn’t the real thing? This seemed to me to be a very exciting idea – someone could make a lot of money doing this! And then after the briefest of moments it came to me in a flash that somebody – in all probability – already had! Somebody probably already was making a lot of money doing this. They were probably making a boodle. If I’d worked this out then so too could someone else! What’s to stop them, after all? It’s a basic law or principle in ecology that if there is a viable niche then you can bet your bottom dollar that someone is exploiting it! That’s the beauty of this law you see – you don’t even need to look, you don’t even need to send in a team of ecologists with their little nets and specimen tubes and plankton-sieves and rubber waders and microscopes and little note-books and whatever else paraphernalia it is that they carry around with them. You know already. Just as soon as you find out that there is a viable niche then you know for a fact that there is someone there exploiting it! So you can imagine what this revelation did to my head! It’s like that thing about simulated universes, isn’t it? There’s always a chance that we are living in the real one, but it’s a very slim one! ‘What are the chances that we’re living in the real universe and not a fake?’ you ask theatrically. ‘Not very good!’ the audience choruses back dutifully… It’s kind of a ritual argument at this stage, isn’t it. We know the steps so well. Maybe what I’m saying is the exact same thing as that well-worn simulated-universe argument – I don’t know. I’m no expert. It’s not really my area. But it all comes down to the same thing in the end I suppose, and that is that we are being screwed-over big time. We’re being shafted. ‘So what’s new’, you say. ‘Tell me something I don’t know!’