The Shadow of a Passing Year

As I write this, I am sat on a train heading north from High Wycombe to Nottingham (transfers at Banbury and Derby). It is the 31st December, the last day of 2015, and I am once again collecting my thoughts before heading to a New Year’s Eve party. Apart from that, in almost every sense, I am very far from the point I was at this time last year.

2015 has probably been my worst year, even considering life-threatening illness, injury, and other sundry miseries that have afflicted my life. I’m choosing not to dwell because there’s little point, but the first nine months of the year can be accurately described as in the shit. I am in no hurry to revisit them, so I shall move on to when things picked up. Similarly, and perhaps a little selfishly, I think that for all the tragic events of this year, others have said it better than I. Sometimes, the only appropriate response is silence.

I have been living and working in High Wycombe for three months now. My job, which I won’t go in to for security reasons, has been going well enough. The people I work with are quite nice people, though many of them are leaving in 2016, including one of the two who have been coaching me in my role. As is always the case when someone departs, there is a wistfulness for those who remain as the change forces them to reflect on their own position. Largely, it is a job and like all jobs something that is done to pay for the things we like – capitalism fails – but right now the novelty of a monthly pay cheque has not worn off. For my part, I am hopeful that the new year will offer me chances to continue my development. I work with a place that offers excellent access to training and I intend to exploit it to the fullest.

If my workplace has been welcoming, my new lodging has not. Nothing sums it up more fully than this: Having returned from my visiting my parents’ over Christmas, I found a Christmas card left outside my door. The message? “Please remember to empty the bins once a week and switch off all lights.” None is the worse tyrant than the petty one.

Socially, High Wycombe has been challenging! I’m not, nor have I ever been, the kind of person who can just go in to a pub or café[1] and start making friends. Yet I did not wish to live in isolation in my new home, if for no other reason than it would be quite boring. I have made a few efforts to meet people that have had some success, using the site meetup to, well, meet up. I have gone to a coffee meeting in Marlow where I met a group of older adults. They were friendly and chatty but I found I had little in common with them. I have also signed up with a reading group, which I really enjoyed and will be going to again at the end of January for The Martian.[2]

The largest and most active group has been the most challenging. After a shaky start at a comedy club, where I largely did not get to talk to anyone, I had two more events with them. The first, at Halloween, was a complete farce. I up alone in costume walking the streets of London as they had missed the train. The next time I met them, for brunch at a local bar, was similarly fraught, as they chose not to sit at the table they had booked. I elected to give it one last shot for a Christmas meal in Marlow. I admit that, with so many false starts, I was a little trepidatious. I half expected them to have changed reservations at the last moment. Thankfully, I went through with it and had a chance to speak with everyone. They seem like very nice people, so I was glad I did.

I have been able to read a great deal more, despite having less free time. I think this is probably a result of having to give structure to my days, what with having demands on my time. I have meant to write a little on the books that I have read since coming to High Wycombe, but I suppose there I but up against the limits of my time. I’ve moved back on to non-fiction for the last little bit of they year, having just finished Flynn’s new biography of Genghis Khan. At some point I will try and look back on some of the things I have read; Rivers of London, in particular, was both better and more thoughtful than I expected.

I continue to write, much the same as I did last year. Having finished ‘The Mountain’s Shadow’[3] I returned to an old, old idea of mine. I first came up with what was then titled ‘Zodiac Rising’ on the train to Stoke-on-Trent to visit my then girlfriend while she was at university. The bones of the tale, a journey of self-discovery, remain; all else – gods, magic, monsters – has gone. I’m a very slow writer but I try to put in 500 words a day – some days I do more – and it currently sits at 100,000 words. Some months ago I returned to rewrite the beginning, which is extending things somewhat. I had originally intended to do one and done but I am now thinking that perhaps it could work split in to two parts. The vital thing for now is to focus on getting it finished, then I can worry about the rest. I suspect this time next year I shall still be writing about it!

Something else that I am looking forward to in the new year is my return to running role-playing games. I and two of my brothers had been dabbling, in a desultory manner, with gaming[4] while I still lived in Gloucestershire. I have invited a few friends to take part in a VOIP game session drawing inspiration from pretty much the entirety of my gaming life. Titled ‘The Road of the King’[5] the concept is that the characters are the children of a band of great and good heroes who were felled by an insidious and triumphant evil – the “King” – and it is up to this new generation to take up the fight. I’ve written a fair bit on the setting[6] and am really looking forward to it – largely because of the excellent character ideas I’ve already received.[7]

The past two weeks saw me back at my parents for Christmas. I visited Liam and Susie in their new home in Quedgeley, which is a lovely little house just right for them. He showed me his pride and joy[8] while Susie jetted off on hers.[9] I went to a Greek restaurant, the Mythos,[10] in Chepstow with Jim. I saw my parents, more of my brothers, and my nieces. I went for a run and, for the first time, fell over while doing so. The foresters appear to have taken a dislike to their trees, hewing them haphazardly and turning the paths in to mud-slicked nightmares. It rained a lot. I ate a lot. I played far too much World of Wacraft.[11]

With the liberty afforded me by salaried employment,[12] I’m actually able to play things for the coming year. In addition to ongoing little things like theatre trips and a triumphant return to watching an awful lot of awful films.[13] Like the world and his dog, I went to see Star Wars VII. It was probably my film high-light of the year.[14] I took two of my brothers on the trip and all three of us were absolutely thrilled. As we left the cinema, we were pleased but as we walked and talked, comparing the little details of craft and wonder, our esteem grew and grew. It was not a film that shocked or surprised, but rather a master-piece of intentional design – much like the original Star Wars film. Others may not have enjoyed it as much as I; I wouldn’t know, I stopped reading op eds about it even before it had screened. Unusually for me, I am keen to see it at the cinema again – I may go while in Nottingham, or when back in Wycombe.

I’m also hoping to get back in to regularly watching theatre. So far, I’ve restricted myself to National Theatre screening of plays, so as to recoup the cost of moving and setting up here in Wycombe, but I am thinking of going to see the Branagh production of Romeo and Juliet in the summer. I have been recommended the Wycombe Swan; at the moment it is panto season (which I do not care for) but hopefully something will tickle my fancy. There have been some mumblings among the social groups I have attached to about going to some cultural events – they’re still of an age where clubbing and rekt is the main diversion – and I think I would enjoy the company.[15]

I also have bigger plans in the offing. Having missed 2Cellos perform in London, I have looked up their tour dates and am planning a trip in late May to see them in Munich. That will be a bit of a double treat, as it will be a chance to see performers I greatly esteem and my first trip outside of Britain since 2012, when I went to Paris. It will be my second trip to Germany.[16] The chocolate comes highly recommended. I am also hoping to return to Edinburgh for the Fringe festival in August. This is being arranged with the Meet-up group so there is every chance it will go wrong. Finally, and most excitingly, my brother Jim and I are planning a trip to Marrakesh in time for Christmas/New Year’s for 2016. It will be the first time I have been off continent. I anticipate growing fat from all the tagine I will be eating.

[1] Not that Britain has a café culture. More’s the pity.

[2] I was a bit pleased that a group primarily focused on literary fiction chose a sci-fi book to start the year. On the other hand, a reviewer I greatly admire has made a good case that ‘The Martian’ isn’t a sci-fi novel at all. We shall see!

[3] At least for now. I have some further ideas to expand it.

[4] 13th Age for those who are curious and care about system.

[5] RPGs are where I get my latent pomposity out, I’m sure.

[6] RPGs are also where I allow myself the luxury of world-building – mental masturbation at its finest. For those who have read me elsewhere, this is a reimagining of the Xerxes/Sol Crucis setting.

[7] I don’t want to tell you about my character, but I really do about these guys! A demon-summoning warrior and the son of a Time Lord and the Old Woman of the Mountain. Sweet.

[8] Playstation 4

[9] A motorbike

[10] I am not an aficionado of Greek cuisine, but the food was excellent and the service great.

[11] I seem to relapse at Christmas. I got a rocket this year.

[12] It is amazing the difference money makes. People parrot the cliché that it cannot buy you happiness but the honest truth is that without it, you will be miserable.

[13] I was so excited for Black Mass and it let me down.

[14] But Fury Road is so close!

[15] I do have a theatre buddy in London, but she is occupied with work commitments most of the time. Those hyenas won’t hunt themselves.

[16] I stayed in Berlin while travelling Europe in my early twenties

All These Moments in Time

Years ago, I told my brother Liam an expression that gives him heart in his darkest days, the story of a king who holds a ring and inscribed within are the words ‘This too shall pass.’ My life, four months after having moved it, three months after having had to go collect it, remains mostly in boxes; a sort of last stand against the creeping fear of the end of the line. On the door my suit hangs, clean and ready to be worn as the need arises. It’s been put on twice this year and now it waits, like a shell; a shell-suit, the shell of a man. 2014 was not a good year for me; as above, so below, I guess. I lived at or around the poverty line for most of it, and slipped over the edge in the latter half.

The best times were already over by the time it had begun; that ‘best time’ period probably terminating with a visit to the Cirque Du Soleil in November 2013, which I paid for when money was less tight. A word that has gained some traction describes, more or less, the position I found myself in in January 2014: Precariat. I did not fully fit the term, as my work was not casualised and was on the basis of a permanent full-time contract with a major company (however, events after I left would prove how little ‘permanent’ means any more). I was poor, supporting two people on a sub-£20k wage, and all expenses were big. As the year wore on, clothes would wear out and I would not have the money to replace them, that sort of thing. I took refuge in computer games and history books; I have plenty of both. I watched films to be transported to other worlds than this one.

Living on the edge of employment was hard. Being unemployed is that much worse. For much of the latter half this year unemployed, living with my parents and looking for work. I blogged a little bit about my experiences signing on: the employment services in the UK are at best tone deaf to the needs of their users, at worse indifferent to anything that does not meet their criteria. I was, at peak, applying for five jobs each day and yet needed to check the newspaper each week ‘because.’ I am insanely fortunate in that I have parents who can support me, and I am genuinely grateful for their support.  Life unemployed erodes context, it erodes connection and, with enough passage of it, begins to erode time. I apply for jobs in a weirdly mechanical, faux-personalised way. The search for employment takes on an Orwellian character, an exercise in Double-think where you are asked to be honest, to lie and to believe it is the truth. The words “Why do you want to work for us?” begin to fill you with a creeping dread as they emerge on application forms and are uttered at interviews. The honest answer: “Because I think I can do this job and I would like to be paid for it” are, of course, in the rule of double-speak the truth that you should believe in to being a lie. A better question is “Why do you think you can do this job?” but it becomes equally pointless, as the whole application process is answering that question. Yet even without any pressure but the internal, the drive to find employment forces another form, five, dozen through your hands because having no job finds you in the same non-person territory that poverty puts you in. Nobody stamps your forehead or puts you in a different queue (yet) but admission to society carries a charge.

I used to believe stoicism was a virtue but I am starting to think it’s not. Silence creates the void that other, more insistent, voices speak in to and create a myth of ‘noble scrimping’ or that you are ok with ‘this’, ‘this’ being interminable lack. In the world above, politicians use the quietude of people acclimated to their impoverished conditions to push an agenda of austerity; below, people assume you are ok when you don’t complain. The last time I was ‘ok’ was living and sharing a budget with my brother Liam; I could afford to save and afford stuff. Not stuff as in things, but as in the whole experience of life: museums, theatre, amusement parks, holidays, time with friends. I remember lamenting that nobody else ever wanted to do anything; now I realise it wasn’t lack of desire, but lack of means. It is all too easy, with the modes of communication absolutely dominated by a particular middle-class lifestyle, to forget how much poverty excludes people from all aspects of life, and in Britain this is only increasing as public amenities are closed.

It is impossible to talk about 2014 without talking about the end of my relationship, but at the same time I don’t want to talk about it too much, or in great detail. That is not because I have nothing to say, but rather I have too much. The world intrudes; I belong to one of the most privileged groups in human history and I am socialised to believe two things: 1. That I have something worth saying; 2. That people should listen to what I have to say. As I have commented before I am a person who plays games, so I was on the side-lines when the campaign of harassment against a female game developer by the name of Zoe Quinn was carried out on behalf of her disgruntled ex. It is recorded in detail across the internet, and while it taps in to deeper roots of male entitlement, the spark that started it all was one man’s unwillingness to let go, or at least to seek help with his emotional hurt with something like restraint or moderation. Looking at what was going on in the wider world, reflecting on how it reflected on my own feelings, I realised that that my urge to speak, to shout out my anger and pain was based in a very entitled notion of the value of my speech. I loved Suzie very much, I followed her when she asked me to, and in my awkward way I was stumbling towards asking to follow her around always but it didn’t pan out like that. The extent to which I internalised all this is reflected in my unconscious insisting things will pick up when she graduates; when I awake I remind myself she did, and is gone.

It’s not all sad clowns at dawn. Since University my reading time had slimmed and slimmed to almost nothing. This year I got back in the saddle and started reading again. It started with Xenophon’s ‘Hellenika’, which was amazing and assures me that some things are timeless; Xenophon was a cavalryman and elitist, and his history reflects that. The Landmark editions are great and I continue through Herodotus ‘Histories.’ I read the Hunger Games (good) and Divergent (not so good); I tried out styles of books I’m not familiar with (My Sad Cat, Nelson Mandela: A Life Reported) which is something I’d not done since University. Reading teaches us empathy; it also sets us free. It might seem a little strange that I comment so little on my reading on this blog. I am trying to amend that a little but, unlike films, computer games or this little thing called life, I actually pride myself on knowing what I’m talking about with books so, if I am going to say something, I want to say it right. The best book I read this year was ‘The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters’ by Adam Nicolson. Over the years I have found myself reading more and more non-fiction and TMD is a great example of the form. Part literary analysis, part historiographical survey, it is entirely a love letter to Homer’s epics. It transported me through time to the strange world of transitioned, transgressed boundaries that the Achaean Greeks were living in, a changing world where the familiar and the new clashed and synergised in to something now. Nicolson’s writing was educational, persuasive and beautiful, in itself endowing the reader with the same affection the author feels for the subject matter. He builds an interesting case that, as an amateur of history, I couldn’t comment on beyond it tells a great story and breathes life in to the characters of Iliad and Odyssey, tragic epic barbarian kings victorious in a world passing them by.

I took part in the wedding of my younger brother Liam and the Artist Formerly Known as Jasper. I was there at the beginning; it’s my fondest wish that they outlive my end. The whole wedding was a sort of cypher for them: a series of catastrophes that in the whole ended up as something splendid. I may grizzle about a lot of things but they are two of my favourite people and that they actually went through with the whole thing is amazing. I’m glad I got to play a small part in it; when Liam asked me in his ever so gruff manner if it wouldn’t be too much of an imposition to maybe say a few words, I was very flattered. I get a lot of praise for the speech I delivered; I’m just full of praise for that crazy pair. Here’s another toast to their yellow mountain.

I live by the Forest of Dean; it’s a beautiful piece of the world that is tranquil, peaceful and provokes thought. It’s a little sad that being unemployed and directionless robs me of the beauty of this place. If I chose to be here, I think I would like to learn more about the free miners, about the strange liminal life of the ‘forest folk’ that my parents talk about with such esteem. As it is, I like to run in the forest with the dog, flinging my thoughts far from here, across time and space to things that could be. There are worse cages than green leaves and boughs and some days I wake up, look out the window and see the thin faces of the trees all wrapped up in the mist and I am struck by the beauty of it, which moves me to imagine other worlds than this.

My writing continues, and I continue thanks to it. This Grave Kingdom did not open to riotous applause; I’m not a twit and I never expected it to, but I received a positive review (4-stars on Amazon!) from someone I do not know, and that lifted my spirits. Selling books was never going to change my life, certainly not in those small quantities, but it’s nice when people like your stuff. You don’t have to reach everyone, but to reach someone with words you have written is a rare gift. I’ve submitted to more thunderous rejection, with positive and polite feedback but rejection nonetheless, but I am not letting that stop me. I am working on another long piece that I am proud of. It is, in the relatively bland expanse of my present situation, a wonderful riddle to which I am committed: A young woman returns home to bury her father, to find his death is not what it appears to be. The first draft will be done very soon; then it is in the fridge for a month before rewrites.

So on its hook my suit rests, and in boxes my life stays. I don’t wish to end on a down note, to make any reader worry for my sanity or my health. I am cared for by people who love me and my writing benefits from that most precious of all commodities: time. I’m going to a New Year’s party soon, which should be quite fun. I am doing my best to look forward to good things in 2015. I will get a job and a place of my own; doing what I don’t know and where I’m not going to presume to guess. I’m quite a slow writer but The Mountain’s Shadow should be finished in a few months – first draft is almost done, then it is in the fridge for a month before revisions. I began with a saying I passed on to my brother that gives him strength, I will now pass on to you one that helps me: “I am a pessimist because of intellect; I am an optimist because of will.”

A Long Walk to Nowhere

This week I went to London for a job interview with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. While I was in the capital I stayed with a friend from my old job. While there, she introduced me to a TV program called Castle, which stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle, a thriller writer who gets involved with a genuine murder case as a result of it taking inspiration from his writing. It was the pilot episode of the series, and Fillion was in the role of a wise-cracker to the ‘straight-man’ of Stana Katic but overall I enjoyed it. There was one segment that stood out to me though, where Castle is unsatisfied with the identity of the killer and goes on to crack the case because ‘the reader wouldn’t buy it.’ An adage that is perhaps too often wheeled out is that ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ It is no consequence in the real world whether anyone believe something happened, because it happened. Except, that isn’t the case. Humans are creatures of narrative logic. We like things to make sense and, more importantly, we have a drive to make sense of the things that happen to and around us (There is an excellent section in China Mieville’s ‘Embassytown’ that goes in to this, and I had the opportunity to ask him about years ago).

On the train to and from London I had the opportunity to do some reading: “Murder in Ancient China: Two Judge Dee mysteries” and “Nelson Mandela: A Life Reported” two very different sort of books. The stories in Judge Dee follow the formula for a mystery which is first revealed with a simple answer, then a more complex one that ties many threads together and creating a consistent narrative digestible to a reader; NM:ALR is a collection of the Guardian and Observer columns from 1953 to his death (and shortly thereafter). Though the events of life resist it (Mandela was a freedom fighter who was also an aristocrat; he brought peace but didn’t reform SA; he fought apartheid and was friends with dictators) the collection are framed narratively so we can make sense of them. Further than that though, we get an inkling to how even Nelson Mandela, who fought the great cultural narrative of his time (racist SA structures) also created a personal narrative to condone association with people like Gaddafi: he supported the ANC during the anti-Apartheid struggle.

I am not a psychologist, so my interest in this process is purely from a writing rather than life perspective. Taking this statement – people interpret events in a narrative frame – as an axiom, how can this be used in writing? I think, like in a mystery novel, the initial answer is the least satisfying, that being that because humans frame things are narrative we should adhere to narrative standards. I think the potential arises for something much more interesting if we entertain the notion of reflectively deploying the narrative urge within a story. An analysis of the epic from of the Iliad and Gilgamesh, for example, found that they were (putting any questions of quality aside) more relevant to life because things just happened and the characters responded to them, seeking explanation in the fates and the Gods. This was contrasted against regency novels where all events are linked to the narrative. Perhaps in writing we should sometimes allow in an unexpected event and then show the characters scrambling within themselves to contextualise it within their own stories.

This also calls to mind the words of Foucault in ‘Society Must Be Defended.’ In the collection of transcribed speeches, Foucault outlines a system where politics is the pursuit of wars that grown cold (an inversion of Clausewitz’s statement). Of more relevance is the idea (that Foucault would develop seperately) of competing narratives or ‘knowledges.’ There is the perspective of the victor, which becomes the state narrative, but there are also the other peripheral narratives (in Foucault’s examples, the stories of the conquered) that endure in subaltern narratives. It is an illuminating theory – though I should note it has been and continues to be used for reactionary purposes – that can again be applied to writing as a character struggles to contextualise what has happened with what they believe to be true, and in a broader context what their life is about. An interesting project, perhaps ideally collaborative, would be to come to an event and write about it from differing perspectives. Rather than just rest on someone experiencing the events differently, one could also explore the life that has led to those differences. To use a brute-force example, two characters are confronted with a gun, one of whom is familiar with firearms, the other is not or is primarily through secondary media.

To finish I think that humans like to imagine their life as a progression, a story going in a direction. That is a fiction we construct, for good and for ill. It might be worthwhile to examine the process by which we esteem things enough to be included in our personal ‘story.’

Travel Becomes Time Travel

On 23 September 2014 I caught the train from Lydney to Cheltenham for a mandatory training course at Gloucestershire College; I’d been sent by the job centre without any awareness of what I was getting in to. The view from the platform that morning was gorgeous, the sky a luminescent orange-gold. It was the sort of colour that calls to mind adventures in time and space:

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The last time I went to Cheltenham was for the Book Fair in 2010. Curated by China Mieville, the programme was in honour of weird fiction, fringe science fiction: guests included Ian Banks, Michael Moorcock and Gwyneth Jones. Perhaps to some extent I am primed to think of Cheltenham in speculative terms but I also remember it as very leafy suburban Britain (until the lights went out). Disembarking from the train at Cheltenham Spa station I was also minded that Cheltenham (or at least the street outside the station) has not changed in nearly four years. This stasis is contrasted in my mind with the past years of economic contraction, austerity and crisis in the country.

I walked along the wide streets, passing green trees and nice houses empty of people. It was sometime around 8.45 – 9.20am, so most people would already be on their way to or arrived at work. The city was abandoned to me, like a time in a near future where humanity has abandoned Earth but, being British, the people of Cheltenham had left everything neat and tidy should anyone happen by.

Gloucestershire College Cheltenham campus is immediately impressive. The single campus is probably as large as South Downs College, where I studied from the age of sixteen to eighteen. It was dislocated in time again; as much as time and distance change, it could have been South Downs. Though some of the student body might not have been out of nappies when I went to college, the dress and the speech was not all that different. I even looked the part in combats, spider-man t-shirt and blue trainers. I reported to reception and was asked to wait to be seen.

I struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller from the forest, Richard, who was here for the same course. My personal time-line edged forward as the Executive Skills rolled on. Now I am one year out of college, at another mandatory training course put on at the request of the job centre. (As an aside, my age is incorrectly guessed, and I reflect on the difficulty of telling staff from pupil. Our times are all muddled). None of us are sure why we are here, but we have to be, so we make the best of it.

I go home on the train, thinking of how my subjective experience of life means when I go somewhere, I am also travelling to all the times I have already been there, or to the moments in time it reminds me of. We already travel in time, even if only in our minds. I have to go back next week for three more days.

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence

“We revenge injuries; we repay benefits with ingratitude. Even our strongest partialities and likings soon take this turn. ‘That which was luscious as locusts, anon becomes bitter as coloquintida’; and love and friendship melt in their own fire. We hate old friends: we hate old books: we hate old opinions; and at last we come to hate ourselves.”

I had originally intended to write a little about the experience of running a roleplaying game for my brother’s stag do (a far jollier subject!) but I find myself pre-occupied with another topic. I find myself unemployed and homeless and newly single. I don’t know how important context is in this situation; things change and it is just unfortunate for me that a great many changes followed on from one another. After having quit my job and ended my tenancy I moved to a new city to live with my partner. We had already been living together for two years prior to that and I went at her invitation. I took a leap of faith only to have the other side fall out from under me; I walked from a situation that was becoming loveless.

Thankfully, I have kind parents who will put up with me even at 30. Normally I prefer to focus this blog on abstract minutiae but I am now having to think about the future which leads to a shake-up in the tone around here. I tend not to write in a colloquial style because I am not very good at it! But I digress.

I’m a cool guy and I read philosophical tracts on lunch breaks. The opening quote is from a collection by Hazlitt called ‘The Pleasure of Hating’. It’s not the best essay in the book (that goes to ‘The Fancy’ I think) but it is easy to see the culmination of human interaction to be contained within those words. (It is fair to ask whether Hazlitt, a satirist, was entirely serious, but I am taking it at face value right now). Affections, like all things, crumble and are forgotten in time.

The handy thing about quotes is that when your own words fail you, the words of others can step in to do the work for you. That is the foundation of culture, and of society: I can’t do this alone, but I have others to help me. Sad to say I am not so good a component of society; I form few bonds and loosely if at all. With the termination of my relationship I am once again a bit at sea.

I imagine myself a shipwreck after (forgive the melodrama) treachery. One would hope to be a Prospero or Edmond Dantés, discovering wealth or power on my figurative islet to strike back at those who have wronged me. Had I the means, in what manner would I choose to revenge myself? I have been wronged and no amount of gold offered me could expiate the injury done me.

There are, however, more words to help me out. It would be easy to take Hazlitt and from that develop a Hobbesian perspective of suspicion to the whole world and, to be honest, I mostly do. I don’t believe everyone is out to get me so much as expecting extra effort on the part of others outside the betterment of their own situation without extensive persuasion is a fool’s wager. But even if (and I don’t sincerely believe this) people were uniformly and universally out only for their own betterment, this saying helps me out:

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

This is a Fake Buddha quote (he never said it, although a conversation about anger from the C5th has something similar) but that doesn’t make it any less helpful. There’s no point in staying angry, it’ll just waste your time and energy (no matter how many apologies people write for poor old Socrates). It’s much better to, if not move on, keep moving. I fake my death; I choose defeat and walk away.

I was originally going to call this blog-post something about keep walking the road: it would tie in to the blog’s title and I would be able to allude to Walk the Line. But time is perhaps easier talked about as a river that keeps on rolling. Dwelling on anger and the past would be like standing in a river and trying to catch my reflection. Think of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History:

“His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.”

If I stopped to be angry, the river would carry on without me and I’m just left tearing at things I can’t touch. Time is merciless and it will go on with or without me running my hands through phantoms.

Let go my anger and I’m left with the situation. I am in a bad position at a bad time to be in it, and that’s no joke. I am tremendously fortunate to have a strong support network in the form of my family. I genuinely dread to think, in today’s political climate, what my situation would be: unemployed in a strange city I just relocated to. Fortunate again that Britain’s rail network is still a bit robust and my parents have room. It could have been (and a few years back would have been) far worse.

There is probably a strain of thought that looks at my completely unattached position and thinks “Opportunity!” It may be deficit in my character or ambition but I don’t see this! Perhaps if I could drive or had been better at saving. To pre-empt the former criticism, I was pretty poor before I quit my job to move across country. The driving is a fair cop; I’m nervous behind the wheel and have made multiple excuses to avoid overcoming it.

It would be easy to pretend bravery: plenty more fish in the sea, world is my lobster, all the time in the world. Not to get too soppy but I am at a low ebb right now. There’s a ton of habits I have to unlearn, and things I have to get used to. I don’t have a direction to push in in the short-term, and long-term plans are right out. The questions I have to ask are very much of necessity. Things like: Where will I live? What will I do? An oddity of life is that when I start applying for jobs I will have to explain to complete strangers how I got to where I am. As I need to be in a position where I can talk briefly and painlessly about it, I have to take the time to heal, which truncates any further options. While jobs and commitments feel limiting they also grant us a context to dive in to. I genuinely did not like working for RBS but were I still there I would have work to occupy myself with. All I have now is time. Those friends I had are in Nottingham and Portsmouth (where I was born) but I’m not fond of either city; Nottingham in particular would be a bitter pill as memory would reach up to claw at me. I would drown in the river (figuratively).

Temperamentally I am the kind of person who likes to have a plan. I have no problem changing plans but I like to have one in the first place. Realistically reviewing my past plans I think a fair analysis would say that I might like having plans but I’m weak at executing them. A few years back I planned to do a Masters but I never did.

I was speaking with my father about this, and about Granta’s ’40 under 40’. I harbour ambitions to be an author and, vain devil that I am, I am of an age that I could just make the cut for the next tranche of selections if I catch the right eyes. My dad, being who he is, said that could be my plan. It’s not a plan though, there’s no step by step to follow, but I suppose it is a worthy goal.

I can at the very least set to work on something small and immediate. I have my writing; it’s not something to fall back on but something to occupy myself with as I try to find my place in the world. While in Salisbury I had been putting the finishing touches to This Grave Kingdom, my story of betrayal among the dead, and I had hoped to self-publish by the end of August. The mood in the air suites post-apocalypse, young adult female focused fiction. Whether it will be by the time I am finished is another matter.

Notice of Termination of Employment

Today I handed in my notice for my job and my house. After almost seven years I will be leaving Nottingham; I’m reflecting now because when the time comes to actually move I do not expect to have the time for it. I have known I was leaving for a few months but it was only in the past week that the knowing solidified into certainty and from there the necessity of giving my employer a final date. There’s a lot I could say, less that I could and little that I will.

I came to Nottingham to attend Nottingham Trent University to read English with Creative Writing. I am glad I went to University but I didn’t make the most of it which is something I will probably regret a good while yet. I went for the idea of an education for education’s sake and got precisely what I asked for in most regards. The English section I loved, the Creative Writing I grew to loathe. There is a cold brutality to a cultural enclave for those who without its barriers; the disparity between the attitudes of the two – the elite Creative Writing staff alongside the more freewheeling theorists – remains with me. Still, for Mahendra there was Tim. If anyone were to follow in my footsteps, a dubious route I would advise, to paraphrase I would advise to take the Literature classes, leave the writing workshops.

I collected my degree and went on to work. It was 2010, Britain was in the throes of economic crisis and I took the first job that was offered me. I never intended to stay at the Nottingham Collections Centre past Christmas; nearly four years later I retain much the same opinion of RBS as I did going in, but nuanced by my affection for the people I have worked with. It’s one of the characteristics, telling in my opinion, that there are strict legal limits on publishing opinion about your employer. There’s no frank tell-all to be hand, RBS is what it appears to be, a giant falling in slow motion.

The house I now live in is the sixth I have had in Nottingham and it holds no attachment for me. I’m sure my neighbour, who I can soundly denounce, will be glad for my leaving or will be for at least as long as it takes someone else to make breakfast in the kitchen. A strange and unlikeable person whose presence nonetheless lent texture to living here.

Nottingham has been as impassive to me as I to it. All surfaces, there is nothing here that I came to love beyond a small number of people who followed me, and a small number who found me here. On July 25 I will give over my pass, on 1 August I will hand in my key; I will be gone and hopeful not to return.