Is Sanity really worth it?

Non-fiction, Pulpit

If you check out the first few returns for a Google search on sanity you’ll find definitions setting a standard that most people – if they were really honest with themselves – wouldn’t meet. [That includes me.]

Wikipedia begins like this:

Sanity (from Latin: sānitās) refers to the soundness, rationality and healthiness of the human mind, as opposed to insanity. A person is not considered sane anymore just if he/she is rational. In modern society, the terms have become exclusively synonymous with compos mentis (Latin: compos, having mastery of, and mentis, mind), in contrast with non compos mentis, or insane, meaning troubled conscience. A sane mind is nowadays considered healthy both from its analytical -once called rational– and emotional aspects.[1] Furthermore, according to Chesterton,[2] sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies narrowness and brokenness.”

My emotional mind is completely wasted. Like drunk, like improperly utilised, like dead, like anything “unsound”. But I have what I like to think is a decent grasp of some analytical and rational processes. Rationality tells me an amount of uncertainty is probably necessary for humans, given the physical limits of our mental experience. I mean I can analyse my way out of a bad place, but I can’t always stop myself from getting into a bad place. So I’m not strictly speaking sane, but I’m not strictly speaking insane either.

I can work out that the world is not arranged ideally or perfectly, not yet anyway. The only sense in which the current state of affairs is perfect is the sense in which it promises perfection, in other words: supposing that the world is developing into an inevitably perfect state. While that would entail a sort of perfection, the process of reaching a more complete perfection would necessitate our not already being perfect.

Enough with the “perfection” already.

The point is, we probably don’t need to be sane.

My rational mind does the best that it can, which is truly impressive given the sharknado my emotional self forms at regular intervals. However, this is insufficient – according to a lot of these definitions – to properly declare myself sane. “I tried real hard” doesn’t make the cut.

But I suspect that I’m not alone in this sort of experience. I suspect that many, if not all of us, suffer from excessive emotional instability. Why? Again, because the world is not perfect, and nor is society. We people, we citizens, don’t have any reason to be permanently emotionally fulfilled. Emotional fulfillment, unless based on lies and therefore vulnerable to the revelation of truth, is a temporary thing. It helps to give the human and probably the animal a more substantial and driving sense of purpose. But it does not give us sanity. Not permanence, not absolute stability.

You can put sanity on a scale and then we all have a bit of it. That seems much more egalitarian than the paradoxical black and white of complete instability versus complete stability. We are human. We are neither entirely chaotic nor entirely ordered. We’re in a state of constant change and flux. We do as well as we can.

I reach a point here where I wonder whether trying to put on that semblance of total sanity is really worth it. Wouldn’t it be better if we all exhibited a tempered level of insanity? Or at least if we stopped pretending that our bullshit is sane while someone’s else’s bullshit is insane? We’re all a bit of both.

I’m not sure what the upshot of this would be. Primarily less worrying. If – in your own mind – you’re less concerned about other people around you being incomprehensibly strange, nor are you worried about them seeing you as the same, then maybe you feel better about the world. This is assuming you agree that other folks are ultimately like you. Not so much in the details, but in certain core motivations that effect everything they do. Plus some fundamental details that are pretty easy to understand and compare.

Motivations: set 1. survival types, eating, drinking, sleeping, keeping away from danger; set 2. seeking happiness, pursuing one’s purpose, drinking a lot, eating a lot of chocolate or whatever, having a family, protecting loved ones; set 3. seeking knowledge and absolute perfection, completeness, the fulfillment of purpose.

Details: well, the almost universal appreciation of some sort of alcohol, some sort of chocolate, some sort of caffeine, a kind of exercise, a kind of clothing style, music genre(s), the big and clear ways in which a lot of people pursue their basic motivations.

You might be a teetotaler, but if you pushed yourself maybe you could still understand the alcoholic falling out of the bar and singing “Death Letter”, because maybe you like blues too, and maybe when you feel sad you run 8 miles instead of drinking 8 pints, or you spend 8 hours on tv shows or video games. You know their feelings, you know the need for a consuming, even dominating distraction from sadness and fear.

Everyone, given the time and comfort to think, can work out how everyone else feels and why.

We’re all in the dubious space between sanity and insanity. We’re all here together, someone dancing on the bar, someone doing tequila shots, someone reading in the corner, someone smoking outside, someone doing coke in the toilet. I mean it doesn’t have to be as sinister as that but I’ve always thought of a bar as quite a homely place so it’s a first port of call for this sort of metaphor.

We, humans, are not going to be perfect for a very long time. We won’t even be humans when we’re done. Humans are by definition not perfect. By definition, not sane. We’re a brilliant species but we don’t have to be everything. We don’t have to pretend that we have it all. We don’t. We have a lot of good stuff, but there’s always more to get. And that’s not a problem. That’s not a failing. It’s just the universe, God if you like, unraveling itself or its plan. [seriously yo, religious or not: that works]

So with sanity, you really can’t expect to be in logician-HAL-chessmaster mode all the time. We’ll go off on tangents, we’ll struggle to maintain composure when someone farts. We’ll get coffee and smoke and drink, even when we shouldn’t, because it feels like we need it, and sometimes feeling just overcomes you. You don’t have to like it, maybe you actually shouldn’t like it. But fuck it’s what your body does and you have to deal with it even as it’s changing you. And that’s not going to go away for anyone until we evolve out of it or die. Until then, it’s the animal side of us saying “remember where you came from – it’s not that long ago you left there”. And damn right it should make us remember. It’s still there. It’s not gone until it’s gone.

Now I just wanted to make myself feel a bit better about the madness in my life at the moment, but the only way I can really do that is if I put a hand out to whoever you are, offer to buy you a pint and talk about the details on your own journey through things too. Writing around the houses, that’s the first step in the process. Maybe you’ll read this and have a good chuckle. Linking a really good selection of Fightclub quotes put out by the Minimalists blog, that’s somewhere in the process as well. I mean at least it gets you thinking. [as though you’ve not already seen that film 20 times, still the quotes do deserve some serious time on their own. The book is good too, if a tad depressing.]

Why I don’t write, but will.

Non-fiction, Pulpit

My output on here isn’t especially regular. I thought I’d do something to explain that, but also something to address issues around “Writers’ Block” that must effect a large part of the authorial community at one time or other.

The short answer is: we stop seeing the point. Feels like your brain is empty and you just can’t summon anything up or whatever. Well generally it’s acutely expressed for me when belief in my writing fails. I can’t summon up anything because I’ve already decided my ideas are pointless, not worth expressing because they will not be read or they will not be understood. Or maybe they just aren’t good enough. And that thought, that fear, kills the writing process before it starts. You can’t go into a session thinking your work is nothing, because then it will be nothing. Simple enough right?

So how do we break this cycle: well, acquiring belief in the self is a livelong battle for probably most people. Even narcissists can worry that they don’t look perfect enough to fuck themselves. Therefore we have to look outside of the self. Sometimes you just can’t rely on that interior, almost spiritual well of inspiration and knowledge working without outside input. Basically, go and talk to people. Find a friend, find someone in the café or at the bar who looks interesting, or hell go on a forum or facebook. It’s so easy with the internet, we really have no excuse. Start a discussion, start an argument if you have to. Make it about something interesting – trolling is too easy and probably won’t get your inky juices flowing, just those other juices – and try to put the time limit on for around half an hour. The participation of others will probably fill you up with some sort of fervour that you can direct into writing.

Next step that also applies generally: even if you don’t think it’s good enough, write anyway. Editing is a thing. You can modify, correct, improve later. Once you have an idea, how well you write it isn’t important. People say you should plan first, well, with word processors you can write first and then do a plan with your first edit. I think it’s called “drafting”. People forget this, I forget this especially. At the beginning of a piece, if you’re struggling, sometimes it can just be about “content creation”. Not even anything good just something essentially coherent.

I forget that on WordPress you can alter and edit anytime you want. Now, if I had a wider readership that might become more obvious. But I don’t think even then it would need to become a problem. Not if you’re happy to read me anyway. I was worried – by all the “best of so and so…” posts on my reader – that no-one edited after posting. But it’s a function available. We should use it. The world, information, opinions, expressive capacity, change all the time.

This is not a platform of books. This is, surprisingly enough, a very well-built tool for conducting discourse. So many people, even the overlords of WordPress themselves, have forgotten that. We shouldn’t just be prising the perfect posts that make one or a few salient points and have them metaphorically sing like angels. We should also prise posts that spawn other coherent posts in response, ones that spawn huge chains of thought in the comments boxes. We should be encouraging eachother to talk more, discuss more, elucidate our points of view so we can all improve. Surely there’s a way of highlighting those places where actual discussion happens as opposed to the written equivalent of shouting and pats-on-the-back?

I mean if we were all labouring in that sort of atmosphere of interaction I bet it’d be a lot harder to get writers’ block. Admittedly, individual posts could get pretty casual in their vocabu-grammar. But I like to think nuance and careful expression would automatically earn their own respect and approval too. Emoticons and text speak didn’t wipe out language, guys. Posts of singing angels will never die. Unlike Esperanto.

But back to this blog in particular – I’m far too good at tearing apart my own advice and ideas. For years – and I think I’ve actually been on here for years now – that has been the bane of my attempts at producing higher volumes of interesting content. Including pictures. I talk myself out of things before anyone even knows I’ve considered them!

Still, I have some confidence in the method described above. Interaction and an amount of well-placed foolhardiness can break us out of our dark patches. It makes sense. I shouldn’t even have to say it, to myself or anyone. But I do have to remind myself. So this is me reminding you too. And I’ll probably be throwing out some more poems sometime soon.

By the way, in the spirit of the above, I might be editing this (wait and see if I label the edits or not) and I’d love to do some of that discussion thang. Although, after probably a couple months of inactivity, I’m not expecting much.

The Gender Slider

Non-fiction, Pulpit

A nice n’ weird one on sexual identity today. For reference, here’s a recent article by the guy I’ll talk about and on the same topic.

Back when I was in school we had a sort of networking skills club for 17-18yr olds that held regular lectures by various big names. One of these was Peter Tatchell*, an LGBT+ rights campaigner, and I remember him suggesting something like a scale of gender. That’s in fact the main thing I took away from his lecture, the idea of a scale. It made a lot of sense to me at the time. My philosophical mind inclines towards variables and numerous peculiarities: I find a scale’s better for describing most things rather than a supposedly objective categorical divide.

So what does that actually mean?

Well, in the case of gender it’s saying there’s a long line that probably has a hetero female mindset at one end and a hetero male at the other. Everyone is somewhere on that line. They all have a peg on it, like a moving point on a measuring scale, a pointer that focusses the gaze on a particular number of centimetres. Each person chooses – to a greater or lesser extent – where that pointer goes on the line. Everyone is bisexual.

It’s saying that for everyone gender is fluid and changeable. That no-one is set-in-stone hetero, homo, bi-pan-omnio. Actually, although the line doesn’t necessarily say it, that you can make yourself attracted to anything. People fuck sheep and cars, it shouldn’t be so difficult therefore to build enough desire to fuck a human you’d normally ignore.

I’ve not seen whatever science there is on it, but I’m not convinced by the argument that genetics has much to do with gender preferences: that people are born one way or the other. Hetero or homo, it’s usually said. I have good reason to think any science that supposedly supports writ-in-stone gender has been misinterpreted.

Let’s step out for a moment to consider what sort of gender we’re talking about: it’s the progressive, lefty kind i.e. a person’s sense of their femininity, neutrality, or masculinity, and of their sexual preferences. It’s the kind that lets a male adopt character traits and lifestyle choices we traditionally link with females, and vice-versa. A sort where the description “A broader statement of gender identity, rather than simple statement of sex organs.” makes sense.

I think any science that says gender is not usually variable in this way is wrong because, basically, if genes aren’t smart enough to stop men ejaculating when they’re just having a wank, why should they be smart enough to stop a man enjoying sex with another man, or having his prostate massaged. If the clitoris doesn’t shut off just because there’s no penis nearby, why should it shut off because of a woman’s tongue, or a foreign finger? There’s nothing biological about it except that the pleasure-providing parts of our organs are the biggest prostitutes ever. They’ll accept anything for a bit of release.

We stop them with our minds. You know, like with either sex having a wank, it’s a matter of what stimulates you. What gets your blood going. And that isn’t something particular. I mean if you want proof, take a trip over to 4chan /d to see all the weird shit to which people have acclimatised their libido. Pretty sure you’re not born with an inclination towards hardcore porn too. Like when you’re a baby or a kid, I imagine most would be pretty disconcerted by what they’d see. Not really born a fan. It’s all what you tell yourself you like.

Now there are clearly some areas where sex organs and chemical balances – the biologically male and female factors – can effect behaviour. Menstrual cycles and pregnancy would be obvious examples of things men generally just won’t and can’t go through, no matter how feminine they feel. And women generally won’t have everything associated with being able to impregnate maybe 30% of the humans you come across. So those are parts of being a biological female or male that sets a line of objective difference between the two. But people can take hormones to acquire the chemical balance of other genders, and it’s only in the most extreme biological sense in which there can be the near-unchangeable difference of organs. Even there people can choose neutrality – they can have all but their pleasure-givers shut off or removed.

Perhaps more importantly however, it what we’ve already said: sexual desire and stimulation can come from any direction, and you can learn to be stimulated by certain people, objects, activities. A lot of human brain activity is about connection and association so it’s not that difficult to imagine we can re-wire ourselves along what you might call ‘unusual’ lines. Again I mention there are people who have sex with their cars, amongst other things.

The human mind is an incredibly powerful thing: it can exercise control over its emotional responses to given stimuli. The only problem is, once it’s developed a selection of emotional responses to something, it’s going to be pestered by those same responses when trying to change them. This is how we get people so devoted to certain causes, they just become so caught up in the emotional cycles related to their ideas and preferences. This is how we get alcoholics and drug-users. I mean scientifically it’s all chemicals anyway, right? It’s no major news that we can influence how those chemicals move, when they move, which ones move.

I’m saying it’s still the scale. I’m saying we can build whatever mental structures and landscapes we want. In that sense, you know, there’s no major difference between a human with one physical set-up and another. Obviously the physico-biological make-up influences things. Losing legs for example is still relevant and will result in a change of your emotional responses to things. But we’re creative. We are allowed to build alternatives. We can construct false breasts and balls as much as false legs and blades. We are allowed to make these changes to ourselves, because at our core there is no religious or scientific rulebook that tells us what we’re allowed to do. The only limitation is literally what we can imagine and force into our realities.

Do you think a medieval horseman could ever have imagined a hovercraft or a plane? Barely, in unfulfilled fevre-dreams. And yet here we are, a thousand or so years later, with those fevre-dreams fulfilled.

So I’m saying let that quite legitimate idea of a gender scale fill your mind with possibilities rather than anger or whatever. It still gives you all the control. It still gives you the ultimate decision at any and every time. Fear of the possibility that you could become…well, whatever you want, probably isn’t a good thing is it? I mean it’s still what you want – it’s not like you’re one of Douglas Adam’s ultra-evolutionary beings that randomly changes it’s fundamental nature and structure roughly every ten minutes. You know, in comparison to being one of those things, being able to work to become more or less whatever you’d want sounds pretty good. No?

Anyway, I obviously came to believe in this scale thing and it’s done wonders for my, well, life. Let’s not get any more specific than that.

Sounds like bullshit but it’s gold, honestly. Check it out.

*to be honest he seemed and seems like a bit of a twat, but given his life experiences and the sort of campaiging he does, it’s probably acceptable. We need some twats to have the absolute confidence to push socially strange subjects into the public consciousness http://petertatchell.net/

Petty Revolutions

Non-fiction, Pulpit

“You’re gonna wake up one morning and know which side of the bed you’ve been lying on.” Is a quote.*

I’ve finally got to the frame of life where I have to write. Sickened beyond capacity of the inevitable sentiment that if I don’t do art enough I’m not an artist. Fine, I’ll accept it. You can have the art. I don’t want it anyway.

There’s only so many brilliant young somethings you can read about as a disenfranchised twenty-two year old before you lose it. I want to be able to join Louise in saying I’m like forty-something. I’m experienced.

I want to make anyone with half a brain look and say I’ve had more than enough time to get performing. I want people to look at my artistic life and say I’m lazy. I want people to know, like I do, that I should’ve made a start the moment I could write. That the one national poetry competition for twelve year olds wasn’t enough. I want people to realise that every year of your life is an experience you can and should communicate to inform and entertain, like they should’ve said in an exam question somewhere. “Inform and Entertain around the subject of panda nipples”. With the internet you don’t even need to use your own experiences for performance, you can basically just hijack everyone else’s.

I am not still young. It is not okay.

You don’t need Microsoft and Adobe to write and edit. You’ve got apache and gimpshop. You don’t even need them because you can thieve a Sharpie from Morrisons and scribble on smooth public surfaces. You don’t even need that because you can walk up to someone and introduce yourself like chuggers, muggers and beggars do not.

Teenagers are bringing out the new wave of Grime.^ Some of them not even out of school and still making significant record or publicity deals. Meanwhile what the fuck am I doing? Why am I not being written about in Vice and Dazed? I mean Grime is basically fucking open mic. I mean they calls themselves MCs, what more do you want? Pretty artworks and a beatbox called Echo? Alright. I’ll get it. I’ll start mixing fucking White Stripes tunes on audacity and call it Cheesy McFlapsface. I don’t know. Art. Art is going to happen.

Seriously though look at these kids. They’re fantastic. I mean it’s not exactly my sector being as I’m basically a white suburban punk¬ of one kind or another. An aspiring anarchist. I’d call them out on accidental misogyny and proper game in equal measure but maybe that’s part of why I’m not where they are. Or haven’t been where they are. Different discourses work at different times, and there’s plenty of room in paradise folks. We can all get there if we try. Though I guess we’d all rather get there before than after death. Even this morning there was a programme on about Constable essentially saying people loved him most after he died. So many people have to face – or not face – that. Look at the 27 Club for one thing.

That must be one of the biggest issues facing down artists and radicals everywhere. What if I’m not my job, what if I can quit, but then, when I do…I’m not successful enough. What if I’m a starving artist like forever and only get famous after I die? What if the work all comes to nothing that you can see or use to make you feel better about the endless peregrinations of existence?

Well, if that, then you didn’t sell yourself hard enough. You should’ve done that pelvic thrust with a little bit more energy. Cos kids, the world is what we make it, and we can make anything.

All of our celebrities, adored stars and key societal influencers (thinking more behind the scenes there) worked fucking hard to get where they are, but as part of that they worked to ignore expectation and routine. They levelled their sights on what they really needed and started cutting away the weed and dross surrounding it, all the fucking mess we’re sold by leaders and advertisers to make shit smell like roses. It doesn’t matter how it smells. Shit is shit. It has only a select number of uses, mostly involving its being destroyed or otherwise broken up to help make something better.

And you don’t need to be sitting out in some Brazilian jungle or up on Machu Picchu to become a Guevara or write a Stones song. You’ve got everything you need right where you are, it’s just you might occasionally need to travel one way or the other to realise it’s there. Like when you can’t find the remote because you’re sitting on it.

So forward this blog has to go, and all that follows from it. We need those photos to finally get here. Videos! A new website build! I’m gonna have to learn programming languages! Fuck. Ah well, it’s all for the art.

*I read it as a sort of title for “collection by Mark Jackson” in a Dazed&Confused back issue. Think it was number five. It had beautiful androgynous people 🙂

^http://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/blog/the-square-novelist-teenage-crew-future-of-grime

¬ “white suburban punk” epitomised for me in this song, which really deserves a post of its own https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoF_a0-7xVQ

Frogs Legs and Dragon’s Teeth

Non-fiction

It’s the title of a Bellowhead song, but forgetting that, it’s a story.

When I was at school at Brentwood in Essex – a poshish school for people who wanted to be able to become richish people – we started a literary magazine called the Black Frog.

The youngest writer for it did this really quite simplistic story about a football game but fuck me if it wasn’t an excellent little story. Didn’t discount it for it’s simplicity: it talked about emotions in an honest and accessible way and made for about 3-5 minutes of solid entertainment. This was a story by some 12 year old or something, whose main character was called John Jackson and played football. And it was good.

That magazine, in the year that me and the kids presided over it, gave birth to significant and honest writing talent in a bunch of private school kids who should’ve been playing video games and studying Latin. Or skiing internationally. It was a beautiful thing.

The name came from a probably incorrect story I heard about “Brentwood” being translated from old English or Saxon or whatever into the modern English “Frog Wood”. Of course it’s more likely Burnt Wood, since things like charcoal burning used to be a significant industry and so that’d be a better reference point than a high concentration of frogs.

Didn’t matter. Everyone liked Black Frog enough to pick it as our name.

After the storm to get an issue out at open day though, not much really happened. Not so far as I’m aware. There just weren’t enough people interested in organising it onward, because basically it was in a private school known for grades and sports. Some pissy little rag full of childish dribbling wasn’t going to impress anyone except the English staff. And to be honest most of them seemed pretty underwhelmed.

It was like everyone knew that after our year there just wasn’t the longevity in it. There weren’t the students. It was a student mag see, even if we had a presiding teacher helping us to get the money and the publishing date. Without keen and real kids doing it, no-one was going to assemble under the banner. So it just faded away into the desperation for Oxbridge training, required reading, homework and A-level prep. Stuff that would get you to uni and maybe some high payed job, but that did fuck all for your craft. Barely anything for your soul.

That taught me: if you don’t go and drag people out of the shit-filled foxholes they’re hiding in, you’ll never get what you want. You’ll always be serving. Serving people who themselves are enslaved by some idea of another person’s wealth. It’s a mess. And for a moment with something so stupid and small as a magazine meaninglessly named Black Frog, we put a cut into it. We threatened it with change. But as we left the mess drowned and swallowed that threat hole and, as far as I know things just changed back.

Same happened with the uni writing rag. A serious publication “the Parturient”, and one that I had much less to do with organising beyond the name. It was an expression of our hope and joy as first years in a completely new learning institution (New College of Humanities) but as the years went on people realised they had to get their degrees or go. A labour of love, the first and a few second years kept it going to at least fourth issue I think before it was wrapped up, same way as the Black Frog, through lack of participation. No-one cared anymore. So it just disappeared, like it had never happened in the first place.

The new cohorts, you see, they only looked at it as a notch on their CVs. They weren’t in the meetings at the beginning where we read our hearts out to a loving community of co-authors. They didn’t stay back for the Christmas viewing of Inception that went into one of the most casual and memorable parties I’ve ever been at. They just saw the dying embers of the results of those brilliant early days, and no-one’s yet had the strength to guide them toward something different.

They got the arse end of our happy beginning, where we were told or realised, harshly, that uni wasn’t different. It was just an A-level plus that gave you so much more freedom and so many more exams. So at the end you work out those after-school moments of free expression, creative freedom, drunken drugged sexed liberty and licenciousness, were probably not going to be permanent. Instead they’d be the isolated uni years, and the rest of life would be working harder and more “passionately” than school ever was, now at earning a wage. At surviving on your own. At kids who’d eventually do the same. At retirement.

And that was adulthood. A little death.

So I left in 2nd year and now I’m trying to set up this site, this blog, this magazine. The newest attempt at using the skills I’m supposed to have, to create, inform, emancipate. Dragon’s teeth in defence of individual freedom. A roar of fire in the face of liquid employment drifting along the aqueduct to retirement.

A voice as absurd and powerful as frogs legs in sauce:

Bullshit.