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Posts Tagged ‘angst’

barcode

Here’s something to think about. You’ve pushed your trolley round the supermarket, done the big shop, got a pile of stuff and now you’re going to put it all through the checkout. You say hello to the checkout guy/girl, they take the first item, scan, then slide it down to where you’re waiting to bag it up.

This is where things become interesting.

You don’t want to look like a dope, so you pick the item up and bag it quick. The next item comes at you a little faster than the first, but you get it in the bag before the third item is coming at you. But the third item is a little faster still, and this time you don’t quite get it in the bag before the next item’s coming at you. You speed up, the checkout person speeds up too. What kind of game is this? Who does this checkout jerk think they are, pushing you like this?

Well, it’s easy enough to understand, once you see it from their point of view. The checkout guy/gal doesn’t want to look like a dope either, so the faster you pick up that first item, the faster they’re going the scan the second. The faster you go, they faster they think you’re expecting them to go. Maybe they’re thinking you’re a grumpy old git hissing at them while they struggle to find the barcode on that packet of crisps, or maybe the barcode won’t scan at all, or maybe the machine’s playing up today.

Not a word’s been said, but both of you are struggling now with negative perceptions of one another, both feeling threatened, and all simply because nobody wants to look stupid.

Insecurities start with negative perceptions, not just of others but of oneself. I can be a bit slow, especially when it comes to thinking on my feet, so when others are rushing about making decisions, or talking fast at me and expecting me to pick up complex information, I feel vulnerable, threatened, and this awakens the ego whose job it is to put me back on the pedestal of my supposed competence, and from which I feel I’m slipping. Ego tries to make us feel safe by making us feel strong. But mostly it ends up making us appear either mean or stupid.

Here’s another illustration. I called into a coffee shop, asked for a coffee. It cost £1.75. (Pay attention now) I offered the girl a fiver but she’d no change. So I pieced together £1.75 in bits and bobs, including coppers, from the corners of all my pockets, and gave it to her. She kept my fiver and gave me change (which I’d thought she was short of). I’ve no idea how much change she gave me, exactly, but it seemed a lot. I was now very confused and queried the fact she’d kept my fiver, even though I’d just given her the £1.75, and what was all this change, and was that right, and could she explain it to me?

She looked a little nonplussed, and gave me my fiver back. This didn’t feel right either, but I was also feeling self conscious and stupid for not getting it by now , so I walked away with my fiver, plus the change. As I went I made a rough assessment of the change, and it amounted to well over £5.00, but some of this was mine to begin with, so whatever the nature of the misunderstanding here, I felt sure I was considerably in profit.

I returned to the till to say I felt there was still a mistake, and could we start again? At this point however, the Maitre D became involved and, from the sourness of her expression I guessed she thought I was attempting to take advantage of the girl. I did the best I could, returned all the change that was in my hand – hers plus whatever unknown quantity was my own, but kept my fiver. I’ve still no idea if I actually paid for that coffee, and if I did, how much I’d paid for it, but I had the feeling throughout my drinking of it that I’d overpaid, and yet, paradoxically, that my custom wasn’t welcome any more because I’d tried to pull a fast one.

The girl had been a little slow, and so had I, neither of us with bad intentions, but the assumption of maleficence on the Maitre D’s part, or at least my imagining of it turned a quiet coffee into an embarrassing ordeal and a resentment of the Maitre D’s ugly cats-arse mouth which even now I’m struggling to expunge from memory. I was polite throughout, Ego wouldn’t let me get away without feeling a fool, and without making me promise (to myself) I would never frequent that establishment again – actually the coffee wasn’t that great – gave me indigestion – and the Maitre D was a real sour-puss, so this won’t be a problem at all.

But we can see how quickly the tension mounts as soon as we feel vulnerable and lose our basic trust in the good intent of others. To live well and happy lives we have to assume the other person is like us, wanting to do the right thing, wanting to help when needed, and maybe spread a little happiness along the way. Nor must we feel threatened by our own shortcomings. (I never was any good with money)And we have to assume that if we’re struggling, and we ask for help, others will be big hearted enough to help without strings or questions.

You might say, however, approaching each day with a naive trust in everyone’s best wishes makes us vulnerable to the con-merchant. But if someone cheats me, even though it’s obviously my loss, it’s not really my problem. My problem is how not lose touch with myself, or lose balance when things start to fall apart and my abilities are tested.

This isn’t easy of course when every day our email inboxes are infested with suspicious junk that wants us to “click here”, when scammers ring us up at home claiming to be from our bank in order to steal our money, or when the car insurance renewal notice arrives and you query it because it seems expensive, and they instantly knock off the two hundred quid they were trying to cheat you out of anyway. It’s not easy when even the State takes your children and saddles them with a lifetime of eye-watering debt because they wanted to get a university education. So, yes, I admit, it’s even more tempting than ever to capitulate and retreat to a defensive position, crouch behind the barricades, simmering with anger or quivering in fear.

Except,…

How can we live like that?

If at least in our every day interaction with the people we meet, we try to assume good intent, if we assume that should we struggle, others will help, and for no other reason than it’s the human thing to do, then we’re each pushing back the tide that sometimes feels as if it’s going to overwhelm us, swallow us down and wash us up as yet more zombified pawns, blind and amoral instruments of the machine.

So,..

Starting with the checkout tonight. Pick up that first item really slow, bag it like there’s all the time in the world, and see what happens.

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man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885Whenever we observe ourselves asking this question, of our selves, we can take it as a sign our energy is low and our brains so far out of our heads we’ve lost our vital perspective on life and begun to expect something back from the world other than what we’ve already got.

When we write online it means we have found the conduit to traditional publishing closed, so we direct the stream of our frenetic output to wherever the words will stick. We keep a blog, we put stories up on Wattpad, and Smashwords and Feedbooks. And the pressure that would arise in our hearts, were we denied any platform for our work, as in the old pre-Internet days, diminishes. We feel temporarily sated. Thus we answer our own question: we write primarily for ourselves.

Or rather we should.

The temptation with online media however is that we can all too easily get hung up on the statistics the media providers provide us with. How many people have read me today? How many followers do I have? How “influential” is my blog? How many messages/comments/likes? How many downloads of Langholm Avenue, of Push Hands, of Between the Tides? And how much more attention might I attract if I wrote one more essay/poem/blog-entry/novel?

Of course all these questions can be reinterpreted as meaning: does anybody know or care I’m here at all? Such existential angst is lurking pretty much at the bottom of us all, and whether we write or not, it is always through some form of expression, verbal or visual we test our status in the world. We push at the world and observe its reaction. And learn from it.

Before the advent of social media, we were restricted in our potential audience to the small circle of people whom we actually met day to day. And to this circle we would brag, and flirt and preen, and tell our anecdotes in order to feel liked and accepted by the degree of warmth and humour and friendship we received back. Now of course, our potential audience is global. We can brag and preen and flirt with the whole world if we so choose. And if we do so choose, it will drain us to a dried up husk. It will make us feel only the more stupid and small, the exact opposite of the dream to which we aspire; the dream of wholeness.

I do not use my Facebook account in spite of Facebook’s periodic nagging for me to do so. But I do not understand how anyone would think the minutia of my life worth keeping up with and see in Facebook only a mask that would allow me to present a side of myself that is fictional, aimed solely at attracting admirers, as a movie star attracts fans. I might post pictures of myself in aviator sunglasses perhaps, while driving my sport’s car, or while climbing a mountain , or while diving into an azure sea from the deck of a yacht while a blonde haired long legged girl looks on adoringly. But I would not post my morning face, my toilet habits, a picture of the cupboard under the sink where I keep my junk, nor of the hairs that habitually block the plughole of my bath, for these are not attractive things and add nothing to the fiction of the attractive, likeable, followable me.

In attracting admirers, we become temporarily reassured of our existence and our possible importance in a life that can seem otherwise empty and meaningless. Thus my three hundred followers can be interpreted as making me a more important person than the man with only fifty followers, while the man with ten thousand followers makes me feel rather inadequate to the extent that I must comfort myself with reassurances that he is somehow cheating.

The brain, the thinking organ, is a fickle creature, lost in a moment, gone like a whippet into the forest, chasing shadows. We think this, we think that, but there is no longer sufficient part of us remaining, residing in the presence of our bodies, to actually feel the fact of our existence at all, and whatever the obscure fact of it is, not to mind it in the least. Indeed the only person we really need seek the approval of is our selves. And by our selves I mean the greater part of our selves, the part who is the watcher of our thoughts. Only there will we find our rest, our peace, and our permission to simply be.

If you follow this blog, then of course I write in the knowledge of signed up listeners and I appreciate your company. But the most important listener for the writer is that inner part of himself, without whose approval nothing he wrote would possess the necessary sincerity to make it worth anyone else’s reading.

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