Arghboodblughreugghhhh. Oh, the gurgle of throat-constricting anxiety on deadline.
Every week I get up early and make myself a cup of instant coffee, feed the cat and sit down on my purple velvet couch and write this column. Today my son is singing Spider Pig Spider Pig, does whatever a Spider Pig does. Well, you try coming up with a catchy intro with that going on.
If I get stuck, I go and have a really hot shower. Someone needs to invent a whiteboard in the shower. And trust me, I am painfully aware, as a writing tutor once told me, nobody wants to read about your sh**. Yet somehow I still convince myself someone out there does.
But not this week. I just can't write anything. I'm sitting here in a cold sweat. Help!
(Hey Murray, can you leave a few blank lines here? Are we allowed to do that? See, people? Here is some space! Write your own thing in here! Post modern!)
So, where was I? Oh, that's right. I'm still sweating. This is getting revolting. And I've still got 700 words to go.
I've tried to work out why I'm stuck. And I think it is because some commenter (love you more!) said my column last week was cynical clickbait. Which is kind of weird as, to be honest I can't write anything if I think anyone at all is going to read it. (Is anyone reading this? Who are you, my theoretical reader? And what are you doing in my head! I've got the X-Files theme as an earworm now) Frankly, none of this is helping with my anxiety. (Woohoo! 264 words) Last week I had a particularly bad case of l'esprit d'escalier - the poncey term for when you realise what you want to say when you are on your way out of the building. Because what I was trying to say was we expect kids to put on psychological armour - toughen up - and this comes with a cost. Some kids survive this fine, but others are broken. But strangely some people heard all sorts of other things like: "Single mothers ruin boys." Anyway, the reason I am telling you this - yes, you! Hi there again! - is that I'm not sure that you should be listening to what I say at all.
My dad really was right, when we would come home after a driving lesson not on speaking terms: "No one can teach you anything."
You know that Steve Martin sketch? He is doing stand-up, in front of a large crowd, wearing his white suit. He takes the microphone. "Okay, lets repeat the non-conformists' oath! I promise to be different! (large crowd repeats it) I promise to be unique! (large crowd repeats it) I promise not to repeat things other people say! (large crowd breaks into embarrassed laughter). I know I'm no Steve Martin, but the responsibility of thinking anyone is listening to me (repeat after me ... ) well, as I said, sweat. Montaigne said: what do I know? And he was the world's most famous essayist.
The thing is, even if I do occasionally get something right - even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day - I'm not sure you can tell anyone anything until they are ready to hear it.
There are proper psychological reasons for this. We form an identity as a defence (armour, again) and then we mistake this as being the truth. There is considerable resistance to anything which seems to challenge this truth, as it confronts our identity and can provoke existential anxiety (if I'm not that, then who am I? and woosh, down the rabbithole you go.) Okay, try this. If you could call yourself five years ago and had 30 seconds to tell yourself something, what would you say? Yes I know: "Buy Apple. Kill Trump." In my case: Take up meditation, buy classic investment pieces instead of quirky sequined boots. Get an arborist to trim the oak tree in front of the house or when there is a big storm it will topple down (I really loved that tree). Cuddle Spotty because you're not going to have him around for much longer.
Most importantly: don't be a dickhead. But would I listen? I'm not sure, because, you know, Groundhog Day. We have to keep falling in the puddle about a thousand times before we notice: oh, look, there's a puddle.
It's hard to have "vuja de" (trying to see the familiar with fresh eyes) until you are forced to, when the tree falls on your house.
I am not sure I would understand the lessons unless I had gone through all that pain first. "Darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life" thank you Robert Lowell.
No one else can do it for you. My dad really was right, when we would come home after a driving lesson not on speaking terms: "No one can teach you anything." The only lesson is to really, really, try to be conscious, this very minute of the utter, crazy miracle of being alive. And in my case, of having made it through another deadline. Woohoo! Except now I need another shower.