The Year of Living Precariously

1024px-Adriaen_van_Utrecht-_Vanitas_-_Still_Life_with_Bouquet_and_SkullAutumn is probably the most evocative season for me. The smell of damp earth with its undertones of entropy, and the freshness and slight Arctic bite of the air is welcome reprieve after the humidity and pong of summer. In fashion terms, it’s my favourite time of year—being able to dust off and don my favourite coats after their heat-induced hibernation, yet without the need for those cumbersome layers demanded by the later stages of the year. It heralds a sense of gentle optimism, a sense of quiet possibility, the emergence of ideas for gestation over the introspective months of winter.

For the last twelve months or more, the Doc and I have been living on financial tenterhooks, month to month, unsure of whether or not we’ll be paid or indeed how much. It’s a tricky time, but it’s been going on so long now that we seem to have forgotten what any semblance of stability feels like, if indeed we had any stability to begin with. Precariousness, in a perverse way, has become our stability, removing us from the responsibilities of having to plan too far into the future or commit to anything substantial. Against such a backdrop, the looming fiscal strains of christmas and birthdays that previously filled me with such foreboding, seem somewhat less ominous this time around. Perhaps I will be singing a different tune come December. Or perhaps we’ve turned a corner and the outlook simply isn’t so bleak. Who knows? But as I strolled through Brockwell Park two days ago, wrapped in tweed, sipping a particularly good coffee, Child Two gurgling in the buggy and hurling pieces of marmite sandwich along the footpath, the wind tossing my matted hair about and filling it with a confetti of dry leaves, I felt—not content exactly, but just less fearful. A solace in the small predictable aspects of our life has woven itself into the fibres of my being, like the sound of the children’s morning TV programmes, the smell of toast, the slightly cloying alpine scent of laundry perpetually hanging in our flat, and the spider in the corner of the window pane who, not five inches from the top of my computer screen, seems to have become a rather unlikely companion for me, aptly named by Child One, Darkness. Life has a certain incessant drone to it that is, at times, suffocating and yet strangely comforting in its ability to distract from the great abyss that lurks at my heels, forever threatening to draw me backward into its dark, bottomless despair. This abyss, when I imagine it, is like any abyss I suppose: a great plunging expanse of darkness, a whirling maelstrom in space, opening up at my feet in a threatening vortex of nothingness. I imagine a fine metal thread connecting me to a small weight and the weight lurches forward and is sucked into the centre of this black hole, the velocity of it pulling me forward as my feet scramble to stay on solid ground. It’s a terrifying sensation and one which comes to me whenever I begin thinking too much about mine and the Doc’s future. Other times, I envisage the two of us trudging relentlessly across a scorched earth. Futureless…

You know. Comforting bedtime thoughts.

I started reading Karl Ove Knausgaard a few days ago and, aside from feeling as if someone crawled inside my head and articulated perfectly every thought I have ever had and so much more eloquently than I ever could, I found his comments about the passage of time particularly resonant. The spiralling anxiety brought forth by the prospect of being almost forty, then almost fifty and then before I know it, I’ll be sixty, and then seventy. Then that’s it. If I haven’t managed to achieve anything in the previous three decades, what makes me think I’ll prove any more effective in the next three? These sorts of thought processes are considered extremely counter-productive by many due to their inherent and debilitating negativity, and they’re right in many respects. I find they can be helpful if they encourage one to strive for more, drive you forward as it were. Certain levels of positive resistance however, are crucial, otherwise you run the risk of free-falling into that scary abyss I just mentioned.

Despite whatever moments of joy or tenderness I experience in my life as it is right at this point (in the #widn sense), there is a nagging desire in me to make something more of myself—”to write something exceptional” as Knausgaard puts it. To achieve something beyond my small existence, something that transcends the ineluctable cycle of birth, beauty, decrepitude, death and dust. Perhaps this is just arrogance. Sometimes I find it difficult to not view everything through the lens of some sort of giant, all-encompassing Vanitas painting.

Am I being bleak? Perhaps I should stop streaming from the Hannibal music website and buy myself a light box for the winter.

PS. It seems mitosis has occurred. As I write, Darkness’ twin has emerged from the web and is now attaching herself to my desktop. Clearly, I’ve been replaced by a more appropriate companion. Unable to live with such scorn, I fear some arachnicide maybe in order.

Painting by Adriaen van Utrecht—Still Life with Bouquet and Skull

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