Thursday, January 11, 2007

Solitary Refinement




















I have not spoken to a soul in four days. I am what you might call solitary. People like me come under a great deal of suspicion. I probably am mentally ill but for other reasons. In any case, I would be very unwise to even explore the possibilities of that since Hackney is the worst place in the country to be mentally ill in, apparently. I only put that ‘apparently’ in there because I seem to remember it’s not grammatically correct to end a sentence with a preposition and I don’t have time to reword the entire thing, or qualify the statement but you can look in the Hackney Gazette if you don’t believe me.
Recently I reread a lovely book called Solitude by Anthony Storr which was given to me a couple of years ago by my very lovely and highly sympathetic sister. It’s a book that helps you feel OK about the fact that most of the time you have no desire to speak to anyone and leave your friends to respond to a discombobulated harridan who claims to be an ‘answering machine’. I got one of those new multiple phone systems before I found out they caused brain damage. In my case the risk is probably low that they will make the slightest difference. The system is far too complicated to master so I only use the basic functions and the speaking clock circa 1935 voice acts as a very able gatekeeper. Most people hang up and some venture that they may have the wrong number and apologise profusely. Few leave messages.
Since this is likely to be my last winter in England I am trying to enjoy it. The mildness aids this process, the greyness does not. This is not why I am solitary or indeed, mentally ill. I am writing. I have been for the last ten months. My savings are almost exhausted and I have moments when I am so paralysed with the decision that I have made that I can’t undertake basic tasks. I have decided to move back to Australia after 25 years of living in London.
It is a terrible decision and I am gripped with fear about it, for days on end usually. I have not done my personal tax return. I hope my accountant is not reading this. I cannot seem to recall how it is done. This happens to me every year but I’ve normally remembered by September and now I’ve not only missed the self-assessment deadline but the cut-off for submitting online. I’m already formulating an appeal in my head for an extension which will be completely unnecessary because I owe no personal tax. It’s a simple form and I can’t fill it out.
I can still write though. Since it is the reason for all this personal upheaval it would be justification for suicide if I could not. It is probably the reason why I resent the obligation to fill out forms or do the washing up. I want my headspace to be occupied by nothing else but writing. I feel unsafe a lot of the time. I don’t mean I’m afraid to go out. Even though I live in Hackney and am a woman of advanced years, I think nothing of staying out until the early hours and taking the night bus home. London is a very safe city for a middle-aged woman. I mean, I feel like I am attached to the world as a consciousness by a very ragged and ancient rope which might snap at any time – like Ishiguro’s artist in the floating world. And you know I have massive trust issues, right?
I don’t know the first thing about psychology but I am reasonably certain that extra people in my life are probably not going to make it better. I have trouble enough coping with the ones that are there already. London is the best place to be if you want to be left totally alone. I doubt that I will get that luxury anywhere else unless I isolate myself geographically. In Australia that means dealing with snakes yourself. Not good.
They say you should write about what you know. I took this literally for a long time and wrote two novels based on my personal experiences. They weren’t autobiographies but situations distorted to reflect a particular point of view in a way that my favourite authors had done. For the last three years I’ve been working on my ‘Spain’ novel. I lived on the Costa Del Sol for a couple of years in the 90s and it took me a long time to find a perspective for the novel I wanted to write about it. Eventually I settled on a first person account from a male perspective.
It was surprisingly easy to come into contact with gangsters, drugs and bullfighters in southern Spain in the 90s and I wanted to write about it because it was both scary and fun. I knew it would be even more edgy if I cast the narrator as a younger man. Ben grew up as the only son of a single parent in Camden. He buys a bar with his divorce settlement and... crikey, the sodding potatoes have boiled dry - I have to go, sorry. I’ll finish this tomorrow…


Fabulous cartoon from www.markstivers.com

7 comments:

Reading the Signs said...

Good, because I want to read more. I am sorry this comes out of personal suffering, but the writing of it is so good. I am drawn to know more about the business of being solitary. And the Spain story.
I used to live round the corner from the Old Homerton Hospital. No, I reckon you wouldn't want to be mentally ill in Hackney.
Hope the sodding potatoes were ok to eat.

Ms Melancholy said...

Lovely Ms P - I'm glad you can still write.

I have occasional bouts of solitude and misery. I used to get quite depressed, actually, but thesedays I think of it as just a touch of melancholy. My first therapist told me that I should 'reach out and contact people' when I felt like that. I was sorely tempted to reach out and contact her, by placing my hands round her cretinous neck.

We do what we need to do.

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs. I can recommend 'Solitude'. There is a lot of guilt-tripping about wanting to be alone a lot of the time, as if it's unnatural. I think it's a crude construct by authorities who feel compelled to promote togetherness because they believe it makes individuals less burdensome to 'the system'. It is only true if you are alone when you would prefer company but can't get any.

Hi Ms M. I would not say that I am 'depressed' since a good nights sleep or nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc can turn me around completely. I have been quite angry lately though and a tad resentful. I have just written a play about murder and the novel is violent in places. I haven't written violence before so I'm not sure if I am doing so in order to process my anger or building an angry inner world in order to write violence. I'm not sure it even matters. Reasons, if they were ever needed, to avoid therapy - although I hasten to add that you sound like a very good therapist. Your early experience as a patient confirms my suspicion that a lot of therapists just spout simplistic little advice column gobbets. Apart from anything else, if you have ever tried talking through a problem with a friend you will know just how excrutiating it is for them and unhelpful for you. Best avoided.

Reading the Signs said...

I think it's because I'm not by nature solitary - in the sense that I think you mean it - that it so interests me. I have known very few who really are (needing substantial amounts of "alone time" is different, I think) and it does seem to represent a challenge to people. A bit like when someone says they don't want to have children.

Ms Melancholy said...

I think some therapists think they have to 'make people better', which means conforming to simplistic notions of psychological health. Your analysis is pretty damn good. I try to avoid those people. If you can find a good therapist, however, it can be a very liberating experience...

(And I'm not trying to convert you!!!)

That's so pants said...

Hi Signs. You are absolutely right. It is not easy for most people to accept a solitary person at this moment in time. There have been times in history when it was more socially acceptable - but only for the most wealthy. I believe that economic imperatives influence the way our very sophisicated society has suddenly decided that to be alone equals social exclusion which is regarded as a very bad thing.

That's so pants said...

Lovely Ms M. If ever I felt that I needed a professional to talk to, I would beat a path to your door. You seem like someone who completely knows what they are talking about.