“You’re obviously a man in crisis.”
This was a friend’s response to my recent uptake of blogging. Both a fellow Irishman and karateka, he was giving me a lift home after training a few weeks ago. Over the course of our rather circuitous journey (he is a slave to his sat nav) he took it upon himself to cross-examine my motives for starting theClearOut.
“Why are you doing the blog?”
“Because I think I have a point of view worth sharing.”
“Okay. And why do you want to share your point of view?”
“Because I want to connect with people, I want to get them thinking.”
“And why do you want to do that?”
“Because I enjoy helping people open windows in their perception.”
“I try and introduce ideas and concepts that might get people thinking about their lives in a more enquiring and curious way.”
“Right. And why do you want to do that?”
And so the conversation continued until we eventually arrived at my house and I was able to escape the interrogation relatively unscathed. I knew my friend was just having a bit of craic (that’s fun, non-Irish readers!) but there was something very genuine at the heart of it. For film fans I felt like the protagonist in a classic Hollywood rite of passage/coming of age movie so flashes of Ethan Hawke/ Matt Damon/Richard Gere in their damburst moments from Dead Poets’ Society/Good Will Hunting/An Officer and a Gentleman kept screening in my mind’s eye – it was just a matter of time before I snapped and turned to the wise bully at my side, sobbing “I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to go! Waah-waah!”
As it happened, I maintained my composure and gamely countered his friendly jostling. But the simple truth is, he had a point. All the ‘why’ questions he subjected me to were about getting to the bottom line which was this – what’s the driver? What’s the prime mover? Or in acting terms, what’s my motivation? The conclusion he was nudging me towards was that I should be blogging or writing as an end in itself. Never mind anything else. Never mind stimulating anyone else. Never mind the high and mighty ideals. Just bloody do it because you enjoy it. Don’t focus beyond the doing of it. A typical Shotokan karate approach; direct and unapologetic. Shotokan as a style is often defined by its long, low stances and its linear lines of attack and defence. I have sometimes wondered if my attraction to ‘clean lines’ in my life has been informed by my dedication to karate or if I was attracted to karate because it afforded me the opportunity to physicalise my psyche through its dynamic geometry.
I believe we are constantly at war with ourselves as the struggle between reason and desire is campaigned across our subconscious. How I deal with that turmoil is probably paralleled in the dojo where anything less than facing your fear head on is considered – I hesitate to use the word failure – lacking in spirit. So I try to look directly at my failings, my weaknesses, my inabilities and ask where there is room for improvement. And I try to make the context less black and white. Don’t give in to the tendency to think only in the incredibly limiting terms of winning and losing, succeeding and failing. Think more that you are your own guardian and ask how well you have been serving yourself. For me this has become a key area of contentment and inner calm because it relates directly to patterns of behaviour and to dynamics of power and the ways we give and take it from ourselves. Here, I’ll try and clarify.
My friend’s conclusion was in my opinion, bang on. Get to the crux of things. Reduce it to motive and action. I am writing this blog for myself. Any impact beyond that is out of my control. I am writing because I enjoy it and I am discussing life, ideas, philosophies and coping mechanisms because that’s what I’m interested in. The blog helps me put form on those ideas and allows me the satisfaction of believing I’m engaging in something meaningful with friends and interested readers. Basically, as ever, it’s all about me.
This connects very neatly with an exchange I had with my youngest brother on his birthday the year before we left Ireland. At the time he seemed destined for a premature and potentially very unpleasant end. As a sixteen year-old, several years earlier, he had made a very conscious decision to fully immerse himself in a drug and drink fuelled hedonistic lifestyle that was his way both of reacting to his rural and parochial environment and also of paying tribute to a misconceived hippie legacy that he wished to emulate in the strongest possible terms. This choice led him on a very chequered path at home and abroad and involved many scrapes with the law, with strangers, and with family and friends. People were afraid of and unable to deal with his excesses. People who cared about him started to turn away. The ones who didn’t turn away were at a loss as to how best to help him. Interventions failed. Tough love failed. Soft love failed. He was doing his own thing regardless.
There was wide speculation that he was suffering from bipolar disorder. His inability to recognise boundaries may have been part of that. He certainly was frequently chemically imbalanced due to substance abuse. I had no sense that he had been ‘present’ in my company at any point over the preceding seven or eight years. It was upsetting but I felt powerless to do anything about it. My anxiety grew once I knew we were emigrating. There was a very real chance I wouldn’t see this guy again. There was a very real chance his misadventures would bring the curtain down early on his one-man show. I had seen judgement heaped on him to no avail. I’d seen him being challenged and questioned and queried with the same result. He’d been pussyfooted around endlessly in many quarters and that obviously only facilitated him more. The one thing of which I was most certain was that anything I had to say would most likely have no impact on him whatsoever.
What then, was the point of talking to him at all?
I did it for me. I couldn’t move to the other side of the world without letting him know that I loved him, that I wanted him to be well and that I would be the first person there for him if he decided to get clean. We sat in my car for forty-five minutes as I told him all of that. I told him I couldn’t believe anything that came out of his mouth while he was on drugs. I told him of my fears about the way he was living and where it might lead. And that really, was what it came down to. I didn’t want him to die and have to live with the guilt of never having reached out to him with non-judgemental compassion. I did it for me. I have no reason to believe he has any recollection of that conversation but it is the last time I spoke to him with real honesty. Within eighteen months of that conversation he was stopped at a European airport with a quantity of drugs sufficient to land him in prison for six years.
He is still in prison and at the time of writing I believe he is on a better part of his journey. I can’t really say more than that with any authority. I look back on that birthday conversation (which was essentially a monologue) and I am hugely relieved I left nothing unsaid. But ultimately it was a selfish act. I did it for me. I believe I served myself well.
Even though a film-crazy workmate assured me it was a ‘chick flick’, I am going to confess not only to going to see Silver Linings Playbook last week but also to really enjoying it. One moment above all reduced me to tears (like the big girl I am). The main character, just out of a mental institution where he was being treated for bipolar disorder, sees his functional, successful brother for the first time since before he was inside. The brother is anxious and tongue-tied and totally uncertain of where he stands and his awkward efforts to empathise are met with nothing but an intense stare and forbidding silence. Until our hero speaks. He keeps it simple and gets right to the crux of things. “Brother, I’ve got nothing but love for you.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. No shame. No judgement. Just love. Because it suits me.