I think the majority of my mental activity has always been unconscious and affective – below the level of articulated thought. My conscious mind seems pretty vacant. Yet, somewhere in the building, the incubator of bad ideas, the engine of poor decisions, is purring away.
That locked-up interior isn’t a void. It’s an attic or a basement of mortification, storing all my humiliating crimes, all my base and shameful urges and the grubby incidents they’ve caused: a history of the inappropriate and the slightly indecent.
I’m desperate to put all this behind me, but, ironically, if you’ve blinded yourself to the very existence of the subconscious, it’s difficult to police the escape of these ideas and their transformation into habits. The bad things creep out through the sewers, seep into the ground water. They are well integrated, deeply ploughed into the soil that sustains thoughts and behaviours. You take them for granted; you start from their premise. Your theories are predicated on them, and thus take on their shape and proportions.
Through the incidents I’ve talked about recently, and a hundred other infelicities and minor, yet ignominious, defeats, I’d shaken my confidence in myself. Right at that point of adolescence when you are most vulnerable, because you’re trying to construct a mature personality, I’d lost trust in myself. I feared repeating these squalid acts, these tedious impositions on people. Maybe everyone has these wobbles at that age.
Many of my cringing memories involved poor, exasperated Lulu, the girl I pursued for many years, from whom I was too stupid to take no for an answer, because we got on well. I thought I was showing fidelity to something.
My persistence forced her into searing rejections, which I responded to with equal ferocity, thus further undermining my probity, which I’d then attempted to regain by being the first to apologise. On occasion, I found myself literally on my knees before her, clutching the hem of her skirt, begging for forgiveness. With good reason (which makes it even more humiliating.)
Next I tried to dismantle my former character, and reconstruct a personality Lulu would love. This was, predictably, a dismal failure. It just made me weird and erratic, as I tried to maintain alien and unsustainable affectations. And this further undermined my sense of self.
God, I encroached on Lulu so much! I’m surprised she didn’t throttle me (more often).
Then I felt belittled by my own actions and words. I began to doubt the justice of any position I maintained. I began to assume that I’d be universally condemned, that I infuriated everyone, and they despised me. Of course, I resented this deeply, and stubbornly argued against it, hoping to prove to myself that I was right, that my assertions, however baseless, could define me. I began to provoke and encourage cruelty against myself, because it would justify me, allow me to gain, for a moment, the moral high ground. And I began to feel I deserved it.
I couldn’t shake off the suspicion that, perhaps, one or two of my past actions bordered on the criminal: worth a caution, if not an outright conviction. They haunted me. They hung over me. They could catch up with me. Were these a form of intrusive thought? They bled out into my conception of myself, into a general sense of my existential criminality. Convicts seemed to me the embarrassed casualties of life’s difficulties, unequal to the simple tasks of living without fucking it all up and then getting caught: The inadequates. I felt a spiritual affinity with them. I was among their number: I was, by nature, a committer of crimes; I was, somehow, always to blame: an original sinner.
Then there’s the wayward autonomy of other people. I feared being confronted and accused by someone from my past, some avenger. My past posits a dangerous world, because, if someone as ordinary as me is capable of such impulsive, solipsistic, careless relationship violence against others, without even meaning to, why shouldn’t others do that to me? Why shouldn’t somebody curate their memories, and their analysis of the past, to fit a narrative of victimhood that reduces me to motiveless villainy, ripe for condemnation and punishment? That’s what I’d do. (or would have done.) Isn’t that the lesson of my aborted visit to Dr X – that we make memoried events suit our own fabricated narratives?
Hence, perhaps, my sense of threat, my wariness of others and my anti-social nature, my secretive defensiveness.
Despite a sheltered, nurturing upbringing, I managed to achieve all this self-damage before the age of, say, 22 (and God only knows how much more to Lulu). What a clever boy!
You won’t remember it, but there’s a Goon Show that contains this dialogue:
– Eccles: “Ow! I’ve broken my leg!”
– Neddy Seagoon: “How did you do that?”
– Eccles: “I got a hammer and I went BANG!”