My essence was distilled ‘Useless Git’ – “a tube for turning good food into shite” – so I had to enacted my self-worth by doing useful things: the spontaneous creation of value from nothing; the alchemist’s goal: gold from lead (blood from a stone). I had to be working or writing or cleaning or cooking all the time, because any lapse in activity was a return to worthlessness.
Hence the disparity between the oafish, private interior, and the active, public exterior. The life I’d found myself in was so unfamiliar that it was best to be on guard, proceed with caution, not rely on others, and I was a charlatan because I was maintaining a façade of industriousness, always on the point of being unmasked, having my grubby interior revealed.
Even now, urgency builds up in me throughout any day. It’s the waste product of difficult human transactions; it’s a pressure that needs release through activity, to resist the opposite pressure of my own exhaustion.
I always seem to be on the edge of a precipice. I want to collapse, but awful consequences await such a surrender. It’s as if my own petty anxieties have somehow got mixed up with much vaster, more deadly catastrophes. Perhaps I’m experiencing interference from the collective unconscious, a fear of climate disaster, or something. (I tend to catastrophize!)
So why did I, why do I, find myself standing about doing nothing, not even day-dreaming, a restless spirit trapped in an idle vessel? I needed to apply myself; muster my strength; drive myself forward; stay vigilant for signs of weakening resolve.
But I couldn’t think of ways to make myself effective, and I was in my 40s. My brain was becoming degraded, like all aging brains. I just couldn’t imagine being equal to any arduous or imaginative or remotely ambitious project. I was running out of synapses.
I needed to, how does Kipling, unhelpfully put it? “fill the unforgiving minute with 60 second worth of distance run”: an unrelenting standard.