Friday, 29 June 2012

The Making of A Bachelor Boy

I had a summer cold recently, so my brain went slightly AWOL and I wound up reading all sorts of MRA / Manosphere / Game blogs. What hadn't occurred to me, being Urepian and hence used to a feminised and non-militant Christian Church, is that them there Yankee Christians can be pretty darn right-wing when it comes to the subject of love and marriage. They do go on about commitment, love, men's and women's roles and the like. They mean it as well. These guys want to stay with the same woman for their lives, provided she follows certain rules, most of which amount to, you know, being a contributing, sexually-available wife instead of some entitled sex-rationing bitch on wheels.

Seriously. They want to be with the same woman for their lives. I mean, I know that's what marriage is about, and that's why I never even thought about getting married. I could no more get married than I could starve myself down to fifty kilos. I got confused when I hit adolescence and thought I would be happier if I was married or in relationships, and was therefore unhappy because I wasn't or couldn't be. What I got wrong, I now understand, wasn't that couldn't be happy in a marriage, but the circumstances under which I could be happy.

I don't do oxytocin, as I have remarked recently. It's the hormone that lets you trust and love. Either I don't produce it or have a greatly enhanced capacity for oxytocin uptake - in other words, no sooner is it released than it gets hoovered back up before it can do any damage... I mean, before it will help me bond appropriately. Also, I'm an extrovert. Yes, I know, you think extroverts need to have people around all the time, and I am never around people except at work, which doesn't count, so that looks odd, but that's not how it works. Extroverts fear boredom, introverts fear being swamped. I'm not scared of being swamped by people when I stay home and read, I'm trying to avoid being bored. Also, I'm intellectual, which means ideas are more interesting to me than people. Also, I'm an ACoA with a drink problem (that's "recovering alcoholic" to you), which means I have a totally dysfunctional sense of who would make a good partner, plus a desire for sensation over feeling. Or something like that.

In other words, all I really wanted to do was get laid. I know you think that's what all men want, but they don't. As those American Christian Manosphere guys reminded me, the vast majority of men really want a lifetime partner, which is why they get married. Screwing around a lot is Bad Boy Alpha, maintaining a working, sexual marriage over a lifetime is Real Man Alpha. It takes a lot of the same tricks, though some of them have to be spun differently. I had / have absolutely no intention of sharing my life (aka "putting someone else in a position where they can have the Courts take away two-thirds of my salary and all my assets, just because she stayed over one night and left a pair of panties in my wardrobe") with anyone. Not because I'm worried about losing what few assets I have - though there is that - but because I was and am scared of getting bored.

I think sex is one of the best things ever. Sex with an attractive, intelligent stranger, so I can have an interesting chat while getting my breath back, is about the best way I know of spending a night. I have done this a few times, and there was only one time it went a tad sour. However, while I'm pretty good on the first night, I'm not so good the second time round with the same girl - unless there's a while between nights. It's the novelty I want. Also back in the day, it was the excuse for a drink and a really late night.

So when regular girls came along, I thought I was being shy and awkward, but actually it was my self-defences: this girl will bore you in ten minutes, or you will bore her in five. I couldn't make the connections with "wife material" women, because the radar they use to detect suitable men doesn't register me at all. When I made a connection, it was with a girl who had similar problems to me. Those problems in men make us less than we might be, but basically sane, whereas those problems make women unstable with a trajectory to craziness or depression. Also, the other real burden I had was that I thought I was supposed to be a nice guy.

Stop sniggering. This was back in the 19... never you minds. These days everyone knows women really want coke-dealing, gun-running bikers rather than sober, responsible providers, but back in the dark pre-backlash decades, women spun the "nice guy" line, because it was what they were supposed to say, and some of us men were dumb enough to believe it. Of course, I was only pretending to be a nice guy: just ask any of the women on whom I cancelled relationships, didn't call afterwards, behaved like an asshole with (that may have been the booze, but it was often me), and certainly didn't offer to marry, engage or move in. But because I was a snivelling, no-confidence, co-dependent I couldn't just shrug my shoulders and say "That's who I am". No, I had to apologise and feel bad about it. More confidence, fewer delusions, more money to pay for weekends away, hotels and taxis, and I would have been laying them from Lands End to John O'Groats with a clear conscience and a smile. Not once would I have thought my life was empty and meaningless, because I wasn't looking for meaning from women - if I want meaning, I'll read some philosophy - I was looking for a night's sex and company.

But when I was in the depths of alcohol and co-dependency fuelled self-pity, pain and confusion, and I was there a long time, I thought the way out was to be Normal. I never actually envied the Normals their lives, but I envied the way I imagined they felt: self-satisfied, smug, sure of being right and when the going got tough, downright self-righteous. That's what I wanted. Not the wife, children, house and partnership track. I wasn't alone in thinking that: everyone who feels psychic pain from unidentifiable causes "just wants to be Normal". So that's what the Therapy Industry sells them.  Whereas the point is to understand what I made of myself as a reaction to what was being made of me, and then to do what it takes to enjoy life as I am, not as someone else thinks, or even I think, I should be.

I know all this now. I had to accept my inner ACoA to get here. It's too late to use this knowledge: like many single men of my age and vanity, I don't want what I can get, because it would make me look bad, and I can't get, nor afford, nor have the energy and time for, what I want. Dignity and vanity both commend a single life. Except it's not that easy and you and I know it.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Evangenlical? Who? Huh?

An ex-girlfriend has recently joined, or at least attended her first meeting of, an evangenical church in Bradford. This isn't about the sect. It's about my ex-girlfriend.

(Full disclosure: I was once and the age of about eleven a Billy Graham convert. I went to an Earl's Court rally, though I was in an annexe and only saw a televised version of the main hall I went down the front when he called for people to step forwards, had a tutor, or pastor, or whatever they called them, who tried to discuss Biblical texts with me. This lasted about six weeks, and though I tried, I really wasn't getting it, and I think the tutor knew it as well. I wonder what the drop-out rate was? Organised religion, or indeed organised anything, remains a total mystery to me. If asked, I'd say it was the idea I have to follow some leader rather than make my own mind up, but that's just a rationalisation. It takes hormones to be a joiner, and I don't do whatever the joiner hormone is that they haven't found yet.)

So you can guess that I don't get what a seasoned adult with two children and three marriages is doing getting involved with evangelicals. (I know you think there's a clue in the question, but read on a little.) I've been to an evangelical service, exactly once, as a politeness to a girlfriend's relatives, and a sad affair I found it as well. The group in Bradford look a lot slicker and have a decent merchandising operation going - I mean, have a range of inspirational literature available. I'm going to be blunt here: evangelical religion is for troubled people. Not 'troubled' in the sense of 'need to stay on their meds', but in the sense of 'not sure where all the pain and confusion are coming from, or why, or what to do about it, and so with a ton of unresolved emotional baggage around rejection, lack of love and need'. That kind of 'troubled'.

Emotional baggage can be dumped. The catch is that if your experience is like mine. I didn't get a new Hermes-filled Loius Vuitton set of "healthy positive emotions and reactions" when I lost the nylon-filled cardboard stuff. I got a messenger bag in which I carry the immediate feelings of the day. I don't feel bad any more, but I never quite feel good either, and nor would I call it being well-balanced. It's more like being... on standby. I don't have emotions about stuff that's nothing to do with me, but then nothing in my daily round is anything to do with me, so I don't have any emotions. But I could have them, if anything happened that was to do with me. On standby. You're right, it is pretty vacant.

That's hard to live with, especially if you're used to a level of drama, however specious, as part of your daily emotional diet. Evangelical religion offers that. It offers drama, meaning, belonging and purpose, the assurance that your daily struggles have a significance beyond grubby bill-paying, and the promise that you are on a road to living right. The catch is the same one as afflicts what looks like its mystical opposite: Eastern spirituality and its various techniques. It's a solution that comes from outside, whether from a Christian God or a spiritual Unity and Peace. You're still trying to fix yourself, but this time with God or Inner Peace.

I suppose what's puzzling me is that it's this woman I used to know. She's no more religious than I am. She works in insurance, fer Christ's sake, and no-one who works in insurance can possibly be religious. Go to church, yes, be religious, no. Part of me wants to say "who are you and what have you done with my friend?" and another thinks she will give this an honest try, and the whole thing will break against her innate realism. I hope she's not doing it to please someone, because that hasn't helped her in the past. But maybe she does oxytocin, and is looking for someone and something to believe in, because she can. That doesn't work for me, but maybe it will work for her.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Movie Step Nines

I was watching the Stephen Bochco / Chris Gerolmo series Over There again recently.  In one episode, Brigid Brannagh's character explains that since getting into AA she has to tell everyone all the bad stuff she's done, and drops a detail-free hint about various infidelities on her infantry-soldier partner in Iraq. Over a sat phone link.

In case you were wondering, that's not how it's done. What she's referring to is a Step Nine, though how anyone in early sobriety understands that Step Nine is relevant to them is beyond me. I didn't. But this is the movies.

Step Nine says  "Made direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others." There are two key ideas: one is making amends, the other is about not making it any worse

Amends first. Step Nine is not about getting forgiveness from everyone you've ever inconvenienced, nor is it about apologising. It's about the recovering alcoholic stepping up, admitting their wrong-doing and offering to make amends for it. Apologies are not amends. Step Nine amends mean repaying debts you welched on, replacing things you broke or stole, admitting guilt where you had fobbed it off on someone else. Stuff like that. For parents and partners, it might be behaving as they should have been behaving from the start, a lifelong amend.

The amend is for the wronged party, the admission is for the recovering alcoholic. But there's a restriction. They are not allowed to be self-indulgent, wallow in self-pity and mess things up even more than they already have. This is the "except where to do so will hurt others" clause. And it's this clause that Brigid Brannagh's character breaks. What the frack does she think she's doing, confessing her sins to a man thousands of miles away fighting a pointless war? And what kind of advice was her sponsor giving her? Generally Step Nine is for the second year, when the alcoholic has grown used to being sober, recognised a bunch of their baggage in their Fourth and Fifth Step, and is better prepared to behave and judge situations as a normal person would.

What her character was doing was, of course, a plot device. Given that the next thing the guy does is get busy with the Nicky Aycox's eighteen-year-old blonde hot girl driver "Mrs B", soon after her return from an AWOL, he's not the most balanced of people. But that's where the writers wanted to take the story. My guess is that Bochco is on the program and wants it to play a role in all his shows - because it is.

Steps Eight and Nine are where this recovering alcoholic learned to get his self-respect back. It's where I learned to be independent of other people's judgements of me. I can stand up, admit my fault, apologise and offer amends, and the other person can tell me to go to hell. That's their prerogative and I have to live with it. I don't have to beg them to forgive me and nor should I, because some people could play an endless game of blackmail with that. Which is not how I want nor should live my life. I confessed and offered to make it right, and that's all I can do: if you don't want any part of it, I can't make you and nor should I try. My self-respect does not depend on your approval.

A real Step Nine would look calmer and more serious. Much more awkward. Six people would make a ninety-minute movie, running through most of the emotions the wronged people would be feeling, from cheerful indifference to a deep and irrational bitterness, to a happy ending where we discover that the wronged party knew they were just as much in the wrong as our ex-drunk. In the course of the movie, our man gets a job, helps work on a house, and does other stuff, and those turn out to be amends as far as someone else is concerned.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Summer In Shoreditch (1)

Outside at Byron, Hoxton Square. Large skips are compulsory on all streets in Shoreditch. Two views of the square itself on one of the ten days this year it will be warm and dry enough to sit in. Notice the White Cube gallery in the background. Outside Ruby cafe on Charlotte Road. A PR agency. The Strongroom courtyard off Curtain Road. The City from Charlotte Street. It's a contrast I can never quite get over and you don't see in the West End.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Burgers in Shoreditch

That first week of the seven-day Summer 2012 I had a yen for a burger. Also I was fed up of scuttling from the office to somewhere in Spitalfields for take-out and scuttling back, which is all you can do when it's cold and/or wet. So I resolved to try some places in Shoreditch and Hoxton Square. So here they are...

First, the Red Dog Saloon, Hoxton Square. French fries, blue cheese, good slaw.

Next, The Book Club, Leonard Street. Cheese and bacon, thick chips, yum.

Third, The Byron, Hoxton Square - I was keeping it simple that day. Still yum.

Fourth, Ruby Cafe, Charlotte Road. Again, I was keeping it simple, and the beef was excellent.

Fifth. The Strongroom, Curtain Road. Simple, decent and honest.

Sixth, and yes, this isn't a burger, but fish and chips at Jamies on Bishopsgate. By then summer was over, it was pouring with rain and this was as far as I was prepared to scuttle.

All the burgers were good, solid, well-cooked and well-presented. All the places were interesting and had friendly, efficient staff. All the prices are about the same: say around £8-£14 depending on the exact combination. The Strongroom was cheapest and the Red Dog Saloon the most expensive. Jamie's wasn't as expensive as you might think - I've paid more at the fish-and-chip shop in Covent Garden, and waited longer to be served. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Street Art in Shoreditch

I work less than a quarter of a mile from the heart of Shoreditch. The City of London is alleged to be a world centre of financial expertise: I'm dubious about the whole idea that anyone can be any good at investment these days. Shoreditch / Spitalfields / Bethnal Green / Hoxton is an undoubted centre, if not the centre, of street art in the world. And it's on my doorstep.

We had summer a couple of weeks ago, and the artists were out. One guy spent a week doing this amazing piece.  Click for details - it's worth it.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Late May London Moments

Window cleaners on Holborn at half-past seven in the morning; lovin' the new interior of Caffe Nero; chalk graffiti on a utilities cabinet  on Commercial Street; art under the arches at Waterloo; the City from Waterloo Bridge, full zoom and pixellated; that Matalan three girls poster, I want the one on the right; recruiters in Caffe Nero at eight in the morning. After a few polite bits of small talk, she said in as loud and boisterous a manner as it looks "so, we'd like to talk about your plans and thoughts for the future, and when we can get you to leave GSK". Ba-boom!