Becoming 2 (September 25-30, 2022)

Suffering is work too.

September 25. A celebratory dinner-out turned sour. (I pay dearly for my legitimate pleasures these days, or so it seems.) I’d been food poisoned. The last time that I felt such intense discomfort and disorientation was after a buffet meal I’d ate at a beach hotel in Malaysia, many years ago. Then, I’d succumbed a dodgy sausage. Tonight, I passed-out due to the pain. This was the second time that ‘999’ has been wrung from this household in a month. We should add it to the speed-dial menu, perhaps. But, once more, this was not death’s opportunity. No. Not tonight. ‘Come again another day!’

September 26. The pain level is now 5, in contrast to last night’s 10, on the Richter scale. Forty years ago today, I arrived at Aberystwyth University to begin a Masters degree in visual art. Today, the new academic year begins without me.

1982-4

When turning from one phase of life to another, inevitably the question of identity comes up for review and renegotiation. I’m no longer what I was, and not yet what I shall be (either in my own eyes or those of others). And, what I shall be will only be for then. None of us can make a clean break with our old life outside a witness protection program. In any case, who’d willingly leave behind friendships that have been built up over the years and supported us in troubled times. Time, distance, and necessity have removed some of them from my orbit, but none from my affections and memory. Likewise, there’re convictions that I’ve developed over the years that I neither cannot, should not, nor need not abandon for the sake of change. Which isn’t to say that I oughtn’t to continually interrogate them in order to either reaffirm their truth or expose their fallacy. I relish the thought that I’m free to change my mind and assume a contrary position. There’s no shame in admitting that you’ve been wrong all this time. By the same token, there’s no virtue in continuing to advocate on behalf of something about which you no longer feel persuaded.

Identity is a multi-part set comprising our: roles as members of a family (if we have one), society, neighbourhood, workforce, friendship circle, political party, and religious or spiritual group; job, facilities, gifts, calling, and intellect; beliefs, convictions, and ethics (which are the mainspring of behaviour); temperament, proclivities, passions, appetites, and interests; failures, flaws, and foibles; physique, health, and wellbeing; gender, ethnicity, background, age, and sexual orientation; capacity to love, forgive, and address to the needs of others; response to crises, gloomy prognostications, and misfortune; attitude to money, sex, free time, and the plaudits and criticisms of others; and reputation among those we know and in the wider world. Most parts aren’t either fixed or immutable; and none are independent of the others. Thus a change in one may effect all, to varying degrees. Identity is a shifting sand, in other words. And, like a circus plate spinner, I must attend to each and every part constantly in order to prevent them from losing their equilibrium.

1982-2010

Identity also shifts with changes to our perceived priorities (which ought always to be subject to re-evaluation, too). In these desperately uncertain and evil times of great consequence, what once seemed to be important might strike us as being utterly inconsequential in the light of emerging events. Thus, my best energies, resources, ambitions, and trajectories are open to redirection. I attend to not what is merely interesting but, rather, also necessary.

Following the example of fictional Swedish police officer on TV, I’ve drawn-up a list of those people who’ve had a positive influence in my life and one of those whose actions and attitudes have been detrimental. The exercise has been instructive. The first category comprises those who were exemplars of wisdom, kindness, courage, selflessness, and integrity during my formative years; they included parents, a pastor, and several radically imaginative school teachers. Later in life, they were joined by art school tutors, film directors, musicians, composers, artists, colleagues, and close friends. I’ve known these creative artists only through their work, for the most part. Nevertheless, they’ve shown me the hallmarks of quality and what’s possible, taught me the value of self-discipline and craft, shone a light on my path, and helped develop my own artistic identity. I’d not be who, what, and where I am today without the contribution that all these good people have made to my life, in the round.

2011-22

The list of those whose influence has been malign — and equally significant and enduring — is comparatively shorter (mercifully). Among the names are those of school bullies, dispiriting school teachers, fellow academics (in positions of power), church leaders, theologians, journalists, relations, and ‘false-friends’. They were distinguished, variously, by selfish ambition, narcissism, thuggishness, duplicity, heartlessness, vengefulness, spite, envy, and delusionalism. While I’m obliged to love my enemy, I didn’t want any one of them to be within my orbit for longer than necessary. That said, they’ve taught be a great deal about my own conspicuous failures of character. And for that (and that only) I’m grateful.

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