I went to see the Giacometti show at the Tate yesterday and found all the fear of the world in most of the things he made. I recognised, in my own unease as I walked through the gallery, the soul-substance of TV and the Internet. The many special forms of fear that drive viewers or users: jealousy, envy, competitiveness, loneliness and misogyny, each with their awful textures, like kinds of intention I could almost separate into different painful, hateful senses of space, time, distance and intensity. I saw the actual forms of television sets and computers in his sculptures. There were also his tiny figures, framed so much like we are these days, in no broader context than a screen, and sometimes a very small screen. Not the Silver Screen but the greasy, smudged thing on a phone. I’m glad I didn’t go on my own.
or Things You Can Do With Fear.
Sometimes I find people hard to be around and it isn’t easy to work out why. Often I find a feeling that leads me to think of what’s occurring between myself and them as not quite real – that there’s something cartoonish happening, almost. The feeling is of fear, a particular feeling of fear, in the way that the bark on various kinds of tree can be so very different.
Why am I’m thinking of fear and bark together like this?
I thrive on this kind of question. It tends to take me to places that my thoughts don’t naturally go. So I think about how, when I was very young, my father used to have a dog that terrified me, that barked a lot, and that back then I often thought about my father as if he were a cartoon. As I got older I started seeing him as he was, but he still seemed to think about me in ways that never seemed to extend beyond something very basic, like a sketch of me he’d drawn once, at a distance. There was something very true about it and something extremely limited. I might as well have been frozen in space: easy to remember and indestructible.
The fear that I feel around people when I start sensing something cartoonish is going on (and cartoons allow for some very disturbing thoughts to be had amusingly, harmlessly and without getting into what isn’t a cartoon: flesh and blood for example, someone or something so fragile they are real) reminds me that I, the real me, might be the last person actually on someone else’s mind. I suspect that in some way they are very scared and might prefer not to imagine me as more than a glyph.
Who I am to them remains to be seen … but I feel a degree of confidence that I’m trying to remain open to who they could be.
Note: The dog was given away. The first time, I was told by my mother, the owners returned him because he seemed to be barking at ghosts.
It’s one of the privileges of my middle age, to be able to think about things in ways that once upon a time would have possibly driven me crazy, or into one vice or another. It did feel like that: vices, things that clamped onto me – rather more than anything that would shock someone. I couldn’t move. I somehow froze.
Probably that’s something to do with fear. Fear freezes some of us; and it freezes in different ways. I was always able to think like crazy while I was stuck to the spot, clamped down, and a lot of good came out of that. I couldn’t have run if I tried. At other times I seemed to wipe myself out: erased myself (you can call it dissociation). A lot of good came out of that, too.
If your way of avoiding danger keeps you somehow almost standing still in life (even if you’re not entirely there) so you don’t escape through flight and find yourself dislocated, lost, or you don’t resort to fight and smash it all up, perhaps you can keep going without accumulating the losses some people experience. There’s always damage to the people, the real world, around you, but if you avoid the worst extremes of narcissism, as freezers survive like matadors, and some of us get carried away with that, and you don’t in the end get gored, there’s a chance you’ll have a life to look back on where one thing more clearly leads to another. Maybe there’s more to do to make amends but less to reconcile.
Freezers stay close to life and death, as close as you can imagine. Once you learn how to thaw, or not to freeze, at least most of the time, it’s really rather wonderful.
My anxiety is an experience of my absence. The less I am able to assert myself in life the more often I will find myself wishing I had. Anxiety is the experience of forthcoming resentment, of feeling trapped, becoming bored. Anxiety comes from the same place as anger, but as its ghost. Kill off, lose touch with or disavow your anger and you will feel anxious … and anger is there when I disagree. So anxiety arises when I can’t find it in myself, or the opportunity in the world, to disagree. Anxiety is a narrowing of me – a whittling down of me; a meanness. A difficulty. It’s Latin root: angustia. Continue reading “Anxiety”
There’s a part to emerging from a difficult situation that is sometimes overlooked: the inertia that can creep into a life out of a fear of taking risks again. I mean ordinary, everyday gambles over remembering and feeling things. The past can feel too much. Getting closer to someone or something can feel too frightening – and perhaps what makes this most difficult is that the fear I’m referring to is almost impossible to catch hold of. It might simply come upon you like an itch, a sense of wanting to squirm; an instinctive no, or a sense of relief if you move towards it (away from where you might actually need to be: getting to know another person, trying out another way of doing something, or looking back at something you did and realising it wasn’t quite like you’d imagined). Continue reading “Emergency Inertia”
Every few weeks empty your bag out. Mine’s one of those leather courier bags and it can hold a surprising amount. Organise whatever’s inside into three piles: essential, questionable and unnecessary. Do this quickly, instinctively, then leave the piles for a while and find something absorbing and unconnected to do (set an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to think about your bag, so you don’t have to keep thinking about it). When you go back to your bag, and I’d leave it alone for at least a couple of hours, glance at each pile and see if anything seems out of place. It might not even seem in the wrong pile – there may just be a feeling about it that makes it stand out a little, or draw your eye without you knowing why. Continue reading “Travel Light”
Next time you’re feeling anxious, irritated or sad (although it might also do to try and remember this when you’re feeling happy …) notice the way you are sitting, standing or lying. What are you doing in relation to the thing that’s on your mind? If you shift yourself at all, maybe uncrossing your legs or moving your arms, what happens? It may feel unpleasant, in which case go back to how you were! Continue reading “Shifting”