1. It’s approaching midnight after a 12 hour working day. Today, a neurotic power frau type quit my Tuesday evening class for good and i was giddy with joy, hugging myself in the deserted McLingua centre at 2045, gibbering: “i never have to see her again!” She was actually an okay student – keen, talkative, with a good memory; but after every class she sent huge emails to my boss, complaining that she wasn’t improving (this after the first lesson). In class she was timid and weird, afraid of eye contact, veering from sudden uncomfortable silences to almost hysterical rants. i accepted this, as many of my students are abnormal (German); but eventually i came to see her as a filthy Judas and all-round glasses-wearing-Bosche.
Many people wear glasses. She was one of these people who hide behind their lenses; the glass seems to act as a kind of mask, allowing whatever is really there to recede into the far distance. Like most such folk, she had the look of a crustacean ripped from its shell and left to twitch on the rock, poked at by children. Glasses were, for her, some kind of armour.
i feel something of this as soon as i put my glasses on when other people are around – a sense of insidious discomfort, an inability to read others, to respond, to exert my will. This goes so far that i can’t walk through crowds while wearing my glasses: i bump into people, misjudge distances and trajectories. Without my glasses i can usually walk at speed, picking a path through the shambling Bosche without thought. For a while i thought it was to do with peripheral vision, but then i realised i can’t read students’ moods with my glasses on, that i feel wooden, false, artificial, as removed from the present as if experiencing it on a computer screen. It’s possible that my brain just got used to the signals it gets from my mismatched eyes (one is short-sighted, the other long-) and can’t manage certain tasks without this accustomed input. However, i think there’s also some kind of connection between the eyes and how i sense others, and how i exert my will.
2. One could say that society rewards those who can don masks at will, those who can do so without unease. i can and do have a professional demeanour but it’s generally a modulated form of whatever i really am. This modulation has a fairly narrow range; so i can teach almost anyone who isn’t actively rebellious, but could never do some of the jobs suffered by my students, putting up with initiatives & grand new strategies & whatnot every day. i think the difference here is that my professional mask isn’t fake – it’s just a way of presenting my self, in order to do my job. It’s not my complete self but nor is it a lie. And for many jobs it seems necessary to project total enthusiasm into totally false personae – not in order to do the job, but in order not to be fired.
3. i dare say all cultures have always rewarded this spinelessness, but ours seems more pervasively rotten. Speaking of spines, i came across an old blogging associate’s newish site, and have been slowly reading through the archives:
Beckham, of course, will apparently sell anything, however tangential it might be to his footballing career. He is refashioning himself as the male modern Britannia, a symbol of Britishness. And Beckham is certainly the perfect fit for this modern Britain. He embodies our culture because he is the ultimate vessel: good looking but empty, devoid of much significance but capable of being filled with any corporate message. He is so boring and bland he can advertise anything that doesn’t require him to open his mouth. Indeed, his horrible nasal whine is to his benefit because it means that he can spend his time brooding in ads with his white teeth and rank ugly tattoos, the golden boy of a gelded generation. He is the Cadbury Creme Egg of celebrities; just an empty impotent shell of sugary milk chocolate. One size fits all. Just slip a nozzle up his arse and fill him with whatever different coloured fondant meaning we want this week.
I sometimes think that the worst thing you could be in these enlightened days is a white, heterosexual male stuck in a no-name northern town and not suffering from any serious but TV-friendly disability.
We’re both northerners and not very good at the donning of masks for profit. For fun, yes; for apple polishing or friend-winning, no. i had the good fortune to meet the Spine blogger back in Manchester about 5 years ago. We’re very different, physically and emotionally; but there’s a shared loathing of the Big Time, and a strong aversion to being stone broke & miserable.
4. i escaped my brokeness by escaping England. i’m still financially unstable but i like my job most of the time, am somehow & oddly appreciated, and have a sense of being on roughly the right path, after years of misery. There are occasional revelations. Pipes – i began smoking after Juniper gifted me two of her grandfather’s pipes and i decided to try them out. It took ages to figure out how to pack the tobacco so it stays lit longer than 2 seconds, but once i’d half-mastered that i found it an intriguing & satisfying activity. i now take a pipe to work when i have a break long enough to go out onto the McLingua terrace & smoke while striding majestically about, glowering at the Munich skyline. There are such grandiose pleasures to be had; yet the core of it is as simple & physical as drinking tea or stretching, as little amenable to bullshit & mask-donning.
For a while i carried a pipe in a little pouch inside my bag, then decided to spend some of my hard-earned coin on something fancy. So, my pipe transportation, bought from Al Pascia:
5. i spend quite a lot of time watching pipe videos on youtube, for example this or this. Pipe smokers often talk about the satisfaction of smoking. i’ve started to feel this odd sense of well-being – it may be partly to do with a mild nicotine release, but i think it’s mainly the connection with simple physicality, through familiar, individual tools: a good pipe, the right tobacco, the right flame. It’s to do with choosing tools, learning their ways, and using them well. The strange transmutation of plant and flame into controlled smoke and taste, in the vessel of wood – and then the body of the smoker himself becoming part of this in breath – all this is something to be experienced, not talked about too much – because it makes no sense, you just have to accept that it feels good, and in the words of Platoon’s Elias, feeling good’s good enough.