1. In an attempt to improve my lousy Bosche, i’ve started reading Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf in English and German. i’m taking almost nothing in, as the German is way too complicated for me to have more than a vague sense of meaning, and reading the English only sentence by sentence (after reading the German), is too fragmentary a method to follow the story etc. i have, however, read the book two or three times already, in my 20s. It’s very much a book to read when you’re young & alienated, as the hero is something of an eternal teenager, with both the good & bad of that condition. Now i’m nearly 40, and generally enjoy my job (talking to “business people”), Harry Haller’s total disconnection from the world of work gets on my nerves a little.
We went slowly up the stairs together, and at his door, the key in his hand, he looked me once more in the eyes in a friendly way and said; “You’ve come from business? Well, of course, I know little of all that. I live a bit to one side, on the edge of things, you see.
Get a job, hippy. It reminds me of a gross manic depressive who told me he shouldn’t have to work or have to have any contact with normal people, but should (presumably) have his existence subsidized by the normal people who have real jobs, like the god-prince he supposed himself to be. i suppose it’s harder to sympathise with Haller, or the manic depressive, because neither show evidence of any talent (though Haller is in the tradition of Nietzsche, as having inherited a modest income and living within his means). i would regard a life such as Dylan Thomas‘ with amusement rather than contempt, because i like his poetry and if a chaotic selfish life was the necessary background, then so be it. Without that talent, living for oneself only seems a sterile existence to me now.
2. Of course, despite 5 and a half years of teaching, i am far from being a good citizen. After teaching – at the moment, i spend about 12-14 hours a day on the road or in classrooms – i have no desire to talk, to see anyone, and though i enjoy talking to e.g. a group of engineers & project managers, then the ex-head of Communications of a large engineering company, then some kind of strategic manager at a truck company (my Friday), i would be no means wish to do their jobs. i require a certain distance, to appreciate these lives & occupations – to be “on the edge of things” as Haller puts it, etwas am Rande.
3. i’ve come to realise that, due to my origins & upbringing, i exist without any clear societal context. i’m neither Indian (my father) nor English (my mother), and i don’t think anyone could guess my hometown from my accent – since my father spoke a barbarous pidgin English and my mother a learned, artificial posh English, and i didn’t absorb any of the local accent. i don’t even really look Anglo-Indian. One of the dandy underworld said i was “a shitty Indian” because i don’t eat curry, and a “shitty Brit” because i don’t drink beer (the Finnish Man in Black suggested later: tell them you come from the secret Nazi base in the Antarctic).
Because my brain shut down till i left school, i accidentally avoided a typically school-trained intelligence, and because i spent 3 years reading in solitude, before going to university, i was also already too formed to be much influenced by academia (so my tutors either hated me and my mind, or liked it but commented that i wrote very “old-fashioned” essays, meaning uncontaminated by the bureaucrat-prose of modern academia). This meant i couldn’t have survived long in academia and found it harder and harder the longer i stayed.
i tend to startle and affront and even occasionally horrify people, because i don’t exist within a comprehensible context. It’s interesting how often people reflexively label me, as a way of creating an ad hoc context, within which to make sense of me. These contexts often make no real sense but are necessary as a first step, much as i find it necessary to know how long a film will be, and roughly what kind of film it is, before sitting down to watch it. So both Bonehead and my Tai Chi guru teacher called me “an academic”, while people who actually know anything about academia would find this a bizarre judgement. Germans often get over their baffled incomprehension by seizing on something like my fob watch or pipe-smoking and then pronouncing happily, You are classic English guy like Sherlock Holmes, or? Meanwhile, in England, people often asked rather nastily “where are you from?” and when i said “Huddersfield”, “no, where are you from?” meaning what ethnic swamp could produce someone like me. So, naturally i prefer to live in Germany, in a kind of benign misprision where people suppose me to be stereotypically English (despite my not drinking beer or watching football).
4. i had a job interview a few weeks ago, for a magazine for Germans learning English. i didn’t really want the job but it was only 14 hours a week, pay the same as at McLingua, and i thought it could have been a good contrast to my normal work, probably interesting enough part-time. It’s the first such interview i’d had since 2004, and went exactly the same way – an office full of women, women interviewers, a perfunctory “let’s get this over with” sense that they had only invited me because i have high qualifications but actually they want a 21-year-old blonde girl called Tasmin. They gave me a text to work on at home, and three times sent me the wrong version – the kind of brazen incompetence i’ve learnt to expect from publishers, and women, which explains why modern books are so full of typos.
Throughout the short interview, i had the sense that they were staring at me like some kind of thing. The HR manager asked (in German) what i do in my free time and i said (in German) “I read books”. She asked what i was reading at the moment and i briefly wondered if i should pretend to read the standard German fare of “Krimis” (Germans are addicted to crime stories) and 50 Shades of Grey, but instead said i was reading a history of the Abwehr, and Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations; i felt that, as this point, i would only appear more sinister by pretending to be exactly like them, and from their looks they had already decided to reject me, just because i’m the wrong gender. The HR director said: “do you do this voluntarily?” with an incredulous sneer, and i smiled blandly and said “yes, it’s voluntary”. i thought this quite typical of interviews and these kind of people.
i’ve found that people who are effortlessly successful, especially in media/publishing industries, are either out & out mediocrities, or able to dissimulate to a high degree. They all are able to identify with a company and job, indeed they need this kind of validation and would go crazy without a job title and the approval of those about them. They often can’t understand why i fail every interview i have, and loftily assume that i deliberately sabotage myself (so one German power frau (i think my closest & extremely bossy sister in my last life) wrote: “I think you need to stop reading events as nothing but an endorsement of your unworthiness” when i said i’d applied for a content writer job at Microsoft thus: “i haven’t heard anything and since it was via a recruitment agency, and Microsoft is a huge company, it’s possible i won’t even get an interview, they might just filter me out as “strange”, but fingers crossed” – her response seemed to have little to do with me, but then i realised that for such people, the only explanation for failing a job interview is “unworthiness”, because only material validation counts, whereas for me i assume that a recruitment agency would scan CVs and filter out anything that seems strange, and this is simply a sound practice when you have 10,000 applications, and it may be depressing but it doesn’t make me worthless).
However, i don’t fit into the polisher category and this is unfortunately written on my face, not to mention on my CV. For the polishers, material success is the ultimate criterion for life, and so they are driven by an avidity and profound servility which serves them well. i’ve learnt that there’s no point discussing jobs and the getting thereof, because polishers are incapable of understanding that someone with a brain might get to 39 with no money and no prospects – it offends their view of the world, as a place where virtue is inexorably rewarded (otherwise, how could they have always found it so easy to get the right jobs?).
5. Not fitting into any societal context on the one hand keeps me from getting a real job; on the other, it helps with English teaching, because it means i can fairly easily meet and engage with a variety of different people – at first, many of my students are standoffish (and, frankly, extremely German), because they don’t know what to make of me; but after the second or third lesson they almost always warm to me and so i now have a set of classes who requested me as their teacher. At the moment, i have four such classes: a young & rather hot sales assistant at a luxury clothes shop (she likes action films and Hermann Hesse); a Russian management consultant; a group from a large semi-conductor company; a group from a large gas company – all of these had other teachers, often actually good teachers, but now only book lessons if they are guaranteed me as their teacher.
6. A student on Friday asked if i’d always wanted to be a teacher, and when i laughingly said i’d hated the idea and only chose it as an alternative to minimum wage temping, she said that i seem nonetheless to be doing the right job now, and to be in the right place, and i agreed. i feel that my life has been a series of naive attempts to fit myself into a context, and each time i have failed and moved more to the margins, managing to survive in overlooked niches. At present teaching is ideal, in that while i seem permanently broke i am able to convince my bosses that i’m doing something highly orthodox & acceptable, and meanwhile do what i (and the students) want in the classroom. i no longer make more than perfunctory attempts to fit, and after provoking an initial surprise, it seems to mostly work. i can’t envisage myself ever publishing anything i write – because my writing, like myself, exists without a comprehensible context – but i no longer require or even hope for such validation.
The further i go to the edges, the less i attempt to be a good little doggy, the easier i find it to engage with people in the contextless space of the classroom, and even without. i can’t imagine getting a real job, or being published, and that’s okay, that is just what one would expect from someone who comes from the secret Nazi base in the Antarctic.