After the stifling drudgery of British schools in the 60s, here is where my education began. I went onto the oceans in ships and discovered worlds – out there and inside me. New darkness. New light. A Cult. The New Age. My first marriage. America- where I found home, never expecting to leave…. 2nd Marriage. More self-development. Or was it self-flagellation?
Following are some sample pages from this upcoming memoir. The first pieces are from the beginning sections – about my years at sea- and the later samples come from near the end of the book- covering the early nineties.
The IMAGES are under licence to Tim Leighton from the British Film Institute (BFI) https://www.bfi.org.uk/ . They are my unedited screen grabs from the British Transport Films series (BTF) I had a phase where these iconic documentary films became a cult in my own mind. I was mesmerised by how their impressionism matched the themes and feelings that I want to bring out in my memoirs of a life in Britain. Great credit should be paid to the BTF film makers whose discerning eyes provided a unique slant on British life from the ’50’s to the ’80’s Learn more about the BTF series here: https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/where-begin-british-transport-films
I wrote the following piece- ‘Intro at 36’- thirty years ago when I was planning to produce a memoir of my travels and travails as a born seeker. The memoir didn’t happen. Until Now. But the piece will still serve as an introduction, because ‘Learning To Dance’ covers the period from early seventies to early nineties, and this item is a freeze-frame of my position at that time. It also gives an idea of what the book will be about- from an occasionally nostalgic record of life back then to an examination of harsh realities. The title of this memoir is intended to portray my transition from ignorance about how to behave in relationships through to a certain degree of enlightenment. Learning to dance – give and take – instead of fighting. Learning respect and understanding of women, before the notion of being ‘woke’ had become a thing. Thirty years since that piece, and after a 2nd divorce followed in 1995 by my 3rd marriage (still intact) along with the blessing of two stepdaughters, I have not stopped learning. I may cover that phase from 1995 to present in another memoir. Then again I may not.
Am I ashamed of some of my behaviour in the seventies and eighties? Absolutely. Looking back at the general attitude and behaviour of males in that period is comparable to observing witch-hunting and torture in Medieval times. What was considered to be the norm then, now shocks. Worse, we are still in early evolution. Gender and minority abuse, racism and inequality are still globally systemic. But I fundamentally believe that our consciousness is opening. This memoir shows the ongoing journey of one towards a glimmer of light, hoping it may be of use or inspiration to other travellers.
Can I now actually dance? Yes, with all the grace and free-flow expression of a rock wedged in a hard place.
INTRO AT 36 1990
I watched from my window, looking down into the railway station. The workman walked along the platform, pulling a wheelbarrow behind him. He had a handle in each hand. This was new for me. I had only seen such men pushing barrows before; not pulling them. I was about three years old. The man was repairing part of the station. Today the station is no longer there. Nor are the steam engines. I think I am still in shock.
Now I live in America. I am thirty six years old. I left Britain almost six years ago. I am in the early stages of relationship with my second wife, and the going has been difficult. I love her deeply, yet I have hurt her often. She loves me. She has not married before. She has sometimes hurt me, usually after I have inflicted more pain on her. Despite the rough early passage, we seem to be making progress. The hurting is less. Our love is deepening.
Somewhere between three and thirty six I discovered that under certain conditions it is easier to pull a barrow than to push it. Besides which, it looks jaunty. I might feel like whistling, and if I had a cap I should wear it askew.
The smell of earth. Thirty six years into this life I want to recover the smell of earth. When I was about three years old, playing in my sand pit and touching dandelions, I was blessed by sunshine and the smell of earth. It was simple. I was small and I played on the ground.
The smell of earth has uncountable variations; soil after rain, sand turned over, leaf mould, compost heaps, moss disturbed from stones and perhaps touched by an autumn wisp of leaf smoke. For me a smell will quickly release a memory. Often an image from the early years. Just yesterday walking on a spring evening, holding hands with my wife, I briefly caught a smell which spun me through thirty three years and thousands of miles of journeying. I was led by the nose to my childhood. It was a certain smell that I had not encountered since then. Perhaps it came from a freshly dug bank of soil, mixed with the intimacy of weed roots, and rain from the day before. I cannot define the constituents, but the effect was precise. I was taken to my sand pit in the back garden, watching damp sand fall between my fingers.
I have waited this long to speak of many things, and I am afraid to speak. I am afraid in case I am not understood. I am afraid that my delivery will be less than perfect, but I am now desperate to speak. I am a child from the latter half of the twentieth century and the sands of time are falling through my fingers. I have a need to be heard. I am the embodiment of the famous painting of the open-mouthed scream. At least that is how I sometimes feel.
There are other children who have more need than me to be listened to. In fact one of the things of which I will speak is my conscience disturbed by the plight of others. However despite confusion; despite or because of what is an ongoing identity crisis, I must now speak.
I have passed milestones- my first sense of being ‘separate’. My disintegration in my teen years. My first employment, on a ship. My first port of call. My first sexual encounter. My enmeshment in a religious cult, leading to the first real conflict with my parents. My first marriage. Escape from the religious cult. My first adultery.
Other milestones- my last ship (almost). Immigration to USA. Discovery of a ‘New Age’. A slap on my face by a ‘medicine woman’ in the Mojave Desert. Discovery of automatic writing. Escape from the New Age (almost). Divorce. Re-birth- first of several. Second Marriage. ‘Dark nights of the soul’. Mortality….
PORTENT ON WALLASEY DOCKS.
On my way in to the gathering I had paused on the quay to watch. My churning teen angst was briefly quelled by the sight of a large freight ship sliding into the dock basin. This was the first time that the solid concept of a ship had drawn forward into my vision. Its deep rust stains and salt-scraped paint spoke of conflicts and triumphs over elements far away from my grey suburban life. It was a giant. And yet men were controlling that giant. Tugboats were guiding it with ropes taut to the beast like Lilliputian threads to Gulliver, easing it into the dock. Occasionally a burst of turbulence would boil upwards from under its stern, as the propeller threshed and nudged it forward, or again as it went into reverse turmoil to slow the beast’s creep. I could feel life in this juggernaut. It moved; it breathed, and yet at its nerve centre were men; mortals who fingered its pulse. What a gift. What a grand hint of broader powers that we the little people could take from this largesse.
A rowing regatta had brought us to Wallasey docks. Our motley crews from Ellesmere Port Grammar School For Boys were to compete in ‘eights’ and ‘fours’ against other bundles of testosterone and acne from the Wirral area. I took my place and made my usual mediocre effort in the heaving, splashing rhythms across the oily dock waters. I forget if we won anything. More significantly I had just passed my eighteenth birthday and could now drink legally. This meant that after the races I could openly pour down beer in the club house to where we had retreated. Here were the only competitions that we cared about. In the weeks prior I had been bragging about my taste for Guinness with implications that I was heads above my fellow lager louts. My colleagues were determined to shut me up. To celebrate my birthday they started buying me pints of Guinness, insisting that I should gurgle down and stop my spouting.
That ‘club house’ was a makeshift adaptation of some upper floor offices in a disused warehouse on the dock front. To reach it we had climbed steep wooden stairs on the outside of the building. Our animated noise built up as the ale went down. From somewhere in the dizzy melee and maybe with a notion to view the ship again, I had decided to proceed down those outside steps carrying my dark and cream pint like a close companion. I lost my footing near the top and bounced on my tail bone to the bottom. In that steep and sudden voyage I managed to keep my glass upright and lost only a few splashes of the good liquid. I struggled to my feet and in triumph raised the slopping glass like a trophy. The mob on the balcony who had for a second been concerned, responded with cheers and jeers. Mockery was always the senior emotion.
Later I was spotted weaving towards the edge of the wharf. So I was grabbed, bundled into the back of Ian Jones’ lime green Mini Van and transported homewards. Others followed in a separate car. While sprawled in that tiny compartment I had decided that they needed navigational directions by sign language. Their feedback on the following school Monday conveyed an image of my head periodically bobbing up to the porthole-like window, followed by wild and meaningless gestures before dropping from sight.
When unloaded at home I staggered, muttering and slurry, past my parents and up to bed. There I fell into a sea of spinning ceilings and walls, finally retching a pool of stinking Guinness and chips onto the carpet. I crept into the next morning with shamed face and bruised coccyx.
Within months my class colleagues were picking their paths to university and college, but I was lost. I had fallen from a nine O-Level success story at sixteen to a single poor A-Level now. And my confidence had sounded to rock-bottom. But I had seen ads for cadetships in the Merchant Navy. My dad had not pushed, but he smiled when I told him that I had passed the interviews with Bibby Line.
My ropes were released. I went out on a ship onto the boozy sea and I was no longer lost.
MAURITIUS- FIVE PERSPECTIVES OF PARADISE
- Paradise Found.
When you have emerged from the smoky tunnels of seventies Britain to sense the musk of Paradise you can never return. This was my feeling, anyway. Many who worked on ships might yearn for home. That is understandable- especially for those who had family and a network of friends. I on the other hand felt the release of escape. I was breathing at last, and now my air was laced with the perfumes of a nirvana. Mauritius was my first experience of a ‘Paradise’. Of course the term can apply to any geography- either in your soul or outside- depending on how you feel. But here, for me, the two were aligned in a sensual uplift.
Around July 1973 our ship had arrived in Port Louis to load 13,500 tons of bulk cane sugar- the primary export of the island. Good news was that the loading would be slow so we could expect to be in port for several days. Roger Maddison was a generous Chief Mate and he allowed we three cadets extra time off to forage ashore.
So we immersed into a vision of white beaches, the swaying shade of palm trees, snorkelling among dazzling fish, seashells’ intricate coils, the explosive sweetness of pineapples, the seven-coloured earth, scents of giant gardenia and of other exotica swimming on the warm breeze. Then a retreat under thatch-roofed shelters to consume magnificent sea food.
Along the way we talked with a formerly British woman who reminded us about independence gained from the UK a few years earlier. She was now proud and possessive of her Mauritian identity, keen to emphasise that Mauritius was multi-ethnic; French, Creole, British, African, Indian, Chinese- long before multiculturism had become a global cause. Many Mauritians still lived in an eclectic scattering of homes; from the small pastel-coloured creole styles to the eccentric white-pillared remnants of old-colonialism.
Still naïve, I felt I had found what I had been missing.
2. Morris Marina Dopes.
The Morris Marina ‘ranks among the worst cars ever built’ (Wikipedia). It was our vehicle of choice for a tour of the island. The fifth engineer, who I’ll call Steve, would be clear of his engine room watch by the afternoon. He wanted to join us ashore and suggested that we should hire a car to go sightseeing. So we chipped in to rent a Marina. Also, through contacts with the local stevedores, he had acquired some marijuana. So our accoutrements for the journey were three bottles of wine and a packet of grass. Before starting the ride we had already begun swigging the wine and now the reefers were rolling into shape. Steve offered one to me but I refused, claiming that the wine was good enough for me. To this day I have not taken recreational drugs, but still cannot spell out a clear reason why not. My given reasons have changed over the years- more on that is looked at in my ‘New Age’ phase. But I wonder if on that day on the alluring isle of Mauritius was I still trying to preserve a ‘good little boy’ image despite my parents being 6.000 miles away? No, that does not make sense because in an act of defiance I had already surrendered my cherry to a sex worker in Cape Town and was in other ways actively shaking off the straitjacket of my upbringing.
Regardless, Steve, Pete and Chris were drawing in the sweet smoke, while I on the back seat continued to imbibe the wine. Despite my refusal to toke I love the smell of weed, and the crackling of their joints added spice to the atmosphere. In rasping voices they claimed it was the best they had ever experienced. Pete’s relaxed exhalations spoke more than words, as he slumped downwards into his corner next to me.
With Steve driving, the journey began. Before smoking the dope he had already downed some wine. This might explain how he overrode the convention that a person on weed will drive slower. He was soon going erratically fast. Despite myself being softened by wine, an inner alarm started to sound through my fog. I said that I could take over the driving. With a jeer he said that he was fine and that if he made one mistake I could replace him then. Darkness had fallen and we were out in the country taking the narrow coast road at about 60 mph. Headlights came towards us and Steve veered into the opposite lane to meet them head on. I yelled and he swung back in the last second but not before the other car was lurching violently towards the road edge to avoid us. I think that Chris and Pete were too far gone to care, but I growled “that was the one mistake”. He cackled and refused to slow down.
While keeping up the speed, the road suddenly curved to the right, but Steve continued straight. We came to a crunching, shuddering halt in a field of sugar cane. Spindly, leafy silhouettes loomed above us in a moment of silence. I was now furious and nearly sober. The car was still functioning, and Steve was able to make a bumpy reversal out of the mess of smashed cane. I demanded to be let out of the car at the next village. Somewhat subdued, Steve agreed. I believe that locals helped me get a taxi back to the ship.
Memories of the next morning are somewhat limited, but apparently Steve, Pete and Chris had been able to return the car – miraculously showing few signs of external damage – to the rental office. The lingering but vague impressions as we went about our chores were of hangovers, chastisement, and the others’ half-hearted arguments that I should have stayed for the whole trip.
3. Patrick Too Close To The Sun.
Patrick was a gentle soul who danced to a different drummer. You could say that he was a ‘character’. Cargo ships in the mid twentieth century were strewn with ‘characters’. This is a term that we openly used to describe someone whose traits were any of: eccentric, different, ‘off-the-wall’, alcoholic, semi-insane, neurotic, downright sociopathic. A common opinion was that it was apt that the worst of these individuals would be allowed to work on ships so that ‘civilised society’ could be saved from their ill-fitting disruptions. By the turn of the century new labels of ‘dysfunctional’, ‘co-dependent’, ‘phobic’, ‘socially challenged’ had been devised and most of the old characters- if still living- would have been deemed as unemployable, with a place found in front of counsellors or in jail. Patrick being eccentric and harmless was at the mild end of the scale.
Prior to arriving in Mauritius we had spent six weeks tramping around the Arabian Gulf, dropping freight at various ports, including construction materials for a nascent project named Dubai. It was summer and temperatures would sear to high thirties Celsius, tipping forty. We took off ashore whenever possible. I was as mesmerised by the shimmering desertscapes as I am by grey seas or steel blue mountains. Patrick was the ship’s radio officer and as such had few chores when we were in port. He would periodically join us on our excursions. But he was leery of the sun. I faintly recall that he had mentioned a sensitive skin. So he donned protection in the way of a cravat for his neck, a long-sleeved shirt, long trousers and leather shoes. And for maximum shade he would use a dark umbrella as a makeshift parasol. From the searing white beach at Sharjah to the sweltering streets of Kuwait we young neophytes in our shorts and T-shirts resembled servants accompanying an anachronistic colonial dignitary. Yet Patrick was twenty-something and hailed from Limerick. And he succeeded in his objective. He came out of the desert lands with skin as pasty white as when he went in.
So to Mauritius, with temperatures consistently around 25 degrees and the lush embrace of palm trees. Patrick was seduced. He felt that he could relax his guard. When he joined us on the beach he stripped down to his swim shorts like the rest of us and lay on a towel as though we were in Blackpool. The cadets were required to return early to the ship so we had to leave. We wished Patrick well with his day in the sun. Later the captain received a message from the ship’s agent that Patrick had been taken to hospital with third-degree burns. He had fallen asleep on the beach. Arrangements were made for a replacement radio officer to fly out from the UK. Some days later and out to sea we received word through the tap dance of Morse keys that Patrick was recovering well.
4. Reverse Escape.
While I was leaning on the hatchway watching the slow pour of golden sugar into the ship’s hold a stevedore approached me and started to chat. He was of Indian ancestry and full of questions about the UK. He had heard that you could make good money working on the London Underground. It started to sink in to me that if he had any chance he would move to the UK to live and work. I was incredulous- not only that he would ever want to leave this emerald green utopia but that he was specifically wanting to work below ground in the Smoke.
This was a new lesson for me that left the pages of English schoolbooks fluttering uselessly. So many times in my travels I would be brought to stare into the schism between rich and poor. My naivety had begun to erode. In Mauritius that smiling young man would have been earning barely enough to survive. He would be working minimum 12 hours a day with no prospects and taking home a pittance. The rich scents of tropical flowers are no compensation for a rumbling stomach. He wanted to escape in the exact opposite direction to me. I doubt if he made it.
5. The Shadow Of Another World.
I never returned to Mauritius. But through articles and photographs I see that High Finance has pressed its greasy palm onto Port Louis, turning concrete and glass fingers to the sky. And although the green mountains still dominate that micro-city, most of the old country dwellings have gone.
As fuel to the fire of counter-point I had a friend from school who- long after our ship had sailed- established in Mauritius a tax-avoidance bank for the uber-rich. Working for an international banking giant, he lived there for a few years before following the money onwards to Dubai. After leaving school he had soared over the globe in a different arc than mine. When many of our compatriots went off to college or university – and I ran away to sea – he went directly into Financial Management. He took an internship with a global bank in South Korea. When we were still in school he had found for me an evening job, joining him to run a service station in Ellesmere Port. He was fast, efficient, and absorbed with counting the money. This interest must have sparked his high-climbing trajectory. He had appeared briefly on social media and when I spotted that his list of landing points included Mauritius it struck me that he must have surveyed the island through different eyes than mine. He would weave anonymous financial threads in through that Port Louis cluster and then out, transformed into new garments for users hidden over the horizon. He will have built shell companies and castles on the white sands where Patrick had burned and where I had witnessed a mirage that resembled paradise.
SCARBOROUGH REEF AND SCIENTOLOGY
I wrote the following prose poem in 1977 after finishing my 8-to-midnight bridge watch. Our ship – the m.v. [motor vessel] Berkshire – was traversing the South China Sea on a course that brought us close to the Scarborough Reef. I was the Third Mate and my mind was already drugged by Scientology. The dilemma for me is that although Scientology was supposed to release my authentic self, I was already intensely sensitive to life and remained so after leaving Scientology behind. So although supposedly triggered by a cult into loving the wonders of the world – hence the piece below – my essential love of the sea, life and poetry existed before, and remains to this day. [More about my time with that mind-washing group appears in a separate section of this book] I have ridden up and over many massive seas since that year, and entered many a ‘dark night of the soul’. So although I have sometimes retched in reading it again, I would not want to edit any of the below. For it is a snap-shot from the developing soul of one 23 year-old.
Scarborough Reef – South China Sea
It is a mystical sea night- black as a tunnel. We’re spellbound in a dark room whose floor is the churning sea and whose ceiling is of dimly beheld cloud wraiths. These drift, rain-veiled, stirring sailors’ souls back to their swansong reef. But now, that song long sung, the place in the dark where the reef lies is deserted, the dead space like a gaping mouth.
The mass of sea cloud, blackly invisible, more felt than seen, hangs in the sightless unapproachable night. And, sister to massive cloud, the reef lurks beyond the edge of tangibility, yet her solid siren presence draws nearer as we lurch through the wet darkness. As the reef creeps close the wind tosses out a sound; the frenetic scream of ignorance thrown out by history’s lost sailors. Listen again and it has gone to silence, as ignorance changes to awesome quenching knowledge.
This vacillation, this shifting, is the stuff of the sea. In one moment it is all noise. In the next – uneasy silence. In one whim the breeze blows gently like a lover. In the next the wind crashes over, smashing seas onto reef and ship like an angry reminder…..
I, SAILOR, DRUNK-O
This poem roughly shows where I was in the early 80s, post-Scientology and pre-New Age America. I had returned to sea, now as Chief Mate on coastal freighters, and perhaps loving the ship life more than ever. But in reviewing my jottings since the 70s I see a common theme: No matter how bad I tried to be (albeit with success at times- adulterous and raging at my first wife) I always seem to have had one eye to the heavens.
I, Sailor, Drunk-O April 1981, Revised July 1990
The bloodshot dusk half-lights two birds
In this twilight town.
Here the sailor bird, in a lazy circle,
Drifts in from the seas, and peels down
To rest on beer-eyed streets and bleary bar stools,
Spilling onto surfaces which remain unimpressed,
Unmoved by the alighting; here from him no enlightenment,
No plumbing of native depths;
No statement of evidence for love decently exposed;
Neither sunny indictment, nor foreign rose.
And tied alongside, glass half-empty, is the bird of the town;
The deep-seated, intermingled, risen-hackled,
Hamming, shank-shackled bird-about-town,
Who hobbles around an inward spiral; mortal day
Diffused in halting traffic; signs of helical decay;
Delayed trains of thought, rarely subject to forthright
Fresh directions, or to opening interjections which might…
Only politeness saves the daylight.
So up and ‘round again we go, my bird of the briny horizons,
Declining to linger with rhyme or reason,
Instead to twist and point with wing-tipped
Turns, fingering the tales of loose-lipped
Towners; who in turn raise their rumps to the ethers and declare,
‘There flies a lack of care. Unfair
Shares of responsibility lie with me,
While he slips idly by, in disguise, and apparently free.’
But above all, a different bird owns the sky;
With a murmur of Apollo, and a ring of truth in her eye.
No spirals here; neither in nor out,
But like a reminder flying straight as a dye-cast shout,
Points through a forgotten distance, to a high-most plain,
Saying ‘Come rise with me and taste again
The cream of Helios, for therein those dreams are ours’.
But the drowning town, and the seagulls,
Deafly down and round,
The following sample pages come from near the end of this memoir, and thereby near the end of my second marriage in 1995. I wrote each piece on the indicated date, while I was trying to record my ‘progress’ in a sort of journal during yet another period of self interrogation. In hindsight, and although progress is gained from every step, ‘self flagellation’ may be a better description for this phase.
ANATOMY OF A BREAKDOWN- THE HOUSE PAINTING INCIDENT c. 1990
This is how a typical incident of breakdown began. We had been staying for several months with Dee’s father, Dave.
Dee and I were sitting at the table. She began to introduce a subject that was on her mind by saying that she felt that I had developed an attitude against her father, or towards helping around the house. Instantly my defences went up; I felt the first movements of anger because I believed I was a very adequate share of the chores around the house. As far as I knew up that point, I had been doing all that we had previously agreed that I should do. So now I felt miffed or hurt that this was being discarded. Here I made my first mistake. I did not take a ‘time out’.
I ignored the feelings of upset and simmering anger. Tight-faced I asked her what she was trying to say. Why was she now changing her mind about how much she felt we should be doing around the house? She had begun accusatively and I was defensive.
She conveyed to me that yes she was changing her mind and was now feeling that I should now do some other more major project. For the last few weeks I had spent a couple of hours of most week-days scraping the paintwork of the eaves, windows and other trimmings in preparation for re-painting. It was something that my father-in-law said he wanted to do, and I volunteered to do it. I felt that this was an adequate extra contribution to the household. I do not greatly enjoy painting and I had begun resisting to volunteer to do the subsequently required priming and painting. In my resistance I told myself that the scraping was enough.
Now with Dee’s new approach I could see what was coming and I was smouldering. When she asked me what other project I might do I said gruffly that there was only one, and that was obviously the painting. In a huff I said I would do it and we terminated the discussion. However within myself the matter was not finished. I still had boiling, unexpressed anger. I felt betrayal and that I had compromised, or gone against my own will.
When we went to bed that night the atmosphere was not great between us. Before sleeping I remarked that it was time to launder the sheets and that I would do it in the morning. She said (sincerely trying to keep a balance of chores) that she would do it because I would be doing the painting. However I had it in my head that she was obsessing with trying to keep ‘even’; that no favour could be received without having to do something in return. I cut her short and in a dismissive way said that it was minimum problem to throw the sheets in the washing machine.
About an hour later Dee arose and went downstairs. She did not return. Presumably she could not sleep. Quite soon I heard a rumbling noise from the kitchen. She had decided to start the dishwasher. It was about 12.15 am. Ordinarily I could just about sleep with that noise in the background but in my current state of festering anger this was the last straw. I stormed down the stairs and started yelling at her in an abusive way- Why had she started the machine at this time of night when I could so easily start it in the morning? I accused her of obsessing about debits and credits, ‘checks and balances’. In short I was out of control and very derisive. I stormed back up to bed.
The next morning little was said between us and I had already begun preparing to paint the house before she left for work. My anger was still overflowing, and I was stomping and banging around, slamming cupboard doors, banging things onto tables. I exhibited all the manifestations of a ‘spoilt kid’ who is being forced to do something he does not want to do. Dee left for work. While going about the painting during the rest of the morning I had anger pouring out like lava from a volcano. As usual the emotion was accompanied by trains of thoughts; internal castigations of Dee and her father. That frame of mind and emotion allowed no room for the sun. I was dark, with no room for love, and filled with dislike for all things.
At last, by lunchtime my anger had subsided. The physical action of painting had been therapeutic, though I would not want to admit that. I had begun to see how the job would be a genuine help to Dave and loving, more understanding thoughts had begun to creep in.
I called Dee and conveyed my love for her, along with the first round of apologies for my behaviour. She was of course receptive and equally loving. When she came home that evening we talked some more about the string of incidents and the love between us regained strength. The healing had begun. We acknowledged that the vital keys to the blow-up were firstly that she had begun accusatively even though that was unintentional. Secondly I had become defensive, feeling that I was being wronged. But probably most importantly of all I had not taken ‘time out’ when the primary feelings of anger started to well up. If I had left the table and taken a walk, I would have been able to let the feelings take their course, and I would have spotted what was happening. This could have given me a better chance to return to Dee and tell her what feelings had been stirred up, including my sense of being ‘wronged’.
Experience has shown that if we talk gently with each other about these things the defences do not pop up. I would have been better able to understand the changes that were happening for her and what desires she had. I might even have been able to laugh (yes even I, the intense one) at how my resistance had drawn in the very thing that I had been avoiding.
These events arise as though by the flicking of a switch. Push the wrong button, miss the warning signs and lo- a monster has leapt up and engulfed us in the dark spasms of hurt, anger and broken trust between lovers.
At the core of hate is love.
I hate my father.
Tim Leighton, February 20th, 1990
At the core of hate is love.
I love my father.
Tim Leighton, March 31st, 1990
Arthur Jewkes Leighton jr. died on March 5th, 1991. He was 64 years old.
JOURNEY CONCEPT April 21, 1992
You move along a bright railway line; you come to a tunnel. You move through the tunnel. You come back to the light. You cross the sunlit meadow; you come to a dark forest. You go into the forest- deeper, deeper; you emerge onto another sunlit meadow. You climb the highest mountain; you must go down the other side. You sink into the valley and the ground starts rising again.
If you stop in any of these places, or try to ignore their opposites, you do not live; you do not grow. You do not learn. You may rest, but you must then resume.
There is no end to this journey. Its concept has come clearer to me since reading ‘Fire In The Belly: On Being A Man’ by Sam Keen. Yet although it seems like a journey within infinity, symbolised by the endless curve of the horizontal 8, there is always an advancement with every passage around the loop. It is never the same journey.
July 10, 1992
And remind yourself of all this when the dark stages are formidable, despairing, depressing, hopeless.
HAS IT ALL GONE? March 1, 1994
Has it all really gone? All the way of life, all the way of seeing things. All that I had. Has it all truly gone? For instance; the bones of a story. The bones were the colours of character and personal idiosyncrasy that made a person and which as such, when put up against another person, with their own bones, made for problems, conflict. The hatred that made enemies, that spawned plots with secrets and double talk, double meanings. These made the story.
But now after so much ‘personal work’, ‘personal growth’, I feel – ironically – empty. I can no longer look at a story character who smokes, is unshaven, wears a dirty raincoat, is half drunk, overweight and is planning in his own head to fuck a friend’s wife; I can no longer look at him without seeing that every part of him is an element of dysfunction, and that I no longer live that way. Coffee is bad for you. So is chocolate and cake. And ice cream. I am a modern male. I am cleansed and pure. But I don’t have a story.
There isn’t even a story of the conflict with temptation. It’s no longer that I drink a beer and am tempted to drink six more – to get ‘nicely tipsy’ and play loud music. No. I literally don’t want to.
Nor now in seeing attractive women do I open one hint, one flicker of body language that would say ‘I will if you will’. No. Instead upon hearing my body’s voice of temptation I almost automatically and in a split second see right through the affair from beginning to end (Before, I never even conceived of endings). Instead I see us going to bed, having sex and almost from the moment of orgasm the growing ache of guilt. Then the days of wondering- will she tell her husband, did she have a disease, did I give her one? If I later see her- the awkwardness replacing what might otherwise have been friendship. The painful, stulted drifting away, but with a permanent dark scar on the conscience. I would never again look through clear eyes at my wife.
Now, I see all of that in a flash. In fact I am hardly aware of the process, so there isn’t even an internal conflict of temptation versus ‘rightness’.
But, My God, this all feels so bland. Is this the true ‘blank canvas’ of Zen? Is it now that my challenge is to not start blemishing the canvas with colour? This pain of emptiness seems worse than any before.