There is a weird thing about having to do emotional backpedalling. As in having to go very fast from really quite wanting something pretty hard to not-really-caring-that-much-after-all. It’s quite physical. That’s the thing. It feels like a part of you has become oddly distended, some organ you’re not quite sure you had, and you’re looking at it from a distance, going, hmm, does it in fact feel that way?
Which, of course, it does. It’s a sense of something moving at great speed, a surreal sidelong movement never quite believed in in the first place, that comes to a halt that surely can’t happen just like that, because it’s not allowed. And the feeling isn’t really there. It’s held at some kind of remove, it’s something that has been pinned down and opened up and put apart.
Is this sort of backpedalling dishonest? Well, yes. Yes yes yes. It’s probably just the decent thing to do, though, and I’m really good at it. Disappointment just makes you weigh things up. Stuff falls into place. I really hope this does not sound deliberate, because this is just the kind of thing that just happens. The brain stutters and reels and clutches eventually at undeserved profundities. Does that sound sort of cool and sexy? A bit, but it’s not. It’s just there, remember. There is a feeling of is-ness about the entire thing.
I can think of people interesting-er than me, cleverer than me, fun-er and cooler than me, and I suppose it’s the same for them all: a litany of gentle failures, disappointments not spoken of, doubts made holdable and put aside to be unfolded and parsed a long time later, stuff strung together by a frail coil of will, a thing not really there, and memories like standing wrecks, vivid and inert and eventually unsettling in the best sense.
That’s the first thing. We’re all here and nothing much happens, and that’s probably okay.
I mean it: it’s probably okay.
And then the other thing is that competition is weird, isn’t it? I mean the very idea of it. Take people and design them to essentially dislike each other (where it matters) for a period of time, or to at least see each others as things to be overcome, and expect some great good to drop out of it sphincterwise. I mean, it’s great. There’s something huge and lithe and atavistic about competition. The predatory opera of it. The compression of so much envy + anger + joy + relief + shock into spaces that, come to think of it, should not be able at all to hold any of that. But it all happens and it all happens at the same time and it’s impressive like a disaster is impressive. I’m not saying it’s a disaster. I’m saying it’s impressive in the same way. I’m saying it’s sublime, which is to say, not beautiful at all, and a bit beyond it.
It’s pretty great.
Hey, I like competition. The ambitious be damned with mute wisdom and the unambitious be damned more with happiness. At least I can lie to myself fast enough and be honest about it. We all need to learn to brake hard, I think.
The real surprise comes from knowing that in the big fat zero-sum churning of it all there are some things that remain steadfastly not like that. I think that’s fairly awesome. In this competition I am in a team with one other person and he’s put amounts of effort into this thing that are fairly terrifying. I am pretty lazy. I’m good at this thing I do because I’ve been at it for a decent time. He hasn’t been at it for a decent time. He has worked his holy arse off. And I realise now in a non-distended, quite blunt way, that I feel more or less really fucking awful about the fact that all that stuff that he has done has in one sense been wasted and I he must feel really fucking awful about it. And that makes me realise that I seem to be caring more about how he feels about this thing a bit more than I care about this thing. Which is not because I am peculiarly empathetic or anything or that sort, but I think is a good measure of what a very good person he has been to me over a really quite long period of time. I don’t think I have deserved much of his niceness. It’s been secreted more or less out of nowhere. It’s strange and unexplainable but that strangeness and unexplainableness is good.
Well no of course it’s not unexplainable. We’re partners in a competition so of course we have every reason to be nice to each other, to instrumentalise, hm? But it’s over, right now, at this very moment, see, and it’s still happening. So what went wrong? It began when we found we both liked maths (he in a more proper way than I did), LoTR, and logic puzzles. Etc. Etc.
There are many more people. They are not good people or bad people. It’s fairly stupid to think that there are ever good or bad people. But there are many more people who have been light enough and comfort along the way. Many have been kind in ways that even now I find shocking. Some I can say pretty safely are the sorts of people I will remember for life. I do not have it in me to give so many people their due. If I try I’d dissolve into a haze of obligations and reverences and the thought exhausts in quite a metaphysical way. Well. That sounds incredibly selfish. The main thing is that it’s late and my typing is getting pretty dismal.
Is there a question of justice here? Well, it feels like there ought to be. This kind of disappointment demands satiation by reference to some kind of gilded moral rule. But – and read the following words more pensively than you might be used to – fuck that. There is no question of justice here. I play a game and the game spits out results and I just look at them. Even if someone did do something wrong to cause this disappointment – and I cannot tell – I will undoubtedly do many more things in my life that will fuck over more people in far more severe ways than this person or persons did, and it is likely that I will never hear of these people I have screwed over and will continue to fill the same rather bare space in the world unmoved by tragedies made invisible by plenitude. People have many things to do with their lives and this game I play should only be a small part of it, and these people have their own lives and ambitions and private joys + griefs and things to worry about and get on with to cauterise some meaning etc. out of the world and its dullness. I wish them well. I wish everyone well.
And then there’s the final thing and that is regret. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling. The Germans have a word: torschlusspanik, which means, I think, gate-closing panic. The idea that time is running out to get something done. I’ll not have much more time left to do this thing I like, to let this game play itself out. I’ve had a lot of fun and the people have been great, but faintly out there you can hear the gates falling shut: boom, boom, boom. And it goes on, gargantuan dominoes, going on deep into the bore.
That was melodramatic.
Do you remember X-Men: Days of Future Past? Don’t worry: I don’t really like it that much, but there’s that funny scene, and during that scene Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle plays, and in it there’s the lines:
But there never seems to be enough time /To do the things you want to do, once you find them
and you know what? I listen and I think: hmm, well, yeah, fair enough.