This is who I am

I didn’t go to private school or have private tutors. My family wasn’t rich, it wasn’t poor either. I’ve since learned what that second term means. I was brought up with a brother and sister by a very loving and generous mum and dad. I went to a state boys school for kids pretending to be Catholic. I worked my guts off and, like everyone else, I hated it there. But my response to being in these kinds of prisons was to read and write on my own terms, and besides the fast-food diet there wasn’t too bad.

At the end came a plateau of early adulthood. The choice of future paths on offer was poor, and school only prepares you to take more exams and ultimately end up further up the education food chain or in office labour. The contempt and hostilities exchanged equally between teacher and learners in the classroom was the first taster of later social conflict. You grow up as a son or daughter, safe and secure: the desire comes to form a new identity that is independent, individual and mature. Rich kids go travelling around the world in search for something that I found when I moved out to at 18: who I am, on my own, and with others. Self-knowledge, as in inward knowledge, is an entire world. At this stage, one is like Christopher Columbus, having accidentally landed on the wrong continent, mistaking just the beach-head of a small island for an incomprehensibly huge landscape, and with all the arrogance of young manhood, declaring oneself the sole discoverer and possessor of something that has been known, lived on and repeated inexhaustibly for aeons.

The stupidity of decisions both personal and political stands out. Unfairness is tolerated, irrationality is accepted and apologised for, atrocities occur and are justified or neglected. This makes one in early adulthood upset, and determined to understand their causes, consequences, and ways to rectify them. The energy of your own anger and the excitement and pleasure in seeing one’s work or ideas have some discernible dent in the events of everyday life inspire to conspire further.  It leads to a sense of agency, that one can transform the world in a way, that the world as it stands is terrible and wrong, that the way you shout for is the correct way, and that everyone will agree with you once they’ve seen the light. This is socialist idealism, and my idealism. Presented like this, it seems absurdly naive, but for what it achieves, and what it says of life – that it should be changed – contains courage.

I present only the knowledge of who I am. Observed in others – the desire to be recognised for talent or individuality in music, dance, sport, comedy, literature, for example – might also contain this same desire to impress and develop power in the world, and over the world. Whether this is done as an individual, the masculine way and that of entrepreneurial capitalism, or as a collective, the feminine way and that of peaceful cooperation, varies, but asserts a basic human tendency to be in becoming, and to do through doing. And there is also the desire most commonly for riches, usually for its own sake, with which one can buy things that might also secure a sense of self-empowerment, through aggrandisement, edification, or some bitters-cocktail of the two. It should be clear why this is no way to live, and that it often represents a voodoo doll for some earlier failed ambition. To reject the desire for money itself is not a middle-class notion, as it’s been primarily in middle-class and lower-middle-class people that I’ve seen this trait. Growing up in poverty often leads to seeking other values – health, security, proper family.

Two bodies in the night, a hand that climbs down and finds an inner thigh. Lips meet and learn what books cannot teach. A figure that hunts through dreams of urban decay without a face, that must not be seen, leaving tricks, traps and clues towards wisdom in the cracks between moments of everyday life. Another ancient figure who, after walking across mountains, continents and seas for centuries, collapses finally into the snow and cannot be found. Buddleia bursts through bust brick like it did just after the Blitz. The trees, soil and airborne life all pulsate alive with a single unitary will to become, reproduce, empower, and pleasure – that is life.

I pursued my idealism to its conclusion, in employment from 18 onwards whilst studying and, where I had the choice, working in places that aimed to help vulnerable people improve their quality of life and life choices. That seemed like the practical embodiment of my ideas, not theorising in academia’s exiled crannies. Later, after reading Hardt and Negri’s Empire, I decided to go back to university to understand this book, and I wrote a book of my own, and joined others in writing another. But by the end, I was unable to get funded PhD places to study Spinoza’s philosophy at the institutions I’d applied to. Instead, I worked for a charity campaign that aimed to reduce suicide in London through setting up a London-specific campaign and helpline. It was successful, but for internal reasons that I couldn’t influence I made a choice to leave. I am now here, without any plan and not the person I wanted to be, and not yet the person I want to be. As it’s always been, this is who I am.

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