Identity, it’s all about language. You know the word persona, right. In Latin, that’s per as in through, like the English… And sona, like sonar, sound. It’s a sounding-through. But persona also means a mask. The masks they’d wear for festivals and things, they had a sound box in them to alter their voice. The persona is always a mask.
It’s also like in inter-action, or you say he acted, he was acting drunk, stupid… There’s always a performance. People identifying and trying to be identified in a certain way.
Like when you’re with your brother, or at work, you say you talk in a more London accent. Or if you’re teaching, it’s much more well spoken. I’m a bit like that. I don’t want to lose the sound of where I’m from, that says I’m common, I’m not privileged. Aaaah… Hear that? [Thick SW accent] But I’ve also studied languages, I’m a multi linguist, so I don’t want to hide what I know. But I want to tell people what words mean, so it’s not an elitist thing. Like if I use the word ‘illustrious’, and you say I don’t know what that means, I’d tell you so that you can learn it. That way we’re spreading what we know, increasing it together.
Maybe the more masks you’ve got, the more you can fit in. You can make more advantages out of a situation. The ‘better’ your accent, the more well off you might be, so that might make you more attractive… Natural selection. I don’t know. But I’m not like Holden Caulfield, you know from Catcher in the Rye. I don’t think it’s phoney not to be just one way. I think the self is much broader, like the Atman in Hinduism, a container of all these forms and changes.
Like male, female, race… these are all arbitrary categories. We’re just human beings. OK, I get that it’s social and political, that these are made to be real, their effects are real. But ultimately we’re all human beings, our minds are the same. Things like nationality, it’s just nonsense. Our language, the way we speak, it communicates these categories. But we can be freed of them, we just have to recognise what we have in common. I don’t think people should limit themselves. And when someone does something that harms or insults another, on ANY grounds… we’ve got to challenge that, we’ve got to stop it. Because a crime against one is a crime against all. Things like homophobia, racism, I can’t stand that, I have to do something. It harms us all.
You tell me about Spinoza, about how God is nature. I think I get that. There is no supernatural, that would be impossible. God is here, in this cup or this table. But that doesn’t mean much either. Nature can be matter, but also ideas. Everything that is. Our body parts are always renewing, the skin, every seven years? That means I’m about to start my fifth body! But life is always contained in that changing. Energy never begins or ends. We’re always changing form, and our actions are the effects of earlier causes, and we cause things that long outlive what we did. Or our ideas, our beliefs. What I might say to you might make you do something, or maybe not do it. The idea lives on through what it causes.
I don’t think I can rest in one place. Fancy joining me in France in a few weeks? I’ll be there, wandering, camping out. Why not? It doesn’t cost much, all you need is time, and you make that. People are too closed in London. Continual working, it wears people out. What’s it all for? It’s like people have forgotten.
It always comes back to time. Labour, wages. I’m a Marxist. This structural appreciation of time… It determines everything else. How much we have to work, run around. It’s the scaffolding of everything else.
I believe in a right to laziness. I want to work much less. Not more. You get the politics. It’s about having free time. But people I know, they don’t. They say what are you going to do? I say fuck it, I’m going to do much less.
But not many people feel that way. Revolution in England…? No chance. We’ve got to find the gaps, spaces where we can talk, communicate. Connection, it’s everything. It’s all we have. And it’s always a possibility.
It’s a revolutionary act to hold a comrade’s hand, a friend’s hand. I don’t know how to explain it. I believe that now, and I never used to. To give and share time. I don’t have any goals now, or plans. It’s just me, here. I have no end, I guess. The process or the outcome is it. How we live now, rather than the future. Cos people are just working all the time. The politics, even for people on the Left, doesn’t match up to reality. Anarchists who are heads of academic departments, who won’t pay graduates for teaching seminars. Marxists who work all the time on marking and articles that they write under their own name. There’s a lot of competitiveness and egoism there.
Let’s move to Portugal! It is so cheap there, £500 a month for a whole house. In London we just work all the time, just to pay the rent. That is capital. Being lazy is not about lying in bed. Yeah it’s about spending time in bed, gardening, spending time with friends, making love! But it’s also about teaching, reading, writing. Anything that doesn’t supply the capital machine, like rent. These zero hour contracts like the one I’m on… Work dictates everything. I’ve got to get out of London. But people are conservative. They can’t see a way out of this endless working. Maybe they enjoy it. It’s mad.
I’m [early 30s]… I’m getting older. I’m thinking fuck, I need to do something. But I love teaching. Connecting with people, helping people. Connection, that is what it’s all about. With my ex, I wanted to do something political. Not academic, not activism. Helping people. We were engaged, together [several] years. When we broke up I had to stop my studies, I couldn’t read a book for about a year, couldn’t even think. I’m just coming out of that. I’ve been writing tons, now though.
I always wanted to work with people. I couldn’t say why exactly. But I was also interested in academic things. So I did a masters, and went into policy work for international organisations. Reading, research… But being stuck on a computer, in an office all day… I couldn’t deal with it, it’s not what I wanted to do. So I made a decision, early on I guess. Maybe it’s just me, but… It’s not that that kind of work doesn’t help people, I think it does. But I needed something more immediate, face to face. So I gave that up, and went into social work.
Mental health, it connects to everything. How people live with what they’re feeling, how they cope with trauma. That leads to addiction, family breakdown, a lot of things. The causes might be infinite, but there can be care and support. But they’ve decimated funding there, there’s not much beyond the basic safeguarding. And what about prevention, young people…? We’re just firefighting, dealing with crisis point only. The problem is worsening now, but it’s brushed under. I mean… but… It’s necessary. It’s not easy work, no! My placements were hard. But I want to do this.
When I was younger, I never planned that I’d have things a certain way. But not getting married, being child free, not getting a mortgage… That’s not changed, I don’t think. I’m in my late 20s, but I see some of my friends from school… Their families have helped them buy a property, but they look on that like it’s their right. I feel a deep chasm between them and me. It’s not like most people even get the choice. But they don’t see that.
Yes, maybe there’s something that changes inside us over our 20s. I don’t know whether it’s ‘existential’. It’s hard to get by. Wages, rent, the insecurity we’ve grown up with… I think that explains a lot of it too. People need each other more, but it’s harder to live with each other. So people take steps to what they think is the good life. Maybe that explains it.
I’m from London. It’s where I’ve wanted to live, but I can’t afford it at the moment. I’m applying for lots of things, but it’s tiring, I’m working a lot too. But it’s home, it’s where I want to be.
No one’s bothered… You know it man. Them riots, it was just a smash and grab. People are cynical. They ain’t starving. It was a free for all then, like it is now. Each one out for themself. There’s just about enough… maybe that’s the problem. Look around you. People are apolitical. Can’t think outside the box. So long as there’s enough for themselves, their home, they won’t risk it. Cos let’s say you got rid of this lot, some others would take their place. What, you think you can just blow them away? Nah, you can’t change that, it’s deep. Another fucking Miliband or Boris Johnson.
People are focused on their friends and family, innit. Making a better life for themselves. Not everyone gets to have that, yet they believe it like it’s a fucking right. It’s all about how hard you work, they say. So they won’t stand with the next man, cos they’re seeing him as a rival. They ain’t seeing what unites them, cos there’s no feeling that we’re all together. Or that council housing, housing association, fucking… Whatever, public housing, there’s not a vision there of building and maintaining communities already here, that council housing should be the best kind of all. They’re thinking instead of how to get that, how to fuck the next man over.
The only thing you can change is yourself. You’re asking me… that’s what I believe. That’s all you can control.
As you get older, you accept that you’ll amount to fuck all. Accept that you’re just another person on planet Earth. And that’s OK. And I’ve learnt that I much rather be on my own. Drinking a pint in the pub, it’s just easier, hassle free… There’s no expectations. People can’t make you be anything. I’m happier that way. All them geezers you see in there, they’re happy. They can just be, in their own minds, without any shit from people. That’s freedom, that’s meditation.
So, every Tuesday and Friday around 11am, I’ll post here a sketch from a character I’ve met. Identifying features, or my own questions and comments have been cut out. Just my impression remains.
Extraordinary insights are available from any person one chooses to speak freely and inquisitively with, who has the time to talk. Recently, I’ve thrown myself into a line of questioning like that of my Island Story travels, except it’s rooted in the lives of (mostly) Londoners I talk to. I’m producing these sketches by the dozen and it’s time I did something with them. So here goes the first of many.
ADHD, ADD… There’s a lot of misconceptions around it. You know what it is? I’ve looked at the studies and research. They think that it’s linked to father issues, to not having a relationship with your father. Me and my Dad were always rocky, we didn’t have a relationship. Lots of people I know like that. And girls hardly get it. It’s usually hand in hand with low level autism. And that’s a male/female thing, the right side of the brain dominates… Logic, routine, having things set in a certain way. That’s very male. The left side is emotional, creative.
I have it, low level ADHD. I took Ritalin as a kid. It sent me… Mad. A hundred times worse. It does that in the low level cases. But I’m better now. Lots of counsellors and people trying to help me think, to get better. I had to revisit a lot. I’m in a much better place now.
I think the best thing with drugs is to legalise them. All of them. Prohibiting it doesn’t take it away. People can order a bag of skunk on the internet. Then you could deal with all the problems that come with it. A mate of mine got shot recently. Well, I hadn’t seen him a while. He attacked someone with a hammer, then they came after him, to his house. Only a few hours later. And that was in the country. The drugs, they’re coming out of town. Dealers from London estates coming out, some of these places are really deprived… Setting up shop in a crack den. They’re there a few days a week, they might get some local kids to oversee business. And drugs brings with it violence. My little brother and his friends, they’re not living in London, the city, but they know people who’ve been stabbed. Legalise it, stop that prohibition, and that goes away.