My Hot/Cold Torment
the catholic nurse
what can she think
of my hot/cold torment
always near blowing it
living in the fast lane
so friendly kind
wanda abandoned me
bolton is in my hands
and yet my coldness
the more emotional
trying to find a reason
for my ice-like suspicion
coldly indifferent eyes
suspect everything that moves
socialising just to be loud
compensate for cold
lack of essential trust
i love them
my desire to love
is unconscious and gigantesque
i never know
when i’m going to miss someone
strange coldness perplexing
i've got to work to get devotion
but once i get it
i really get people on my side
there are carl people
who can survive
my shark-like coldness
and there are those
who want something
i can be very devoted to those
who can stay the course
my soul is aching
for an impartial love of people
i'm at war with myself…
A Cult of Nowness
The fragment above was forged using notes scrawled onto seven sides of an ancient now coverless notebook, possibly late at night following an evening’s carousal and in a state of serene intoxication. The original notes were based on experiences I underwent while serving as a teacher in a highly successful central London school of English, which I did between the spring or summer of ‘88 and the summer of 1990.
It gives some indication of my emotional condition at the time, including a tendency as I see it to wildly veer between the conscious effusive affectionateness I aspired to, and sudden irrational involuntary lapses of affect. It also bespeaks the intense devotion I manifested towards my favourite students and which was reciprocated by them with interest.
All punctuation has been removed and extracts from the notes have been tacked together not randomly as in the so-called cut up technique but selectively and all but sequentially.
It was written towards the end of the 1980s, a decade which I see as the last in a triad of decades marked in the West by frenzied persistent social upheaval and artistic innovation, the latter taking place in particular within two late modern forms of creative expression in the shape of the cinema and rock music.
For me the last-named, and I am not alone in believing this, is more than just a simple type of popular music derived from rythym and blues, country music and so on. Rather it is an immensely influential international subculture of varying artistic and intellectual substance, much of it depictable as pure "pop", which could be used as an abbreviation of popular rock. Some cultural critics have even gone so far as to describe it as a religion.
What is certain is that rock has possessed an intellectual dimension since the 1960s, and many would single the one-time folk troubadour Bob Dylan out as the person who more than any other helped to invest mere pop music with genuine artistic and intellectual substance. From Dylan onwards there have been rock artists who’ve looked to past movements within the sphere of artistic modernism for inspiration, such as romanticism, symbolism, dadaism, surrealism, beat, situationism, and so on, as well as the zeitgeists which birthed them. In my opinion this was especially true of certain pioneers of the music of the 1970s and early ‘80s.
It could be said that rock has been the principle repository of the avant garde impulse in the West since the late sixties, with its attendant rebelliousness and negativity. However, it would be false to insist that it has been uniformly negative, when much of it has been positive and uplifting, as well as artistically exalted. Still the fact remains that rock has helped to disseminate a culture of instant gratification throughout the Western World in the last fifty years thereby significantly contributing to the alteration of its moral fabric.
Those who like myself were born in the mid 1950s, and so grew up in the sixties, were of necessity affected on a deep and perhaps largely subliminal level by the post-war socio-cultural revolution of which rock was such an essential component. Some were more profoundly and negatively impacted than others, and I would consider myself among them. I maintain that from quitting formal education aged 16 to coming to faith some two decades thereafter, I was in thrall to a cult of “nowness” or instantaneity that has been growing progressively more powerful throughout the west since about 1955.
If this were not so, why would I not have countenanced a future for myself during those years? I mean in terms of establishing myself within a solid profession, starting a family, planning for middle age and beyond, and so on? Retrospect informs me that prior to my decision to forswear alcohol, I viewed these concerns with an indifference bordering on contempt and it hurts me deeply to realise the extent to which I sabotaged my life through such a worldview. Sometimes it seems to me that the only way I can deal with such bitter knowledge is to see myself as a success manqué, viz. a social and professional misfit simply by default.
As an illustration of how psychologically and spiritually lost I was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, permit me to quote from a letter from my mother written to me in what I surmise to have been the winter of 1991:
“…I had a chance to look at your library…I could not believe what I saw. These very strange books, beyond my comprehension, most of them, and I thought what a dissipation of a good mind that thought it right to read such matters…I feel very deeply that you have up to your present state, almost ruined your mind. Your happy, smiling face has left you, your humourous nature, ditto, your spirited state of mind, your cheerful, sunny, exuberant well-being, all gone. Too much thought given to the unhappiness and sad state of others (often those you can not help, in any way)…I’ve said recently that I am convinced that anyone can get oneself into a state of agitation or distress or anxiety by thinking or reading about, or witnessing unpleasant things, and the only thing to do is to, as much as possible, avoid such matters, to not let them get hold in the mind. Your fertile mind has led you astray. Why, and how?”
How many millions of mothers over the course of the centuries have asked this of offspring who’ve been inexplicably drawn to the shadowlands of life only to lose their way back to sanity? Only God knows. Most of course, succesfully make the journey back before settling into a normal mode of life, but the danger of becoming lost is always there, especially for those who remain in the shadows far beyond adolescence. Eternal adolescence is arguably one of the prime features of our era, facilitated by its exaltation of youth .
I recently read of a legendary rock artist from the late seventies and early eighties born like me in the mid 1950s and about whom someone very close to him described as being obsessed by human suffering, both mental and physical despite being well into his twenties. His worldview, which also incorporated a preoccupation with the dark glamour of self-destructive genius, I see as remarkably akin to mine at the time I penned the words contained in the first paragraph of this piece, or when my mother wrote her impassioned letter to me, portions of which I quoted in the previous paragraph.
I was a puer eternus in my mid-thirties at the time, in thrall to the avant garde and its age-old love affair with antagonism and nihilism. It had already wreaked serious psychological damage, and physical and spiritual annihilation would surely have followed had I not been violently wrenched from its Svengali-like influence in time. This of course is precisely what occurred, thanks to the mercy of God.
There are those who would insist that far fewer young people in the late ‘00s are enthralled by the time-honoured avant gardist exaltation of self-destructive genius than in previous rock eras. How true this is it is difficult to say, but what is certain is that the worldview still exists, and may be set to explode once again, as it has done periodically since the late ‘60s by which time the golden age of youth and pop and had started to reveal a far more solemn visage with hard rock as its new soundtrack.
A year or so back, an angel-faced young rock idol announced with apparent wistful regret that he’d destroyed beautiful things that were his for the keeping. Again I was reminded of the person I was a decade and a half ago, the eternal youth who romanticised self-destruction. He couldn't be more different from today's Carl, who treasures and honours the things he loves, which are to a significant extent the simple things that nurture and sustain the individual and society…
My Hot/Cold Torment (reprise)
…the catholic nurse all sensitive caring noticing everything what can she think of my hot/cold torment always near blowing it living in the fast lane so friendly kind the girls dewy eyed wanda abandoned me bolton is in my hands and yet my coldness hurts the more emotional they stay trying to find a reason for my ice-like suspicion fish eyes coldly indifferent eyes suspect everything that moves socialising just to be loud compensate for cold lack of essential trust warmth i love them despite myself my desire to love is unconscious and gigantesque I never know when I’m going to miss someone strange coldness perplexing I've got to work to get devotion but once I get it I really get people on my side there are carl people who can survive my shark-like coldness and there are those who want something more personal I can be very devoted to those who can stay the course my soul is aching for an impartial love of people I'm at war with myself the catholic nurse all sensitive caring…