Dedicated to River – for running (errands) and delivering existential advice.
What follows is about as thrilling as watching paint dry. Something I have developed a love for, deferred since I have yet to develop a love for decorating. That is, unless you have spent your life trying to work out how Transactional Analysis describes interactions.
After four weeks home I had developed repetitive strain injury from scrolling through news and doing nothing very much at all. I found in week 5, I would, from time to time, turn all the noise off, and feel as if I had finally swatted a blue bottle. The silence contained a cacophony of voices in my head, arguments I conduct entirely alone that I had tuned out. Our discussions were all consuming. We’d turn the television on again, they and I, from time to time to find we were all agreed. We’d all seen Groundhog Day. There was not much news at all. It was more like a game of ping pong: its your fault, no I blame you – and not much progress on saving all from Covid19.
After 5 weeks home alone – in addition to the prior 63 years rammed to the gunnels with the slings and arrows of hilarious tragedy, and a global pandemic through which we consume grief for breakfast, lunch and dinner – I was ready for a chat with Trevor at 2m distance. We all were. All of us. Even the ones I won’t let out, usually. I had decided. We were all going for the chat. We’d risk it. All of me.
A chat with Trev is on the house – and so much cheaper than a ‘find yourself course’ on the Costa del Wankers, where all you find is that your selves don’t like, when the chips are down, any of the selves other people have brought along. Worse still you find out that not liking couscous is akin to admitting your family moto is, ‘incest is best’.
Trevor has a window-cleaning outfit; he’s keeping going on the outside domestics but the big stuff, flash stuff, showrooms, fancy coffee shops, hair-dressers- there’s not much going on. So since he lives 8 metres from my house, we can have a safe 2 metre chat when he’s out and about with his kit cleaning windows with holy water.
‘Purified water Cherry. For limescale I wouldn’t touch the holy stuff. Your windows might never need doing again, on the off chance there was something in all that. Business is bad enough.’
He likes to be called River – because he runs a lot and maybe I would want to be called River if my name was Trevor – he’s got the only decent dreads in town and he is the local small-town, unacknowledged Saint, as well as an oracle on everything from where to get your bike fixed to transactional analysis. It was when he was explaining transactional analysis to me that the last 63 years unravelled.
‘So in this interpersonal skills thing right – it’s all about, let me get this right, I’m ok, you’re ok.’
Trev carried on and I thought about the doorbell and whether it had Covid19 on it.
As he got to the end of the pairs and said, ‘I’m not ok, you’re not ok’ he looked at me and he threw me a piercing glance.
It hit me like a very bad dose of dysentery. Unworthyitis. I hadn’t listened very carefully at all. Although I fully respect Trev, I had given him a sign that I considered myself somehow better. All the selves I had brought along had had a firece argument inside my head. I told him what it sounded like:
I know this stuff. You should tell him. Well yeah. I mean. You did. But how do I know what he is going to say? Oh ffs, don’t kid yourself with your humble act. But I mean if I say something, like, ‘I know’ it sounds like I am better than him. Which I am not. Not at all. I look up to him. Oh come on – you defend him, but you’re the Uni lecturer – he’s like, 44 or something, single parent – I’ve got that T-shirt too. You couldn’t do it though. Not as well as he is. Not now. Not then even. Christ. TA it was the 70s; yeah but look at you. Are you any more content? Maybe you should try it. Well of course – or maybe – I don’t bloody know. What do I know? I’m good with words. That keeps me going. Oh shit I do know about this but anywway, You arrogant cow. Don’t put yourself down.
‘I am really sorry sorry Trev. Sometimes I get to think I am so worthy I’m not ….. oh, it’s a tangled web. Sorry.’
‘Yeah. gets all tied up in knots. That’s how it goes. Don’t be sorry. You’re ok even with all that in your head. You give too much. Sometimes being sorry is just a sort of humble act. Like giving something to charity to make yourself feel good – like you can pay to feel ok. Airmiles – pretend you didnt fly. Ha. It’s you’re not ok: I’m not ok tennis, a battle between ordinary unworthiness and public worthiness with a secret smugness. A race to the bottom. The biggest loser wins.
Like some kids. For some of them it’s like being not ok is almost like a fashion – being the most not ok, having the worst cutting scars gets you loads of followers, like the snap-chat champion of not being ok. Being top of the class, that’s not a trend – if you put that on instagram everybody who doesn’t think they are ok will see that and say, that’s like it’s saying to everyone else, ‘you’re all not as ok as me’ and troll you. Throwing the towel in can get you quite a lot of followers. Like people who pledge on facebook to do dry January in a gang – then you see the photos of everyone getting wasted on the 12th for someone’s birthday or some other good reason, as an act of sacrifice. Let’s all be not ok together. Easier. But is it Cherry? Is it? NO it isn’t. Not in the long run. I’m not saying I’m going to win at this, like. But I’ll give it a crack. Have a go at it. In the long run. Long term. If you want to live, if you feel you are ok it is easier to say to the lads, ‘come on, you can do it, you’re ok, right? So lets not get on it till February.”
‘Everyone’s at it all the time – being one side or other of not ok – and everyone’s still ok anyway, even with all that baggage, old tosh going round their heads, as long as they don’t forget it’s bollocks. If you forget, you’re, well. You’re doing some kind of deal. I won’t tell if you don’t, tell yourself I mean. You do all these transactions in your head. Argue yourself into believing a load of old tosh. You know, that voice in your head.’
‘I’ve got 25’
‘I’ll raise you ten. Boom. They all gang up on you and get you stuck on not listening to ok you. You’re convinced you’re not ok. You feel bad but you cant be bothered to do anything about it because you get stuck on believing all those voices saying ‘you are not ok’. So instead you find a reason to say people who succeed at what you can’t do, or can’t be bothered, are wankers. You send it out. Mirror like. And they are not ok but you are king of the world. And then it’s a hangover or – you know, a spiral and the whole thing seems to kind of prove that everyone’s, including you, a bit shit. People who feel unworthy are like magnets for each other but it works the other way too. If you’re happy with yourself, you won’t meet so many arseholes. I’ll tell you what I know. All you academics – well not all of them – not you anyway. I don’t count you as one of them.’
‘It’s good for you. We can’t have you getting all hoity toity. You’ll start believing in your own bullshit. Anyway. But most of them: academics – professors and all that, they can’t do any of it. Not even their own washing never mind sorting out their gardens, putting up a shelf. Doesn’t matter does it? They’re alright with their shit, and as long as I’m comfortable with mine, as long as I dont forget I’m ok, we’re all ok. Purified water, smear-free clear. That’s how it works. I’m ok, they’re ok. If I’m not ok, I think they’re useless tossers. I guess that happens the other way too. So, that’s how we’re alright. You are Ok. I’m Ok.’
‘Thanks Trev. It’s taken me 50 years to get my head round that.’
‘Yeah. Well. Its obvious really but it takes a while to work it out. You won’t be alright if you spend your life crawling up people’s arses trying to please them because you think you’re a bit, well you know, crap yourself. All you’re going to come across is; well, (he was Trev again as he stressed) SHIT. And that’ll just prove your theory that everyone, including you, is not much more than a big pile of SHIT.
Anyway, as far as I can see, there’s not much wrong with you. Or me. We’re both reasonably ok for humans. I’ve got my shit. You’ve got yours. We look after it. Screw up sometimes. Normal. O bloody K. Everyone else has got their own shit to look after. C’est la vie. You got any more of that coffee? I reckon I’ve earned a cup there, before I get on. Some of us have still got lives you know.
Thanks Trev. And a great job on the windows. I can see out at last.