I’m experiencing some new sensations. One, in particular, is completely alien to me, contentment. “That’s lovely” I hear you say, “congratulations.” But wait, is this such a wonderful outcome? When I become conscious of a shift in perception I’m in danger of losing parts of a belief system that has been with me for an aeon and a day. Such a shift requires recalibration at best, at worst a destabilising loss of identity.
I’ve lived my life battling against the politics of hate and fear. And against the legacy of trauma and subsequent anxiety.
I was always fighting or freezing to survive. Constantly pushing against an internal and external world full of violence, living in spaces I struggled to comprehend.
As a result of my abusive/socialist (the two aren’t related) upbringing, I was in every way at odds with a system that champions the less tasty characteristics of humanoids. The desire for a holistic justice was as natural to me as yoghurt.
As a ‘renter’ I ranted against the capitalist swine landlords that profited from the inhabitable shacks I lived in. Anyone remember the squatters estate agents in Brighton’s North Lanes? No of course not I’m in Australia now. It was a great scheme to help the homeless of East Sussex’s trendiest enclave. The authorities shut it down.
As a youth, I spat venom at the administration that caused high-level youth unemployment, hopelessness, substance addiction and crime. I hit the streets and protested against everything from Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax to fox hunting. I wore army surplus gear, dreadlocks, dead man’s boots and patchouli oil. I was an unemployed, socialist, crusty pin-up boy.
I’ve carried the anger associated with such disillusion through my adult life. Sure I lost the dreadlocks, donated the boots to a charity store and acquired a ‘worthy’ job, but my identity remained in the realm of an angry disenfranchised, working-class lefty.
But now things have become a little skewed. After thirty years of therapy, the discovery of a mutated gene, the love of an amazing partner, a beautiful non-rented home and a penchant for Bessel Van Der Kolk lectures I’ve found myself in a state of regular contentment. It is now difficult for me to want to do much other than ‘potter.’
I’m still outraged by the way we treat each other, but planning the next DIY project has taken priority over the next grass roots rebellion. My internal anxiety has fallen to a new low and I no longer define myself as an anxious ‘armchair’ Citizen Smith or a survivor of abuse.
Yet despite my new inner calm, I’m sad to have lost some of my old identity. My desire to change the world by kicking (metaphorically) it’s right wing capitalist face ‘in’ has abated.
So I find myself in a state of flux, the new ‘content’ me is mixed with the remnants of a long lost eyebrow piercing and creating confusion.
In all likelihood, I’ll find myself outside the local hardware superstore holding a placard that reads ‘Circular Saw, What is it Good For? Absolutely nothing.’ A staff member may approach me, explain the benefits of the circular saw and I’d put my placard in the recycle bin and go home satisfied.
On my return home I may feel the rebellion in me rise once more. Perhaps I’d shout “WHAT DO WE WANT? The garden to be finished. WHEN DO WE WANT IT? There’s really no rush.” The chickens would consider me unstable and act accordingly. Chickens are very astute.
Let’s consider ‘contentment’ in a wider context. Imagine we’d always lived in a society where we’d experienced regular bouts of soft and absorbent peace. Compassion and empathy would naturally follow.
In such a world the Rolling Stones may never have existed. They’d have gotten the satisfaction they craved and wanted instead of just what they needed. They’d have stayed home and painted all their doors red.
Arabian Prince, DJ Yella, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and MC Ren wouldn’t have had to fuck the police because the police would be content with serving the community rather than shooting it up. It would have been called ‘Tickle the Police.’ And Elmo would have got lead vocal obviously. Gangster Rap would become Gangster Pap. But gangsters wouldn’t exist so it would just be ‘pap.’
George Orwell’s ‘1984’ would be a leisurely boating trip culminating in a picnic under an old Oak Tree in ‘1924,’ instead of a dystopian disaster with Kenny Loggins ‘Footloose’ in the background.
Rothko’s paintings would look like my grandmother’s. Twee little pots of flowers and little girls smiling sweetly against flat vivid backgrounds.
Dissatisfaction and rebellion have always been a vital part of the creative process and cultural expression. Music, film, direct action, painting, satirical scribbling and many other expressive forms owe much to discontent.
And now I feel content I’m concerned my paper sharp edge will blunt. Who would I be without the dehumanising policies of Thatcher and her ‘bitch’ Reagan?
If I had to decide between a life of contentment and what I’ve known up till now, what would I choose? A world of relative peace where everyone gets thoughtful neighbours or the current state of fucked-up-ness that spawns anger, rebellion and those noisy bastards next door.
I’m essentially offering myself hypothetical options between becoming an Amish basket weaver, or a bohemian, folk, punk rocker with a paintbrush in one hand and an offensive gesture in the other. I’ve always fancied a pony and trap.
*Originally published in The ‘Northsider‘ November 2016.