I’ve been on a bit of a mad one lately. For some time I’ve been plagued by a generalised sense of quantitative overload, which merged into something like a psychosocial compression.
For a time I felt as though the sense of every task, chore, commitment or grand plan had been either reduced or expanded to fill the same cognitive bandwidth. Answering that email. Reading that book. Washing my clothes. Finishing my chapter. Checking the other inbox. Replying to that text. Posting a letter. Going to London. Eating a snack. Calling that person. Selling my bike. Going for a coffee with a friend. Making a coffee for myself. Travelling cross-country for fieldwork. Going to a meeting. Buying milk. Each action moulded into a single unit of equal size and added to the end of an ever-growing mental blockchain. Every human interaction, however meaningful, taking its place in the social macro-management puzzle playing out in my head every moment. As I type I’m reminded of that infuriating game, To Build a Better Mousetrap.
As might be expected, I got to a point where I stopped trying to hold back the tide. Fuck it; try to float on the rapids instead. The emails stacked up. The letters kept coming. I put myself on leave from one commitment (never completely able to shed my ideology of responsibility, as a friend called it recently) and went AWOL on the others. I stopped looking after myself, emotionally and physically. While I cut off all commitments to press on with my chapter each day (now submitted, that’s something), I let myself slide into casual self-destructiveness.
Thanks to the unwitting support and humour of some friends and loved ones, I now feel myself gradually finding my way back down to earth. This happens from time to time, and as usual I suppose I’m trying to debrief with myself a bit. When I have these intense periods, it’s usually like a sort of fragile hedonism, or an exuberant masochism. One of the things I notice when I get that way is my mental attitude to social interactions fluctuates quite wildly between enthusiastic abandon and anxious uncertainty. [I should state at this point this is very much Me and not You for any friends, lovers or family members who’ve chanced upon this post!]
Amongst other things, lately I’ve been thinking about intimate encounters in relation to anxiety of the other, and the association of promiscuity with self-destructiveness, that sort of thing. I’m certainly resistant to the idea that having an active and varied sex life is somehow morally bad (though not for everyone, sure), but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t occasionally cross my mind that maybe a heightened desire for closeness could (from time to time) be bound up to some extent with a lack of self-regard. I can only speak for myself on that, but it’s a perverse thought, isn’t it?
It got me thinking about why people are sometimes outwardly or inwardly self-deprecating about some aspect of their character following intimacy, not out of nowhere but as if mitigating some communicative inhibition. I know I’ve occasionally been preoccupied with feelings or thoughts I’m too self-conscious to verbalise, even when they’re inconsequential, clarificatory, or (far worse) positive. What are we worried about?
Unable to sleep, again, the other night I returned to my all-time favourite album, Tapestry. If you don’t know it, then for fuck’s sake, sort it out. The first song that came on was Will You Love Me Tomorrow? As is so often the case with King, beneath the sentimental arrangement she really lays bare the sort of emotional knots you’d rather not think about let alone start unpicking.
Originally recorded by The Shirelles, and banned by some radio stations for its sexual overtones, the song is sung from the point of view of a lover wondering if their co-copulator will still feel the same way when the night meets the morning sun. At the centre of the song, and the protagonist’s anxiety, is that what is being said tonight with words unspoken will not translate into words spoken following the encounter.
I think this is probably right. The non-verbal communication (or that aspect) of physical intimacy ebbs away, but verbal communication can’t fill the void, leading to an indeterminacy of emotional communication altogether (regardless of the content of the feeling) which in turn reinforces the anxiety you were trying to get away from in the first place. As King (and Goffin) wrote for The Drifters: You know I can’t express this feeling of tenderness, there’s so much I wanna say but the right words don’t come my way. For the protagonist in that song, the feeling of tenderness isn’t alleviated by the fact they are actually trying to articulate some kind of wonderful.
I feel like this presents a problem. I certainly don’t have the solution, but Charlotte Church might. In a recent interview she talked about the raison d’etre of her Late Night Pop Dungeon, which I had the pleasure of seeing first hand with old and new comrades a little while ago. “We are in such dark times at the moment and everything feels so heavy … this is just about everything being sparkly and beautiful and wonderful and joyful.” While a set consisting of floorfiller megamixes played by ten-piece band and CharlotteFuckingChurch to a packed social club would rightly be defined as collective psychic resistance at the best of times, in darker moments it’s also a proof of the more affirmative principle identified by one reviewer: “there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure”. That’s something worth remembering, I think.