One New Message




This is the tale of a text message.



And the opposing hemispheres of the brain. And about waiting. It began a few years ago on a Saturday morning of Spring when I came across my friend Will standing especially morosely in the queue of a coffee shop. Knowing he was in the seedling stages of a romance I asked him how it was going. Awful, he replied. I was fine until ten minutes ago. What happened, I asked. I fucking texted her. Now I'm fucked. Every minute that goes by until she texts back is a complete hell. I just nuked my whole morning.






At some point in my past, my brain started working in this strange way that was hellbent on trying to link two ideas together. Like the time I realised the life-cycle of a leaf was a meditation on growing old. Or how my fear of police sirens was my inner child fleeing parental authority. I'd make these pretty banal connections and sit back and feel like Carl Gustav Jung. Basking in the idea that my brain made everything mean something else.


But one tenuous link eluded me. I knew it meant something, but whatever that was had me stumped. For as long as I can think I've always kept my phone on silent, but I couldn't work out why. My gut told me it was a dislike for loud intrusive noises or a luddite relationship to technology, or simply not wanting to be disturbed while I concentrated on something. 






But this explanation never did it for me. It was something deeper. 


And so I found myself the other day wandering the streets of Rome, in a state familiar to Will that day outside the coffee shop, waiting on a text message. And feeling my day being eaten up by angst. When I was supposed to be taking in the beauty of the ancient capital of the world, all I could think about was this stupid little box of plastic in my pocket. And I just kept checking it. And checking it. And getting more and more angry with myself for caring.


My friend Jonty who was with me, and who I was submitting to the tortures of my uncertainty, told me about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left hemisphere, he said, is the linear, problem-solving, logistical sphere. The right brain is more creative, holistic and eternal. With my mind still consumed by the lone antidote I sought for the unbearable pain of my life, I heard him say mate... just be more right brain about the whole thing.



Put your phone on loud. That way if you get a message, you'll hear it.



You won't have to check it all the time.



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And like the Ignudi sent from the heavens depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling not far away, the solution to my silent-mode conundrum descended from on high as if sent by a celestial hand. I kept my phone on silent because of hope. As long as my phone was on silent, I held out a hope there might be something on it I needed to read. With my phone on silent, I was close to a message all the time, because silence meant its opposite, it meant everything. 



I realised what I really feared was what silence meant when my phone was on loud.



*


Have patience with everything that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which could not be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.


Rainer Maria Rilke


*


So I took the plunge and stuck my phone on loud. So I could really know what silence was. That it was exactly that. Silent. And I could learn to sit in it. To love the questions themselves liked locked doors or books written in a very foreign tongue. And leave the answers alone. Along many meandering conversations Jonty and I spoke of presence, and of being thankful for being itself. That there were really only a few things in life worth complaining about, and heartache definitely wasn't one of them. The mere sense of living was joy enough.



One late afternoon in Rome as we sheltered in the cool of the apartment as the last rays of Italian sun found their way through the shutters, I spied my phone lying on the table, discretely minding its business, with its new functionality, ready to sound out if anything came its way. And I gazed at the shafts of light knifing the darkness, and felt a contentment wash over me. A contentment that came from sitting in the unknowing and the blessed unrest. To wait for this thing to come knocking, if it did at all, that I would hear its knock when it came.



What's Up World



Happiness is....



a bench on a railway platform on a Sunday afternoon dropped in the middle of fields. Waiting for something that will happen but not too soon. Birds are singing to one another in trees out of sight, the air is thick with the ease of a summer afternoon of inconsequence. The train will come, and move off again, and life will continue along its sinuous path. But for the moment not a lot is up to very much.






Right now happiness is the inhibition of dopamine reuptake through norepinephrine and dopamine transporters found in the prefrontal cortex of my brain. Each morning I sodastream some refrigerated tap water and wash a little white pill down my throat and it goes to work. Five weeks I've been doing it now.


But happiness isn't the right word exactly. I wouldn't say I'm happy this minute. I don't know what happiness means today. I thought I knew yesterday when I sat down to write. But it isn't here now, it must have got bored and moved on someplace else. I feel okay but I'm not euphoric.







It turns out writing about happiness is harder than writing about its opposite. 


That word that makes my insides recoil like a bewildered worm. My doc said he thought my depression was endogenous, that it came from inside me rather than being brought about by external events. He would say that wouldn't he, said my mother. That's what all therapists want you to hear. But your mother would say that, said my girlfriend. Accepting you have an illness is harder than reasoning you're idle and uninspired.


As the meds went to work I noticed things becoming a little easier. Doom didn't last as long. I'd wake up okay and go to bed okay, and things might get bad but I wouldn't fall so far. Things were good, or at least better. Things were moving in the right direction. And I figured something out. The opposite of feeling shit isn't happiness. The opposite of feeling shit is not feeling shit. The pills weren't magicking up happiness, they were softening the blows. The floor of my mood was more a paddling pool than a dank black sea.



I was realising the happiness was up to me.






When my despair began to unseam itself it made me think of the parity between physical and mental health. You take good health for granted until it's taken from you. And when it returns you feel incredibly thankful, to have something back you never realised you might be without. Increasingly I had my health, and all things twinkled in the gloaming.



But happiness is a bullshit word.



Happiness is wonderful but it's also kind of stupid. It is camp and fleeting and unfaithful. It seems strange to see it as the bullseye. Happiness can be a high, but I don't think it can be a state. The world is too twisted and gnarled and unstable for us to be hung up on the pursuit of it, maybe the best we can ask for is an absence of misery.


Lincoln said folk are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be. What he meant was most of the time we have agency over it, that happiness can be the by-product of things within our control. If you have the cud of an engaged life ruminating in your gut, now and again you'll fart out some happiness.



*


Those are only happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.


John Stuart Mill


*



Happiness for me means coming back to life. It's the sunlight of the early morning turning my plants translucent. It's cycling through strange back streets in Lewisham at midnight listening to hiphop in the hurling rain. It's the golden half-minute with your back to the bar waiting as your pint gets poured. It's the crema on the espresso from my expensive new coffee machine. It's the clean feel of the street after rain. The line in the book that makes you freeze. The honeysuckle by the canal, the smile from the bus driver, the interrupted dream that finds its way back.


It is like the world has been illuminated. 






It's the feeling of strength that comes from a trust that when this happiness subsides there isn't this darkness waiting to envelop you. It's not being the hostage of the next thought that comes careening into your head. More than anything happiness is just not feeling like shit. 


Perhaps there is a deeper longer-term happiness. The happiness in realising everything you already have is all you really need. I don't think I'm there yet. It could also be having children. Last time I checked I wasn't there yet either. But when you spend a very long time feeling apart from the world, seeing it through a glass darkly, to realise it's still there and you are a part of it again and you have a role to play, and the people you love are still around and they love you and all is waiting to be resumed. 



It's pretty cool.



Sure Of An Adventure



The darling buds of May dangle forlornly with ice. For three days my socks are soaked through, my feet ache from the cold and I move eastwards through falling snow into a headwind, cursing my idea that France meant Mediterranean sun. On a nasty winding climb my gears lock up and I scream out in rage. My only company are the creaking pines and my rage is a fart in the wind. A well of happiness that has lain empty for months is filling up inside me. Whatever befalls me now won't make a shot of difference, I think I have been saved.






*



A few hours into the first day of January of 2019, someone posted this.





My year has felt a little like that. Imagine sleeping through a whole weekend, going out alone on a Monday and getting totalled, waking up and feeling like shit all of Tuesday, with nobody to text about what a strange impromptu night it was. 2019 has felt like that kind of hangover, close to every day. When it threatened to get good, I would wake up on that same Tuesday all over again. Lapping against my shores was a lake of unease, joy was a stone skimming across its surface. 


Ratcheting up the pressure and relieving it at will, a mild depression had had me by the balls since November. Too mild to knock me out, but still the mental health equivalent of a small annoying dog humping my lower leg. Every day I watched the warfare of a city fighting harder than I was to stay alive, the siren wailing and check-out lines and sad eyes staring from the top of night buses, folk surrounded from all sides but achingly alone. Joy was there somewhere around the next corner, and I was moving down the wrong side of the wrong street.  



*


The Bordeaux airport Ibis Budget hotel is a strange environment to find a new lease of life. 





In the past, when things got top-heavy I'd often look to the bike for an out. To go away into a new environment, to raise your heart-rate, to breathe clean air and be enveloped by green, the experience is rich because it is all new. Cycling across a country albeit with maps, is raw unmapped territory for your mind, it is taking five big gulps from an ice cold pint of adventure. We all need some adventure in our lives once in a while.


And so I found myself in the Ibis Budget Airport hotel just west of Bordeaux with my touring bike propped against the wall, lying starfished in the dark as the hum of jet engines sang me to sleep, feeling an emotion I hadn't been able to muster all year. The kind of excitement only a free man can feel, a man at the start of a long journey, whose conclusion is uncertain. Lyon was my destination, 700km directly eastwards across the rolling terrain of the under belly of France, with a date to keep six days from then on the steps of Marylebone Town Hall, to watch my brother getting married.






This mood of mine had lingered inside me since early November, at times subsiding but never leaving altogether. It occurred to me that sensitive people have these pores that are open all the time to emotional information, good and bad. When depression rears its head it makes the information coming in always the worst kind, and switches off the ability to ignore it. The night ushered in the foreboding morning. Spilt milk was worth crying over. I would step out of my front door over the top into No Man's Land and face a barrage of information, incoming from all angles, from a wild unforgiving city that didn't give a fuck about me and my pores.


So like the rich Victorians taking in the healing waters of Swiss spa towns, changing the nature of that information seemed like a good idea. I traded in carbon monoxide and horns for the smell of pine needles in the afternoon. A slanging match between a Turk and a crackhead became the quiet of a sleepy village waiting for its boulangerie to open. For six days the light hitting my face was no longer the pale glow from a screen.



And it went to work on me.



*



The gently rolling fields around Bordeaux are busy with backs bent-double over vines, tending to grapes like newborns. Warmed by the May sun, I move through them slowly, tasting the salt from my sweat and the creeping excitement of the unknown. Bastide towns and hillocks, copses and farm yards, pine trees and butterflies, the tarmac moves slowly backwards beneath my wheel and I breathe and whoop and feel it all deeply, the kind of attention I haven't paid the earth in a long time. 


I feel anonymous in a way I wouldn't feel in England, there are no rules for me here, and this adds to my sense of freedom. I stop in Castillonnès and eat a simple lunch on the step of a deserted high street, a couple of locals pass by and commiserate about the weight of my panniers. In a shop window I see an old photo of the same high street, and imagine the day the man set up his strange contraption in the road and the shop sellers came out and the village stopped to pose, and think of the children that have lived whole lives since that day and grown old and been mourned.






I move eastwards into the Dordogne, the landscape ramps up, hillier and thick with forest. It is the oldest inhabited area of Europe and feels wilder than the vineyards and the roads are quiet. In 1940 while rescuing a dog who had fallen down a hole, a boy lit a match and illuminated the prehistoric paintings of Lascaux cave, releasing them from a darkness where they had lain undiscovered for 17,000 years. Casting his eyes on the paintings of bull and lion and rhinoceros for the first time, Picasso exited the cave and exclaimed in wonder, 'We have invented nothing!'. 


That afternoon a winding climb takes me up into the hills and I stop a while to rest. There are no cars, and all is still but for the breeze through the trees and the hum of insects. Lions stopped prowling these hills millennia ago but the landscape must look the same, I think. I am a fleeting visitor in an ancient land, I feel small and insignificant. More than that I feel lucky, to be where I am up on this hill, peering into this timeless kingdom for an eternal minute. I look at my bicycle lying in the ferns and nod respectfully. You and me mate. What else could have got me to this spot, shown me all this, made me feel so deeply.



I cycle on. 



The Dordogne becomes the Auvergne. Harsh volcanic landscapes, sinister slate grey villages, even the weather changes to suit the mood. A cold front sweeps across France and I take shelter in cafés and massage my toes to get the blood back into them. There is sleet and snow and cold hard rain that chills me to the core. A techno festival 30km north turns into a Red Cross disaster zone. Some men in a bar convince me to fill my water bottles with red wine. One of them warns the others, 'Mais un litre de vin rouge... Après on ne bouge....' They roar with laughter. It is not yet lunch time.






In September I stopped taking antidepressants for the first time in nine years. I was doing fine and wasn't sure how much they were really working. Being med-free felt like a badge of honour and when I started feeling not so good towards Christmas I imagined it would last a month or so and then I would come out of it. But I never really did. I'd have spells of upbeatness, and show my face here and there, and then be back to normal. The trouble was my normal was a good few floors under ground. 


*


On my way out of the Auvergne one afternoon, sat on a bench eating lunch, I heard a faint thud on the glass behind me, and saw a tiny man lying in a chair by the window beckoning me over. Perhaps the oldest person I have ever laid eyes on, his nose knotted like a 600year old oak, as he spoke his dentures fell from the top of his mouth and were caught by the bottom. He was very deaf, and after a few stilted sentences he fell silent, and grabbed my hand and held it.






As I cycled off down the road, a strange emotion surged up inside me, the kind of sadness that makes your tummy ache, that makes you feel so alive it's hard to bear. When I was out of sight I stopped again and something dawned on me. Fuck, I thought, how is it that I can feel all at once so happy and so lonely. I realised I was coming back to life. All year my mood had isolated me, made me see so few people, I'd forgotten how to be in the world. And it had taken me 650km of French countryside to get to a point where I was happy enough to want to be in the world again, and a meeting with an old man to realise I had to start immediately.







Depression is the most narcissistic thing around, because it places you at the centre of everything. The world outside is beckoning you with open arms, and you can't see beyond the four walls of your addled mind. Everything affects you, concerns you, hurts you. All information that comes in passes through the toll-booth of your depressed brain, which is too sensitive and defensive and afraid. The narcissistic part is the unending self-obsession.


Being in an environment so vast and ancient and eternal made me feel tiny and fleeting and insignificant. To be amongst those ancient hills and valleys and endless woods made me feel a tiny part of something bigger. My father complains that when I cycle I blitz through countries and have no time for cathedrals or museums. But the woods are my cathedrals, the trees are my spires, the cattle bells ringing out over the hillside are my evensong. Psithurism is a word for the sound of the wind running through the trees.



*


On a rainy joyous day in early April interspersed with blasts of brilliant sun my brother got married to Victoria, and not long after my mood returned. My therapist did some rough calculations and we decided to go back on the meds. I was happy to in the end, I was fed up. It was taking the best of me. The roots of some trees run deeper than others. It takes something bigger to unearth them.



*


Looking down from the plane as it flew up and out of Lyon airport, I saw the small details of the French countryside I was leaving behind. Lines of roads, little hamlets, reservoirs, copses, all the signs of a country that feels alien to you because you will never know it. But I had known it. The chatter of the men in bars, the cool silence of empty churches, the town squares and looping mountain roads, the cattle bells and stillness of the mid-afternoon. I had known it all, and it had brought me back. Perhaps not altogether but enough. Maybe never in my life have I understood the wonder of a bicycle more profoundly, and its ability to show you the world in a way no other thing can.


As we approached the first band of clouds, I took out my little pad to make a note, and flicking through the pages I landed on something I had written long enough ago to have no memory of it. I looked down at the scribbled words, read them slowly, read them again, and laughed.







He didn't want to do anything that was mapped out. 



If it was in doubt, then he was sure of an adventure.





These Things I Know



Every year, as winter's death rattle sounds out across the city and the first shafts of sun warm our tired bones, the same human migration gets underway and I stand in the shadows and watch with fascination. This is a migration outside. Like the shedding of a skin, the people of London rummage to the back of their wardrobes to a pile they last left neatly folded in early October. Last week temperatures broke into the 20s and the magnolia began to open. People all around the city were in shorts and tees and sunglasses and good cheer.



And it was February. 






And then a cloud moved across the sun and the temperature dropped by ten degrees and the crowds were running for the bars to change their Aperols for mulled wine to encamp by the fire and begin a five hour game of scrabble.



Because it was February.



In my mind everything means something else. What now. So I went big. I think this over-eagerness for spring holds a mirror up to the way we move through life. When we're young our hearts are full of fire and hope and we go out into the world with our swords drawn and our battle cries echo on the wind for all to hear. When spring kicks off people hit the kerb in bikinis and flip-flops and start sunbathing on roundabouts and come night fall - which is still around half six - they get their arses handed to them by a sharp drop in temperature.



As we get older we grow into life. Our battle cries turn to murmurs. We know the strength of our swords but we keep them sheathed. As spring firms up its grip and the mercury rises and the days draw out, we become more certain of what to step out of the house in. We stash the scarf in the bag, drape the jumper over the shoulder, close the door behind us and walk back inside to casually throw on the gilet. Our experiences of the world inform us how to take our place in it. And then life goes to work on us too.



At the end of the Amy documentary, Tony Bennett says the words...



Life teaches you how to live it, if you only give it time.



And I thought to myself. What the hell have I learnt in the last decade. Has my mind changed that much from the days when my belly was full of fire and I wanted to be a rapper and I had more opinions than I knew what to do with, definitely more than I could fit in my bumbag. I still have a bumbag.







With a healthy sprinkling of humility and a drizzle of trepidation...



I would say that These Things I Know. 



*



1. The world isn't so bad. But sometimes I just can't see it.


2. The world is throbbing with beauty and possibility, if growing older is anything it's fine-tuning the art of learning how to look.


3. Family is the most important thing I have. That's why they bust my balls so fucking hard. Because I love them. But I didn't get to choose them. I was forced together with them, and this coming together is a necessary friction.


4. Nothing I see on the internet will improve my life in a substantial way. That's not where real things reside.


5. Six completely contradictory beings live inside me simultaneously. I am kind and selfish and zen and angry and an angel and an arsehole and the rest of it, all at the same time.


6. If I really listen to somebody, right to the end, until they've finished what it is they want to say, rather than waiting until the moment when I can interject, I feel the warmth flood out of a person towards me who feels heard.


7. A conversation can be a battlefield, and it can be a meandering path through a wood.


8. When a conversation is a battlefield, ceding my ground and listening to what I don't believe in means I get to know both things


9. My old man will read this and be like STOP WITH THE PHILOSOPHY.


10. Someone told me recently they had never met somebody more consumed by what their parents thought of them.


11. I should try to be less of that.


12.



13. People are the most important thing in the world.


14. We know this because when the people we love die our world stops. And they take a part of us we can never get back. But by speaking their names and using our minds, both in our words and our memory, we keep them alive. Coco the Pixar film taught me this.


15. All things are mysteriously connected.


16. Giving my heart completely to someone will be the most difficult thing I do.


17. If it was between wisdom and knowledge, I'd take wisdom. But I don't know very much and I am not wise. If I was wise I wouldn't keep making the same mistakes.


18. For the first time in my life FOMO is beginning to feel like rain running over Gore-Tex. If I really wanted to hang out with someone, I probably would.


19. If I could have one virtue above all others it would be....



Grace.



20. Life is going to run away with me unless I fill it with things I am going to remember.


21. Which means finding out what I love, and doing more of that.


22. And watching the things that make me unhappy, and doing less of those.


23.




24. However good it is, nothing I read on a computer screen will give me the same pleasure I get from reading something good in a good book. 


25. There really is magic in the world.


*


THE PROBLEM WITH ALL THIS



is I don't know any of it.



I only know this because I've had it chugging around in my mind for a few days like the clothes inside a washing machine, and then I sat down for a while to get it all down. Much of the time it's as if I know the opposite of all this. I forget these things on a daily basis, and put the complete opposite of them into practice. But I do know it. I just don't remember that I do.



Socrates said that all learning is remembering



Am I happier now? 



I don't know. I'm more used to the interior design of my brain than I ever have been. Some nice soft-furnishings and the mood lighting is tight. I don't know if I'm happier, but I'm more content to be inhabiting my own being. And seeing as this is the only place I have to live for as long as that might last, this sounds like an improvement. More than anything, the passage of time has taught me what not to give a shit about. Which feels like freedom. 



Life teaches you how to live it. If you only give it time.



Outside the early March sun is low in the sky, moving through the gears, gaining altitude. Saturday morning is a big white sheet of paper to draw on, a day full of possibilities. The magnolia is swaying in the breeze, the birds are full of banter. My mind is an invincible Summer and Spring is resoundingly here. My scarf and jacket are hanging on the wall. I glance up at them, pause, and walk out, closing the door behind me.



Look Down At Your Screen



Last week i got deep and melancholic about how a youtube addiction had taken years off my life, ones i would never get back. But to say those hours of hard graft were in vain is to miss the mark. Old wisdom suggests what we most need to find will be found where we least want to look. And during those long hours of staring at a screen vainly searching for some elusive thing, what that was i'm still not sure - perhaps an escape from myself - i came across many magic beans strewn here and there along the path.


I feel like i've learnt as much about the human condition from watching youtube as anything else i've done. All of life is there. And when viewed in moderation it is a gift that keeps on giving. So in no particular order and with no particular theme, here are some of my all-time favourite youtube videos.



*


I THOUGHT YOU COULD DO A KICKFLIP


This one is short but so sweet. Some guy displays a range of mild anger-management symptoms skateboarding in his driveway. That split-second of rage you glimpse once he screws it up for the second time is golden. I'm always left thinking what else he got up to that morning.






THE PROPER WAY TO END YOUR FILM


I would have paid an insensitive amount of money to be watching this in the cinema as the credits rolled. Although perhaps this never made it to cinema. A mate pointed out they couldn't even afford the budget for a spring mechanism on his arm device, so he has to manually slide it down. And it's a flare gun.






EXTREME JAPANESE AUDIOPHILES


As an insight into different cultures and curious psychologies, this is up there. I mean there are weirdos everywhere, but this strikes me as an especially Japanese thing to do. Passion about anything whatsoever is about the coolest thing i can think of.






WOAH.... WHAT?


How was that party the other night. An ad for a campaign against sexual violence.






I DON'T NEED TO BELIEVE


Jung being asked about his thoughts on God.






KATE METAL MOMENTS


There are two sisters called Kate and Audrey who live in Nagasaki in Japan and they're nuts about heavy metal. The older one Audrey is a next level guitar player. And the younger one Kate is a total force of nature and i'm obsessed with her. 






WEATHER BOY


A news reporter investigating fireworks gets his ass handed to him.






JUST EXTRAORDINARY


A DJ of severely questionable music readies himself for the drop in a pre-rehearsed sequence that must've taken five lifetimes to dream up, and then all hell breaks loose in more ways than one. I think this is my favourite clip ever.






KICK HIS ASK


This one is up there too. A little girl telling her mum about monsters coming out of the tv and her plans to defend herself. Watch her mind whirr as she tries to figure out why her mother is laughing. Monsters are a serious business. This girl is too much.







ELETROCUTED SQUIRREL GETS CPR BY KIND MAN


I put this one in because i referenced it in the serious youtube post. This was the kind of thing i would watch when i was at my lowest ebb. The thing that made me feel even worse was that i was actually moved by it. At least i felt something i suppose.






BABY IN THE RAIN


A tiny girl has one of her first experiences with rain and it's beautiful. I also like this one cos the baby looks exactly like my mate Ceeborg.







DA FUGGIZ DAT


News reporter has a run-in with a bug, handles it like a pro.






HAPPY OF MYSELF


A young boy feels a new emotion for the first time and tells the world about it.






YEARS AGO...


Last but not least, Alabama rapper Marshall Pope goes off the top and strays into murky waters.







Look Up At The Sky



The wild elephants turn back to salute the men who have saved their baby elephant from the ditch. They raise their trunks aloft with wondrous grace in a moment between man and beast. I don't blink, hardly twitch. Lit by the glow of the laptop screen, my face shows no flicker of emotion. The video finishes and the next one begins to load. Electrocuted squirrel gets CPR by kind man. Unbeknown to me, the daylight has faded across to the other side of the earth and i am in darkness. I am lying on my bed in the fetal position, as i have been for three hours straight...



... watching youtube.







I don't know how long me and youtube has been a problem. 



The first chapters of all addictions are written in the pen of innocence. Mine started in the same way all others must, with a joy unforeseen. A music video with a new friend behind the sofa at some party one unending night of summer. An email in my inbox linking a highlight reel of Messi's greatest dribbles, coming in off the right wing, scything through tackles like water.



If i'm scrupulous i admit it started long before that, pre the age of internet. My parents didn't let us watch much television. My answer to this depravation it seems, whenever they were away, was to flick through the channels like a drone, hoping of landing on something which gripped my attention for any longer than the spilt second it took for me to glean, ignore, and plough onwards. Alone, i never watched anything for longer than two minutes. 



Years later i saw this interview with the writer David Foster Wallace, and it hit me deep.






Wallace fought a depression for most of his adult life that he succumbed to in 2008, aged 46. He suffered with different types of addictions, but said his primary addiction, as unsexy as it sounded, was to television. He was so afraid of watching it he couldn't have a tv in his house. Hearing this for the first time opened my mind to the idea that the youtube thing, as it moved silently along the forest floor of my impulses like a fox on his feet of silk, demanded a seriousness i was unwilling to give it.



Every addiction balances on the fulcrum of denial. The decline before the fall was coloured by an unawareness. I was unaware the habits i was slowly slipping into weren't okay. At first it was just weekends. I was single and lived alone, if i woke up hungover it would be easy for me to turn my back on anything productive or social. One weekend i became fascinated by the internal politicking of the WTA tennis tour. Another weekend it was American High School track and field. A man in Pennsylvania fashioned knives out of rusted wrenches. I was in.





There were times when i wouldn't communicate with anyone all day. It was isolationist, and repetitive, and hypnotic, i would sit entranced, swelling my command of thoroughly useless information as youtube gently weaved its spell on me, drawing me down deeper and deeper into its pixelated underworld. As one video finished another one on a similar topic loaded, suckering me in for another five or ten minutes. Half hours became hours became half-days. And outside my window the world whizzed on. 


*


A lot of people don't know how to watch youtube



I wouldn't know what to look for, my friend Milly once told me. Talking dog's unique bark helps him get adopted is good, i thought. I shrugged and said nothing. A system of recommendations based on previously viewed videos appear as if by magic at the top of your screen, which means the table is always laid. If you've been watching videos on the Anunnaki and ancient alien space-travelling civilizations, it's going to show you more of where you last left off when you next click on. Even when i wiped my recommendations, the subjects my dark side needed feeding on were etched already in my memory.



All that was left was to type them into the search bar.






To be addicted is to be completely at the whim of your impulses. Tick. To realise you are no longer in control of your decisions. Tick. To be aware that the behaviours you are undergoing are harmful to you, tick, are making you unhappy, tick, and in spite of this to repeat them nonetheless. Tick. I was losing control over my ability to not watch youtube, and in doing so i was losing days of my life i wasn't going to get back. But still somehow i didn't pay it the seriousness it deserved.



I did take a knife to my internet connection three times.






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In 2007, back when i was at art school we were given a brief to go and do some Guerilla Marketing. To take something about the world we were upset about and use the urban landscape around us to be disruptive in. The idea was to give people a message we think they needed. I stayed up til 2am cutting out a set of stencils with a Stanley knife, i loaded up my backpack with spray paints and cycled through the darkness of the Witching Hour to go and leave my mark. The next day i went back as a sleep-deprived passer-by to watch people interact with it.


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From just weekends, my youtube habit morphed into week nights and then during the day. Work deadlines were affected. Spending a lot of time alone in front of my computer, the slightest sniff of procrastination would send me spiralling into the depths and i'd emerge an hour later, all the wiser, constipated by information i didn't need to know.


Eating disorders are supposed to be so difficult because mealtimes mean the lion is let out of the cage three times a day. When most of our time is spent looking at screens, internet addiction means the lion never has a cage to begin with. It comes down to willpower and impulse control. Both of which are low on my list of virtues. Not having a smartphone or on any social media granted me a certain type of freedom, but it also meant all my wrath and self-loathing was concentrated into one place. Alone and in front of my laptop, i would make up for lost time.



I was acting out, youtube was my DOC.





"

We're going have to develop some real machinery inside our guts to turn off pure unalloyed pleasure. Because the technology is just going to get better and better, and it's going to get easier and easier, and more convenient and more pleasurable to sit alone, with images on a screen given to us by people who do not love us but want our money. And that's fine in low doses. But if it's the basic main-staple of our diet, and i say this in a very meaningful way, we're going to die


"


David Foster Wallace





The strangest thing about the youtube thing is this.



When i was acting out, I couldn't watch anything that i enjoyed. I couldn't sit down for example and watch an hour long documentary about wine-making or the Pyramids of Giza. That was the truly pathological nature of it. I had to watch short clips, back to back to back to back, about absolutely nothing. 95% of everything i watched in the grips of my youtube habit didn't improve my life in any way. It was the American History X moment over and over again. Has anything you have done, made your life better.


This is all quite funny. The ridiculousness of it all, it's laughable. But maybe i laugh to keep from crying. Because if you take away the politics of the WTA and fashioning knives from wrenches and elephants raising their trunks aloft to thank the men for saving their baby elephant from a ditch, what you're left with is somebody alone in their flat, in the dark, willing unhappiness on themselves. In ignorance of the life going on outside their window they are walling themselves up against, in defiance of the light from the phone on the table beside them that is ringing and they won't answer.


Some poisons go to work more slowly than others. They hide in plain sight all around us, masquerading as tools to make our lives more accessible, more comfortable and more immediate. One day we wake up and they've wormed their way inside our minds, ossifying our imaginations, crowding our every moment. And before we know it without them we can't breathe.



I've got this, we tell ourselves, but they've got us. 







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Wallace described the moment when we finally find ourselves alone, and the dread that comes with that, that comes to us when we have to be quiet. When you walk into public spaces these days, there is always music playing. It seems significant that we don't want things to be quiet anymore, he said. And this is happening now more than ever, when the purpose of our lives is immediate gratification and getting things for ourselves, we are moving moving moving, all the time moving.


At the same time there is another part of us that is the opposite. That is hungry for silence and quiet, and thinking very hard about the same thing for maybe half an hour or more, rather than just thirty seconds. Of standing and looking at the branches of a tree, or listening to the birds singing. And this part of us doesn't get fed.


And what happens is this thing makes itself felt in our bodies, as a kind of dread, deep inside us. Every year it becomes more and more difficult to ask people to read a book, or to listen to a complex piece of music that takes work to understand. Because now in computer and internet culture everything is so fast. And the faster things go, the more we feed that part of ourselves that needs something immediate, that needs instant stimulation, and we don't feed the part of ourselves that needs quiet.



The part of us that can live in quiet.



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Brick Lane, 2007