Thank you for your lip service

I grew up in epistemologically stabler times – grass was greener, reality cleaner. The flux of contradictory impulses that we call history was safely contained within quaintly named decades: the Fabulous 50s, the Swinging 60s, the Splintered 70s, the Excruciating 80s (okay, I made that one up), the Naughty 90s, etc. History was anchored in reality inasmuch as factuality was a commonly accepted measure of veracity. It was shaky, to be sure; statistics could be massaged, books could be cooked, facts could be distorted. But facts – some sturdier, some shakier – were the bricks and mortar of political and social life. Perhaps it is the vestigial stardust in us that makes us so discontent, but reality, by which I mean factuality, is in danger of turning into a free-for-all. The semantic currency we live by has long been overinflated; now it is ballooning into wheelbarrows-full-of-nonsense hyperinflation.

“Nothing is on the level.”

The facts speak for themselves. But the facts currently have little political representation or affiliation (they are busy labouring away in private laboratories for their shareholders or defending themselves in court).

“Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.”

I put a hand on my student Ermita’s knee. It is instinctive. I do not want sex with her, I do not want to invade her sovereign territory, I do not want to behave inappropriately with her patella (B taught me the basics of human anatomy). I want to reach across the void between us and express my fondness for her through a brush of light physical contact. Ermita is my one respite from the unrelenting misery; she is delightfully unfiltered, magnificently strange, unabashedly human. It has been a pleasure knowing her. I am in awe of her decision to move to Porto, aged 32, with her two kids, aged 7 and 9, not knowing a soul there, or a word of Portuguese, or having the financial security to do it safely. In my desperation I propose moving there with her.

Me: Your bravery is really inspiring. So… I had a little fantasy. That I would move to Porto at the same time. I could be your writer (author’s note: she plans to take on a tourist guide franchise). We could help and support each other. There is something I really like and trust about you. Together it could be easier, less scary. Just a crazy thought…

Ermita: This is incredible! You are awesome! Do it!

I half-heartedly look up Porto the next day. It has a population of 2.4 million and temperatures reaching into the Dirty 30s. I click back to reality. Ermita is a strikingly beautiful woman if you see past her fyfa-style façade (she mock-punched me when I told her she looks like a fyfa). She tells me that ermita means ‘little church’ in Portuguese. I look it up online; from what I can find ‘ermida’ means hermitage (the little church she was referring to) and ‘ermita’ is the feminine of hermit. When I tell Ermita this (and explain the meaning of hermit) she is thrilled. One of her favourite things in life, I am surprised to learn, is to sit alone in the dark. Ermita has thoroughly shamed me for my initial, dismissive impression of her; this woman is a (worryingly thin) force of nature.

“Attack, attack, attack. Never defend.”

I love that J doesn’t know what (romantic) love is. I respect her allergic reaction to the sight of a couple walking hand in hand by the river. I admire her belief that everything about our behaviour should first by explained from an evolutionary perspective. I, too, believe that the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.

“Hit it from every angle. Open multiple fronts on your enemy. He must be confused, and feel besieged on every side.”

Language is experiencing a kind of demotic possession. Reality is unravelling one self-entitled outrage at a time. The internet is interring reputations in mass ethereal graves. It’s a plague of excessive doubt and certainty, a revolution of consumptive discontentment, a futile attempt to regain the reigns of history (it can only end uglily).

“Unless you can fake sincerity, you’ll get nowhere in this business.” (author’s note: politics)

According to the BBC, the current decade (2010 – 2019) will, for a variety of reasons, struggle to emerge with a commonly accepted designation (much less a catchy nickname): “So far suggestions include the “2010s”, “tens” or “10s”, “teens” “tensies”, “teensies” and “ten-sions”, with the “one-ders” even winning a competition in Australia.” Personally, I recommend the Tremendous Teens.

“He who speaks first, loses.”

I grew up in epistemologically stabler times – people locked their doors at night, net curtains twitched with envy. All the animals were sleeping due to collective shame and horror. Hope made for a good breakfast. Factories billowed out grudge-fuelled smoke. Trains rolled in late. People half-listeningly debated. While everybody waited for the next special occasion. It was grey, grimy and grim. Grrr, I miss it.



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