Yesterday was my birthday, not that I want to dwell on this fact for any longer than is absolutely necessary.
At this stage of my life I feel that the anniversary can be passed over in as graceful a manner as possible, and I feel that, for once, I achieved that trick. Usually, for me, the approach of my birthday is heralded by a tantrum of unusual proportions, even by my standards. These tantrums no longer take the form of rolling on the floor screaming, possibly because of the beatings that this behaviour elicited back in the good old days, when beating children was frowned upon by only the weakest parents. When the outpouring of anger, frustrated self expression, and grief at the unfairness of life, was not understood and recognised, was not treated with love, kindness, and Ritalin, as it is today.
These days my tantrums take a more subtle form although the end result is the same. The unfairness of life is proved when the sulking brings its inevitable fruit, social ostracism, proscription etc. Although this has happened every year as far back as I can remember, each year I fail to realise until the day has passed. The fortnight-long bad mood, the attendant chaos, the associated debris, eventually the storm passes and I become able to see clearly again. In the analysis that follows I can see what I did wrong, too late, of course. Usually I vow to do better next year, I will know that this is likely to come and I will prepare.
The problem is that the anniversaries are, by definition, a year apart, and my life is nothing if not full to overflowing with stuff going on. The distractions are many and various, almost as though arranged by some self-sabotaging person for the precise purpose of maintaining the painful pattern. Painful, but known and familiar. So, short of putting an alert in my calendar, I will forget that the pre-birthday shenanigans are about to commence, and the carefully prepared pit full of sharp sticks, painstakingly covered by twigs, leaves, and other forest-floor type stuff, opens beneath my step and I descend…. Again.
This year the approach of the milestone was heralded by introspective visits to the mirror. Reflecting, ha, on my haggard appearance, the ravages that time has brought about. Reminded about a passage from a Martin Amis novel about this aspect of aging, that trips to the mirror become like LSD trips, sometimes a good trip trip, sometimes a bad trip trip, but always a trip. My face becomes like an hallucinated image if I look long enough, Dali-esque drooping and melting, the eyes become an eerie focal point in the shifting flesh tones and weird protuberances. Yeah, its a fucking trip right enough.
I remember reading once that the aging process is brought about by the cell replication process. that rather than copying from an original template, the cells copy from the previous copy. The theory goes that this is why the edges become blurred, and I know from my work practises that one should never copy from a copy, when seeking to replicate an object and wishing to have them identical, always copy from the original pattern. It makes me wonder if God is really so stupid as to not understand something as basic as this, a concept that even the stupidest labourer can grasp with only half-a-dozen repetitions of the lesson. The human physical body, a work of delicate precision and perfection, an infrastructure and ecosystem of such intricacy that even with doltish, ham-fisted mucking about such as vaccines, it manages to function. This machinery of beauty couldn’t do better? Hard to believe.
Perhaps I should say, unless it isn’t obvious yet, I have never rated my own appearance. Many who know me will argue, but the accusation of arrogance proves rather than refutes this truth. My attitude is a classic example of over compensation for lack of self worth, I am someone who has never valued my deepest self, instead choosing to put a price, always undervalued, on the goods and chattels. The truth of this is seen in the deals I have made, short term gain but always losing in the end. Whenever there has been damage to the physical the reaction has been that the whole is worth less, those of more depth do not get destabilised by such misfortune, when they have awareness of their true inherent value. Strangely, I am always to be heard reinforcing this lesson to my children. It is plain to me that they have value far in excess of their achievements and actions, but I have never been able to apply the same rule to myself. Hence, I strive and never measure up.
Having said this, there are signs that this is changing now. My children are, once again, my teachers. Their immaculate self-possession and grace sets an example that I wish to emulate, yet by my striving I am doomed to fail. It soon becomes clear that this must just be, it cannot be manufactured or pretended to, the ownership must be assumed, as my favourite online chess Grandmaster keeps repeating, trying is the first step to failure. Therefore, I must observe myself and not judge, I must know and believe that whatever I do I am perfect, whole, and complete. Observation and awareness will produce the change that is required. This will bring pain of varying degrees, I know this because in order to change we must grow and that creates growing pains. The capacity to deal with pain in a constructive way is in direct proportion to the level of joy we can experience, This I know to be true, and it drives me forward.
Returning to the point… This year I saw myself beginning the ritual and I smiled tolerantly. There were moments but they were fewer than before. There has been less collateral damage. Yesterday I passed the anniversary milestone… Again.