A Dummy’s Guide to Feeling Alright

Out of the frying pan into the fun

It was early September, I was feeling like a horse’s ass, low mood state. A mate was coming to stay. I’d warned him I was struggling to put a sentence together. As he came through the door I felt myself freeze. How was I gonna get through this. Before I knew it he was stood there telling me what a trainwreck his life was. We headed out to see a friend at a local restaurant. Sat there over some millionaire potatoes, the two of us listened to her. She was a mess, worse than my mate. I was stunned.

Everyone’s life was a disaster.

Compared to these mugs I was doing superb.

*

Three months on.

The depths of winter, silly season, when a palpable London energy is all about us and deep down perhaps we wish we had a right to feel worse, worse than the lights and mulled wine and impending Christmas cheer are obliging us to feel. I meant to write this in autumn but never made it.

In my local the other day in conversation with the barman, how was your 2023, I asked. Mate worst year of my life. What, actually, that much worse than the previous ones. Yea, he said. Weird, mine has been a total shitshow too. Wonder if there was something in the air this year.

Fell off my bike, broke my shoulder, went through far too long a depressive episode which drowned out the whole heat of summer, but got through it. By autumn I was feeling fantastic. Not a snowball’s chance in Hades of me falling back under, I thought. Went to the desert, stood there looking out across the dunes, came back, and lately I’ve just been feeling pretty existential.

Not low exactly, but a lot of what does it all mean. But the thought kept coming back, that having plumbed the depths of feeling that bad, I had some goods to report back from the coal face, some shrapnel in my ass from the front-line, something I could write like a guide, a soupçon to help people through the hard times of being alive.

Here goes.

 A Dummy’s Guide to Feeling Alright.

*

DON’T BE A DICK

Visiting my brother the other day in a rainy West London, I left my bike locked outside his gaff. A few hours later when I came back, my mud guard and rear light were nowhere to be seen. The front one was still there. Which meant one thing. No bike thief in search of a tenner for a fix, this was some cyclist in need of what he was missing. This was way worse. Nothing but pure blind opportunism.

A mate of mine once got a bike knicked three times, and the fourth time he told me he bought some bolt cutters. Not sure this was the finest act of strategy I’d ever heard. I don’t care how Robin Hood you think you are, you don’t right the worlds wrongs by echoing the wrongdoing. The robbed that smiles, said Shakespeare, steals something from the thief.

If you really need to let off steam, put up a lairy sign.

I mean to say we have to be accountable to ourselves. To the voice inside us when no-one else is looking, how do we act, do we let ourselves get away with things. I think we should follow the voice that goes, maybe don’t do that. Work we can do to iron out the wrinkles in our soul.

Above all, do not lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

This leads onto my next bombshell.

*

A NET OF ENERGY THAT SPARKLES

On Grosvenor Road a few years back on my bike, I saw a man, literally belting it down the street. Linford would’ve raised an eyebrow. People were stunned, alarmed. What was he doing, was he mad, what had he stolen, the whole street was gripped. In the end this guy caught up to a moving taxi, 250 metres down the road, started knocking on the window while he legged it alongside.

Cycling behind, I had front row seats to the spectacle. Hell do you want, said the Cabbie, I’m busy. He was like stop stop, and as the window wound down, panting, he handed a passport through it to a startled lady, there with her family amongst the luggage she had clearly just brought from overseas. A passport she had dropped without noticing as she got in the cab.

The whole scene, the cocked faces, interrupted conversations, as soon as people gathered what was materialising, there was a collective sigh that cracked into a collective smile, grins, a great pause, as the poor guy caught his breath there was even some applause. About 100 people, involved in this soap opera, got their conclusion. I swear on my life it affected everybody around them. This act of strange spontaneous duty was a fist-bump for mankind, it brightened the whole street up, that buzzing minute of summer buzzed harder for a moment, people carried it with them all day, I’m sure of it.

I definitely did.

Evidence we are all connected, and whether we know it or not, the tiny little sparkles of goodness we put into the ether, a smile, a glance, a wave, running after a taxi at a speed that would break most regional top 10 records, to hand someone a passport, can make people’s days infinitely better. And knowing we are involved in this, and that our little flickers of interaction are meaningful, makes us feel part of something far bigger and grandiose.

*

AMÉLIE

I always loved the French film Amélie. Audrey Tatou was consumed by making strangers’ lives a little bit better, anonymously. She would notice the lives of her neighbours, of those in the street, and leave them little surprises, little traces of goodness. Some cynics labeled her a meddling creep, called for her arrest, but I loved the sentiment.

In his definition of success, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes the words..

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

*

PEOPLE

Once upon a time I built a raft from sapling bamboo and sailed the length of the Yangtze where I proceeded to be taught the art of Shaolin by an ageing monk. Hand me a 9ft staff even today and I can still probably defend a military position. Anyway I met an Israeli guy there called Jan, who had been travelling across China for a year.

He told me, as majestic as the places he had seen, the landscapes, the sunsets and the misty mornings, the customs, the food, nothing came close to the encounters with the people who crossed his path. People are the most important thing in the world, he said. When they die, we lose a part of ourselves we can never get back. So we keep them alive in our thoughts and with our memory.

Bukowski said once…

As a man who spends 90% of his days alone, this line hit me like a truck. We are tribal animals, meant to be with each other. Get outside and be with people, take them by the hand, tell them you love them. Sink a cold one, have a dance.

*

GET IN THE TUB

Have more baths.

Stare up at the ceiling, til your fingers go wrinkly.

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JOURNAL

In the Guardian recently there was an article extolling the merits of keeping a diary. As a way of bringing you daily peace. For close to a decade now I have been wearing bics down to an inky pulp in search of enlightenment. 

My mate Wilma once began this habit, of waking up and writing freely every morning for 20 minutes on whatever took his fancy, this coming from a guy who struggles to spell his name correctly, and loved the habit so much he compared it to a morning practice like bleeding the radiators. In it he found an incredible balm.

My experience with scrawling in my books has been a total unwind. Unravelling my brain onto paper all of a sudden I see the cacophony of my thoughts laid out on a page for the first time. This gets them outside of me, and for the first time I get to read them back. To me. The whole process is wondrous. Similar to meditation, an enormous exhale. One gets to map one’s internal monologue. And it feels like an anchor, tracing its way along the ocean floor, creepingly, and finding a jagged licheny outcrop to drag over, at last it finds some purchase, and locks in.

*

GET YOUR MONK ON

wrote something recently about spiritual practice. That in the relentless world of TikTok and screens, instagram stories and XXXVideos, it might be the only saving grace we have to stop ourselves from going mad.

To steal back a moment for ourselves, be it arctic showers, breathing deeply, meditative practice, sitting in a chair and thinking about something or other before going back to the mantra, be it a walk in the woods, a two-day fast, a bath staring up at the ceiling, staring into the eyes of a stranger cracking a smile, staring into a child’s eyes and watching the whole Universe stare back at you, we could do with being reminded by our older wiser selves, how to be in the world.

*

NEW HABITS DIE HARD

Take up pottery. Learn to fashion a spoon out of flotsam. Join the local choir. Start a middle-aged rap career. Maybe stop watching so much YouTube Domingo. Nothing you read on a screen can make you as happy as something out of the pages of a good book.

Get a tv dog. That’s next on my list.

*

GET INTO NATURE

Get your tv dog, turn off the tv, and get the hell into the stix. Better still, hook up with your hiking-nerd mate and go walking on the south coast for four days of back-breaking, calf-destroying, soul-restoring glory. It has been said that a half hour walk in nature is the equivalent for your serotonin levels as an anti-depressant.

Certainly sorted my melon out.

*

NEXT BEST THING

In AA they have a dictum, you can’t think your way into better action, but you can act your way into better thinking. If you’re having a shocker, just keep on moving, move your way into an alternate destiny, things only stay the same if you stand still. I’m an expert at (not doing) this.

The other day I was having the mothership of a menopausal time. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I looked about 65. I looked like I hadn’t slept since March. Whatever was enveloping me, it looked fatal.

I went back out, started pacing, where had my life gone, what had it been, how limply would it end. And then something distracted me, a message on my phone that made me chuckle, I went back into the bathroom, and in the mirror someone else was staring back at me. I was alright, I looked roughly my age, had some wrinkles sure, but also a slick moustache that went down at each end, my life was full of possibility, things were looking up.

43 seconds had elapsed.

We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

Seneca

*

GRATITUDE

In Tesco’s the other day some dude was there, veins popping out of his forehead, literally railing at the poor cashier, for being charged 20p for a plastic bag. Whatever the meaning of life was, this was not it. Apparently it is physically impossible to harbour both anger and gratitude in your brain at the same time.

We should practice gratitude, be grateful for the flaming miracle of everything. I mean what are the chances of even being alive.

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THIS TOO SHALL PASS

Whatever you’re going through, it can’t last. After many a depressive episode over the years I was at last gifted a nugget of gold. Depression wasn’t me, it was only happening to me. And like a wave gently breaking over a Tahitian shore, it would subside into nothingness and the light would flood through my window and once more into the interior of my being.

We have a habit of thinking how we feel in a moment is a permanent state, when we really just have to ride it out. Like an especially un-enticing office Christmas party. Going back to the last point, on gratitude, the first noble truth of Buddhism declared we should be grateful despite the fact our suffering.

You are a child of the Universe,
No less than the trees and the stars.
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
No doubt the Universe is unfolding as it should.
With all its sham drudgery and broken dreams,
It is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann

I liked it a lot, put it on my arm.

*

REACH FOR THE LASERS

Life is a serious business, it is fatal. But come on it’s not that serious. This kid has the right idea. Attempting the longest yeaaaboiiii in history and passing out in the attempt. That is some way to spend an afternoon.

If being alive is a matter of life and death, it is also fucking funny. We shouldn’t take it too seriously. When did the super intense dude clutching the post-modern novel in the corner of the bar ever get the girl.

Sat there the other night, watching Human Traffic, a feeling filled me with joy, the story of a long weekend in Cardiff, five mates going out til the witching hour and beyond, squeezing every last drop out of the hedonism of youth.

Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.

Voltaire

Lead a life our older selves will be happiest to look back on.

Strikes me that is where we should focalise our aim.

That’s the ticket.

REACH FOR THE LASERS.

SAFE AS FUCK.