Reflections on a single life and other musings

Artist unknown. Sydney College of the Arts Graduate Show 2018. Image credit: Marios Elles

I was going to scrawl something boring on the page about being single, how there is something silly about identifying or being labelled single. It’s curious how it doesn’t find it’s opposite in the word double, or multiple, but rather, partnered. As if, being partnered places one beyond the reach of numbers. Interestingly, some of the antonyms of the word partnered, include block, delay, disturb and handicap! So does being single mean I have a handicap? Perhaps!

I’m on the bus heading home after Christmas office drinks. It was fun for the most part. I had a few wines so my tongue has loosened. Hence the words are pouring out of me at the moment. What a year it’s been. Nothing happened!

I came to work everyday and eventually went home. I did my job fairly well. I played my part. I ate dinner or I didn’t eat dinner. I had a drink with a mate. I tinkered with my bike. I strummed the guitar in the corner of my bedroom. I had lots of coffee with friends. I instagrammed. I liked other people’s Instagram posts. I lusted after women who are either not available or disinterested. I avoided commitment. I’m getting quite good at that.

So many people died or suffered physically and mentally. A sea of hearts were broken. Tonnes of filth was spewed into the environment. We were insulted by people who are paid to deceive us. Lots of good things happened too. I fell in love. I fell out of love. I fell in love again. But I’m still single.

Soon I’ll get off the bus. I’ll get on my bike. I’ll float down to where home is. I’ll walk into an empty crammed apartment.

I have a daughter. We love each other. She’ll be in high school next year. She is her own person. I don’t post pictures of her on social media. Neither does her mother. It’s not a statement or anything. We’ll leave that to her.

All year round I was reminded of other people’s success: Promotions, awards, achievements, milestones and so on. As difficult to stomach as it is at times, I don’t begrudge anyone success in life. Good on them! However, not everyone can be a winner. Friends of mine, really talented friends of mine, were overlooked. Have you seen what a crushed spirit looks like? Have you nursed a broken one?

I’m listening to Ariana Grande’s ‘thank you, next’ on my expensive AirPods.

I’m so fuckin’ grateful for my ex
Thank you, next (next)…

What does ex stand for? This is what the reliable dictionary.com has to say:

a prefix meaning “out of,” “from,” and hence “utterly,” “thoroughly,” and sometimes meaning “not” or “without” or indicating a former title, status, etc.; freely used as an English formative: exstipulate; exterritorial; ex-president (former president); ex-member; ex-wife.

By and large, ex has come to mean a former relationship. Anyhow, Grande is singing that she’s grateful for what her ex boyfriends taught her. But her sincerity is undercut by the word ‘next’ which implies her partners are disposable, grist to the mill, detritus.

It’s too cute. It makes her sound bitter and insipid. But I can appreciate how the cool sentiment behind Grande’s lyrics might make a young girl (or boy) feel reassured in the turbulence of young love. It might even save their lives.

I’m heading back to work on the literary bus, the 506. I call it the literary bus because if you’re so inclined you can read or write an entire book on this route. It circumnavigates the world to get me to the office at University. If anyone reads on the bus they must be doing so on their iPhones and Androids. I don’t read enough!

Apart from dipping into some obscure intellectual meanderings, this year I read an English translation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: Provincial Lives and George Orwell’s Down and Out In Paris and London.

In the forward to Madame Bovary, the reader is reminded that it’s the first modern novel. That’s not why I read it though. I read it because a dear friend had recommended it. And also because I am conscious that reading Flaubert is a good cultural credential to have up one’s sleeve. Anyhow the book is basically about how intimacy constrains individual expressivity and vice versa. At its heart is a fundamental question: Is love between two people possible without clipping each other’s wings? For most of us a stifling relationship is the insurance policy we reluctantly take out against the social stigma of being single – and financially insecure. “He’ll do” or “she’ll do” we confide to our selves. Bovary’s sin is that like Icarus she flies too close to the sun, plunging precipitously into the abyss. I won’t spoil the novel by delving into its guts, other than to say it involves adultery, perfidy and other sins ending in y.

George Orwell’s book originally published in 1933, I’ve had in my library for ages. I couldn’t get past the first couple of yellowed pages until Anthony Bourdain died earlier this year. Sad face. Bourdain made a literary splash in The New Yorker in 1999 with an exposé of the unsavoury realities of the life of a cook, titled ‘Don’t Eat Before Reading This’. I haven’t read it. It was inspired by Orwell’s fantastic and gritty depiction of a dish washer’s life in some of the finest Parisian restaurants. There’s nothing romantic about this world and its zany and desperate characters that Orwell rubs shoulders with. But it’s a totally hilarious exposé. Orwell seldom gets rated for his uncanny ability to expose the utter ludicrousness and comical dimensions of social life. And for this we should love him as much as we should for his luscious ethnographies and participant-observations of the lower stations of life.

The second half of the book is about Orwell’s experience of homelessness in London. It’s alternative title could have been ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire.’ I’m quite proud of that pun. Anyhow, just as amusing as his Paris, it essays the daily trials and tribulations of finding a soft place to fall each night and scavenging around the city for a bit of food to fill one’s belly. He concludes that society is structurally pitted against those who have fallen on hard times and that a world of squalor, discrimination and heartlessness is the depressing fate that awaits them.

The wonderful camaraderie forged between the down and out, and the pettiness, meanness and deception that poverty makes necessary, is the stuff that Orwell gets out of bed for. One can sense just how much he relishes the opportunity to portray these forlorn characters and their pathetic situations.

I had about an hour’s sleep in all. In the morning I was woken by a dim impression of some large brown thing coming towards me. I opened my eyes and saw that it was one of the sailor’s feet, sticking out of the bed close to my face. […] The walls were leprous, and the sheets, three weeks from the wash, were almost raw umber colour. [1]

None of the above does either Orwell or Flaubert a skerrick of justice. But this isn’t a book review and I’m not Mr Bourdain. These are just a few impressions from a single guy with a vastly unreliable memory. I’m due for dinner at my parent’s house this evening.

“Goodnight” I say to to my parents and brother who hosted me for dinner at their Dundas home tonight. There’s a light drizzle. It feels like the end of the year. It is the end of the year!

Here I am, a lonely stranger shuffling along the less traversed tract of Kissing Point Road. I’m heading towards the M52 bus stop on Victoria Road, Ermington. At this time of the night I’m guaranteed any window seat that takes my fancy. The bus appears on the horizon at its scheduled time. I climb in, nestle into a window seat, and ride off into the suburban night, city-bound.

I’m home now lying in bed, staring into infinite darkness. I can feel myself drifting. I tell myself, no I reassure myself, that next year will be different. I’ll be more positive. Calmer. Wiser. I’ll write regularly. I won’t take things too seriously at work. I’ll make a romantic commitment and proudly announce it to the world. Well, maybe. But for now the Christmas holidays beckon and it’s time to relax and enjoy the festive season with friends and loved ones.

I pray and hope that peace will reign on earth. But I won’t hold my breath this time. Everything is shit but not in a bad way. Life is good for some of us, better for others. But we’re all in this together, inevitably circulating the same precious taken-for-granted air through fragile lungs. It doesn’t take a failed sociologist to make that observation. Or does it?

[1] Orwell, G. 1999 Down and Out in Paris and London (Essential Penguin) Ch XXIV, p.132 London: Penguin.

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