Friday, 29 April 2011

Concrete Jungle

As far as I can make out, nobody can see the world as I see it. Around ten years ago, when I was nineteen; the world started to transform. The office blocks down town, the houses surrounding mine began to resemble something else altogether. At first, I could only hear animal noises on the wind, the rustling of dead leaves and detritus whenever I walked outside. These alien noises became the norm over the next year or so despite my early suspicions that they weren't, couldn't be real.

A doctor once told me I had frontal lobe epilepsy, this turned out to be a misdiagnosis. Doctors tell me a lot of things. None of these gave a full account as to why I inhabited a completely different world and didn't care. Before she died, my mum hedged her bets on some sort of social phobia, thinking I was lying when I described how the ferns surrounding the corner shop slowed my journey home.

Lying as an excuse to avoid social contact. Autism. Aspergers Syndrome. Simply attention seeking. Just whatever seemed to roughly stick.

I've been on medication previously for bi-polar depression.

It didn't work.

I don't have bi-polar depression.

A number of weeks ago my doctor informed me that he thinks I have schizophrenia and wanted to try me on a prescription. An anti-psychotic. I told him I would think about it.

Three weeks later, I'm still thinking about it.

I have been diagnosed so many times and by so many doctors, individuals, internet health pages. With doctors, any diagnosis will do so that the conveyor belt of passengers continues to move. Did you know that in the United States where medical care is paid for through insurance for the majority of people, this conveyor belt often dictates life? When birth rates have slowed down, as they typically do in a natural ebb and flow of human life, obstetricians often recommend birth by Caesarean section, instead of a natural birth. Lower birth rates will typically equal lower income for the hospital in general and the doctors in specific. Can you guess which birthing method is more expensive? I don't think it is hard to understand why I distrust the medical community.

I left school and had no idea what to do next. I became a member of the growing unemployed community and walked around in my own daydreaming world while pretending to be looking for jobs. After the noises became regular and normal to me, I became aware of the buildings changing colour; the pavements and roads degenerated into dirt tracks, streams and marshes. For reasons unknown to me at the time, my world was gradually changing into a maze of building shaped trees until almost without notice, the city had disappeared. Whole neighbourhoods were surrounded by fast flowing rivers. My old school, a monolithic '80's greyscale feature, was replaced by a ruined building covered in vines. I was amazed by these changes. Instead of being confused or scared, I soon realised that the world as it was now made a lot of sense. Walking around town became a magnificent sensual spectrum of smells, colours and sights. The cold grey world became a world filled with excitement. The only thing that made me feel sad was that nobody else seemed to react to these changes. I soon realised that these changes were only for me and without me, this whole environment would disappear...

In primary school, a life skills teacher warned us of the dangers of keeping your emotions inside. “It is healthy to open that bottle sometimes”, she had told us. I didn't know what to make of it; who keeps the lid screwed firmly on their emotions? It seemed like such a bizarre metaphor at the time. I now often think of myself holding my happiness on a string to stop it floating away from me. Fear isn't the mind killer that it is made out to be; you just need to know how to stop its darkness from blinding you. Each emotion a puzzle.
Like a Columbus egg.

The drive to find out what is wrong with me doesn't come from me. I don't think there is anything wrong with me at all. The problem is everyone else. The drive to get to the root of this comes from my one and only friend John. He was once my therapist but when my mum died, I had no idea how to pay. He is now my friend instead. It always seems that he is desperate for me to be “normal”. I ignore his obsession for normality and he seems too ignores that I tell him things that make him uncomfortable. It's a fair trade.

He doesn't like when I tell him that to me, death is almost tangible, like smoke. I can feel and see it. It doesn't have a smell. He is disturbed when I lose my emotions. I keep them in my pocket but sometimes lose them. During these times I have to hunt for them, completely void of emotion and my face stuck in what he calls a blunted affect. After recounting this to a doctor, he described this as anhedonia but I looked this up on wikipedia at the library and it said nothing about losing your emotions like you lose your keys, or someone's phone number; only that the individual cannot feel pleasure.

One time, I found my emotions stuck in the muddy bank of a stream outside the tax office. Nobody can understand how this feels.

For the past three weeks, I've been contemplating medicating. Weighing up the pros and cons.

I can't remember what a sunrise looks like any more. All I see are the spotlights that the thick canopy so far above my head allows. It might be nice to see the sun rise. On the other hand, I'm so used to seeing greens and browns, windows in trees, vine thickets. How would I adapt to something that was last familiar ten years ago? I spent almost a week sitting alone in my hut with these thoughts. The most bizarre aspects of my world would be gone – a good thing. Who really wants to see a huge tiger roar down the street, only for people to get in and out its ear at regular intervals? No matter who you are, this site is disturbing.

If I was on some sort of medication, would what I see be regulated? At the moment, the inside of any building is the same as before but if I look out the window all I see is jungle. From the outside, the library is the biggest tree I've ever seen, a very old and ornate African mahogany with rotating doors built into the trunk. Inside, it's all books and posters encouraging kids to read. What feels consistent now will become unpredictable on medication.

Sometimes I feel like I am alone in this city.

The only human walking amongst animals in a concrete jungle.

The first time I heard that phrase it instantly struck a chord somewhere inside me. Concrete jungle. As if there were a number of different species, each adapted perfectly to a certain part of the ecosystem. Revolutionary primates and artist-birds floating, climbing, mating amongst and above the foliage; above the office worker bureaucrat ants who toil tirelessly in the dirt below. Yet with the multitude of different species in this jungle, I feel like the only human, walking along on my own path, tied to no determined outcome. The way I see it, the common link between birds and ants is that their lives consist of the same tasks, every day: wake, collect food, eat, shit, sleep. This schedule is built into the social fabric of the jungle, there is no escaping it.

Instinctual tasks for the kingdom of animals within this concrete jungle, giving life meaning. There is no need to wonder about the meaning of life, since that is predetermined by the next task on the list. Finished working for the day? Go home and laugh at an American sit-com. Meta-narratives have no purpose since the only one that matters is in and around everything. The perpetuation of the jungle is key to the mental, social and physical survival of all these animals. But I somehow managed to be out of sync.

That's where I find myself now. In transition, a decision between a living city and a living jungle. The features of both are as clear and real to me as the water and the air around me, as real as I am. I've found my purpose.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Modern Man

This is just me trying to be as descriptive as possible. Let me know what you think.

His face framed in constant disgust , perpetually on the cusp of frothing. Eyebrows shaped in the sharp 'V' of scepticism above his eyes, thin slits glaring misanthropy at anyone who dares to meet his stare. A mind full of retorts, spring loaded for fast response from his downwards, slightly pursed lips. Offence is the best form of defence, he has learned. Wasps are killed on sight. Before his morning coffee, his sharply acidic tongue meets no resistance and shoots forth venom at anyone unfortunate to cross his path. Before coffee, looks can kill.

Later in the day, he can be found behind a desk; answering the 'phone; typing; reading. The busyness of modern life ensures a focus as deep as the ocean. The smallest fracture in his business is magnified tenfold and appears tectonic. Lunchtime however, brings a 360 shift, nothing is as important as food.


The spread sheet which was the centre of his whole universe is now frozen behind a locked Windows 7 screen, patiently waiting for his return. One hundred per cent focus is now on lunch, where he regains perspective.

After lunch, more of the same. The scowl he wore this morning has been replaced by a concentration and focus only worker bees and monks know. The question still remains; why scowl? Why do his eyes fire daggers as a default setting? Could it be his go-to as a form of defence? This only holds true to strangers but why be on the defensive with friends or colleagues? If we ask “why so mean?” might we be greeted with the same steely stare? Does he even know?

The emphasis in his culture is to be creative, individual. Realise your free will. This has led him to a realisation that others have this same free will. We can only control what we do, our own free will. Not that of other people. His culture also emphasises mistrust of strangers. Who are all these people? Paedophiles, fraudsters, terrorists: Would-be criminals. He assumes the worst because he has no control over them. Without control, what stops things going downhill? Before coffee, he thinks of nothing but this.

He leaves his desk at the end of the day, scowl intact. A day's work: typing, frowning, calculating, shoulders shrugged over and lumbar strain is finally done. This day's work, completely in misery, pays for the weekend's smiles. This could be anywhere.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Why study at all?

I've been paying attention to the political debates regarding the future of education in Scotland. This has often come round to people asking what the purpose of education is. To some, it is the opportunity to learn, simply for the sake of learning. The search for truth and knowledge is as noble a pursuit as I think is possible. For others, the purpose of education is to provide the economy with a workforce at all levels. These two viewpoints are invariably always going to appear in any discussion on education but my recent thoughts are that they are not mutually exclusive and I'd like to explain why I think so.

The viewpoint of academics themselves is that learning for the sole purpose of learning should be an unequivocally available feature of any first world society and is one of the most important aspects which can help those in poverty remove themselves from that situation. I often find myself of this view, and I think that a university degree in philosophy or history is just as valuable and important as a science or vocational degree, such as engineering. Both a philosophy and an engineering degree provide the individual with a deep and complex understanding of how the world works. Engineers have an in-depth knowledge of the mechanisms of the modern industrialised world whereas philosophers have in-depth knowledge of the mechanisms of the modern rational world. University education and a hunger for knowledge has given both of these individuals tools to better understand and manage not only in our society, but in other societies as well, albeit in very different ways. There is a reason that the three most powerful MP's in the UK (Cameron, Osbourne and Clegg) all studied philosophy – it teaches you how to argue and how to elucidate arguments; how to think rationally. Both the engineer and the philosopher have equipped themselves well for employment, yes. But this is not always the primary concern for either.

The second viewpoint is that education is simply to put bodies into jobs and to provide a workforce capable of enhancing the economy. In this viewpoint, those who study at university for the sole purpose of learning are often discounted. The popular media are very fond of the term “Mickey Mouse degree” in which philosophy and sociology are oft quoted. These”Mickey Mouse degrees” are claimed to add nothing to society and nothing to the economy because they do not train people in a trade or allow them to make an obvious way to contribute to the economy. Where I think this view fits in with the first is in the notion that to improve anything, you must be self critical, innovative and possess the relevant skills to make things change. If a business is floundering or wishes to improve, they must evaluate themselves critically in the same way a sociologist or philosopher would objectively evaluate an argument or a theory. They must be innovative enough to solve any problems they come across and to exploit any strengths they find which any student involved in any subject in the realm of 'humanities' learns, no more so than those who study economics or business. Finally, the relevant skills to make things change have to involve critical analysis of texts which anyone who studied literary classics will know. Practical intelligence is having a way with words and being able to argue your case well enough to convince people who are sceptical. This is tested no more than in the humanities, many of which are classed as “Mickey Mouse degrees”.

Even if you are of the opinion that all higher education should be specifically tailored to a specific industry or role, you cannot argue that having a flexible skill set that allows you navigate many employment environments is anything but a good thing. You also cannot argue against an education which allows individuals to explore a number of vastly different career choices before deciding on what they want to. Both of these things are compatible with both viewpoints I outlined at the start. Strict arguments from either side completely ignore this shared ground, including those from MP's and the people who run the country, as entrenched as they are in party politics rather than improving this countries education system for the better.