Posts Tagged ‘ageing’

in old age

a man’s teenage pain
returns by devious paths
to haunt him — just one
final rebellion left
— the act of remembering!

A week ago I had my sixtieth birthday. Ageing seems to be a constant theme of this blog. Employing a title like this, ‘in old age’, does seem a bit melodramatic of me. I dreamed last night I stood accused of being able to alter someone else’s reality just by the act of remembering. I felt innocent. But at the same time, I did in fact feel as though I had engaged in some kind of subversive act, simply by allowing a certain thought into my head — which was the memory of someone named Howard Pollock, whom I knew for a couple of years in the mid-seventies.


job description

the archetypal
Bus Driver — ferrying souls
on the 134
from Kentish Town to Camden
— fully human yet divine

During a long phone conversation with my sister last night, in the course of talking about my mother’s ageing process and reluctance to visit her GP, we touched on Jung and how Jung seems to have felt that a doctor (or the doctor-patient relationship) can function sometimes, or often, as a channel for the archetypal dimension. In my dream, I was holding up the bus by asking the driver to help me enter a code (or password?) into some software installed on the bus. I knew when I came to write the poem, that the bus driver bore some relation to the Bus Driver in C.S.Lewis’s fable The Great Divorce (where souls after death are ferried to the afterlife on a modern bus which seems to be roughly akin to Charon’s ferry in Greek myth). Reflecting both on how commonly (especially in the past) I have felt transported into some archetypal dimension by a bus ride, and also on how unlikely it is bus drivers ever think along such lines themselves — I fell to wondering if my own job ever involves me in any unwitting carrying of an archetype. Hence the wry title. My first draft of the poem was more about the word itself archetype and how people (including myself) do seem to grasp what it means, notwithstanding the impossibility of pinning that meaning down with any precision.

life skills

the older I grow,
the more I blame myself for
deficient life skills —
no longer claiming status
as a moral invalid

I’m struggling hard in this poem. And not sure exactly what with. Remember one of the labels once in fashion to describe the mentally ill? Morally defective. I just googled ‘morally defective’ and came up with a classic example. An article in The Lancet (a prestigious British mainstream medical magazine) from 1904:

THE PROBLEM OF THE MORALLY DEFECTIVE by W.A Potts B.A. CANTAB., M.D. EDIN. & BIRM., M.R.C.S. ENG. — A paper read at a combined conference of the National Association for the Feeble-minded and the National Special Schools Union on Oct. 13th, 1904.

Morally defective covered both mental illness and learning disabilities, at this point in history, I think. Anyhow, in my poem I suspect what’s happening is that I’m speaking with the voice of a certain side of me which is simply the voice of 19th century moralism. I’m trying to express a sensation of having spent my whole life convinced that, by having low expectations of myself (e.g. never expecting to develop any social skills, always thinking of myself as a vulnerable recipient of psychotherapy), I could somehow dodge the bullet. Recently, and particularly thinking about last night’s dream, I’ve begun to feel as though my own shortcomings really do matter, and I can’t dodge the consequences. In fact this is thoroughly 21st century. The feeling of culpability draws energy from a punitive element in the collective attitude which hasn’t disappeared at all. It’s merely learned to disguise itself more skillfully. Take the phrase life skills. It’s a relatively new piece of jargon but, in proposing a standard to be met (or fallen short of), serves a purpose not so far removed from morally defective. The severity of the superego reveals itself anew, in fresh language but fundamentally unchanged, with every generation. This severity also seems to reveal itself internally with increasing clarity, the older I get. Not only that, but the tendency to identify with it is increasing — like a force of nature, fruitless to resist. In my dream last night I was trying to heal my friend of a sickness apparently incurred by my misdeeds. I felt the full weight of responsibility for the state he was in, and for bringing him out of it. I thought I might succeed with this, by putting my arm around his shoulders and holding him like that. The friend in question was in fact my best friend at Cambridge.