To recap: in the previous episode we considered the present author’s unpopularity and alienation. We now proceed to consider whether this is built on a more fundamental and underlying state of utter insignificance …
Now. I don’t know if this is positive or negative, but recent meditation on the topic has left me wondering if it’s not tied to my personality at all. Yes, the shit about talking too much, holding forth more than interacting — all that holds true, and there would always have been room for vast improvement. But I have increasingly noted that it’s more like a jinx effect. Something mystical stops most people even checking me out in the first place. After all, the people who stayed away from my parties and other events in droves had no idea what I was like as a host, and must have realised that one can always avoid the host at a (well-attended) party anyway.
In recent years, I have tried more and more to get stuff out there on social media, appear on stage, join in with the sort of thing I’ve always wanted to do anyway. Aspects of my final failed relationship even made me think I could master things like swimming, skating or driving, if someone I felt comfortable with reciprocated long enough to encourage me (not to teach me; I suspect a professional and infinitely patient tutor would still be needed).
And the hordes stay away from public performance too. There’s no shortage of enthusiastic (if only polite) praise for my writing, artworks, stage performances and videos. But nothing attracts sizeable audiences, nothing goes viral — in fact nothing really gets more than a slight sniffle.
Not even members of my own family, when in town, bother to check out my Fringe performances. Of the tiny proportion of the folks I know who did attend, at least two spent the whole show nattering loudly with companions, leaving me mortified and sorry for the other performers.
But mostly shows I’m in attract no one, and somehow, despite the tiny audiences we do get being unanimously enthusiastic (That was great! Why are so few people here?), no one bothers to give us a good review, and even people who normally attract large (ish) crowds are left wondering why the almost-empty auditorium. Well, I could tell them, but I prefer just to bow out gracelessly and let them have more success without me.
Justification is a wonderful gift. I have come up with some brilliant excuses for not becoming a household name as a blogger, poet, wit and all round interesting egg. My reasoning is that most of my ‘friends’ on social media are not part of the viral society. Some of them will click ‘like’, which is nice, but very few will ‘share’ things they like with the rest of their ‘friends’. A few do, but it never breaks into that stratum of the interweb, mostly populated by younger or more cyber-dwelling persons, from which it might spread. I won a bottle of wine from one acquaintance who insisted that my verses on the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum were so timely (and so good), that they would go viral in a week. Now, for me, three-hundred-plus views (in two years) is amazing, but viralitude should be made of sterner stuff — as he agreed when handing over the plonk.
And this is borne out by experience. My satirical comment, A quote on the internet, Sir, is like a fart in a council meeting: it is rarely attributed to its true source. [Samuel Johnson], has caused much amusement and received many likes. But it has yet to spread further than my immediate circle, while far dumber attempts at humour and clickbaiting appear and reappear incessantly.
And this is where my defence breaks down: people aren’t really interested in the first place. Mostly. Whether they know me or not; in fact, whether they are even aware of my existence or not. I am a rationalist (despite Joe Orton’s assertion, You can’t be a rationalist in an irrational world — it isn’t rational!), and I know that people are not jinxed or cursed, or mystically, astrologically predisposed to good luck or unpopularity, or being struck by a flying cat on a ley line when Venus is in the third house and there’s a ‘p’ in the month. Firstly they have to earn better luck by adjusting their chances, secondly nothing ‘happens for a reason’, and finally (for now) it has been shown that it’s down to nature and perception that one person would think themselves a lucky sod with a life another would construe as ill-fated. But it is spooky how my very involvement in an event, even unannounced, can coincide with lousy attendance, to the extent that it took some willpower not to type ‘result in’ rather than ‘coincide with’ just then.
It still goes on. In a recent documentary about the brain, the point was made that its pain centres are actually fired up by the sense of exclusion: tell me about it, Dr Eagleman! Story of my life, mate. Even those I would call good friends, people who seem to like me and appreciate my better points and talents, instinctively exclude me, like my family on my Father’s last holiday and the guys on my last Fringe show who didn’t ask me into the ‘team photo’ (ok, I was only the compere). I don’t believe (perhaps naively) that it’s malice or dislike, rather my overwhelming insignificance.
Only recently, I found myself in an hostelry where I am known and tolerated by, possibly even popular with, the regulars. Poetry has been performed and applauded, and books sold, and the company is usually convivial. On this occasion an impromptu karaoke session broke out. As I’ve said, I’m no singer; I can manage what Joyce called a ‘bass barreltone’ of some richness, but only over a range of three or four tones, and with no guarantee of hitting the right one, or any of them, with sufficient accuracy. But this shouldn’t be relevant. The instigator and keenest participant of the evening would probably not demur at me calling her warbling ‘somewhat off-key’.
So various people, some more keenly than others, kept stepping up to the mike and doing their thing in various styles and with varying amounts of precision and gusto. Most who seemed content to sit by were offered a go, even encouraged if they seemed shy at first. But not yours truly.
As a younger and more self-conscious chap, I could never be dragged onto dance floors, even when dancing just meant jigging about. But in later years – the last thirty at least – I have in fact oftentimes wondered why people use the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’; I see no point in making a spectacle, impressive or ludicrous, of oneself, if there isn’t an audience (of course this may explain a lot of the above).
But, at the event in question, as with so many, no one asked me. When I picked up the tablet, to look up what songs might be available, I was asked what I was up to, which I would have thought the setting made obvious. And I don’t think this was a case of, for pity’s sake, don’t let him near the music! It was simply that alienation, that cloak of invisibility effect, in another of its guises. No doubt most of those present would be surprised and sorry to find how left out I felt (those pain centres fully activated), and even you, last surviving considerate reader, are saying, well, why the fuck didn’t you just ask if you could have a go?! Well, I think if you understood all that has been writted here, you’d be able to work that out, and I’m saddened you should even ask.
My annoying tendency to quote popular songs to describe and make light of my situation may not exactly help it. But I will say here, as in so many places, that I suffer from two syndromes summed up by Burt Bacharach/Hal David lines: Andy Williams Syndrome (I’ll find some crowded avenue/Though it will be empty without you) and Dusty Springfield Syndrome (Going to the movies only makes me sad/Parties make me feel as bad). And they both came into play here (I wouldn’t have been there at all, had I suspected a party atmosphere might break out); I sat in mental agony, until I felt I could suitably make an excuse and leave, weeping quietly on the number twelve, but holding back the full floods until reaching the safe haven of the Abode of Stones.
Not that I’m a miserable bastard on all occasions. I can and often do enjoy company immensely. I am, as I’ve said, a convivial chappie, and on some occasions I flatter myself I can be quite the life and soul, listening and contributing reasonably intelligently. But even on those occasions, it’s the return to the empty flat that gets to me even more than the lack of the one missed and desired companion. Hence the overreaction after parties. And I weep at the silliest things on telly, so the very risk of cinematic sobbing is something I prefer to avoid; I even have to eschew certain concerts — Strauss’s Four Last Songs are right out!
But this aspect of my present and final situation is but a side-issue. The topic under discussion is the general state which has persisted for all two billion seconds of my life thus far, and will be given a final airing in the next instalment.