Jun 6, 2021 • 24M

Issue 138: Is There Anybody Out There?

A collection of thoughts from a little black book with me poems in recorded within a 1:00 am silence

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Larry G. Maguire
The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter from organisational psychologist Larry Maguire on the meaning & purpose of daily work and our paradoxical relationship with it. We explore how we may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include solo working, careers, entrepreneurship, small business economics, society and culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.
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I started writing things down on paper late at night about fifteen years ago. Sitting on my sofa, half-drunk if I remember correctly, the mot in bed, I wrote my first few words. I was someone else for a period. It’s not who you think I am; it’s someone very different. That’s the thing you see…the one we present is not the same as the one who sits alone on the couch or in the bed at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning contemplating its own existence, trying to figure out where it fits, if indeed it fits at all. This is the nature of our reality that many, I feel, don’t address, can’t address, don’t even see it to address it. Then there are those of us who feel it, the deep dark cavern of confusion and isolation, and ignore it. We keep ourselves busy with things that don’t really matter, convincing ourselves to the contrary for fear of having to face our own unsubstantial reality–knowledge of the one that knows we’re not who we think we are.

I’ve got a little black book with me poems in just like Waters. Maybe I subconsciously selected that colour book because the lyrics meant so much to me as a fifteen-year-old nobody who struggled to fit in. Meant to be, perhaps, his words resonating with my felt experience. Big hands, too, at night, while I drifted in and out of waking consciousness. Hands so big that they were bigger than me. Then there was a beast, a demon with no face and no name, that lurked ominously. There was a small house like the one in Hansel and Gretel. It had a white fence, and there was a girl, and she was in danger. Who was I in all of this? Maybe I was all of it. A psychotherapist and lecturer of mine told me this is always so. It repeated itself for several years, not so much now that I’m older.

But the songs still speak to me, perhaps, even more, today as I come more into the realisation of what I’m not. As I fight to hold onto the idea that I must be something, something to myself and everyone else when in fact, I feel no particular urgency to be anything. Is there anybody out there? I wonder. Who’s asking? Hard to tell. Is it the infinite internal vacuum? Is it even a vacuum? It feels like a vacuum, or maybe it’s better to call it a depth. The depth is deep and seems black, and a part of me is afraid, but another part of me wants to go there to see what it is. Or is it a thin surface layer that speaks, the fool who believes itself to be substantial? Is that who asks? In the song, there is a deep sadness, yet there is beauty too. It points to the turmoil in all of us and the inevitable tragic end we each face. There is a dance in between, a rise and fall, a coming to terms. Yes, that’s it. It’s a coming to terms with our inevitable demise and the meaning in meaninglessness.

Listen to Waters’ words in this song from a vulnerable and fearful perspective, from the one that you’re so afraid to experience. The lost and deeply isolated you. In many ways, those who feel the weight of this depth are face to face with themselves already. They’ve nothing to lose. From here maybe we can gain everything. Everyone else hides. Everyone else hides behind the persona, the one constructed to protect itself from the everpresent sense of isolation, of aloneness. Because, as so simply yet accurately put by Marina Abramović… “in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.” In the gap between our birth and death, we pretend. We become something then put on a show our entire lives, hiding from the fact that we truly are alone. We join groups, form communities, become part of some social movement or other. For what? To convince ourselves we are not alone, and that life has meaning when in fact, we are alone. We spend our entire lives avoiding the fact that we are nothing substantial. It is the trauma of knowing this that we try so hard to avoid.

I remember we were on holiday in the Isle of Man back in the 80s. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. There was this hotel called The Lido where we’d go at night with all the other holidaymakers. It was really crowded at the entrance one evening, and I lost my parents. I was terrified at not finding them again, although I did after about fifteen seconds. Panic over. Immediate panic over, because the fear of being alone is always there, with all of us. It’s silly, really, given that we come in alone and go out alone. Gotta leave it all behind, don’t we? Can’t take the comfort of mam and dad with us. Different story if you’ve never had that comfort or the comfort it promised was never afforded. That’s real trauma. The physical existence promises so much but delivers not. We’re in pursuit of that comfort all our lives, the one we thought we had in our childhood.

I got A little black book with me poems in
A little black book with me poems in

I’ve got a little black book with me poems in. I’ve got accounts of dreams, lyrics of songs, thoughts, ideas, fears and anxieties, conversations with myself. They are all there. Conversations with oneself are very important you know. You have them all the time even though you may not realise or admit it. The artist converses with herself. So too does the writer. What else is a story written only a conversation of the most complex kind? To converse with oneself is to consult with something other than what we believe ourselves to be. Here’s something from the little black book - a conversation with myself;

What do you expect to come?
I don’t know, that’s the problem. Something tells me I should expect then the route is not clear.
I could have fifty left.
Will I be alone, or will she be here?
Who knows.
Where will they be?
Everything goes. That’s so tragic.
We’ve such narrowly focused minds.
I’m me! I declare.
Look at me! I’m here!
Take notice! I’m real god dammit!
If you don’t notice me I’ll set this place on fire and kill us all.

Image of a poem written in black ink on a cream page
To be real

Now, back to that question; “Is there anybody out there?”

My answer is no; there is not. The one that asks is both the one outside and the one inside. It is the asker and the answerer of the question. In the depths of depression and isolation, the one who asks, “Is there anybody out there?” is both depressed at their own isolation and smiling at the nonsense of it all, although it’s rarely aware of its latter aspect. In pursuit of an answer to his clients’ anxiety and depression, Viktor Frankl would ask, “why not commit suicide?” upon which the client would offer a reason to stay alive and therefore reinforce the self-created meaning of life. An opportunity, perhaps, to emerge out of the darkness of that place the ego has created for itself. Its reason for being, therefore, its fuel, derived from the darkness of its own creation. But who am I in all this darkness? I would not choose this! But you did. You are an aspect of that which chooses even though, through self-deceit, you have absolved yourself of ownership.

Like Elliott Alderson, each of us has created a form of being in order to cope with it, with something we’d rather not face. And just like Elliott, we are unknown to ourselves, and the selves we have created are unknown to one another. Yet, we are all of that. The full shebang, fighting to hide from itself and fighting to reveal itself in whatever way it can. Our greatest fears and anxieties have been commoditised and sold back to us. In this, we indulge in the obscene. Always hiding in plain sight, always an opportunity to resolve the paradox, the conflict. And in that, the conflict has a purpose. the conflict should be praised and thanked because it is that opportunity we present ourselves to finally know ourselves.

Will we take it?

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