the humans

“the weight of dust exceeds the weight of settled objects”

robert wyatt

i sit at my usual cafe and watch the humans. how small they are: how vulnerable; how completely, wonderfully, themselves. how open-hearted tender i feel towards all of them. it takes a conscious effort, as if i am physically restraining myself, to not try to talk with any of them. i want to shout: you are amazing, i love you! but i sit in silence, watching. a gorgeous chubby-cheeked boy somewhere between baby and toddler sports a stylish mickey mouse sweatshirt and is overwhelmed with excitement at the sighting of two motorbikes parked outside. the bikers are right there, feet away, easily within eye and earshot, but fail to notice their adoring fan. this disappoints me very much, but not quite enough that i dare to point him out to them: they are so private that when each of them ventures inside to use the loo, neither says anything to the other; they just walk away in manly bearded silence. another customer makes her hesitant, lop-sided way into the warm interior. i notice anyone with mobility challenges because of my own limited moving-around-skills: my walking has been less reliable and my legs wobblier than ever since my booster vaccine. i only made my shuffling way to the cafe solo early on that sunday morning on account of there being almost no traffic, and because my psyche was in free fall. a council worker picks up litter with his litter-picker, apparently oblivious to the gaping hole at the corner of the council embossed bin liner into which he puts all the pieces of detritus. i am too shy to ask him all kinds of questions which preoccupy me: why are people more prone to littering since the start of the pandemic; why is dog shit, which had been virtually eradicated, now everywhere once again since the start of the pandemic; why does the council pay someone to pick up litter but nobody actually sweeps the pavements any longer; and how much do they pay him; and can i buy him a drink?

all these observations and thoughts lead to me repeating to myself one more time the question which frequently torments me: when individual humans are so resilient, so courageous, and so humour-filled, how come collective humanity is the ugliest most destructive monster?


i’m not familiar with the version of calm which visits before the storm. my calm invariably arrives post- and not pre-storm. in addition, the calm often takes such a long time that i stop believing it will ever come, so that its eventual appearance ends up taking me by surprise.

for me the experience of being alive is a repeating circle of psychological disintegration and re-formation. i fall apart over and over, and each time i fall apart i feel that i will never succeed in reorganising my self. i feel like reconstruction of my psyche is impossible, but decades of being alive have provided me with compelling evidence that there is always ultimately a route out of these emotional cul-de-sacs. i feel like i will inhabit this chaotic space of endless corridors cluttered with blind corners, distorting mirrors, and trompe l’oeil doorways forever; but i know that i will not. nonetheless it takes astonishing levels of energy to negotiate existing in this disordered emotional environment: it requires a feat of discipline simply to appear to be an integrated human; parts of me keep flying off into space, and i must continually wrap myself around myself to prevent this gravity-defying behaviour becoming visible to other people. i talk, i smile, i appear to have a rough idea what i’m doing; but there are passages, sometimes lengthy passages, when this is a well-rehearsed deception.

i guess this repeating pattern of dissolution followed by renewal is not how life feels for everyone – at any rate, if it is, a lot of people are keeping very quiet about it. to some extent i understand the wish to keep emotional mayhem under wraps: as i said, i work hard to disguise from the outside world when parts of me keep breaking away and hurtling off into the stratosphere. but some departures are impossible to hide. i keep thinking of the bit in “withnail and i” when pedestrians being knocked down by vehicles are mentioned and withnail cries “these aren’t accidents! they’re throwing themselves into the road gladly!” because my hair has been throwing itself out of my scalp gladly for over three years now, and it is increasingly futile to attempt to conceal its encroaching absence. one of my darling nieces has advised me to “just rock it” when i have no hair remaining. as she wisely pointed out, what else can i do? because of the ME my temperature regulation is so erratic that it will be intolerable for me to keep my head covered a lot of the time. i’m trying to write about this hair loss stuff despite the fact that whenever i talk about it (and it turns out that writing about it is way more distressing than talking about it) i feel turned inside out and overwhelmingly sick. but i must endure this nausea, since there is no escaping the fact that this is happening. and writing is how i attempt to instil order into chaos.

i never expected my life to go smoothly. many of the things which have happened to me which could be construed as misfortunes have not taken me by surprise. also i don’t feel indignant about the so-called bad luck: i look around the world, and i see that the vast majority of human lives aren’t going smoothly. neither of the two primary varieties of luck are personal. but there is something uniquely harrowing about this process of pointlessly losing my beautiful hair; and i feel daft and childish when i say it: but this i did not expect. i thought that i would go to my grave with my hair still attached to my head, and then enjoy its mythical continuing growth beyond my death.

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