The Man Mountain


 Ennui colours the sky with the blues. Yesterday’s clouds are gone away and in their place are ridges running up to spurs of mountain rock that when you trace your finger over the ridges the lines are so clean this optical illusion cuts to the bone. You watch, perspective screwed up, as your life blood drips down the bare rock mountainside, nourishing nothing because nothing can ever grow from nothing.

It is the survivor who lives to tell the tale, by by the skin of his teeth. Roped to the past, dangling into the future, he is hanging on there by a thread. He sees in the mountain his father and in his father himself. Though he does not yet see himself in the mountain, not until, that is, he has let enough blood on its ridge top blade to call it his own.

Time is a merciless master of us all. It takes the young and frail and makes them old and toughened. To the in-betweeners who kid themselves that the peak never will never end it makes their wait an anxious one. To the newly old it enfeebles them. These old ones, they dream perchance to sleep, caring not for piffling little things like argument’s sake. What might once have been them against the world is now them within it. Now they care not one iota, for they know that iota is merely another letter in a long alphabet. They have had to wait a lifetime to realise that what is for you will not ignore you. The world is old and knowing, almost as old and knowing as the old themselves. The two are a Celtic knot, their fates entwined.

Time is a unforgiving mistress. She bequeaths all the knowledge in the world then delights in humiliating when piece by piece she takes it back. First it’s a minor detail, but it doesn’t stop there. She starts taking back in chunks, chunks of time and place. She carves out Mount Rushmore only to start erasing the faces on it. First a nose, the parts that stick out. Then the face and with it the years it gave to governance. She schedules for remembrance, which only result in meetings of forgetful minds.

I saw in him the face of the mountain, the same but different. Piling up in pillowed lava were the lines under the eyes. Hollowed were the orbitals into a corrie with clear green water. The cheekbones, for so long concealed under layers unless a chuckle forced them up and out, now overhung like a cornice of ice streaked raspberry red. Shrunken with the seasons and tired of lying standing up, while still the mountain of old it was now eroding. I knew, upon seeing it, I had to gather my things and head closer to the mountain before it disappeared altogether. Instinct tells me there is life in the old dear yet. Old hills contain hard plugs and an igneous-hard will to live on, but for how many more seasons? Life’s a bitch and then you become senescent.

Sitting at distance regarding the range, I think of him growing old. Tracing a line along a ridge whetted by the bluestone sky, I let my blood on the mountain. A small sacrifice for those years of shelter, for that solid ground beneath my feet, for that quiet presence we always orientate back to. Seeing the scree glistening in the folds, the metal ore laid bare by the unremitting nature of the elements, noticing the things that age does to a man, feeling the brevity of all life in spite of his long years, I sense a stirring from deep inside telling me I am me only a few seasons shy of becoming him.



Gall Stones that Crack the Mirror Pool


“It wasn’t until middle age that narcissists became depressed, because of their failed relationships.” So writes Zoe Williams in this morning’s, quoting the authors of The Narcissism Epidemic. So how else could causation flow through these variables? Relationships failed because narcissists grew depressed and depression stemmed from hitting middle-age? Was it that relationships failed because depressives hit middle age and this aging process arose through being a narcissist? Or that it wasn’t until relationships failed that narcissists became middle-aged, and relationships failed because who the hell wants to cuddle up to a depressive? Where does narcissism begin and depression end? For that matter, where does middle-age end? In failed relationships? In depression? In a late blooming of narcissism? In a toxic brew? Most pertinent of all, where does middle-age begin? And have I left the solar system of youthful vigour and entered the Kuiper Belt of wrinkling despair?

“Don’t worry, son. You’re very much in the game. The solar wind has just died down a bit today. Take it from an old timer, you’re as young as the woman you feel.’

“Let me illustrate, Dad. It’s almost as if I’m cruising through deep space billions of miles from Earth. There’s Neptune out my starboard porthole. Still, I’m not sharing the view, if you catch my drift.”

“You don’t have to paint elaborate pictures. Come out and say it, son. You mean you’re lonely?”

“Hell, yes. I don’t feel women these days. Haven’t sniffed an opportunity since I left Earth. Tell me, how old does that make me?”

“Look at you. You look great for your age, lad. What I would give to have looked that good when I was any age, far less the age you are now.”

“You’re trying to imply I’ve entered my middle years without actually giving it an ‘official’ title, aren’t you?”

“Don’t be soft. I’m sure you’ll find someone who’s, er, not like the others, and you’ll put all your troubles behind you and she’ll be the one who’ll go the distance. And I mean to Neptune and beyond. You’ve got time still, lad. Oodles of it.”

“What are you trying to say? That I’ve flunked every relationship because I’m in a funk I can’t free myself from? A bit too self-absorbed, eh? No room for others? That’s basically what you’re saying.”

“Well, son. Now you mention it, you’re your own worst enemy. A bit too caught up in yourself, at times.  Sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but you need to learn to consider others a bit more. Give a little to take a little. See ourselves as others see us.”

“You mean I’ve got narcissistic tendencies?”

“Well, hmm, narcissistic is a bit strong. It’s not like you’re always try to catch your reflection in shop windows or anything. When you’ve lived alone as long as you have, it’s not easy to give up all that self.”

“Your not really painting a rosy picture of me here, Dad. I can see my dating profile now: solitary, sociopathic type. Scores high for misanthropy, low for empathy – a real plus these days. Has the advantage of not often being wrong about anything. Loves watching people and animals suffer. Carries around a small vanity mirror for those times he forgets just how much of a catch he is. More boom than bust type of guy, although does love getting to the point(s) with women. Brilliant company by his own admission. A bit of a silver fox. Is aging so gracefully that he has been compared to Clooney, not once but twice. Age not an obstacle as his charisma is transcendent. Looking for a sexy twenty-something. Personality not such an issue as he will be doing most of the impressing. You thought the koh-i-noor diamond was one of a kind. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

That’ll go down a storm with the ladies. Tell me where I went wrong, Dad.”

“Well, I suppose we’ve all got to love something or someone, son. We’re only human, after all.”

Narcissists are by definition excessively preoccupied with protecting and aggrandizing the ego, and since the ego’s primary motive is the preservation of self, why not experience the inward tugging of the self-serving soul the closer one comes to their own eventual auto-destruction? So it stands the test of reason that it can never be too late to develop that life-saving proclivity for narcissism. And if narcissism got you feverish when you were younger, early middle age seems about the right time to let delusions of grandeur mellow into a warm mug of mindfulness, easy on the ego.

From the moment the toddler accepted it was not mum’s thirteenth paired rib bone, more a pivot around which the universe was spinning, is it not the case that narcissism cut a swathe through little Lord Fauntleroy’s life practically undetected? Vaunted self-importance ain’t the preserve of the selfie gen. We were over-inflating our tyres long before Mr Dunlop showed the wheel the way. The difference is, now narcissism has found an instant digital outlet for a population of smart phone-conscious lemmings where previously it needed developing in a darkroom. The difference is, now viral self-love drives extinction of countless species and the worst kind of  relationships are those we have with nature. It’ll be in our species’ middle years that the aftermath of the man-nature abusive relationship will be felt as a source of mass depression.

It is axiomatic that only at the onset of middle age do we fall into a slump. It explains a lot about personal midlife crisis and catharsis, the slow onset of rigor mortis, adoption of new creeds (Scientology and Kabbalism not exempted), and all that other life-begins-at-40 mantra. It explains how the coming-of-age personality can crash and burn (by descending into anguish, alcoholism, discontent, pill addiction, and other chemico-ontological pitfalls) only to subsequently emerge rebuilt, lightened and more philosophically lean from the experience.

For all those failed relationships staring back at you from the millpond of your mind, for all the remorse of not reacting with the soulful completeness of the post-you instead of that room full of mirrors from where the pre-you used to look out in confusion, bear in mind that the task of being one of billions of little living deities is not simple when advancing years makes peeing feel like breathing fire through the urethra, and the stiffness on waking like one’s bloodstream has been transfused with embalming fluid while they were sleeping.

There are more reasons in this world of ours to be insecure than there are to be narcissistic. To make an omelette worth being, one needs to find mirrors worth cracking. The 21st century narcissist really is walking on eggshells.