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The Confidence Man

‘I say the word ‘forever’ less and less, the more I understand it.’

It’s a good line. I might get it tattooed on my chest. Or carved on my tombstone.

During the heatwaves and increased storm warnings of the summer, I felt my heartbeat for the first time in a while. The seasons change so rapidly now; I can barely keep up.

It’s quarter to five on a Friday evening. I’ve been awake since twelve, but only forced myself to get up an hour ago. I sleep in my clothes more and more nowadays. Eventually I’ll stop writing and try and tidy the house up. Or at least shower, and shave. Sometimes I want to jack the writing in, and put a bullet in my mouth. Other times I wake up ready to hold onto life like it’s all I have – because it is all I have.

I also know I have a talent, but it’s not a very useful one.

I barely sleep anymore. I can’t concentrate on anything. The noise in my head is never still. I have what could be charitably described as a ‘rich inner life’. My brain keeps snaring itself into knots; I go from wired to exhausted in a matter of minutes.

I have my wins, I have my losses; living with both requires skill.

Christ. I sound like I’m scribbling down ideas for a GQ op-ed.

On the Beach

‘Though my problems are meaningless/That don’t make them go away.’

As always, Neil Young says it better than I or anyone else can. All this year, I’ve had his ‘On the Beach’ album on repeat. The title song’s jangling bassline and weary falsetto are good reminders that at least my life has a belter soundtrack.

That phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ keeps coming back to me. A quick Google search of the term yields over 10,100,000 results. Every time there’s a mass shooting or an assault or even a film or a comedian that arouses controversy, it’s listed as among the chief factors. A lot of us, myself included, engage in it.

I don’t doubt or deny the concept or its validity. But it also sounds like a good name of a beer to me. Like a stout or an ale or even an IPA. Occasionally I half-joke to myself: if the writing doesn’t work out, I’ll start my own microbrewery, and the Tox-Mas IPA will be its premium product. Blonde, red, unfiltered. Whatever you want.

Being alone is natural, yet people don’t know how to be. It’s not a skill they teach you in school, or during office hours. We’re tired of living with the inner cavity, of the disappointment, and of letting each other down. Yet the disconnect that’s become so prevalent in recent decades is now the norm. People seize up just texting each other. The more we anchor ourselves to our hope, the more let down we inevitably feel. The let-downs, both the ones you’re responsible for and the ones visited upon you, pile up and you start measuring them. I don’t live without hope, but I don’t wholly rely on it, either.

Loneliness

Loneliness is considered a mental-health problem nowadays. As most aspects of the human condition are. It’s a symptom of being Irish, I suppose; the inability to countenance that someone or something is worth loving. Whatever suffering I’ve faced in this life is fairly minor compared to that faced by most people I know. I’ve lost friends to suicide, and others to their own inner demons. Because I can’t afford therapy, I turn to language.

I am often alone, but rarely lonely. Loneliness is inevitable; it cannot be escaped. Loneliness rarely means being alone. It usually means no-one caring.

Overfed with an endless scroll of stories, posts, newsfeeds, articles shared from newsites blasting the latest cause for concern. Some call it an overpopulation issue; others say it’s the pervasive influence of technology and social media in everyday life. Actual face-to-face contact is declining. At any given point our eyes are glued to some sort of screen. Mass disconnection – is it any wonder?

The hackneyed, social-media friendly refrain of ‘love yourself!’ rings hollow when people seem to care little about each other. The constant reminders to put oneself first, of the paramountcy if one’s own immediate happiness and gratification, how if should always take precedence over the needs of one’s family and friends.

Being involved with someone for a long period of time has only increased my worries and knowledge of how bad I am. I don’t need anyone else finding that out.

Low-level exhaustion

I wonder if all this intensity is necessary. Or if I am over just over-enthusiastic and say yes too much, too quickly. I follow the reformed alcoholic’s recommendation, and take each day as it comes, work on what I have to: scripts, reviews, my novel, my poems.

This is new for me; the low-level exhaustion that simmers quietly at the back of each day. In college, I used to churn out multiple three-thousand-word essays, poems, and playscripts. I badly needed a girlfriend then. Confidence, too. If I had more confidence, my life would be very different.

Now, I just need a job. Or at least, something to keep me occupied. I don’t care about forging a career or drafting up five-year plans. A job is just a way of keeping afloat, so I can write.

I should still teach myself a few new things, though. Like how to make fire from kindling, without matches or a lighter. Manage my finances better. Jog, cycle, lift weights. Programme a computer from scratch. Things that are quite necessary for a life of competence, and which don’t engage me in the slightest.

I need no-one and no-one needs me. Is that a strength or a weakness?

Warped Version of Adolescence

I’m now back living in my parents’ home, and leading a warped version of my adolescence again. The dynamic with my parents and younger sister is closer to that of roommates than a family unit. We lead our individual lives, work our own jobs, and interaction remains minimal, even under the one roof. We are either too busy or don’t care. We just lack the energy to care. Hence why I rarely speak or expect anything from them. The bond of blood ties everyone, but I’m not sure.

My father’s boots clumping on the wooden floorboards, the shower’s hiss and the extended sigh of the kettle boiling, the scorch of black coffee at the back of my throat. These are the reminders of how things can change and remain the same.

They say adulthood is just the slow realisation that all the wisdom fed to you since infancy is categorically false.

I am single, and yet I am not isolating myself anymore. When I was with my ex-, she was my priority.

Putting other friendships aside seemed like a virtue, as it meant I was prioritizing my partner. This is what men do in relationships, apparently. When the breakup happens, they find they’ve no mates to turn to. I’m not in the humour to be anyone’s boyfriend now; I lack the energy to care about being with someone.

Women moving faster

I keep thinking about women, as always. They seem to move faster than me, their footsteps ablaze with purpose. I look at their hands more and more, to see if they wear rings. Most of them aren’t. It’s not something I ever thought I’d do. It’s become another reflex, like checking the time or my emails.

Do all men do this?

Occasionally I look my exes up online, like the creep I am. I don’t go on dates that much.

There’s always the need to impress, and I rarely feel that impressive. I’ve no business being someone’s boyfriend.

I was someone’s boyfriend for three years; in all that time, I never quite believed that she loved me. I couldn’t see any reason why she would. But she did. And I loved her back.

She used to look at me as if I was a god. I knew it was only a matter of time before the reality of what I am would become clear. I could only keep the masquerade up for long, and then she’d want me gone. As she eventually did.

Every woman I’ve been with I’ve inevitably let down.

Most blokes seem to make it their life’s work to pester women until they either give in or set their brothers on them. I’m more willing to take ‘no’ for an answer. Usually, I expect it.

I’ve never felt wanted anyway. I’d say I’ve been out of the game for too long, but that would imply I’ve even been in the game in the first place.

The beginning of things are always exciting. Once I see the ambit of work that must go into something, I lose interest.

I don’t know if I have a stunted capacity to feel or recognise love, or am just incapable of feeling it.

I’ve also trained myself not to get sentimental anymore. To the point that major losses or setbacks don’t hit as hard as they should. The mawkishness is repulsive to anyone who witnesses it.

News thump

More and more in my newsfeed about Brexit, climate change, the housing crisis here, banking layoffs in Germany, mass drownings in the Mediterranean, multi-millionaire men of the people taking selfies at Everest’s peak, immigrant detention centres at the Mexican border. The inevitable and deserved comparisons to Auschwitz and Dachau. There’s no ignoring it anymore.

Armageddon, Ragnorok, Kali Yuga, Al-Qiyammah, the Anthropocene. Every society, in every era, puts a name to the inevitable, to the moment of its collapse. It continues to this day.

I remember chatting up this girl once, in the smoking section in Workman’s. Whether she fancied me, or was just bored, I couldn’t tell. I never can. She was confident in the way only young people are.

A man sitting alone in a pub is usually best avoided, but she came up to me and got the conversation going. I say we had a conversation, but really I just let her talk about this upcoming art exhibition she was about to have in Amsterdam. Its overall theme was about body image, how men and women perceive theirs, for good or for ill. Five years ago, this would’ve impressed me.

She asked me did I like my body, the way I looked, did I feel comfortable in my skin. I didn’t really have an answer for her. If she was waiting for me to make a move, she was sorely disappointed. Not that I didn’t want to, I just didn’t know when. It’s a very delicate dance, and I have very heavy feet.

I know I am far less than what I could be. I don’t need a self-help guide to realise that.

The mind is a cave; the brain peels back. I can’t be alone for very long without the craving for a cold beer breaking the surface. I need to stay numb. I need to forget that I exist.

I want to be somebody else. I’m tired of being a burden to everyone. But this is the flesh I am sealed into.

Only a few days ago, I was invited to go on a hike through Glendalough. Sweat on my torso and mud on my boots; feeling the winds at such a high altitude, overlooking the swirl of black water that is the Upper Lake in the valley, scrape at my face. Strangely enough, it cleared my head.

At home, I got back to work. Wrote and felt the old strength come back. I know the value of hope now, the necessity of keeping going. I still know better than to rely on it, but it isn’t unwelcome for now.

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Daniel Wade is a Dublin-based author. He was awarded the Hennessy prize New Irish Writing in 2015, and his poetry has appeared in over two dozen publications. Follow his progress on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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