Love, Drugs, and Sticklebricks.

Some things you should know about me (or some perhaps just some tedious narcissistic self reflection):

I am an introvert.  I live inside my head.  The role I portray in the ‘real world’ (I find that term laughable, as the real world is clearly the one inside my head – it has far more interesting avenues and pathways.  But outside my head is where books and other people’s ideas live, so I feel obliged to visit it from time to time and even to subscribe to the mythology that it is in some way more real) is distinct from who I am.  What you see is a shadow of me, a sanitized version, usually specifically constructed for whatever specific environment I happen to be in.  Work Ben cares passionately about his work, the aims of his company, and getting things done in the most effective way.  Home Ben would much rather be thinking about something interesting than the tedious drudgery of work. And Social Ben (who only steps out at carefully preplanned times, because being Social Ben can be quite draining) likes to get into deep, rambling, philosophical discussions, and then puncture the mood with a terrible pun.

This is about Core Ben. Well, it’s about ‘The Core Ben I am prepared to write about’ – some things, I guess some of my innermost secrets, will remain unsaid, in a dark void where I am not yet prepared to confront them.  But it is about the Ben who lurks behind all the other Bens.  The Ben who is constantly hiding from view.  Because the hiding is tiring.  And – with a new year (yeah, this is ‘New year, new me, resolution, personal growth bollocks’ inspired. And when I typed ‘inspired’ just then, the god of Freudian typo’s decided to put insipid on the screen.  Read of that what you may) – I want to be less tired.  I want the feeling of connection I have with the outside word not to be the sensory overload I feel now, but something more akin to passion.  And to do that, I think I have to be honest about myself, and who I am.

I don’t know how secret any of these things I’m writing about actually are.  For all I know, everybody who knows me possibly knows everything I’m writing here.  I’m not writing this to unveil any secrets – I’m writing so that I know I have unveiled the secrets, and that they are not secret any more.

Once, many years ago, I took a tab of acid.  It was the only time.  I enjoyed the experience; I was glad to have had it; And I felt no need to experiment with it further.  Now, to understand me, you need to know that before I tried LSD, I had researched it, I knew lots about how it was meant to affect me, what was likely to happen, and what risks were involved.  I try not to step out into the unknown without at least having assembled a guide book for myself.  I also find not knowing something that I think I should know unbearable.  If you ask me the wrong (or, perhaps, very right) question, you can send me off into hours or days of research.  I ask myself the wrong questions all the time.

But we were talking about acid.  I lay on the grass, on a hot summers day, waiting for it to take affect.  I was looking up at the white streaky stratus clouds that stretched over the sky.  Gradually they seemed to take on a new form – they warped into something more like a sierpinski’s gasket or koch snowflake.  Fractal shapes, mathematical in origin, which had become more popular with the masses as the computer revolution had allowed us to experiment with them. But more cloudlike.  And slightly shiny. As I looked at this, and recognised it as my first hallucination I said to myself ‘Oh fuck, I’m a computer programmer deep down inside’

Looking up at the fractal clouds, I was right.  I am a geek.  I love technology.  I love the possibilities it offers, and the way it changes the world.  I love to know how and why things work – not just what causes them to work, but also why people find them so compelling.  I’m a man constantly frustrated that the future hasn’t yet arrived, but also in love with the opportunities that technology provides me.  I used to love to program.  And sometimes I still do. But that part of me has been handed over to Work Ben, who trades the coding for money.  Now I don’t often have the energy and desire to write code for myself, on my own time, and this makes me sadder than one might imagine.  I have sold a part of me, and I don’t quite know how to buy it back.

Looking up at the fractal clouds, I was wrong. I’m not a computer programmer deep down inside.  Though I am something similar.  I’m not a scientist – part of me believes in science as the ultimate expression of truth, but another part rails against the limited worldview science offers.  I want to use the word engineer to describe myself.  But the word is overloaded.  Engineers are both the people who make sure bridges don’t fall down, but also the people who can’t get my computer to stop showing me the blue screen of death.  I’m part of the second group. I think I’m going to call us not engineers, but inventors.  Nevertheless, the question of inventors vs scientists raises a great debate inside of me as I try to understand who I am:

An inventor is not a scientist.  The scientific method says ‘Come up with a hypothesis, Come up with a way of testing the hypothesis.  If you can’t test your hypothesis, then your hypothesis isn’t worth thinking about right now.  Test your hypothesis by measuring something.  Then work out if your hypothesis is right or wrong, based on the results.’  Though this is also not what scientists do.  What scientists do has more to do with coming up with hypotheses that will attract funding, and conclusions that won’t piss off people who are more important that you in the academic community (or waiting a generation until people who are less attached to their ideas start turning up).  Some scientists like to talk about the scientific method more than they like to talk about the realities and politics of day to day life.

An inventor is not a scientist.  This gives the engineer power, as he can use the scientific method, but only if he wants to.  While the scientific method is a thing that defines what a scientist does (or rather what a scientist thinks he should be doing), for an inventor it is just another tool in the toolbox.  The scientist (or at least the scientist who has read Karl Popper, and deified him.  Which isn’t all scientists, but does tend to include some of the shoutiest scientists) tells you that the unmeasurable hypothesis is meaningless, because it can’t be tested.  The inventor says ‘The scientific method doesn’t work here.  So lets do something else’.  The social scientist probably says something about half-arsed statistics and broad cultural trends.  But even inventors look down on the social sciences.  (I have vague plans to write something – a book or a website or an illuminated manuscript for all I know, on the subject of ‘liminality’.  At that time, I will be able to look down on myself).

What do inventors do?  Inventors ask themselves questions.  And they try to find answers to those questions.  But often, in the process of answering one question, they discover newer, more interesting questions and divert their attention – sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.  They also make mistakes.  Their process tends to be combining other people’s ideas in ways in which those ideas have never been combined before.  Often it is a bit like trying to solve a rubik’s cube by randomly rotating the sides.

Being a scientist (and I use the term in an oddly pejorative way here) is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle.  You ignore your younger brother, who is happily playing with his stickle bricks, you complain about the piece in the box which clearly came from a different (and inferior) puzzle.  You worry that some of the pieces of the jigsaw are lost and might be undiscoverable.  And you keep working at the puzzle, because you know that the puzzle and only the puzzle is ‘fun for all the family, ages 8 to 80’.  It says so on the box.  There is no other way to have fun.

Being an inventor is like playing with lego.  But not like they do at LegoLand.  The inventor takes the lego out of a big box and uses it to build a house, or a car, or whatever he fancies.  Then, taking the house, he puts it besides the model railway.  He drives the car down the model railway’s tracks.  Then, having stepped barefooted on one too many sticklebricks, he takes more bricks out of the box and starts throwing them at his brother.

Different inventors use different things for their lego bricks.  At work, I use code.  Though often the questions I pose myself are not that inspiring – often because the questions I really want to ask might upset the people who choose to pay me money for answering the questions they want answered.  At home, my lego bricks are less tangible (which frankly makes them less immediately useful as projectiles) – I tend to build palaces, parks and gardens (along with the occasional car wash and inner city slum) out of ideas – out of all of human thought.  Or at least, out of the bits of human thought which spark a fire in my mind.

The bits of thought which spark a fire in my mind are out of my control. It doesn’t matter what is true or false – or how you come to the conclusion about truth or falsity in the first place.  Amongst the things I devour are books, websites and articles on subjects as divergent as religion (from ancient christian theology to new age hippy fluffiness and candles), philosophy, science, economics, business theory, self help (again ranging from books by respected psychologists like Martin Seligman all the way to The Secret), history (I still seem stuck in the Elizabethan era, moving slowly towards the enlightenment), alternative history (think Von Daniken) and the really really alternative history (in which we are all descended from sentient plants).  In the last year I have read cookbooks, learned about linguistics, delved into cryptogeography and toyed with chaos magick.

Of course, to the rational mind, much of what I read is complete rubbish.

If you are looking for the truth in it.

But if you are only looking for a truth, it suddenly becomes more useful.  Indeed, sometimes more useful than the truths we are sold by establishments.

Because I’m an inventor.  I don’t care where a particular cog, gear, pulley, or nuclear warhead comes from.  All I care about is what it does when I put it together with other cogs, gears pulleys and nuclear warheads.  Much of the time I don’t care about anything more than n=1 trials.  Because when the 1 is me, and the only thing I’m trying to change is me, then letting n exceed 1 isn’t just wasteful, it actually dilutes the truth that is important.

And more importantly, if I’m having fun, and I’m not hurting anyone, who cares?

I sound, perhaps, like I’m trying to convince myself.  And I am.  Ben the scientist is looming over Ben the mystic and trying to restrain him.  Ben the scientist has won these battles time and time again.  But Ben the scientist doesn’t always win – especially not when I’m alone.  And in writing this I’m hoping to ensure he knows he is one amongst many, and that he has to live in the shadow of all my other interests, styles, techniques and approaches to the world.  I love Ben the scientist.  He is a useful person to know.  But Ben the mystic is always hanging around, and if you want to know me, you probably need to know him to.

At heart, I’m a mystic.  I’ve always been a mystic.  I remember my first communion at church.  I was expecting something.  Anything.  It was called communion, for God’s sake.  I didn’t feel any more than non-alcoholic wine and chopped up granary bread.  And as I’ve looked around the machinery of churches, one way or another, I’ve not found the thing that does it for me.  I don’t want to trash the church (well, no more than Jesus did) – it seems to do a good job providing a tried and tested route for lots of people to fill a hole they need filled.  But I have a similar hole, and the church fails to fill it.

Back when I was a kid, I didn’t differentiate between religion and history.  I thought if you knew it all, and followed the rules, everything else would come along for free.  In retrospect, I should have been Jewish.  Then I spent a week with a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I figured out a bit about what they believed – and they were clearly crazy.  How on earth could they come to their conclusions?  A bit more research and I discovered exactly how they reached their conclusions – they had wacky and weird ideas about which bits of the Bible were important, and how to interpret them.  So that was that settled.  Until I realised that my church had similarly picked and chosen the parts of the Bible they cared about, and were relying on a combination of philosophy, theology and politics to back up their conclusions.  Rather than relying on anything which approached truth.  This upset me somewhat.  And I gradually concluded that the Bible was worthwhile as a source of culture, history and ideas, while my religious tendencies should be directed inwardly.

In another time, I might have been a monk or a hermit.  But monasteries and caves are not known for their broadband connection.

As you look at the history of religions, most seem to begin with mystical experience, and gradually fall into a more dogmatic and political  framework – a framework which appears to suit many people, but leaves the mystic less enfranchised.  There are places for mystics within religions – Islam has its sufis, Christianity its monks and contemplatives, but for the mystic who does not plan to withdraw from the world, the west offers few options.  The east offers more possibilities, and the west has tried to embrace them.  Unfortunately eastern religion draws from the shared cultural experiences and metaphors which the west doesn’t share.  And so any attempt to get in touch with one’s spiritual mystical side becomes something akin to pick and mix.  Pick and mix is about as good at supporting the growth of a working western mystical school as it was at supporting  Woolworths.  We get our share of flakes, crazies, hippies, gullibles, delusionals and conspiracy theorists.  We also get earnest seekers.  And our ideas merge and breed, our language is shared.  Frankly we all sound mad.  But amongst us some people have felt a spark of something, had their own experiences of the divine, know some things that most people never get to see.  Of course, there is still politics, maneuvering, and “I’m more spiritual than you” infighting.  People are people.

I’m a flake, a crazy, a hippy. I’m also a seeker.  Despite the fact I spend most of my life working in the rational, logical, buttoned down world of computers, engineering, bits, bytes, wires and truth tables there is something about people willing to go away from the rational and into themselves, earnestly looking that makes them part of my tribe.

Tribes are, however, a problem for me.  Not only am I fickle, flicking through a multitude of tribes, changing my face each time, lying about who I am to gain acceptance, I am also exhausted by people.  I am an introvert.  And I find relationships hard.

I offer what follows as an explanation, but not as an excuse.  Back, long ago now, I was bullied. And this has shaped me.  I was an introvert before I was bullied.  And I cannot claim that I was not in some part responsible for my being bullied – though I was too young and too inexperienced at the time to realise that this was the case.  I hold no one responsible for it – we were all children, and most people involved probably didn’t even realise the game they were playing was happening. We can all be blind to our actions sometimes.  But bullying cost me a lot.  It cost me all the friends I had at the time, everyone I held dear, it cost me my self worth (though, oddly, I recall myself trying to destroy my self worth when I was much younger.  Someone, I assume, had convinced me I wasn’t special.  Maybe I was just overcoming the solipsism of childhood, but I regret losing it), and it cost me my trust in people.  It now takes me far too long to trust people – by my reckoning, it takes a year for me to consider anyone my friend.

There has been one person in recent years, who I have trusted.  Adelina.  That is why I first found myself loving her.  And in part, a sense of complete trust was why I married her.  Married life has not always been easy.  Adelina needs people as much as I need space.  And as a result we now live apart.  And somewhere, a shard of the trust I had has been lost.  This is not Adelina’s fault.  We can’t live together – if we continued one of us would die.  Or be killed.  Or be forced to live a lie.  I don’t know if our marriage will last.  There is no term to describe what we are doing.  And everyone is looking for a label.  People look at us thinking our marriage has failed. They try to get us to hate each other. Because they understand two people who hate each other. The understand betrayal, weakness and blame. Betrayal, weakness and blame are as much part of the simple Hollywood packaging of romance as flowers and candlelit dinners. They are not ready to deal with something this raw and complicated and real. They tell us, or imply to us, that we should hate each other at a time when we need to love each other and support each other the most.

But that isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is that the shard of trust which broke off when we moved apart digs further into my heart each time I consider what has been, could have been or will be.

I don’t know how to talk about this.  All I know is that it hurts.  And that I don’t want the hurt to go, because its real and important and necessary to me.

And that however much I have needed space and quiet and peace and contemplation, now I feel alone.  Not just from Adelina, but from the whole of humanity that she loves, and that through her loving she helped me to love and trust however slightly.

I’ve never been a happy person.  Depression, the black dog, pads around behind me.  I’ve spent a lot of time learning first to recognise that the dog exists, and second to train him.  This is at the heart of much of my desire for personal development.  I have become so good at keeping the dog to heel and stopping it running away, that I fool myself one day I may just be able to tell it to stay while I walk away into emotional freedom.  Depression is horrible.  You feel it is your fault, because that is the game that it plays.  It is a deadly illness.  An illness which kills many – far too many.  But the sufferers don’t get told they are brave, don’t get lauded as heroes, we get told we are weak.  Or we learn to hide it, and deny ourselves.

This is not an attempt to make myself happy.  This is an attempt to rid myself of the many different faces I project to the world.  Its a call to make myself free.  Its a chance to integrate the many opposing, contradictory, viewpoints I hold and perhaps perfect.  I’ve held onto these different faces because I fear losing those who love, respect and tolerate me, just as I lost so many people.  All the while I’m showing different faces to different people, and not acknowledging who I am to myself, I feel somehow unfinished.

I don’t like to finish things.  When I finish something, it is done, fixed in time and space.  And, unless it is perfect, it stands there as a permanent memorial to my own imperfections.  I don’t want people to know I’m not perfect.  But I’m not.  I don’t like to be judged.  And I don’t like detail.  I don’t enjoy to work of editing, revising, filing off the rough edges.  I’m a big brush man.  I love the big picture.  The broad, sweeping strokes.  I love the overlying structure, the framework.  Someone else can dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s.  So I can’t make things perfect – because in the process of striving for perfection I stop being me, stop being the person I enjoy, stop being true to what I want.  So I am left with imperfection, which I try to never hand to anybody else, lest they see me for who I am.  Or worse, I am left with imperfection which I am forced to hand to somebody else.  Every bug in my code is a cross I bear.  Every typo in anything I publish shows me how worthless I am.  I hate everything I create.  It is only in retrospect I can look back on things and sometimes notice the beauty.  And by then, it is too late.  The person who produced the good things in the past is gone.  And only the weak-willed hack who spews out page upon page of unfinished, unfinishable crap remains.

This is not a cry for sympathy.  This is not a call for help.  This is truth and this is honesty. This is warts and all. This is me.  I am Ben.  I am one.  I am depressed, yet I am also a hero who has consistently managed to whip depression into something that allows me to live my life.  And I love my life.  I love living my life.  I’ve fucking lived it for thirty five years, and I’m not even half done yet.  I love being me.  I’m an inventor.  I’m a mystic. I’m a flake.  I’m a scientist.  I’m trying my best not to constrain myself by using any label.  I’m a living breathing walking contradiction.  I’m a paradox.  I’m unanswerable.  Yet I am truly simple. I’m vulnerable.  I’ve been told I have kind eyes.  And deep down, all there is to me is love.  But sometimes – too often – I forget that I can let myself feel it.

I am not the Core Ben.  I am Ben. I am the Whole Ben.  There is only one of me.  And, from now on, if I can manage it, I’m all or nothing.  Take the whole of me.  I’m no longer a buffet service, I’m a set meal by a gourmet chef.

I’ve never written anything this difficult.  I’ve never been more afraid of letting anybody else read about who I really am.  I quite scared of admitting it to myself.

But this is me.  And I am brave enough to be me.  And that is something new.  And something I have never been before.

I make no apologies for who I am.  Because I’m pretty damn amazing.

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