Words by Ed King
There is a side to me I don’t like. A small boy stomping his feet through the halls of men. It comes out in conversation first, then in the tone of my voice, and if we’re all really lucky I’ll stand up to underline my point. Adult churlishness born from a child in need and a lifelong trait that can be surmised in two words.
I was out drinking the other day, at a local pub with enough familiarity for me to know both the people in my peripheries as well as those at my table. It was a sunny afternoon, in every sense of the expression; the sky was clear and the beer garden alive, and I was happy. I am happy. And sitting with a relatively full pocket and belly I was better than happy, I was content. Then someone I don’t know mentions a man I’ve never met – a public figure prominent in certain circles – and my options cascade across the picnic bench with that-oh-so-tired rising inflection, like an acerbic stand up when they no longer care for their audience.
My point was valid and referenced, sure, as Bill Hicks said, “you can’t be this much of an asshole without the truth on your side.” But my delivery was tinged with the desperate cries from that bottomless pit where I assume no one is listening to me. So I didn’t stop, becoming more exasperated with each empty reply, when all anyone around me wanted to do was play nice. Sunny afternoon, pub, friends, you get the picture. I knew I was doing it too. I knew then and I know now, and I’ll know every time I do it again. But I’ll do it again.
Please, hear me.
I also know why I do this, which is the real kicker. Years of sober analysis had made this pretty clear to me. But that’s a different op-ed. This is about my frustration at myself, and that the only thing worse than putting your hand back in the flame is knowing it’ll hurt when you do. This is the side I really don’t like, my narcissistic self harm – a perpetual commitment to fucking it up, with an incredulous scorn as the earth doesn’t stop turning when I do. I’m being unfair to myself here, perhaps; I’d honestly hate to have that attention or focus. And it’s probably not as bad as it is in my head. Anymore. But I dislike myself intensely for still shouting in the dark and even more for wanting the whole world to listen. It’s my ego and it hurts me. It hurts others. It’s the child of my youth banging his small fists on the table. It’s the loss of security, and it’s a dark corner that I simply do not need to escape from anymore.
I need you to hear me.
It’s also why I write, my chosen form of expression from an early age and across both my adult and professional lives. I can play with words when I write; I can use them accordingly, or twist them for humour and simple pleasures. I can use them loudly or quietly. I can sharpen them to such a point that you won’t be aware of the attack until they’re impaled in your midriff. But with the written word you get stop, you get to edit, and there is no audible tone of voice. Things ‘work’ in a way that they don’t when I speak, which makes my time in the rest of the world often fraught and unnecessary. I like myself more when I write, and I sense other people like me more too. And greatest of all, for everyone, I don’t have to shout. I don’t have to steamroll a conversation. What I wanted to say will sit there, stoic and silent, until you arrive at it without me having to stand up or open my mouth. Joy, all round. And breathe out.
I read an interview with Anthony Hopkins a few days ago, hooked onto his performance as King Lear but delving a little further behind the curtain; Hopkins has a history of ill temper and aggression, one that cost him two marriages and a relationship with his daughter. And whilst I’m not sure I fully believe him, it sounds like something you practice saying because you need to, but I’ve been trying to keep the following words in my mind:
“I don’t get into arguments, I don’t offer opinions, and I think if you do that, then the anger finally begins to transform into drive.”
This is what I would like you to hear.
The man across from us, the one with steroid stained muscles and strained eyes, has taken his shirt off. His friends are still arguing with the bouncer, a curiously small man, and have begun rolling both their shoulders and the bottles in their hands. I can hear the voices raise but I don’t think anything will happen, there are too many families around and it’s not that kind of afternoon. It would be too unpleasant. And I don’t get the sense that any of them, not even the man who is now literally beating his chest, actually want it to escalate. It’s just posturing; it’s just alcohol, testosterone, and honestly it’s a little dull. So I tune out, letting the angry declarations fall short of my eardrums.
Even his friends are starting to turn their backs now, I don’t blame them. It’s a beautiful afternoon, we’re surrounded by people who care for us, and who wants to listen to nonsense like that.
Ed King is a Birmingham based writer and editor. His book, Snapshots of Mumbai, is set for release through Review Publishing in August 2018 – featuring pictures from Paul Ward. Follow Ed King @edking2210
For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, visit www.snapshotsofmumbai.com