So today, I am dispensing briefly from the chronological method of story-telling and going a bit po-mo. Chronological story-telling is at the heart of all great stories, from the Iliad and Odyssey via the Bible through the Canterbury Tales and onwards to David Copperfield (you can read my review of Armando Iannucci’s wonderful recent re-telling here), but I am going all 20th-century here and flashing forward. I hope you don’t mind.
On Sunday, I had a long and occasionally (more than occasionally) awkward conversation with a client. I had sent him or her a very long (3,500 words), rather solipsistic email that was a litany of woe and personal slights, like a modern-day digital equivalent of The Book of Job.
[For them as don’t know, The Book of Job was the original Trading Places, but with God and Lucifer playing the roles of Randolph and Mortimer Duke, curiously both actors dead within a decade of possibly their best-known roles, may they requiescant in pace.]
Job was revered as a righteous man whose obeisance to God was legendary. In short, Satan said to The Big Fella, “well, only because you have given him so much, if I took everything away, he’d soon fold.” God said, “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, son.” I think that is how the King James Version tells it (SUBS – PLS CHK).
So Lucifer caused havoc. He took away Job’s wealth, he killed his children and also killed his servants. Nice. And people wonder why I don’t believe in God?
Job was, understandably, miffed and not a little peeved. His mates, the snappily named Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, or Tom, Dick and Harry as they liked to be known, told Big Jobby he must have done something to really piss God off (yes, I am aware that that is a split infinitive, chill, it’s only a blog post) but he wasn’t having it.
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.
Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.
As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months.
Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.
Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.
Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day:
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
In short, God, you are a twat and I have had a bellyful. [Incidentally, Tennyson, who could write a line or two, said that the King James Version of the Book of Job was “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times”.]
Crikey. I prefer Vinegar by Roger McGough, but there we go. Opinions are like arseholes. We all have one.
Back to El Cliente. O La Clienta.
He or she (I do know, by the way, I was not in an alcoholic haze, this was only 3pm) said: “Eugene, when I receive something like this from you, it utterly ruins my day. Instead of listing all the things that make you angry, why not list the good things? I like you, I think you are fab and that the world is a better place with you in it, innit." (They didn’t say innit, that’s just A Bit Of Fun.)
“I am going to send you some links to sites that tell you about psychotherapists who offer counselling on FaceTime. Please consider this. I cannot take another email such as this.”
What an extraordinary human being she is. I mean, or he.
So I had two consultations the next day. I shall write about it separately. I have one more consultation with another on Thursday, but in me strawberry tart, I believe I have already decided.
So there we go. Transition through reflection.
Nothing has changed. The things I said were true. But only partially true. I had not considered the other side of the equation. She (or he, you know the story by now) said, “And I am not going to sack you. You need support, not sacking. Just do something about it. Please.”
This put me in mind of two stories in mythology that I read when I went off-piste at school, reading whatever I felt like.
The first was The Owl Service by Alan Garner, (left, the original version I had in 1977 or so). Set in (then) modern-day Wales, it is a retelling of the story of Blauwedd from the pantheon of Welsh mythology that is the Mabinogion. These are believed to be the earliest forms of all British literature, handed down through the oral tradition and written up in the 12th and 13th centuries.
In a nutshell, a dysfunctional family come to stay in a rented house for some weeks over the summer. They begin to hear noises in the attic where they find an old dinner service with owls painted on them. Suffice it to say, all kinds of weird shit, increasingly weird, begin to kick off.
The dénouement comes at a pivotal moment of impending doom when one of the characters suddenly shouts out something like “They’re not owls! They’re flowers!” And at that the heavens rain down petals on them, and it is clear that redemption has arrived.
For another example of how changing one’s perception can help you to transition to a place of happiness and find tranquillity for one’s ravaged, thought-tormented mind, one needs to go back further, to a previous civilisation.
[DH Lawrence wrote, in one of my favourite quotes ever, “Gods should be iridescent, like the rainbow in the storm. Man creates a God in his own image, and the gods grow old along with the men that made them... But the god-stuff roars eternally, like the sea, with too vast a sound to be heard.” What a guy. I once stayed at a villa in Zennor, near St Ives in Cornwall, with my daughter and some friends for a travel feature.
To describe it as a village would be to overstate it. Scarcely a hamlet. A few farmhouses and a solitary pub. It was here that DH Lawrence came to finish writing Women In Love with his new wife, Frieda, who was German. They arrived in December 1915 and stayed almost two years. Locals did not take the couple to their hearts; the Lawrences were obliged to move after they were denounced as spies. Like Joyce and Orwell, no man is a prophet in his own country, it seems.]
Any road up, as they say in That North, going back further we find the myth of Orestes.
Mainly from my uncle Wiki, a clever chap:
In the Iliad, the king of Argos, Agamemnon, sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to the Gods to assure good sailing weather to Troy, to where his bride Helen has been taken and he sets out upon a terrible journey of revenge. As an aside, the Chinese thinker Confucius wrote, “Before you embark upon a journey of revenge, dig two graves”. It’s an idea given a good treatment with a redemptive twist in the directorial debut [I think – as ever, SUBS PLS CHK] of Tommy Lee Jones, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Worth rootling out.
So poor old Orestes had it tough. The Oresteia is a trilogy written by Aeschylus in the 5th century BC, or BCE if you prefer. We’ll cut to the chase. Orestes for a variety of complex reasons, kills his mama. Clytemnestra. For this, since he had contravened one of the most primal laws, the Gods decided to punish him by setting the Furies upon him, also known as the Winged Harpies. Their role was to pursue him as he wandered through “this whole world”, which is “wild at heart and weird on top” (© David Lynch, Wild At Heart).
Back to Uncle Wiki:
Orestes is hunted down and tormented by the Furies, a trio of goddesses known to be the instruments of justice, who are also referred to as the "Gracious Ones" (Eumenides). They relentlessly pursue Orestes for the killing of his mother. However, through the intervention of Apollo, Orestes is able to escape them for a brief moment while they are asleep and head to Athens under the protection of Hermes. Seeing the Furies asleep, Clytemnestra's ghost comes to wake them up to obtain justice on her son Orestes for killing her.
After waking up, the Furies hunt down Orestes again and when they find him, Orestes pleads to the goddess Athena for help and she responds by setting up a trial for him in Athens on the Areopagus. (This gives us the term psephology, and one day I shall write about this. Possibly.)
This trial is made up of a group of 12 Athenian citizens and is supervised by none other than Athena herself. Here Orestes is used as a trial dummy by Athena to set-up the first courtroom trial. He is also the object of central focus between the Furies, Apollo, and Athena.
After the trial comes to an end, the votes are tied. Athena casts the deciding vote and determines that Orestes will not be killed. This ultimately does not sit well with the Furies, but Athena eventually persuades them to accept the decision and, instead of violently retaliating against wrongdoers, become a constructive force of vigilance in Athens.
She then changes their names from the Furies to “the Eumenides”, which means "the Gracious Ones". Athena then ultimately rules that all trials must henceforth be settled in court rather than being carried out personally.
It is, therefore, the very birth of democracy but more pertinent to the theme of this post, it means that the very things that tormented Orestes ultimately become his salvation and bring him tranquillity.
Nothing has changed; Clytemnestra remains brown bread, as does his dad, Agamemnon, whose death he had sought to avenge.
No, the difference is in how these events are perceived, and this – written seven centuries ago, let us not forget – shows one how transition can be effected through perception. Wise old birds, them Bubble ‘n’ Squeaks. My daddy was a classics teacher, an unlikely career choice for one who grew up on a smallholding (farm) in the West of Ireland, but nonetheless a loving, kind and inspirational man. He is my role model, and if I could be half the man he is, I would be twice the man I am.
This chief executive inspired all of this. She said to me, or rather he said, to maintain the myth of confusion, “Instead of writing what is wrong with your life, why not write what is great about it?” For this, I love her – or him – and I hope that you have enjoyed reading this.
Let’s finish with a bit of Bill, from Hamlet, written in 1609 some six years after the ascent to the throne of James I, who became first king of the Union [SUBS – PLS CHK] as he held sway over England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Hamlet says: “There is nothing good or bad – but thinking makes it so.”
See ya, Furies. Wouldn't wanna be ya.
And hello, Eumenides…