The Law of Averages

Hello, good morning,  afternoon or evening. I do not want to even give it the airtime, but how is lockdown for you? 

As someone who is inclined to overthink at the best of times, it’s been a trip for me, so far. I think (I think, I think, I think) that overthinking is a pretty common exercise for many of us. But without the fuel of alcohol-induced, over-confident social interactions, I have discovered that I do not actually need any new material to get my cogs turning the question of how I am is quite sufficient. 

That is why I ask: how are you? Myself, I am good, I’m not great, I actually feel quite productive, I started crying on the phone and I don’t know why, I am apathetic, I don’t care to answer. I am up and down, I am average. 

I cannot answer the question of who I am or how I am because I am only a fifth of my way through life, I expect to live to one hundred. What I do know is that I am in a constant state of flux, my mood is restless, my beliefs are developing, my passions can be fleeting. I tend to feel overwhelmingly one way or another, except for the considerable amount of time I spend feeling just alright or not feeling much at all. If I were to depict my thoughts and feelings on a scientific graph, it would look like a Jackson Pollock. 

I find it difficult being this way, which is increasingly exacerbated by being undistracted in lockdown, as soon as I speak about how I feel it changes and then I feel like a liar. Nothing stays still long enough for me to deal with it, work it out, process. Instead, I can become a bit like a fish in a net, trying so hard to get out when really I’m just getting more entangled. 

So I tend to aim for communicating an average, the median of all my feelings that are miles apart from each other. ‘I’m alright’ or ‘doing good’ because I shouldn’t flaunt the ups and we certainly won’t get into the downs. 

I study comparative literature and I am often asked, ‘what do you compare?’ The answer really is ‘myself’. I compare myself to everything, as if I can’t work out how I should be unless it is next to an example. And I often find myself coming to the conclusion that I am average, not quite good enough here, not quite bad enough there etc.

But I am wrong to do so, and I choose not to hover on the subject at risk of encouraging the same behaviour. bell hooks writes that ‘If any female feels she needs anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence she is already giving away her power to be self-defining’ [Feminism is for Everybody, p.95] and I choose to agree. The problem with feeling average (although it may seem better than The Worst), is that it is inherently relative. You cannot define yourself, and I could end the sentence there, but you cannot define yourself in relation to something or someone else. It is unfair and it is redundant. 

It can be a confusing process, this comparative business. Primarily, I think it makes you forget your own opinion of yourself. I am working away from negative feelings and towards a feeling of indifference on the way to contentment, rather than feeling all three at the same time. In a book I finished last night, Lily King’s protagonist, a writer, writes: ‘I sit there and think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel’ [Writers & Lovers, p.127]. If I continue to spend my time putting my eyes in other people’s heads and looking back at myself, I am really going to miss out on seeing the things going on around me. 

I think (I think, I think, I think) that is largely the reason I read, to take a break from looking at  what’s churning inside, and instead I am able to take in some of the outside. Ironically, the process of writing this has taken some real thinking but maybe now that it is out, it is gone. I hope I do not change my mind immediately but you can guarantee I will. 

The state of flux is just what it is to be a multifaceted and contradictory human being and I am reminded by Zadie Smith that ‘the devil is consistent if nothing else’ [Imitations] so perhaps I can feel more indifference towards my ups and downs.

I feel I am getting into a tangle so I better stop thinking, ‘that’s why I don’t act, because I am always talking. Or perhaps I talk so much just because I can’t act’ says Rodion Raskolnikov on page two of Crime and Punishment, which is as far in as I have read. Do not hold me to this as I am competing with some big names, but you cannot think your way into action. You can overthink your way into inertia and you can act and think later, crucially, I am not sure it matters: action or inaction. So enjoy, or don’t, or both. 

Have a nice day, or an up and down day, not an average day in any case.