“I spend hours looking sideways, to the time when I was fifteen”

I must first of all explain how I was alerted to these lyrics from The Fall’s track Frightened, it’s only fair: via a great Youtube lecture by Mere Pseud who referenced them with a not-too-dissimilar-intent as my intent. But when I heard him echo the lyrics to his lecture audience I thought: that’s my life that Mark E Smith’s talking about… (although the original lyrics say ‘sixteen’ not ‘fifteen’ – maybe I started puberty, and thus a descent into a thinking-person’s-dead end a year younger than Mark E Smith?). It’s not the done thing to acknowledge that you’ve become stuck at a point in your life – but I’ve got fuck all to lose in pretending that I haven’t.

On rolls the deep summer. I have grown to despise both August and December (“you miserable fuck; why do always hate good things?”). I struggle, self-destruct and smash my fists against more psychological walls in these 2 months more than at any point in a year. It’s taken me a good decade of my adult life to fully realise this, to the point where I wish the ‘we’re all going on summer holidays’ and ‘season to the jolly’ months would vanish from my time on this earth. I wrote about the Xmas/New Year period in a blog last December called Share The Pain, with the conviction that our current social structure makes the adversities of life (both age-old and utterly preventable) far harder to deal with, due to the denial of the fact that life isn’t actually that great all the time. A society-hating society driven by implicit commands all based entirely on individualist fulfillment, where there is an immense deep-sea-like pressure to feel individually fulfilled more so around two points when we are supposed to living the good life; mid-summer and Xmas. The result is the knife of the pain-denying, market-individualism, that enshrouds us, punches deeper into ones coping mechanisms, making one feel more like a fuck up; a lonely, aging fuck up.

Genuinely decent human beings say to me “your art’s fucking mint man, it must make you dead proud”. This is possibly true, but only when I’m actually in the process of making. Otherwise there remains a great void, intermittently filled with the screaming-schizoid-noise of contemporary life; emptied only to be filled at some later point, like an urban sewage system.

“…I don’t know how to use freedom. I spend hours looking sideways, to the time when I was Sixteen” (Frightened, The Fall)

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(A dream I had when I was 20 where I was encased in a rock on some distant planet, watching the around me)

I can roughly trace my thereon-after sensibility, of depression, to a point when I was 15, when the glow of life fostered by childhood vanished in the short space between hearing Radiohead’s then-2-year old track Paranoid Android and going out and buying it from MCV in Barnsley’s Alhambra Shopping Centre, and what I can now see as the beginnings of feelings of total emptiness from which the only state in which to resume the inescapable tasks of life was one of ‘controlled anxiety’, that broke into panic when the control-based routines were interrupted. The wider state was (and still is) one of ‘managed depression’.

Art-making became a prominent feature in my life from 3 years after this point, and proceeded to give a discontinuous continuity to my life. The broken bits, the gaps in the process of making, are where I keep on becoming aware that I’ve been spinning around since I was 15, going nowhere emotionally (and FUCK ME I’m tired of writing this every damn year).

People have said that I live in the past. I do: from 15 onwards I have never been able to picture a future. The thing is the place where I have become stuck doesn’t exist. it’s a void I hang over. A nowhere land, which I am all to aware can’t be revisited. A transient moment that was never superseded, where any memory becomes more desirable than the voided-present that sucks in the future.

I think this is the reason I have been enchanted by non-fiction writers who deal with depression and anxiety as something constitutive of the times I inhabit. They make it seem so sensible as to why I should’ve felt this way from day one of my self-designated adult life. Writings on ‘hauntology’ refer to how the future seemed to abandon us,  in the latter half of the twentieth century, to the point where it has become impossible to imagine anything but a slow entropy dragging down life quality in this eternal-present-land. It’s a conviction felt more by those who grew up in the 1970’s, but I was duped by a sense of progress amidst the hazy, new-shiny-capitalist Utopianism of the early 90’s, once it had convinced us that socialism had been buried with the collapse of the Berlin Wall , and that was a good good thing “let’s party man!, things can only get better!”.

I genuinely have spent hours looking sideways, as I’ve always been tasking-up the day in hand to avoid the hell of empty time. In-spite of the bookshelves filled up with mindfulness, which is alienating dead language when you feel like I do, the only empty time I can actually appreciate is on trains, or when I’m caffeinated. The problem is this alienation comes from a general conviction, embedded further into our perceptions of the Other by social media, that most are building a life of continuities of emotional and material progression. And it isn’t a total illusion, as I have felt like an observer of life, as it drives past me at some insignificant bus stop.

When I try to think of myself in these terms it’s pretty much like the scene in the Truman Show when Jim Carey’s protagonistic character hits a wall painted as an horizon; the ability to perceive more than what’s in front of me vanishes.

“Back to the 90’s, feel good hits!”. Even those born too late into the decade to remember it are overly nostalgic for its hyperbolic optimism in the faded, yet CGI-ied, depressed continuation of it in our times of disbelief. We never really exited the 90’s. 9/11, The Iraq Invasion, and Broadband folding of all that’s ever been into a digitised ever-present, pushed us right back into the decade we were supposed to have left. So, what exactly are we trying to achieve, what exactly are we innovating, striving for? Why do I feel so alienated from this? As much artwork as I make, I forever remain in a renegade state of mind, because the general command to better ourselves comes across as equally absurd and stressful.

The boundary between what stunted me as a human being in my mid teens and the conviction that it closely corresponds with entering a ‘secretly depressed age’ is very blurred to say the least. But it isn’t so strange that I feel more optimistic and full of life when I find somebody who owns up to feeling this way too. I’m still an optimist. If I see clues to a genuine way out of this I can sense it in my bones.

I think we can sense when we have been duped long before we can acknowledge it. There’s a ray of light, as tiny as a spec in the midst of the long night in my eyesight, conjured by growing evidence that many more are admitting they feel like me. I have sensed for some time that there is no future for me the way things are. From my perspective it can only be a good thing the more people there are who own up to feeling the same.

About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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