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Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen
by Carl Halling
07/10/12
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Chapter Twelve Of All Sad Words of Tongue or Pen

"Of All Sad Words" made its debut at Blogster on the 25th January 2007. It consisted of an introduction, the main body of the work, formerly untitled but now "Some Sad Dark Secret", and an epilogue. Before a definitive version was published at FaithWriters in September 2007, it was quite heavily edited, while not having been significantly altered in spirit. Further minor alterations took place in early December.

Galvanising Mentors

"Some Sad and Dark Secret", was forged using creative methods scrupulously described elesewhere. It was based on notes contained within a single piece of scrap paper which I recently unearthed, and probably dating from 1982 or '83, during which I was a French and Drama student at Leftfield College. The first three sections contain words of advice imparted to me by Dr Elizabeth Lang, who was my principle tutor during my final year at Leftfield, and under whose galvanising direction I studied as my main subject the controversial and often disturbing writings of André Gide. Throughout the year, she tirelessly encouraged my intellectual and literary inclinations, determined that I should go on to become a professional academic. She also believed that I had the makings of a successful writer, informing me at one point that if creative writing is of a sufficiently sensational nature, it is guaranteed to be read by a ravenously curious public, and so to be financially successful, or something similar. The fourth and fifth sections have as their basis words once spoken to me by another of my Leftfield tutors. They refer to my former desire to shock by the affectation of an almost hysterical vehemence of tone in my writings, as well as the endless inclusion of ranting lists.

Some Sad Dark Secret

Dr Lang said:
“Temper
Your enthusiasm,
The extremes
Of your
reactions,
You should have
A more
Conventional
Frame
On which to
Hang your
unconventionality.”
The tone of some
Of my work
Is often
A little dubious,
She said.
She thought
That there
Was something
Wrong,
That I’m hiding
Some sad and dark
Secret
From the world.
She told me
Not to rhapsodise,
That it would be
Difficult,
Impossible, perhaps,
For me to
Harness
My dynamism.
“Don’t push People”,
She said.
“You make
Yourself
Vulnerable”.
Dr H. said:
“By the third page,
I felt I’d been
Bulldozed.
I can almost see
Your soapbox.
Like Rousseau,
You’re telling us
What to do.
You seem to
Work yourself
Into such an
Emotional pitch…
And this
Extraordinary
Capacity for lists.

A Spider Across the Skies

The first employment I undertook after leaving Leftfield was as a wandering deliverer of novelty telegrams. It may be that I gave no serious thought to the future, because I didn’t seriously intend having one. My life’s work was apparently the pursuit of immortality through acting, music or literature, or ideally all three, while tasting as many earthly fruits, strong sensations, and limit-experiences as I was able to in the interim. I had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of progeny, nor for any career other than one liable to project me to international fame. That said, in keeping with my then passionately felt liberal-left convictions, I did vaguely entertain the thought of an alternative career in one or other of the caring professions.
 I struggle to adequately explain why I was quite so reckless with the many gifts heredity and good fortune had bestowed upon me, as I'm such a different person today, and one who honours and cherishes everything that contributes to the well-being of the individual in society, from the family onwards. It may be that I was in the grip of a condition of which sudden inexplicable recklessness was a primary symptom, because it would be inaccurate to state that I was unvaryingly reckless. In fact, I was capable of great diligence, especially when it came to my acting career, only for the recklessness to return. What is certain is that whatever I was in thrall to has been significantly tamed by my faith, offering me the chance to revisit my younger days with an eye rendered mournful and wise by bitter regret, as well as the gift of hope for the future, which my folly almost deprived me of permanently. God's offered me a second act, during which I might go some way towards repairing some of the damage I caused during the first, so that one day those terrible words contained in “Maud Muller” by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) might not burn themselves too savagely into my soul:
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: ‘it might have been!’”

Chapter Thirteen A Cambridge Lamentation

Introduction

"A Cambridge Lamentation" centres on my brief stay at Coverton College, a teaching training college contained within the University of Cambridge, with its campus at Hills Road just outside the city centre. First published at FaithWriters in August 2007 in "definitive" form, it is a fusion of two previously published works. These are "Shreds of Nothingness" as published at Blogster, but now consisting of "In Such a State as This" and "A Cambridge Narrative" 1 & 2; and "Final Flight from Hills Road", formerly "A Cantabrian Lament", this first published in rudimentary form at the latter on the 10th of June 2006. In December 2007, a final definitive version of "A Cambridge Lamentation" was published at FaithWriters.

A Cambridge Narrative 1

"In Such a State as This" was adapted either from a page of diary notes, or an unfinished and unsent letter, written just before Christmas 1986 at Coverton. I created it by extracting selected sentences from the original script, and then joining them together, before subjecting the result to thorough editing and versification. It conveys the (possibly) pathological restlessness, romantic and otherwise, to which I was subject in the mid 1980s, and which resulted in my quitting Coverton after a single term. However, quite why I was so determined to put a final flight from Hills Road into practice remains a quandary to me more than two decades later. After all, I had every reason to relish my time there, given that I’d been made to feel most welcome and appreciated, not just by my tutors and fellow students, but others, including a student director, renowned throughout the university for the high quality of his theatrical productions, who singled me out to feature in a play he intended putting on during the Lent Term. He did so after seeing me interpret the leading role of Tom in Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie" soon after the end of the Michaelmas Term. Furthermore, the then president of the world famous Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club had gone out of his way to ask myself and a friend to appear in a Footlights production he was preparing as part of his year-long presidency. I threw it all away, as if life's precious opportunities constituted an inexhaustible supply, which of course they don't, as I know all too well today.

In Such a State as This

In such
a state as this
I could fall
In love
With anyone.
The night
before last
I went
to the ball
Couples
filing out
I wanted to be
one half
of ev'ry one
But I didn't want
to lose her.
I’ve done
little today
Except mope
Dolefully around
I’ll get over
how
I feel now,
And very soon.
Gradually
I’ll freeze again,
Even assuming
An extra layer
of snow.
I have
I have
I have
To get out of here...

A Cambridge Narrative 2

It will be obvious to any half-way sensible reader of the following piece that had I remained at Cambridge for the brief three terms required of me by the dictates of my course, which included teaching practise at (what I believe to be) the Manor Community College in Arbury, which (I think) is a London overspill area north of the River Cam, I would have been primed for success in an area in which I excelled, namely comedic character acting with a satirical edge. Not only that, but I would have passed my Post Graduate Certificate in Education through Cambridge University, as part of a course intended to produce something of a pedagogic elite. As if all this weren't enough to keep me at Coverton, when I made my first appearance at the Manor, the pupils reacted to me as if I was some kind of visiting movie or Rock star. Why in the name of precious reason itself was I so determined to put such a blatant act of self-sabotage into practise? As a Christian, my faith helps me to withstand the pain of not knowing why, and yet knowing all too well what I lost. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that without it I would find my memories almost too painful to bear. My faith protects me from the full furious ferocity of my follies past, and without it, I would be at their mercy, and they would rend me to shreds of utter nothingness.
 Unless I'm mistaken, "Final Flight from Hills Road" was forged from the same source material as "In Such a State as This" before being subjected to a similar editing process, and then published at Blogster on the 10th of June 2006.

Final Flight from Hills Road

Coverton's always a little lonely
at the weekends...
no noise and life,
I like solitude,
but not in places
where's there's recently been
a lot of people.
Reclusiveness protects you
from nostalgia,
and you can be as nostalgic
in relation
to what happened half an hour ago
as half a century ago,
in fact more so.
I met Tessa and Pete at 11.30 am,
and they took me out to lunch.
We went to Evensong
at Kings,
and it was beautiful;
the choral music, haunting.
I went to the PGCE
Xmas party. I danced,
and generally lived it up.
I went to bed sad though.
Discos exacerbate
my sense of solitude.
My capacity
for social warmth,
excessive social dependence
and romantic zeal
can be practically
deranging;
it's no wonder
I feel the need
to escape.
I feel trapped here,
there's no outlet for my talents.

Chapter Fourteen Strange Coldness Perplexing

A definitive version of "Strange Coldness Perplexing" was first published at FaithWriters on the 31st of March 2007. It has remained more or less untouched since.

My Hot/Cold Torment

the catholic nurse
all sensitive
caring noticing
everything
what can she think
of my hot/cold torment
always near blowing it
living in the fast lane
so friendly kind
the girls
dewy eyed
wanda abandoned me
bolton is in my hands
and yet my coldness
hurts
the more emotional
they stay
trying to find a reason
for my ice-like suspicion
fish eyes
coldly indifferent eyes
suspect everything that moves
socialising just to be loud
compensate for cold
lack of essential trust
warmth
i love them
despite myself
my desire to love
is unconscious and gigantesque
i never know
when i’m going to miss someone
strange coldness perplexing
i've got to work to get devotion
but once i get it
i really get people on my side
there are carl people
who can survive
my shark-like coldness
and there are those
who want something
more personal
i can be very devoted to those
who can stay the course
my soul is aching
for an impartial love of people
i'm at war with myself…

A Cult of Nowness

The fragment above was forged using notes scrawled onto seven sides of an ancient now coverless notebook, possibly late at night following an evening’s carousal and in a state of serene intoxication. The original notes were based on experiences I underwent while serving as a teacher in the Tellegen School of English, which I did between the spring or summer of ‘88 and the summer of 1990.
It gives some indication of my emotional condition at the time, including a tendency as I see it to wildly veer between the conscious effusive affectionateness I aspired to, and sudden irrational involuntary lapses of affect. It also bespeaks the intense devotion I manifested towards my favourite students and which was reciprocated by them with interest.
 All punctuation has been removed and extracts from the notes have been tacked together not randomly as in the so-called cut up technique but selectively and all but sequentially.
It was written towards the end of the 1980s, a decade which I see as the last in a triad of decades marked in the West by frenzied persistent social upheaval and artistic innovation, the latter taking place in particular within two late modern forms of creative expression in the shape of the cinema and Rock music.
 For me the last-named, and I am not alone in believing this, is more than just a simple type of popular music derived from Rhythm and Blues, Country music and so on. Rather it is an immensely influential international subculture of varying artistic and intellectual substance, much of it depictable as pure "Pop", which could be used as an abbreviation of Popular Rock. Some cultural critics have even gone so far as to describe it as a religion.
What is certain is that Rock has possessed an intellectual dimension since the 1960s, and many would single the one-time Protest poet Bob Dylan out as the person who more than any other helped to invest mere Pop music with genuine artistic and intellectual substance. From Dylan onwards there have been Rock artists who’ve looked to past movements within the sphere of artistic Modernism for inspiration, such as Romanticism, Symbolism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Beat, Situationism, and so on, as well as the zeitgeists which birthed them. In my opinion this was especially true of certain pioneers of the music of the 1970s and early ‘80s.
 It could be said that Rock has been the principle repository of the avant garde impulse in the West since the late sixties, with its attendant rebelliousness and negativity. However, it would be false to insist that it has been uniformly negative, when much of it has been positive and uplifting, as well as artistically exalted. Still the fact remains that Rock has helped to disseminate a culture of instant gratification throughout the Western World in the last fifty years thereby significantly contributing to the alteration of its moral fabric. Those who like myself were born in the mid 1950s, and so grew up in the sixties, were of necessity affected on a deep and perhaps largely subliminal level by the post-war socio-cultural revolution of which rock was such an essential component. Some were more profoundly and negatively impacted than others, and I would consider myself among them. I maintain that from quitting formal education aged 16 to coming to faith some two decades thereafter, I was in thrall to a cult of “nowness” or instantaneity that has been growing progressively more powerful throughout the west since about 1955.
 If this were not so, why would I not have countenanced a future for myself during those years? I mean in terms of establishing myself within a solid profession, starting a family, planning for middle age and beyond, and so on? Retrospect informs me that prior to my decision to forswear alcohol, I viewed these concerns with an indifference bordering on contempt and it hurts me deeply to realise the extent to which I sabotaged my life through such a worldview. Sometimes it seems to me that the only way I can deal with such bitter knowledge is to see myself as a social and professional misfit simply by default.
 As an illustration of how psychologically and spiritually lost I was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, permit me to quote from a letter from my mother written to me in what I surmise to have been the winter of 1991:
“…I had a chance to look at your library…I could not believe what I saw. These very strange books, beyond my comprehension, most of them, and I thought what a dissipation of a good mind that thought it right to read such matters…I feel very deeply that you have up to your present state, almost ruined your mind. Your happy, smiling face has left you, your humourous nature, ditto, your spirited state of mind, your cheerful, sunny, exuberant well-being, all gone. Too much thought given to the unhappiness and sad state of others (often those you can not help, in any way)…I’ve said recently that I am convinced that anyone can get oneself into a state of agitation or distress or anxiety by thinking or reading about, or witnessing unpleasant things, and the only thing to do is to, as much as possible, avoid such matters, to not let them get hold in the mind. Your fertile mind has led you astray. Why, and how?”
 How many millions of mothers over the course of the centuries have asked this of offspring who’ve been inexplicably drawn to the shadowlands of life only to lose their way back to sanity? Only God knows. Most of course, successfully make the journey back before settling into a normal mode of life, but the danger of becoming lost is always there, especially for those who remain in the shadows far beyond adolescence. Eternal adolescence is arguably one of the prime features of our era, facilitated by its exaltation of youth.
 I recently read of a legendary Rock artist from the late seventies and early eighties born like me in the mid 1950s and about whom someone very close to him described as being obsessed by human suffering, both mental and physical despite being well into his twenties. His worldview, which also incorporated a preoccupation with the dark glamour of self-destructive genius, I see as remarkably akin to mine at the time I penned the words contained in the first paragraph of this piece, or when my mother wrote her impassioned letter to me, portions of which I quoted in the previous paragraph.
 I was a puer eternus in my mid-thirties at the time, in thrall to the avant garde and its age-old love affair with antagonism and nihilism. It had already wreaked serious psychological damage, and physical and spiritual annihilation would surely have followed had I not been violently wrenched from its Svengali-like influence in time. This of course is precisely what occurred, thanks to the mercy of God. There are those who would insist that far fewer young people in the late ‘00s are enthralled by the time-honoured avant gardist exaltation of self-destructive genius than in previous Rock eras. How true this is it is difficult to say, but what is certain is that the worldview still exists, and may be set to explode once again, as it has done periodically since the late ‘60s by which time the golden age of youth and Pop and had started to reveal a far more solemn visage with Hard Rock as its new soundtrack.
 A year or so back, an angel-faced young Rock idol announced with apparent wistful regret that he’d destroyed beautiful things that were his for the keeping. Again I was reminded of the person I was a decade and a half ago, the eternal youth who romanticised self-destruction. He couldn't be more different from today's Carl, who treasures and honours the things he loves, which are to a significant extent the simple things that nurture and sustain the individual and society…

My Hot/Cold Torment (reprise)

…the catholic nurse all sensitive caring noticing everything what can she think of my hot/cold torment always near blowing it living in the fast lane so friendly kind the girls dewy eyed wanda abandoned me bolton is in my hands and yet my coldness hurts the more emotional they stay trying to find a reason for my ice-like suspicion fish eyes coldly indifferent eyes suspect everything that moves socialising just to be loud compensate for cold lack of essential trust warmth i love them despite myself my desire to love is unconscious and gigantesque I never know when I’m going to miss someone strange coldness perplexing I've got to work to get devotion but once I get it I really get people on my side there are carl people who can survive my shark-like coldness and there are those who want something more personal I can be very devoted to those who can stay the course my soul is aching for an impartial love of people I'm at war with myself the catholic nurse all sensitive caring…

If you died today, are you absolutely certain that you would go to heaven? You can be! TRUST JESUS NOW

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