“Ambivalence” said the therapist “means feeling quite conflicting things at the same time. People will try to tell you that there is a moral imperative to think one way or the other, but sometimes you cannot.” While the analysand surgeon for whom I worked, when I asked him how I recognised a rationalisation, said drily “Anna, you know.” And I do.
Sometimes I try to look at the other side of how I feel or what I think, just as an exercise. Or something raises its head and smacks me straight between the eyeballs. For example, in scribbling what are grandly called writers’ notes, I put down that I had never seen anybody look good in grey nail polish. And there’s the colour picture in the paper today. Of course it is the exception that proves the rule – but it is nevertheless the exception.
You could argue that a little ambivalence is a good thing but again, too much would paralyse you. It’s like hoping for the best. I am all in favour of hoping for the best – but only if you prepare for the worst.
I’d like to write an intelligent and witty expose of Brexit but I can’t. I don’t know enough and matters are now so vexedly complicated that I can’t laugh. Actually, I am frightened. In the long run, neither my fear nor anybody else’s matters because our elected and paid representatives will wade their way through this, like a Third World War being fought economically, socially and psychologically, rather than militarily. It’s just living through it that’s hard. Looking back at it will be both safer and more interesting, hurray for overview ….
I have read three books recently (two fiction, one not) which reflected on periods of international upheaval and all were informative. Both novels reassessed war, one living through it, the other seeing it come. The non fiction painted a meticulous picture of the insidious nature of rising fascism, how attractive, how ordered, how responsible – until, like all totalitarianism, it presumes to tell you what to think. And I am sure that, in common with many, I know exactly what I would do in theory, though I acknowledge that facing fact is a different thing, when different choices have to be made.
I feel as strongly unambivalent about a woman with five children wanting fertility treatment as I do about littering (see “worse” last week). The world is staggering under human population, enormous numbers of whom have embraced the Western Way which means waste of food and water, enormous amounts of discard and the serious depletion of many natural resources. I used to see that phrase about the wealth of North America, for example, and relate it to the gold rush but it was everything else that was seized and used to uselessness – whales, wood, coal, iron, every mineral you can think of and land, land for farming that became endless exploitative agribusiness. The only “other side” I see to this are as much one-offs as grey nail varnish – like the ex-soldier who persuaded Afghani farmers to grow pomegranates rather than opium poppy. There is a great deal of negative ambivalence in a world confused between enough layers of reality to make a middle ranking philosopher tremble with exertion. You can understand why people want to spend their spare time in a world that doesn’t exist when you feel so lost in the world that does.
There was no holiday this year because retirement is holiday. The bathroom needed repair, necessary rather than decorative. Queues at airports are a cogent argument for birth control. And this year I had a very small and personal project. I wanted to rehabilitate my nails. Just call me Samson, all my strength goes into my hair. So for the long months of this hot summer I have cultivated my cuticles and massaged endless cream into my useful if unlovely mitts. However, they are better than they were -and if the garden has taught me one thing, it has been patience. No downside to this. Nor do I have any ambivalence about The Kites by Romain Gary, The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd or Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd: they’re all wonderful.