Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 27 January 2016


Guilt Box

We kept it in a box –
our guilt –
and fed it daily
and watched it outgrow us
but we wouldn't let it go
and finally it consumed us.

16 December 1987

I’ve written two or three poems like this. I like taking something intangible and making it real. We say, “My love for you is real,” but, of course, it’s not, not in any palpable sense. The problem with guilt or love or any other emotion or cognitive experience is that it’s abstract. I used to ask my daughter how much she loved me and she’d say, “This much,” and throw her arms wide. I wonder how wide that was. Today I love her 63" as best I can tell using my wife’s metal tape measure, maybe a fraction more; let’s say a fraction more. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if, when asked back then, she could’ve said, “Today I love you 42" but I expect it may grow. Give it time.”

Love is a shared emotion. It doesn’t have to be but it’s best shared, better anyway; unrequited love is not without its pleasures though. And this is true for other emotions. People say that a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. I’m not sure I agree but I’ll let it stand. Grief can most certainly be shared or then again maybe not. I didn’t share my sense of loss over the death of David Bowie with the world. Others experienced their own personal losses at the same time and that made it feel like communal grief. When Churchill died Laurie Lee, the writer of Cider with Rosie, wrote, in The Daily Telegraph, “Not since the war has there been such a shared emotion.” I can see why he would feel that was true but I think it was an illusion.

And what about guilt? Oh, I can assure you that can be shared. Misery loves company.


Kass said...

That is a very psychologically accurate poem, even if you're not a fan of psychology.

Jim Murdoch said...

People fascinate me, Kass. I only have a layman’s understanding of psychology but from what I’ve seen when it comes to the professionals’ changing opinions I’m not sure anyone has more than that. We gather symptoms into groups and give them fancy names: anxiety disorders, eating disorders, addictive disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders. There is order even in chaos. I have Jim’s Disorder. It’s a rare one to be sure but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.

Kass said...

I have OCD, but this disorder really helps me maintain order in my life. Jim's Disorder has its shiny bits and pieces.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve only ever known one person I knew for sure had OCD, Kass. He was my daughter’s boyfriend during her late teens. Never once did anything that might’ve made me suspicious and my only real problem with him was he was a big dumb kid who looked like he was going to end up a big dumb adult. She did tell me stories however and as nice as he was I was so glad when she outgrew him. F.’s first husband was like that and the breaking point for her came when a kid came to the door wanting to know if her husband “was coming out to play”. I’m not suggesting anything creepy or untoward. He was just perfectly happy kicking a ball about with the neighbourhood kids in his mid-thirties as he had been when we all ran around in short trousers. Perhaps he had Peter Pan syndrome.

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