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

Sunday, 6 September 2015



(A Bitter Poem)

Cryptic gurus
pumped up with ego
they mimic the others
and visibly balk
at signs of disbelief.

They remember you and
they'll claim you.

They don't care:
they forget what it's like
to be alone at night
without their ailurophobic wives.

They come in the dark.

Cling to your memories:
it's all that they'll leave you.

And dream –
they can't stop you.

(For K.)

27 November 1983

obey-logoWho are they? They have been lots of different people. They are still lots of different people. No one knows how many of them there are. They’re in the government. They’re in the church down the road. They’re in the schools our kids attend. They’re next door and across the street. They’re in the heavens above. They are nameless and faceless, mostly nameless and faceless. The only thing we really know about them is that they’re there. They always have been. They always will be in some form or other. And they will always disapprove of us.

I went to school with K. She was a tomboy, rough and a bit butch if I’m being honest but nice enough. She’d used to play football with the boys rather than hang around with cissy girls. After my first marriage fell to pieces I went home and thought I’d give religion another try. In the intervening years K. had also decided to give God a go. As it happens she picked the same one as me. Would never have imagined that but there you go. K. had a friend, a best friend, a girl who we all called Totie but not because she was small but she was sweet. They saw this and made a note. And kept watch. And in time they decided that K. needed a talking to. Just to keep her on the straight and narrow.

When you join any religious group you willingly agree to accept its god’s laws. The difficulty is finding a religion that believes what WE want. An excerpt from my new book:

They think they can get to know [God] by studying holy texts or consulting self-appointed swamis and gurus. And if these don’t exactly paint the picture they’re looking for they just up sticks and try elsewhere or, if all other avenues lead to dead ends, form their own cult, sect, schism or, in the case of Henry VIII, full-blown state religion. Which is messed up but one can sympathise.

The Bible talks a fair bit about homosexuality but not so much about lesbianism. The only scripture I know about is Romans 1:26: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature…” I don’t mind God making it wrong—he made eating pigs wrong when the mood suited him—so he can pretty much dictate what we do and we either take it or we go our own way. In the end I chose to go my own way. Forming my own religion seemed a bit too much work.

Carrie and I were watching a programme on TV a week ago where a kid wanted to go to summer camp and the mother wasn’t having it. The kid asked for “one good reason”—not an unreasonable request (very adult of her)—to which her mother replied, “Because I’m your mother.” She did have a reason and she thought it was a good reason and so why not explain? In all the years I knew K. she never did anything to confirm or deny her sexuality. Why did they have to jump in and assume she had designs on Totie? They destroyed their friendship. They probably destroyed her faith too.

I’m not sure if “to claim” means the same elsewhere but here in Scotland if you claim someone then you’re saying you’re going to fight them some time in the near future: you’re claimed.

Ailurophobia is fear of cats although the woman I’m referring to didn’t so much fear cats as she hated them so I suppose ailurodiumia would probably be a more accurate term. I can understand people being afraid of cats—makes as much sense as being afraid of spiders—but I really have no time for anyone who hates cats.


Anonymous said...

This is a fine ... well, not "commentary" on but an unfolding of the poem, and I think for anyone with something of an outlier status—sexual deviants, racial minorities, disaffected religionists, poets and artists of all stripes—the resonance is strong and to the core. What is it in certain people that excites them about making others knuckle under?

Jim Murdoch said...

You’ll appreciate, I’m sure, Joe, there’s a lot I’m not saying here. My aim wasn’t to provide a commentary on the poem—I could easily write 10,000 words around it—but just to let you know where my head was when I wrote it. It is—and deliberately so—vague and, as you say, I’d hope that anyone who’s been oppressed or bullied (and that’s what these men were) will be able to relate to it. If there’s a single theme that permeates my writing—my novels at least—it is that the protagonist(s) have a level of control taken away from them. In the book I’m working on right now a man has to rely on family and friends to fill in his memories and, of course, they’re heavily edited: “I had the past passed to me, dismembered, not remembered, butchered, and never by one skilled in that art. Nor was it even neatly wrapped.”

The title ‘They’ comes from a short story collection by Kay Dick. I stumbled across this book in a library. It was the title that got me and I wasn't disappointed. The author also manages to walk the fine line between not answering the bigger question and still managing to provide decent punchlines. I scoured the Internet for a copy a couple of years ago and it is as good as I remembered. At 94 pages—even by my standards—it’s a little short but not by much. I can see the basic premise could get old if she'd tried to drag it out more. In every story there’s a “they” but we’re never told who they are.

Kass said...

Nice coincidence that my name begins with "K". I'm going to 'claim' this poem in a different way.

The religion of my youth and the years spent investigating alternate forms of spirituality (some of them 'New Age') left me with the after-effects of the egos of leaders and their dogma.

At this stage of my life, Practicality is my religion.

I really like your poem and your explanations.

Jim Murdoch said...

Of course I thought of you when I posted this, Kass and if you want to take ownership of the poem I’m fine with it; you wouldn’t be the first and it’s always flattering when it happens. I, as you know, struggled with religion—or, rather, belief/faith—for a long time. Like so many I was brought up in a religion; I never picked it. In the eighties when I went back I felt like I was choosing for myself and that mattered. That I would decide to go with the religion I was brought up in isn’t that strange. I’m an intellectual—small i—and so I was never going to be drawn to any faith that refused to explain itself. I hate the mindset ‘God works in mysterious ways’ because it’s simply not scriptural and it’s condescending. Best we can tell it comes from a hymn written by William Cowper but I wonder how many clergymen know that. I know exactly why the they in my poem did what they did but I still struggled with why it was wrong. The get the pork thing. I get why you wouldn’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk. I don’t get what wrong about two women kissing other than they can’t fulfil God’s mandate to populate the earth but, by my count, I reckon it’s pretty much populated.

I’ve never been able to take any alterative form of religion seriously. Part of it’s due, I admit, to years of indoctrination, but the simple fact is I don’t feel I have a spiritual need that’s not being satisfied. Religion only ever filled an intellectual need in me. I’d liked all the facts and figures. It didn’t do much for me emotionally. I accepted why Jesus had to die, to buy back what Adam lost, but I was never really moved by his sacrifice. I could’ve been reading a chemistry textbook. In my new novel there are probably dozens of biblical quotes and allusions but they sit amongst the many nods to Shakespeare, Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Swamp Thing and even Erma Bombeck. Don’t think I mention Cowper in this book but I did in Milligan and Murphy.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the comment, Lee. I’m not sure I agree with you but then I’m not sure either of us could provide tangible evidence to back up our positions. I’m not an atheist, an agnostic or a believer. I have no need to choose any one of them and more than I have a need of a surfboard. Some people surf and spend thousands on their equipment. Others would be happy with a plank of wood. As I have never surfed and have no intention ever going surfing I have no interest or opinion on the subject. That’s how I feel about spirituality.

As far as truths go—especially Truth-with-a-capital T—I simply don’t believe in it. We’ve gotten on just fine for hundreds of years on part-truths and white lies and I don’t see any need to change. I see truth as a sliding scale. We can be truthful without revealing the whole truth. “Do you like me?” “Yes, I do.” That’s the truth but I might like you more than you like me or in a different way to the way you like me. We settle. We’d never reach the end of asking each other questions otherwise.

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