An Erratic Orbit

A bipolar perspective on the 3rd planet


March 2016


After a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many do so from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but less visible long-term organizing and groundwork — or underground work — often laid the foundation.


Changes in ideas and values also result from work done by writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists, and participants in social media. It seems insignificant or peripheral until very different outcomes emerge from transformed assumptions about who and what matters, who should be heard and believed, who has rights.

Ideas at first considered outrageous or ridiculous or extreme gradually become what people think they’ve always believed. How the transformation happened is rarely remembered, in part because it’s compromising: it recalls the mainstream when the mainstream was, say, rabidly homophobic or racist in a way it no longer is; and it recalls that power comes from the shadows and the margins, that our hope is in the dark around the edges, not the limelight of center stage. Our hope and often our power.


Change is rarely straightforward… Sometimes it’s as complex as chaos theory and as slow as evolution. Even things that seem to happen suddenly arise from deep roots in the past or from long-dormant seeds.

– Rebecca Solnit, Hope In The Dark

Imma add this book to my reading list.



The language used within families is often rich and idiosyncratic, and mine no exception. I’m just going to give a snapshot here of the mixture of cockney slang, Yiddish words, and invention on one side of the family.

Schmendrick was my Dad’s favourite Yiddish word. When my brother or I complained the reply was often “Don’t be a schmendrick.”

What schmendrick did that?

He would call us, with affection and humour, Schmendrick One and Schmendrick Two. He invented the adjective “Schmendracious” and the noun “Schmendracity”. Girls were “Schmeryls”. When I brought his granddaughter round, a toddler, she was “Schmendrelina”.

The time a friend and I were watching the John Lennon documentary Imagine, my Dad and Mum came in and stood watching a little of it. Dad referred to the pre-bag period as “before he went schmendrick.”

John, are we schmendrick?

Everything was kettles and plates and Saint Louis Blues and the “lovely currant”. They enjoyed language, playing with it, the sounds… They swam and splashed in it, drank it in and spat it out. They were greatly amused by my Grandad’s accidental American state, OH-HEE-HO. Dad turned “skewiff” into the more expansive “skaywohwf”.

Dad would generally only use long words in speech if he thought the sound was expressive. The only one I remember him using repeatedly was for two singers he didn’t like, “lugubrious”. I can understand why he didn’t like my wayward croons.

Morrissey is not so understanding

My Dad and my Grandad used relatively, and I emphasize relatively, more “O” sounds than “AAAAAAHH”s and the harsh back of the throat sounds.  My uncle uses more dissonance. His favourite swear word is “bleatin’ “,  d transformed to t. His voice is more like me Nan’s, although hers was generally quieter.

Regional lexicons and accents, with the exception of those more closely associated with the monarchy, are still regarded as somehow “lesser” albeit they make up most of our speech. Standardisation has its place but too often it has been used to curb working class and outsider modes of expression and to reinforce discrimination. A child is a linguistic genius in comparison to us idiot learner adults. There ain’t good reason to discourage any poor soul from idiomatic expression in the appropriate contexts, especially creative writing. Dodgy policing of this kind is something I’m going to try to be more savvy about, learn better when to keep schtum. Be less schmendrick.

Personal responsibility: A placebo effect

The discussion on free will is a fiendish labyrinth. Spend enough time in a labyrinth without monsters, all you feel is great boredom and impatience. The social importance of personal responsibility has no doubt generated a lot of fertiliser.

Cutting through the thickets, I propose that the placebo effect applies to responsibility itself. No-one can conquer the environment. There is little serious disagreement, I think, with the statement that human reasoning is flawed, an imperfect tool for modelling reality. Transcendence seems to me to be artful fiction. The insistent functions of the body only cease in death.

We know that there are things such as temperature, status, healthy relationships, a sense of security that contribute to concentrated mental states. You can influence even the greatest master with a stick. Or by throwing her into the sun.

The measure of freedom we have to make a choice is dependent on many factors the individual cannot control and did not ask for. Anyone who laughs at the teenager who didn’t ask to be born is not doing so because they disagree.

If collectively, according to our power, we create the conditions by which people feel they are able to make considered decisions, they will make considered decisions. If someone has power and they help create conditions that encourage poor health or misinformation, there are two possible reasons. Either they score too highly for dark triad traits to be a good leader for the people or they are not as free as they think they are. For example, the aversion to any perceived loss of status is a powerful motivator of poor decision making. This human fiction of status is treated as an eternal truth to be imposed upon reality and every human suffers.

Personal responsibility is an ideal. Self mastery is an ideal. It isn’t harmful to know this. The placebo effect still works. Making this common knowledge and the basis for policy is not what will end civilisation. A failure to recognise and help each other with our strengths and weaknesses, which is a collective responsibility, is what will end civilisation.


Image from

Advice to my troubled future self

A university dropout, I am living with my parents again. They are shouting. An alcohol fuelled fight. Often I hear them, spite filled, threatening, waves of hate. I am the rocks. Over time even a rock is worn down.

I am not a rock. I am sensitive. These harsh sounds crash upon me, over and over.

They are in their late forties now. They have mellowed somewhat. In fact they are tucked up in bed. The house is still.

What I hear is echoes. Not some distant reflection, an immediate assault.

I tiptoe onto the landing; then, avoiding the boards that complain the most, the top of the stairs. I crouch, head behind the bars of the bannisters. Nothing.

From their bedroom, a snuffling, a sleepy moan, sometimes snoring.

I go back to my room and write seven words.

Caught in the crossfire / They’re arguing again

I don’t usually hear voices. Just this. In that house. Every evening. From my bedroom. So loud and present I have to check every time.

Years after, free from that house, and with the maternal critic largely out of my head (Why bother worrying what   someone prone to selfishness without any power over you who receives establishment opinions and never thinks too hard about them thinks about you?), I realise I have somewhere lost the ability to listen with charity.

My upbringing was better than most, materially. It wasn’t miserable, for the most part. Quite possibly I am very sensitive, perhaps even to the sounds. I don’t blame them for what they were. I am trying not to blame anyone. Not myself. There is of course a distinction between responsibility and blame.

I don’t know how much is genetic and how much is environment, or the interplay between the two. The best I can do is try to be a better listener, a better friend, a healthier person. If the self cannot regulate the self (and we know so little about the self) then it’s not as if there is a safe and effective medication for mania.

I appreciate the warmth, simple respect, and social courtesy others have given me. It helps. I am responding to it, I think. I feel more human, gentler, connected.

Come dreaded psychosis, go to the GP and take an antipsychotic for a few months. I wrote this. I remember writing this. Now. Remember that other “now” in the past, Dave. Walking over the pavement in the rain. Saying this is happening “now”. The details may be wrong but the Now happened. So, future self, if you are very paranoid, making lots of connections that seem right but no-one believes when you explain, especially with advertising, it isn’t likely to be Derren Brown or the Government or any secret nefarious organisation. Advertising is designed to make people feel special, talked to personally. Of course advertising feels relevant to you.

If you have been on a big adventure, and feel great guilt about immoral behaviour, and the GP and your friends and your brother and others you trusted before your adventure say you should take an antipsychotic, then take it. You know I care about you. You’ll remember that I love you and you will cry and take the antipsychotic. I am you, calm, not psychotic. It happens. It’s not anyone’s fault. Yes the environment needs changing, yes the world needs changing but you can’t do it on your own.

You can’t do it right now until you come back to reality. Take the pill. Remember, for you at least it’s not true that you can’t bear very much reality. You don’t like it, you try to flee from it, it has contributed to your problems, but come back to us, Dave. Take the pill. Many humans can and do love. A simple concern for you. Three, four months. It will pass and you can come off it again. As you did before.

Be good to yourself and others,


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