The Society of Others by William Nicholson
-01- I don’t want anything. I have the animal needs, but as soon as the needs are met they go away, and everything’s the way it was before. That stuff is necessary. We’re not talking desire.
And I don’t even want money. What’s the point? You see something you want to buy, you get excited about having it, you buy it, the excitement fades. Everything’s the way it was before. I’ve seen through that game. They make you want things so they get your money. Then they take your money and then they’ve got it, and what do they do? They use it to buy things someone else has made them want. For a few moments they think they’re happy, and then it all fades and everything’s the way it was before. How stupid can you get? It’s like fish. Fish swim all day finding food to give them energy to swim about all day. It makes me laugh. These people who hurry about all day making money to sell each other things. Anyone with eyes could tell them their lives are meaningless and they weren’t getting any happier.
-02- [My father] says, ‘There’s a big wide world out there. You’re not going anywhere so long as you stay shut up in your room.’
I say, ‘There’s nowhere to go.’
He hates that. My negative attitude. I could tell him he’s not going anywhere either. But why pop his balloon.
I like my room. I said before I don’t want anything, but this isn’t entirely true. I want my own room. I don’t much care what’s in it so long as it has a door I can shut and lock so people don’t come asking me to do things. I expect maybe I’ll spend the rest of my life in my room and at the end I’ll just die here and no one will find me and that’s just fine with me.
The big wide world: First of all, it’s not so big and wide. Really the world is only as big as your experiences of it, which is not big at all. And what sort of world is it? I would characterise it as remote, uninterested, unpredictable, dangerous and unjust. When I was small I thought the world was like my parents, only bigger. I thought it watched me and clapped when I danced. This is not so. The world is not watching and will never stop. My father doesn’t get thig, he’s still dancing. It makes me quite sad to see him.
Cat says my world lacks depth and is merely bitterness. I dispute this. I feel no bitterness. I see things as they are. Nature is selfish. All creatures kill to survive. Love is a mechanism to propagate the species. Beauty is a trick that fades. Friendship is an arrangement for mutual advantage. Goodness is not rewarded and evil is not punished. Religion is superstition. Death is annihilation. And as for God, if he exists at all he stopped caring for humankind centuries ago. Wouldn’t you?
So why leave my room?
-03- For as long as I can remember I’ve been at some kind of school. I don’t believe I learned anything at all. It was like half-listening to the safety announcement, the kind they give you on planes before take off. The voice that says this is really important and to please listen carefully, but you still don’t listen because it’s not going to happen and if it does you’re dead anyway.
-04- Anyway my father points out to me all the great opportunities there are out there for me, but neglects to name them. I fill in the gaps. I could join a corporation and sell things I don’t want to have myself to people who don’t need them. I could be a teacher and tell things I don’t want to know to people who don’t want to hear. I could be a solider and kill people. That would be all right if it weren’t dangerous.
-05- …things that are out of reach are desirable precisely because there’s no chance you’ll get what you want. Getting what you want is to be avoided at all costs. Ask for the moon.
-06- My mother’s upset because I don’t come down for meals anymore. It’s not the food I mind, it’s her face watching me as if it hurts her just to see me eat. Or not eat, I’m not much of an eater. I prefer to sort it out for myself, without all the fuss and conversation. So long as there’s bread and cheese or a bowl of cereal I’m okay.
-07- Actually, I’m a disappointment to everyone who cares about me… They used to want me to have hobbies and ambitions and a great objective in life. Now they just want me to get a job.
My mother says, ‘All I want is for you to be happy. I can’t believe you’re happy living like this.’
What I want to say to her, and to my father and grandfather and Sheile is: Why must I be happy for you? It’s like a weight they’ve tied to my back, this requirement that I be happy. It’s not for me, it’s for them. They want to stop feeling they’ve failed me.
-08- My inertia is nothing to do with drugs. It springs from the true source, the mother lode, a clear-eyed awareness of the nature of existence. Life is hard and then you die. That’s just about it. That’s how it is. That won’t change. This is the closest I get to satisfaction.
-09- He gazes at me and taps his teeth with one fingernail. He is running through the options open to him. You can always tell when people are processing like this, it’s almost as if a little symbol appears on their face, an hour-glass or a spinning disc, like on a computer screen.
-10- ‘Television is the baby-sitting for the people. You who watch television, you are the baby.’ … so it’s not high culture, but you can’t be burning rocket fuel all week. Sometimes you need to coast. … He starts to tell me about this novel he’s writing.
I should have guessed. People who hate TV always turn out to be writing a novel. They don’t like the competition. They don’t like the way everyone watches TV and no one reads novels. So why don’t they go and write for television? Because they’re not smart enough. You can work on a novel for years and all that time you can tell yourself every day you’re a genius, but go work in television or movies and pretty soon someone wants to see what you’re doing and then of course you’re fucked because it’s actually crap. People who write novels never show them to anybody. They’re like aging women who’ve stopped looking in mirrors. That way you’re always young, always beautiful.
-11- This is without a doubt the way to go. If you want to eat countryside and passes a carefree attitude to personal injury, motorbike travel is for you. …Fortunately I’m not called upon to stop because the only way I’ve found how to brake is completely which would not be good at this speed. I can hear Eckhard whimpering behind me, due I imagine to an exaggerated attachment to life, which I do not share… So long as we keep moving at this speed which I guess to be roughly a thousand miles an hour why should we fall off?
-12- …and the people unloop from the pews like a golden hose being dragged behind us.
-13- It must be question one on her list. She’s not bright enough to move past at until it’s been answered. I meet people like this all the time. They’re expecting a certain kind of answer from you and if you say something else they simply don’t hear you. Your words have no place ready to receive them in their brain, so it’s like you haven’t spoken.
-14- All at once, the studio light go out. I’m trapped in a darkened studio with a wannabe television star. This is not a situation for which I’m equipped.
-15- All this is quite exhilarating. For the first time in my life I am the beneficiary of a totally unfair system. You don’t read much about the young Hitler or the young Stalin dreaming of going into a clothes shop and picking out all the gear they want and not even looking at the prices, but it is definitely a motivator for the wannabe dictator. Actually, those guys went several steps further and invented their own uniforms and had them made for them by top tailors. Seize power, look cool. Fun with nation states.
-16- The key she gives me has a lump of metal attached to it the size of Hong Kong. I love that. It’s supposed to stop you leaving town with the key in your pocket but to me it’s the material signifier of the hotel status. If you can hardly life the key you’re in the right economic bracket.
-17- It must be one of the things that happens to people when they get old and wise. They can’t stop themselves spraying their wisdom about the place. All you can do is keep nodding and not get too close.
-18- Cello’s gentle concession does not satisfy me. I want opposition or surrender.
‘So you’re agreeing with me?’
‘Not agreeing, no, I’m listening.’
‘I thought this was supposed to be an argument.’
‘Not at all. Arguments are for winning and losing. What use is that?’
I’m a little taken aback by this question. I had rather supposed that winning was the point of more or less everything.
‘If you win an argument, that proves you’re right.’
‘Not at all. It only proves you’re better at arguing.’
‘So that’s good.’
‘How is it good? It seems to me that it gets you no further than you were before. We might as well stand in the rain and piss at each other.’
-19- ‘If we’re talking about me, the answer has to be that nothing’s a big deal.’
‘I think back to my room, with the blind down and the mute television flickering away and the door locked. ‘Nothing.’
‘You are telling me that nothing is important to you?’
‘Well, I don’t want to get hurt and so on. But if we’re talking religion and philosophy and all that meaning-of-life shit—Sorry.’ I didn’t want to give offence.
‘No, please. You choose our words for a reason. That meaning-of-life shit. It makes you angry.’
‘Not angry. I just can’t see it.’
‘You would say you live a happy life?’
‘No, I wouldn’t say that.’
‘You would like to lead a happy life?’
‘Sure. Who wouldn’t?’
‘So what stands in your way?’
‘The real world.’
‘The real world makes you unhappy?’
‘It doesn’t exactly make me unhappy. It just doesn’t make me happy. I’m kind of neutral.’
‘So. What is the happiest moment of your life so far?’
[Tells story about riding a bike with his father] As I’m talking I find what I really liked about it and it seems almost too simple… ‘But it’s not like it gives my life meaning or anything.’
‘No, I understand that. This meaning-of-life shit. It’s going to have to be very big shit indeed to do it for you, I think.’
‘Well, life’s a big thing. I mean, like, existence and everything. You can’t make that meaningful with one bike ride.’
‘I can,’ he says, ‘It’s you who can’t.’
-20- It’s funny about people’s faces.If you look at them long enough they stop being beautiful or ugly and become just themselves.
-21- Oh, I have nothing to teach you. It’s more a matter of throwing a little light on knowledge you already possess, don’t you think? All of us have more rooms in our house than we inhabit.’
The Society of Others by William Nicholson