In the last thrilling full episode of Julian Gough Makes Excuses For Not Writing Postcards, our anti-hero was having a breakdown.
OR WAS IT A BREAKTHROUGH?
He had discovered he was in the zeroth percentile for conscientiousness, a revelation which shook him severely; but which also threw great light upon his past life, and made much clear.
There are 7,686,443,289 people on this earth, and apparently at least 7,609,578,856 of them are officially more conscientious than Julian.
(OK, back to the First Person. Let’s see what he has to say for himself…)
Some are born lacking in conscientiousness. Some achieve a lack of conscientiousness. And some have a lack of conscientiousness thrust upon them. I think I’m in that rare third category, which leaves room for hope. If my lack of conscientiousness is not a core attribute, but is a side effect of my peculiar childhood, then I may be able to unpeel the damage (it being merely superficial), and reveal the SHINING CORE OF MY BEING (which is a pretty conscientious seven-year-old boy, before Ireland messed him up.)
But in order to dekink my psyche and undo the damage caused by a Christian Brothers’ education in the repressive semi-theocracy that was Ireland in the 1970s and 80s, I need a guru: a spiritual figure that I can trust, who has already travelled this path, and who can guide me. And I have found one. My guide on this spiritual journey is Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits.
More recently, Blindly Boatclub is the author of The Gospel According to Blindboy (a most entertaining short story collection). He also puts out the Blindboy Podcast every Wednesday. It’s a splendidly idiosyncratic production, designed to give you what Blindboy calls “the podcast hug”: he has even recorded a soothing, slightly jazzy, piano soundbed that plays subliminally throughout the show, and sure enough it does lower your heart rate and calm you down.
Some Blindboy Podcast episodes have themes: one, a few months back, was Transactional Analysis, the psychological system devised by Eric Berne in the 1960s. Best known through popularisations (and simplifications) that boil it down to “I’m OK / You’re OK”, it’s actually a pretty smart way of thinking about your personality. A great tool when used in conjunction with other approaches. (I think it can be a mistake to fall in love with a single approach to psychology, or to anything, for reasons we’ll get to below.)
Anyway, Blindboy recommended a book, TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis (second edition), by Ian Stewart and Vann Jones, that he had found very helpful in dealing with his own anxiety and depression. (And oh boy, he was a real mess in his teens and early twenties.) I ordered it on Amazon, and sure enough, it’s terrific. I thoroughly recommend it, if you want to sort your head out (or if you just find your family incredibly annoying at Christmas, and wonder why). Very effective when used in conjunction with other approaches, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Incidentally, if CBT interests you, the book Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies is a great place to start. I’ve seen people, just using that book, cure themselves of a paralysing fear of spiders, and of compulsive physical and verbal ticcing. CBT deals with symptoms, and doesn’t worry too much about root causes, so it’s very effective for some things, less so for others. (It’s interested in changing the way you think about your problems, rather than digging down deep into your past to solve them, and so it’s particularly good at breaking your negative mind/body feedback loops. Not so good maybe at dealing with a massive childhood trauma.) Mix and match your approaches.
Which reminds me, I’ve also gone back to an earlier guru of mine, Robert Anton Wilson, co-author, with Robert Shea, of the very funny Illuminatus! Triology, and author of a wild bunch of very sixties and seventies books on how to rewire your head. Some good ones are: Prometheus Rising; Quantum Psychology; Cosmic Trigger. He’s not always right, or fully grounded in reality-as-we-generally-know-it, but he is always fun, provocative, and mind-expanding. He jolts you out of your psychological rut. (Yes, I know he’s dead, but I’m still going to use the present tense, because he’s intensely alive in his books.)
Robert Anton Wilson is a fan of multi-model agnosticism: of picking and choosing between theories to find the best tool for the job at hand. So if you want to sort out your head, you can move back and forth between meditation, Transactional Analysis, high-intensity physical workouts, microdosing on psilocybin, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, listening to the Blindboy Podcast, and standing on a symbolic rock in the Galway rain on New Year’s Eve to hold a shouted mystical conversation with the Atlantic while smoking a cigar.
Respectable science, by the way, already does multi-model agnosticism: you use Newtonian physics if you’re designing a chemical rocket to fly to Mars, Einstein’s general theory of relativity if you are trying to understand the behaviour of matter at the boundary of a black hole, and the quantum electrodynamics developed by a bunch of people from Paul Dirac to Richard Feynman if you’re designing invisibly small semi-conductors. All three theories contradict each other; and all three theories “work” brilliantly in certain realms, while being useless in others. Theories don’t have to be “true” in some abstract, universal, Platonic, metaphysical way: they just have to work.
Oh, and while I was at it, I just bought a new book called Atomic Habits, by James Clear, the gist of which seems to be “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.” Which seems fair enough. “Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”
This seems a sensible approach to change, based (again, as with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) around feedback loops: “Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits.” It’s basically a rewrite of Charles Duhigg’s fascinating book, The Power of Habit, but ruthlessly focused and weaponised as a self-help book. (Duhigg’s book goes far deeper into the data, into the research around the subject; Clear’s book is more practical if you actually want to change.)
So I am trying to become the kind of person who writes, stamps, addresses, and sends the postcards he has promised.
As a result of all this, I’ve started writing postcards again. I’ve now finished the coffee-and-whiskey-stain cards. The last batch were posted (in a parcel) to my friend Scott in Las Vegas a few days ago, and he will repost them individually from there.
I’ll send out the Lipstick postcard survey this week. Watch out for that email, if you signed up for a lipstick postcard.
Bulletholes will be after that.
These people will be getting their stained cards soon:
Lauren Seville; Eddy Fey; Iarla Kilbane Dawe; Conor Horgan; Maggie Davey; Sharon Reine; Naomi Frisby; Viccy Adams; John Lüders; Erin Wiedemer; Laura Watson; Phil Bennett; Barbara Morrissey; Stefan Linden; Patrick O'Flaherty; Debbie Wilcox; Craig Hughes; Edel Henry; Alex May; Benjamin Russell.
Taking off the light-hearted mask for moment; The Las Vegas Postcards Project has turned into the greatest moral failure of my life. I've let down precisely the people who have supported me the most. But if I can turn my life around, I can turn the rest of the postcards around. We shall see.
Happy New Year!