It’s my birthday today. I am 28 years old. I have completed my twenty-eighth trip around the sun.
Every year, as my birthday approaches, I feel a chill inside that grows and intensifies. Mental functioning becomes erratic and unpredictable. I retreat inwards and want to isolate myself. I feel like Kerans sailing south on solar winds.
The cold brings with it another kind of intensity. Not the jungle intensity of heat, of Heart of Darkness but the glacial intensity of cold, of The Thing. Perhaps this is what seasonal affective disorder is. I like the cold, though. The only issue is coping with my birthday.
Even as a kid, with little knowledge of what the day meant, it was a day I wanted to hide away. Performing happiness for the sake of making family feel good about it, letting them know I was having a good time, only made it worse. This hasn’t gone away as I’ve gotten older. The impetus put on family at Christmas and the dysfunctional and fractured nature of my own only makes me want to hide away more.
I haven’t tried to hide away from anything this year. Over the past few weeks, and the last few days in the lead up to Christmas especially, I have slowly been chipping away at a new book project on adoption and subjectivity — and finding it very therapeutic, I might add — but it seems like there is no shield against once again passing through the primal wound.
Birthdays are when this primal wound truly opens up, as if my emotions are at the mercy of some internal calendar that slips back into a default state of mourning, on that day when the trauma was first experienced. It happens every year like clockwork.
The sad thing is that I quite like Christmas, if only because it is the one holiday I can switch off completely from the outside world, but a tumultuous inner experience rises up to meet the new calm on the 26th nonetheless.
This year, like every year, I’ve felt distant and distracted. It’s strange because I did the annual trip to see my birth and adoptive mothers the other day and found it, for the first time since it became a tradition, to be a really lovely and calming occasion. Nothing went awry. In fact, it went so well and ended in such high spirits that I thought I had altogether dodged the usual seasonal depression to follows it. That night, however, I found that I wasn’t myself and I haven’t quite gotten back to myself since.
The book project is about affirming these sorts of negatively libidinal experiences; affirming the sense of displacement that comes from the adoptive experience and using it to step off one map and onto another. But there’s no circumventing birthdays and the intensity of the occasion pummels any thinking — not matter how wishful or wilful — back into where it came from, levelling everything to the level of the unconscious. It disturbs. There are forces at play that have other ideas and I feel myself bending to their will no matter my own.
Every other day of the year I have some Deleuze and some Nietzsche in my back pocket for moments like this, when fate feels cruel. However, today, there is no hope for me. There’s nothing to do but ride it out and wait for a natural emergence from the other side of the sun, using January as a springboard into the new year.
So, how do you do that? How do you stay afloat through such a feeling?
With a goth birthday excursion, of course.
This afternoon we drove to Macclesfield on the pretense of checking out some of the Boxing Day sales. I had a browse around a bookshop and bought Deborah Curtis’ biography of her late husband and his band Joy Division before swinging by their old house at 77 Barton Street.
It’s still used and lived in today so it’s not really much of a pilgrimage spot, especially at Christmas time. It felt a little bit intrusive to be taking photos of the street so I didn’t hang about. I was greeted almost immediately by a very friendly cat though.
Later, we went to Macclesfield cemetary where “love will tear us apart” is carved onto Curtis’ memorial stone.
There’s a song that encapsulates a cold intensity that seems to define Curtis’ legacy but it is not the only one. He was consistent; fated to a problem. Deborah’s biography already bears the title “Touching from a Distance”, taken from the lyrics of the song “Transmission” — a title that encapsulates a certain kind of paradox — a cold intimacy. The lyrics in the back of the edition I picked up list countless others that speak to this coldness as well.
What I find most affecting, however, is how incessantly Curtis writes of love as a mixture of hot and cold. “Heart and soul, one will burn.” They pivot from one to another. The best way to affirm the mixed feelings of this time of year is evidently to listen to Joy Division, latching onto those recordings of Curtis’ own elliptical orbit.