Wednesday 28 October 2015

Thoughts on a Birthday

Today, the 28th October 2015, is the 45th anniversary of my birth.

To be perfectly honest, I never actually imagined I would ever reach the age of 45 years. Looking back, I think I’d imagined that the mid-thirties would be about as much as I could reasonably expect. And now, I’m not all that convinced it’s been worth it.

Sometimes, over the years, I’d used my birthday to take stock of what I’d achieved (very little), what I hoped would happen till the next birthday (usually, quite a lot) and what would more realistically happen (again, very little). This whole exercise has got so repetitive that I abandoned it some time ago. The choice seemed to lie between disappointment, no matter how much effort one put in, and expectations so low that there was little to no point in putting in any effort at all.

In these pages I’ve mentioned, once in a while, the fact that I have a history of depression, which has led to episodes of major self-harm. One of the things I’ve realised is that this is something I will never get rid of; that, no matter how far it lurks, it is never quite gone for good.

For oh I have heard the leather wings
Beat through the aftermidnights
Lying awake; I have seen
The red-eyed shades of the ravening
Clawed beasts reaching to snatch away
The shred of me I could call my own.
The night is all, the shadows hold sway

Tell me not of the coming of some other day.

If I could put a face on it, this would be it. [Image source]

Over the last two years, I have gone through the kind of fire-searing mental agony I would not wish on anyone, when – after nearly thirty years – I seriously considered self-harm again. Today, I’ve reached a stage of almost Zen levels of depression, when unhappiness has become such a grey constant that I have grown to be acutely suspicious, almost fearful of happiness. A flash of happiness, after all, it seems to me, only presages the crash to come. It will go away; the depression, however, will not.

So. Looking at these 45 years, it strikes me that I have, very probably, spent over half my time on earth. Yes, lifespans have increased out of all proportion to what they were in my grandparents’ time – when “May you live sixty years” was a blessing – but the golden age is well and truly over, with war and famine and disaster not just on the horizon, but already here. Who the hell wants to live to be ninety anyway? Not I. Not that I feel old or even middle aged; I just don’t feel like anything.

There are memories of past birthdays I hold close and examine once in a while. Some are good; most only fill me with regrets at the memory of what has gone and will never come again. 

Friends we have now, good friends we've lost 
Along the way 
~BoneyM, No Woman No Cry

Well, on to more cheerful thoughts!

The first birthday gift I recall clearly was something I must have got when I was either six or seven years old. It was a book on the cover of which two large and improbably colourful lizards disported themselves among the branches of a brass-tinted tree. I think it was a book of fairy stories; at this point in time I have no memory of the contents except that the pages were printed in sky-blue ink and had illustrations here and there. It was in Bengali, too, a language which is officially my native tongue, but which I have never been particularly comfortable with and which I never read or write in any longer. The next year I got a Hardy Boys book, I think it was called The Mystery of the Desert Giant, and that was a lot better.

Yes, and this probably will not be a surprise to anyone who reads this, books are the gift I always treasured above all others back when I was a boy. Clothes? Oh, OK, um, thanks. Toys? What do you think I am, a kid? But books? Oh my. Booksbooksbooks. I could have spent a lifetime in solitary confinement if only I had a supply of books.

Then I discovered that some books were actually utter pure undiluted bilge, and that I could write better stuff. And from there it was a short step to writing that stuff. And from there, it was another step to discovering that it was almost impossible to get the stuff I wrote published.

But then that’s another story, and one you’ve heard before.

So, yeah, 45. I wonder what the next year will bring. Or, rather, I already know.

Incidentally, I share my birthday with Bill Gates and Julia Roberts. Couldn’t it at least have been someone I can actually admire? What the hell?

Bring on the apocalypse.


  1. Happy birthday. It's not easy for me to say this, but I've stopped thinking about age and accomplishments and goals and distance traveled. I mean, saying that, it sounds as though I'm simply living an unexamined life.

    But that aspect of living is no longer of interest to me, and it sounds as though you're in the same boat.

    I still have things I like doing, though, and reading your posts is one of them.

    I look forward to reading them for yet another year!

  2. Happy birthday here, too, Bill! :) And don't like Julia Roberts? Sheesh, man! :P

  3. Bill, Take care and hang in there. We want to look forward to reading your postings for some time.

  4. More realistic expectations come with age and experience and a memory for what worked and what didn't. I go up and down, too, but in the last five or ten years not as severely. Some of that may have come from my rediscovery of books at that same time. I never thought much about the correlation, but maybe there is something there and maybe that break from my own issues is a necessary thing. Maybe lowered expectations of myself and others helps, too.
    Anyway, happy birthday! Don't forget to cut yourself a little slack now and then.

  5. Bill,
    Being 22 years, nearly 23 if I manage to make it to late December this year, I will allow myself the indulgence of wishing you a belated birthday greeting. Yeah, tell me about old age my younger friend.
    Yes, books, but not crap books. I understand depression a bit, having been deeply depressed more than once myself. Combat experiences of war do that to most of us, the death of your own child will, as will the loss of the love of your life to a nasty form of brain cancer. Well, we did have 24 years together, nearly half my life at the time, I was 51 when Sherie died. She told me a few times how she thought it would be so nice to be 50, she was only 47.
    Life can be very painful as you know. All we mere mortals can do is struggle through it the best we can. As I have posted to my now and then blog, if we all just try and be nice to each other, maybe then this world can be nicer for us all. Beats any religious mess for me any way.
    Hang in there Bill, many of us are devoted fans of you and your stories.
    I am still of the opinion that you are a master story teller. This world needs good story tellers Bill.
    Please take care of yourself. For me, this world will be a much sadder place without you and your stories.
    p.s. No promise, but I may email you with more later, unless you'd rather I don't.
    And don't be so damn hard on yourself. Hell, I am way past my own sell by date.

  6. Happy belated birthday. I tried to post on the 29th, but my privacy software blocked my posts. I really enjoy your writing and cartoons.

    A friend thinks you must be a Libyan terrorist since you don't seem to realise all the good the US has done. For example, under Saddam, the poor Iraqis were so abused they didn't have any cholera, something I'm sure they all desperately wanted, but Saddam wouldn't let them have any. Thanks to the US, they now have plenty of cholera, so the US has done a lot of good in Iraq.

    And in Libya, Obama and Clinton got rid of a heinous dictator and made Libya a paradise where no one wants to leave, but they would all like a short vacation in Europe. Under Qadhaffi, most couldn't afford a European vacation, but now most of them have been able to book passage on rubber rafts.

    Please keep writing and posting on the comics.

    1. Hey Michael. So good to see you here. Welcome to my world.


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