Roland Barthes and me
As a teenager I was often and intensely bored. No, that is not quite right. As a teenager I was often and intensely afraid. For the adolescent they are really the same thing. One is frightened of being bored, and fed up with being afraid, but most of the time the two feelings are inextricable – adolescence is a time for what Roland Barthes (who was talking about his own childhood and middle age) called 'panic boredom'.What I was afraid of or bored by in 1986. Solitude. I had few friends, and none outside of school. Early in the year I'd been slung out of a band that four of us (and somebody's embarrassingly talented little brother) had started in the previous term, because I could neither sing nor play an instrument and the role of floating strategist or sonic provocateur that I had fantasized for myself was suddenly deemed surplus. Rejection. I was secretly in love with my best friend: his blue eyes and his blue hair, which latter (not to mention flagrant effeminacy) had recently brought my ex-bandmates to a pitch of scorn and fury in the schoolyard. Most evenings at home, I waited for his long gossipy phone calls in an anxious daze, listening to the radio and not touching my homework, wishing he would love me back. Death. My mother had died in the summer of 1985, shortly after I turned sixteen, and now we (my father, my two younger brothers and I) never spoke about her. Dying seemed to be just what my family did, maybe instead of talking to one another – in the past few years, both my grandfathers and a brother of my mother's had died too. I was sick to death of all this dying, and ashamed of it, but I think I was also bored: by death's endless dull round and rituals, all the muttered lord-have-mercies.
Mostly, I was bored at school. I'd been the perfect little pupil at primary school, easily cowed by the threat and reality of violence into doing what I was told. But I also had what I suppose was a slightly advanced curiosity about books and knowledge in general – there were approving comments to my mother about what was not at that time called my 'reading age', prizes for essay competitions and almost coming top of the class in end-of-year exams, consequent beatings from my classmates and from the teachers when I let them down. I was eager to please, and already unsure what good it would do me.