All I had was No.
And I knew it.
I was a kid and I didn’t know how else to express my anger or frustration or resistance.
As a result, I acted out when it suited.
It usually suited me when it came to food.
Meal time became my Waterloo.
I exerted my No.
I could be put under pressure to eat but no food was going in my mouth that I didn’t want to.
If I hadn’t heard of the meal before, No.
If I didn’t like the look of anything to do with the preparation or presentation, No.
If the dish included anything I considered weird, No.
If the smell made me wary, No.
Sometimes it was No because there was something else that had upset me earlier. I was, and sometimes still am, a contrary little bollocks.
It wasn’t fair on those around me, especially my parents, who did all they could for me, gave me every advantage in life. What did they get in return?
An ungrateful, obstinate little prick.
That may seem harsh to say about myself. It is. I didn’t make it easy.
What was wrong with me?
Why did I dig in so hard on this?
I began installing rules around my life as a form of infrastructure. This was Ikea-style, self-assembly for the soul. I’d built a traffic grid around myself resembling the Champs d’Elysee roundabout with No being a hard stop, red light.
I made so many things unnecessarily hard in my life.
I see it now in a way I never could because I viewed everything through the prism of No.
No was the only agency I believed I had.
I was scared, of newness, of the unknown, of having to give up control. The voice inside me screamed fear is a weakness – don’t show you’re scared.
So, I showed, instead, my utter and unrelenting ability to be unwilling.
I created rules for protection. These rules were my very own Jersey Crew. And, boy, were they tough. Soon they’d expanded their area of operation away from the dinner table to the music I would listen to, the clothes I would wear, the people I would want to hang out with, the games and sports I would play.
Every Yes I ever gave had to overcome a street-hardened, made-guy packing a Glock and a baseball bat, whose stock position was No.
I’d unwittingly brought in Tony Soprano to handle my security and in the unspoken agreement between us I’d unknowingly signed over my agency to him and his people.
I thought No gave me back power and control.
I thought No made me strong.
I thought No showed I could think for myself.
What I understand now is that No was a corrosive toxin.
I invested so much into these rules and systems of protection that they in turn held me prisoner.
Now, I’m all about dismantling. I’m into deconstruction, me and this here practice of writing that’s sometimes a sledge hammer, other times a scalpel, others still a screw driver.
Saying Yes is a daily, conscious effort, to fight back my reflexive No.
No is easy but easy isn’t always fun.
Yes is scary, yet therein lies the foundation for adventure and discovery.
In my heart, when I strip back all the layers inside me, my life is driven by curiosity and the search for meaning.
So, deep breath. One moment at a time. No big leaps here.
In 2018 I set myself the challenge to meet more strangers and fail more.
This year, it’s about living slower and creating quicker.
I’m back in this thing now, taking down one slicked suited corner hood at a time and I’ve no plans to back off.