six things: John Wetherell

John Wetherell

About John

The salient themes might run as follows: born into musical family, got into occultism, had a homosexual love affair, got into Jungian psychoanalysis, psychiatric hospitalisation, converted to Catholicism, ran away from hospital, started writing poetry. Spent 1980-95 totally alone, surviving, and writing bits of poetry. Then more psychiatric hospital. Heard about something called ‘horticultural therapy’. Received this kind of therapy for seven years. Eventually given paid job in the office at the horticultural therapy charity THRIVE where I still work to this day. Along the way, met and fell in love and became engaged to Liz.

• One thing that’s always worth getting out of bed for

Any writing project, where I have become totally engrossed in it, has the power to dispel my natural laziness – and suddenly there I am at an unearthly hour, rattling away on the computer. Writing projects with me are only ever poems or autobiography. But they have to have reached a stage where they’ve taken on a life of their own. The feeling then is as if I had no choice. Certain dreams occasionally affect me in this way as well, and I have no choice but to get out of bed and write them down.

• One thing about myself that often obstructs me

I have very little sense of being on a coherent path in order to find myself obstructed. I guess I trip up on detail quite a bit. I’m quite pedantic, and am likely to have spent far too long cobbling together the words you’re now reading. The computer is a bit of a curse in this regard. It’s so easy to cut and paste a word or a phrase and make amendments. This mentality can be positively tragic, if it intrudes into spoken conversation! It’s also particularly troublesome because I will sometimes overcompensate. I’ll send that impulsive email with no salutation and no signature. Or I’ll adopt a too-intimate tone in conversation. Or make an infantile joke. Or in whatever way, I will try to break out from behind my self-erected facade of detail and formality. Fortunately both the endless compulsion to revise and qualify, and the urge to break free, can sometimes work in my favour when I’m writing poetry.

• One thing I’ve learned the hard way

To appreciate civilisation. Homelessness taught me this. And what’s generally called mental illness. Civilisation is to be found both in the physical world and in one’s own inner world. The homeless person with no money – with nothing at all – exists at the fringe of civilised society, in continual danger of slipping off the bottom rung of any connectedness at all with the life lived collectively by our species. Mental illness does something similar in loosening the connection with one’s own internal civilised mechanisms. Everything has to be kept going to some degree consciously and deliberately. You kind of remember for instance that you used to love books, and so you haunt public libraries, although your concentration is so poor, you are mostly confined to looking at the art books. I had a moment of tremendous revelation when I discovered for the first time Giorgione’s The Tempest in an art book in a public library. But the appreciation I meant has little to do with individual artefacts of civilisation. It’s more a general sense of gratitude once you have gazed into the void.

• One thing that gets under my skin

Tabloid journalism. Much less so in the last year or so, I must be getting tolerant or something. Or possibly just desensitised. There is irony in the fact that when I see the latest tabloid headline, positing some generalised FURY AT…. (whatever it may be) – I duly experience fury. Directed of course against the people who are telling me that I am furious. I wonder whether this only proves the magic power of words. The thing itself has been conjured out of the air – just by the word fury being featured prominently in bold capitals. Well, actually I am furious at the intention to evoke fury. But the overall effect seems to me pretty well that my own fury and the political fury are completely indistinguishable. What has been created is a vortex of objectless fury. Why are human beings so incredibly suggestible?

• One thing I’d love to change

I’d like to live long enough to find out just how bad things are going to get when the atmosphere begins to warm beyond 2 degrees increase. Sadly as I was born in 1956, I am unlikely to die with any hard notion of how right or wrong I may have been to believe the prophets of doom.

• One thing I hope for

Well, I guess having proposed a future of climate disaster, I have to hope for mankind to survive. Or in fact, civilisation to survive. I hope we can learn and adapt and preserve the essence – what Cormac McCarthy in The Road calls ‘the fire’ – of the spirit that lies behind civilisation.

About six things

‘six things’ is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people, in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts. A new ‘six things’ is published on the site each Saturday.