Long weekends. The spiritual home of existential awakenings. Here’s mine.
Thanks to the long weekend, I have just burned my way through Richard Glover’s ‘Flesh Wounds’. In this thoughtful and entertaining memoir, Glover tells of his peculiar family life, first as the boy, and later the adult son, of self-absorbed and unfeeling parents. In spite of his life, Glover’s words are laced with the vivid imagery and humour of a man who lives without a hint of chagrin, transcending the then and choosing the now. It’s a great read, both in its prose and in the way it prompts you to think about how and why we are who we are.
The most memorable moment for me came right at the end. Having spent chapters detailing the sins and (occasional) virtues of his family members, Glover shifts the focus onto himself and his own personality, in an attempt to draw a causal link between the then and the now, between the parents, the boy and the man.
Glover describes his childhood as having given him a rock-solid ‘crust of confidence’, layered with ‘a bitter, questioning self-contempt’.
There are two things I love about this self-portrait. The first is the idea that we have a crust. That our personality surrounds us like armour, soft and permeable for some, hard and impenetrable for others. Or both, at different times.
The second is Glover’s thoughts on the virtues of confidence. Confidence is a polarising thing. In the eyes of some, confidence is an admirable and appealing trait. To others, and about others, the descriptor ‘confidence’ can do a subtle job of implying arrogance or brashness, qualities to be stifled lest a person ‘grow too big for his boots’/ ‘full of himself’/ ‘tickets’ (you know them all). So its little wonder that there can be a social reluctance to describes oneself as ‘confident’, and to embrace overt displays of ‘confidence’.
Glover has no time for such meek ideals and explains that we must approach life with confidence as though we are riding a bike: ‘Ride it nervously and it will amplify every miscalculation, throwing the overtly anxious to the ground, but ride the bike with bravado and it will shrug off the most egregious of errors. It’s the forward propulsion that gives both the bike, and a life, its stability’. If confidence breeds competence, then surely a crust of confidence is something we can all savour.
Though he extols the merits of confidence, Glover is clear that unwavering confidence is a foolish thing. A crust of confidence will only work if our crusts are peppered with cracks, open to rational forces. Like fear and self-doubt. They help us to ride the bike with caution and to the best of our ability.
The ‘crust’ idea has given me a lens with which to examine my personality in a way I haven’t before, through lack of imagery I suppose. I’d like to believe, as Glover does, that a thick crust of confidence is a good thing, providing a sturdy barrier to external blows. Though such a crust should be lattice-like, allowing rational forces like fear and doubt to temper our confidence with necessary care and reality.
Glover’s story is a good one. Both in its own right and in the way it will leave you scrambling to find new meaning in yours.
So long, long weekend, I’ll think of you often.
Thought Leaders(s): Richard Glover
Book(s): Glover, R (2015) “Flesh Wounds”, ABC Books.