Geeks Vs Loneliness: giving up the guilt

A few words about low-level guilt, the damage it can do, and what one person is doing about it...

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our weekly column where we try and natter about things that may be affecting you, or people you know. If this is your first GvL article, then firstly, a very warm welcome. Secondly, we’re aware that there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to lots of the things we talk about, and we don’t have miracle cures. We do, however, give a sh… well, y’know.

This week, we’re welcoming back the wonderful Jane Roberts, who wants to talk about guilt. Over to her…

It may not have escaped your notice that we are in a new year. New resolutions, new focus, a brand new you – so proclaims the billboards, magazines, newspapers and television shows that unavoidably litter our lives. We can all work towards a ‘bikini body’, move to clean eating, squeeze another five minutes’ productivity from our day if only we observe and religiously follow these ten easy steps…

Let’s be honest. Sometimes we buy into it. We could do with losing a few stubborn pounds, giving up the nutritionally deficient shop-bought lunches or cut back on the pints. Our souls may benefit from a mindfulness makeover, undertaken every morning before you leave the house that will undoubtedly induce a state of Zen-like calm that will carry you through whatever crisis life choses to throw at you today.

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The guilt trap is set. You can brush your mind with as much enthusiasm as your teeth for a few days, perhaps a few weeks. But the reality of life is late alarms, dog/child sick in your shoes, toast crumbs in your hair (er, that may be just me). A sense of starting the day already behind as you grab a slice of toast or a pastry for breakfast on the run rather than whipping up a green juice in your shiny new Nutribullet.

You’ve downloaded appropriate self-help manuals to your e-reader and yet you find yourself mainlining Stephen King and escapist vampire fluff. There’s a vague sense of self-dissatisfaction as you find yourself mooching round Patisserie Valerie. How did that cake just happen? Your lunch breaks were supposed to be moments of inspiration, as you sit with ink stained fingers pondering the next chapter of your groundbreaking, earth shattering magnus opus that will change the face of both the literary fiction and fantasy genres.

The cake comes with a side helping of guilt. Nagging guilt that says, oh well, I didn’t do the green slush today so I’ll just have a bag of crisps. Before you know it you are travelling home and that guilt extends its clammy hand to the wine bottle and – well. You know what happens next. A hangover supplemented by a croissant and a fresh new wave of guilt.

Low-level guilt is insidious. We probably don’t even realise it’s there half the time, even if we do give a pained smile of recognition whenever we hear Radiohead’s android muttering Fitter Happier More Productive. Inspo blogs, articles and programmes are all well and good but they feed directly into this sense of not quite doing enough, of not being that little bit better.

I suffer from what I term ‘geek guilt’. Quite simply, I never feel geek enough. Never quite hip, never quite up there in the midnight queues for the latest must-see movie. Tottering along behind the cool kids listening hard but never quite catching up. Setting targets – I must read 75 books this year, I must read Marvel’s entire back catalogue; I will see a film in IMAX etc. and so forth. Yes, I’m shouting it out loud if not exactly proud – IMAX has passed me by. My adventures in 3D have not been a success. How could I possibly consider writing for a geek site when my geek coin is so tarnished?

Frankly I’m sick of feeling this low level guilt. Not thin enough, not happy enough, not self-minded enough, not geek enough. I’m tired of the messages spewing out of general and social media, and to a degree in popular culture. I like pulp fiction and I cannot lie. I’ve never watched Game Of Thrones and the books bore me silly. I haven’t seen Star Wars: Rogue One because the stars have never lined up in a favourable position for us to take the time out to go to the flicks. Actually, that one grieves me, but not in a guilt-inducing way and it’ll be on disc soon enough.

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I guess what I’m saying is that I’m chucking out the mantras and the advice this year and trying to wean myself off this low level guilt. I’m never going to heft the twin weights of a Hugo and a Booker, but I can enjoy my writing for what it is – an exorcism of my head for my benefit above all else. The lesson I’ve been taught from my family and from the media is that something is only worthwhile if it attains a certain level of success. It’s all balls. If it makes you happy, then it’s worthy of your time. Though perhaps the cake should be inhaled in moderation.

Green juice isn’t a magic bullet to happiness for me. It works for some, and that’s great. We all have to shuffle along to find our space and our own contentment. For me, that means accepting I’m fallible and I don’t always follow the zeitgeist of my tribe. It’s not a sin to sob happily into my Bronte while dumping the Martins and the Heinleins in the charity shop. Or admit I don’t understand one word in three that China Mieville writes. If I have a resolution this year, it’s to dump the low level guilt. Especially my geek guilt.

So enjoy your caffeine, your cake and your own particular nerd catnip. Ignore those flashing billboards that promise a new you, a new dawn, a better sound system and greater pixel clarity. Be content in being yourself and enjoying what you have (hmm, that sounds suspiciously like a mantra!). If you need a few tweaks here and there to make it better, then go for it. But don’t feel guilty if occasionally you trip. You can get back up again, and chances are there’s someone at your elbow that also loves Stephen King to help you back up.

Above all, do something you love in 2017. Do something new that may surprise you but do it spontaneously, not because you feel you should. Who knows? I may even try IMAX in the near future!

Be your own brilliant self. And thanks so much for reading.