“me + mr thornton” meta: personal / emotional

Ellie (Christine Tremarco) trapped in her doubts and the arms of John Mulligan (Richard Armitage) in Moving On: Drowning Not Waving. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com


I love to sleep; I can do it at the drop of the hat; I do it way too much. But I’ve never been a quick or self-controlled waker, a fact that’s hurt many of my close relationships. If you’re in the same bed with me, I make you sign a waiver of damages / agreement to hold harmless if you speak to me before I have my face on. Lately, I’ve been thinking: it’s the beaten dog that snarls a final defiant snarl before it makes itself cower again, waiting for the next kick.

In case it’s not entirely clear, I sleep a lot because I like it better than being awake. If I’m awake, my mind is on. If it can be in flow, great. That’s why I ended up with the work I have, I think. To occupy the restless mind.

During term, the morning wake up has to be drawn out just enough for me to organize my thoughts and cut off as soon as I notice myself sliding into meta-reflection. I have to figure out how to control the day but I can’t start thinking about the implications of everything. The thing I always used to say to myself as a teenager: take it like a man, chiquita. Or, as my father would put it, less delicately or paradoxically: get up off your goddamn ass. In the end, brutality always works. Especially on the girl desperate for approval. I just want someone to say I’m good. That’s the beginning, the middle, the end.


Lucas North (Richard Armitage) pulls his sidearm out from under his pillow after being wakened unexpectedly in Spooks 8.5. My cap. If I slept with firearms, this might be my reaction to waking up.


But if I’m not good, or if, as so often, approval is withheld, then at least I am not lazy.

And I can verify that I worked hard whether or not I am good, whether or not anyone approves. Just do the next thing.

Self-scorn: you’re not tired already, are you?

I, too, was raised to love work. First you work hard because it pleases someone, perhaps because it is the only way to please, and then the someone is gone and there is only the work and you stop thinking about the pleasure. The pleasure is assumed. Virtue is its own reward. And you associate work with love and you love it and it loves you. Americans make this work and we see that it is good. I built my own system of ethics around work.

Perfectionism doesn’t help. It makes it even easier to work more.

I read all these stories that glorify how hard work made people into the people they are and I think yes and no and everything in between and why the hell does no one ever admit that they were lucky and why the hell does everything have to involve a principle? Is the one who works the hardest really the best? Is being able to grind yourself into powder by sheer force of will really a capacity to be praised? And if work is so great, why don’t these stories ever say anything about burnout? Why don’t they ever say anything about value for time spent?

And why don’t they admit: in the end, whatever work does for you, that’s not what makes you good enough. It’s only ever the result. The work is just a way of lashing yourself into obedience to whatever’s demanding it at the moment. If I think badly enough of myself before I get out of bed, maybe I’ll be afraid enough to get those things done. If I am, I can do it the next morning and achieve the same result. If I’m not, I can do it the next morning with just that much more scornful force behind the self-abuse. What a loser you are, baby. I mean it. Whether you get something done or not. If it’ll make you do the next thing, I’ll just keep telling you that.

Or, and this is key: why don’t they ever say anything about love?

You start off loving something and then the work seems so insurmountable and you say to yourself it’s not worth it and someone says to you don’t be a quitter don’t be a quitter don’t be a quitter (I can tell you exactly where we were when my mother said this to me the first time, I was eight, the entire memory is painfully preserved in my mind as if in a wax museum) and you say right if I really love this I won’t give up yet I do love it I do love it I do love I do love it I do I do except what about the sunk cost fallacy and isn’t there some point where there is only work and pain and obligation no more love? Or how to resolve the love/pain axis? There’s a reason I’m not a romantic, after all. It’s no coincidence. All love, too, is an act of the will. I can make myself love this, I can make myself love you, I can make myself love work, I can make myself get this done. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger except when it kills us but there’s a reward for that, too.

If I could just discipline my mind about you and push you into the same box that I’ve pushed my desires into all these years. You, and that other big thing. Why shouldn’t I be able to? Such a powerful mind you have, Servetus, it’s been said to me so many times. It’s not usually a compliment when people say it to my face, it’s always a jibe. Bet you think you’re smart, but you’re not. You may be book smart but you’ve got no common sense. Wish I had your brains, I’d have made way more out of them than you have. If I were you, I’d have gone to Harvard. Lucky you have such a great brain, because you’re clumsy as fuck. Wish I had your brain, but you’re so ugly you need it. If I only had your mind, if I only had your control of your mind.

Except that I’ve never been in control of my mind, and that’s never been more clear than when I addressing my fantasies about you. Now, with no students to present obligations, and the tasks I have to complete during a day being slightly lower order, I find myself devoting most of my morning thinking phase to dreaming about you in my bed.

So the pleasure in these long mornings of fantasy, Richard Armitage, stems precisely because in your arms I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, I get enough done. For you, I am good. The deliverable is not done but still I work and still you love me.

What I didn’t think about initially, though, is what you would want out of these fantasies, or how you’d demand your own recompense for loving me.

~ by Servetus on June 4, 2012.

45 Responses to ““me + mr thornton” meta: personal / emotional”

  1. *UK Expat Grinning like a Cheshire Cat*

    I really love how you can sit right on top of the answer – even if you can’t necessarily understand it or WHY it is the answer. And yet you unerringly find your way there, able to move (even blindfolded) to the spot that feels true. It’s its own genius, really.

    *UK Expat slowly disappears, leaving behind her famous Grin for Servetus*

    Sorry, babe, just left LA & gotta catch the flight to NYC for work, then London – and you know how difficult it is to keep traveling East.

    Speaking of sleep … 🙂


    • I have no idea what you’re talking about. Seriously. However, I hope that you survive this week! Travel safely.


      • Hi Servetus –

        Sorry about that – I was just grinning like a Cheshire Cat while reading your post. (You really didn’t like me disappearing and leaving behind the grin?)

        You say you sleep to turn off your brain. You talk of your brain and how people refer to it in ways that are actually backhanded compliments. You seem to be in conflict between your body’s desire for sleep and the reality of controlling your brain while you are awake.

        In short, THIS image came to mind when I read your post:

        It was also covered during Bill Moyers’ interview with Joseph Campbell for The Power of Myth. Notice the line between conscious and unconscious in the picture? Notice where the source of the energy comes from? Well below the conscious. Yet from where the ego sits, it thinks it’s in the center, running the show.

        I was grinning because your body was putting you where you needed to be to have access to your energy. Your body – its own genius of intelligence and information.

        Sorry for being such a metaphysical tease. 😉


        • The grin is enchanting, but the explanation is more useful 🙂


          • Ahh, excellent! I’m looking up at the bookshelf here in London and no surprise, there’s ‘The Power of Myth’ up there. 😉

            Here’s additional blurb from P142-143 (next to the image in link) to further illustrate how parts of your post triggered Campbell for me:

            …. Moyers: What’s running the show?

            Campbell: What’s running the show is what’s coming up from way down below. The period when one begins to realize that one isn’t running the show is adolescence, when a whole new system of requirements begins announcing itself from the body. The adolescent hasn’t the slightest idea how to handle all this, and cannot but wonder what it is that’s pushing him – or even more mysteriously,
            pushing her. [UK Expat: Ha ha ha! Women are more mysterious!]

            Moyers: We hear people say, “Get in touch with yourself.” What do you take that to mean?

            Campbell: It’s quite possible to be so influenced by the ideals and commands of your neighborhood that you don’t know what you really want and could be. I think that anyone brought up in an extremely strict, authoritative social situation is unlikely ever to come to the knowledge of himself.

            Moyers: Because you’re told what to do.

            Campbell: You’re told exactly what to do, every bit of the time. You’re in the army now. So this is what we do here. As a child in school, you’re always doing what you’re told to do, and so you count the days to your holidays, since that’s when you’re going to be yourself….

            “You’re in the army now,” sounds a bit to me like “Get up off your goddamn ass” and your own programmed version to, “Take it like a man, chiquita” 😦


            • I kept thinking of the journey as described by Campbell, but also by T.S.Eliot, when he wrote of coming to the same place and knowing it again for the first time. (Forgive me. My library is currently in storage …)


              • Indeed, Leigh!!! It’s the new light – the inner sight, or insight – one now has as an adult to shed light on old learned mantras (that while well intended for a child, may not suit the adult). Somehwere else on this blog I posted a yoda link where he says, ‘you must unlearn what you have learned’. 🙂

                The reference to the books on my shelves here in London comes from a joke of how ‘unconscious’ I was while packing books to be shipped here from the US (only 2 shelves) and how Servetus’s blog posts either literally names a book on the shelf, or brings to mind images or passages of another. It seems her journey and the books I have on my shelves are quite aligned! 😀


                • I think I mentioned that I need to read ‘The Power of Myth.” Esp now that I’ve become such a Jungian. That wasn’t on my reading list as an undergraduate, and I remember when it had its huge heyday and PBS was constantly broadcasting Power of Myth interviews, thinking that it was nonsense. Guess I’ve learned my lesson 🙂


  2. I’m just going to spill out some thoughts and responses:

    Your post reminds me of a quote that I am going to misquote (probably): Some people think it’s better to get up at 6 a.m. and write a bad novel than to sleep in until noon and write a good one.

    This also reminds me of a quote of my dad: “I’d rather be lucky than smart.” (fortunately he was both, but he acknowledged the role of luck in this world)

    Work is important, and a big part of my growing up pysche, too, but oh, you need some fun in your life. I would hope that Richard Armitage provides some fun, but from recent posts, it looks like North and South isn’t as happy for you as it is for me.

    And those cracks from people who said you were smart (in a bad way): — grrrrr! Reminds me of a jerk who said (When I said I was going to law school) “You’ll never get married” and I thought, “NOT TO YOU!!!”

    I think fear is a big factor for many professional women — I fight that battle, too. (They’re going to find out I’m not as smart as I pretend to me). Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to redemption stories and the principle of grace in my faith and my life. I believe that God loves us all, even the slackers, and there can be hope and joy in this world.

    I guess all this is to say, write it out. Hopefully in the writing you’ll find wisdom and peace and know what you want and how to get it. Best wishes.


    • The deal with North & South wasn’t ever that it made me “happy” (beyond a sort of odd visual euphoria — subject of next post) but that it grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. Armitagemania has often made me “happy,” but it also feels on its best days like a sort of crazed euphoria. At the point where I’ve been writing around this for two years it’s time to (in the argot of my forefathers) shit or get off the pot.

      I think at this point I have no choice but to write — but I appreciate the encouragement!


  3. Hi servetus…

    I can relate! Actually what you have written about is precisely why I love North and South so much. I totally identify with Thornton.
    Actually I identify with this character in some concrete ways: my family is from the north of England, so this particular Thornton-esque/working class, honest work for honest rewards etc ethic has been drummed into me since early childhood. As well as the love of education that Thornton espouses.
    I’m not much help, I’m in the same predicament, re overwork. Personally, I do find hope and redemption in N&S and as another comment above says, especially what i see as its spiritual dimensions.


    • Hi, smur — no idea why your comments are going to spam every single time.

      I cut the most of the sections of this post out about the ways our parents socialized us into this ethic, but yes, it was an explicit piece of my childhood that I’m now asking about more seriously.

      Thanks for the sympathy. This is the tail end of my mid-life crisis, and I just need to be a little more proactive. The last few months I’ve been watching but now I have to become the hero of my own life and take some action …


      • Hi servetus,
        I’ve had certain other realisations about my childhood conditioning that led to a work/study obsession. I can relate about alcoholism in a relative.For me this is linked to identifying with Thornton and his motives- family suicide etc.
        Please feel free to email if you want. Probably the best address is not the one you have, as I rarely check it, but my work one.Just google my full name – its in the email address- and I’m the academic biologist on the other side of the world from you.


  4. Writing is simply the best mode of expression. (Well, there is music; there is dance; and acting; and Monet; if you are gifted those ways.) If not, writing and words and poetry are the medium. Do not fear the opprobrium of any, for what we write (Well, maybe there are limits :D) but write your thoughts.


  5. Geez, Servetus, I’d give you a hug if I could. Are you saying that you watch North and South because you look at Thornton, at Richard Armitage’s eloquent performance, and think, “yes, that’s it, that’s what it’s like to be me; to be Pegasus hitched to a plow”? (At least, that was the way I described that feeling to myself, when I felt that way. But I had those feelings years before there ever was a North and South miniseries.)
    If so, I’m hoping that your writing and sharing helps you feel better.
    Years ago, I had a boss who said to me that if she had been me, she would have done so much better than I had. I’ve always wished I could go back in time and tell her that she was wrong, that she wouldn’t have, because if she’d been me–she would have been me. And she would have made my choices, not hers. But I can only defend myself in my imagination.
    I hope you have favorite things you like to do, to fill your inner well.


    • yes, or to modify slightly: I think the series grabbed me because I watched him and thought: here he is working his ass off over this thing he ostensibly loves. So Pegasus hitched to the plow that he loves but which is slowly killing him. And which he, for reasons of moral virtue, can’t disavow. The other themes come out more in some of the other metawriting. This one turned out to be solely about work and the love of it and resentments related to loving it so much.

      Thanks for the comment and good wishes. Really, the blog has helped a lot; I’m not sure I’d be this clear on a lot of stuff right now if not for it.

      How other people would have managed my life: the bane of my existence.


  6. Exactly.


  7. I figured your brain never shuts off. I for one can just stare at a wall (or TV screen) with relish. This week is a good example of why — way too much stuff going on at work and home. I have a lot of catching up to do with your blog and look forward to finding the time to read everything you’ve posted recently.


    • yeah, if I am staring vacantly at a wall, it’s usually because I am drunk or extremely, extremely depressed. Thanks for making the effort to keep reading, I know it’s been heavy lately!


  8. Oh my god, Servetus. I’ve re-read this four times now and it hits so many buttons with me. It makes so much sense why you’ve soured on academia and also so much sense why RA is such a relief. I don’t know what to say except that this is one of the most meaningful, lucid, brief posts you’ve written, at least for me.


  9. So poignant and true. Sometimes I think of RA and writing as my ‘person from porlock’ come to break up my constant thoughts and anxieties when everything seems like work for work’s sake


  10. …so.. I should congratulate myself for the lack of passion?


    • possibly. I don’t know the answer to this question yet. I do know that when you really care about your work and about work in itself, it’s easy to be betrayed by both those sentiments. I wonder what it would be like to work fulltime at something I essentially didn’t care about that much. I’ve never had a job like that, and I don’t know if that’s because I can’t help but care about the quality and outcome of my work, or because if I had a job like that I’d go crazy.


  11. Thanks Servetus, for writing this and being so honestly and insitent. It sheerly overwhelms me in its downright veracity. This is another piece of a puzzle to my own scenario (probably being a bit more in the middle of a mid-life crises, as I realise now!)


    • It seems like it’s natural, once you realize that your life is approximately half over, that you’d reevaluate. I wish on no one the level of pain I’ve experienced though. I hope your thoughts are more pleasant than mine have been.


  12. Thank you for sharing this and for being so honest about the love and work issues. I believe that you are a writer, and as such compelled to write. I truly hope you find satisfaction in writing.

    In the four decades I’ve worked, I never had a job I liked, let alone loved. There were no other options, no “do what you love and the money will come,” not with people depending on me. I still took pride in my work, and exhausted myself doing it well, perhaps because I was taught that competence was my only excuse for living. “Pegasus hitched to a plough”, perhaps, but for all of us, life changes and we respond as best we can.


    • Thanks. So here’s an operative question:

      I had a job for twenty years in which I was required to write (and did so successfully) but the job started to kill me. So is the answer a different job that involves a writing requirement? Or is the answer a job that requires very little of me, so that I can live my life outside of work, writing? In other words — how can I come to see work differently so that it doesn’t assault me in the ways that work has in the past, or can be separated from employment?

      I.e., the job I had / have — history professor — was a “do what you love” job. To some extent it was also the consequence of a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. If I could do anything I wanted now, within reason, should I look for another job that fulfills those criteria? Or should I say, the job is meaningless, the point is the writing, and just try to find a job that involves me as little as possible?


      • I would say find a job that pleases you on some level, that gives you enough income and benefits that you are not reduced to penury, but a job that you do not find oppressive and that does not demand that you publish regularly. Teaching is very demanding, emotionally as well as intellectually and physically, and I think you need a job that won’t have you for breakfast.

        I think you also need to be able to step back from your parents. They’re not going to listen to you, and the pros have no business putting that responsibility on you. My parents were both alcoholics, and I nursed both of them through end-stage cancer, using paid aides to cover while I worked full-time. I also nursed my husband through 8 years of cancer and other illnesses while I worked to support the family. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, perhaps, but we should not bear the crap that unthinking fools put on us as well.

        I’d suggest doing a Meyers-Briggs and an Allport test of values, just to clean the slate, and see what prospects occur to you.

        Several historians have been able to retread as novelists, but only, it seems, with some independent means of support.

        For far too long, I was a “success”, a combination of intellectual whore (doing it for the money) and janitor, and perpetually drained by what I did. Looking back, it was a waste of a life, but confronted with the same choices, I could not have chosen differently. Only when I’ve respites from such demands have I been free to write, instead of having to set aside anything I want to do. Now retired, having red-lined my life, I am finally really writing.


        • I appreciate the job comments. I think it’s hard to comment on other people’s family situations without knowing all the details. In my case the immediately pending decisions affect not just me, but several people whose fates mine is tied up with. I had an MBTI and a bunch of career tests in the fall, and unfortunately they said exactly the same thing they did when I took them in 1994.

          I take my own experiences and your comments to suggest that in fact there may be no way out. I’ve thought that before.


          • Yes, it’s true that one can’t know a person’s family situation, except from the inside. Please forgive me if I spoke out of turn.

            I tried getting out, to do something different. I applied to be a research chef; I made it to the third interview, only to be rejected. Then I tried working for an NGO that didn’t care about my CV, only to find it was just as political, venal, and depressing as anything else I’d done.

            If there truly is no way out, you may have to start taking the long view, if you haven’t already. How are you going to survive the next two decades, preferably with your mind intact? In my career, I saw many succumb to stress diseases. Despite learning coping tactics, I was not unscathed by years of inadequate sleep, overwork, constant struggle, financial desperation, and minimal support. My health took a beating. I am still here, but the damage was done.

            I simply pray that somehow you can avoid what happened to me.


            • Not at all. I’m a bit stymied about where to put some things, and it’s a simple fact that this blog is the only place that my family doesn’t know about. So some stuff gets put here because this is the only place for it and because at times certain things that are part of the problem are accessible (many of my emotions are usually not). I know putting stuff down invites comment, even if I close comments on the post itself. So I don’t know what to do about that, and the stuff gets put here.

              Historically, social patterns suggest that indeed there are trajectories from which the average person cannot escape and to which she must resign herself. I’m open to that possibility, or to the possibility that my life choices have made certain things impossible. Or that I can’t change enough, quickly enough.


      • If it were me, I’d go with choice #2.
        I’m in a job where the environment is wonderful, however the job is not. But I have alot of responsibilities for others so I can’t quit. And even though I’ve always been the type of person who wants to do my job well, I’ve never been the type of person who loves work for the sake of work. If my personal circumstances where different, I’d be very happy driving off into the sunset to do something more fulfilling than “work.”
        Now I see how you are at a crossroads like Thornton. So is the question “have you CHANGED ENOUGH to pursue real happiness and/or fulfillment”?


        • That’s precisely the question I’m asking myself, sloan 🙂 Expect a post on this, too, soon …


  13. You may find “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” valuable, too. I studied it as an undergrad and gave some lectures based on that model when I was teaching. I don’t think you’ve learned your lesson, so to speak, because we are continually surprised by the relevance of things we didn’t think important at the time. The Jungian model is just one way of seeing out of many, I find, but the notion of the heroic journey really hits home on so many levels.


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  15. […] do that again, to evaluate my appearance in order to buy clothes, makes me so frightened that I fall instantly asleep while thinking about it the first time. I know how I feel, I think, so if that’s how I look […]


  16. […] over it already, shithead, and get your ass in gear. That’s his […]


  17. […] oh, the terror of not being good enough, of not having worked hard enough. I cannot, cannot, cannot get caught up in the same trap, where the discourse about my […]


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  19. […] me when I read it. I like to be the fan of a class act. And long-time readers are familiar with my own positive relationship with work. I’m also leery of saying too much critical about this issue, because it’s a facet of the […]


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