Whenever I drop acid, the final two hours of my trip are spent crying. There's a sense, all pervading, of my own shamefulness. It's a sort of cosmic embarrassment, this terrible realisation of my own visible inadequacy. I find myself sobbing and apologising in someone's arms, asking over and over again, 'Can people see how broken I am?'
For obvious reasons, I avoid psychedelics now. But they have been useful. I know more about myself because of them. A lot of things I used to do mystified me. Now I make sense to myself. And embarrassment, embarrassment was such a useful thing to confront and recognise. I am a middle class, English person with an anxiety disorder — my talent for embarrassment is enormous. 'A shyness', to quote Morrissey, 'that is criminally vulgar'.
Weirdly, this hasn't stopped me performing nude in any number of things. It hasn't stopped me writing a novel length treatment of my awful sex life. But in both of those situations I've felt in control. If we were talking about sitting down to pitch an article, or asking a boy for his number, or even telling an acquaintance that I'd like to hang out friendly-wise... well, no. I wouldn't feel in control. Any of those things could send me into days of navel gazing and stress related IBS. I can recognise, now, what that mess is about. 'What if they see me? And what if what they see is awful?'
I try not to over analyse this. My parents were/are great. I'm still getting shit done. And no one is confident all the time. When I'm not on acid, I doubt anyone who didn't know me well would pick up on it at all. In the end, it's just the normal impulse to be loved, right?
A lot of my friends work as creatives of one sort or another. I've spoken to them about this and they all nod and laugh. Everyone I spoke to, with the exception of one very good looking straight man, seemed to have some version of this voice in their head. Some prickish squatter saying 'If you do this, and make an ass of yourself, it will destroy you'. The conspiracist in me wants to lay this at the feet of advertisers. I want to write something pithy about how capitalism relies on discomfort with ourselves. It's comforting to think of myself as a valiant underdog fighting corporate machinery.
Or, maybe, people are just sweet and vulnerable, and the world is good at teaching us that this is a dangerous way to be. The cause is less important than the solution though. And the solution, whatever it is, is needed urgently. Embarrassment kills. Politeness, Embarrassment's Daily Mail reading alter-ego, has led to the disgusting spectacle of 'civil debates' about whether it's acceptable to let refugees drown, or children starve. I see activists telling people in a position of privilege that talking to their family is one of the most important bits of allyship they can do. But we don't, because it might be awkward. People dying — embarrassment makes us complicit.
The press and the arts are dominated by public school bros. Partly, true, because they own everything. But partly because rich people are trained to never to feel shame. If you were Boris Johnson, if you had been such a dick about gay people and black people in public, and been caught paying to have people beaten up, wouldn't you just be too mortified to live? Wouldn't you retire into seclusion? Public school, alas, means never worrying what the underclass think. Shame, in the UK, definitely functions as a form of social control.
But what would resistance to shame look like? As always, there is a musical number to help; it follow this essay and all 5 minutes are ridiculous. But I think process probably starts by just recognising embarrassment as embarrassment. Asking 'this feeling, right now, is it fear, or is it shame?' Or maybe it starts with embracing failure and foolishness and vulnerability as important parts of a life. Tories and Trumps and other arseholes all seem to run on pride, a sense of their own significance, a panicked drive to maintain status. Maybe the radical thing is to reject that. Maybe there's something in recognising the good types of idiocy. As I get braver, I am learning there are things I am happy to be foolish for.