I’m in the middle of what promises to be a brilliant book at the moment: All That Remains, by Sue Black. If you haven’t come across her, she’s an anatomist and forensic anthropologist (and a professor, and a Dame, to boot) who investigates mortal remains in relation to deaths from crime, war, natural disaster or any of the other events that lead to an unexplained death.
There’s a lovely passage where she talks about our identity, and how, at the most basic level, much can be told about who we are from the evidence presented in our various body parts. Our hair recalls what drugs we took regularly and where we lived recently; our tooth enamel contains a record of where we grew up; whilst deep at the base of our skull, the otic capsule contains the only bone in our body that doesn’t renew itself, and can tell us what our mother was eating when we were in the womb. As Black puts it, ‘Proof, if any were needed, that our mums never leave us, and a whole new perspective on the mystery of how they manage to get inside our heads.’
In life, of course, our sense of identity is a much less scientific matter. We’re all different things to different people, including to ourselves. Nowadays, there’s an extra layer in the version of ourselves we present to the world on social media. On Youtube, for example, I’m actually a 70-year old singer-songwriter, Venus Carmichael.
On Facebook, I describe my identity as ‘writer, lawyer, musician, wine drinker,’ which, at least on one level, just about covers it (I’ll get to the difference between lawyer and solicitor in a minute). On Twitter, I go a bit longer on things: ‘Scottish writer and musician. Also appears as parent, husband and part time local government consultant.’ All of which is also true, and I’d like to think my appearances as parent and husband are both meaningful and more than occasional.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? We are all many things to many people. A close family member; a friend; a bandmate; colleague; mentor, even. People talk about ‘bringing the best version of yourself,’ but what is that, really? I feel kind of bad that ‘writer’ and ‘musician’ is up there on my social media feeds as if they’re as important as everything else I do. I don’t even write much these days, apart from this nonsense!
Anyhoo. Just going back to that Twitter persona, a recent change was ‘part time local government consultant’ from ‘cooncil lawyer.’ Next month, I’ll have a decision to make: do commit 100 quid to remaining a member of that esteemed body of men and women, the Law Society of Scotland?
I’m already no longer a practising solicitor (I’ve achieved perfection, haha). That’s because the Council paid for my practising certificate up until I left their employ. However, apparently the Law Society, for no extra fee, kept me on the Register, as a kind of zombie solicitor, unable to legally practise and call myself a solicitor, but still, in a sense, undead in a soliciting sense, until the end of the current certificate’s life in October. I can stay a non-practising member thereafter for the aforementioned annual sum.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ll bother. I can still call myself a lawyer, because I am one, legally. I just won’t be able to call myself a solicitor. Which only leaves the question of what to do with all these ties.
You see, when I entered the profession, all these years ago, it was still de rigeur to wear a suit and tie to the office, and it was a habit I could never break. But now I’m a self-styled local government consultant, and a freestyle lawyer, I kind of feel I can, well, loosen up a little. Be a bit more rock n’ roll in terms of outfit, and go open necked. I know, huh? I’ll still need a few ties for the occasional formal meeting, but nothing like the collection I’ve acquired over the years.
Last week, it was three of my suits that made it to the charity shop. This week, the stripy shirts went down there too – my two remaining suits don’t need no stripes. Next week, it’s the ties. The ties that no longer bind.
Which brings me to this week’s musical release (remember that ‘musician’ styling I also affect?) which is, in a sense, also about shedding a skin, or at least trying on a new one. ‘No Matter Who’ started life as an acoustic guitar and voice demo. However, it owes an obvious debt to Leonard Cohen, lyrically, and probably musically, too. So, although the words are actually quite personal, heartfelt even, they sounded quite a lot like Lenny.
Cohen himself, of course, had a flirtation with synths in the 80s. This goes a bit further than that, however: I basically took all the D minor samples I could find in Mixcraft, and threw them at the melody to see what stuck. Then I mixed thoroughly, adding guitars and synth of my own, and cooked. I’m not convinced it’s finished yet, but I do think you’ll be amused.
Oh, and while I’m at it, as an added bonus I’ve put below the Soundcloud track a poem that popped out the other day. Poetry? There’s another skin I thought I’d shed.
I never told you
I had given up poetry
you missed the sub-clause
on the second last page
of my contract with myself.
I never suggested to you
I had renounced poetry
renunciations of that sort
would be clearly evidenced
by formal shouting from mountain tops.
I never committed
to giving up poetry
that type of commitment
demands, well, commitment
which (as you well know) I find difficult.
So let the ceremonies
(however they may be structured)
begin; let the vein be re-opened
Let what is done be undone
And let us talk no more
of poetry; for, anyway,
who gave you authority
to act as my spokesperson?
Even my imaginary friend
knows better than you.