|William John Harper is a writer from Maryhill, Glasgow, living in London. This is an extract from his forthcoming first collection of short stories – ‘The Vanquished Companions.’ He is also best friends with a black Labrador dog called Wrangler.|
It Came to Light
By William John Harper
It came to light on Monday. By Friday, the advance was irrevocable. Special K breezed in at 10:00am, having announced his pending arrival ten minutes before by text. People should be on their toes. He considered his bonhomie leadership style to be unparalleled across the polling research industry. It was a hot day and he removed his incongruous tweed cap, appearing grateful the air conditioning was on.
What on earth, Harry Vilnius thought, was that item of clothing supposed to denote? Corporate had a stake in rural? Peasant chic? Or was it just an accessory to his soft, winning, jocular Irish brogue, which previously had made certain his promotion over Harry?
“Charismatic Kenneth,” Harry said sarcastically, looking down at his boss’s impossibly pointed, brown leather Italian shoes.
Harry’s feet were a source of worry. He had two hammer toes. People close to him had always looked aghast when he revealed his gnarled digits. He joked that his mother had bound them as a child, desperate that he should become a principal member of the ballet. They were just feet after all, a lower extremity of the legs and a means of getting from A to B. It was like they never really knew were where they were going, curled red and angry at their aimless pilot. Those toes rendered him with a most peculiar gait.
He consulted all manner of podiatrists and psychologists. In desperation he would exclaim: “What bloody shoes should I wear?” He even joined a self-help support group called ‘Olympic Pedal Power.’ The group was convinced that he had a valence for holding all the stress and turbulence from life directly in his feet. This made sense to him. As a young child, anxiety and the brutal pace of the world often combined to give him a strong sense that he was about to fall off.
“Have you come about the break-in?” Harry said, engaging in direct eye-contact.
“What break-in?” Kenneth replied.
Located on the London boundary of Hackney and Islington, the polling research unit sat near the interchange system at the junction of Old Street and City Road, rubbing shoulders and enjoying elevation with all the web-based companies around Silicon Roundabout.
Harry eyed Kenneth suspiciously. Was that bastard bluffing? he thought.
Harry had arrived early to work this morning to deal with an emergency data sample and probability error after Kenneth had called late on the Sunday evening. Kenneth had said the Chief himself had discovered the anomaly on the Saturday. Harry despised probability issues as much as he resented his methodology being brought into question. The one redeeming feature about this research was that it was like being left-hand dominant. Everyone thought you were psychic. Being left-handed did proffer an advantage of confidence in this respect. His Italian mother had drilled that into him from an early age. She would calm him down following his dyspraxia events. She would insist:
“Darling Harry, in my language, they say ‘sinistra’ – sinister. But no, it is not. It is extraordinary.”
Hunched over his computer, he had momentarily looked to the adjacent wall as if in search of inspiration. In large bright green felt-tipped scrawled letters, it had read:
‘Pisshead…Coming for you…’
Bloody hell, he’d thought, alarmed. He took this as strongly indicative of his levels of stress and preoccupation, that having come in and turned on his computer, he still hadn’t noticed this glaring message.
He had a further double-take of the wall and quite inexplicably felt an enormous sense of reassurance. “Finally,” he’d said. “Someone is coming to get me from this hell…”
He did then start to worry. Was it obvious he was relying considerably on the Beaujolais lately? This could be anyone of twenty people or so. Was it that bastard Kenneth, trying to throw him off balance? Harry took a photograph of the defaced wall and then wiped it down leaving a residual smear. Well, he had thought, if this was someone’s idea of a prank, it could be construed as slightly sinister and menacing. He couldn’t though, shake off this accompanying sense of comfort and consolation. It seemed counter-intuitive. He noted for the first time in years, his contracted toes that were always gnawing away at his insoles, suddenly relaxed and softened. This was another sign of synchronicity. He resolved to say nothing and would start observing people discreetly. Someone wanted his full attention.
“The probability error,” Kenneth said, ignoring the question of the break-in. “That’s why I’m here. Have you adjusted the data? The Chief is relying on this.”
Harry dispatched the question by blinding Kenneth with some maths. He understood that ‘Special K’ could not do detail. The discussion then leaned towards the abstract.
“You are a bit like me…” Kenneth said, “But opposite really. You have a reputation for being a bit quiet and serious. Smart. Yes. But, a bit…grandiose…”
He then gestured, waving his hand as if the whole idea of reputations was something other – lesser – people engage in.
“A lot of people think I can’t be serious, but I can,” he added with emphasis.
He then began to unfold his arms, placing them at either side of the desk.
“I had a pretty easy time, when I first came to the organisation – coasted really…then someone took against me…”
“Really?” Harry said. “Who exactly are we talking about? It’s very hard for me to contextualise.”
“It’s really best not to name names, in these types of situations, ” Kenneth said, as though he was a benign paternal figure, unaware in his reverie, that he was five years the junior of Harry.
“Anyways, they made my life utter hell, really going after me…even to the point where I was about to throw the towel in…”
“What was the strategy then?” Harry asked curiously.
Kenneth went on to describe that he had modelled his approach on the American presidential campaign.
“I made sure I didn’t antagonise them too much and focused my energies on my supporters and then – the floating voters. Eventually, these two groups combined and effectively cancelled the other out…” he said, smiling.
Kenneth had come from outside the company from what seemed like nowhere to take the national leadership role after Harry had put in some years chasing it. This was crushing. Kenneth was now being tipped for the potential European referendum lead, should the maths add up and the Chief was comfortable with the national prediction.
As Kenneth’s star had risen across the organisation, Harry’s standing steadily declined and diminished. People did not seem to notice his slow transition from being good-natured to being moderately desperate. And then there was the drinking. It seemed like an inescapable downward spiral. With little control over the incoming commissions and being reliant on Kenneth’s patronage, he found himself at a disadvantage in most domains. There was significant pressure building towards the general election with the sheer volume of polls that required his analysis and the cracks were beginning to show. He had broken down, sobbing one night at Olympic Pedal Power.
“Maybe, I’m just all dried up inside…its style over substance, I tell you. What would my poor Mamma say?” he had wept, uncontrollably.
This mobilised his group into rescue mode. They were glad to be distracted from their own individual problems and were pleased to have a project and some currency in the form of hapless Harry. They decided that a Carl Gustav Jung approach would furnish Harry and them all with the relevant meaning. After weighing up the evidence, they concluded that Harry needed ‘individuation.’ He was too meshed with his issues.
Pleased with himself and his identification with the President of the United States, Kenneth looked to the floor, smiling sagely. He began to describe that the game-changing moment for him was when he discovered the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test. This was popular practice within the aspirant executive demographic.
Citing his own four-digit domain code as though it were a secret, guilty revelation, he began clumsily to suggest that perhaps the key issue could be that Harry might just be somewhat unaware of himself. He inferred further using one of his familiar rugby metaphors.
“You see, I think I’m a full-back, when really, I’m an inside-centre…”
He then switched gears to insistent mode, delivered as if nothing would hold back this inside-centre from ensuring the try-touchdown. He told Harry that all that was needed was a simple online test. This could be arranged as early as Wednesday. Kenneth would not wait idly around.
“I’m going to get you a coach, I am,” he said. “Someone external, that you can really chill down with and then you’ll be on your way-like…”
Harry looked blankly at him, thinking: wasn’t it the case that the validity and reliability on the application of these tests were thought to be comparable to astrology?
“Look, I know you’re not happy. Let me speak to the Chief. Let’s exploit his networks too…” Kenneth said definitely. “I will help you.”
Harry then again felt an enormous sense of comfort and wellbeing quite distinct from Kenneth’s reassurance. Olympic Pedal had primed him on finding meaning. The more open he could become to the Jungian support, the more he would notice synchronous events. He realised his moment.
Harry turned to his computer to show Kenneth a recent email he had just received from the elite Leadership Academy. Following an arduous application, Harry was cordially invited to attend an exclusive research Masterclass on Neuroscience and Workforce performance conference that coming Friday.
The invite framed the Masterclass as an opportunity to network but crucially, it was also a space for executive members to partner with the Academy and review the marketplace for rising stars. It was common knowledge that following these conferences, a small group were selected and advanced on to the prestigious leadership programme itself and then, higher purposes. Kenneth was a member of the alumni.
“Look,” Harry said. “I don’t want to play inside-centre, whatever that actually means? I don’t actually follow rugby. This is an ambitious programme and I need to be on it…”
Kenneth raised his eyebrows, got up to leave and as he was tugging at the door said: “Send me the email and I’ll talk to the Chief…”
He then turned and said: “Ciao, ciao,” before closing the office door.
Following this interaction, Harry could not be sure that Kenneth was behind the glaring sign on the wall.
He puzzled over these events and coincidences that seemed related but did not appear to be caused by one another. The rational and research focussed part of his mind said, in no uncertain terms, that this was just an unpremeditated connection or indeed, nothing other than retrospective effort after the event. But, ever since he had laid his soles bare to the Pedal Jungians, phenomena were emerging that increasingly could not be discounted.
He remembered that it had started over the course of the last year when Kenneth had sent him to Glasgow to oversee a plethora of polls that had been commissioned against the backdrop of the Independence question. During some downtime he felt this unusual compulsion to visit the Glasgow School of Art. He signed on for the tourist tour and had goose bumps like golf balls as he marvelled at the splendour of its library and the stunning and inspiring view from the famous Hen Run, lovingly enshrined by its architect – Mr. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Walking around inside the mind of genius is bound to have a visceral effect, Harry thought. A short time after his visit, the whole thing went up in flames. It was as though fate itself wanted him to be one of the last people ever to enjoy that unique point of view.
On the Wednesday Harry started cramming early for his exam. More synchronicity. He could hardly believe what he was reading. He laughed to himself. It transpired that Isabel Briggs Myers was an American author and co-producer of this standard personality inventory that Kenneth was recommending. She had embellished none other than Carl Jung’s theoretical framework.
Harry studied on and further learned that Jung believed that there are four principal psychological functions in how the world is experienced: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. Carl regarded psychological type as similar to left or right handedness. Individuals are either born with, or progress, certain valued ways of perceiving and deciding. One of these four functions is considered to be dominant most of the time. Harry was curious about what Jung would make of this current – bastardisation of his psychological types? He scanned the flimsy research and evidence base. – Probably turning in his grave, and how prescient, he thought, as he read, that Isabel’s first foray into literature was with a national award-winning detective novel called ‘Murder Yet to Come’.
Harry completed the test and was informed that following analysis he would have the results by close of play on Thursday. Perfect timing, he mused, for his attendance to the scheduled Masterclass springboard on the Friday. He intended to raise his profile and get a sense of what golden opportunities lay ahead of him.
The night before, Harry could not sleep. He had to admit that even to his precise and applied mind-set, the number of confounding variables challenged every construct he held dear. He couldn’t put his finger on it, something was fizzing alright.
This all swirled around his mind; the accumulating coincidences, the green note from on high; this sense of consolation, perhaps luck, finally smiling on him. This was the first time in years that he did not feel a compulsion to apply his probability algorithms to predict the outcome of the context and assuage his high levels of anxiety. He was simply going to let this happen.
On the Friday he made his way to Senate House where the conference was being held. Arriving just on time he entered the great hall that held fifteen round tables facing a large white empty screen, with some two-hundred participants excitedly networking and gossiping, against the background noise of chinking coffee cups. Immediately, Harry clocked the Chief sat at the head of a table to the back of the room as he took up a place on a central table just as the presenting Neuroscientist began ushering for some quiet.
The Neuroscientist began with an exposition on sleep, stress and circadian rhythms. The conference participants from both the commercial and public sectors were enraptured by his accessible style of delivery. They were all signed up to increasing productivity in their respective domains and gaining every advantage possible.
As if to humanise and conflate himself with his content, the Neuroscientist made repeated reference to two of his closest friends – one a hostage negotiator, the other researching the brains of Buddhist monks. Harry wondered what it would be like – being down the pub with that lot. The presenter recounted an anecdote about attaching a car battery to one of his student’s head, rendering her unable to consider detail. He reported that after just one night of sleep deprivation, amygdala or fight and flight activation increases by sixty-per-cent in response to negative stimuli. He stated that this initial deprivation can have antidepressant effects but cautioned about long-term problems. Moving on to the subject of creativity, he was insistent that the hippocampus, a seahorse-like creature, with huge responsibility for learning and memory, is adversely affected by repeated and prolonged exposure to sustained stress.
“The brain becomes completely incapable of being creative,” he emphasised, pointing to a picture of a glowing cross section of an MRI scan on his large slide.
Seizing his moment, Harry attempted to distinguish himself. He valiantly raised his hand, directing a question, breaking the unstated reverence in the room.
“How would you explain the notion of the tortured artist?” he said.
“People think they’re being creative, but they’re not. In fact, they are almost always rehearsing a previous behaviour. It is not creativity in the true sense of the word…its repetition…” said the Neuroscientist, imperiously.
Next he started on left-handed people. He was unequivocal that there was entirely no scientific evidence on the difference in the brains of left or right-hand dominant people. Harry sat there – incredulous.
Then the main conference topic of ‘Mindfulness’ and the primary task of the day, namely: widespread wholesale adoption across the private and public sector’s leadership – was approached with an interesting introduction.
“I’ve read over five hundred papers on this,” the Neuroscientist said authoritatively. “But only three of them are any good…”
Yet more synchronicity, Harry thought. The pedals Jungians were also teaching him this key skill as an alternative to his Beaujolais bingeing.
The Neuroscientist went on further that it wasn’t a ‘super-therapy’ and that the main problem with the research is that in most studies, it is usually compared to ‘nothing.’ He was overseeing an intriguing and contemporary study on a cross parliamentary group of MPs to understand what effects this might have on policy formation. He wasn’t a practitioner himself but a strong advocate, as studies had shown an increase in sleep-related brain plasticity. Then in a moment of solemnity, he said: “It’s too early to say yet, but it may also reduce spontaneous positive emotion.”
Why is the Dalai Lama always smiling? Harry thought.
Towards the end, each table was asked to consider the presentation, its general implications for their host domains and then to identify someone to lead and feedback from each table via a roving microphone. Thirty minutes of chattering commenced. Harry predicted that, in these types of situations – three rivals usually emerge and attempt to dominate proceedings with half-baked thoughts and theories. He listened quietly. One bloke suggested that they should go around the table and that whoever had the best grip should do the feedback. A lady directly opposite Harry raised her eyebrows. He just intuitively understood that the microphone would somehow be passed to him. The cumulative effect of his organisational humiliations and defeats would soon be consigned to history as he removed his nicotine gum whilst watching the conference assistant snake the microphone around the room.
She came at the table from an unexpected angle and thrust the microphone at him. He had eleven people around him: eight avoidant types and zero consensus from the competing three. This was his opportunity. He took the microphone and made a faux gesture as if to pass it over but then just pressed on. Harry thanked the Neuroscientist for his stimulating presentation and highlighted that all innovation with regard to stress management was welcome, and was indeed, practiced assiduously in some key areas of both the public and commercial sectors. However, he did pose the question, that the emerging austerity envelope and competing privatisation agenda seemed to point to dangerously heightened levels of stress across the board and that it could be construed as spectacularly naive that people might just observe this stress at the front of their minds, as it were, and not engage radically as a proportionate response? The Neuroscientist shrugged his shoulders, accepting this as a rhetorical question before moving on to the other tables and then drawing the conference to a successful close.
Wasn’t all of eternity available in the moment? – marvelled Harry, as he made his way back to the office and mulled over the research, both his and theirs.
Harry arrived at his office and opened his emails. There was one already waiting for him from the Academy.
At six-fifty-six that evening, the Chief himself sent an email of apology. He outlined that the executive had been reminded on Thursday to state their position but they could not honour the authorisation at this precise time. He was very angry that the Academy had notified Harry so quickly, thus ‘robbing’ both Kenneth and himself of the opportunity to do so in a more ‘respectful’ way.
Harry inhaled three slow, deep and long breaths, valuing the corresponding reduction in muscle tension and the gradual loosening of his thoughts, just as the Pedal Jungians had shown him.
The Chief’s words were helpful. Three roles were emerging, two clearly defined. He had cast the Academy as ‘perpetrator’ and had identified the executive as ‘victim’.
Harry looked at the photo on his phone of the large green graffiti as he printed out his test results. Overleaf he marked:
Re: Adesso Parto.
In common with Ms Isabel Myers Briggs and just four percent of the general population, I share the rare domain code: INFP (introversion, intuition, feeling and perception). According to Isabel’s script, high profile roles are to be avoided as well as excessive social interaction with large numbers of people. This is believed to drain way too much energy for my kind of personality. No, the introverted need time in isolation to focus on the big picture. And on that note – it turns out the data ‘probability error’ was calculated wrongly in the end. Someone may have broken into the offices and tampered with the computers. So, the promises the ‘Chief’ has made – to his friends in high places – well, there may be some surprises to come in the final exit polls.
Harry’s left hand was free and he was on his toes.