I wanted to be a writer. I wanted the freedom of thought that would allow me to create my own kingdoms and to find my own treasures. I wanted something that others probably believe is unobtainable. I wanted to be a writer.
So, I set about the task of teaching myself how to write. I started off with short stories. One of my earliest was a tiny tome called, Shark Island. I think I still have it somewhere but can give you an outline of its voluminous plot.
Basically, Bond on an Island with lots of baddies and a beautiful girl. Throw in a gun, a speedboat and a gyrocopter and you have it. Not a literary success with any audience other than myself, but a start.
From there on there came some painful poetry, etching out emotional turmoil on philosophical feet made of mud. I wrote diaries that plotted my way through adolescence (poetry I dared not admit) and then, much later, back came the poetry; this time less embarrassing. I wooed my wife to be with a few rough sonnets, strawberries and cream, and a bottle of champagne over the back-door dustbin. At least the writing got me something of value.
But writing is what I want to do. I want to make my living from it. I want it to be the vehicle of my travel and experiences and I want to be able to think of myself as a writer and not just as a “wanna-be” writer. This thing here, this therapy or biography, will probably sit in the digital graveyard of my notebook collecting digital dust and being visited by nobody. But that is rub of it.
What is it that drives a writer? For me it was a form of release. It was not that I had all these stories up in my head, waiting to escape, but that I had real dreams and an “off with the fairies” mentality. I have never particularly subscribed to the real world. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not an escapist fantasist who will dunk his head into the nearest pile of somnambulant sand and wait for it all to go away. No, for we have wings and can fly, we will travel and experience, we will discover, we will path-find; we may just, one day, create something that people will read and remember and possibly share with others. It sounds a little vainglorious on the page but it’s not supposed to be. Writing is cutting through the weeds and discovering a garden that has been lost for a time that is so distant that nobody truly remembers it.
That brings me back to this particular venture that I have decided to undertake. It is often toil, sitting down as often as I can to write some words on some topics that may just interest some readers.
Me: failed teacher; failing writer; and recovering human being.
Some time ago when I was in the pit, my counselling sessions gave me solace. It was never the case that it was merely somebody to talk to. That would have been a waste of everybody’s time. The point of it all may have been looking for answers, but in that, it failed. I discovered many more questions than answers. In fact, I think that I discovered just one answer and that one had been staring me in the face for such a long that I had stopped noticing it.
People call it, ‘the elephant in the room’ and I know that my elephant had been depositing lots of semi-digested elephant material on the floors of each of my rooms, so much so that it was difficult to wade through from one to the next without slipping and getting covered in all of the evil stuff. Some people may take issue with my thoughts on elephant issue, believing, probably rightly, that elephant faeces is far preferable to many other forms of faeces from other species. At least the elephant stuff is organic and lacks the toxic sting of carnivorous creatures. In the top ten of the worst shit that anyone has ever trodden in, I believe that elephant dung would come about 268. Dog dirt on the other hand would always creep in to the top ten and I, strangely, have produced some surprise top-twenty matter on a number of occasions. So, the big grey thing was my long-time profession, teaching; why was I still doing it?
Beyond the mortgage and the sense of having an acceptable profession, there was very little that recommended itself to me. What could I do? The answer was simple; stop. This wasn’t a solution, but it did relieve the pain and immediate symptoms for a while. As many of you will know, mortgages, university fees, bills, and a boat-load of other essentials, make it a non-negotiable that almost every adult must work. Work, after all, is the curse of the drinking classes as it restricts the amount that you can regularly imbibe in order to escape the fact that work is waiting just around the next hour. For me, work had become the steady beat of a light hammer that was forever knocking my potential creativity into a recognisably normal shape. That’s what teaching is all about, making everybody fit and making everyone follow, no matter how ludicrous the path has become.
I had previously thrown in my hat before so I could do it again.
My mantra was that I could never be defeated. In the past, no matter how many times I had been knocked down, I got back up again and remade myself. A little of Chumba Wumba sneaking in there just to make it sound cheesy. But if it looks like cheese, if it smells like cheese, and if it tastes like cheese, be careful, as something may be playing a practical joke on you. I’m back with Hemingway again and his old man who finally accepts defeat when he was within touching-distance of success. What’s the message? Do we all just resign ourselves to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take it on? How many times do we take it on? If a door refuses to open, do we continue knocking at it with our foreheads until unconsciousness dictates that we stop?
The world is full of inspirational stories; ones that make you feel humble and ones that force you to count your blessings. It’s good advice, but please forgive me for not letting it lead my life. In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king. I don’t wish to be king and I also don’t wish for blindness. I have advantages due to being born with an average intelligence, average sporting abilities and average advantages. We were never extremely poor. We never had to beg. We never starved. I was never disabled. My parents were not drug addicts. We were never caught up in a tsunami or earthquake. We never suffered from persecution or found our line subject to ethnic cleansing. I do count my blessings but count these as accidents of fortune. It would make more sense to contemplate the blessing of having a meteor, the size of six football pitches, narrowly miss the earth, or not.
Then there is the phoney positivity which we pass on to the young as if it is Bible. Put a smile on your face and the world becomes a happier place. In my book, a smile into the face of a world that is indifferent to suffering merely endorses and condones that abysmal state of being. Ignoring the wrongs of the world in favour of an inner sense of wellbeing is the worst thing that any caring human being can do. A smile into the face of horrendous adversity denotes a madness at the core of its wearer; or the fact that drugs are involved.
A whole industry has recently developed around self-help psychiatry, goal-achievement and general wellbeing. It is possibly all benign and well-meaning; its accumulated riches for its creators merely side issues. After all, it’s all for the benefit of mankind isn’t it?
Dale Carnegie, that doyen of self-improvement, salesmanship and mastery of advantageous interpersonal skills, once found his way into my life courtesy of a sales manager I had the misfortune to know. How to Win Friends and Influence People landed on my desk one day accompanied by a knowing smile. My snort of derision soon chased off my would-be benefactor’s sunny disposition, but I took the tome in the way that it was intended. I still have it on my bookcase even though not one page of it has ever been read.
I’m looking at some old photographs of him as I write and am reminded of a guiding Ghandi of the Anglo-American world. If I’d have dipped into his pragmatic philosophies I would have gleaned such gems as, “If you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic” or, “The essence of all art is to have pleasure in giving pleasure.” This is man who knew the essential self-serving nature of individuals and how to harness it for your own advantage. But I would take him to task on the nature of art as I believe that art brings illumination through pain rather than pleasure; take Fifty Shades of Grey for example. His optimistic glass-half-full metaphors even take his followers into the realms of soft drink manufacturing, “When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade” or “When you find cocaine in your glove compartment, make Coca-Cola.” That last one was mine rather than his. Having said that, he does have some good horse-sense in what he sold:
“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living.”
I hear you, Dale, I hear every positive thing that you are telling me. I have seen the errors of my ways but will not mend them. What friends I have, I have made through the process of attrition. I was always loyal and always cared about my mates, but sometimes I was disappointed in them. I was a judgmental bugger without even realising it. And the other thing, Dale was right on this one, I was too earnest, too ready to offload my thoughts onto others, too evangelical in my beliefs: too much like a pain in the arse that Carnegie would later warn me against being; if only I’d read his book. People who have the most friends tend to be inoffensive, waring of venturing opinions as a form of conversation starters and will never cause offence. Whereas, the sound of my own voice was something that I have spent a lifetime listening to, either externally or internally.
This is my voice droning on again and trying to make sense of it all. I haven’t lost the plot as I never had one in the first place.
BRITISH informalLose one’s ability to understand or cope with what is happening.“Many people believe that he is feeling the strain or has lost the plot”