I have been away from London for nearly two months. That beats the previous amounts of time I have ever been away from home. I didn’t do the gap year thing, or the post university south America exploring thing, the teach English in Asia thing, the borrow as much as I can from the bank and travel the antipodes thing (AUS and NZ for us Brits) – all much to my regret I may add – I mean, I did borrow as much as I could but I never travelled any further than the West End of London with it.
I did take a trip to the USA which I still remember with huge fondness and have my two American friends Katie and Sally to thank for, they really helped me see places I would never have seen otherwise and get a feel for many different facets of the American way of life, I can’t remember now exactly where I went as all my notes, photos and memorabilia are back at home but I think I went through around ten or so states over the course of five weeks stretching from Cincinnati to Boston. I’ll share that experience with you in more detail one day. Aside from that, I have been on several short jaunts; mostly two or three night weekend stays around Europe; Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium and also Turkey for a beach bum holiday and periods of time in Finland (Hyvaa Joulua to all the Finns, sorry I can’t remember more and yes I realise it’s February.) I have never been to South America, Africa, Australia, Russia, Asia…Scotland or parts of north London.
So where am I going with this? Well I am thirty four years old so I am definitely an adult by most civilization’s standards, but I guess I wanted to talk about how we can be responsible people whilst still doing crazy things – in my case and for the purpose of this blog the crazy thing I am talking about is moving away from home and totally changing my outlook on life to focus on writing.
I mean what was I thinking? I still can't believe I actually went through with it. Shouldn’t I have stayed at the job that had become about as pleasurable as a (deleted after a sensible pause for thought) and contributed to my pension? Shouldn’t I have been saving for a mortgage? Shouldn’t I have been putting a little something away each month (I know that is a direct contradiction if you are renting or have a mortgage in London) for a rainy day? Shouldn’t I be going on managerial courses and practicing my presentation skills? Shouldn’t I be worried about having babies? About getting married? (Look at how modern I am by putting it in that order)
You get what I am drifting towards. Have I taken a route by which I may be an adult in years lived…but for the foreseeable future, perhaps for the long term, I will be no more than a poor overgrown adolescent who cannot afford to support anything more than a fairly modest espresso habit? Does age matter in that sense?
One question I ask myself when a thought pops into my head that may or may not be a decent idea for a story - Am I capable of expressing what I want to express if I haven’t had the journey to experience it in the first place? How far can my imagination go? Can research ever replace going through it yourself? That's why I mentioned my travel experience as an opening example. It occurred to me a while ago that in all of my notes I have not made any attempts at using my experiences abroad as a basis for a story and I wondered why.
As my thoughts steered towards my experiences in general it made me look at the position I am in. Is it legitimate for me to attempt some of the ideas I do have at aged 34 or does age not matter and only experience and skill count? If I am interested in writing then aren’t I meant to have a certain wisdom? Shouldn’t I have a viewpoint on life that comes from experience, intelligence, empathy and all the rest of the emotional baggage that comes from being an adult? What if I don’t feel like an adult? What if I don’t like being an adult? What if I am writing entirely from supposed situations that don’t have grounding in reality? I sometimes feel that aside from being a novice trying to learn, I am also writing things that are either too young or too old for me, I can't explain why but perhaps it is born from a fear of not doing justice to an idea and I am trying to find reasons why I am not capable of executing properly and blaming my experience is an easy get out.
I really have no idea and I’m not blogging to give answers. I think I am spilling thoughts out and seeing if anything makes sense. If I look at myself honestly, as much as I don’t fit the conditions of a successful adult in the sense of what my earlier expectations were, or what the society I live in tends to favour, I feel that being an adult is maybe about reaching a point where you know yourself better as a person. If I care more about my external appearance and value than my emotional development then perhaps that isn’t being a successful adult and in turn not a successful 'truthful' writer. Am I a better person for giving up on what could have been a fairly successful straightforward route through life or in fact is that being more regressive and childish than ever! Earlier in the week I talked about being more selfish in my approach and this topic stemmed from that; I’m still not sure whether this demonstrates becoming a more content person and therefore more comfortable being an adult.
I’m not talking about dropping out and staying a kid forever by the way! I firmly believe in social responsibility, you should pay your taxes, you should give to charity and help others both domestic and internationally, you should set examples, you should challenge discrimination and promote freedom and liberty…and well, all the rest of what makes us feel terribly proud and terribly guilty simultaneously. (I'm only talking about using experience for writing, not what makes up a good citizen in general or whether I'm a better member of society now or ten years ago, I'm just wondering whether I am mature enough to express that idea.)
If I had been 16 when I told myself that I would forget about the full time job and career and focus on being a writer, that would be one thing and my mum, friends and others would have treated that in certain fashion…I’ll leave you to say what that would way would have been in your situation, but to say that at 34…when is someone going to tell me to grow up? However, as opposed to being 16 and saying it, I feel I have grown up enormously and have every right to do what I am doing. I have always worked since leaving school, I have never cheated society out of anything; I have never done anything that would be seen other than normal...in the main.
So if I am saying I am potentially giving up my chance to own a home, to earn money to be comfortable buying food, clothes, entertainment and so on because the route I have taken takes me away from the traditional security a job/career offers is it the same as saying I am losing what it is to be a sensible adult?
On the other hand, what if I said that by taking this route I have had experiences I never would have had otherwise; meeting people from countries all over the world, learnt about other cultures, helped people, have people help me, shared our common passions, learnt more about reading and writing in one year than I could have had in 5 or 10 if I remained part time…what about feeling part of something, isn’t that in itself a worthwhile and fulfilling achievement? Do I feel more alive and have more belief in my future than ever before because I know what I have let go, or what I have gained?
What are the moments in your life that you look back on with the most fondness, warmth, pride and happiness? For me, I can look back on countless incredible times with my friends and family, the people I love and have loved and what is more I now fully understand that the moments of achievement in my various jobs do not compare at all. Please do not take this as a slight if you have that passion about your job, if you are in a corporate environment, a job that requires climbing the ladder, I am not attacking that I promise, where the hell would we all be if everyone wanted to write a bloody book…I am serious when I say that having that sense of self belief and passion about life is the same for all choices, whatever it is you do and you love, I am saying it is important that you know it is right. That also means doing something because you have to. You only need to watch some of the heartbreaking programmes that explore the lives of people who have to work so incredibly hard just to survive. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, naieve or stupid just because I have a choice, I know this isn’t a possibility for everyone.
If you don’t get the same sense of satisfaction and reward from a particular part of your life then look at it honestly and see if you can change it. For me, that is being an adult. You know when you have to tough it out, put up with crap and get on with it, when you have obligations and responsibility and need to see something through…but you should also know when to say STOP, I am not happy and I should try to do something about it, I CAN do something about it, even if the consequences can be drastic. It’s easy for me to say that I know, here I am with no responsibly other than myself, I am not married, I do not have children and I do not have debts. I can start again. Let me tell you though, I did have debts and I worked hard to pay them off, I made sacrifices that meant I was not the adult I wanted to be in terms of relationships, property and career. However I do feel a sense of maturity because I have taken steps to change my life and be honest with myself. It wasn’t easy and it is unquestionably difficult to look at the future with such uncertainty in the material sense, but I have stopped thinking that doesn’t mean I am not an adult. I do not feel a lesser person because I have not reached certain stage posts that many people my age have already passed.
By choosing to attempt writing as more than a hobby I can foresee many possible outcomes for my future, some good, the majority not, but if being an adult is about taking responsibility for yourself then I will measure my success by a a different barometer. I want to spend my days working towards creating stories that might spark someone else’s imagination, that out of comfort and enjoyment will create those moments I mentioned earlier, those times with your friends and family, those nights you remember going to the cinema, going to the theatre, going to a football match, going to a charity event, watching a movie indoors with your partner...those are the special moments I remember in my life ... ... ... I will let you into a secret. I haven't said this before, but you know the memory I want to be part of? The thing that I would like to achieve more than anything else? The one where you are relaxing on holiday somewhere, or taking a bath, or laying in the park, or sitting in your garden, or on the train to work…and you take a few minutes out of the normal world and lose yourself in a book, it can just be one quick journey between tube stops, one fractionally quick moment of your busy day, one particular holiday, one particular summer, one particular afternoon off work, that time when you have a stinking cold and you are wrapped up in the duvet…whenever and wherever it may be...but that moment when everything else feels better because you are totally absorbed by what you are reading, you are moved by the pleasure of reading and the emotional reward you get from it. If I can do that just once, I think I will take that over the life I could have had with my previous adult life.
I’ve read hundreds of books and I want to give you two examples now of what I am trying to get at. I remember reading Lord of the Rings at primary school, aged 8 or 9, and I remember reading Sunset Song as a set text in my degree, aged, 26 or 27; the feeling they both gave me as a child and as an adult is still with me, it makes me happy even now thinking about it. I don’t think it is such a bad thing that I am throwing away the comfortable life I could have had to try and give that feeling to someone else, and as I have written many times before, whether I (or you) achieve it, doesn’t matter, we have tried.
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