The Suburbs of Hell…
The prompt for this particular article was conversation with a colleague in a restaurant in Lyon. She asked about my son, now eighteen years of age, who is in the process of interviews and selections for university. He has been accepted by four universities thus far, three of them for computer-related studies, one of them for acting. Of course, it probably comes as no surprise to those who know me that I am very keen for him to pursue the acting path. Acting is a passion for him, and I hope he pursues that passion. The surprise manifested by my colleague surprised me equally. She assumed that as a parent and ‘responsible individual’ I would push my son in the direction of something reliable, predictable and ‘safe’. On the contrary, I would prefer him to take the road less-travelled. My wife concurs. Even though the ultimate decision will be his and his alone, and even though my wife and I will support him to the very best of our ability whatever path he chooses, the mere fact that I think this way highlights a facet of my attitudes and personal philosophy toward life in general that appears contrary to the expectations of others.
Recently I started a band (The Whiskey Poets). We have recorded an album, filmed two videos, and we are starting to gig in London in June. We hope very much to be working for many years to come, recording, playing live, travelling the world. That is the plan. That project runs alongside my work as a writer, and I have more than enough time and energy to do both. The decision to do this, despite the fact that I am very close to fifty, is aligned with Eleanor Roosevelt’s observation that ‘one is never too old to become what one might have been’. For me, was it better to think and ponder about how I might also have achieved some degree of success as a songwriter and musician, or was it better to give it a go and be damned? I opted for the latter. Seems to me you are never too old to make a fool of yourself in public.
Today I am in France. Tonight I will be in England. Tomorrow I will be in Holland. Next week I am in Toulon, then Corsica, then Saumur. At the end of April I am going to the USA with my wife for five weeks. It is my fiftieth birthday soon, also our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and we decided – on a whim, to be honest – to go to America for our long, long-overdue honeymoon. Life runs at a phenomenal pace these days, and a month has gone before I blink an eye.
My French editor and publicist tell me that my life is ‘toujours les petites adventures’ (always the little adventures), and they have shared a great many of those adventures with me. My brother and I speak ever more infrequently these days, and every conversation begins with him asking me, ‘So, what trouble have you been causing lately?’
I have come to the conclusion that the most dangerous thing you can do is compromise and reconcile yourself to something that is ‘good enough’. My grandmother used to say, ‘What if… is the question with which to being your life, not end it’, and I think that says it all. Quality of life seems to me to be the primary goal of most people, but at what cost? Material quality of life will never take the place of happiness, but what is happiness? Is it your postcode, your car, your designer label shoes? I think not. Perhaps happiness is merely the ability to make others happy. Perhaps it is nothing more than always having a goal to work towards, something else that can be achieved or accomplished. It has been said that a man who knows what he is doing tomorrow is a man who will live forever, and that is a sentiment I can understand completely. I am short on time these days, and this is how I always want to be. After the travelling stops, then work with the band begins, and I need to start and complete a new book by September. I can do it because I am passionate about it, like Lennon’s adage, ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work another day.’
If your passion is computer software design, then pursue that passion.
If your passion is filing insurance claims, then work at it with every ounce of energy you can muster.
But if you are unhappy at work, if you long for the end of the day so you can escape the prison of your occupation, then perhaps it is time to ask yourself what you are doing and why.
You might consider me fortunate. After all, I am a writer. I earn a good living as a writer. I am published in many countries and I can not only travel the world, but I have sufficient time to pursue other interests. Well, my first published novel was the twenty-third I wrote. I accumulated over six hundred rejection letters from more than a hundred publishers. My wife and I spent over twelve thousand pounds on photocopying and postage, sending one script after another out to one editor after another (because all of this took place pre-internet, and copying and mailing a five hundred-page script was not so cheap!). I first put pen to paper on November 4, 1987; I received a call to say my first novel had been accepted for publication on June 21, 2002. After fourteen and a half years of tremendously hard work and bloody-minded persistence, I became an ‘overnight’ success. Disraeli held me resolute with his, ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose’. When people ask me when I got my ‘lucky break’, I smile and say that I don’t remember. Luck was not a factor. Luck is reliance on something that can neither be predicted nor controlled. Wasn’t it Tennessee Williams who said that luck was merely believing you were lucky?
Would you marry someone you did not like, someone you longed to be away from as much as possible? I don ‘t believe you would. You marry for love, and that is a lifelong commitment. Why not work for love, for isn’t that a lifelong commitment also?
Some people have a job. Some people have a vocation. Very often they are not the same thing, and that is sad. Personally I would rather be doing something I love with empty pockets than doing something I hate with a handsome bank balance and a shiny new car. However, it has been my experience that those who have resolutely pursued their goal with unerring fortitude and persistence often achieve both. It seems those who break out of the confines of conformity and challenge themselves to do what they are truly passionate about often wind up healthy, wealthy and wise. As has been said by a much wiser individual than I, conformity and banality are the suburbs of Hell.
So this year I am fifty. I still wonder what I might do when I grow up and become ‘responsible’. Honestly, I don’t see that day coming anytime soon, and with any luck it never will.