I have just this moment finished reading Off the Road, the autobiography of Carolyn Cassady, where she tells in unrelenting detail tales of life with her writer husband Neal, novelist Jack Kerouac, and poet Allen Ginsberg in their prime, when their chief objective was ripping shit up, putting it back together, tearing it down again, and then gracefully elucidating the glory of it all just when they were about to become too insufferable to withstand any longer. It’s a fascinating book, not just because of her observations — as the most lucid, sane pseudo-participant, which was no great feat really — but also to see how the trio was a pack, the boys, like-minded in the important ways, fundamentally distinct in the tragic ones. The three of them pushed each other, farther, into the gorgeous nether of madness and chaos and beauty, and back again. They were each other’s muses, and burdens, and inspirations, and anchors. They struggled together. And it seems like they never really questioned themselves. But they did, because they must.
There’s something wonderful about the notion of a pack, particularly for literary folks. Who among us has not felt that our friends, ourselves included, are somehow the most enthralling people on the planet whose peculiarities and eccentricities must be chronicled for future generations to understand and appreciate? This is why we have friends. They’re interesting. I have met people in this world whom I would have thought it impossible to exist in real life. And yet, there they are.
These are the people we want to throw all caution to the proverbial wind with, the people with whom we just want to jump in a car and do something crazy. We just want to experience life with them, record their perceptions, expand on our own, try to make some sense of this constant pandemonium that swirls endlessly, find the absolute peace and splendour we all perceive is out there, somewhere, somehow, it has to be, right? And we love people just as nuts as us. People who see the world the way we do; as scary, beautiful, enchanting, aloof, full of awe, something to be tackled and dealt with, however we deem fit.
Man, I love these friends. Something about them makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself, that we are a troupe, that we are sages, seeing the world like no one else does. I’ve had many of them over the years, and just thinking of them gets me fired up. It’s the one aspect all my closest and dearest friends – male and female – have in common; they are all seekers. They are introspective, questioning, inspiring, alive. They are wild bulls of souls, unleashed, rampaging onward, trying to find the meaning, the truth.
But I am romanticising them, I realise now, as I sit here watching the bright, waxing moon. They were all those things. They are all those things. But they are not just all those things. They are real people. At the end of the day, Neal Cassady had to make a living. We live in a different time now. My friends are not in school anymore. They are grownups. They are married, or they are getting married, or they are worried about the mortgage, or the direction and financial security of their companies. I blinked, and they all became regular people. Somewhere down the line, they saw where they fit in in the universe, and they adjusted accordingly. They saw one path leading to mental destruction, and they chose the other, healthy, wise one. It is to be a visionary to question this whole existence; it is to be an adult to shut up about it and make sure the bills are paid and the trains run on time.
And I am still out there, adrift, wondering which way to go.
Can I simply be? I wrote a Facebook message to a group of old friends the other day, one of those impersonal, hey-look-you-were-included-on-my-closest-friends-list type of things. It was a pithy little comment on how I was doing something particularly domesticated that evening, full of self-mocking and look-at-what-it’s-come-to faux irony. One friend responded to the list saying, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that I was right, David had become a blissful little suburbanite, he’s going for walks and cooking and watching the Olympics and buying Nike and voting and all the things you’re not supposed to do if you’re the outsider doggedly resisting social mores. It was funny and played into my joke. Then another friend responded to him, hitting a little closer to home:
(I’m paraphrasing) “Which do you think he likes more? Being domesticated, or the fact that we’re all sitting here talking about him being domesticated?” And he was right, of course. I’d always enjoyed being the little ugly duckling that everyone looked at as the peculiar one. His words disturbed me greatly, because he was so right. Did I really still want to be that guy? Why didn’t I shut up and play ball, live like a normal person? Nothing all that special about me. Nothing all that special about any of us.
Another example to prove my rapidly shifting point: I was talking to another friend who knows me as well as anyone the other evening. She met me several years ago here in London, at one of my many self-congratulatory birthday parties. She was a friend of a friend, so on, and I was still relatively new to the city, not that long removed from island life. That birthday evening, I was the new guy in town, telling my tales of the Caribbean, of ex-girlfriends and beaches and journalism adventures and self-doubt and romance and transcendence and insanity and the loss of God and anything else that would make it more likely this gorgeous girl in front of me would continue to listen, and she was staring at me, weirdly fascinated. She told me the other evening that she was compelled that night not so much by my stories — who could be? — but the fact that I had been somewhere, that I had done things. “I was looking at Kim [her other friend] and was like, ‘Er… we went to Mexico for a week once. We live just down the road from each other.’”
And I had been nowhere, really. I had done nothing. It is all relative, and ultimately, like everybody else, I’ve sold out. Real curiosities, the true lost souls of this world, will forever be roaming, searching, struggling, dreaming, wondering. I’m beginning to feel I don’t have it in me anymore., that it is no longer worth it for me. That I want to play ball.
In the end, I was far more like my friend than the weirdo whimsical outsider I once wanted people to believe I was. I am a dreamer, but I am also a human being, one who just wants happiness and serenity and a comfy chair to prop my feet up at the end of the day. Calm.
I might never again just hop in a car with a cohort and drive across the country for assorted aesthetically realised misadventures, I will never be nuts again, I will never cut all ties and just go go go GO, man! Not anymore. I like my flat too much, I like my monthly salary too much, I like my comfort too much. I am tied to this world, in a way the true visionaries never were. I cannot step outside it all, pretend that I am Neal Cassady, just not giving a fuck, ambling about, seeking seeking seeking seeking seeking. No longer. My peace is to be found in a flat that’s clean, in bills being paid, in the overseas family I can call at the end of the week. I didn’t think that’s where it was found. But I think it might be. This doesn’t make me any different than the rest of humanity. It is who I am. It just took me longer than most to realise.
So where does this leave me, or any of us who are starting to understand that, after a while, it takes too much energy to try to be the special unique snowflake all the time? That being normal has its advantages? That there’s a reason people choose comfort and relaxation and playing the game the right way? That’s OK, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
But, Dave, you say, this whole series of incoherent ramblings seems to have been focusing on some sort of final goal, some sort of intangible Meaning Of It All. We want some sort of resolution. The answer to this whole thing, it’s not becoming a corporate drone, is it? Is that what this all means? Do you conquer the demons and figure out what it all means? Do you find a way to be yourself in this universe without becoming what you’ve always fought against? Well, I’m afraid, this story has a rather mundane, mediocre conclusion. I’m just a regular guy, a squirrel trying to get a nut. I have a boss, and rent due, and bills, and a recently-acquired goldfish that needs to be fed. I have visions of a life I go home to every night, with a girlfriend or wife, and neighbours from whom I borrow tools, and membership in the golf club, and maybe a dog. I hope to get there someday. I am not Neal Cassady. Far from it.
I recognise… What is pulling me back to earth here? What has made me see the notion of settling as something that ain’t nothin’ to run from no more? Is it an inherent islander’s desire to have a home, happiness, tranquility? If that was what was important, why would I have ever left the Caribbean in the first place? Or was I just fooling myself then, thinking there was something else out there? Does it even make a difference? I just don’t want to run anymore. I don’t want to search. I just want to be normal. I want to work and go home and have a drink and relax and listen to music and watch sports and not be so damned peculiar and hungry for answers anymore. Is that so wrong? Is it? Seriously. Is it?
But no matter. Worry not. In a week, I’m sure I’ll feel the exact opposite. I am crazy, you know!
This past week, during which circumstances conspired to deprive me of sleep and turn me into one throbbing stress nerve, I had eight different people — not eight different times; eight different people — offer me some sort of prescription drug for my own relaxation. Let’s see if I can remember them all: Paxil, Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Prozac… and some other one, I think it started with a Z and ended with a C, or maybe a Q. I know it had a little “tm” in a circle on the end.
These people were not doctors. Half of them didn’t even have prescriptions for the drugs they were giving me. They would just see that I was tired and weary and a bit on edge, and thought it only natural — logical — that I would want to pop a pill. Take care of that right quick. When I told them, no, I was fine, I’m good, thanks, appreciate it… they were taken aback. David, don’t you understand? These make you feel better. And doctors say they’re OK. Why wouldn’t you want one?
It is amazing to me how many people in London are on some sort of medication. Hell, I’m sure some of you are on them. How did you start? Was there some sort of injury? Maybe you had a fight with your other half and had a friend who suggested you could calm down with these. Maybe your psychiatrist recommended them. Perhaps it was the July 7 bombings. Whatever it was, they’re everywhere. I sometimes wonder if, when I’m speaking to a member of the Prozac nation, anything I’m saying is having an effect whatsoever. If they’re even paying attention. If they’re just trying to find their happy place.
These drugs are self-indulgent anyway. They’re just like the rest of this self-absorbed city; the focus is making yourself feel better. If there’s something wrong in your world, it’s not because of anything you might have done wrong, or decisions you might have made. It’s society. It’s too tough; I’m too sensitive. Here, take this pill.
Now I’m aware that there are people out there — some are friends I love dearly — who genuinely need these antidepressants, and I don’t mean to disparage them. This is medicine, and some people have imbalances or bad genes, and they need these as remedies. Good for them. I’m glad they have something that makes them feel better. But there aren’t that many. And they don’t make up three-quarters of the population of London!
Rules of thumb here. The following things do not give you chemical imbalances that require medication:
Your parents’ divorce.
Joe breaking up with you for that slut from work.
Your boss is an idiot.
Your back hurts when you get home from work.
You need an alternative to weed.
You’re getting older.
You need to lose weight.
Your roommate won’t stop leaving her towels in the bathroom.
Rachel doesn’t love Joey.
You know how you deal with these things? Not to sound insensitive here, and if I do so, I apologise but… shut the fuck up and deal with it. These problems existed long before GlaxoSmithKline set up in Brentford and started making billions. Life is to be faced head-on and dived into with reckless abandon. Living scared, or dulled, solves nothing.
Doesn’t anyone just want to live anymore? The notion of antidepressants revolves around having no highs too high and no lows too low. Just a smooth plateau, everything’s the same, everything’s easier, nothing gets you too excited. Why in the world would anyone want to live like that? It makes people into boring, bland, even-keel people, and I surely didn’t move to London for those.
And let’s not get into the antidepressants that reduce sex drive. I mean, if the goal is reducing stress, that would seem the definition of counterproductive. (Is there any way women who are on antidepressants that reduce their sex drive could wear some sort of ID bracelet, or maybe a dogtag? It would make dating so much easier.)
I just don’t see how life got so difficult that we needed some outside agent to help us control it. People… life is hard. It’s really awful sometimes. Isn’t that the point? Don’t you want to feel, whether it’s euphoria or deep sadness? You’re going to be on this shit for 30 years and then one day realise, dammit, I missed everything. I don’t mind being depressed every so often. It makes the joyous moments that much more exhilarating.
Why would you want to numb that? Why would you want to escape from life? It’s worth staying alert for, you know.
Read my other article — The Beauty Of Sadness — and you’ll see what I’m on about.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I could really use another drink.
The most useless piece of advice anyone can ever give another person is to “be yourself”. Be yourself. Just… Be… Yourself. This is bullshit of the highest order. I can’t think of a single function in life where just being yourself is appropriate. Someone once told me before a big job interview to relax and be myself. I told them that, all things being equal, the truest incarnation of myself would be frolicking nude in a vat of rum and Häagen-Dazs ice cream with The Saturdays with calypso and 80s rock bands blaring out on endless loops. When you boil it all down, that’s probably the closest I can come to self-actualisation.
My friend didn’t want me to be myself. My friend wanted me to lie. And why wouldn’t she? If everyone actually listened when people told them to just be themselves, society would crumble. Except maybe France. France might survive.
Truth is, 95 percent of every conversation I have is bullshit. I doubt you’re much different. From a staff meeting at work to conversations with a girlfriend to intellectual discourses on whether or not football should introduce goal-line technology, it’s all almost entirely bogus. This is not to say that I am constantly lying. I am not, or at least not at a blistering 95 percent clip. It’s just to say that human nature dictates that we keep most of what we’re really thinking to ourselves and limit our actions to what other people will find acceptable. My boss once mused aloud in a meeting, “What’s the world coming to?” The response that immediately came to mind was, “Internet porn, mostly!” but, of course, what I actually said, stifling a grin and shaking my head seriously, was “Hmmm. Tell me about it!” You see, every conversation has an agenda, whether it’s to get laid, to order a steak or just not to get fired. We are only talking to get us through the conversation so that we get can back to being lost inside our own head.
More accurately: We are talking so that people will see us the way we would like to be seen. That image above, the one with me in a rum-soaked ice cream bath with Frankie on one side, Molly on the other and Rochelle and Oona… well… as pleasurable as it might seem, that’s not the way I’d like to be known. Frankly, it might have been a mistake to even mention it. No, no, I’d much rather you see me as the chilled-out Londoner, the one who means well, the one who remembers your birthday, the one who jumps around all excited when he sees you, the one who wants you to remember him fondly… what a great guy, that David. I’m constantly playing the role of David, and depending on whom I’m talking to, the role is played by a different actor.
If I’m at work, I’m the quiet, affable hard-working gent just trying to do his job and be left alone. With a girlfriend, I’m the loyal, funny, sweet guy who wants her to be happy. With my male friends I’m just one of the lads, watching sports, downing shots, checking out the girls and making fun of everyone we know. With my parents I’m the stable kid they don’t have to worry about too much. Am I really all of those people? Absolutely. In sections, parts of my personality, I’m a segment here, a segment there. It’s not like I’m lying to them. I’m just giving them each a part that’s appropriate for the situation. You do the same thing. It’s like a bookshelf you prominently display in your flat; it’s not like you’ve actually read all those books. You just want people to see your books and think something about you without you telling them. Umberto Eco next to Bill Bryson… he’s so well read! I’m whatever I need to be at that moment. I’m whatever I want you to want me to be.
Stick with me here. You have to know what I’m talking about. Surely, the conversations you have with your parents are dramatically different than the ones you have with your significant other, just like those are different than the ones you have with your close friends, just like those are different than the ones you have with your work colleagues, and on and on. You’re shifting on the fly. You know when you get a phone call at work from someone who wants to talk about something personal and you’re not comfortable taking the call next to the nosey lady in Accounts? That’s two worlds colliding, right there. Which one is the real you? The easy answer is to say the personal one, but which role do you spend more hours a day playing? At what point does the performer become the individual? Does it even matter?
You know what we are? We’re Voltron. Anyone remember Voltron? You had five little robot dogs, or something, they were metal, that I remember, and you’d piece them all together to make one monstrous Super Voltron. The little pieces fit together, each part representing something small but vital. No. I don’t like the Voltron analogy, though it really was a great toy. How about those little Russian dolls, the one that have a one that fits in a bigger one, that fits in a bigger one, that fits in a bigger one? That’ll work. The smallest doll is the one who you are, and the rest are just the layers used to disguise that fact. But to any observer, the larger dolls are all there is to see. So isn’t that doll the real one? Does having something underneath that’s “real” but no one ever sees allow it to be “real”? Aren’t we just what people see?
I found out the other day, almost accidentally, that a good friend of mine has tried heroin. Now, I’m not being judgmental here; though heroin doesn’t necessarily seem like my cup of tea — what with the shitting yourself, tendency toward self-mutilation and willingness to suck a dog’s dick if it’ll lead to another hit — I’m not going to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. (I once sucked down loads of alcohol at a medical students’ party then spun around in a circle until I was convinced I had calculated Pi using Roman numerals; I have lost all moral and intellectual high ground, I assure you.)
This is not the type of guy who has tried heroin. This is the type of guy who can name all 70 British Prime Ministers — there have been 70, right? — wears ties to work and is probably seen as legit middle management material at his nice City corporate complex. And he’s done heroin. I cannot square this with the person I know; I can’t even conjure a mental picture of him drinking rum or whiskey. (I try to imagine him with a tourniquet with Post-It notes on it in his briefcase, or producing an Excel document with different syringe classifications.) But he has. Does that mean the person I know is a fake? I would argue not. I would argue that he’s just as real as the one who did heroin; he’s real to me. I’m sure the people he did heroin with have never heard him defend Tory policy. I have. That’s as real as anything. That’s worse than doing heroin, actually.
But who is he to himself? Can he make peace with the disparity? Deep down, at the end of the day, when someone tells him to “be himself,” what does he think of? Does it make a difference?
I don’t think so. I think the public face we attach to ourselves is far more real than any layers or shading that we convince ourselves we have. So the part of David will be played today by the quirky, funny guy, until it’s the serious contemplative guy, until it’s the loving boyfriend guy, until it’s the quiet employee. We’ll be whatever makes it easier to get through the day, to make it to the next day, and to the next day. And during the night, in the quiet, we are alone with ourselves, wondering what role we play now. The prospect is so terrifying that Nature was merciful enough to require us to sleep.
If that’s not a persuasive definition of what it means to be alive, I’m not sure what is.
I don’t like to talk too much about my job. It’s not that it’s a bad job, one of those soul-crushing, life-extinguishing corporate slogs bathed in dead light and empty pallor. But neither is it particularly fascinating or compelling. It pays the bills, but it doesn’t exactly have me jumping out of bed full of piss and vigour, ready to conquer the world, to do some Great Work, let’s go! I feel I’m getting too old to be expecting too much of that, though. It doesn’t make me so tired that I can’t concentrate on anything else when I’m away from work, allowing me to indulge in any and all extracurricular activities without worrying whether or not I’ll be able to finish that report by Friday. It’s a job, and that’s that. I do it, and I go home.
Last week, I met up with a few old friends at Rockwells, a great rooftop terrace bar in central London with stunning views over Trafalgar Square. We met a friend of a friend, a mid-30s haggard woman who looked like she stopped caring all that much about life six or seven years ago. She was wearing a bland, dreary “professional” outfit, one of those drab white shirts with a big collar and grey trousers that, despite a baggy nature, probably should have been abandoned about 15 pounds ago.
I grabbed a drink and was introduced to her. Not all that compelled, I nevertheless tossed out the obligatory so-how-are-you. I don’t even think she paused to ask my name because she was off and running. “Oh, what a day at work I had! You know how some people, no matter how well you explain things to them, still don’t get it? Well, there was this woman, and I tell you, I don’t understand some people. I told her I needed the file by 3 p.m. and she told me she’d have it, but then she was avoiding my calls, and I dunno, our office is really formal, but I feel like people just don’t pay attention, because there’s this one woman in accounts, and I don’t know what her problem is, because she can’t seem to figure out her e-mail, so this jpeg I needed didn’t arrive until 4 p.m., which is just way too late for anyone to be able to do anything with anything. You know what I mean?”
I was surprised she hadn’t noticed that, halfway through her absorbing dissertation, I set fire to myself and leapt off the roof. And still, I could hear her going on about Sue in HR and Dawn from the office down the corridor, all the way down. To be honest, I think she was waiting for me when I hit the pavement, talking about how people just don’t really respect their colleagues these days, you know you know you know?
That day, I had written a business case for a project I’m trying to get underway this summer, had two meetings with senior management, emailed several potential suppliers about the proposed project, sat in on another department’s meeting, and tried my best to keep on top of all the other usual daily stuff. Does that strike you as anything even slightly noteworthy? I mean, it doesn’t strike me as noteworthy, and I work there. With occasional exceptions, our jobs are pretty much the most boring things we do. My job is what allows me to do fun, challenging activities outside of work; to expect the job itself to provide them is actually quite presumptuous. And even if it did, they’d only be of interest to me. I certainly wouldn’t want to force anyone else to put up with it.
My dad had the right idea about work. He had one priority: raising a family and providing for them. Whatever he did during the day to make that happen was beside the point. Sure, he took pride in his work, and he was very good at it, but I don’t remember him going on and on at dinner about this person’s constant screw-ups (although he did occasionally have some pretty hilarious stories), or cumbersome paperwork, or some new equipment they’d brought in. What mattered was us – Mum, and our education, and fun, and why our rooms were a mess. There is your job, and there is life, and they needn’t mix.
But some people just can’t stop. What amazes me sometimes is how people who claim to hate their job can’t stop talking about it. In fact, the amount they seem to despise their work seems to be directly proportional to how much they seem to insist the rest of the world cares. One would think that if someone were miserable at her job, it would be all the more reason to shut it out of her mind when she goes home. It never works out that way.
Your true friends consider what you do for a living so little in their assessment of you as a human being. It’s not like my friends liked me more when I was a full-time journalist and less when I moved into IT. With old friends of mine, the ones who live in different countries and who I talk to six, seven times a year, any conversations about our jobs are cursory. What’s important is that we have one, so we can live our lives.
My job provides me with income, a private office, Web access, an iPhone and constant access to online music when I’m at my desk. I just summed it up. Someday, I’ll have a job that provides me with more income. Maybe someday, I’ll get to a point where I won’t have to work at all. Until then, though, I’ll wake up, shower, walk to work, go home at five, and shut up about it. It is amazing how earth-shattering a concept this is to many!
Here’s a question for you: How important is sex?
I don’t mean how important it is to a healthy relationship. Sex is a vital part of any relationship, and usually when a couple has a poor sex life, you can tell after hanging out with them for about 20 minutes. The air’s a little thicker, more dense, there’s a certain level of tension… and people keep accidentally crushing wine glasses in their hand. Here’s a tip for fellow people-watchers: When a woman walks across the room and punches her boyfriend in the face, their sex life is not working. Or, perhaps, it has reached a level that you and I just don’t want to think about.
I’m speaking more specifically of the amount of sex we individually need. How important is it to us? Is it all relative?
Let’s take two people, for example:
One is a female friend of mine. She lost her virginity when she was about 16. She is pretty, smart, sociable, and is a serial monogamist. No matter what, she always has a boyfriend — I’ve never known her to be single. Then, about six months ago, she had a long-term relationship end and, in a first for her, there was no one else waiting in the wings. She’s hardly the type of girl to sleep around or just pick up guys at clubs so, suddenly, something that was a regular part of her life just ended. She’s now gone six months without sex. According to her, the longest she’d gone without sex until this six-month hiatus was 32 days. Imagine that: something that had just been a part of your life… just gone. Emotional attachments aside, when something you’ve lived with on a reliable basis since you were 16 is taken away suddenly, that’s a definitive change. (Of course, I know the guy she was just dating quite well and… let’s just say that I doubt she’s missing too much.)
The other is a male friend. Whatever the opposite of a serial monogamist is, that’s what he is. Dates? Ha! He never dates. Ever. He went on a few dates with one girl and never even got her winter coat off. Other than that, zilch. Six months without sex? Try six years. At this point, he’s almost asexual. It’s not that he doesn’t want to have sex; it’s just that he’s got used to not getting any. He doesn’t even really think about it that much anymore (though when the 40 Days, 40 Nights movie first came out, he did bash his head against a wall repeatedly for about a week and a half). He doesn’t even try to go after girls anymore. What’s the point? Sex is something on the Internet or late-night telly, a spectator sport far more than a participatory one. Someday he’ll have sex again, I’m sure. But at this point, there’s no rush.
Which person would you rather be? Neither is having sex right now. Both are human beings, and both need it. But the girl is having a far more difficult time with it than the guy. He’s accepted his lot. To put this another way, paraphrasing: Is it better to have had some play and lost it, than to have never had any play at all?
Another friend is getting married later this year. From all accounts, he seems to have a happy, moderately healthy sex life. Nothing to complain about. But, like all relationships, sometimes circumstances dictate performance. Occasionally, he’ll go a week or two without having sex. No big deal when he was a single guy; essentially, his life was just a continuous string of a week or two without sex. But now, when that week or two takes place with a hot girl sleeping next to you, and you start to itch and squirm, suddenly a week seems a lot longer.
I spoke with him about this some months ago. Specifically, I spoke about a little, um, dry spell I was going through myself. He looked at me like I’d just peed in my pants: “Man, stop being a dickhead! No sex for how long? Seriously man, there was a point a few years ago I was tempted to screw the dog!” (Trust me, that’s not an image you want in your head at midnight!)
But he’s right. I suppose my major neuroticism about sex and relationships is that while I know some women might find me attractive, sexy even, I often can’t quite figure it out myself. (Well, other than the minor man-boobs!) Do I think about this more when I’m in a relationship, or when I’m not? I figure I’m probably the worst at the start of a new relationship. If I go without sex for a while, I can pretty much just convince myself that it’s only because I haven’t found the right woman yet. But put a woman in my bed every night for a week and, until I get used to it, I’m convinced she’s really dreaming of the guy in the kebab shop up the street, the one with the mole shaped like a penis on his cheek. She wishes she were in bed with him right now; I just know it!
And what is it we really get out of sex anyway? Is it strictly orgasm? If so, there are some guys (and girls) who have the most functional relationship I know with their shower heads. Shit, the shower doesn’t even mind if they bring in pictures of other girls! Or do we just need the closeness? Or, lo, could it be, that we have sex because we’re actually in love? How much less is it when we’re not? And, after six years without sex, does it even matter?
I think we have the best sex when we’re in love, because we’ve got the other person more or less figured out, and because it’s a legitimate sharing process. But then this logic makes me think that a good wank can trump sex, and I don’t really believe that. Do I…? Whoa! Perhaps I should just get off this logic train!
Of course, ideally, someone is just single, without commitments, and still having sex on a regular basis, with no ebbs and flows — just something new all the time. I don’t think those people actually exist though. Well… maybe in the Premier League…
After my post of March 13 (Making magic), a friend reminded me of this piece I wrote about a year ago, before the inception of the Journeys Into The Night blog. Thought I’d post it here as a sort of companion piece.
The lanky teenager takes a step to the right, fakes left, pivots, swings his leg and kicks the ball.
It makes a long, slow arc through the air, its sweep so beautiful, so graceful, a mathematician might take pleasure in graphing it.
His track suit bottoms slung low on his hips, the boy stands frozen for an instant, arms slightly raised, his head bending forward as if to will the ball on to its target.
For a split second, he looks almost like a worshipper in the act of obeisance.
And still the ball flies.
A lone car passes by as the dusk of the evening deepens. Across the street, a woman pushes a pram. Somewhere in the distance a siren wails.
The football hits the inside of the post, drops, and rolls along the goal line. The teen holds his breath. With almost a sigh, the ball kisses the net on the other side as it goes over the line.
“Yesssss!” the boy says quietly, punching the air. He runs forward, grabs the ball and dribbles it back to the half-line.
Suddenly he is not just this boy, but several dozen others in various neighborhoods pulled to football pitches all over the country for a kickabout. They watch their idols on television, then slink silently off, a ball under one arm, to mimic them. It’s their own version of footie fever.
I watch from a distance as he continues playing, whirling and feinting and dribbling around players only he can see, practicing free kicks from outside the box. He’s quick on his feet. A row of houses behind him watches, but silently.
Only later do I learn that he’s a ninth-year student who also likes bikes, dance music and Sprite. He plays for his school team. He’s crazy about football, a fact that goes without saying.
His parents want him to be an engineer or computer programmer, but he wants to play football professionally, and why not? he asks. “I’m already quite good at my age,” he adds matter-of-factly. Well, sort of.
Nothing wrong with dreaming, though. Dream on. At 14, your whole life is ahead of you.
Sadly, of course, the odds are against him, which is a shame to even think, because he looks so earnest. Unless he’s a Beckham or a Rooney or Gerrard, chances are he’ll awaken someday and it won’t have happened. That’s the experience most have.
I remember how the obvious struck around my 30th birthday. Wow, I thought, or something like that. A lot of options are now closed to me.
Where anything once was possible, I knew I’d never be a professional athlete or play for Manchester United or be a famous actor. I had never pursued any of those things, you understand. Yet up until a certain age, anything seems possible. Anything.
Right now, out on a vacant playground, this kid is a football star. He plays for his team, Tottenham Hotspurs. He goes on runs down the wing just like Aaron Lennon.
He sweats a lot. His biceps bulge. He has tattoos all over his body. In his mind, I mean.
And so he spins and shoots and scores, visions of Tottenham fresh in his memory. England is next. Like any decent Spurs fan, he despises Arsenal and Chelsea and wishes he could be at White Hart Lane on Wednesday cheering on his team and waving two fingers at the opposing Gunners – but he doesn’t have tickets.
And so he plays. He misses a cross, attempts a back-heel pass. Takes a few throws. His legs are as skinny as Q-tips, but out here they are powerful. He goes up against players like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
Yeah! A hattrick! The World Cup beckons!
Anything is possible. Anything.
Dreams do come true if you keep believing in yourself. Anything is possible. – Jennifer Capriati
It is staggering to see how much artistic talent there is out there, everywhere, really. Wherever you look, someone is making something, and they’re quite good at it.
A friend of mine works in the financial industry. He spends his days dealing with hedge funds and separately managed accounts. When he leaves the office, he gets together with a colleague and practices with his band, in which they play the keyboards and start the drum machine and sing and dance in front of mostly empty bars. The next day, he slogs back into work and does it all again.
Another guy I know temps. He hops from job to job, a nobody, the guy floating around the office that no one knows. At night, he hits the stand-up comedy circuit, staving off hecklers, constantly trying out new material. He is constantly pushing for that big break, which has to happen, because he’s working so hard. And he is pretty funny.
And don’t get me started on the Web. At the risk of sounding grumpy, everybody’s got a damned blog. It’s their place where they can be who they really are, unvarnished, expressing themselves truthfully and with conviction. Odds are, someone you know has an Internet presence, a place where they can produce and enliven themselves, and you have no idea. There’s some great stuff out there on the Web. You should check them all out.
The most exhilarating part of any creative endeavour is that, essentially, it’s all magic. Whether you’re a tortured artist driven mad by your own genius or just some loser stringing together bad similes about your ex-girlfriend set to awkward acoustical fumblings in an empty pub, you are introducing something new into the world. Before you put pen to paper, or paint to canvas, or fingers to guitar, there was nothing there. You created it. There was emptiness, and you filled it, generating a real tangible thing out of thin air, pulling the rabbit out of your hat. It’s tremendously exciting. And — and here’s where it gets you — addictive. Ruthlessly so.
Because after a while, even if you’re good, you realise it doesn’t pay shit, and it’s a lot of work, and it’s hard and frustrating and totally thankless. You realise that there are a million other kids out there doing the same thing you are, and some of them are better, a lot of them are. And, worst, you realise that you’re growing older, and all the stuff you imagined for yourself, a family, a nice home, Sunday League football with the kids, all that’s creeping up on you. For a while you compromise, and you balance doing what you’re passionate about with what you have to do to survive and lay the groundwork for future happiness. But that line keeps inching up on you, and you find that you’re expressing yourself less and less, that after a full 8-hour workday, which you have to go through to pay your rent and live your life, get out from under your debt, whatever… you’re just too tired to create, which, after all, at its core, is just more work. Next thing you know, you haven’t written, or painted, or performed, in months. The momentum stops, and you’re just another person working in an office, hoping to beat the traffic home. And before you know it, you’re the guy telling the upstart new kid at work, the one so full of promise and hope and optimism, how you used to write, or paint, or perform, all the time, really, I was quite good, I just didn’t catch my break, you know? Because eventually you do have to stop. As Chris Rock said, no one wants to be the oldest guy in the bar.
This isn’t meant to be depressing. It happens. How could it not? We only have so much time.
Ask your parents. No matter what they do in their lives, whether they’re an electrician or a nurse or a tax collector, I can guarantee you that when they were young, they had some sort of artistic endeavour. Maybe they wrote poems in their diary, maybe they just tore apart cars and put them back together. Do they do it anymore? Is it still a part of their life? Watch their face when they tell you how they used to paint. Watch it light up, then crest into a faint sadness. “That was a long time ago,” they’ll say.
A smart person said once that the worst thing you can say to someone under the age of 30 in London is, “You will never be famous. Let it go.” It’s a cold-blooded, cynical, joyless thing to say, even more so because it’s heartbreakingly true. And when you consider that 99 percent of the time, you’d be absolutely right, well, it makes you want to hide in your room and not try to create anything.
But yet, but yet, you do, we do, we all do. It doesn’t have to end in fame, or money, or sex (though, to be fair, it’s always nice when something ends in sex). Nobody starts doing something because they think it will ultimately provide them worldly pleasures; they do it because they love it, because they must do it.
One friend spends her day trying to help people with mental health problems, many of whom show no appreciation whatsoever for her efforts. It’s a tough and often emotionally-draining job, but in her spare time she leaves that behind and designs handbags. “It’s just my little thing that I do for me,” she says.
Is she wrong? The others above, the ones sneaking in gigs after the stock exchange closes, the ones telling jokes, the ones writing poetry, are they wrong? Are they fooling themselves? Are they wasting their time? Should they stop?
No, no, no, never, never. They are creating magic, every one of them, and that’s something a nice house and matching linens can never replace. I don’t know what’s going to happen to any of them, or to me, but I love them, I love that they still care, I love that it matters. I hope they never, ever stop. I know I don’t plan to. We all have to keep going, while we can.