a past full of wasted present

I’ve always had a very clear vision of what my life will look like once I become a grown up.

I’ll live in an old, light filled house; the kind where if you leave the front and back doors open, a soft breeze flows right through the middle. It will be a calm house in a quiet suburb, with a white picket fence whose paint is peeling off in lazy flakes. In my house there’ll be a room that’s only mine, filled with so many books that they’re piled in the corners, and a fat couch on which I can sit to read them. Days will pass slowly and I’ll spend them nestled at my desk in a nook near the window, writing glorious words. My house will have red saucepans and floral wall paper and out the back a big garden, where vegetables and flowers will grow in a sort of crazy, hap hazard harmony.

In my house I’ll have a border collie whose name will be Mack, and she and I will go running together in the afternoons. And there’ll be nosey chooks that roam the yard and who we are forever shooing out of the kitchen. We’ll string fairy lights along the porch and our friends will visit on Friday evenings to drink bottles of wine. On Sunday mornings we’ll sit on the front steps, listening to vinyls, with bed hair and big cups of tea, and the slightly too long grass will be just one more testimony to our absolute contentment. Life will be so great; I’ll be so happy when I grow up.

 

Ever since ever I was a kid I’ve had trouble living in the current moment, preferring instead to while away perfectly valid years of my life, waiting for things to get wonderful. Impatient as the day is long, I’ve dismissed so much of my present, considering it nothing but a necessary inconvenience which must be endured in order to obtain my fantastic future. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that by remaining idle I was wasting precious years; that what I should have been doing was getting busy with my here and now.

Since downing tools at the end of last year, things have become a lot clearer. In the last couple of months, I’ve done more to actively fashion my life’s canvas than I’d done in the preceding decade. Sure, I’d played some big cards in that time; a visit to Africa, a few sweet moments in Europe. But when I returned from these adventures, I stupidly settled right back into a sort of passive discontentment.

For so long I believed it was normal for daily existence to be ordinary. During this time I owed my survival and sanity to fleeting moments of brilliance, snatched through rare displays of spontaneity. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’d do what any conservative soul would do on the verge of a mental breakdown; I’d chuck a sickie. Then, fuelled by the short fused euphoria of stolen time, I’d cram as much living as I could into that single evening. I’d stay up all night, playing music, painting, writing, drinking booze and end it all with a pre dawn stroll through the sleeping streets. Finally, utterly exhausted, I’d crawl beneath the folds of doona, just as dreaded first light forced its way through my bedroom window, reminding me that time never stops and that the previous evening was nothing but a self indulgent, pointless protest. I see now that setting my sights on a distant, romanticised future was my way of enduring what I felt was a deeply unsatisfying existence.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve wasted the best part of my twenties learning a simple yet vital life lesson: if you want to wander off the beaten track, you will have to pave your own path. And for the first time, I’m doing just that. I didn’t know it then, but it was on those rare stolen nights that I was tasting the true essence of living; the rest was nothing but an empty waiting. Now suddenly my life has begun, and I have some serious catching up to do.

 

I watched a speech by the late Steve Jobs this week. He was addressing an audience of young people at their university graduation. What he told them really stuck in my gut. He said that to live a successful life, you have to find what you love. He urged his audience to never settle, and to continue searching until they discover their passion. He stressed that this is the only way to ever be truly satisfied, so once you find what you love, you have to remain true to it, no matter how hard this might seem.

I like it when someone successful says something like that. It reassures me that I’m on the right track; that as tough as it may at first appear, paving your own way is not only possible, but for a life worth living, it’s necessary.

Until recently, my past has been filled with wasted present; years spent waiting expectantly for a future that never arrives. Now I finally understand that it’s impossible to exist anywhere but in the here and now. And you know what? For the first time in my life, that’s exactly where I want to be.

 

 

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the decision

This blog originated because for a long time now I’ve been feeling discontent and at odds with my lot in life.

Like countless others, I failed to stand back and take a good hard look as my life began to take shape. I forgot to consider whether where I was headed was anywhere near where I wanted to go. I suppose mine is the typical scenario; I finished school with a sense of exhausted relief and, as if driven by auto pilot, enrolled immediately into university without a thought regarding where exactly I was headed. I guess I figured I should just keep moving until I figured it out. After all, if you don’t tread water, you might sink, right? Four years passed in a blur of work, sweat and study and when I finally came up for air I was met with a certificate, a congratulatory handshake and the expectation that I would leave the murky dream pool without making a fuss, in order to commence what I suddenly realised would be a long and arduous career of working for the man.  If you’ve not detected the less than subtle allusions, I couldn’t help but feel as if somehow I’d been jibbed.

Over the past several years I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that this is it for me. And what’s made it all the more confusing is the discouragement I’ve received from others when I’ve expressed to them my feelings of dissatisfaction. Some reassured me that I would come to love my job, like one might a stray dog. I just need to give it time. Others admitted similar despondency regarding their own employment, but reiterated that this was the reality; that we aren’t supposed to like what we do. Apparently ‘job’ is supposed to be synonymous with ‘soul destroying’. One friend suggested I enrol in an evening class if I was feeling unstimulated. Or if that failed, had I considered having a baby? (I hadn’t realised breeding was an acceptable cure for boredom?) But when none of this helped, my continued complaints were either met by annoyed dismissal or an exasperated enquiry as to what I thought I might like to be doing instead. Oh, if only it were that easy. But if I knew what I was searching for, I would have surely already found it.

I secretly envy that particular breed of person who seems to possess a sort of easy contentment with themselves and their life. The way they leave their homes each morning to attend their nine til five job, and don’t seem to be bothered that they spend every weekend getting pissed at the same old local. The kind of person whose idea of a change of scenery is to repaint the feature wall in the living room every other Christmas. I am being entirely sincere when I say I would trade my complicated mind and all its baggage for the bliss of being that happy person.

Irritatingly, I have always sensed that there’s something more for me; that a taste of greatness is lingering, just beyond the boundaries of the ordinary and the reach of my desperately probing fingertips. I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry; there have been countless occasions that have required me to have stern words with my inner egotist: what is it that makes you so special? But these thoughts aside, all attempts to make peace with my situation have simply resulted in the voice in my mind and the pressure of my heart joining forces to wage war on my sensibilities with renewed vigour. The message is clear; they need to get out. This musty air is killing them.

So six months ago I promised myself that this would be my final year in my current profession. I made a pact with my flailing sense of self that at the conclusion of this year, I would save her from the mediocrity in which she was drowning and the two of us would wander, hand in hand, into the middle distance, accompanied by some form of triumphant, non diegetic instrumental that would make it clear to the viewers at home that something wonderful had just occurred, and that together we would seek to find some semblance of meaning in this life. In response, my inner self conceded that she could probably manage to keep her head above water until then, but that I had better be serious. I felt as if I had made a positive step in the right direction and that made me feel good. And then I had to tell my boss.

Let it be noted at this point that I am a pathetic coward. Don’t misunderstand me; I mustered up the necessary courage and I informed my very reasonable and very thoughtful boss that I had intentions of making this my final full time year in the job. I offered that I would still be available to work on a casual basis and explained that I just needed some time with my thoughts for a while. She seemed to take it well, and in response to her calm smile and generally graceful demeanour, I left the meeting feeling relieved and reassured. Meanwhile, she turned back to whatever she was doing with full intentions of using any means necessary between then and the New Year to change my mind. After all, this particular lady was Cessnock born and bred; she doesn’t have it in her to give in quietly.

Now, with the year quickly nearing its end, she is very slowly yet very surely arranging the big guns in neat rows across the desk in her office. Needless to say, I am getting scared. It is becoming apparent that the amount of days until the end of the year directly correlate to the size of the fear growing in my gut. And the more pressure she applies, the more I begin to question whether my decision to throw in my career might actually be the stupidest, most crazy thought I have ever had. Sure I dislike my job, but no more than the next guy. In fact, some days I’m almost convinced I like it. I mean, I’m good at it, and that has to stand for something. After all, do I really think I can simply just do want I want to do instead? Is that the dumbest idea ever, or what?

I gather that the reason I’m feeling this way is that what I am intending to do is in direct conflict to the conditioning to which we’ve all fallen victim from the day we were first added as fuel to the deaf machine of life. The bottom line is that we aren’t supposed to choose our own path, experiment with our lives, seize the day and act spontaneously. We are supposed to conform. Get a job. Have babies. Feed the false economy. In theory, I get all of this. Likewise, I am totally aware that we only get one go at this life business, that the only things we will ever truly regret are the ones we never did; that there is no reward for refusing to step beyond our comfort zone. And so on and so forth. Regardless, I am still petrified.

For now, I’ve decided that I want to write. You should probably be aware at this point that if it hadn’t been for Marsden, I would have totally written the Tomorrow series. And if only Douglas Adams hadn’t been given the unfair advantage of having been born first, there is no way I wouldn’t have written his satirical masterpiece. Laugh if you want, but know that I’m not kidding.

 

So this coming year will be the year I quit my life, and I can only hope that when this nonsense is all over and this absurd neurosis is out of my system, my boss might take pity and give me my job back, and that I might have learned to value the mediocrity with which I’ve been blessed. Until then, I’ll be hiding under the bed sheets, mustering the energy to be brave. Don’t bother waiting for me; this might take a while.