Those that I envy the most are not the rich or the great or even the famous, the young or the beautiful but the souls who live spontaneously in non-metronomic rhythm; in step with the drum that calls a man to life and to live. I, on the other hand, feel mostly, girdled, girded round, encircled, a bone-dry mummy entombed in a crypt and sentenced to a display cage in a museum. What hell to be constrained within the prison cells of pragmatism and convention! It is as if the souls of the bodies that I see outside of me are actually inside of me; maggots wending a slimy pathway through my thoughts, giving the thumbs up to ideas that meet not the dictionary’s definition of common sense but the public interpretation of it and then shooting down all my attempts to escape and float upwards on the lofty air of rhapsodic discovery. Those souls out there, outside of my imagined reality, living erringly or truthfully but always spontaneously: surely they are my true brothers and sisters; my long lost aunts anxious to send me on my merry way laden with provisions of honey and ambrosia. My magic carpet is ready to fly.
I’m sitting, this night, to all intents relaxed except I am anything but. For I am possibly about to embark on the most exhilarating journey in my otherwise non-eventful life. Tomorrow I expect to be fired, a first. My life as corporate financial analyst is to be crossed out not, afterall, with a 25-year-service golden pen but with a giant eraser.
I was sat, this morning, across a table from my boss soaking in sounds that came through the ether between us: “This is not working. You may have the technical chops but you don’t have the intuition and that can’t be taught”. Case shut. The next sound I heard were not fireworks but a colossal thud. I was the dumped spouse: abandoned, bereft and in shock. After years of working my precious butt, sometimes to almost midnight, this is how it ends. The door is surely now about to close and, though I don’t believe in fate, destiny or God but, it looks like Alexander Graham Bell was right and another door, a better door, is silently opening. The spark of an idea.
It came to me while sitting (I sit a lot) in a cafe at the weekend; in fact only yesterday. The prospect of reaching middle-age and being let go into a world that doesn’t want old fuddy-duddies had exercised my mind for a mighty long aeon. Still, I couldn’t figure what I could realistically do, entrepreneurially, that hadn’t been done. The one thing I knew was that when I walked the streets of London and observed independent businesses being run and managed by people with dreams, ambition and courage my heart would leap.
This is what I want to do: work for myself doing something that I love and excelling at it. This is how I feel walking into the Apple Store on Regents Street and knowing that “Someone built this and what a beauty it is”. Hate or loathe Apple but those guys raised the bar for computer software, build, design, functionality and service. I want to do something similarly amazing (perhaps, more). It will come at a premium (of course we all want to be paid and paid well) but it will be amazing. I once told a prospective boss who was about to hire me that “I want to change the world”. He laughed and there were times I would think back to then when I was younger and think “How naive”. It looks like life is offering me a chance.
So when my idea came I was awed and my heart leapt. After two hours of excitement the practical diffculties started to hit me: funding? technology? competition? managerial ability? Do all of the people who start a business have all these skills? No, they learnt on the job. Which is why I feel that my upcoming adventure will be less a child Alice through the looking glass and more an adult Jason setting off after the golden fleece. Tonight then as I sit on my sofa life is all surreal; my world is light, atemporal and indistinct; a living impressionist painting. I might fail but at least I’d have tried and what I learn will be invaluable. I don’t want to return to earth and ashes wishing “If only”.
But if it works out …
Man as both both creator and created, it seems, is cursed to seek the very formula of creation. Take the case of Victor Frankenstein, Creator, in Mary Shelley’s book of the same name. (Revelation for me, it’s not the monster who’s named Frankenstein). Bent on creating life, he brings to the world a freak both terrifying and thrilling. Unlike the Good Lord who looked upon his creation and saw that it was good, Frankenstein fled his own handiwork. Poor thing. He then determines to destroy what he had brought forth (rather like The Man Upstairs with Noah’s Flood). So begins the struggle between the “Good” and the “Bad” although it’s soon clear that the Good isn’t all good and neither is the Bad all bad. There’s a section in the book when the pitiable creature tells its own story and one’s heart fills with pity.
The novel itself is in the form of a letter written by a young explorer, Robert Walton, to his sister in which he describes his mission to “traverse immense seas” to a land where the “sun is forever visible”. Why? He wishes to “confer on all mankind” his discoveries and he is sure that “success shall crown my endeavours”. Madness? “There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand”. Whereas the adventure in Samuel Butler’s Erewhon was pursued out of curiosity, young Walton seeks to “make a name for myself”. The omens are not good when he picks up Frankenstein from the icy seas where the latter had almost frozen to death while out hunting his daemon.
I think the usual focus on Frankenstein’s creature misses the point of the novel: that what we get after we achieve our dreams may not turn out in any way to be what we dreamt. In fact it could turn out to be much worse. We know this of course. The Greek stories are our perfected examples. But do we learn? Perhaps the question should be: can we learn when there’s often, and maybe always, something in our souls that we do not comprehend willing us on? According to the Introduction in my Puffin version, Frankenstein was Mary Shelley’s entry to a ghost story competition that included her husband, the famous poet P.B. Shelley and other friends among whom was Lord Byron. Ah, with friends like these. She clearly won. It’s not the greatest novel ever written but certainly one of the most original and, for its time likely along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the most chilling. Read it and then go fulfil your dream.
We thirst for glory: to ride the heavens on a rainbow; more pearly, more vivid, more luminous than any star. Oh, to be Caesar: our name, deified; our blood, shed. We eschew care for what we wish.
“You might get everything you want but not want everything you get.”
– Stevie Wonder, In Square Circle: “The Land of La La”