Hang onto the world as it spins, around
Just don’t let the spin get you down
Things are moving fast
Hold on tight and you will last
Keep your self-respect, your manly pride
Get yourself in gear
Keep your stride
Never mind your fears
Brighter days will soon be here
Take it from me someday we’ll all be free (Yeah)
Keep on walking tall, hold your head up high
Lay your dreams right up to the sky
Sing your greatest song
And you’ll keep, going, going on
(Hey) Just wait and see someday we’ll all be free. (Yeah)
Take it from me, Someday we’ll all be free
(It won’t be long) Take it from me someday we’ll all be free
Take it from me, take it from me, take it from me
lyrics and performed by – the late great Donny Hathaway
“Having seen how lucidly and logically certain madmen justify their lunatic ideas to themselves and to others, I can never again be sure of the lucidness of my own lucidity.”
– from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, translated by Richard Zenith
Most mornings I wake up sure and convinced that I have just returned from the furthest end of the world or have been piloting an enormous jumbo jet whose underbelly, every time, just misses a pointy mountain crest. Some dream nights I lose my courage and am fleeing a gormless cookie monster. Thankfully those briefest of moments post rousing from the deep last bare picoseconds longer than those subatomic particles that have the briefest of lives. I guess the oddest part of waking up from any dream is the surreal and distinct feeling that one was bumped from one dream universe to another rather like electrons jumping between orbital states. Fifty picoseconds into the glorious morning and you’re relieved, “phew”, that WAS only a dream. Thank God! I thought that demon was about to have my heart for lunch! Five minutes later and the mind is completely blank. Astonishing.
PS Tonight, I suppose I go to bed at my own peril.
The brain is stupendously good at picking battles. Listen to this.
The sound of the news coming from the radio plucked me, against my will, from that calm sea of cataleptic forgetfulness we call sleep. Forgetfulness, some might say, is the wrong term for a state in which we spend up to a third of our brief lives comatosed like a patient about to undergo surgery and who’s just been injected with propofol or some other anaesthetic and asked to count slowly to ten. For even in this paralyzed state, eyes closed, we see the strangest apparitions, hear the scariest voices, confront our scatty demons and sometimes soar through the air or ocean wielding harmless battle axes against equally harmless bandits. Our brains, wired up with their one hundred trillion synapses or some such uncountable number, never to go to sleep!
“That is loud, I mean wtf on a Sunday morning. Now I can understand if the time was 10 o’clock”. I laid in bed and struggled to galvanize my feeble energies to go knock on my neighbour’s door and demand they turn the radio down. I finally opened my eyes and turned to look at the clock and by gad it had just gone past 10 o’clock. Obviously this would not be worth retelling if this event happened every Sunday at the same time like clockwork but this, I swear, is the very first time I’ve been woken up in this fashion. Isn’t it amazing when our brains do this? We easily remember those countless times we go to bed thinking we really ought to wake up at six because [insert reason] and bam! at one minute to six we are wide awake. If this happens often enough we start to believe we are supermen eh, we think things and they come to pass. Just like they say in positive thinking circles or prosperity gospel sermons. Think and grow rich. It’s that easy.
Wait a minute. How come this never happens at bonus time? You can see the glum faces of colleagues as they come out of their reporting managers’ rooms after they’ve been recounted the same spiel as the year before: “You know with the economy as it is the company hasn’t done as well as we wanted BUT we really value your contribution and despite what’s happening in the business we’ve been able to find you a bonus of [.]” Like you, they probably did their best to mask the disappointment. All those neurons over the preceding days working up an expectation of a bonus large enough to pay off the mortgage or buy a Ferrari. Those neurons were wrong. They picked the wrong battle.
Tonight is one of those epiphanies when I know I should quit moaning about all the things life throws at me and just do something freaking amazing. I don’t have to climb Everest or feed the multitude. I don’t have to save the world or land on the cover of Fortune magazine. All I need to do is figure out how to live learning and doing something that feeds on my passion and doing it stupendously well … while paying the rent. I can sweat the small stuff later.
My heart, you have my full permission to rage at the automaton your host has become. Upon a sunny time once, he, younger then, bounded with the wishful follies common to those who have yet to witness many dawns. Remember how his impish gleam went glove in hand with blue-hot fire in his belly; how he reveled in hopes for and in his future; mind you, not small ones like meatballs or gnocchi but huge, huge hopes, even bigger than the biggest star in the sky! Imagine that!
Ha! But promising decade after toiling decade after despondent decade have squeezed the juice out of this fruit; what yield now this droughty harvest? We have together watched with alarm as he morphed into a caffeine-powered somnambulator; a corporal in the Waiting-For-A-Pension-At-60 Army chanting with soldierly gravity the dirge of “Another day, Another dollar”.
My heart, what then your rage? To your host: let the day he swapped expressing his native born talent for a grateful paycheck be cursed. Let that morning he stamped out Excellence in favour of an annual three-star job review be damned. Remember, Death waits in his usual corner like a phantom character barely perceptible in a chiaroscuro. The Great Leveler, as final judge and arbiter, will one day ask of you as of all those he has welcomed into the Great Darkness: when breath was still of your choosing which did you choose: existence or living.
My heart, what shall it be? The universe will be here forever but you won’t. Is it true that only those crazy enough to believe they can change the world (and themselves) go crazy? LOL. They say these oddballs are the very ones who in the end get the chance to do something majestic; sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. Your star is set on the Good but when shall you arise from slumber?
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 …
Looking out my window I can see the young daughter of a close-by neighbour. She must be what now – nine, ten? I’ve lived here four years and I’ve seen her grow from cute kid to the cusp of teenage-hood. In two years she’ll have breasts and be beset by that monthly thing that all women must go through; that process that makes the birth of the likes of me possible. In two years I’d have been living here for six; in the same small, cold flat with the single window glazing that won’t keep out the winter cold and the small kitchen where I can barely do a pirouette; besides, where will I store my growing pile of books?
I gotta do something about this. For as time waits for no one, it’s clear the time to grab the bull by the balls is now.