Life is a fascinating concept.
Sometimes it feels we’re in a competition, a race with others, siblings or friends, or just with ourselves, with our own wants and desires. With all the things we have to do before a certain time, before life, or age make such things impossible.
Some of us realise this sooner than others. I remember going to highschool with people who had their plans worked out from as early as 14.
They were going to go to university, get a job doing this, marry this girl or this boy and have a family before this age and so on.
I just remember being perpetually puzzled. A feeling highlighted in my senior year, when I used to take long walks about the grounds with a friend during our break time, he would later pursue a career in London law, talking about how I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. The idea that we, as students go from 16+ exams, to 18+ exams, then to university and then????
He told me I worried too much.
Which is true. But I still like to plan things out, even if those plans eventually end up as roadkill under the wheels of life.
When I did finally graduate, it was with more bewilderment than relief. I look at it now and I think that after 7 years I might’ve ended up institutionalised to a degree even greater than Brooks Hatlen in Shawshank.
Because my first foray into higher-education was iced before it even began.
The shock and horror within the family when I abruptly about-faced with less than six weeks to go in that final semester in highschool. Basically withdrawing from my planned forever-unnamed course at a forever-unnamed University, I instead opted to stay in the city doing a spectrum of courses that weren’t up to much.
That lasted about two weeks before I again withdrew, citing culture-shock and disinterest.
Long story short, I would spend the virtually the next decade moving in and out of higher education, before eventually completing my nurse training and taking a position in the hospital where I worked most, in a variety of summer jobs, for most of my working life.
So at that point I was at the starting line of life, somewhere between 7 and 12 years behind the rest of my contemporaries.
It’s a good thing that I don’t see life as a competition.
Though, of course if I did I would have had the wherewithal to be more proactive earlier.
Plus I had other concerns that made what some would say “normal life”, at least “normal life” from a late twentieth-century perspective, difficult. If nigh-on impossible.
The metaphor I most equate too now is one of house construction. Which might sound like I’ve been hitting the Captain Morgan too hard, but stay with me on this.
Everyone from the year I graduated, the world over, is on a vast green, fertile plain. We’re all allocated a specific portion of land to build our home and we’re all given a finite time period in which to do it.
Of course you need building materials with which to build, knowledge to know how to build, and friends/family/partners to help in the building.
The more you have of these things the faster you can build, the closer you get to achieving your goal of having your own home.
The home is a metaphor, remember. You can have a home early but still be building; the house/home here represents contentment and security, not actual physical bricks and mortar.
Not much happens in the first few years for anyone, you’re still putting the foundations in. levelling the ground, making contacts to help you build, learning skills to allow you to buy the raw materials.
In reality you’re learning trades, attending classes, dating, looking for those invisible steps for life. You can’t read a map and follow it, and no one can walk it for you.
Some people have older siblings to give some idea of the best route to take (“Study economics, learn to drive quickly, don’t end up in The Academy, getting off with random boys/girls at 2am, the night before your finals”) but if you’re unfortunate to BE the eldest sibling, or an only child, then you’re going to have to go the Clint Eastwood route and forge your own path.
And that’s when all bets truly come off.
Using the power of facebook, I’ve discovered a lot. People who have married their highschool sweethearts and live happily less than twenty miles from where they went to school. People who have emigrated halfway round the world and are now involved in professions I would’ve never keyed them too when I knew them almost 20 years ago.
Some of them, while heterosexual in school have discovered the love of their lives was in fact their own sex and are now happily content with their soulmates. Others, who were openly gay in school, are now married with children.
Many are still in the UK, but a fair few are scattered around the globe.
Touch wood, no one has died, yet.
So we can say that all these people are building their metaphorical houses.
Every house is different. Different sizes, styles, colours, price-ranges. From the opulent, to the basic, from the rustically English to the stylishly European.
I’m not sure what my house looks like.
I have the skill, I have the building supplies, but I’ve plateaued and I don’t see a way through this dilemma.
It’s definitely a half-built house.
It doesn’t require a visit from the experts, yet, a la UK reality television. Those awful shows broadcast at 11am on a Wednesday, only watched by the shift-working or the unemployed. I don’t have loose wiring, holes in the underlay, or cracked tiling. Water is not pouring from the ceilings, nor am I behind on the rents, the rates or the bills for the building merchants who supplied me all the stuff.
I just don’t know what I want to do to finish the place.
I cannot define my style; it’s not traditional, nor contemporary. In reality, shopping for even the smallest accoutrement is something akin to a labour of Hercules.
Will it look nice? Will it go with the aesthetic? Can I afford it? What does it say about me when someone else sees it?
I recognise my inability to be certain about what I want.
So in that sense my home is habitable, but not my preferred dwelling.
Basically I’ve plateaued at one storey. And this is where the ladders come in.
This forthcoming year I’m going to learn new skills, hopefully make a glut of new contacts and give my home the glow it deserves. The glow that I see in so many homes around it.
Right now it feels like a narrative with a single layer; pretty thin gruel. I need to add some depth to my life. This is aside from the work, sleep, repeat. Not that I’m afraid of that (I recognise I’ll be doing that, and then some, this forthcoming year). But I’ve found employment in the mainstream, which is great for my bank balance, but a bit flaky for my own development. What I need to do now is learn more, out in the margins.
I need to be taken and shown by old wizened master-craftsmen, deep in the forests, the best way to lathe, carve, to assemble the interior of my home. So I can add the depth I need. Take it from two-dimensional to three. Add a conservatory, a log-burning fireplace, an aga. Throws from Nepal, from Istanbul, from Marrakesh, carved mahogany coffee tables and big comfy lemon-coloured reading chairs. Grow my herb garden; use my wok more often, add more green, more nature to go along with the dark brown basic colour-scheme.
From an early age I’ve been forever told that “I’ll know, when I’ll know”. In everything; from tying shoelaces, to buying property, to love, my heart has its own internal clock and it will not be rushed on such matters, even when my head is tapping its foot and staring at its watch impatiently.
I recognise my own habits, my own idiosyncrasies. My therapist says I’m one of the most self-analysing clients he’s ever known. What I need to do now is turn that focus and attention to detail outward. Because if I can use that same level of analysis on my research papers, then I might have a shot at doing something really damn special over the next 14 months.
I grew up with The Fresh-Prince of Bel-Air. Will Smith’s breakout show that made him a household name, which is funny, because I’ve never had a lot of time for the actor, or the character in the show. But I remember one episode when his Aunt, Aunt Viv, wants to see if she could have been a Broadway star, and as a result enrols in an intense boot-camp for dancers, most of them 15 years younger than her.
She does it, it’s agony, but she trains and she auditions, and she’s accepted.
And she quietly declines the invitation.
That’s not me. I won’t decline any invitation I acquire. But the fact that she was willing to try, the fact that someone generally thought to be past it, to be too old, or too inexperienced, turns around and goes “I wanna try this!”
It’s the experience that will add layers to my home.
That’s what the watchword for happiness is these days.
Don’t spend your money on things, spend it on experiences. Holidays to exotic locations, spa treatments, meditation retreats, even zip-lining through the treetops at 15 mph! We have one world, we don’t need to own it, we just need to see the same thing in different ways, personal ways, ways that make us feel more alive and ready to do the difficult things.
This is my experience.
My last big educational adventure.
The ladders and scaffolding I’ll need to continue with my home.
If I’m gonna make it, it’s gonna take everything I got.
And even if I fail I don’t care, because I’ll have tried, and at least I’ll have a fistful of stories to make the dark times glow; glow at least with the memories of what I had the guts to aim for.