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My old computer humming late into the night. The sound of the television in the next room. The flickering monitor. Outside below, the street is void of people, save for a lone, longhaired guy striding unsteadily towards Warwick Way. Plastic rubbish bags are neatly stacked in groups, ready to be collected. I can hear the Big Brother contestants showering on TV. And I can feel a tiredness seeping into me. Reading the new entries on this website, I have a satisfying sense of connectedness to other scribers in other parts of the world, and to those ones closer to home.
There is a terrace outside our kitchen window. To access it, you have to climb through the window. The terrace itself is at windowsill level. The four flats overlooking it have equal access rights but I’m the one who sweeps it, cleans the tables and chairs, provides and tends the potted plants and waters them. This evening the resident blackbird across the way is serenading me. I should sit out here more often. It’s a secret little oasis in the middle of a big city. It has character. It’s a place to come and think and look at the sky.
It has been the most beautiful day in terms of the weather. The moment I stepped out to buy the morning paper I realised that today was the first truly warm, bright, summery day of the year, a perfect day for going for a walk or sitting out and having a cappuccino outside CaffÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© Nero’s, or going for a walk through the park. But what did I do? I stayed indoors in front of the computer for the whole day. I must be mad, or obsessed, or just plain stupid. Sometimes I wish I’d never set eyes on a computer!
The night before going back to work. I always have the best of intentions about getting all the preparation done and out of the way early in the break. Always, I find myself burning the midnight oil the night before going back. It’s just the way it is. Still, I’m pleased with what I’ve got planned and I can sense it’s not going to be such a demanding 7Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ weeks before I head back to Australia for my annual ‘Tour of Duty’. Anyway, it’s late and I know I’m not going to get as much sleep as I ought to.
It’s been a day when no one wanted to jinx things by saying how well things were going. Superstitious? Yes, but I for one was willing to have an easy day and that’s exactly what we all got. I don’t know who put what in the water but I sure hope they do the same tomorrow! And I’m happy to be back there. Bronwen called this evening regarding the possibility of another job but actually, I’m not interested. It’s funny how things can change and then change back again just as quickly. No point opting for change for change’s sake.
I’m going to miss Donna when she goes back to Australia. We have become such good mates over the years, and having her here in London these past three years had been great. But all things change and move on and Donna’s chapter in London, a shorter one than mine and Teddy’s, is drawing to a close. To be sure, we’ll catch up on my annual sojourn back down under, and I have little doubt that she’ll be passing this way again from time to time. But it won’t be the same and I’ll miss her presence here in London.
Email. We take it so much for granted. Yet it’s not that long ago that the word itself would have meant nothing to anyone. I remember a time when I used to write letters. Lots of letters. There was something magical and extraordinary about the very act of sealing up an envelope and delivering it to a letterbox, knowing that that very same envelope would be handled, touched and opened by the person I was writing to. There was, and still is, an inherent poetry to the whole process. And email? Well, extraordinary, yes. But magical? I’m not so sure.
‘The tyranny of distance’, as one renowned Australian writer once proclaimed. With Donna heading back to Oz and so many of the people dearest to me living so far away, I sometimes question why we choose to live here in London. Yet this is such an amazing city. Living here, one really is at the heart of the Western World. Sometimes I love the place and sometimes I loath it, but I know that if and when I ever come to leave it, I’ll miss it greatly. So I guess that the ‘tyranny of distance’ is really a relative term.
A new development, a change of circumstances, and now it seems we’ll be here in London longer than perhaps planned. We may even see out the decade. And I guess that’s okay. What it prompts, however, is the need to live a little more fully, engage a little more meaningfully and to create something with a little more purpose. A lot has been achieved and yet the potential for more is enormous. It’s so easy to underachieve, to allow time and opportunity to pass unnoticed. To live creatively and make the most of all that is, that’s what’s most important.
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in electronic distraction. I mean, we have four computers, two video players, two DVD players, a huge TV, two Sony Walkmans and an iPod, not to mention digital cameras, mobile phones and the like. So much distraction, but from what? And at what cost? Sometimes I wonder what my memories will consist of twenty or thirty years from now, with so much time absorbed in unreality. Not that I don’t like all these things. I do, and that’s part of the problem. I guess it’s all about striking a balance.
I made a conscious effort to get out today – forty laps at pool this morning and a walk along the river this afternoon, starting at London Bridge and talking in an open-garden day on the barges moored near Butlers Wharf with their remarkable floating rooftop gardens and the newly re-hung Tate Modern where I was stopped in my tracks by the most stunning Miro painting I have ever seen. It’s been a beautiful early summer’s day, much more comfortable outdoors than in, a day refreshingly free from electronic stimulation and distraction and a very healthy and much-needed change of routine.
Time for a change, for a re-think. Time for a little re-invention. That’s one of the things that keeps the spirit of youth burning in a slowly aging body. It’s easy, tempting even, to remain in one’s comfort zone. We achieve a certain status, a certain level of comfort. We become seduced by all the homely comforts that help us to forget we’re mortal, finite and expendable. To engage in an act of re-invention, however small, is to re-engage with that younger self who used to pose that youthful question, “I wonder what will I be like in 20 years?”
Sitting on the terrace, serenaded by our resident blackbird, a glass of wine in hand and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” beside me, I wonder whether these few drops are rain are going to be enough to send me scurrying inside or whether they are infrequent enough not to be an issue? And the more that I write, the more apparent it becomes to me, as the ink on the page begins to smudge and bleed, that the rain will in all probability win the day, which is fine. At least I won’t need to water the plants this evening.
When I was younger the question, “What does it all mean?” was a pressing one for me. So much of growing up has to do with trying to invent or discover the underlying meaning(s) of life. And when we’re young, it all seems so real and vivid, urgent and personal. Yes, very, very personal. As I’ve grown older, especially over the last 10 years, life has been so busy that the search for meaning has tended to take a back seat to other things, like buying houses, advancing my career and being a good partner. Nonetheless, the question still remains.
Being and not being - all this distraction from the one inevitable fact of life: we all die. And whether or not we continue on into some great hereafter, the fact is we won’t be here. We won’t be who we are now. Sure, we may live on in the memory of others, but as Woody Allen so eloquently put it, “I don’t want to live on in my work. I want to live on in my apartment.” It’s not something that depresses me – yet. I still have a lot of distraction ahead. But one day, distraction won’t cut it.
Surely there has to be something more! At 16 everything lay before me, although at the time I was convinced we’d all be fried in some final nuclear nightmare. I honestly feared I’d never see 30. As it turned out, 30 was okay! But 30 was 16 years ago. I’m 46 now, while in 46 days I’ll be 47. Do I feel it? I don’t know. Sometimes maybe, although I’m always being told I don’t look it, or act it. But surely there must be something more. I don’t feel old, but when I do, what will I do then?
It was fascinating listening to Tristan talk about Tolmer Road the way I used to talk about Ashcliff. It was interesting too how I kept seeing the face of the little boy I used to pick up off the floor and whiz around the room as he giggled away on the face of the man sitting on the couch. If we think of time as a continuum then the experience of that time from different positions along that continuum is a curious phenomenon. Tristan is my sister’s son. We’ve met perhaps three times during the last 25-30 years, including today.
It occurs to me that 2Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ hours of travel to and from work each day is beginning to take its toll. For a long time I was happy to read, or listen to music, or while away the time looking out the train or bus window. But I think I need a change. I didn’t get that Academy job last month. No matter. Surely though, there are other jobs nearer to home that would suit me. And if we’re going to be staying on in London longer that we anticipated, then I can’t help feeling that a change is desirable.
After a very demanding and testing day at work, a walk in the park, some good music, some old diaries, a glass of wine, warm company and a nice meal, and the world doesn’t seem such a bad place after all. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and put things back into perspective. There’s no point dwelling on negatives. It simply generates more of the same. Tomorrow is likely to be a real challenge but then I guess that’s the nature of the beast. As for being our chronically understaffed, I’ll discuss that another time.
It’s funny how there are some days when there doesn’t seem to be anything I want to write about. It’s not that I can’t think of anything. I could rabbit on quite easily about all sorts of things, like how entertaining Big Brother is this year, (yes, yes, I confess! But I also listen to Beethoven and read Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy too!), or how annoying the hum from the clapped-out fridge in the cafÃƒÆ'Ã‚Â© downstairs is tonight, or how I’ve only got 6Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ months of my 1979 diary still to type up. But anything of significance? Nope! I’m afraid not.
It occurs to me that I spend most of my time engaging and interacting with people who have little or no significance nor bearing on my life as a whole. Conversely, the people who matter most to me are, by and large, many hundreds or even thousands of miles away. It’s something that I’ve gotten used to. I don’t necessarily think about it all that often, or not consciously at least. Still, there was a time when the people who mattered most to me were nearby. A precious few still are, but many more are not. And I miss them.
While there are days when I think working with disaffected youth is stimulating and rewarding, today was certainly not one of those days. Rather, it was one of those days where I found myself feeling decidedly allergic to kids. And while I may well have a reputation for being incredibly patient and tolerant with such challenging children, today I felt completely overwhelmed, defeated even, in the face of such bald-faced defiance coupled with a total absence of the back-up support necessary to maintain some semblance of authority. Yep! They really got to me, the little bastards! They really, really did!
There are times in life when initiating change is relatively easy to do. The big changes, I mean, like moving to a different city, or country. Then there are times when such radical changes simply aren’t an option. Sure, it’s possible to do anything if you really want to be bloody-minded about it, but that’s not what I’m talking about. The fact is there are other times when such radical options simply aren’t an option for a whole host of reasons and instead you have to make do with the less-radical changes, all the while asking, will they be enough?
I hate those days when my body feels listless and my energy levels are low. I begin to imagine all manner of possible reasons and harrowing scenarios that, to date at least, have always proven groundless. It’s curious the way the imagination can crank up into overdrive when sometimes all the body is trying to say is, slow down! Take it easy! Give yourself a break! There’s always the temptation to imagine the body is going to remain in that state, too, that somehow my vitality and energy have deserted me forever. I guess that’s how I’ve been feeling lately.
How is it that one helicopter flying so high overhead can make so much noise and be so damned annoying? Why is it circling around and around and why is it so fond of the airspace directly above my head? It keeps flying back and forth, around and around, its propeller pounding the air and completely disrupting any semblance of peace I may have hoped to enjoy out on the terrace on this mild and pleasant summer’s evening. What is it looking at? What is the object of its attention? How can I write with that constant racket going on?
Little changes can sometimes have a big impact. Reclaiming one’s own personal territory can be an affirming act. So often in life we submit ground in all sorts of little ways. Each little piece may in and of itself not amount to very much but after a period of time those little bits can add up to a small country. Determining where compromise ends and surrender begins is a necessary and ongoing process. No one is an island, to be sure, but the boundaries between personal and public territory certainly require and warrant review and reassessment from time to time.
There are people whose ability to remain steadfast and unwavering in the face of change can be truly inspiring. Sadly, I don’t see myself as someone possessing such fine qualities. True, there have been times in my life when I have managed to focus my energies and emerge triumphant from life’s challenges, but in the absence of something to really stand my ground against it sometimes feels as though I’m a cork bobbing around on the surface of an ocean, allowing myself to be buffeted and carried along by forces that are not of my choosing. Not always, but sometimes.
Today marks an important watershed, twelve years and one month on from the day we first met; a culmination of a process we didn’t fully realise we were embarking upon at the time. It’s a day for celebration, for acknowledging how far we have come and all that has been achieved. I have this sense of being embedded in the middle years of life. All that has been and all that is to come seems to pivot around this period in time. And despite an underlying disenchantment with my work situation at the moment, little remains static for very long.
I’m on the train home after a long day and after dinner with Bronwen, Francois and Irene, who at 86 is looking remarkably well for all that she has now had cancer twice. Within a few weeks – four! – I’ll be back in Australia. I’m hungering for Melbourne. Now that it seems that London is to remain home for the foreseeable future, I can’t help but miss Melbourne all the more. It’s such an easy city to live in, an easy city to enjoy. London is many things but sometimes, even though it has to be, it doesn’t feel like home.
I need to get the audience out of my head when I’m writing these entries. It begins to inhibit and/or affect what I write. That is turn defeats the purpose of writing. Or does it? If I’m putting words out into the public domain then the notion of an audience is inescapable. It’s the fact that I’ve told people about what I’m doing that acts as an inhibitor. It shouldn’t, I know, but it does. Then there’s the issue of profundity. Should I be simply prattling on or should I be trying to write something meaningful? I’m just don’t know.
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