fall to the flaw

I was really disappointed, mostly at myself.  And then it grew, that disappointment, into disgust.  I was disgusted with myself.  The inexplicable pride (when I have not much to be proud of), the inability to tolerate tossers, to keep my mouth shut (or email fingers still, to disconnect them from a fizzing brain).

Then I would briefly reconcile myself.  Onwards. There are other options.  His email reply proved what perhaps I was subconsciously testing, or asking: are you a ridiculous alpha male psychopath with a colossal ego, cracking the whip at me slightly harder than you might otherwise because you feel somehow threatened by me?

In my message I had suggested that there are perhaps limits to how demanding you can be of people working really hard for you, putting in time and effort and miles, for free.  That was the crux of what I said – a message I had been stewing over for days, not an impulsive one.  It didn’t go down well.  His eventual email response was insulting and sweary and ranting: like a man not used to being questioned.  “Who are you to question me?”  I am nobody at all to question him, a much less successful and mostly inadequate sort of person, yes.  I do not travel around the world and work with A-List celebrities, I have nothing like his experience.  But I will always have opinions and say what I feel, mostly. That’s not to say that I will be rude or insulting or sweary, but I will say what I think, sometimes to my own detriment.  It’s aligned to the excessive, uncontrollable honesty I often wrangled with when dating.  Like an all-powerful truth serum I cannot deny, inconveniently bubbling away at all times.

Several days later came that reply, upon his return to London, sent late on Sunday night, which I opened and read when sitting on the toilet on Monday morning.  Around the middle of the long, sweary and at times insulting rant he terminated our agreement, stopped dead something I was largely enjoying doing, occasionally loving doing.  While I knew it was possible when I sent the email, still I was stunned, disappointed, gutted, but being at my parents’ home and about to go out for a walk with my mother and girlfriend and dog, I tried and failed to contain it.  Receiving an email like that is not nice.

It was the sniping, needling messages I felt he was enjoying, the mild belittling and patronising.  I could see the avenue opening up towards bullying and it repelled me; I wasn’t going down  there for anyone or anything.  He wasn’t managing me; he was cracking his alpha geezer whip – you need to up your game, you’re getting there (slowly).  I could have parried that others less scrutinised could be criticised for the same things, I could have challenged more.  He was successful, big time, untouchable: our leader.

It was similar to my last big professional relationship fall-out, a man of similar testosterone and large ego.  I was dependent upon him for most of my revenue, rather than my dream pursuit.  But again, ultimately, I brought it to a head, that time face to face, professionally and with requisite composure.  Still, we never worked together again.

Why can I not accept such people when it’s the smartest thing to do in terms of self-preservation and self-interest?  Why am I so sensitive, so proud?  Why must I value basic manners and courtesy so highly?  Look where it’s got me.  (Not very far). You always need people to back you; a conclusion drawn and repeated many times on these pages.  Yet one I struggle to apply.

Still.  There are other options.  Move on.  He was just one guy who might have been important; was important briefly.  Remember that first long phone call taken when sitting in the passenger seat next to your girlfriend on that long journey, when it felt like finally, at last, someone with some kind of heft and influence had recognised you; the relief, the wash of hope that now things were possible…

Still.  There are others.  Aren’t there?

Shit. What in hell did YOU DO THAT FOR?!

No. Enough. There are other more pressing issues of making money, perhaps finding a job, those permanent concerns that seem to never go away.  It’s there you should be applying your efforts.  Those are the things which might financially and psychologically free you from this paranoid purgatory of not knowing what the hell you are doing with your life, although perhaps only to present a new kind of prison.

It keeps flashing back, the opportunity you effectively pissed down the drain in an email at the end of a long day, questioning somebody unquestionable.  Your girlfriend’s worried look when you said you’d sent it; maybe you shouldn’t have done that.  There was a possibility he’d tell you to fuck off now.  You knew that, and he did.  What did you do that for?

Now you’re disappointed again, mostly at yourself.  You loved doing that.  Eurgh, you idiot! And so the cycle starts again.

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dream dying

It’s like a slow and heartbreaking kind of a death, feeling like giving up on a dream, relinquishing a long-held hope.

You sense things aren’t working and won’t ever work, it’s just not happening. The stubborn hope begins to wobble, teeter and ebb away together with the dim belief, even while you still sustain the work-rate.

Your bank balance, like a football league table, doesn’t lie. It brutally doesn’t tell the sob stories of bad luck and industriousness and how much you care.  And its power to suddenly influence mood is never dimmed. The sharp injection of panic and fear thanks to another retainer lost, income stream dented again, squeezed down now to almost nothing.

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on your side

It often seems that there’s a need to get the right people on your side in order to succeed in life. You can’t NOT be picked by anyone and just play your own game instead. You can’t stay stuck in a box, producing and shouting and hoping to be asked onto a team.

However constant and consistent your stream of stuff, you need bias, blind favouritism, a little bit of nepotism; you need to brown-nose, kiss arse, suck dick. It feels like that really *really* helps to get on. If you’re not great at doing that, things can get difficult.

In the same way you knew bludgeoning away trying to make a living would be easier if you had a girlfriend to whom you could moan and rant and use as an outlet, now you feel more keenly than ever before the need for similar professional and financial solace.

With the single client you were so comfortably dependent on for so long – because you brown-nosed an idiot, you had that. By letting them go, you suddenly didn’t. Now 6 months on, nothing has come along to replace them and you’re struggling. Small dribbles here and there, a couple of disappointments when you weren’t paid, nothing of substance.

Similarly, in trying to get proper jobs, or even interviews, you need an ‘in’, someone to hold the door ajar for you, tip you a nod. Especially today when there are so many decent calibre people seeking new jobs. Just getting a job is not easy. You have to know your value, know when to compromise and when not to compromise.  As time goes on you might have to though. That’s a scary thing.

Pure, unadulterated meritocracies may exist, but after a while it becomes hard to believe in them. Hard not to grow bitter, for the victim complex not to scale. You must continue to have faith in yourself. You look around you at the produce of others and you do by and large have that faith, but it’s bewilderingly frustrating.

You can only go it alone for so long before spluttering, stalling, crashing to earth in an undignified heap.

Your online stats reflect the ambivalent majority. But even if your numbers were higher it may not matter. What matters is finding one person with influence who wants you on their side. Then word-of-mouth can take over.

You begin to think that it doesn’t matter how good or regular your produce, how hard you work, how committed you are or how much you care. You need more people and you need at least one ‘important’ person with deep pockets and strong influence. You need to get the right people on your side. How you do that and how that happens must depend a lot on luck.

born of frustration

A month or so short of my 32nd year and I still struggle with the whole ‘life not being fair’ thing. This is a warbling blog post about that. 

A favourite response of my Mum to my whining as a child was: “Life isn’t fair, never has been and never will. Get over it.”  It was usually in response to something my brother had done, how I had felt wronged by him, the victim.  And he was almost masochistically superior in childhood, often psychologically bludgeoning me into surrender, convincing me I never would be good enough, I could never compete.

Enough time has passed now, but residue embitterment at the general unfairness of life remains as strong as ever.  I still shirk competition.

While the traditional whinges of this blog have been based around being hopelessly lonely, over the past 6 months or so that has mercifully changed.  Someone happened along and it’s been fantastic.

But there are still plenty of reasons to whine about the depressing struggle with perceived unfairness.  On numerous occasions I’ve queried myself on this blog about being worth more than a corporate voice-piece for a total idiot.  Why do I still do nothing about this?  Laziness and comfort zones, I guess.

More than the things which make money and allow me to live in comfort, I am still apparently unable to resign artistic ambition, as much as I feel it would be kinder on myself if I did.

Early ambitions, pretensions, efforts – whatever you want to call them, were based around the written word.  Not inconsiderable efforts achieved no return.  In more recent years the written word has been displaced by photography.  For a couple of years now it’s been a deep passion and something I work tirelessly at, but which also doesn’t feel like work because I love it so much.  I pour hours into it, like I did into writing and still do into reading.  It can make me excited and make me spontaneously smile.  I carry a camera with me everywhere and try to learn, although the technical stuff doesn’t lodge easily in my innumerate brain.  And secretly, while I don’t make a habit of saying it out loud, I think I’m sort of ok at it now – better than writing, where I was challenged by plot, structural coherence and monotone.  I have a decent portfolio and with the right backing, a little self-belief and a bit of appropriate support I could pull off a decent enough exhibition; in the right place and with the right people through the door maybe even make a few quid from it.

It’s a shame that it’s one of the most ludicrously popular ambitions, hobbies, past-times.  And I don’t know anybody worth knowing and have no meaningful support.  At any event worth photographing, there are scores of people wielding bulky, nicer, more expensive looking cameras than mine – two-thirds of them not even official; just chancers like me.

This would be fine, or at least more acceptable, if big media controllers were more thoughtful and selective about the images they use.  But when they select poor images from people whose shoulders I rubbed, and use them in a BBC slideshow – as happened last weekend, that makes me angry and infuriated and even more frustrated.  (Poor images in that they weren’t even cropped straight, or in focus, not poor in that they were just boringly standard).

I find this in my paid work too, when very occasionally trying to pitch nichey trade stories or content with a little more depth than usual.  If editors of a widgetflobble magazine have to think harder than usual about something, they will click delete.  It appears media folk rarely go out of their way to seek difference and higher quality and creativity.  They simply rest on what they know and what is easy because that’s how it’s always been done and nobody ever complains.  This mentality is cited in the Soccernomics context of how football clubs are run, today in a world of richer data about players and transfers and statistics, but it’s wider spread than that.

*

While I know life isn’t fair and it’s foolish to go seeking reason for the majority of heavy stuff that happens – as mentioned in my last post, you still can’t help but feel you deserve a break from time to time.  You actually can’t help but seek reason, an equation, some logic for why things do or don’t happen, as much as you know it is nonsensical.

That handyman you half know from the gym and casually recommended to someone on Facebook: he thanked you because he got a load of work from it.  That was nice.  What goes around must come around, you found yourself hoping. You hold open doors for ignorant fat people, you pick up things dropped in the street by oblivious old people, you dedicate a wedge of spare time to voluntary work, some of which helps people.  It will come around.

When will it fucking come around?!

Is the recent appearance of a girlfriend.. it?  I mean it’s great, fantastic, brilliant.  Or is it the continued reasonable health of my small business?  That’s something to be grateful for which could be pulled from under my feet tomorrow.  (I sometimes both fantasise and fret about that, having the puppet strings severed to that main idiot client; the intoxicating liberty and worry of my main revenue pipeline being cut).  Should I now want for no more?  Because my life isn’t quite as boringly pathetic now, with her it’s more fun than it was.  Where should hopes and expectations end?  Should hopes and expectations end?

Her struggle with an offensive third sector salary depressed again on the subject fairness.  It illuminated an issue I’d never experienced first-hand before, about women’s pay and how it’s horribly disproportionate to men.  Challenging this salary necessitated the supposed managing director of a charity (female) to report to a board of crusty old men in suits named Bob, who sneered at the idea of a significant raise for a longstanding and key member of staff above an already pitiful rate.  When you consider this alongside the number of public sector old boys clubs, the amount of private sector corruption, it sickens.  But at least it’s a job.

Fairness can often feel like it’s in short supply, given a time of squeezed budgets and in an atmosphere which doesn’t and maybe cannot reward smaller-voiced creativity.  Knowing the right people and having the bollocks to confidently bluster bullshit to whoever will listen is as vital as ever.  Even if it makes you look like a twat.  Like many, I am sickened and bored by the number of social media muppets out there guffing away, the number of social media conferences and the broadly contentious rhetoric spouted.  And for every one of them there’s also a photographer or a video producer or a writer, each of them infinitely more assured than you, or so it seems.

These could be the words of a bitter man fumbling and mumbling away from young manhood and into middle age, comfortably childless,  painfully aware that he’s never achieved any significant amount of recognition for anything he’s done.  (For many I imagine children are a good antidote.  The stunted ambition-soothing balm of offspring, the potential to enjoy success and recognition through them, however big or small.  Nothing wrong with that at all, but probably not for me).

A man aware the chances of this recognition are growing ever slimmer with the bulging populace of this island.

A man who has spent most of the last three years sitting in small office rooms of residential flats on his own, writing mainly about software and spending a lot of time on the internet.

A man who really doesn’t want to crave that recognition anymore – it’s sort of crass and distasteful and horribly popular; but still, despite himself, does.

He is no different.  Perhaps he should try to finally accept that life isn’t fair.

There was a warbly warning right at the top.

what you can hope to achieve

Stuff in this next post or two is backdated from, like, ages ago, so if any of it was remotely true it wouldn’t  even slightly chafe anymore.

The score was level at two all, one minute into stoppage time at the end of the match.  Manchester City’s hapless centre-back lost the ball in midfield and Gareth Bale was released to attack down the left wing.  Spurs had men over on them.  We could win it here.  As Bale collected the ball and ran, you edged forward on your armchair, alone in your flat.

Could we win it?!  It could change everything.  Turn us into real title contenders.  If we beat Manchester City there could be a great chance of winning the league.  This season Spurs looked so strong but it all felt so transient too; a team at their pinnacle, a good blend of experience and youth, a manager who might easily not be there next season if offered the England job, a sense of now or never about everything.

Bale galloped around the defender and whipped the ball across goal towards Jermain Defoe, who charged hungrily into the middle of the penalty area.

“FINISH!” you wailed at the television screen, sinking theatrically to your knees.  Defoe lunged towards the ball, only managing weak contact with the studs of his boot.  The ball drifted impotently wide of the goal.  Your hands covered your face.

In their next attack Manchester City won a penalty through a player who should have been sent from the pitch for kicking one of our men in the head, twice – for which he was retrospectively punished the following week.  He calmly slotted in the penalty kick.  Manchester City 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

Title aspirations all but over.

That afternoon in a crushed beery haze, you exchanged messages with her for the first time.  She looked stunning, well out of your league, as much of a fantasy as Tottenham winning the Premiership.  But the messages snowballed.

Over the course of the following week, correspondence turned to emails, a telephone call and text messages.  This was ridiculous.  She was exceptionally attractive, arrestingly smart, laugh-out-loud funny, beautifully written.  She ruled your thoughts.

She’d seen one image of your face but still continued chatting.  Why?  The attention on her words?  She MUST have had loads of better looking, more successful blokes vying for her attention.  Maybe there was a wealthy, unpleasant married businessman who gave her functional sex and nice shiny things and put her up in hotels but wasn’t all that interested in her.  Maybe she had loads of blokes she played off against each other.

Who knew?

– Stop thinking about her anyway.  Don’t do this again.  She’s just one female, remember.  Nothing to get all sappy over.. Just one female.

..who is, you know, actually a really fucking incredible female.

STOP IT, BRAIN!

[It always pales in hindsight, how besotted you become for a period: a few weeks, a few months.  You look back several months to a year or so down the line and ask: can I really have been that fussed? It feels sort of distant now, like I couldn’t have possibly been that headfucked.  Well know this, Future Self: said female properly dominated your brain for a good number of weeks.]

STOP THINKING ABOUT HER!  Think about football instead.

Yes.  Come on, don’t get ahead of yourself.  Rein it in.  Be cool and casual.  Even if you did meet she’d quickly notice that you’re ordinary looking, forgettable, that you have a gaping harrowing bald spot; you’d inevitably leak weird stuff about your perpetual lonerdom and dreary void of ambition; her interest would understandably dwindle.  Then you’d get all moody and depressive for allowing yourself to hope.  You know that’s what happens.  While there’s the mystique of not quite knowing, you’re little more than an idly amusing Tamagotchi.

Whatever you do, try not to hope and try not to care.  Caring is, like.. SO uncool dude.  Nowadays everyone is flippant and casual and frivolous and throws their hands in the air like they just don’t care.  Caring too quickly makes you look desperate and needy and like you’re not still the 26 or 27 year old you hope to appear and imagine you are in your head.  So no, you mustn’t care or be impatient or honest or want everything immediately.

You knew how this worked.  It had all happened before, sort of.  You were building yourself up to fall.  And yet still, STILL you audaciously dared to hope..   You gigantic anus.

Gareth Bale had galloped beyond the defender once more, his left foot primed to whip the ball across the penalty area, as tantalisingly close to exhilarating glory as to agonising defeat.  You were both on the edge of your armchair and Jermain Defoe, charging into the penalty area; about to lunge for the ball in a stadium full of fifty thousand people, ready to sink to your knees alone in your flat, dagger to the heart.

*

Empty glumness is hard to shake off when hope fades, despite self-talking-tos. You told yourself not to do this and you’ve no right to miss something you never had. This is precisely why investing hope is so dangerous, you mug.  It’s possible to grieve for hope, although it feels considerably less respectable, more lame, this undignified permanent sense of embattled disappointment you haul around with you.

It’s involuntary though, which almost makes it excusable. Consciously choosing to invest hope is impossible.  “Yes, I will choose to hope about this thing”.  No.  Hope is more subtle, gradually sliding into you before you find you’re freakishly possessed.

It was worse after meeting and seeing that holy fucking shit yes, she IS that attractive.  Extremely attractive.  GOD you wanted to sleep with her so badly.  So what if you thought with your dick a bit.  What man in that position wouldn’t?  Your admiration extended further than that.

Pangs of bitter regret recurred long after you realised there was nothing doing, her interest had died, the frequency of messages had dwindled, her replies grown shorter, questions apparently outlawed – inquisitive ‘did you’s clipped to rhetorical ‘hope you’s.  After pinning your colours to the mast, brave and unambiguous and punchdrunk, her gently subverted response of I’m Not Really Into You So Leave Me Alone Now appeared clear enough.  Perhaps there was different, newer attention.  Perhaps not.

What had previously been a busy junction of two-way traffic – meaty email marathons, semi-regular texts, quickfire instant message chats – was no longer.  It was a transient confection rapidly scaled down to a one-way street; little returning besides token tumbleweed acknowledgements. With it came a slow dawning realisation that now she sincerely gave not even the faintest of shits.

It was fine.  You got over it then lapsed into gloom, then got over it again and then lapsed again.

You angrily reprimanded yourself: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING OF ANYWAY!?  Someone like her: sure, some layer of pretence but still ostensibly an intimidating preening glamour-puss with expensive tastes and talent and drive. And you, who usually goes to work wearing slippers, doing something just about tolerable, albeit unchallenging and boring?  To entertain the notion of any kind of ‘match’ was tantamount to self-harm.  Although it demonstrated a level of perverse ambition too.

At least you could take comfort in its brevity, the small mercy that it wasn’t a protracted period.  Usually it’s only ever a short matter of time between discovering that Yes, oh no, oh shit, you suddenly hope – Bale galloping; and learning that you are of course once again doomed to fail – Defoe missing.  Hope then slips away once more, like a tidal swell dictated by a sadistic god.

alternative reality

My CV exists online in various places and various states, a number of them probably quite outdated.  I don’t mind much; most of the spammy recruitment agency emails go straight to a junk file and the telephone calls are infrequent.  When I do receive a call it’s usually from somebody who wants to be my mate and who offends me with their simplicity to the extent I’m abrupt and not very nice.  I feel it’s better for everyone that way.  Nobody’s time is wasted on empty niceties.

Yesterday though, I received a call from a middle-aged woman and I let her speak.  She sounded a little nervous, the kind who doesn’t expect to be allowed to speak at length without getting interrupted.  So when she does have a free run she gets nervous and speaks herself down blind alleys.  I sort of empathised.  I also let her speak because I wasn’t too busy and, it transpired, what she was talking about actually sounded like it could potentially be of interest.

That was another thing.  They usually didn’t say interesting things.

A full-time permanent role which actually didn’t sound too dull.  An unspectacular salary I’d hope to negotiate up a little.  Suddenly I was flung into an alternative new life of a career; purpose and ambition and people and the egotistical “busyness” I so revile.  Would it be so bad?  Wildly premature thoughts, clearly, but you can’t help them.  Like after a good first date, of which I dimly remember one or two, once upon a time.

Despite investing a lot of time and a small bit of cash in a new venture – a thing I enjoy doing, it’s unsurprisingly not showing any signs of flowering at all.  Meanwhile the main breadwinning activity continues to shrink, my final supplementary client looking like fading out in the coming months, leaving all my eggs firmly in the one basket.

From time to time I engage in idle thoughts of a conventional career: an office, new relationships, colleagues I’d see and be irritated by every day.  Perhaps I wouldn’t really mind it if it was something that would engage me, stuff to get my teeth into, new subjects to learn about in a new industry.  I feel increasingly less towards a technology space which has outgrown me, not that I was ever wildly passionate about it in the first place.  It was better a few years ago when my knowledge was specialised and relevant, but now it feels like there’s too much to know, and everyone has an opinion anyway.  Like your secret favourite cult band had made it mainstream and was now boring.

While being standoffish and acting like I neither needed or was that interested in what the lady on the telephone was talking about, I felt myself getting seduced by the idea.

Just think about it: A Life!  Having a routine.  Not sitting on your flat on your own all day.  Not “medium filter coffee to have in please…   little space for milk…   there you go, thanks a lot” ..being the only thing you say in real life to another person on most days.  The potential to win recognition from people you might even respect.  The ability to completely disconnect for an evening, a weekend, a week.  It would be a more interesting life, wouldn’t it?

But slow down, brain.  Try not to ever hope.  You’ve learned that now.  Hoping is a horribly dangerous business which virtually always ends in disappointment for you.  This lady on the phone might think you’re a prick, your CV might not make the cut, an interview panel might think you’re underqualified or an unmanageable risk.  It’s massively likely that there will be shinier, more assured candidates who smile easily and plainly look better suited.  The same type who you constantly lost out to in your mid-twenties when performing reasonably well throughout countless interviews.   No.  You’ve no chance.

Was it really *you* anyway, anymore?  That imagined new lifestyle; having bosses?  Wouldn’t you flounder and crack under expectations and pressures, quickly grow bitter and resentful?  It would only be more interesting for a brief period before it became habitual, boring, a thing to despise.  Wouldn’t you miss all of that navelgazing time you had and complained about having but sort of liked as well?

If everything just carries on as it is, with the one main client and work which enables you to maintain this generally lazy, undemanding and wholly unsatisfying lifestyle, that’ll be fine too, won’t it?  You’ll just be opening yourself up to another fall otherwise.

best in class

I’m fairly middle class and have no obvious material hardships to speak of, so my inverted snobbery is even more nonsensical, and perhaps even flawed.  In truth I’m not sure how legitimate my criticism is, or how much it’s influenced by my own bitterness and severely stunted, never-out-the-blocks ambition.  There’s my caveat for what follows, which could all be bollocks.  Or partly bollocks.

However, it increasingly seems to me that those in front of and behind cameras are rich kids done better.  At the Royal Albert Hall last Sunday the room seemed largely populated by the already rich and powerful, even the youthful ones had that sheen of belonging.  Not many looked like they didn’t fit.  The BAFTAs host, Jonathan Ross, and his buddy Ricky Gervais stand out because of their comparatively modest roots, the fact they had to work harder to be brutally different and stand out.

In the DVD ‘making of’ extras for gritty urban British debut film, ‘Shifty’ – done on a shoestring budget of a hundred grand and shot in four weeks – the makers, producers, writers, didn’t seem all that gritty and urban to me.  More like they could have been called Rufus or Will.

If there’s talent and ambition and drive enough, we can hope it will come through.  But my sense is that today it’s only getting a whole lot harder.   For this generation of recessionary strugglers, those who don’t or haven’t had parents able to tide them over while they chase their dream, the reality of having to make money means ambition can easily bleed away.

I’m similarly cynical about successful business start-ups.

When the risk is reduced because the financial parental cushion is behind them, or because Daddy’s mate runs a successful VC company, there’s more freedom.  When the fear of failure is reduced, it’s much easier to try.

With the added ‘who you know’ bonuses, a splash of dedication and a sprinkling of ability, you’re well on the way.

Vocation, ambition and selling vacuum cleaners

On Sunday afternoon I went for another ramble through hilly countryside and listened to more podcasts.

During one of them, The Guardian’s reliably solid Music Weekly, an interviewed musician (guy from the band, TV On The Radio) mentioned how he tells everyone to live their lives doing something they one thousand per cent want to do.  Or words to this effect.  He said this was how he lived his life and how everyone should.

It struck me as unbelievably blind.  And as I navigated my way diagonally across a field between jumpy sheep, it even angered me that those fortunate enough to have above average talent or even well-aimed, achievable ambition, could be so brainlessly lacking in empathy.  Not everyone has it.  I might even go as far as saying most people don’t.  We’re told we must have when we complete a survey about our interests in school or college – go become that!  Ok..

It brought back the disappointed look of that date in February when, possibly ill advised by a beer too many, I relaxed into a confession that I didn’t much like what I did for a living; it was just ok for now.  There had been a sort of turning point at that moment, I’d felt.  An enthused, absorbed teacher, she couldn’t fathom why or how anyone could do something they didn’t want to do.  Change it.  I disappointed, maybe borderline repulsed her.  You simply must at least like what you do.

Well and good, but we must earn money and live too.

Another point is that we mightn’t even know what it is that we want to do.  There’s no crime in not really knowing, or of never really knowing.

Another is a basic lack of confidence.  We may quite rationally fear the immense competition if we quite like music, books and films.  Music, books and films are popular media.  We may fear our ability, or lack of it.  The internet makes it easy for everyone to advertise their abilities; it’s transparent how good the ones are that aren’t even cutting it, but are admirably having a go.  They’re quite good, easily better than me.  And if they’re not making any headway, is it worth it?

What I’d love to do above all else is either be a professional footballer or a successful musician.  Alas, I’m not anywhere near adequately talented for either profession.  Alternatively I’d like to be Michael Palin.  But Michael Palin’s Michael Palin.  I’d like to be loads of people actually, mostly through plain envy.  I realise these are ramblings of a disillusioned teenager who thinks everyone else has it better than them.

We can only be ourselves – unless we’re some sort of Talented Mr Ripley identity theft genius, (but wouldn’t that be great too?  Or Matt Damon, being him, he can’t have it bad).  So we sit back in jobs which will do for now – but all the same are never guaranteed – and we go on doing what we must.  Because is there much else out there which we could improve ourselves by doing anyway?  Really?

It’s a horribly rational sentiment echoed in the brilliant ‘Of Love And Hunger’ recently read, loved and recommended to me by @blonde_m.  It charts the young life and love affair of a pre-World War Two vacuum cleaner salesman.  I did this job in the summer of 1999, aged 18, receiving roughly £360 for about 6, six-day weeks of twelve hour days, and the experience was frighteningly close to the tale first published in 1947.

It’s a job which was endured by arguably the biggest breakthrough comedian this year, likable Scouser John Bishop, who tried to sell the same brand.  Kirby Cleaners.  Fucking Kirby cleaners.  There’s something in his affable, self-effacing, almost embarrassed charm which may have been key to his rise, and one root of this could’ve been nurtured in the selling of Kirby cleaners.

Bishop mentions the ‘motivational’ songs sung at the beginning of the day by salespeople, songs which are also mentioned in ‘Of Love..’.  In the summer of 1999 I went to a convention in Birmingham, a large hall of hundreds of people singing songs about Kirby Vacuum Cleaners, some of them rich.  But not many.  Most participants seemed genuinely into the songs, knew the words, and were transported to some evangelical plain of vacuum cleaner worship.  I have scarcely been as bewildered in all my life.

I don’t laugh at or pity the vacuum cleaner salespeople now though.  They’re doing what they can.  A younger friend in his early 20s told me a story last week about a week’s canvassing for a charity in a rough northern council estate.  He earned nothing and wasn’t even given travel expenses.

The author of ‘Of Love And Hunger,’ Julian Maclaren-Ross quotes WH Auden throughout the slim novel:

Adventurers, though, must take things as they find them,
And look for pickings where the pickings are.

The drives of love and hunger are behind them,
They can’t afford to be particular:

And those who like good cooking and a car,

A certain kind of costume or of face,

Must seek them in a certain kind of place.

W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland

Resigning ambition?

I’m considering giving up the freelance efforts earlier than anticipated.  End of September had been my self-imposed deadline.  If sustainable work wasn’t coming in by then…  Yet I’m not sure how much more of this I can endure: the fretting and excessive self analysis.  Can I really do this?  Am I good enough?  Do I have enough to offer?  Do I care enough?  Neverending questions maddeningly grind and tear and sneer and accuse.  The unknowable indefinite transience causes psychological saggyness. 

So I’ve begun to look more closely at full time roles.  Public sector ones.

The brother stayed and was maddeningly insensitive in his interrogation once again.  In the same way as he takes jokes that step too far, when they’re beyond funny, the same way he’s almost offputtingly direct and focussed, he blathered away with questioning and thinly veiled rhetoric about not doing x and y.  What was stopping me? 

At length.  Most people can read body language, sense when they’re pressing too hard or somebody has become defensive, sensitive to such aggressive, direct or personal questioning. 

Not him.  He’s a highly successful reporter.  But could equally be a highly successful salesman.  We had a short period in our teens working for different double glazing firms.  He kicked arse.  I didn’t.

It’s the almost absurd lack of self consciousness and empathy which beggars belief.  He never tells himself, “oh, maybe I should just leave it there.  I’ve planted the seed at least.”  No, he drills it in.  Stamps up and down on the little bastard until it’s cowering.

Yet nobody has ever made me feel quite as insecure as my brother, as low on confidence, vulnerable and generally useless.  I imagine nobody ever will.  He has that hold.

It’s wrankled, evidently.  Caused temporarily deep gloom which has led to dark thoughts.  Made me think he’s right.  There are things I could be doing which I’m not.  Some of which I’m not prepared to do, which require more balls, aren’t quite my style or in my skill set.  Perhaps this freelance thing isn’t for me.

The sector I work in is full of quite overwhelmingly driven entrepreneurial sorts who thrive on typical notions of success, money, glamour.  I’m becoming more attracted to the idea of divorcing myself from all that altogether.  If I can, returning to the public sector, somewhere reasonably safe.  Public sector offices I worked in were much homelier, comfortable places than the paranoid private sector.  That’s appealing now.  A less explicitly ambition-driven, go-getty environment.  Comfy jumpers rather than sharp suits.  Although I daresay even middle-of-the-road public sector jobs are more competitive than ever at the moment.

My African excursion could easily be perceived as ill-judged, given my circumstances.  And I’m still affecting effort and work at the freelance thing, however much I may or may not care about it.  But in taking the trip I’m just trying to offer myself a reminder that life isn’t always so hard and serious, full of tricky problems, stress and crap.  There’s no single person who can remind me of that, or effectively illustrate it.  That life is capable of providing fleeting moments of wonder, awe, which makes you realise that you’re not that important, none of all this stuff is really.  That you probably shouldn’t take it that seriously.   Nobody to remind me.  My seldom seen nephew probably comes closest, but not through his deeply incisive mentoring.  Just by being two years old.

While “something will work out” might not hold much weight or meaning, perhaps the level of worry and stress you’re relentlessly whipping yourself with isn’t all that justified either.