Shepherd’s Pie Epiphany

Something strange happened a few weeks ago over a microwaved shepherd’s pie and a few lines of Rilke in the staff kitchen.

A nagging feeling has been clawing at the back of my consciousness for the best part of thirty years. It causes a low level emotional discomfort but on occasion rears its head in a wild and sometimes scary way. It asks questions, poses doubts and usually ends up in the ending of something, a relationship, a hobby, a job.

Last Thursday, a breakthrough of sorts. The emotional discomfort had gotten out of control and I had turned to poetry for some relief. In this case selected passages of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. In it Rilke talks about creativity and the need to be alone while creating. Read it, he explains it far more eloquently that I will.

In a moment of clarity, I realised that this uncomfortable feeling was unfulfilled creative potential.

For my entire life I have lived by the values I was brought up with. Instilled from an early age was the need for education, a good job, a stable career, money, savings over debt, houses, marriage, family…safety over freedom. And that is the path I inadvertently chose for myself. Sensible over creative, because lets face it, that arts don’t usually pay the bills.

Creativity is, in my parents eyes a luxury, confined to weekends and hobbies. Creative is not in the job description.

Though the values they instilled are not inherently bad they resulted in a lack of fulfillment in my life. Strapped into a corporate machine, reliant on a regular wage to pay the bills was their idea of life well spent, not mine.

There’s a discord here between inherited values and the things I really care about and it has caused decades of existential angst and identity issues.

There is a lot of work still to do. The psychological archaeology has so far only unearthed the bones of it.

It boils down to two questions that need to be answered. The jab-cross combo of tough questions.

Who am I?

Since I am not defined by my job title, what is left?

Identity can change over time but the core parts of it remain the same and sometimes that is lost in relationships, in trying to fit with society and peers, the corporate environment and family commitments.  We so often forget what we stand for and who we are when life gets overwhelmingly busy.

Too many become institutionalised in the corporate world and forget who they are. Their creativity sapped and leached from their bones by bureaucracy and routine. It is the new experiences and the playfulness that will release them from the cycle.

The foundations of a person lies in their values. Discovering what they are is the first step, living by them is another.

The second punch is this.

Why am I here?

This can be summed up in the idea of the epitaph or the obituary. It’s morbid and possibly dark and twisty, but stay with me.

If you were to die tomorrow what kind of legacy do you want to leave? What would they say and write about you? What would they carve into that headstone?

This is a biggie. The French call it their raison d’etre, the Japanese ikigai and we English call it a purpose.

Well, I know the answer to this one if I’m feeling brave. Putting a hand up in class at school was not at the top of my joy list, but this answer I’m sure of.

I want to put beautiful and inspiring things into the world.

No, not want, need. I need to do this.

From a young age I was fascinated by stories, fictional adventures and people and worlds. They aided my escape from a world where I did not fit. They taught me everything and gave me a sense of belonging. Most of all though the books I read inspired me.

I’ve known from the age of eight that I wanted to be writer.

I need to write.

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Dedicated to… A Half Way Through Review

Dedicated to

“To Neil, June 1964”

It’s written on the inside cover of  The Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat, a Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd edition, no print date. 

Obviously not my book. I nicked it from a family member and it found its way onto my shelves (funny how that happens).  It was a birthday present to a very young Neil although I don’t know who from. I just love the smell of that book.

Books are quite possibly the best kind of gift. Durable, meaningful and occasionally educational; they say a lot about the person giving them and what they want from you. Personally I like to vandalise them with a few well wishes and a date before wrapping them up. Apparently I am not alone in this habit.

Dedicated to… Compiled by W B Gooderham is, as stated on the cover, a collection of “The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books”.  Gooderham is a bibliophile with a penchant for second-hand book stores. Over years of collecting and buying used books he noticed that the dedications in the jackets added their own stories to the printed ones in the pages.  Laid out with a jacket and an inscription on each double page spread the collection totals over 80. There are many more on Gooderham’s blog and he’s still collecting.

The books range in age from a few years old to several decades old, some even dating half a century or more. Some dated, some not. Some written with love and affection, some cruel, acerbic and funny. Regardless of the motive the scribbles on inside covers are tiny windows looking onto a specific moment in the lives of two people.  We don’t know who they were (most of the signatures are illegible) but there’s a certain intimacy in dedicating a book.

Saddest are the unappreciated inscriptions, those published in 2010 or later and have already found their sorry way into a charity bag or second hand store. Wasted words, sentiment thrown to the wind. The reason the book was left behind or deliberately disposed of is a mystery but I like to wonder.  A simple misjudged relationship? Or something more sinister perhaps?

The older ones are less tragic and often comic.

“To John Hughes, Go shoot yourself, Henry, May ’58” adorns in the first page of Jungle Lore.

“Mum says it is disgusting: I say it may encourage you to learn the piano. Mum & Dad Xmas 1989” inside a music book of Bawdy Ballads.

On the title page of One in Twenty – A study of Homosexuality in Men and Women was written, “You leave this book alone, you filthy old man, who calls his wife “Momie” and has “done it” with an African alyah!”

I particularly enjoyed the romantic, vaguely poetic dedication in Embedded  Autonomy –  States & Industrial Transformation, Peter Evans. I know neither the giver nor the receiver so the choice of title may be wholly appropriate but an interesting choice for professing love and devotion.

Dedicated to… is a quick  and enjoyable read. Since most of the pages are images I may even finish it…

Honestly though, this is a stocking-filler book, to be giggled at by guests or as a lazy hour’s entertainment.

Or a book for a book lover prone to sentimentality when it comes to gifting printed matter.

Erm, like me then.

The Resolutioners

Respect goes to the sweaty ones, to the ones with withdrawal shakes and to those craving the booze. Kudos to those with the long list of ambitious goals and lofty dreams.  Congratulations to those who self-flagelate via food denial and to those who push through the pushup pain.

They are upgrading themselves, to the New You v2.0. They are Jantastic. They are DryAthletes. They WILL be two stone lighter, get a date, quit smoking, stop drinking and run a marathon. All in 2014.

They are The Resolutioners.

And they are the second most annoying thing about January.

(The other is the car insurance renewal)

Every year the same thing happens. They invade the gym, the Parkrun, the TV, the high street, even the Google Ads are having a field day down the side bar of the world wide web.

Extricating themselves from that sofa dwelling, junk eating existance the Resolutioners promise themselves (and Facebook and Twitter) that THIS IS THE YEAR!

I salute their good intentions. I honestly do believe in bettering oneself.

But if the Resolutioners really wanted to improve their lives why wait until New Year?  Why not start on 27 December? Or last May? Why wait until the crappest month of the year replete with the horrors of Christmas anticlimax, being broke and terrible weather?  The diet-starts-on-Monday plan never made sense either.

But they all chose January for their fresh starts.

This causes a problem. You see I actually use my gym membership all year round. It was not part of a new year’s resolution.

For the last few weeks, I have struggled to find a parking space at the gym. There were not even cramped awkward spaces designed for a professional stunt driver behind the wheel of a Smart Car. Worse still my favourite treadmill was occupied. There wasn’t enough space on the floor to swing a kettle bell never mind a cat.

It was all highly irritating.

Thankfully in a few weeks it will all be back to normal.

I’ve seen it happen.

Over eager, over ambitious and ultimately destined for failure.  Oblivious to the fact that fitness is for life not just for January they go in too hard, too fast and fall over with exertion after three weeks.

At that point everything (everything!)  will be hurting. Then a fag, a beer and a takeaway menu will prove too tempting…and oops there goes another one. Ending, of course, in a miserable heap of self loathing watching Supersize-Superskinny and making excuses for themselves.

I’ve been there. When trying to quit drinking for a year I made it four months before someone pissed me off enough to make the urge to get wankered irresistible. Admittedly was a dumbass idea given the number of functioning alcoholics who occupied my social circle at the time.

It is really hard to stick to those promises. So good luck Resolutioners!

I’m sure the feverish bout of pious determination will subside and everyone will feel much better soon. In the mean time I look forward February, an excess of parking spaces and hammering the treadmill on the top floor, three in from the left.