Saturday, August 6, 2016

Life is not a straight line

One of my friends has decided to come out. As a writer, that is. She's made some bold steps in her life recently: quit the nine-to-five, (stable) job; set up her own website; started her own literary movement online; decided to earn a living on an entirely freelance basis ... . She has decided to waste no more time building another man's empire, and is now concentrating her efforts on building her own legacy. I admire the courage it takes to walk away from the traditional model of security that we were brainwashed into, and pursue a heartfelt - though as yet unrealised - passion. I haven't as yet surrendered to the need I frequently feel for a similarly great disruption in my life.

Earlier this year, a young man with whom I am acquainted just got up and left his nine-to-five, and flew to New York to basically camp out in a studio to produce the album that was burning a hole into his heart - and head. He came back to Jamaica remarkably thinner - and yet somehow infused with a freshness of purpose and depth of character that left me feeling a need to re-meet him on these new terms. The energy he exuded was so altered - so transformed by his experience of tuning in to and pursuing the thing he felt he was born to accomplish - that I realised I would have to discard some of my previous beliefs about him and learn him all over again.

I ran into him on the street after his return, and we just stood there talking about how his brief experience with less-than-ideal circumstances had shifted his perspective, cemented his conviction and determination, and birthed a solidness in his personality that I had not previously perceived. I marveled at it, and wondered if it was because action - small though it may seem - had replaced what was once just a whole lot of raw desire, angst and ennui. I mused that when people start to take actions based on their personal convictions, and from an attempt to be as true to their authentic selves as possible, instead of just following the dictates of tradition, they tend to have a certain je ne sais quoi - a certain something - a resolute stolidness - about them that is often missing from those who never make the bold move or strike out on the road less traveled.

Widened experience widens horizons and perspectives. It grows people up and teaches them patience, discipline, maturity and persistence. I keep meeting it in friends from high school and college. The ones who were full of longing and have done something in the direction of those dreams are now full of a certain wiseness ... the best ones exude a calm understanding of placement, timing, persistence, and the unpredictability of life. You talk to them, and beneath the sentences runs a current of sagacity. Life has taught them something, and they have been gracious in accepting the lessons.

Then there are the ones who are clearly disappointed and disoriented. And have allowed it to hollow out their hearts (and faces), and chisel their cheekbones into hardened bitterness. Their eyes are shifty. They laugh and self-deprecate. While they are talking, they glance at you to see how you are responding, and if you are reading the emptiness or uncertainty behind their words - you can sense their fear that you will detect the facade and call them out on it. Or worse, call someone else's attention to it.

I'm not judging. I think on any given day, I can be a mix of the two. There are days when the courage and the calm comes and floods my soul with an ethereal peace. Then there are days when my eyes would rather remain transfixed to the pavement, instead of telling old friends harsh truths. On those days, escape, abandonment and bridge-burning seem desirable. It can be so easy to flee ...

... which makes me wonder at the courage it sometimes takes to stay. It must take strength, I think, to remain in a place that reeks stagnation, depression and death. For whatever reason, there are persons who will never take any radical step in any direction. They will never launch out into the deep. They will learn to tiptoe through life, live with their discomfort - sometimes a sacrifice for others - and  train themselves to draw on a reserve of ... something ... to get through redundantly unfulfilling days.

I think it shows courage in a different way. Doesn't it probably take more out of a person to remain discomfitted? It takes a certain gigantic cowardice, yes, but that actually requires enormous amounts of energy, time, and life.

What I've realised is, most of us never listen to our guts beyond hunger pangs. We tend to hold back, stay in the stream of conventional normalcy, and float with everybody else to that place of mediocre malcontent that most nine-to-fivers hit by the time they greet the big 4-0. And then they grieve the life they did not live because they never worked up the courage to kick the habit of mundane comforts. The gargantuan price we pay for sameness only seems deceptively small.

That's why these friends who have decided to step away from the path mapped out for them by society have earned my admiration, and given me much to ponder. They have decided to live driven lives. Is that much different from my somewhat spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico earlier this year? What was I looking for in Mexico that I couldn't find in Jamaica? What did I acquire in Mexico that has left me feeling like my days in Jamaica are fast approaching an expiry date? Food for personal thought.

The point I wanted to make though, was that this friend who has decided to hone and offer to the world her writing voice, did a blog post in which she said she was, once again, starting over. I shook my head at that. Because life is NOT a straight line. And the impression I got was that she kept starting over with hopes of somehow one day achieving a straight-line history. She wants to look back and see a perfect trajectory from one direction. I used to think like that too. I used to announce every blog post after prolonged absences with a new determination to 'begin again' and 'get it right this time'. Then one day I realised I never got it wrong. Who defines what my blogging experience ought to be? Where did I - did we - pick up the notion that we had to live our lives in a straight line - in this perfect trajectory from Point A to Point B to Point C? What sold us that lie? And why did we buy it so easily? Why are we only now just realising the need to challenge this? These questions sometimes rob me of sleep.

Life is a crooked line. Pun intended. It's not even a line sometimes. There are gaps, and stops and so many curves. My friend keeps starting over, instead of building on what she did before ... because she thinks that not carrying through what she had started in a particular way somehow invalidates the effort. I grieve for that belief, and for the societal institutions that popularise and propagandise it. I realise that by not starting a new blog everytime I had a hiccup in my writing frequency, I established a body of writings that bear testament to my continuous efforts to get my thoughts out in some coherent verbal form. It gives me eight years of work to look back over. And to build on. It proves that my hiccups were conquered, and gives me a base to work from ... a history that is not a cute black point extended in one direction over large stretches of time. It's a mess of writings and words that tell a very human, mixed up story that gives glimpses into the growth of a mind.

I salute my friends for taking their leaps of faith. But I want to tell them to forget the straight-line approach. It never worked for Bell. That's why he stuck with the curve. I want to tell them to do him one better and go for squiggles and mushes and messes. I want to tell them to celebrate the crookedness of their paths, and I want them to realise that all of that mess of scrawling and bawling behind them led them here - to the moment when they stepped into their very own with new-found self-respect, self-reliance and self-determination.

And I want them to tell others who they meet along the way to not torture themselves for the absence of a straight line behind them ... and to make their path forward as uniquely artistic and authentic as possible - hiccups, ennui, angst and all.

Selah.