A week or so ago, I turned 45. I’ve outlived Billie Holliday, F Scott Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Jackson Pollock…… of course, they achieved something, so, you know, I‘d better keep plugging away. My family celebrated by sending me out to see They Might Be Giants in concert– one of my very favourite bands, and as always, they utterly kicked it: their seven-minute, foot-stomping, pogo-inducing, stadium rock version of their 90 second children’s song Robot Parade will live long in the memory, as will bumping into a whole passel of colleagues and friends who were out getting their geekrock on. It was a weird moment– for reasons too long to go into, the last time I’d seen TMBG was on the night of my eldest daughter’s birth, when I was a very different person, with a wholly different life, and yet, some of the people I bumped into were the same people I had bumped into that night, as well, when I had only just dipped my toes into the world of authordom and SF fandom, and seeing their faces in the crowd was proof that I might, just maybe, have found my village. 14 years later, and it felt like seeing them again was an indicator of something I’d lost along the way– nice to see them, but an unspoken realisation that, outside of thee sorts of occasions, I’m rarely, if ever, going to do so.
It got me looking back at some of my earlier birthday notes, and in particular, some of the things I was contemplating when I turned 40, half a decade ago. Back in 2010, as I was contemplating my fifth decade stretching out before me, I confidently aimed my thoughts towards becoming a full time writer by, well, today. It was never likely to happen, I happily acknowledged, but it felt like something to aspire to. It felt like a goal that, knowing I could not attain, I could at least track progress towards. I might not be a full-time writer, I reasoned, but I’d at least be writing.
It was a positive thought, but then, I was pretty positive all round. Five years later, and I think it’s fair to say it’s not that I’ve strayed off the path, as that somehow I got turned around, and the trees are too thick to remember where the path was.
I’d just started my job, and it still looked like the kind of job that I’d lain awake at nights begging for. It’s not turned out that way. It’s soured in the intervening years, and I’m far more miserable there than it ever makes me happy. I have managed to sell three novels, and I’ve got no complaints there. But slowly, inevitably, the day job has chipped and chipped and chipped away at my creativity, and my time, so that I would be lucky to have written 10,000 words this year. Three short stories, one of them a commission, none of them over 4000 words. That’s been my lot. I haven’t drawn a thing in two years. More and more, if I have free time, I’ve spent it flaked out in front of the television or tucked away in the garage, beavering away at the Lego hobby I’ve used to fill in the gaps where writing used to make me happy. Artistically, it’s hard not to feel like my time has come: it happens to most of us, sometime or other. Sometimes life ends our creativity before death gets the chance.
So it goes.
Thankfully, what happiness I do have comes from my family. I’m now older than my parents were when they split up, and my children are exactly the same age as my brother and I were. It’s an odd little confluence of numbers, but it has gnawed away at me since I realised. In my own, personal, time-stream, the next 5 years weren’t good ones. I lost my home, experienced genuine poverty, was abandoned by friends and teachers, viciously bullied, was closeted in close quarters with an embittered, spiteful mother whose anger was quick to surface and always aimed as verbal barbs at the people who couldn’t escape them—my brother and I. I clawed my way through high school by sheer dint of refusal to capitulate. It wasn’t until I found my way to University, and the first genuine freedom I’d known in years, that I was able to draw breath, sort through my emotions and aspirations, and try to become something of consequence. The track was a narrow one, and I nearly fell off it completely—my brother did, and as a consequence, we haven’t spoken in several years. I didn’t, but it was a close run thing. I look back at the person I was before my first wife died, and genuinely believe none of you would have like him. I don’t, and I’m pretty certain I didn’t back then, either.
So, maybe, at 45, that’s my victory, and my task. I give my family a good home. My children are happy, contented, aspirational, safe, and comfortably middle class where both their Mum and I were scraping along the underside of the poverty line. My wife is talented, caring, constantly bettering herself and passing that betterment on to the rest of us for our own enrichment. We have money— if not in the bank, then at least in our pockets. Our food is fresh, or clothes new, our haircuts from a shop.
I’ve been an author, a stand-up comedian, a poet, a cartoonist, a tennis coach, a film student, a reviewer, a jewellery salesman, an artist. I thought that would last forever. I certainly thought so five years ago. Now, contemplating the next five years, I can’t help but think that side of things is over. I’ve shrunk, until I’m just another husband and father with a hateful job and too much TV. I just have to be a good one.