1. i’ve been reading Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World with some pleasure. The hero has problems at university – is arrested and interrogated for possible involvement in terrorist activities (which we later learn is purely so the security services can meet their arrest & interrogation quota) – after which he is unemployable, at least for real jobs. He remarks that he has strayed from the path and feels lost.
i felt a twinge. i’ve spent most of my life off the path, not in a glamorous hipster I-went-to-Starbucks-before-it-was-mainstream way:
No, being elberry is more like this:
2. Even my four years at university were irregular as i was incapable of writing in accordance with “academic style” and felt increasingly nauseous about the largely idle academics and the Southron students, stupid London cows rah rah rahing about daddy and their champers and caviar and darling isn’t it marvellous how authentic the tramps are here, they really look like POOR PEOPLE, rah rah rah, you know sweetie I’m passionate about social justice because really darling I honestly think it’s FRIGHTFUL how they can’t ALL afford to go for a life changing safari holiday in Kenya so they have to take poor people drugs and sleep under bridges and eat at McDonald’s. When I graduate I’ll work for the Guardian because my daddy knows the editor and he promised to give me a regular column, we met in the South of France last year and hit it off marvellously because he absolutely ADORED my diamond shoes etc. etc.
After leaving university i entered the war. 3 years unemployed, mouldering in Huddersfield. Then 4 and a half years of brutal temping (the trenches), then to Germany to teach the sausage-eaters. i feel old now, 36 and grizzled like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits even. When you leave the path, the ordinary things – having somewhere to live, enough money to buy food – become difficult. i’ve nearly been homeless twice in England, nearly killed myself twice in Germany, nearly died of asthma about 15 – 20 times since 2004, been hospitalised 6 times, had about 20 jobs, been fired from one, semi-fired from several, and quit many others because i could feel a firing on the horizon. Teaching is akin to temping in its transcience, insecurity, and general shiftiness and disreputability and chaos.
3. i sometimes feel a longing for the path, to live a normal life and have a BMW, a dog, a garden, an 8 to 6 job, a brace of long-legged whores, a wine cellar, diamond shoes. But my fate seems otherwise. i know, intellectually, that we choose our lives before we are born, out of whatever spirit of masochism or grim sufferance, i know not. But the older i get the more i feel it, as i consider the pattern of this life, and my others, and other people’s too. Each inhabits his own world, in which certain things happen and other things don’t and never will. To some degree this is clearly physical & psychological. So while i try my best in interviews, i give off subtly weird vibes, reinforced by my expressive face – so when i suppress my natural expressions, it’s clear that i’m suppressing something; and no HR manager would conceivably take to my real character. In general, students – especially senior managers – are wary of me at first and only slowly decide i’m actually an okay human being and even quite amusing, in my way. i often form a quasi-friendship with my senior manager students over time, after they learn to “read” me. However, this takes a few hours so my interviews usually go the same way – mistrust, suspicion, hostility, modulated as it may be.
There also seems a broader pattern of event, bearing some relation to the individual but happening more or less independently of their choices & actions. So with myself, my life seems to be decisively off road and every time i try to shunt myself back something goes awry: for example when i applied to Cambridge for a PhD back in 2006. i didn’t actually want to do a PhD, i just desperately needed to escape temping and couldn’t think of anything else. i sent the application off 2.5 weeks before the deadline, sent it by recorded delivery and the Royal Mail lost it. It finally turned up, a week after the deadline. 2 years later, still desperate to escape, i applied to my alma mater, Durham, and things looked hopeful this time. i was accepted by the English Depot but rejected for funding. When i visited England in 2010 i bumped into one of my old tutors who said i would almost certainly get funding now, because the English Depot can decide who gets it and they would want me. By this point, however, i had recognised that it was not in my fate, that something would happen to thwart it; and in any case i preferred teaching Bosche to academia and still do.
4. i feel increasingly sanguine about my offroadness, and try not to expect too much order from life. Humans being innately social creatures, to go off road is to excite intense distrust in others, and intense insecurity & self-doubt in oneself. Riding the u-bahns up near BMW, i often feel like a spy or fugitive or magician or sex criminal, surrounded by all these suited folk. i don’t belong in this world; and there is no other; i have no habitation and shouldn’t exist, having no legitimacy.
But this alienation is of value. By going off road you enter the dark spaces between, peopled by oddities and wild energies and chaos. It isn’t comfortable – one reason people go nuts sometimes, when they fall off their familiar path. The general cannot understand this. Unless you’ve lived for years without any job security, without enough money, with a potentially fatal medical condition, nearly dying at least once a year, such experiences will inevitably seem fanciful and silly. To the pampered, mortgage-holding, car-owning Southrons and rahs, my life is simply stupid and everything i say is “creative”, that is, i’m lying or insane.
5. After being rejected for the copywriter job a couple of weeks ago, i had the following exchange with a rah girl i know on Facebook (her father is extremely rich):
rah: I think until you figure out what yuo want to do job searching is not a good idea right now as it will inevitably come accross that you would prefer to be in LA shooting a porn film
elberry: This is the problem, there is really nothing i want to do. Just a long list of things i don’t want to do.
rah: Yes, that can be a challenge for us creative types. Sit down with a pen and paper over the weekend and list 10 things you want to do with your life, what brings you joy, or what would you like as a legacy, please don’t sniff at it – your talent is too precious to waste and we are heading towards 40 rapidly. good luck x
elberry: i’ve already made this list, i did it every year or two when i was stuck in England doing minimum wage data entry. The list consisted mainly of killing my enemies, eating pies, walking dobermanns, and writing. Sadly, only murder pays and i suppose it wouldn’t be as fun in reality as in computer games. i’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing i can do well, only a lot of things i can do very badly – teaching, minimum wage data entry, etc.
rah: Oh don’t be silly – I think you are just scared somehow
elberry: i just have close to no interest in anything on offer; and also, i couldn’t get a job anyway because i lack even the basic qualifications or experience. If it’s fear, it’s fear manifesting as total lack of interest, which would be a peculiar kind of fear. Imagine fear of snakes manifesting as total indifference to snakes, or as mild aversion. That would be a strange fear.
rah: You need to be just a little more positive and you will find things will cOme your way – seriously annoying as it sounds it’s true –
The rah is a nice person but lives in her own very special world, where she is forever insulated from suffering by money and privilege. She has never even come close to being homeless. All paths were smoothed for her, by money. She has the limitless self-esteem typical to females, amplified by social status and worldly success. She posts motivational quotations from Oprah Winfrey and others, to the effect that you must be positive and always have a goal and be a success, etc. For such a person my world is savage and incomprehensible; she assumes that my 36 years of failure is down to some failure of strategy, having the wrong outlook, not being positive enough, and so on. It would distress her, if she guessed the truth – that this is my fate.
6. i will make it harder for myself by trying to get a job, by resenting my tramphood, by listening to women. The important thing is to be like Charlie Sheen and dismiss these rabble as trolls and droopy-eyed armless children:
The darkness between paths has its power. As soon as you leave the path you effectively enter a different reality, trackless desert. You see this sometimes in tramps and hardcore gypsies and crazies – as if they exist in some other world. Mostly, they are lost. i’m trying to feel at home here, in this uncanny place. As long as i have resisted, the desert has been an affliction. Recently, i’ve started to feel that it’s not just a grey border to what the Southrons etc. call “the real world”; it’s not the abeyance of significant reality, a vacuum: it is itself a different reality, with its own order and powers. i don’t think human beings are really designed to live here, or at least not in the really deep places (Kiel). But we can survive there. And i’m starting to learn things about this unhome; things work differently here, and as long as you accept it and don’t keep trying to get out, it’s possible to do good magic. In some sense, i think it’s necessary to get off the path, to do any magic, because as long as you’re on the path you will be constrained by the judgements of others – those judgements, on the whole, being that magic is just sleight-of-hand or insane bullshit. But the desert has its own judgements.
i suppose this is why magicians and what not tend to undergo near-death experiences, or go into real physical deserts, to accept the spaces between, the uncanny judgements. Being slow and stupid it’s taken me 36 years to realise that what seems a great hardship is actually a golden path, to those with eyes to see. But then, the ox is driven to pasture with blows.