That's what I'm thinking as I sit here and start this piece, one that may take me several days to write, or I may get done in a day or two. Unless I'm really game, and my old laptop's battery holds out, it's unlikely I'll get it done tonight.
The question comes because I used to regularly get the chance to read by firelight when I was my father's son, and then his fellow drover. It always seemed so easy. Now it seems harder, less worth the effort. Buy a good lantern, or just wait until it's daylight, that's the ticket.
I've set up the camera again... I like recording the snippets of my life. Too much of life vanishes without trace. We don't know where the hours, the days, the years went... what happened? When did I stop playing any more? When did I decide that the grownup thing to do was to give up the enjoyment that is inherent in merely being alive?
I can't actually say I'm haunted by those questions, I'm not. I still play. I still pretend to be dashing heroes, mad scientists, evil villains, and various other strangers from strange lands. My imagination is what I have, it's what I use to tell stories, and part of my telling them is to live them, to experience what the characters experience. A good plot is important, but if you don't care about the characters, so what? It's the problem of many horror and SF films - the characters are cyphers to keep the plot moving. Two dimensional heroes and villains, lovers and mentors.
But none of us are them. We're complex beings, capable of a range of emotions and states. We have our good days and bad. A person who may balk at the idea of euthanising a cat, will be glad when a hated relative dies. An otherwise good person will steal small things from their workplace, justifying it in all sorts of ways. People who love too much, people who love to little, people who love to the point of madness, those who seek their one true love.
Of course these characters have been used in stories too, but less so. How many dreams are fulfilled with the peasant boy or girl who is found to have destiny? How many people dream of being plucked from their ordinary lives and taken on a journey of discovery, both of the larger world and of themselves?
Thing about me is, I find most 'ordinary' people fascinating. Many are full of hidden depths and passions, once you get them talking. Their secret hopes and dreams and fantasies delight and horrify and make me think. I like that people feel they can trust me, that they tell me their stories. I think that is helped by the fact that I so easily tell mine.
It wasn't always the case.
I used to hide my eating problems. I was ashamed, literally ashamed, of how limited my diet was. I would make excuses to avoid events that involved restaurants, or if I couldn't, I would pretend that I had a stomach bug and couldn't eat. I didn't hate the part my mum played in this - she was merely the cause - I hated that I had been unable to beat the problem. And I was ashamed of my failure to do so. Was ashamed of the way I panicked at the mere thought of a new food texture, so that I was already dreading the first bite long before it reached my palate.
The first time I opened up, it was to Bjo Trimble, uber-Star Trek fan and all around lovely person. I had been dragged to a restaurant and she expressed concern about my not eating much. Her manner was so very open, easy-going and non-judgemental, I found myself telling her about the hell of growing up around my mother, of being fed almost nothing other than cheese and vegemite sandwiches, of how I didn't have a meal where I had to use a knife and fork until I left home at age 20.
And some of my shame lifted. Not all of it, but some. And I realised that the secret shame had been eating me alive for years. A large portion of my existence around people had become purely about hiding my problem. I decided secrets weren't for me, and start forcing myself to open up. It makes life easier. For a start, all the energy that I had hitherto been using to hide my problem I could put towards actually trying to beat it.
Too many people are ashamed of their quirks, their kinks, their problems, their insecurities and needs, and they let that fear control them. That's the other thing about me being open, people then feel they can talk to me, have a good cry, tell me their secrets.
Oh, and while I do my best to have no secrets, I can easily keep a secret for someone else. The number of people who have told me things in confidence and have then been surprised later when they realise I haven't told Sharon. They always ask why, or say that they expected me to tell her, and my reply is always the same, they had told me something in confidence and hadn't specifically said I could tell Shaz.
My next big post will be all about the last few weeks. The insecurities, the confusion, the pain, the need... And this post? This post is kind of a prelude. I seem to have a lot of people reading me these days, and in order to understand the significance of some of the thing I have and am experiencing while on this trip, you need to know where I've come from.
So let's have a look, shall we?
- Twenty-five years ago I started in a job I had been training for most of my life. It wasn't what my father wanted me to do, he was disappointed in me, I think. But it was what I loved, what I had trained to be my entire life.
- Twenty-four years ago, I started learning to control my dangerously volatile temper, with a little too much success.
- Twenty-three years ago, I had the first death or someone truly close to me.
- Eighteen years ago, I had to stop working in a job that I adored and still miss to this day.
- Fifteen years ago was when I discovered a woman that I had secretly loved for a decade had had a hidden love for me. It was too late for us both.
- Eleven years ago was the start of a great change for me - the original year of hell. Full to the brim with betrayal, death, heartache, lies, madness, and me dragged along through it all like a dog on a leash through a particularly nasty obstacle course. The changes brought about by that year (and it was almost a literal year) stayed with me and sent me in new directions.
- Nine years ago I lost a dear, dear friend.
- Eight years ago I watched a bunch of people take something great and important and instead of leading it to new heights and helping out the greater community, they produced something ordinary, something average. And patted themselves on the backs for it.
- One and a half years ago I developed symptoms of something that no-one could diagnose. We had no idea of whether or not I had a degenerative illness, would die, what would happen.
- Over the last year, I found fiction increasingly difficult to write, to the point where I've halted.
- Four months ago my daughter died.
- A month ago, almost to the day, I think I had a breakdown...
That's a pretty crap list. But the really cool thing about it is all the stuff I haven't talked about that went on in-between, some of which went on during some of those bad times. Because I rarely define myself by the pain in my life, the hurt, the problems, I'm usually pretty happy. I don't ignore those things or hide from them - hiding the negatives doesn't make them go away, it only gives them more power - and they do distress me and get me down, but I don't allow the bad stuff to negate all that's great in my world.
Filling in a just a teeny, tiny portion of the blanks in that list, there was love and friendship and great times. I did my first Nullarbor trip eighteen years ago, and here I sit today, on a rock, typing on a laptop, enjoying a fire that draws me back to my lost droving days with a quiet and gentle melancholy. That trip showed me a place that I felt a kinship for, gave me an almost yearly pilgrimage that helped me to feel alive again, and it's helping to heal me even now. Three nights, two full days, I feel... better than I was.
And there's so much more mixed throughout those years, the negatives and the positives, that I don't know where to begin. I could have been miserable when I found out about the woman who loved me, could have rallied against it, bemoaned the fact that we had found out too late.
Except - when is it too late to find out that someone loves you? Really loves you. Wrote poems about you. Thinks you're amazing. Tell me that's a bad thing. Tell me that's worse than never knowing. It doesn't matter if we can never be together because we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are loved by another.
That it's mutual only adds to the beauty of that.
Gunny's dead. I miss him greatly. I loved him like a brother and he's gone. He was the best of us, was Ian. Witty, smart, funny, talented, a great organiser, generous and well loved.
And he died.
It's sad but here's the thing - I knew him. He was my friend, and we performed together several times and loved it, even the gig where we had to adlib for two hours straight after our first hour of material was used up! He made me laugh, we travelled together, shared personal woes, and generally had a good time.
The only sad thing is there's so many of you out there that never had the chance to know him.
In amongst all the badness listed, I met my wife. We've had many good times and love each other more now than ever before, at least it seems that way to me. Not much more I can say, those of you who know me know how much Sharon means to me.
My mum's schizophrenia was finally gotten under control. And she became a new woman, totally unlike the one I had grown up with. And as much as I find her frustrating at times, I really like my new mum.
I met my birth mum, Bernadette, who utterly rocks!
I met literally hundreds of other great people. Oh I still had some of my old mates, like Jocko and Adina and Glen, but I met new people like Mondy and Mitch and Tiki, who have changed my life in some huge and amazing ways, and people like Emilly and Simon and Hespa who have shifted my life in other, more subtle but no less interesting ways.
I moved state. It was hellish, I couldn't pack because of the mystery illness, and that alone distressed me greatly. But Canberra's been awesome, and I haven't even begun to explore the possibilities there yet. Couldn't have had one, without the other.
I discovered that my brain illness wasn't a horrible degenerative disease, but merely a stroke analogue. So it wasn't going to gradually kill me or render me a vegetable, and it didn't leave me paralysed down one side of my body. Plus its been very interesting from the people watching point of view to watch myself as I coped and changed and tried to adapt. I didn't always cope the best, but overall I did okay and hey! I remember names now! My most recent addition is Sarah who came to the Pancake Parlour *waves*
Two years back, there's no way i would have remembered her name. Every time I remember the name of someone new, it's like the best present ever.
I seem to be coping better with trying new foods. I still prefer to do it on my own terms, but overall, it's become lots easier in the last few months. I think it's just that it doesn't beat the dead daughter test. I'm offered new food and the following internal and subconscious dialogue takes place -
"Eek! New food, it may have a weird texture and freak us out! Just say a polite no thank you!"
"Waitwaitwait! Okay the food is new, and the texture might be odd..."
"Really icky and weird and horrible and really freak us out!"
"Okay, weird, icky, etc. But before you say no, ask yourself this - can it possibly be worse than your daughter, the child you've wanted since your twenties, being dead?"
"How you doing in there?"
"Fuck it! Give me some. Yeah and I'll have some of the strange green stuff too!"
Of the older times while things were going bad, I traveled, met people, had adventures, there was a lot of good that happened in there. Far more good than bad. But regardless of how things are going, good or bad, I still love and trust, and go out and do things and wander and wonder and let myself be amazed and astounded.
Yes bad things happen, so of them accidental, blind chance, some engineered and malicious. But so do good things. Why do I love life so much? Why when the last year and a bit has been so hard?
Because all life is full of pain and grief, if you look for it. And it's just as full of joy and wonder, if you look for that. You have to want to, have to push the boundaries of what's comfortable, say and do the things you may regret, live life to the full even when it hurts, because if you get in the habit of numbing yourself, cutting yourself off, losing yourself in fripperies to block things out, to hide from the hurt, you also end up blocking the small joys.
And life is made of small joys, thousands of them every day, if you just allow yourself experience them. Embrace the pain, embrace the joy, make dangerous choices now and again, tell that person you love them, quit the job you hate, try your hand at art. Yes it might end badly, but it might not.
It's a terrible thing to be hurt, to feel pain. But there's a greater shame in being afraid to live.
This wasn't the piece I was going to write. It's not the piece I started out writing, which was to be the Emotional Journey post. But partway through, I realised that I've been making the journey my whole life, nothing happens in a vacuum and some of what I'm going to talk about having experienced has its roots not only in the events of my past, but my attitude - that life is wonderful if you give it the chance to be. So this is the preamble to the changes and experiences I've had since the breakdown.
And in answer to my original thought - Was it always this hard to read by firelight? - my answer is simple.
If it wasn't, rather than mourning my lost youth, maybe I'd be better off spending my time making the fire a bit bigger and brighter.