Saturday, January 10, 2004

Arthur or Martha? 

A previous work colleague of mine used to have a quirky turn of phrase to describe those situations when you don’t know which way is up; those days when all reference points are lost and you feel tossed helplessly on a sea of uncertainty, no safe anchor, no direction or control. He used to say “You don’t know whether you’re Arthur or Martha, do you!” Gender issues aside, that phrase describes perfectly how I’ve been feeling this last week. I had no idea of the disorientating, sometimes even debilitating result that a seemingly trivial change of outlook could have.

It’s been creeping up on me for a while, but I’ve been fighting it. I’ve had or tried many different roles over the years, both in work – scientist, engineer, project manager, operations manager, business support - and in life outside work – climber, counsellor, photographer (that might have been closest fit if I’d explored that path further), musician – but never felt fully comfortable in any of them. Never quite a perfect fit; always an element of the square peg in a round hole; a part of me that didn’t match up properly to the role. Always the feeling that there was something else I ought to be doing. So as a climber, I lack the boldness to take the risks necessary to reach higher technical grades of climbing (or you could turn that round and say I have too vivid an imagination and can see all too clearly the possible results of taking those risks); as a manager, I see too clearly the absurdities of organisational life yet lack the strength and charisma to rise above them and also face values mismatch – so much of what matters organisationally, so often seems irrelevant to me; so much time is spent with much deep gravitas chasing our own tails.

Yet if anyone asked me what, in an ideal world would I like to do – no holds barred, no income worries – I could never come up with an answer that was entirely satisfactory. For a while I thought it might be management training, especially the outdoor-oriented type – or counselling, but although they were attractive, my skillset and make-up didn’t really match that well. But over the Christmas break, away from work, with time to relax and think and simply to be – and with the encouragement of some feedback from readers here - the penny finally dropped, and I gave in and accepted what seems to have been obvious to a number of people, although I was blind to it myself.

I am, in some core of my being, a writer. There, I’ve said it. Not necessarily a good one yet – it’s purely a descriptive term with no implications either way of quality, but the word acknowledges a drive, a dream, an intention, a need. A calling, even.

Nothing too dramatic in that, is there?

That shift of outlook took me through a rapid and intense re-run of this cycle. On Monday, the increased self-respect that came from my new-found purpose meant that I felt I should take work rather more seriously. That didn’t just mean no blogging in work hours, it meant being someone else. What do I need in order to write? More than anything else, I need awareness – of what’s going on around, and of my responses to it. And what do I need to suppress in order to do my job effectively? Awareness of all the idiocy around me and my responses to it. You see the problem? That kind of attitude can’t be switched over at will. Sitting for any length of time in one role kills the ability to sit in the other. And there’s a further twist. Realising all of this, looking for a third way, filling my head with this Big Question, creates a filter so dense that I can’t see through it, whichever way I look, leaving me unable to connect with the world beyond, driving out still further the ability to see and respond and so placing a seemingly impenetrable barrier to writing. Not just not having the time; actually losing the ability. And that’s scary.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I thought I’d lost it. Total incapacity to have a worthwhile thought or string a few words together. Two very black days; from the lofty pinnacle where the clouds drew apart and revealed a glorious possibility, I tumbled, disoriented and bruised, into a deep pit from which I could see no way out. Melodramatic? Outwardly, everything appeared perfectly normal. Inwardly, I was in utter turmoil. So Thursday’s post was a deliberate attempt at a break-out. Write anything; doesn’t matter what, just write. Thankfully, the outside world presented me with something I couldn’t ignore –torrential rain! The sheer physical presence – sight, sound, touch – was enough to batter its way through the hard shell of my self-imposed isolation. So, with an element of “what’s the point?” reluctance I began to follow a process –look, what do you see; listen, what do you hear; pull out a notebook; write it down…

There is a point to all this.

By the end of the Christmas break, I had discovered a calling. But on its own that wasn’t enough. This week I felt the pain that comes from having finally found such a calling, yet believing myself incapable of following it. Anita at Chantlady pointed me in the direction of a book by Gregg Levoy; reading the review on Amazon I came across this line:

'people won't pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so.'

I have both halves of that equation now. That doesn’t mean I’m overnight going to turn into a best-selling author. I’ll be just as capable of posting crap tomorrow as I was yesterday. Chances are, I’ll never publish anything. But I know what I have to do.

As a postscript, there a number of readers here who through their encouragement and support have helped me get this far. You know who you are; I thank you.

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