27 August 2012

half a page of scribbled lines

I have discovered a time machine, but a very poor one, one that allows everyone else around you to hurtle forward into the future while leaving you frozen motionless in a temporal quagmire. Our neolithic ancestors perfected their own crude version of this machine, first burying home-churned butter in the damp and squishy bogland that surrounded them and then, upon discovering its amazing preservative qualities some months later, deciding to move rapidly forward on to human trials and depositing their excess family, neighbours and business rivals deep within the peaty brown, there to remain for millennia until churned up by a Bord na Móna tractor and then unceremoniously dumped in to a powerplant furnace and converted by the magic of thermodynamics into X-Factor, or Hollyoaks or even, god forbid, TOWIE. Truly our ancestors had a dark sense of absolute justice.

Many thousands of years later, and four years ago, my own journey through time began. I am a few years older than most of my social circle, and have been for most of the last fifteen years. While they were still larking around in college and worrying whether their trousers were skinny enough, or baggy enough, or long enough, or had just the right amount of leg rolled up but not enough to be mistaken for a Freemason, I was already well on my way up the slippery corporate ladder that at times resembled less of a means of egress and more an implement used by a butcher or other frequent dismemberer of bovine carcasses. I toiled away for many a long hour while the young folk frolicked and gamboled their lives away in a pastoral idyll punctuated by parties and exams, and repeated exams and more parties, and I consoled myself with financial security, a disposable income and the piece of mind that comes with knowing that the rent will be paid and there will be food on the table both today, tomorrow, and with any luck, next week.

Then one day, about four years ago, I climbed into my time machine.

I didn’t realise it at first. All I thought I was doing was leaving my job, taking some time away to try my own thing after many years dancing to the tunes of a distant Californian organ grinder. I travelled for a while, doing all the things you say to yourself that you would do if only you had the time, and then when I got back, I got down to work. My own work.

In the background my friends were all on their second jobs, or picking up their PhDs, starting to get married or thinking about having kids. The group had scattered, the Tiger years in Dublin proved too expensive for most and as they started to imagine their own future, the flats and apartments of the city centre no longer seemed suitable, so outwards, ever outwards, they moved, the South, the Midlands, the UK and beyond, no longer content or financially able to live in the moment, or for the moment. Security and stability became their own motivators and neither were available in the Dublin of the Tiger.

Then came my illness, the point where my flux capacitor got jammed into overdrive and catapulted me far, far into the distant future. After months of hospital and many more in recovery I opened the gull-wing door to gaze out upon this wondrous world of tomorrow and begin afresh my own attempts to forge a life for myself, living and working by my own designs, and not to a template mandated by the forces of social conservatism that ruled the lives of so many others.

But a funny thing happened while I had been nestled in the brushed aluminium embrace of my time machine, perfectly preserved like the choicest bog butter, a Futurama head floating in an aquarium of my own procrastination. While I waited and planned and dreamed, all my friends suddenly passed me by, their life choices made and paths of certainty embraced. Children were born and raised, houses bought and renovated, careers forged and reforged, and somewhere along the way the years that separated us shriveled and shrank, five became four, three became two and then one and then disappeared altogether until I was left standing on the street with a set of blazing tire tracks running ahead of me into the distant vanishing point, as I slowly pieced together the shreds of the tattered note that blew around me in the evening breeze, “And what are you doing with your life?” it said.

Somewhere in the last four years my friends have not just caught up with me, but overtaken and passed me by. They who partied and played and lived while I worked and slept have now such a solid life built up around them while I sit back and wonder what has happened, and what will happen, and how. My illness is a factor, but more so is the threadbare decision-tree of my recent life. I regret nothing that I have done but just wish, somehow, that I had done more.

Of course if my journey through time has taught me anything, it is that time itself is a great leveller, that in five years time my friends themselves will be going through the same questioning self-examination that I subject myself to now, wondering where they are and why they are, and looking out across their social circles to ask themselves, “what if?”.

But by then I myself will be living deep in the past, locked in the stasis chamber that is middle-age, in a frontier town of my own devising far removed from contemporary worries and concerns where I will dress forever in the fashions of my youth, and listen to music that comforts me, all my biases and prejudices locked forever in place by the early onset quasi-senility of your forties that frees you from ever caring what the wider world around you thinks of you, a social dementia that releases you from the shame of culturally soiling yourself in public on a regular and repeated basis.

These feelings, of course, are not unique. Everyone has their own time machine, just for some it seems to run faster than others.

I wish mine didn’t run so fast.

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3 Comments:

At 5:56 pm, Blogger Kerry's Eye said...

Dave - your blog was recommended to me by our friend in Parnell Road. I've just read this post while sitting on a train from Kerry to Dublin - I am one of the ones you talk about, who left and went east, and then south-west, and did a number of the things you mention. I was very struck by your post. For the past four years while you have been in your time machine, I have been having children (3 of them, the eldest of which turned four on Monday), moving country (London to Kerry), working, not working, and doing lots of other stuff. I don't so much wish that I had done more, but that I had had a better ratio between the dull stuff (endless hours on the Tube) and the fun stuff (limited hours indulging in the orgy of culture that London has to offer), before the end of my child-free youth...but I tell myself there is still time for all of that...anyway, just wanted to let you know that I am tuning in and enjoying your writing. Deirdre

 
At 1:05 am, Blogger Sir Ludwig Rhinoceros III said...

As you know, I too, am a leaver, though I did jump early onto the train of gravy I continued living the life of a student living lavishly month to month as an overpaid student rather than an underpayed corporate professional. That said, for the last four years I have envied the position you held (not when it was prostrate on a gurney, naturally), though definitely in the taking stock / swanning / gentleman about town approach you had to life. It was enviable. If you did not wish you did more you would not be you, but you should relax in the fact that you have done so much and more than the many you left behind. You have travelled, read, loved, breathed, supped at the trough of life and savoured the experience. You are a dreamer grounded in reality while being a realist adrift on a mgic carpet. You hold a position that many would (and quite possibly still do) envy.

 
At 11:06 am, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@Kerry's Eye & @ Sir Rhino - thank you guys so much for the very thoughtful comments.

I know that at times I can sound so very self-indulgent, and there is definitely an element of that going on in this post, but...

It has just started to seem like so many of my friends around me have A Plan (TM), or if not A Plan (TM) then at least a solid idea of what they want out of life, be it a family, a career, a life of hedonism and/or kite-surfing, or all three, and over the last few years have dedicated themselves to achieving those goals, and thus while times may be tough they are enjoying a healthy amount of happiness.

I wonder though that although I certainly have had the time to explore my life, I have never identified what it is exactly that i want to be doing with it, I have no ultimate goal or thing that I know would bring such joy to my life, I have tropated from shiny thing to shiny thing with no clear direction, and now that reality/recession/practicality looks set to force me back on to someone else's treadmill in the near future I worry that I will look back and see my recent past as such a squandered opportunity, and yet if I was to do it all over again I would have no idea what to do differently.

This just in, man approaching his fortieth has existential crisis about his life choices, we'll have the full report at 9.

Anyway, enough self-indulgences, thank you both so much for reading and I hope that the occasional stumble like this doesn't drive you away!

 

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