Is This The Real Life? Is This Just Fantasy?
There’s a story about Syd Barrett, the troubled founder of Pink Floyd and subject of their epic song Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Having started the band in 1964 he left just four years later and moved into a flat in Camden, North London with an artist friend. Every morning the artist would walk past Syd’s room on his way out of the house and every morning he would find Syd lying on the floor of his unfurnished abode staring at the ceiling. The artist would enquire as to Syd’s plans for the day but never received an answer. He would try and entice Syd out for a cup of tea or some breakfast but was always refused. One time he asked Syd why he never left his room and Syd responded that if he made the decision to do that he would simultaneously be making the decision to NOT do an infinite number of other things and he just couldn’t bear that kind of responsibility.
I have had bouts in my life where I have felt like Syd but I have gotten over them long enough to make some decisions, which have led to my life now. My life is enviable to some, less so to others but to me it is simply the culmination of the decisions I was brave enough to make and the consequence of those I wasn’t. I was brave enough to move to Singapore, one of the safest and most prosperous countries in the world, but I am not brave enough to move any further, even back home. I was brave enough to build my own business and fortunate enough to sell it, but having been through that process once I am not brave enough to do it again. I was brave enough to attempt to produce a film but, having lost a year of my life and many thousands of dollars, I am not brave enough to attempt a sequel. I was brave enough to have one child, but I definitely don’t have the guts for another, (one could also argue that I was too cowardly not to have a child in the first place)!
I read a fair few biographies about people who have led extraordinary lives and have come the conclusion that it’s mainly because they were brave enough to do so. They didn’t care too much about society’s conventions, their comfort or the future and I believe their decisions can be divided into two categories:
Those who decided to single mindedly pursue one thing to the exclusion of all others e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Those who decided to pursue nothing but the experience of life itself and went wherever the wind took them (which is still a decision) e.g. Hunter S. Thompson
These two fundamental choices result in the kinds of lives that we want to read about in books and watch in cinemas. These two choices embrace all of life's possibilities and consequences and yet we teach our children the complete opposite by pushing them down the path of a third choice which, in the words of Wayne Kramer, is to: “Grow up, get married, settle down, the American dream on the edge of town”. Why?
When I was much younger I wanted to be an actor and, surprisingly, my drama teacher and several directors told me I actually had the talent to do it. But they also said that it was a precarious career choice with a 98% failure rate so I should “keep my options open” and ensure I had “something to fall back on.” This is stupid fucking advice. In a field where only 2% of people succeed you have to give it 100% of your time, attention and money or you don’t stand a chance. If you fail, then fail spectacularly and write a book about it. This is the path of option #1 above.
Those that don’t have a specific talent or ambition need not despair however, for they always have option #2 open to them. Rather than graduate with mediocre grades to go to a mediocre university to secure a mediocre job, buy a mediocre house and live a mediocre life, why don’t you throw what you own in a bag and hitch a ride somewhere, see where else life might take you? If you fail, then fail spectacularly and, guess what, you can write book about it! In fact, even if you do get top grades from the right school, what choice are you given? Become a lawyer, banker, engineer or doctor, and live a mediocre life with an inflated salary that you become convinced is still not as much as everyone else in your social circle.
I have tried to be brave within the confines of my suburban upbringing. My parents grew up poor, dirt poor, I mean Dickensian levels of poverty. Thanks to the post-war boom that spanned the second half of the 20th century they were able to secure jobs despite their limited education and save a deposit for a house before they were middle-aged. Their greatest dream for me was that I would escape the market stall or the factory floor and get a job in an office wearing a suit. From their perspective this was a huge leap forward that would ensure I and my subsequent family would never have to experience the precariousness of not knowing where our next meal or rent cheque might come from. This is a an admirable desire but it is one born of fear that can only result in an unremarkable life of suburban mediocrity not a noteworthy life born of bravery.
I have tried to be brave. I did move to the other side of the world. I did start and sell my own business. I do have a great story about that one time I tried to produce a movie. And I have an amazing, funny, creative kid. But I’m no longer brave. My upbringing has caught up with me, the fear inhabits me and the anxiety that wakes me most nights keeps me trapped between being afraid to live and, at the same time, being afraid not to in case it turns out this was all a dream and nothing really mattered anyway.
I was Googling symptoms the other day - never a smart idea - but I came across a disorder that rings bells with me. It often accompanies depression and anxiety and it is called depersonalisation or derealisation disorder. The symptoms make those affected feel alienated from themselves, others and the world at large because, to them, it all seems unreal, dream-like, as thought they’ve been unplugged from The Matrix and can suddenly see that everything is a sham. I feel like this more and more often. I wonder if anything is real, if there is any such thing as The Truth, if anything I do really matters in the great scheme of things, but every time I get close to testing my theory I chicken out.