This is a very, very strange life.
I should probably say at this point that, in the grand scheme of things, I do not have real problems. I am able-bodied, reasonably sound of mind, I have an excellent education and I am living in a Western European democracy with free healthcare (well, free for now, at least). I have a chronic problem, though, which is that I am a dreamer. This is a troubling affliction, which has led me into more anxiety than I care for.
Dreams are a terrible curse. You must either fulfil them or make peace with them. My dream since I was a child was that I would one day be a writer and a performer; that I would make enough money to be able to make a comfortable living from that which I am best at. And I have always known I am good enough. Not in the way that I know that two plus two is four; but in the way that I know that my skin is dark or that my eyes are brown. I have never needed proof of this fact. It just is.
Recently, though, I have become more hesitant in this belief: and, now and then, I have questioned whether I am completely delusional. You see, I think that I have jumped through all of the correct hoops and paid all of the appropriate dues. I have written two books that have been well-received by critics, and have written for several publications. I have received good write-ups about my work, and so I can’t complain that I have received no visibility.
And yet, and yet. I’m 32, and all of a sudden the wind is missing from my sails. This has happened, I think, for one main reason: and that is money. You see, when I was much younger and equally delusional, I believed that all I had to do was keep writing frequently, keep writing well, and the financial side of things would take care of itself. The process seemed so simple, so fair. Write good article; good article gets published; get paid for good article; use good article to pitch more good articles. And so on, until the articles improve, so that by the time I reach (touch wood) my eighties I am finally writing excellent articles and living somewhere nice on the edge of town.
But those old certainties have fallen away of late. The proliferation of free content on the Internet has meant that there is an endless supply of opinion and all of a sudden my dream has been engulfed in that onrushing tide. I am being offered less and less to write articles than I ever was, sometimes nothing at all. And, if I am honest, there is something heartbreaking about all of this.
It’s funny – it is actually funny – that the two things that I want to do for the rest of my natural life, which occupy much if not most of my waking thought, are those whose value could not be depreciating faster. I want to write and make music for the rest of my natural life. I want to write about life, about football and music and politics and those mostly-unseen human rights abuses that are coming to light with each passing day. I want to rail against these abuses in blogs and columns and songs, from the best vantage points that I can, be they screens, stages or newspapers. And why? Because I think that this is what I am best at, and that this is what I was born to do.
And so it terrifies me that I am now jobless, with unfulfilled dreams, in one of the worst recessions that Europe has seen; it terrifies me that, hard though I have worked to build a CV, I am not even being invited to interview for jobs that I think would suit me perfectly. Yes: in plain and simple terms, I am absolutely shitting it.
I think about fear a lot. You see, in some ways I’m one of life’s cowards. I have done a lot of scary stuff in my life – well, scary by Western European standards, anyway: I have had the normal share of tough family stuff, I have come out of the closet, I have left a corporate job in the City, and the rest of it. The day before I left my job as a lawyer I lay on my bed for hours, staring at the ceiling and musing on the insanity of a choice that I knew I had to make. By the end of that week, I had a dozen grey hairs.
I know my problems are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and are far outweighed by the hard luck stories that I see every day on my Twitter feed. I’m almost ashamed to write about them, which is why I only write pieces like this once every few years. But I’ve been thinking a lot more about fear recently than I ever have.
I’ve also been thinking about fearlessness. And I think that fearlessness is actually what cowards like me have in spades. You see, we’re not naturally brave. We know precisely how much pain the path ahead will bring us. You could read us the warning signs in a thousand different languages and we’d still press on. You could press a firm hand into our chests and we’d snap your wrist if you didn’t draw it right back where it came from. Get out of our way, because we’re sprinting for that cliff-edge. And yes, we know we’re probably not going to make it to the other side. That’s the whole point. In fact, we are not going to turn back, we are going to accelerate. We are going to get ever better at this doomed mission because that is all we have ever known – to get better and better at creating even though the world says no. Especially though the world says no. We are going to keep making and keep racing even though we may be paid nothing more than dust for it.
This will all work out for me somehow. It has to. I have sacrificed too much – money, love, and too much more. So, with the cliff’s edge coming clearly into view, I’m writing faster and more honestly than ever before. Because this has to work. It has to. And no-one should dare try to stop me; least of all me.