Perhaps there’s some key gene missing, but I don’t get the point of selling one’s self to line someone else’s pockets for 40 years. The house-car-2-week-vacation morsel of life doesn’t seem much of a compensation, either. In one of my first jobs, working in a real estate office as a secretary, I remember being thrilled by the new pens and a ledger book, and lining up the ruler with the side of the calendar pad…for about an hour. And then the ledger book didn’t seem quite as Dickens as it first promised, and the pens weren’t much either. Had it been entries of bales of silk from Chow Long, or copying in best hand the effects of a sale of an entailed estate, well maybe. But this wasn’t London Docks or the 19th century, and the photocopier pretty much ruled out longhand no matter how much empty time I disposed of. So I sat there for two weeks flipping through the pages of the ledger concocting stories of the lives behind all the names of the buyers and forgetting to note their pale choices of avocado or wheat-coloured washer-dryer sets, and beat a track for the door. Had it been even a bit remotely worthy of a full-blown Bartleby the Scrivener, I might have turned the desk to the wall and typed away a few years while wallowing in intense disenchantment, but I soon realised I was trying to infuse colour into a polysaturated landscape and there had to be something more to see.
Today, nearly 30 years later and many of those who aren’t downing a couple bottles of something every night or second-mortgaging some fleeting moment of merchandise merriment via e-Bay seems to be contemplating their get-away. Okay, there is a flock of friends and acquaintances in the midst of babydom, still or again, who are probably too busy, too exhausted, or too nerve-wracked to even consider the unbeaten path, but being a firm believer in the worm eventually turning, there is some small satisfaction in the email that says, “oh, how nice it must be not to be tied to a job, mortgage, the school run….” Some of those things were just how the cards have played out over the years and there is, of course, the ever-attendant cohort of “doom and gloomers” that does manage to keep me awake at night worrying about the future. Much good that does me. If they weren’t the same ones who 30 years ago tried to warn me that a degree in English would make me unemployable (ha!) and lead nowhere (ha!ha!), perhaps I would give their soothsaying more credit. But does it just seem so to me, or is there some kind of inverse relationship between the amount of living one does in the here and the now and the amount of the retirement fund? I don’t want to retire. Ever. Why have the kind of life one would want to retire from? Again, I don’t get it. They’re going to have to shoot me. Like old horses.
So what am I trying to do?
Well, while I was writing up my thesis, I set myself the task of writing 500 words a day. Sometimes they took hours and hours, sometimes I was out of the house and reading a book in a Madrid café by mid-morning. Whatever it did (and the thesis did get done) it made my writing sharper and my thinking clearer, and right now I feel about as sharp as a bowl of porridge. If you ask me for the deep-down truth, I think that for me it’s directly tied to thinking too long about houses, plumbing and other fixed-down things. Bruce Chatwin at least once proposed the connection between walking and thinking. Yup. But as for now, this year, we have the good fortune to have a house we’re not mortgaged to, I’ll just have to let my words do the walking for me. 500 words a mile.