The road up ahead

This year, I’ll be 52.

I’m not sure whether I expected to make it this far (seriously) or how I’d feel, but with every year that passes I grow tired of saying the same thing and doing so little. I don’t mean in the doing sense – i.e. “what’s next?” – but, instead, focusing on the one or possibly two things that speak loudest to my heart.

If that sounds glib, I don’t mean it that way. All I desire – as if ‘I’ has any control – is to indulge my true self in doing things that matter which includes sitting and doing…nothing.

The truth is, I’m a very different person to the young man who thought he was going to change the world through his obsession with work (which made me exceptionally dull…).

As I’ve previously remarked, I saw work as my sine qua non and would go out of my way to make room for it and nothing else. Thankfully, these days, just making it through the day is a blessing. Better still, to connect with nature, speak to my children and read a few pages of a good book. (I’ve over 2,500 books, which makes me a bit of a hoarder, I’m afraid.)

Does this mean I’ve given up on life?

I don’t know.

Probably not. But I have had more than my stomach full of our materialistic, greed-driven world? We’re a very sick species to think we can carry on with ‘business-as-usual’ and not reap a whole load of sh*t.

Truth is, half the time I’m vexed by not doing enough with my life, despite the plethora of opportunities and the other I feel like a caged animal, tortured by my inability to escape the clutches of my self-inflicted work/life balance – if you can ever call it that.

I know it’s easy to be seduced by our chattering, half-wit self but for a long time now – probably my whole life – I’ve had this hankering to break free and live in solitude. Of course, that doesn’t sit comfortably with being married and raising three children.

I know it can’t carry on this way.

Why?

Because I’m living on borrowed time; I don’t mean in the sense of living with the ticking time bomb of a terminal diagnosis, but, rather, this unerring sense that the predictability of my good health is not a given.

What am I really trying to say?

I need to conquer my procrastination demons and do something else with my life.

As for work and all that, I know, having worked for myself for six years (2010-2016), it’s possible to manage on very little, to generate work from a small portfolio of skills and to connect more deeply in a soul-enriching way than trying to navigate one pay cheque at a time; and that counts for a lot – at least to me.

Quite what this year holds, who knows?

But it will be different.

Perhaps it was timely, but for Christmas one of my children bought me the book, “Van Life” by Foster Andreas Huntington. It’s a bit schmaltzy but it at least covers off the various van-life options that, up to now, I’ve not really considered. Typically, in case you hadn’t noticed, the hipsters drive a VW Transporter and that’s fine, but they come with a hefty price tag and to my mind don’t necessarily give the best experience of what it might be to like to live from a van including trying to run a small internet-based business. I should know having for a few years travelled to France with my in-laws; they owned a VW transporter made around 1980. Sure, things have moved on but I found it cramped and it wasn’t reliable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What I see is my wife and I continuing to work in Devon and to buy a van to travel at weekends and extended breaks around the UK. I would hope my youngest daughter will accompany us but as with all teenagers it’s best not to plan too far ahead. The alternative is to move to another part of the country – Wales is in the mix – and do something similar albeit that I’d like to do something completely different if I have to work. When I say different, I mean to escape the world of law and use my hands doing odd jobs or something more earthy.

Of course, I’m missing out a whole slew of other stuff that will need to get sorted, but if 2019 is going to stand for anything, it’s my desire to move my life forward in the self-employed/freelance space even if that means, for a time, I try to manage my current full-time job (in-house counsel) with something else.

You might be thinking, well, what’s stopping us from doing something right now, if it’s only about buying a van and travelling at weekends? For a start, we’re not financially able but, more importantly, my youngest daughter sits her GCSEs this year and we want to be around to support her.

You might also be wondering why van-life speaks to my heart?

Freedom?

New places?

An escape from Devon?

All of them but chief amongst them is my desire is to explore the UK in a way that I’ve never done previously.

Sure, I’ve been to places but, like the majority of commuters, I’ve done so via the shortest route and never properly taken in my surroundings. I’d like to think with a van and doing lots of walking, my wife and I can start to properly explore places like Cornwall, Dorset and Wales taking in both the coast and the interior landscape; but I also want to meet new people and learn about the history of places that I’ve only ever seen on a map.

I think it would be too grand to call this a pilgrimage but it feels something more than a simple road trip.

As well as the van project, I’ve got a few other things on the creative front that I’d like to restart. At this stage, it’s not necessary for me to go into detail save to say that I’ve got all the gear but I’ve not had the time to fully explore the full extent of my creative self. I’ve spoken before about my nascent journey into the creative realm that fell at the first hurdle; namely, doing as I was told and going out into the world to get a proper job, but this time I’ve got to fully embrace what it means to be an artist.

The truth is that nothing’s stopping me picking up a pen or pencil except my lack of confidence and stickability. Should I commit to doing something every day? Perhaps, but I’ve done that before and it never worked. Instead, and to borrow from Rainer Maria Rilke

“You ask if your verses are good. You ask me. You have previously asked others. You send them to journals. You compare them with other poems, and you are troubled when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (as you have permitted me to advise you) I beg you to give all that up. You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple “I must”, then build your life according to this necessity” (my emphasis added) — Letters to a Young Poet (Kindle Locations 132-138), Wilder Publications, Inc. Kindle Edition

…I need to go inside and really ask myself the serious question why I keep returning to the desire to create but, as yet, have nothing to show for all my prognostications? And I don’t mean to keep chewing things over. Instead, I know I’ll have to put pen etc. to paper but I don’t want to start something only to stop a few days or weeks later.

Stop, bloody start: that’s a good metaphor for my sometimes-tedious life.

As to what comes out of my hopeful exploration of van life and creativity who knows. Will I change or be changed or is all of this a pile of horsesh*t?

I can’t really answer that.

I do know that I’m not going to fulfil anything by sitting around on my arse wishing for a miracle. My fate lies in my own hands; and from past experience, unless I let go of my fear of getting it right (or at least more than 51%) then, frankly, I might as well pull up the drawbridge on this writing/blogging lark and simply live out my life trying to make sense of things as best as I can.

Anyhow, here’s to you and your plans for 2019.

I hope they too, or as many as you handle, come to fruition.

Blessings and much love,

Julian

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