Another person who wants to talk about writing!
But, on the other hand, what’s wrong with telling you that I’m in love with writing? That’s not to say I don’t, at times, find it excruciatingly hard (unlike my hero Charles Bukowski who said it was easy…), but the older I get, the more I enjoy both the process and the finished product.
To this day, I don’t understand (this is a mild understatement, especially for me) why, having always loved words — particularly their etymology — I studied, first, engineering and then law. I never studied English and certainly kept well away from English Literature; I was more interested in Technical Drawing and karate (actually, I liked competitions — especially kumite). I should add that having had the benefit of a tutor for a few hours every Sunday — it was mostly to give my parents a break from their hyperactive teenager — I got a B in O-level English aged just 14. That’s no great shakes by the standards of the day but it was unknown at the school I attended where they didn’t even offer O-levels! We had to make do with the inferior CSE exam, which even if you got grade 1, was no better than a C grade at O-level. I should have realised that it wasn’t so much as having a gift but I loved the connection with words, stories and the odd bit of poetry (Charge of The Light Brigade was my favourite poem). But the trouble was that I had no one in the family who had a background in humanities to guide me — they were all engineers — and so I thought my destiny was to follow in their footsteps.
It was a mistake.
And I don’t just mean a mistake in the loose sense of the word. I mean it fu*ked up my life.
Well, it’s like this.
On leaving school, I opted to resit a few of my exams — nearly all science-based subjects apart from statistics — and then spent two years doing an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in Mechanical Engineering. I struggled. In fact, if it wasn’t for my best friend Virat (who was a maths genius) tutoring me, I would have failed. In the end, much to my surprise, I got a distinction but I had nowhere to go; I’d run out of road so far as my education was concerned. I got an offer from Brunel University (or was it Westminster?) to study Mechanical Engineering but my parents didn’t want to support me and I recognised that if I’d struggled to complete an OND, I’d sure as hell fall off the M.Eng degree wagon pretty darn quick.
Where did that leave me?
All that time doing meaningless exams for what?
In the end, I moved with my parents to Bristol and started a job with British Aerospace as a quasi apprentice. What a fraud. I lasted six months.
By now, I’m nearly 19; and what do I do? I f*ck off to London like so many young kids end up doing. I was going to say just like my generation but only a handful of my schoolmates (to the best of my knowledge) jumped the wall from the backwaters of Paignton to the Big Smoke.
And so I moved to London with no work experience to my name, let alone life experience. I’ll spare you the detail but I got a job in recruitment, and quickly established — within a week — that I was working in a boiler room: think Wall Street and all that “greed is good” shit. I quickly left and with zero experience of running a business, I set up my own business (duh!), Ambassador Recruitment, with a grizzly, been-round-the-houses geezer who was, at one time, Sir Alec Reed’s right-hand man — or that’s what he told me. Sadly, having slogged my guts out for nearly three years, the business went bust! It needn’t have but my business partner bottled it and pulled the pin. I was left with a debt of around £42k which I managed to negotiate down to a few thousand. I’ll spare the blushes of the Bank who precipitated our decline and forced my business partner’s hand — it didn’t take much — but I played hardball over the personal guarantee and they gave in. To be honest, I was relieved to get the hell out the business — it was slowly killing me.
From there, and excuse me if you’ve heard this before, I decided, on a whim, to go to University and study law. What is it they say? Hindsight is 20/20 vision. However, what I should have done before dashing off to University was to consider, aged 23/24, what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. No, seriously. If I was going to commit six years to qualifying as a solicitor, I should have looked at things more deeply than reacting to my best friend who called me out the blue:
“Hi, Jules. How are you?”
“Good Mark. You?”
“All good. I was ringing to see if you fancied going to Plymouth Uni next September to do Law?”
“Sounds cool. I’m in mate. It will allow Alli [my wife to be] and I to move back to Devon, and do something proper — if you know what I mean.”
And that was that. The decision, such that it was, was based on a nanosecond call with my bestie and there I was applying to and being accepted on a joint honours degree with a start date of October 1992. I had 10 months before I started. In the meantime, I enrolled at the local College to study A-level Law which Plymouth University subsequently said I had to pass with a B grade to get in. It was hard going given that I was working full time and studying at night, often switching the lights off 1 am. In the end, I got an A.
Let’s back up a bit. I started this post talking about my love of words. Sure, law is embued with words — it loves to argue the construction, semantics and even the stupid Oxford comma — but it’s not the same thing as creative writing. It’s not as bad as working through Bernoulli’s Equation but it’s logical and doesn’t allow for much creativity, certainly as a solicitor.
Here are a few words that I used to use frequently in my correspondence with my oppo. (I didn’t use them with clients you’ll be relieved to know.)
Sine qua non
Ex post facto
Go for it. You try incorporating those in a romantic novel. Even in a courtroom drama — no, not John Grisham or Rumpole — you’d be hard pressed to convince a publisher that anyone wants to have to reach for the dictionary just to get through the first few pages. Show off!
When my best mate called, what I should have done is…think. To spend some time alone to fully think through the implications of my decision. But I didn’t. All I could see was that here I was some punk from the backwaters of Devon and I was going to train as a solicitor. I know that sounds naive or arrogant but apart from my late uncle, Adrian, who belatedly got a degree from Plymouth School of Art, I was, at the time, the only person in my family to go to University, lest still study law.
Let’s put things in context. A lot of the kids at my secondary school ended up in prison. The rest ended up with a trade and a white van — these were the days of the YTS Scheme. Not that that’s a bad thing; we all need builders, plumbers and carpet fitters. A very few went to University; and two became solicitors, my best mate being one of them.
I’d be lying through my teeth if I didn’t admit to being taken in just a smidgen by the thought of being called a solicitor. Why, I don’t know, but back then, it still had a degree of cache, as opposed to anything else I might have done with my limited skill set.
I enjoyed my degree but more so for the intellectual challenge than developing my writing skills. That’s not to say I didn’t get better as a writer but there’s a world of difference between legal advice and a piece of prose.
Not to bore you rigid, but having qualified as a solicitor, I ended up working for five different law firms in my attempt to climb the greasy partnership pole. As I learnt early doors, the ability to get on had less to do (if anything) with my grasp of the law as the ability to bill the bejeezus out my clients. Sadly, I never made it to the top but before then, and close to the time when I jumped ship, I spent six days in the high-intensity ward at Derriford Hospital with a suspected subarachnoid haemorrhage. It sure woke me up. “I’m mortal after all.” After I came out, I spent six weeks off work trying to recover but more than that I started to ask the sort of questions I should have asked if not 30 years before, then certainly before I so naively jumped headfirst into law.
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What’s my purpose?
Yes, that type…
All bloody obvious but rarely, if ever, investigated by my generation let alone the next.
I came up short.
I didn’t have a clue.
It was writing that saved me or, at the very least, in working out my existential angst, I started the long and convoluted process of summoning my muse, which must have thought I’d given up on her.
Again, I’ll cut to the chase. At some stage, I’m guessing around 2012, I realised that not only did I love writing but I also had this desire to be published. I did self-publish two small books; one of poetry with the help of a coach; and the other a compilation of my blogs. They both bombed. Actually, that’s to suggest that I shipped my work and no one bothered to buy it. Truth is, I was too embarrassed to promote it, so very few people even knew that I’d published anything.
I’d like to think that since I left private practice (2010) I’ve been honing my writing craft. Yep, Resistance has been hounding my ass but I’ve still kept blogging and creating all manner of digital stuff from podcasts to poems to pictures. I accept that none of this is remarkable or even worth writing about — it’s a slow burn for sure — but I’ve never given up on my desire to recover my creative instinct. At this point, I sense the amateur part of my psyche making up a whole load of bullshit excuses for not going all the way. I mean, not to fall too much in love with Bukowski, but when he says “you’ve got to find something you love and let it kill you” he’s not doing so for effect. He’s deadly serious. The truth is that any writer, professional athlete or wannabe will know that in order to succeed you’ve got to go all in and the kitchen sink. Even I can see that having given everything first to karate and then to my recruitment business.
And that’s where I’m heading with my writing, prose and poetry.
I’m lucky. My kids are older now which means I’ve got more free time; I’ve got a secure job; and a very understanding wife who knows when ‘I’m on one’. But trust me, I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I didn’t gain deep, lasting pleasure from writing.
It’s strange though that I’ve had to wait until now to feel this engaged. Why didn’t I start a lot, lot earlier? What was stopping me? I’m not sure. Probably the fact that I’ve had to undo so much of my shitty conditioning. Or not asking the right questions. Or not feeling it strongly enough. But just because the senses are only now waking up doesn’t mean I should be embarrassed to share my thoughts. Being a lawyer though who likes to get to the bottom of things, I’d be lying if I don’t sometimes grapple with Black Dog in trying to understand why I’ve wasted so much of my life doing the wrong things. In pursuit of what? Mostly, filling up my time. You heard me. Filling up my time with doing. If only I’d sat back and felt my way into whatever was arising. That’s certainly what I’m doing now. Or to be more precise, I’m paying attention to life.
I know I’ve got to go beyond the purview of my previous writing. For too long it’s been stuck in the groove of talking about the legal profession, what ails the workplace and a whole heap of spiritual material. I’ve never written any stories, poetry or nonfiction.
You’ll have seen me update my Twitter profile: “Lawyer, scribe and coach. Working at the intersection of spiritual growth, conscious lawyering and ecological grief.” I still can’t make up my mind whether this accurately sums up where I’m at or where my writing is headed. The only way I’ll know that is to write and see what arises. I know I’ve spoken about the process and the like but it’s really only my poetry that I struggle to get right. The writing is as simple as sitting down and seeing what arises. At the moment I’m writing off of Google Docs. I might write on Word for pieces that I submit but the point is, it doesn’t matter what I write on. What matters is that I write something every day.
As to this blog, as you’ll have seen I’ve dialled back the daily posting. And I intend to keep it that way. I’ll post something weekly — mostly, on a Monday — and the rest of my material, save for the occasional poem on Tumblr, will stay offline.
Thanks for reading.