A few nights ago I was full of the fear of death. Possessed by a myriad of thoughts. The sheer dread of my corporeal existence being ended felt real. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more (ironically) than to sleep, to fall into blankness, one, so that I could be rested for the morning (I had an audition in London) and two, so I could avoid this opening void of imminent emptiness. And yet I was at the same time filled, or so it seemed, with an immense energy. I felt, if I’d got up, I could have written straight-out three novels, ream after ream, would have spilled onto page. And yet I was frozen, I could much move, my rational Apollonian self, told my inner Dionysus, that the best thing to do was remain in bed dozing, well with eyes shut if nothing else and not to expend (waste) what energy I had, sitting, tapping away into the early hours writing.
We all have these nights, or the equivalent, you are desperate to sleep but you mind is rolling over and over, churning one thought into another until there is a phantom of half dream-thought-nightmare keeping you very far away from slumber. On the surface I no doubt was thinking of one thing from the day but it soon happened that from the depths of my subconscious other less rational images and thoughts emerged. Certainly at one point I was contemplating my identity, its multi-layered nature. This was at first triggered, I think, by thoughts of my two girls so gently asleep next door (thought I knew that one or other would stir in an hour or two and so I really, really needed to get to sleep!) .
There is a universe in the eyes as, was it Blake said? Certainly Jewish tradition says if you save a life you save a universe and when you see into your child’s eyes, have a moment of bodily revelation and recognition of them as human beings, as if tapping into the ultimate. You cognate (which isn’t a verb but you know what I mean), you connect, you place a feeling, catalogue, register, understand, that they are ‘there’. They are ‘there in the world’, they are ‘here’. They have been taken from the sea of nothingness and cast, thrust, thrown into being, embodied and shimmering with life. It is the magic of being someone rather than being nothing. And somehow, by power beyond conscious action, you (and your partner) have created or been part of the agency that has created new life.
Though on this night, I have to confess, it didn’t feel like ‘new’ life. It felt like they came from something, somewhere, that had always been and always would be. That conscious life were a simple seeing through a glass darkly, seeing what lay all about, the cosmic, the eternal. And who was I in all this? Even on a prosaic level I was confused. I had too many roles. On my ‘business’ card I put ‘Actor/Writer’. Yet even that simple statement doesn’t seem to solidify matters: in terms of acting, I am always active as an audiobook narrator but often doing little in terms of the stage. My weeks are punctuated by weird auditions in small dingy studios in central London, being asked to do all kinds of daft things (‘You have the head of a dog in an office of other animals and you want to make everyone happy’ ‘First, you are a worried, gesticulating, parent but then transform your worried movements into a stylised crazy, delighted dance’ just a couple of recent requests at auditions) or I have a few days filming, playing such underwritten parts they there is no ‘character’ really to play, or I go to see friends whom I’ve worked with a lot previously doing the kinds of things I used to do (unpaid) and wonder should I return to that, to keep my hand in as it were because I’m a professional actor not acting very much?
Then there’s my writing… well I write this blog, in a fractured, intermittant way, but I always have dozens of other projects on the go. I have at present two essay collections that need editing, my Dad’s memoir that I want to write an introduction for, my great uncle’s two books that I want to edit and again write intro’s to, a vague offer to co-write a play about Mary Shelley, the even vaguer beginning of a book of poetry, a novel set in Spain to rewrite and the list goes on. At any time I can turn my mind to one of these items and feel ‘I really need to get down and complete that project’ or another nascent project will raise its head and I think ‘Mmmh maybe that’s what I should pursue now’. All are pressing and impress themselves, intrude, poke their noses, into my every day.
I have a part-time job as a lettings officer at a school, which is a happy unpressured job where, as they used to say in the sixties, ‘the Man’ does not oppress me, but really what the hell am I doing there? Am I a ‘Lettings officer’ in my soul?
I look after the girls during parts of my week which is an occupation and a half and then there’s our new house. The four of us have just moved to Litchborough and a new house. It is the first house my wife and I have bought together. But there are seemingly hundreds of jobs to be done. Usually in everyday living you might have a ‘big’ domestic job come up every now and then. A room needs decorating, a toilet fixing, the cherry tree digging up. No problem you set aside a day or two and look forward to doing it.
However, at present, it’s like there are dozens of these jobs that I have crowding my life: curtains to be hung, doors to be cut down or rehung, shelves to be put up, rooms carpeted, lino put down in the outhouse, the loft space cleared and my thousands of books emptied from boxes, books sorted, ordered, shelved, the jungle of two large gardens hacked, chopped, dug and debris cleared, a shed erected, fences torn down and put up, paths to be cleared of moss, hedges, bushes and trees trimmed and (again) the list goes on and on.
All this whilst, as I say, looking after two beautiful, very active, growing and developing little girls, whom it is exhausting to clothe, feed, play and generally attend to at the best of times. Having and bringing up young children is (as I suspected it would be) the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done in my life. Sleep, is a precious and rare commodity. Energy, a moveable feast or an empty table.
I’ve had great physical and mental challenges through-out my life, like most people, but with children you have these challenges, whilst also having to maintain a calm, a tolerance, an ability to be fatigued but entertaining. You can be on the point of nodding off, whilst reading stories aloud in funny voices to your delightful, bright eyed, equally exhausted-sleepy child. And try keeping a wriggling baby engaged or happy or distracted whilst you change their nappy, they have the strength of three lions in those tiny torsos!
So… anyway, there I was, with this stuff, and more, floating in my head, and feeling I had to achieve and do so much NOW because I was nearing death, death was just around the corner. My body was telling me just how old I was, everything continually ached, I always had some bodily part that was not quite functioning properly and all this meant that the years had flown by and where was I in life? What had I achieved? More importantly what more was there in me that I could achieve, creatively and artistically? And it felt like the answer was, that there was a lot, that I had hardly tapped into my creative-unconscious at all. That the inner pool of imagination had hardly been touched and I was, thus far, a mere Narcissus gazing at my reflection. Most creative people have these kinds of trouble, these self-doubts, I think, but some also, can look upon their completed work(s) and feel a sense of ‘progress’. The very lucky ones might even sense ‘achievemen’t and the even luckier ones realise a ‘recognition in the world’ and the really, really lucky ones, may know financial, as well as artistic, reward.
The truth is, for most creative people writers, musicians, artists, they will receive little recognition, wealth or fame. Equally true however, is that these ‘rewards’ are to a degree empty or lacking in much substance, at least in the sense that they will not take away or resolve the troubling and odd need to create. Worldly success can give artists a sense of self-worth and certainly a more comfortable physical existence but just as surely it often destroys creativity or gets in the way of it, there are countless artists whom one can think of, whom Mammon has swallowed whole, So one should be careful what you wish for I guess.
The greater threat I felt that night (hey,’ worldly success’ is not as certain as death that’s for sure) was shuffling off this mortal coil, this spiral of life, this spring into existence that is, oh so, very brief. I felt I could touch death, feel the reaper’s breath and was, as I say, a little desperate that I had not fulfilled my artistic aims in life and that the energy I had within needed to and could (Should? May?) expand beyond my self into the universe. Such hyperbole is where one is at that stage of a sleepless night, everything is grandiose, the issues are mighty and the dragons of life vital and breathing a lot of fire.
In the morning Isla stood at her gate and called ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy’ in a voice that woke me and made me whole again, almost instantly. The existence, of her existence, made my living vital, immediate and sweet. I want to live so as to hear her and Freya’s stories of what they find in life when they are older. To hear what they love, deem fascinating and discover. I regret being as old as I am and being their parent, simply because I want to see how they turn out and fear I will die before I get that chance. I want to see them live and delight in the beauty of the world. I want to see them (and myself) become more than potential.
The world, it often feels, is on the brink of disaster and apocalypse and the horrors are not very far off. I fear, detest, am saddened and angered by them and lament for that vast majority, who suffer daily. But I still desire and wish to treasure life; living; existence. Existence. Conscious life is so curious and odd, serendipitous, but perhaps it’s true, that this chink of light that we have, in the dark night, is, as Cole says, at the end of ‘True Detective’ a light that is overcoming the darkness.