I’m happier now than I have even been – personally, socially, and professionally. If that sounds like a boast, I beg forgiveness, but when I look back along my footsteps, it feels nothing short of miraculous. I’ve been through bad times and mad times. These days, life feels pretty sweet. The secret? It came down to finally finding ‘me’.
I’ve always joked I was *born in my forties, growing younger year by year. In truth, I spent the first half of my life playing catch-up with my peers. Don’t worry, we won’t be slogging through more scenes from my childhood here. Suffice it to say, I survived the kiln of secondary school but my clay was far from hardened.
My most valued lessons were in social camouflage. When invisibility failed, I donned the mask of normality. Do that well enough, for long enough, and the line between person and persona dissolves.
Sixth-form college and university gave me a chance to escape the past-me and reinvent myself among a group of people who a) actually wanted to be there, b) held real ambitions, and c) were just as hungry for change as I was. My personal renovations were primarily in how I projected myself – faking it to make it. In doing so, I made I made a whole bunch of friends, acted the fool, found a little romance, and discovered the awesome power of decisiveness.
It was exhausting of course, trying to maintain that level of energy when I am fundamentally introverted. There was something a little crazed in the way I exploded from the confines of expectation, and I swung wildly between soaring confidence and a crushing imposter syndrome (which still raises its head from time to time).
I kept shoving myself out there though, determined to change my stars. I didn’t know what I wanted to to with my life, but I couldn’t be nothing. Not again. Fuck that.
A few pals were making low-budget films at college, and they seemed to be having a real blast. I got involved with a bit of writing for them, and – with reckless enthusiasm – a couple of us co-wrote and submitted an unsolicited script to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Hah! I’m still stunned we had the gall. We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but if there’s one thing Phil Hobden taught me, it was **‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ I’m not sure I ever properly thanked him for that, but his boundless enthusiasm was a true inspiration to me at the time.
I reached the giddy heights of imposture in Cambridge, studying at what is now Anglia Ruskin. (Not even the ‘real’ Cambridge university.) I had six months of feeling (and acting) like the King of the Hill in my group of friends before I began to see the cracks. My heavy social-life had its pressures, from the money it cost, down to the energy and emotional investment I was putting into its maintenance. It was unsustainable.
I’d already met my beloved Clover by then and…well, you don’t need to hear about our courtship. The main thing is that we became real anchors for one other in the whirlwind of student life. One thing that happened, which was probably quite telling, was that I had a minor breakdown as our first ‘proper’ date began. I couldn’t bear to think I’d tricked her into liking me. I needed her to see my vulnerabilities; to see the real me behind the façade – whatever the ‘real’ me was, filled with all its pain and contradictions.
The deeper our relationship grew, the more clearly I could tell how badly I’d mistaken popularity (what a drug!) for being truly valued and how pointless my time at university would be if I didn’t put things into perspective. So I began to take stock, withdrawing a little from the social scene, cutting back on the spending, putting more focus on the course, and thinking about what really mattered to me.
Talk about turning points… I can’t begin to imagine what my life would have been like without Clo. I don’t even want to think about it.
This time next month, we’ll fast-forward to the Minotaur and the real Me at the centre of the labyrinth.
*The feeling was real. I felt crushed by life from a very early age, but that weight has gradually lifted the more I’ve made my way in the world – accumulating experience, friendship, love and contentment.
**I was in the second year of university before we heard back with some positive comments. We were given the opportunity to pitch and soon found ourselves in L.A. where so many dreams go to die. Looking back, it was probably right that ours should have done so at that point, but it would forever remain a glittering moment of alternate-history glory in the scrapbooks our our lives.
If you’re thinking ‘What scenes from childhood, dammit?!’ you may have missed The Bewilder-boy. Check it out, if you have a yen to learn more.
If you’re more interested in what I’m up to now, the Getting Serious post will fill you in.
Prefer to be entertained for half an hour? Why not kick back and listen to one of my performed readings? There’s a new one each month.