On the off-chance


I sometimes think I am teaching myself to be completely alone. Sometimes I look at my diary and flick through its blank pages and it doesn't feel bad at all, more like an achievement. I remember when I used to brood on being alone as if it was my failure to interact with people, my lack of friends, staring back at me. But I don't feel like that now, oh I may do when bored, but in general, no. I feel confident not to see friends, not to socialise, not to do anything much, except what I end up doing in a day.

Today I hardly saw any daylight, I tend in winter to live from night to night, as if someone has scrubbed out days. Small things take a long time without the motivation of going out to meet someone at a certain hour. Things get put off till tomorrow, simple things like having a shave. So a little social motivation can be handy now and again. A chance to catch up, emerge from cave dwelling and pretend I am back as part of society for a while. Yet the whole day seems like a rush then, it's something you notice when you haven't had to do anything for a while that connects with the outside world. I met with some friends for a poker game one evening a while back, they started talking about what they had done that day. Stories of disasters at the office, missed trains, drinking too much at lunchtime, stressful journeys. Someone asked what I'd been up to.

'I woke up and came here.'

It's surprising, perhaps, that I never seem to lose the art of socialising, you'd think I'd get out of the habit, yet I flip back into it as if I went to parties every night. I remember once I felt I had to have at least three social engagements in my diary in a week to be a success at life, now if there is one in two weeks I wonder whether I'll be ready in time.

I'm not sure how I spend my days, although 'doing nothing' mostly sums it up. 'Doing nothing' for me of course is practically specialist terminology.

Sometimes I read of people attending parties, going to gigs, hear of people meeting in pubs at lunchtimes in the midst of their busy lives, and I recall when I used to do that. For a split-second I think to myself: have I seriously fucked up somewhere? But then a sentence will come to mind and I might write it down and follow it with others, until I lose myself in words and the hours have passed.

The ability to be alone and not mind it can come in handy. I remember I used to feel I had to get good at being on my own for two main reasons. First, to be able to write, which is best as a solitary activity. Second, to be able to go away on the spur of the moment and disappear to some foreign place. On the second reason, I felt that no-one I knew would ever want to do anything when I wanted to do it, even if they were free to, so I couldn't count on companionship for a journey. And though I hardly saw many friends still there was a comfort in 'having them around', local, although actually it's perfectly possible you will see more of someone in a year who lives far far away than you will of people who live down the road. So that's just an illusion and it's better if you can wean yourself off the type of love for your friends that holds you back from sudden disappearance.

All in all, I felt that the ability to be alone without despair was a skill that in the end would present more possibilities, even though I have done nothing much with it so far, save be alone, which of course seems less of an achievement even though up and down the same road there are doubtless people behind their curtains in bulb-lit rooms who don't want to be alone sunk into themselves like social invalids, for whom being alone is the worst thing they can imagine. Which is one reason why if some lonely person wants to exchange a few pleasantries in the street I don't mind stopping and becoming the only person they have spoken to in the past week. After all, my choice to be alone has not been that easy, like them I have countless times lost sight of my sense of purpose and sunk into depression, thinking I have been forced off the social highway by a heartless god driving a Jag.

But the thing is, I may be luckier than them since for me there has always been a goal behind all of this, and wait till I tell you how crazy this goal has been in its various manifestations before you decide to take pity on this poor misguided soul, since your pity may fall far short if you don't know the full scope of the intense desire that has led to my current situation.

I have long wanted to be 'ready', just on the off-chance. For years the kind of off-chance I wanted to be ready for was the off-chance that an extraterrestrial event might happen in some remote region of China that would require my presence, or the off-chance that I might just decide to go and live with the Romanian dentist I was in love with in Bucharest and if that didn't work out just lose myself in Transylvania, or the off-chance… no, that was about it, actually. For a long while years ago there was the off-chance that I might go to be a Zen monk in Japan and the off-chance I might hear of a Daoist master on a sacred mountain who could teach me something. There was also the off-chance that I would have a premonition that London was about to be destroyed in a suitcase nuclear bomb incident, but with that I was rather more inclined to hope I was near the epicentre than to book the next flight out.

I considered VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) in Mongolia for a while, but then I did a bit of research on the web and found a piece written by a girl doing VSO in Ulan Bator and her life mostly consisted of looking like a Michelin man in puffed-out coats in her flat in the winter because it was so cold, a choice of three vegetables in an empty-shelved supermarket, and having her new friends slaughter a stray dog in her bathroom as a gift of meat to please her. I thought to myself that maybe someone in Mongolia might consider it exciting doing VSO in London and left it at that. The grass is always greener…

At present I seem content enough with having no idea what I want to do with my life. I have never had any idea what I wanted to do with my life. I take up those things that are less trouble to continue with than to put down. I figure there must be a reason, for instance, that I have done the things I have done thus far in my life, and I generally feel that fate explains it far more than any carefully cultivated career plan on my part. So now I'm purposefully doing nothing just to see where it leads. The blanker I make the canvas, the more small marks and blemishes will be highlighted, and these will surely be the growing seeds of my destiny set apart more clearly for me to see, and I'll know how to continue the stroke. Effortlessly.

Of course, I perpetually overlook the first reason I gave for wanting to be good at being alone, to enable me to write, while waiting on the off-chance of destiny calling me to some far-flung outpost where I may discover the true reason for my being here, never having lost the sense that it must surely be something quite spectacular. If a certain dullness in the meantime is the price that must be paid for never losing sight of one's most potent dreams, then so be it. In the end, doubtless I will see that it was writing that was my destiny all along, and the rest… something to write about.