The difficulty of defining a wasted life when you don’t know what was intended

AUGUST 21 06

I remember a time when I was crammed with all my possessions, including a large empty fish tank, in a tiny bedsit room at night with the lights out just the light from the cassette recorder playing a tape of the Durutti Column. Night after night I would play it. It was after I left university and before I got my first proper job. Those nights lying in the darkness save for the glow of the hifi listening to the Durutti Column were amazing, though I'm not sure they seemed so at the time, save for when the music floated me off someplace infinitely bigger.

It was not long after I'd taken acid for the first time, Stonehenge Festival 1982 at the summer solstice. Purple Haze. During the night multicoloured rain poured down in thick jungle vines. I remember lifting my head from wherever I had blinked out to to find myself sitting in a muddy puddle in the heavy rain. All my friends had taken shelter in fact everyone had taken shelter just me sitting in a large puddle enjoying the rain, and I couldn't work out why they were looking at me from under the tarpaulin of a cake and tea stall and smiling or what they were sheltering from because this rain was pure ecstasy falling like streamers down into me. I painted a picture of this rain a few months later, but it got destroyed along the way, I mean I tore it up or burnt it.

And lying in that tiny crammed bedsit in Olympia I owned a lot more stuff than I own now and it was piled up all around and I had only a narrow path beside the bed to walk in. The aquarium later found a use when I grew Psilocybe cubensis mushrooms in it. I'd just seen it one day and thought wouldn't it be great to keep tropical fish, one of many short-term obsessions. And I remember thinking in the dark listening to the Durutti Column that I'd never find any other life, what I had now was inescapable, just living in a junkroom. We often choose to think this way when things are not brilliant. And just now, for some reason, this image of myself there from twenty-four years ago came back to me, and I saw all my intervening life from there to here as utterly fated.

Earlier in 1982 I had taken a big decision, not to go to Australia to pursue a PhD in chemistry I had set up at the University of Queensland. I'd changed my mind, didn't want to go in that direction any more. I'm not sure though that we have much real choice in the decisions we make, may only be an appearance of choice. Nonetheless, no sooner had that door closed than acid came along, which was the direction I fell in with. One of the first things I had looked up in the chemistry department library when I arrived at university in 1977 was the synthesis of LSD, except someone had got there before me, the page was torn out. You don't often see pages torn out of books, and when you're specifically looking something up only to arrive at the page and it's gone, it sets up an intrigue that you hardly register at the time, but the image of staring at that torn edge in the book has stayed with me, the way some experiences that are otherwise quite ordinary have a persistence in the mind that ought to clue us in that they have more meaning than the bare facts of it might suggest. And when you link it back after acid has found you some years later in the form of someone placing a tiny square of blotter in your hand it is like doing a quick bit of mental arithmetic to work out you were always going to be standing here going through these motions. What was written on that stolen page has influenced my life more than anything.

Instead of pursuing my childhood ambition to be a forensic chemist I went into journalism, but ultimately dropped out and studied the occult, because acid had shown me that the nature of reality was the only thing I was interested in, and though there are no clear career tracks for people to follow who are interested in the nature of reality, nonetheless there are a number of areas one can stumble around in until something gives. My twenties were spent going down an endless dark staircase, down down down, until up above there was the sound as if something had happened, as if a world had been wiped away while I was conveniently underground. My thirties were spent in the ruins of a world that no longer had any reality for me, I had gone so far away I felt like an alien castaway on the Earth, and still this is the identity I most readily fall into, though all identities are fictions.

That decade I mostly spent studying the nature of change. It was then I learnt that the more important you think something is, the bigger the waste of your life pursuing it is likely to be. I learnt, also, that you can't win, you can only carry on. By the time I was forty I had given up on the world, and no longer sought happiness, success, or money. I was wasting my life sitting down and thinking or watching insects and stuff. A brief blip of interest in the occult again, like a blackmailer comes back for more after you haven't heard from him for years. Some twiddling of the knobs to drown out disenchantment and boredom with a low-level enthusiasm for art and literature, and carry on getting nowhere as if nowhere was where I'd set my heart on. A faint hope sometimes of finding the love of my life and living in a treehouse in Sumatra banging out crazyfuck novels on a sleek black 1935 Underwood portable, but generally don't trust hope look on it as a bad friend I'd rather not hear from he always wants something when he gets in touch.

Quite contented, for a minutes at a time, to set my sleek black Underwood portable on my desk right here, I can imagine the rest and only have to face the poverty of my everyday life when I get off the damn thing. And there's always sleep, and dreams. In the end even boredom is a habit. One day, I say to myself, everything will change, but I do little to make it change. I'm hard to reach these days, I'm like that balloon floating through the sky. I go nowhere but I'm not often here.

When I was a kid I wrote an essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I looked at it again a few years back when I was destroying most of my old schoolbooks during a brief stay back at the family home. I chuckled to see that I had written that when I grew up I wanted to be a forensic scientist, or a vet, or a demonologist. How many people even get their third choice? It was what I fell into, it was what fell into me. Demons. Demons. Sounds like a stupid thing to study. And then one day you're tumbling into the Abyss and you think, hang on, I know about this stuff…

I'd like to say I've completely wasted my life. I'd like to say that, but I can't, because it's not over yet. I may still amount to something. But it's not a hope any more, just being accurate.