When you feel out of place everywhere, home is a difficult thing to find.
An obituary for my twenties
After a spritely start, my twenties had been on the decline for several years until finally succumbing to old age, passing away peacefully at the stroke of midnight last night. It was a decade that will be remembered fondly by all, though in our time together I believe I came to know an all together different side of the popular age-bracket.
Whereas most saw fit to meet the ten-year stretch with optimism, exuberance and open arms - my twenties and I shared a love of misanthropy and solitude, of single syllable sentences and a noticeable aversion to human contact. And sometimes also to showers.
I first met my twenties at a bar in Leeds, where I was studying for a degree in Creative Writing at the time. We hit it off instantly and quickly became inseparable, though I’ll admit appearances were not always as chiseled and well manicured as they seemed.
From the outside an affable, relaxed time period, with easy going charm and youthful good looks to match, my twenties quickly established a reputation for introspection and an abundance of thought, due to the anxiety and self-doubt they brought along. Well that and the nagging, claustrophobic self-esteem issues coupled with a wholly unreasonable body image obsession.
Despite these setbacks, my twenties were a productive time. It was while I was with my twenties that I lived in New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney, and travelled to many parts of Europe, along with 35 different US states, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Fiji and Thailand.
Together we starred in an Australian television commercial, acted in stage productions in the UK, appeared in the background of feature films in New York and Los Angeles. We interviewed JJ Abrams, Sean Bean and Channing Tatum, had dinner with Christopher Nolan, joked with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, received an apology from James McAvoy and got on the wrong end of a fiery retort from Mel Gibson.
We wrote two novels, a screenplay, two dozen short stories, countless articles and the odd poem.
We learned to play guitar. We wrote songs and played open mic nights. We joined a band and sang to crowds of up to 50 people at some of London’s least smelly rock venues, places like Camden Underworld, and O2 Academy, Islington.
We mistakenly got asked for an autograph on more than one occasion and didn’t correct the mistake at least once (apologies, person with my signature in their collection).
We closed the show at a Las Vegas casino with a rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Frankie Valli that received a standing ovation (it was karaoke night, everyone was drunk).
We attended film premieres, a couple of comic-cons, at least one Doctor Who convention, and the Cannes Film Festival. We recorded an album and published a cookbook. We took a contemporary dance elective at university, and owned a pink car named Steve McQueen.
We flew business class and first class on more than one occasion, economy more times than we like to think about and drove a hundred thousand miles (that’s a ball park figure, but includes a 10,000 mile road trip around the US, so I feel confident in the estimate).
We had our picture in a magazine or two, strutted down a few catwalks and stopped drinking for most of our time together just because we didn’t feel like it.
We quit our job and moved to the other side of the world and married a woman way out of our league.
We held many jobs over the years: Bartender, lifeguard, retail monkey, potato mover, accounting temp, summer camp counselor, builder’s labourer, handyman, singer, topless waiter, PA, intern, delivery driver, gardener, classroom assistant, community manager, awards-show producer, journalist, film critic, actor, editor, social media strategist, model, lecturer and writer.
But nothing gave us more pleasure than writing. In fact everything else existed almost solely for that purpose.
There was of course some things that my twenties and I got wrong, and in the wake of their passing I’d like to reflect on those things.
We were selfish, arrogant, inconsiderate and bad with money. We took ourselves too seriously most of the time. We chased the wrong girls and broke the wrong hearts and stayed in when we should have gone out.
We cancelled plans and flaked on others and wondered why we were short on friends. We forgot names and were unnecessarily rude when it felt like too much hard work to smile and be polite.
We didn’t return phone calls or text messages or emails and lost touch with too many people. We ruined good moods and killed plenty of buzz and enjoyed the misery of others almost as much as our own.
But hey, nobody’s perfect.
And there were a lot of positives. When we said we were going to do something, we sat the fuck down and did it (unless it required standing, that is). Live in the US? Done. Get your dream job? Check. Write a novel? Twice and counting.
Convince an otherwise sane woman to get married? You’re darned skippy.
Jump out of a plane. Join a band. Go on a spontaneous adventure. Done and done.
Neil Young once sang ‘it’s better to burn out that to fade away’, but he’s 67 now, so I’m not sure how much water his theory holds. Still, my twenties burned brightly, from where I was standing at least, but they never faded. Not for a second.
The night before their scheduled demise, my twenties and I enjoyed some alcohol, sang some drunken karaoke and engaged good friends in hearty banter. A more fitting place to end perhaps; drunk and in good spirits.
I can only hope my regeneration into a thirty-something has as many adventures in store.
My twenties are survived by my long-suffering wife, our two cats, and my inability to tidy up after myself.
Recently someone asked me how I find the motivation to keep writing. The answer is simple; I write because I must.
Writing is a compulsion. An addiction. A thirst. Without doubt it is the only thing stopping me going crazy.
The compulsion to write is like a knot in my chest.
I’m at the store, at the movies, in the shower - and it hits me. Usually sparked by an idea; a premise, a line of dialogue, an opening sentence.
Once the knot arrives it gets tighter and tighter until I sit down and let the words out.
Without that outlet, it’s impossible to function. Without that outlet I’m liable to become even more irritable, cranky and unproductive. Without it, I can’t process thoughts and emotions. I can’t stop the rage.
Without writing I would destroy myself.
In the words of Mark Ruffalo’s Dr Bruce Banner; “You wanna know the secret?"
I’m always writing.
More than 90% of my writing process happens internally. I never stop. When the knot arrives I start writing externally.
My most recent project was a short novel. I wrote it down in 19 days, all 50,000 words of it. I spat it out. I flooded the page with words.
I may have written the first draft proper in those three weeks, but I had been writing that manuscript for over 2 years. I just hadn’t been writing it down.
Sure I kept the odd note, for clarity. I filled a large whiteboard in my study with single word pointers. But for the most part I had been ruminating, digesting, editing, correcting and developing the story in my head before I even contemplated putting it on paper.
Here’s another secret; there is no such thing as a bad idea. There is only bad execution of that idea. Take my first manuscript for example; great concept, lousy story.
The battle is finding the right frame for the story. The right tone. The right characters. The battle is sticking with it. Adapting, changing, evolving. Some ideas arrive with the perfect story attached. Some ideas take a lot more work.
Some ideas will just never find the right execution.
No writer quits an idea. You never stop. You may not be writing it down, but you’re always writing it. Letting it gestate, waiting for the knot to arrive.
Most of the time you can tell a story isn’t working because the tap isn’t flowing properly. Sometimes you can’t tell a story isn’t working until you read it back.
Sometimes it takes other people reading it for you to realise you got it wrong.
But the doubts and the insecurities and the lack of belief and all those other symptoms of the creative mind - I usually fight those battles off the page.
If I don’t believe in an idea I don’t write it. If I lose faith in an idea it’s just because it hasn’t been developed enough yet. Back in the head it goes.
When it’s truly ready to be written, the compulsion will arrive and the story will write itself.
There is a wonderful Indian proverb that any of you who have seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will recoginise warmly; ‘Everything will be alright in the end, if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.’
In my writing experience there is a similar notion;
"Every idea will make a great story when it’s ready. If it’s not a great story, then the idea is not ready.”
I started writing because I needed to. I’ll continue writing as long as I have that need. I can’t live without breathing, and I can’t live without writing. They are the same. As long as I’m still breathing, living, experiencing, loving, hating, fearing; I’ll be writing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said; 'You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.’
I write because I must. I write because I have something to say.