It’s the early hours of the morning and you’re hunched over with your elbows on your bony knees, trying to swallow the acid you’ve just belched in your sleep, still half drunk, fully dressed, exhausted with it all. Soft lights, blue and red, puddle into the shadows from the TV and the stereo, the router, the phone charger, all these beams and waves and radiation . The world outside is silent but for an occasional gust of wind playing an impromptu wobble board on the tatty For Sale sign next door. Everyone’s asleep or dead or too wrecked to move, just you, with it all coming horribly into focus, all the things you want to flee from. It’s so easy to see the allure of the hole in the looming hedges, the urge to break out and run, however briefly in that night beyond the walls, where you’ll die at least in some more exotic meadow in the grip of some unimagined predator, not here, anywhere but here.
This is what I did on day one:
I decided to have a last coffee and a little spliff before I got writing. I thought I might as well listen to something bias confirming on YouTube while I smoked my spliff and drank my coffee. I finished my coffee and slowly washed my cup and a few pots and pans that were lying around. The caffeine began to kneed my bowels so I sat and shat and read a few posts on Twitter. Everybody was being very rude to everybody else. I thought a skinny little roll-up would make a good dessert so I joined in being rude to a few people on Twitter while I smoked it. Wankers. I felt a bit tired after this so I went for a lie down. Was horribly aware of what a pathetic sight this was, a man on that tricky edge between middle and early old age, not working, not doing anything, just shuffling around in the dark in his flat, not thriving, coasting on the coattails of a dead relative who’d worked all their lives for the money I was pissing away. Felt too ashamed to sleep so had a quick wank, which didn’t make me feel any more empowered. Cracked open a can of lager and rolled another doobie. My phone buzzed. I turned it over so I didn’t have to see who I was hiding from. What was the point of writing a bestselling novel, anyway? When the idea first occurred to me as precocious and already somewhat disturbed child at the age of about ten, I was motivated by a desire to impress. I will write a book that people will love, and they will be in awe of me. Then as a teen, I was motivated by a desire to impress lazily. I will write a book that will be so succesful that I can cruise to my grave through a career of appearing on chat shows, being interviewed and stroked for my opinions. As a young adult I thought I was Charles Bukowski. Now, I just want to somehow make enough money without leaving my dark, smoky kitchen to never have to engage with the world outside and always be able to hide from everything. I haven’t written more than a few hundred words at a go since I was a teenager. Everything just kind of dried up when I hit my late teens and drugs, prescribed and otherwise, came onto my scene. But I’ve got the time – and no more excuses. If I don’t do this now, then I’ll be looking for a job at McDonalds in just under a year’s time. I’ve got to do something with this time, or I’m doomed.
I cracked open another can of lager. Fuck it anyway. Went to take my Citalopram, the current opium of the people – certainly all the people I know. Mental note to self to ring surgery in the morning for medication review. Tried to think of an idea that I could sell for a fortune. Wondered if maybe I should be an artist or musician instead of a writer.
Didn’t do any writing.
So I’m two months in and half the money’s gone and I spend most evenings now slumped on my sofa in stoned bafflement at the way it’s all turned out. I think I made it as far as day seven or eight before it all started to shift and shake, and by day 20 I was hiding beneath the duvet til tea time, waking only to sorrowfully revisit the undiminished hangover and cast a bleary eye on the wreckage around me. At day 60, I rise like an unlovely phoenix from the woven tinder of my betrayed and burning dreams as the sun is still steeling itself to cast a milky eye over the misty street outside. I take an inordinately long time to start pissing, spend a half moment wondering if it’ll be the prostate that takes me down, think of Javier Bardem, dying in a nappy. Roll a cigarette from an open pouch of tobacco, desiccated by the central heating. Cough over my coffee. Tell myself today is the day. I got that money and my first thought, after deciding to quit my job which was such an instinctual reaction that it doesn’t merit being called a thought, was ‘I can write a book. Or do something. I could buy back a chunk of my time and use it to do something astonishing. This is such a singular and blessed opportunity.’ There’d always been something hobbling me, penning me in, backing my rearing creativity into a cave like a bunch of hooting cave people hectoring a mammoth with spears. It was work – I was too busy to sit down and write, I only had enough time to sit down with a spliff and have a wank. It was relationships – I didn’t have the time to write because I was too busy with my wife, but when she left me I had to spend all my time getting a job, which lead me back into the work trap. It was parenting – I was too busy spending quality time with my son, but when my second wife took him and moved to the other end of the country there still wasn’t time because then I needed to distract myself with all manner of other madnesses. But now I’ve got nothing and no-one and, if I’m sensible with the money that I’ve not already pissed up the wall, I’ve got about a year’s worth of time where I don’t need to work. I can sit down and write that novel. Or something. Paint a picture. Make music. Do SOMETHING with one of the unrealised talents I’ve been quietly patting myself on the back for all my life. Initial signs have not been promising. I’ve still not started writing my book. I’ve started smoking again and have spent most of my free time hunched over the laptop in the kitchen, dribbling ash over the keyboard and arguing with strangers about things I know nothing about on Twitter. I have, over the last couple of months, come to believe that I do, in fact, know a great many things about all sorts of things – immigration, Brexit, race, religion, transgender issues. I surely know enough things now to begin writing my book. Today is the day. I finish my cigarette. The sun is up and doing its thing. It’s going to be one of those days where the light is so flat that world appears two dimensional – a day to leave the blinds down and stay inside with the familiar shadows, unjudged and unchallenged.
I fire up my software and I stare at the screen.
The hardest thing about conquering nihilism – I guess, having no lived experience of such a victory – is coming up with a reason for doing so. We’re driven by a search for meaning and when that meaning is gone we’re like toys with our batteries removed, gathering fluff in the hallway, under a radiator, next to a shoe. It’s not that we can’t see the horizon, it’s just that we see it as tonally no different from any of the other grinding, banal horrors we’ve so far passed, peddling the sinking dingy of futility along the rancid river of pointlessness we call life. There’s little motivation to travel from one place to another when every place is the exact same bald and ridiculous cosmic ‘fuck you’. So what do you replace meaning with when the meaning’s gone? Do you stuff whatever will vaguely fit into your empty battery compartment and hope that’ll do the trick? Do you make a battery out of an old potato and some wires and hope that, if only you can lurch up and start banging your little cymbal again, you’ll soon forget about the indignity of life living next to a shoe? But you never will. Nothing apart from batteries will fit into your battery compartment and there was only ever one battery in the world and now that battery’s gone forever and what’s worse is that now you don’t even BELIEVE in the fucking battery. Do you go back to God and ask if he’ll perform a miracle and allow you to believe in him? That’d help. That’d just about get those little cymbals going again. But God went the same way as the battery and, just as it’s useless to keep trying to cram sex and charity work into your battery box, it’s a waste of time to keep trying to insert unsuitable things into your god compartment. Shopping won’t fit, nor will sex, drugs or rock and /or roll. Some of these things will give you a quick jolt that’ll get you back on your little plastic feet for a short time, but you’ll be a zombie, your thoughts not your own, your gears grinding ever more slowly as you traipse off to go bankrupt, get AIDS, die of an overdose and/or lose your hearing. Insert sound of toy cymbals clashing here.
Christmas is a wormhole, a pastry fringed passageway through time and space in which you can simultaneously shake hands with every iteration of yourself who ever didn’t manage to make someone happy enough or didn’t manage to be happy enough yourself on some grimly measured December 25th, a tinsel entangled tunnel of regret opening onto every time you bent to drink at the cosmic fountain of universal human oneness and came away unsated.