I have just driven a very long way through outback Australia, to walk through a gorge that was flooded when I got there. I learned three things on my journey west.
1. dreamers are losers
2. I am a dreamer
3. humans fail – this is the purpose of being human.
Number 2 is significant to me; 1 and 3 are of significance to the whole world.
Ten years ago I sold everything I owned to liberate myself from all distractions, all excuses, all commitments that stood between me and writing – and plunged into the creative realms. I wrote, I traveled, I explored. I published. I caught basketloads of ideas and was free to explore them, like others might boat about the water pulling fish from the sea. I said ‘yes!’ to just about everything.
Then a year ago, I decided my time was up. It had been 10 years since I’d had a job. Mostly, I was out of money.
I have been doing my best for over a year now to machete my way back to the main track – and it is doing my head in. For the creative realms are like the lost lands of faery: time swells and means nothing at all, earth rhythms strum the blood like an ageless drum, life is fluid, it cannot and will not be contained, restrained, ordered about or commandeered by routine matters that are quite frankly irrelevant. Like getting a job to pay the credit card.
Hence my drive west. In three days I drove 2500kms, barreling through those wide open empty spaces of the Australian outback, the windows down, no-one but me on the road beneath that big blue sky. Face blasted by the warm wind, heat rising from the earth beneath my wheels, finally I understood: my plans for Melbourne were a pretend game.
I had been hammering a future into a shape that I hoped would deliver work and resources enough to rent a house and rebuild my life in the ‘real’ world. Then came the time I had set myself to fly to Melbourne to begin my new life . . . yet when I stared at airline departure dates I could not choose one. When I gave thought to where I might live, I was staring at thick brick walls. Nothing sang to me. Nothing beckoned. Nothing was true. Life went into meltdown.
So I drove west.
Somewhere out there in a wild forest far from the urbanised coast, I started to hum a favoured tune, pah-rumpa-pum-pum.
Come, they told me
A newborn king to see
I am a poor boy too
I have no gift to bring
I’ll play my drum for him
I’ll play my drum for him. And so it was I began to wonder: what do I have to offer? Writing, clarity and a love of wide open spaces are my strengths. These are my drum. My gift. It is all I have to honour ‘the king’, a metaphor I wish was more gender neutral but will do as a stand-in for life itself.
I must play my drum.
And that’s when I understood that I am a dreamer. And that dreamers are by definition destined to lose the success game. We are lost in the world of faery and it is futile trying to machete our way back. It will only end in tears.
Success, friends, is an illusion. Failure is the price of everything we do. Joy and success are fleeting. It is the price of our success that lodges in our bones and stays with us for the rest of our lives. This price is our failure/s. Therefore, the purpose of being human is to learn how to fail.
My children (in their 30s) and my friends (in their 50s) are aghast at my insights. I know this because people from whom I might have expected an engaged response have given the subject a wide berth. My son gave it a few days and rang me. It was like listening to someone peer around a corner to check the coast was clear.
We laughed. He was relieved to learn I had not totally lost my mind. In fact, I have recovered it.
What I don’t understand is how my insights are not really good news! When I remember that I am 1. a dreamer; 2. dreamers are losers; 3. humans are destined to fail – I feel incredibly light-hearted and liberated. Because I am free to live as the wind blows, as the seas rise and fall, as the silver moon rides the evening sky, as the rivers flow, as the trees grow, as the sun shines, as the stars pierce the evening dark.
And btw, I do not equate loser with worthless. We need our dreamers! We need what they can dream up. Because I really do have great ideas – I just exhaust myself in the implementing. What we need are ideas brokers, so we dreamer-losers can sell our dreams. And in between, for the lean times, we could implement the dream dole, support our dreamer-losers because we know how valuable they really are.
Knowing no matter what I do I am destined to lose/fail, means I can turn my back on the God of Our Times: striving for success. Fancy that, I don’t have to strive. I just get to live. And love my life as a speck in the wild spinning universe.
And if you doubt my pronouncement about failure, check your bones for grief. There’s no question that it’s there – the art of failure is how we learn to live with it. And therein lies our success.