Monday, 23 March 2009

Is this all there is to it?

Tonight we put on another sketch show: eight prospective writers wrote a total of 22 sketches and performed them in front of an audience. This time, unlike last time, it was in radio-recording format; we stood with our scripts in front of the live audience and read out the scripts into studio-grade microphones.

It went well.

But I cannot get over this business of the 'down' that one feels after the initial 'high'. The initial high comes from having risen to the occasion. But the low, that feeling of 'is this all there is to it?', is proving hard to deal with. People ask you "so what next?", and you have no idea. More importantly, you don't know what you've gotten out of the whole experience. You end up talking quickly and excitedly, like a child, about what you'd like to do, and you feel none the wiser.


The first time I gave a proper lecture I got a massive high. I had stood in front of about 120 first-year students, captured their attention, explained things, been in charge, got nods of satisfaction, and along the way discovered I had become an instant role model for some of them, ...

I went to a friend who'd been in the teaching business one year longer than I.

"So, what now?" I said.

"Nothing," he said.

"What about the high? It feels great!" I said.

"Temporary. Look, I'll pass by for coffee later, okay," he said.


Mark D was a professor in his 30s at a university I used to teach at. He was an inspiring model for me. Oxford-educated, intelligent, an actor and performer in his university days, and a present-day pianist with his own jazz trio. His students adored him.

A Greek girl enthused to me about how he'd walk into the lecture hall looking like he'd just got up, mad hair everywhere (he was balding, and that's one of our ploys to hide it: mad hair), and then in the middle of the lecture, he'd stroll over to the piano and play. She felt he brought a touch of class that no other lecturer could match.

So when I got my PhD finally, I was keen to chat to Mark D about it. He offered me a cup of coffee in his office.

"PhD. Big deal, eh? You work hard, you think it'll be the culmination of your life, and then you get it and you're like 'so what?' Getting a PhD is like having a girlfriend. When you don't have one, you think everything'll get better when I have one. Then you find a girlfriend, and it's like 'yeah, big deal, now what.'" (Although I suspect he did not express his feelings in quite those words to his girlfriends.)


After an improvisation night in which I'd performed well, I walked home actually feeling depressed. An actress I knew at the time helped ease the hardship: "it's always like that after a performance, it's a sign you did well."


I was at a meeting of life-coaches on Friday night. I overheard an expressive lifecoach in her 30s (an American who now lives here) complaining about coaching a 25-years-old client. "Oh I'm so confused. My life's a mess. I have no goals," the client told her. She said she wanted to just break out of her professional mode for a while and shake the hell out of her. YOU'RE 25 YEARS OLD, YOU CAN DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT. SHUT UP. NOTHING'S RUINED FOR YOU. YOU HAVE TIME. YOU'RE OKAY. STOP WHINING.

I wanted to complete her logic for her: you have time, but I don't!


After tonight's show, in an attempt to celebrate our achievement, some of us went out for dinner. There was a guy with us - also a prospective writer - who is almost 20, although he looks 17.

Out of a desire to make conversation, he asked someone at the table "how old are you?" We all laughed. Only a young person would ask that question with such directness. The guy became defensive; he said he looked up to those older than him, knowing he was going to be like them one day, he said he did not at all feel like we were old uncles and aunts to him.

Then, for some reason, we had a moment of feeling for the guy, and out poured unsolicited advice to him. The main thrust of it was: enjoy your life, you have so many wonderful years ahead of you, do everything you want, it's all good, etc.

It is remarkable: this outpouring of angst that comes from people in their mid-to-late 30s when confronted with the question of age. In other societies, the older people would take the young guy under their wings, and patronise him as a 'kid', and he would show visible deference to them. In London tonight, at our dinner table, it resulted in a mass projection of unease over the "mislaid years". Why would you say the things we said unless you felt a deep unhappiness over your present situation, unless you felt a yearning for your youth!

Thankfully, I stepped in. (The lone voice of wisdom, I hear you say.)

I said: "But hang on, when he gets to our age, he'll also feel that he could have done more but didn't. He's not going to get to do everything."

Now I realise that even that was a wrong assessment. The truth is that we HAVE done a lot. Perhaps we wish we could go back and add more to what we did, but we've done A LOT. I have not been sitting on my bum doing nothing. The last few years have been frustrating in terms of the ambitions that have been diminished or slowed down, but there has been a lot of progress.

We now live in an age in which we are addicted to doing new things and more new things. We are addicted to doing whatever the hell we want. And sitting down to face someone who still has about 15 years of that guilt-free 'fun' ahead of him scares the hell out of us.

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Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You've been going to starbucks for over five years? You need to be shot! How can you support the apartheid regime for over five years? No wonder you were over-awed by Mr Schultz.