Idle Eye 157 : The Plagiarist?

Impending death kind of makes you get your skates on. All that time you spent dicking about doing nothing of consequence will eventually appear at your door tapping its watch. Which is no biggie if you happen to have chalked up some of the stuff you set out to achieve, but if, like me, you’ve tried and failed too often to even care about, you have to ask yourself two pretty searching questions:

Do I keep going, or do I shackle myself to the yoke of submission and admit defeat?

The death thing is quite a major pisser, but when you boil it back to basics it’s not actually life-threatening; just an expedient reminder for you to get off your arse and get on with it. If it bothers you, you can always hop over to deathclock.com (the internet’s friendly reminder that life is slipping away), where they kindly work out how long you’ve got until you are reclaimed by the Grim Reaper. I did briefly consider this, but thought better of it after browsing the search criteria and calculating for myself that I was already living on borrowed time.

I weighed it up. Yes, I could go back to a job that looks good on paper to those who don’t really understand what it entails, or load my bollocks back into the wheelbarrow of endeavour and run with it/them once again. To where there’s no safety net if things go a bit tits. Where the odds are stacked against you because you should have done it twenty years ago. Where the contenders are younger, media-savvy and hungry for that rapidly diminishing slice of the pie. And then, just as I was beginning to cave, someone introduced me to Jonathan Ames.

If ever an ageing, unpublished writer needed a tonic, it came then in the form of this man’s work. A self-deprecating, pushed alter-ego, doing (and penning) things most of us would ordinarily shun, in the tradition of the great American humourists but with a filthier edge, Ames was pushing all my buttons. The greater irony being that the exaggerated failure he casts himself as is, in reality, exactly who I am now. Although I too am writing as an exaggerated failure, and shall continue to do so despite any inconvenient impending success. It’s a headsmoker, make no mistake, but a glorious one nonetheless.

So where does that leave us? My newfound admiration for Mr Ames will almost certainly draw comparisons, the most apposite being that despite sharing a birth year, I am in South-East London writing drivel for 350 people and he is about to launch Blunt Talk (which, from the trailer, appears to be the sharpest comedy to come out of the States in decades) and is probably rather busy. But it is comforting to note that we have been singing from the same hymn sheet for quite a while. Independently, I swear.

Doubt, get thee behind me.

Idle Eye 127 : (Don’t Fear) The Reaper

The trouble with hitting your middle years, apart from the incessant failings of the body’s risible infrastructure, is the creeping awareness of one’s own mortality. No-one tells you precisely when that middle point is either. It would be terrific if, at the exact median of your time on Earth, they gave you a ticker-tape parade with a brass band and silver watch and street bunting or something. With a desperately shy homecoming queen landing you a big kiss and an iced cake with ‘NOT LONG NOW’ piped onto the top. But they don’t, largely because they’re terrified of being sued for getting it wrong. These are litigious times.

And yet, as we march relentlessly towards the final curtain, the signs are all around us: That unexpected Alzheimers mailshot, being offered a seat on public transport (despite not being saturated in wee), feeling at ease in a Wetherspoons, caring about socks and the longevity of footwear, enjoying a butterscotch. All these incremental details are nature’s way of letting us know we’re on the slide, and that we had better start making the most of what we have left. It isn’t pretty, but what is when you don’t know where you are on the scale? Should we start making arrangements? Making that list of inappropriate tunes to be played out on the day of our memorial? Or should we just leave it to chance? It’s a lottery, make no mistake.

I’m working in a church right now, filled with saints and sacraments, effigies of the martyred Christ and his attendants, and endless reminders of the transience of existence. Just to give myself a breather, I take my sandwiches to Brompton Cemetery, alone and surrounded by the gravestones of those who, like me, used to take a lunch break somewhere before the reaper claimed them. The difference being that I’m the only one around who can clock it for now, until it’s my turn to be posthumously observed by some beardy berk with an artisan bloomer stuffed to the gunnels with halloumi and alfalfa sprouts. Even the stone carvers who meticulously chiselled out their client names & places of departure into marble or alabaster are no longer with us. You can’t fight it: It’s the inevitable cycle of life and death, and we’re all on board.

So what’s the point here? Perhaps, like Sally Bowles’s ex-flatmate Elsie in the movie Cabaret, it is to live every day as if it were your last (there is very little in that film that will not inform your every move at a cataclysmic level). Do something brave: Go see Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? Who knows, it might be life changing. Eat something weird. Fly off to somewhere you’ve never heard of and stay there a few days. Walk to work. Chat to strangers. Do yourselves a favour just for once. Because the halfway mark may be long since gone. And you don’t get a second chance.