The Pen of Destiny
I like to think of myself as a rational human being: I don’t believe in ghosts, I don’t think celestial bodies have any bearing on personality types and I don’t buy into conspiracy theories. I also consider myself to be an atheist – although a rather reluctant one – as there are a few people I wouldn’t mind seeing smote.
In spite of all this rationality, however, I seem to have an inexplicable belief in fate. Like all kids, I had little rituals I followed when I was growing up – most notably an aversion to stepping on cracks in the pavement. In my mind, I would rationalise this thought by saying something like: “It will be a good day at school today if I don’t step on any of the cracks between here and the end of the street”.
There’s no logic to this way of thinking, but somehow it was comforting to me. Perhaps it was an early sign of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I think ultimately I was too lazy to go through with a full-blown condition.
I guess I’ve always had a love of stories, so I always expected life to be like a story. This probably turned me into more of an observer than a participant and instead of rationally driving the narrative of my life myself, I always looked for ‘signs’ that would move my story forward.
An example of this is when I was trying to decide on what subject to major in for my senior high school art class. I had some success in my junior years doing sculptures, and was celebrated for my ‘deconstructed tea set’, which I carefully made out of clay before dropping from a ladder and ‘distorting’ the cups and saucers until they were unusable. I think even at this point in my life I enjoyed displaying my nihilistic streak.
I also made a clay figure that was a homage to the ‘teacher’ from the Pink Floyd film The Wall. This excellent piece of art still exists to this day and now has pride of place as a doorstop in my parent’s house.
You’d think this early success would have led me towards doing sculpture as a major but no – something happened that changed my mind. In the final semester at the end of my junior year, we were asked to stand in one of three groups – sculpture, photography or painting – to signify what our major was to be. Just as I was walking towards the sculpture group, another boy stole my pen. I went to chase him to get it back and accidentally ended up in the ‘photography’ group. I considered this a ‘sign’ that I was meant to do photography, even though I had shown barely any interest in this subject in the previous years of art class.
I guess I’ve always had a love of stories, so I always expected life to be like a story.
I had visions in my head of recounting this story many years later while accepting a Pulitzer Prize for photography. I’d recount how this chance decision led to a vast and impressive body of work and a long and celebrated career.
But that was not to be the case. I hated photography! It was still the pre-digital age when I was at high school and I struggled to get photos developed in the darkroom, didn’t feel inspired by any of the assignments and most importantly, had no real affection for photography as an art and certainly no real ‘heroes’ in the field that I looked up to.
Halfway through the semester, I begged to return to sculpture, which I eventually did, much to the chagrin of my art teachers.
Looking back now, I wonder why I had stuck with photography for as long as I did when I knew I hated it. Why had I done photography in the first place?
I’ve had a lot of time to think about it in the intervening years and have come to the conclusion that I find it hard to accept when I’ve made a wrong decision – even when I obviously have – but also, I find it hard to accept change. There’s a real part of me that thinks when I’ve chosen a path that it then must be the one I follow for all eternity – and no outside forces will affect this in any way. I have learnt the hard way that this is never the case.
When I left school I joined a band that was relatively successful locally and it was the first time I felt like I really ‘belonged’ to a social group who were on the same wavelength as me. I remember thinking at the time that we would probably always play music together and end up like The Rolling Stones – looking a little worse for wear, but ultimately celebrated and much-loved.
We probably played together as a group for like two years. It was not quite the illustrious career I was imagining, but at least I’m still friends with these guys today. I went on to play with many other groups after that, but it always felt like a desperate need to connect with that original ‘high.’ Even now I still persist when all our previous fans have moved on with their lives and barely go out any more.
Of course, to a certain extent, I moved on as well. I got married, had a child and got a Communications degree at university and for a long time, everything went as it was expected to go. It actually seemed like I had succeeded in tenaciously maintaining the status quo!
But then, of course, everything changed.
Usually, when people get married, there is a section of the vows that says something along the lines of ‘until death us do part’ – my contribution to our wedding vows was an excerpt of dialogue from an episode of Star Trek and I’m sure it didn’t say anything about this.
Perhaps I had jinxed myself yet again, but our marriage ended after ten years.
During those years of marriage, I always had the same job: working for a media company that had hours that fit in with my parenting routine. I guess I considered looking after our daughter to be my ‘job’ during this time and my real job to be something of a hobby.
When the media job ended after being outsourced overseas, I was a bit upset by the sudden lack of employment because I did feel some level of loyalty to the company after such a long time. Eventually, I realised that ‘business is business’ and you could not expect some corporate entity to have feelings one way or another about an employee.
My marriage was a different story, however, as there were feelings involved on my part and (presumably) feelings involved on my spouses part as well. I guess I hadn’t expected that narrative to end so soon, but at least we still have the narrative of our daughter.
My daughter has probably helped me the most in getting better at accepting change, as I see her change on a daily basis. Now that she is almost 10, I can accept that she has her own thoughts and feelings and is not the little girl she once was. It is a little bit sad, but also something of a relief, even if she can sense how lame I actually am and doesn’t like the new coat I ordered off eBay!
I guess all this sudden change has helped me to learn something that I should have known years ago. It’s important to start something and follow a path, but it is also important to know when it is time to give up and start something new.
In future, I think I’ll make my own road based on rational decisions and drive down it with purpose, always trying to read the signs in order to be a bit more aware of any off-ramps and cul-de-sacs. When I finally reach my destination, I’m going to park my car, take a confident and satisfied breath of fresh air and stride purposefully up the garden path to the front door of my home.
Of course, I’ll still be careful not to step on any of the cracks!
Trevor Ludlow is a Melbourne-based dad, muso and blogger. This article was previously published on his blog, Trev’s Treehouse and has been republished with permission.