The prompt for this post was a line from Gentleman’s Pact, by Conor Oberst & The Mystic Valley Band.
We spend so much of our lives in pursuit of goals that melt away as soon as we touch them.
We spend so much time growing up and then we never find a moment where we feel grown up. Because at that point, we’re just growing old.
We work for months and years to earn qualifications. Then all those nights in the library and yawning 8 am treks to class shrink down to a single certificate, a brief handshake and a departure.
We sprint on the treadmill of work towards a non-existent end point, the mirage of an empty to-do list, the ludicrous dream of a world where everything is done and somehow that’s it.
Of course, we lie to ourselves. We stake out our identity with the destinations: jobs, homes, partners, achievements, places visited, children, awards, publications, purchases, launches, weddings, funerals.
In the end, all that we keep is the journey. The process. The work. The time spent hacking your way down the road less traveled. The yearning. The growing. The changing. The spaces in between.
We get to keep so little of the conclusions, successes, endpoints, finish lines, summits, and ticked boxes.
Once, I walked to a hill miles from anywhere with two strangers. It was 3am.
In the beginning, there was a whole crowd of us. Vodka drunk girls in skinny jeans and tank tops shivering against the night. Jaded goths stomping in heavy boots, fidgeting with their colored contact lenses and chain necklaces.
Someone’s twelve-year-old brother who was there for an unfathomable reason. A few sweet couples in crochet ponchos and silk patchwork trousers, all smiles and exchanged flowers. Older guys with spiked hair and penknives stuck in their belts.
For a bit, there’d been the Wasters: slow-moving stoners who rarely spoke and seemed to communicate with little more than red-eyed looks. We all gave them that name for their single-minded determination to waste their lives.
Gradually, we shed people along the walk. Predictably, the Wasters slumped down within minutes, mumbling that they were having their own party.
The spiky-haired men broke off to cut lines of speed on the backs of their iPhones, their skin shiny with sweat. The kid and the couples turned back. The others took different paths or sat down on fallen trees.
It was a strange group, to say the least, connected by nothing other than a single mutual friend we all shared, the most gregarious person I’ve ever encountered who seemed to know everyone and anyone.
What was I doing there? Damned if I knew. It wasn’t my scene.
I- barely scraping 15- wasn’t the kind of person to end up in a place like that at a time like that with people like that. Or so I told myself. None of us were. Everyone was too cool or too uncool, too old or too young, too reclusive or too popular to be there. Yet we all were.
Somewhere after the people I knew had left and the sky had gotten dark and the air smokier, it had stopped being my scene. Yet I stayed out of curiosity. Not enjoyment: curiosity.
I never felt like a participant in those moments.
I was always an observer, delving into someone else’s world out of curiosity, documenting my findings in the style of laboratory notes, then returning to my own quiet little world.
Always the intruder. Never understanding. Always watching and absorbing.
That night, I pushed on with two others. One was my ex’s best friend, the other the older brother of someone I went to school with.
We walked through tangled fairy tale forests, a light fog turning the creeping daylight into a yellow film as we reached the hillside.
For a moment as we climbed, I felt I could have travelled a few thousand years back in time. With nothing in view but sky and trees, we slipped into another era.
Sprawled on the grass in that strange light with the casual companionship of a litter of puppies, we played Pink Floyd and Phil Collins as the sun rose.
Earlier, I’d caught the ex’s friend as he nearly fell in the bonfire so we felt some allegiance to each other. We exchanged bracelets, made plans, and — of course- never spoke or saw each other again.
Later, I turned that night into the only screenplay I’ve ever written, entitled Of Stars That Do Not Give A Damn after the Auden poem. It was less an act of creativity and more an attempt to preserve the memory. To hold onto how that walk had felt, an act of frivolous motion for the sake of motion.
I remember that night as I remember so many others: as a long journey, to an irrelevant destination. Even as we set off, we knew the sunset wasn’t the point. We’d all sat inhaling wood smoke for too long and we needed to be going somewhere.
When you’re nowhere, at least you know where you are.
I have spent what feels like most of my life in perpetual moment. Liminal spaces have been my home.
My childhood was spent on the move, skipping between countries and continents, never in one for more than a few weeks, always on the way to somewhere else.
The places where I slept were united only by their diversity: the castle with grapes growing on the roof, a room with a wicker floor near the sea, a flat in a Shining-esqe building in London, a circular bed in Holland, hotel in Paris, a sofa bed in my grandfather’s meditation room, tents in forests, the backs of cars, trains and planes.
There’s an addictive peace to motion.
There’s a calm to carriages, hotels, stations, slips of paper that tell you where you’re going, announcements repeating the same mantras, aircraft safety cards, folded white towels, making wholemeal toast in someone else’s kitchen.
In a liminal space- the gap between somewhere else- there’s no pressure, no responsibility. Someone else sweeps the floor. Someone else chose the furniture. You are just part of a crowd. You are just passing through.
We treat those journeys as something to get through, to pass us by, to distract ourselves for the duration. But they’re not. They’re the whole point.
When I think of endpoints, I always think of that night in the forest. I remember the stars. I remember the soft voices all around. And I remember that it ended up being all that mattered.