‘…the end of all exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.’
T. S. Eliot.
Some time ago I had occasion to contact the Nottingham University Alumni magazine, hoping that, as a former student of that establishment, I might secure some publicity for my novel. I was told that someone would get back to me and that they would want to know what I had done with my life since graduating from the university in 1976. The career paths of former students are now included as a feature of the magazine, it seems. I was also asked if I would be willing to act as a student mentor.
Initially, while waiting to be contacted (I am still waiting), I felt my blood run cold. I have read all about the high-flyers who spread their wings and sprang from the launch pad of university life into lucrative and prestigious careers, rising to the top of their chosen professions and fulfilling their potential.
And I thought about my own shambolic progress through life since 1976. How would I describe it, all those wrong turns and lost opportunities, and in what way could my experiences qualify me to mentor a young person!
No-one could accuse me of putting my education to good use. Nor would anyone want to emulate my progress, but if they did, they would need to have the advantages of bad parenting and several limiting phobias, at the very least, then it is more than likely they would marry the wrong person fairly quickly. In this way they could end up living miles from home in a place they detest, while a succession of menial jobs reduced their dwindling self-esteem to a pea-sized nub.
Eventually, however, a moment of clarity may cause them to flee the controlling spouse, but, after a series of close encounters of the absurd kind, awesome stupidity will see them falling prey to the blandishments of a conman, whom they are sure to marry. When he suddenly takes off with most of their inheritance, they may be surprised, even shocked, but also relieved that at least a few crumbs still remain to keep body and soul combined.
At this juncture, if they are lucky, something miraculous may occur. Let us call it the triumph of the human spirit, or, if you will, merely a return to common sense. The light will dawn, the weight of so many wasted years will be finally and frighteningly felt and a mad scramble will begin to return to that fork in the road thirty-odd years before, where it all went off course.
They say you can never go back, but perhaps, sometimes, you can, and if a long-abandoned novel should call to them from the attic, they may be moved to disturb it from its decades of dust and cobwebs. Many rewrites later, this novel may not only evolve into a trilogy, but find itself accepted by a publisher; a major achievement at last after so many barren years.
Meanwhile, they might put their experience and education to good use by setting themselves up in business. Being self-employed can be an uncertain way of earning a living but it is also extremely empowering. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get from standing on your own two feet.
So now I look back upon my life and realise that if it had all been easier and more straightforward, I would not have learned so much about myself or the world, nor would my hard-won achievements have been so precious or so sweet. Sometimes a career is what we are, not what we do. In many ways it has all been a great adventure; but perhaps the adventure is just beginning.