The ensuing piece was fashioned using my usual methods, which I have described in scrupulous detail elsewhere. It is based on notes I recently unearthed, and almost certainly dating from the early 1980s, ’82 perhaps, or ’83. They were originally contained within a single piece of scrap paper, which is why the concluding two segments don’t appear to belong to bear any relationship with the previous five, and yet perhaps in some way do. It always delights me whenever a reader interprets my writing in a way I myself had not originally conceived, such serendipitous incidents of co-operative creativity helping to make my labour worthwhile.
The first three sections contain sage and impassioned words of advice imparted to me by Dr Margaret Mein, one of my favourite tutors at Westfield College, Hampstead, now part of Queen Mary, University of London. She was my principle tutor during my final year at Westfield, when under her uncompromisingly intellectual and magnetically inspirational aegis I studied the controversial and often disturbing oeuvre of Normandy-born novelist, poet and diarist Andre Gide.
Throughout the year, she tirelessly encouraged my intellectual and literary proclivities, determined that I should go on to become a professional academic. She also believed that I had the makings of a successful writer, informing me at one point that if creative writing is of a sufficiently sensational nature, it is guaranteed to be read by a ravenously curious public, and thence to be financially successful, or something similar. To my shame, I confess that the first employment I sought after leaving Westfield was as an ambulant deliverer of quirky novelty telegrams.
Since the 1960s or earlier, Margaret Mein has been the author of various writings, including the full-length works, “Proust’s Challenge to Time” (1962), “A Foretaste of Proust: A Study of Proust and his Precursors” (1974), “Proust et La Chose Envolee” (1986) and “Winston Churchill and Christian Fellowship” (1992).
Another of my favourite Westfield tutors, the gracious Dr Maya Slater, who was more than anyone responsible for my getting into university in the first place, recently wrote “Mr Darcy’s Diary”, Darcy being the highly sweetened Byronic hero of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, and it is due for publication later this year (2007).
However, the fourth and fifth sections have as their premise words not once uttered to me by Maya, but the wryly genial Dr Simon Harvey, who affectionately upbraids me therein for my one-time tendency for seeking to astound with attitudinal writings distinguished by an almost hysterical vehemence of feeling, as well as the incessant inclusion of inventories.
Dr M. said:
You should have
On which to
The tone of some
Of my work
A little dubious,
That I’m hiding
Some sad and dark
From the world.
She told me
Not to rhapsodise,
That it would be
For me to
“Don’t push People”,
Dr H. said:
“By the third page,
I felt I’d been
I can almost see
You’re telling us
What to do.
You seem to
Into such an
Capacity for lists.
For latent tears.
I have to confess to no longer having as clear an insight into the way I behaved during the decades prior to my becoming a Christian in January 1993 as might once have been the case.
However, I have a theory, and a highly plausible one so my memory informs me, to the effect that I gave no serious thought to the future, because I didn’t seriously intend having one. My life’s work was apparently the pursuit of immortality through acting, music or literature, or ideally all three, while tasting as many earthly fruits, strong sensations, and limit-experiences as I was able to in the interim with the aid of my own personal elixir of ethanol and then simply burning like a fabulous yellow roman candle exploding like a spider across the stars, to paraphrase Jack Kerouac.
I had no deep desire to leave anything behind by way of progeny, nor for any career other than one liable to project me to global renown, although in keeping with my then passionately felt liberal-left convictions, I did vaguely entertain the thought of an alternative career in one or other of the caring professions, namely psychologist, social worker, care worker etc., at one or more stages of my pre-Christian existence.
For all that, my pre-Christian mindset yet remains partially shrouded in mystery:
Why for example, was I was quite so reckless with respect to the manifold gifts life had bestowed upon me? I struggle to adequately explain this because I’m so different today insofar as I now honour and cherish everything that contributes to the well-being of the individual in society, from the family onwards. In this respect, I am the antithesis of what I once was.
It may be that I was in the grip of a condition that remains unnamed, that is as far as I personally am concerned rather than in a general sense, but of which sudden, enigmatic recklessness was a primary symptom, because it would be inaccurate to state that I was unceasingly reckless. I was in fact capable of immense assiduity with respect to certain undertakings, only for my recklessness to return, often it would seem when it was most important for my welfare that it remain at bay.
What is certain is that whatever I was in thrall to has been significantly tamed by my faith, offering me the chance to revisit my younger days with an eye rendered tristful and wise by bitter regret, as well as the gift of hope for the future, which my folly almost cost me for all eternity. I am fortunate insofar as God has offered me a second act, during which I might go some way towards repairing some of the damage I once did, in order that one day those terrible words contained in “Maud Muller” by the American Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) might not burn themselves too savagely into my being:
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen
The saddest are these: ‘it might have been!'”