I turned 30.
It’s been over a fortnight in the space between that sentence, and the remainder of this story. That’s what being 30 does to you – it allows you to pause things, gives you space to reflect and act only when you’ve made a decision to. To some degree, time gives you time to catch your breath. I like that.
I wanted two things for myself before I turned 30. Just two: I wanted to be a millionaire. And I wanted to have toured New York on my own account.
Neither came to pass.
I don’t remember much about being 29. Being 29 was about being in a gap year. Sharpening my axe. Setting my ducks in a row. Positioning myself to receive, I don’t know, the magic for when it landed in my laps. Preparing for things, and preparing for things to happen. It was about getting ready. I needed to be prepared to be ready.
In retrospect, I was being safe-sighted and unwise. Being ready meant that I didn’t really live in the moments of being 29. I spent the present readying myself for what would follow this moment. I lived in anticipation of the next, ahead of myself – a month ahead with my bills, with my pruned and perfected pieces waiting for their turn to run, with my growing list of story ideas, with my month’s plans, with my quarterly goals. It meant passing over unexpected opportunities because they didn’t fall within my plans.
It worked when I was younger. Doesn’t anymore. Because being ready meant being exhausted in meticulous preparation half the time, and missing out on the sense of accomplishment in the other half. Get this, I had to explain to myself when/why I fell short (That reminds me of a story. In early April, I had my end-of-quarter-two taking stock meeting. Don’t ask. And the conclusion I made was this: You are a lazy, poor woman. When I turned 30, I found what I had written to myself. I circled it with a red pen and directed it to a smiley face as a speech bubble. Right next to it, I scribbled ‘LoL. Calm the fuck down!’ I thought that too hilarious). Such a stiff, man. Stop clenching those butt cheeks so tight.
I had an episode from late July that was pivotal in shedding off this burden of preparation I had draped around my shoulders. It was a Wednesday, late evening from jobo. I caught sight of my reflection in the bus window on my way home. I didn’t recognize myself. Who is that sad, little person? Fatigue had etched burrows in my forehead, edges of frowns around my mouth. I wasn’t doing too well, and I seemed to be losing touch on the things that were most important to me. I was constantly in deep thought. That evening, it’s as if my reflection turned its head to look straight at me, worried. And it spoke to me in desperately pleading whisper. “You have to stop this, fra.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“You know what I am talking about. Just stop. Stop.”
I stared into my own eyes but said nothing.
“Look at yourself,” my reflection said.
I did. I was dressed like a 23 year-old but I had the weighty thoughts of a mid-life civil servant.
My reflection carried on, “Stop having everything under control. Chill bana. Stop putting too much thought into preparation. Just do it already. Stop having such high standards for yourself. In fact, have no standards. Live on the edge.”
Living on the edge means being ready, not prepared. You take the ball and run with it. You are ready for whatever the day throws at you. It’s a gritty lifestyle.
Like I told you, I wanted to be a millionaire and to have toured New York before I turned 30. But as 2014 checked in, the harsh reality of the days pushed these further away from me. I was stuck at my desk dreaming. Somewhat helpless, somewhat suffocated. Somewhat frustrated with the lack of, and slow, progress.
Some chap on Entrepreneur.com, I don’t recall his name, wrote about his journey to becoming a multi-millionaire. He said that when he started off, he had no plans to become a multi-millionaire, “I wanted to be just a millionaire.” I rolled my eyes. Please. Such a show-off. He said you have to dream bigger than yourself. One of those clichés, heehe. He also said that he begged the Universe to make him greater than a millionaire. How? “Every day for an entire year, I wrote this down: I want to be a multi-millionaire.”
And that’s what I now do every morning. I beg the Universe by writing this stolen sentence: I want to be a multi-millionaire. Every morning without fail (except on the weekends when I make up for it on Tuesday). ‘I want to be a multi-millionaire’. ‘I want to be a multi-millionaire’. Some mornings I feel silly doing it, like I am wasting my time. Pray tell me, how is this ever to happen at the present rate? ‘I want to be a multi-millionaire’
Other mornings – on most mornings of late – I get over-excited and write it down four, five times. ‘I want to be a multi-millionaire’. ‘I want to be a multi-millionaire’. ‘I want to be a multi-millionaire’
I feel my cells, every fibre of my body align and realign itself to this one goal. It’s as if my heart pumps my blood to hand, through my fingers and straight to the pen. My blood becomes my ink. My burning desires sprawl out naked in those words. My soul is bared, left to the mercy of the Universe.
New York will be a consequence of becoming a multi-millionaire. As we speak, a return ticket to New York is 3,000dollars. Give or take. 3,000dollars to JFK Airport. (I have paused for half an hour to imagine what it will be like to see the Statue of Liberty from across the Hudson River. I wonder what New York smells like, what kind of energy the city thrives on. What determines the mood of the day, the pulse of its streets? Imagine the amusement of reading The New Yorker in New York. New York. New York.)
As I write this, it is Tuesday 3AM in New York. New Yorkers are turning over in their beds, deep in sleep. Let’s dream together now, shall we?
In response to your earlier question, yes, that blouse does make you look like a magician. It looks like something the blonde from the movie The Prestige would wear. Maybe if you shut your eyes and rub your arms hard enough, the magic of your blouse will come alive and you will wake up in a street in New York. Try it. New York, New York.
On the other end of this stick, Patrick Modiano became a multi-millionaire when he won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. Modiano is a writer from Paris. He’s French through and through, right down to his ear lobes. He’s 69. He’s been at this since he was 22. He has two kids, one wife.
On the Saturday after Modiano’s win, my boy and I were having a conversation about literature. (How sexy.) In his opinion, non-fiction writers don’t deserve to win the Prize because they are neither creative enough nor are they really writers.
“It’s hard to take them seriously when they don’t create a world outside what we already know. You don’t see fiction writers calling themselves creative fiction writers, do you?” He paused to sip his beer before he blasted on. “Reporters and journalists aren’t writers. And non-fiction writers don’t write books. If they ever did, what would there, I don’t know, ‘novels’,” he air quoted in sarcasm, “would read like? An autobiography?”
The hell. I guffawed in disbelief.
Gay Talese, heard of him? He’s an Italian writer. Creative non-fiction. I found him through his 2006 interview with the Paris Review. He’s one of those chaps who tells a storo as I said, And he said, Then she said. I could tell then he has a thick Italian accent, even his interview seemed to have a few extra vowels to give room to it.
Talese is famed for his ’66 piece, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold. It is from this piece features writers like myself sprouted – in many ways, we all trace our beginnings back to him.
Know this, if Alice Munro won the 2013 Prize –for the first time in Nobel history ever – for the short stories form (find her collections by the way. Never before have I encountered stories with such graceful pace and prose), then it won’t be too long before creative non-fiction writers make the short list.