Running on Empty
It’s only now in 2010 that I have been able to begin to think clearly since I returned to New Zealand back in 2003 for a few months to write my first published novel’s manuscript, uninterrupted by all the daily nonsense’s that get in the way of the driven writer. I’m a Piscean therefore a thinker, dreamer if you will, I’m also a loner. Some may say I think too much, I leave it for you to judge for yourselves.
Don’t skim through these words and don’t jump to quick or trite conclusions, nothing is ever black and white. There are no finite answers to any given situation. Placing people in pigeon holes does not help. Whatever you may think from reading the following heartfelt words, it is the way I feel and where I am right now and I make no apologies for that, nor is this a cry for help. It may go some way to answering all the questions that I have been unable to find answers for till now. Now read on and don’t condemn me, not all of us are the same, some of us are cut out for what life throws at us, and others are not.
At the beginning of your life everything that surrounds you is a source of wonder and enjoyment. As you get older and enter the school system you are preparing for your role in the scheme of things conditioning your mind for what is ahead. But unfortunately things do not always go the way you plan them.
When you first enter the working world, the people that control the way you will spend the greater part of your life are already hard at work exploiting you for their own ends, and when you are no longer able to contribute at the pace they demand you are thrown on the scrap heap, or you burn out. Burnout is what happened to me.
I was forty-three when it first happened in nineteen-ninety one, I’m now sixty-two, and since then I have been running on empty. All the signs were there for the world and me to see, and ignore. Since that traumatic time I have had the tendency to give away everything I own; things mean very little to me, and try to find my true place in the world, if indeed I have one.
Nothing that the rest of western society holds dear seems to matter anymore. Because of the burnout and my age, I can no longer hold down a job due to debilitating mental stress. Saving for my old age is impossible since the government of the country I spent the greater part of my life in, spirited away that selfsame pension via government legislation in the dead of night to pay the country’s overseas debt.
The only things that really matter to me now are seeing the sun rise in the morning and set at night, plus writing short stories and the odd novel, whether they are published or not.
Unless you have been through the traumatic experience of collapsing from stress and being hospitalised by it, you cannot possibly understand just how devastating it really is. Since that time, my life and everything I have experienced has made me realise that most people in the western world are living a lie and more importantly that I am ill-equipped to survive in it!
My parents’ generation do not understand just how much stress there is in trying to keep your head above water in this day and age. Such phrases as ‘buck your ideas up’, ‘get yourself into a pension scheme’, or, ‘get yourself a job you lazy good for nothing’, are their only and inevitable reaction. They have absolutely no comprehension of how things have changed since their day. Yes they went through the depression of the thirties and the Second World War, but they also had backing by government and employers who believed in the “cradle to grave” mentality.
These days all that has gone for good. Companies no longer value the things I was brought up to believe in like loyalty to your employer, and relying on others to be as honest as you are. These days they take advantage of anyone like myself who still holds to that view, at least while it suites them or until the contract ends, then it’s the scrap heap for you my boy and think yourself lucky! How long will it be before companies demand their workers pay them instead of the other way round?
“If you can’t get a job, sign on idiot!”
Have you ever done that? So far I have signed on three times, the first time through naivety on my part and the bad advice of elderly relatives who because they were retired, neither understood the world outside their house nor took part in the world at large, the second and third, out of sheer desperation. All three times I was made to feel as if I was a burden on society.
It didn’t seem to matter that throughout my entire forty year working life I had been paying taxes, doing everything that society demanded of the individual; holding down a steady job, attempting to save, participating in jury service, obeying the law of the land, paying my bills on time, arriving at work early and leaving late to please my employer, and for what?
At times like this you find out who your friends really are. They say that you can count the number of “real friends” on the fingers of one hand. Because I’m a loner and don’t make friends easily, in my case I number just four people, two in New Zealand, one in Australia, and the other in England as true friends.
Of the four, the one in England is possibly the only other person in my life who really understands just what it is I’m going through, and he is an alcoholic and terminally unemployed because of his stress related breakdown.
My friends in New Zealand unconditionally opened their home to me while I needed a place to get away from the world and write my second novel, which I am happy to say is now published, thanks to my friend and editor in Australia, and for that I shall always be in their debt. They and their family are kindness itself.
Trying to get a book published is like pushing the proverbial up the hill with a toothpick. If you are running on empty, constant rejection by publishers inevitably takes its toll. Each time I have sent off the manuscript I have been ‘up’ for a few days. Then when the rejection comes I am once again back ‘down’. If I’ve learned anything in the last few years it is to realise that writing fiction, be it short stories or novels, is my forte.
I did manage one good thing for other people by my writing during those few months in New Zealand after I had finished the first draft of my novel; I fell back on my other writing skill, that of travel writing, and had nine articles plus accompanying photographs published by an internet website for Malta. I wonder if that will be my epitaph – “he contributed to Malta’s economy.”
My CV bears testament to my working life and the few qualifications I have gained along the way. But in its entirety, it only fills one foolscap page; I think that truly says it all.
The world is such a beautiful place; it’s a shame that mankind and the god Mammon rule. How many more will join me out there running on empty I wonder? In the old days, people were able to enter the cloistered halls of a monastery to withdraw from the pressures of the so-called civilised world, but if you are not a believer in god where do you go in this day and age?
Writing has become everything to me. While I find it impossible to convey the way I feel, or what my needs and desires are to others in spoken words (with the possible exception of Ben in England, because like me, he is still going through the same thing), I can at least put down my thoughts and feelings on paper, in this case via my laptop.
My friend in New Zealand asked me once whether I could speak the way I write, I think this may explain why I cannot.
Not all good guys win, Ben and I can testify to that. We’re both worn out. In Ben’s case, all his knowledge gained in life is cheerfully passed on over a pint, and in mine, via the medium of the written word. Watching the sun rise and running on empty is all either of us has left, maybe it’s enough, only time will tell…
Jack Eason – author of Onet's Tale