It was Frankie Boyle who said that if he was invisible for a day he’d kick a mime artist to death, so at least the mime would die looking like he was great at his job. I’m great at falling into ruts and making the most of them. Ruts are my art.
When we hear about people falling into ruts, the general reaction is one of pity and concern. Eyebrows are raised, mouths are pursed and a cloud of self righteous judgement dominates the skyline. I’ve always associated self righteousness with smog. Anyway, the ‘rutee’ becomes that friend who requires a firm, yet gentle push into the arms of functionality, where they’ll find enlightenment from a change of lifestyle or gainful employment.
My ruts have been some of the most pleasant months of my life, and usually come after being fired from a job I hated. You have not lived until you’ve been sacked or told somebody to shove their shitty fucking job right up their shitty fucking arse. It’s even more exhilarating than a misdiagnosed health scare, and the subsequent good news that you’re not going to die.
During these ruts of self imposed unemployment, I lose some direction, but no, I do not become depressed about it all. Instead, I go on a writing binge and end up banging out the rough draft of a novel in a couple of months.
To make ends meet, I live off my savings and basically haemorrhage money like an RPG being shot at a moderately sized water tower. In the spirit of the Australian Liberal Party, I learn how to downsize the operation and settle for baked potatoes with a can of tuna and a dollop of black and gold sour cream, funds permitting. Equipped with low cost carbs and dolphin-friendly canned fish, I dip my head towards the keyboard and begin nosing around the English language for signs of life.
These are the beautiful ruts.
However, people quickly begin to question my motivations, especially people who harp on about being graduates of the University of Life. To these people, I become the ugly face of dysfunctionality and they treat me like I might be snow-dropping on the side, or worse still, flying a kite at night. Little do they know, I’m enjoying a holiday from my life, and trying to turn base expletives into literary gold at my kitchen table.
After some time, the rut transforms into a bubble and the prospect of leaving it becomes a source of great consternation. There is an evolutionary process to all ruts. It begins with the realization that you’re in one of those dreams where you’re running but not moving; you feel exhausted and your legs feel like a couple of railway sleepers that have been injected with pure episodes of The Biggest Loser.
Once you’ve given into this feeling, your body starts to sink below the surface of reality and your arms extend upwards, while the final molecules of reason dribble out of your nose and mouth, zigzagging their way to the edge of the meniscus.
Now, the ability to turn your rut into a water-tight bubble relies on turning the experience into something positive. I always choose a writing project, and as the project begins to take form, so does the bubble, offering safety from ‘the life aquatic’. Finances permitting, you can remain in the bubble until you’ve completed the project.
Being able to write without fear of homelessness is a privilege and not many people get to work on their own writing projects full-time. Most writers are out there teaching creative or professional writing courses or, better still, sitting in a Centrelink waiting room with a copy of Crime and Punishment on their lap, hoping that a friendly case worker will pat them on the back and say,
“It’s okay, I don’t think you’re a fucking loser like the rest of those lazy cretins. You read Russian literature. So, once I’m done stroking your penniless ego, you’re going to go out there and throw yourself in front of a tram and finally achieve the recognition you so richly deserve”.
My most recent rut has been the best one so far because I got to share it with somebody. In fact, we occupied the same bubble for two months and it ended up being one of the most endearing experiences of my life.
When you exist in a bubble with a loved one, nothing and nobody can touch you. Reality is put on hold and the world fades into the pale blue light of memory. We’d wake each morning, argue about whose turn it was to make tea and coffee, go for a bay walk and then return home to get on with our respective projects. At night we’d eat tacos, drink wine and then go to bed to watch the best TV show in the known universe, Vikings.
The perfection of simplicity is a rare bubble to inhabit.
But now our bubble has burst and our rut has become a landfill for routine and shower gel. We have jobs and our bank balances have come in off the ledge. It was a beautiful rut, spent with a beautiful person and I will miss those days forever.
It’s hard for me to acknowledge happiness as it occurs because I’m programmed to monitor my life for signs of darkness, rather than light. So, when I step back from a period of levity, I feel like I did the first time I climbed Ben Nevis and looked out across the Western Highlands.
That moment was the closest I’ve ever come to actual joy, without having to take drugs. I remember feeling light-headed and thinking that true beauty is just a mixture of tragedy and adrenalin, and being happy is about holding onto moments but knowing when to walk away. So, the rest of the time I suppose I’m just getting on with it all.
But there’s a story from my childhood that kind of sums it up…
When I was a kid my parents took me to Hull in the North East of England and we went to a fish and chip shop run by a woman with a beard and a permanent scowl torn across her creased face. When the meal came out the fish looked humiliated. I asked my dad what was wrong with the woman and he told me she was disappointed with life. I ate the chips.
And I still am.