Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Garden of Forking Paths

A man stands alone on a pebble trail. Separate paths fork off in a spider web of directions; he stands in the centre of a crack in a windscreen. Around him, lush green lawns, trees sway in a gentle breeze. Thin, wispy clouds drift across a pale blue sky. Flowers in a rainbow of colours abound through this garden. The man stands on the path, a myriad of options surrounding him. He must take a step.

That man is me. I was going to put “was” instead of “is”, but I realise that my life is a constant garden of forking paths, or a circular room filled with doors, or however one wishes to visualise the choices one faces every day. Some choices are obvious, presented to us by others. Invitations, ultimatums. Some are hidden, choices we have to create for ourselves, choices we don’t even know we have to make until the light bulb flickers on.

Once upon a many Moon ago, I gave up prefacing my blog entries with apologies and explanations for my long periods of silence. But today, for the subject matter I’m dealing with, it’s kind of necessary to explain why I’ve been so quiet. You’re waiting for the punchline, right? The garden of forking paths?


You’re right. It’s where I’ve been, it’s where I’m at, it is the chaotic flux my life has been in since the end of April. Gods. April. Four months gone.

Okay, so there’s a long story that I could go into, but...I don’t exactly want to air that laundry in public. To summarise it as succinctly as possible, there was this amazing, beautiful girl in my life. Things were going well. Really well. Then at the end of April, a week before my game-changing holiday in Seattle, it all fell apart. I messed things up between us and in spite of my best efforts, I can’t fix it. And it’s been weighing heavily on me and forms an intricate part of the paths I chose to walk down.

Now, Seattle. One of my dear friends, Kraken, used to live out there until she decided that, apparently, moving to Sweden to be with her husband was more important. So for three weeks in May, I went out there and finally experienced a city which I had been intrigued with since first watching Dark Angel oh so many, many Moons ago. It was the first time in twenty years I’d been back to America (family holiday to Florida in 1995) and it was, as mentioned before, a game-changer.

My trip to Seattle was the first time I’d taken longer than two weeks off work in the five years I worked at Boston Tea Party. It was the first time I’d actually gone out of the country, or on what one might consider a “proper holiday”, and the effect of that was...well, a curious mix of unexpected and expected. Perhaps...unexpected but anticipated? Put simply, three weeks away from work bled me dry of all the stress I had built up. Three weeks, in another country, so far away I couldn’t physically do anything about work, and all the worries, all the cares, they melted away. Something I heard happened on holidays but never truly experienced for myself.

Seattle was an amazing experience and a great place. My friend lived out on Bainbridge Island and the ferry ride across Puget Sound every day to get into Seattle was beautiful. I’m going to post some photographic evidence in a second, a day when me and Kraken were out and about, walking up...I want to say Second Avenue? One of the numbered avenues. I looked to my left, out over Pike Place Market and straight onto Puget Sound, glistening in the sunlight.

I grew up next to the sea. It was a long time, perhaps by the time I moved to Bath where my best water feature is a river, before I truly appreciated the beauty of the ocean. As much as I am happy living in Bath, I do miss being able to walk up to the cliffs and behold the awesome view. Looking out over Puget Sound, from Seattle or from the ferry from Bainbridge Island, stirred various emotions in that part of my brain. It was a beautiful sight to behold and one of Seattle’s major plus points.

There’s much more to say, on another day, about my trip to Seattle – about the day trip to Portland, Oregon, the tea shop behind Pike Place Market and various other things. Another day.

Three weeks in Seattle took so many weights off my mind, though one continued to hang around. But it was a weight I was prepared for, the weight I knew I would carry and still bear to this day. I won’t begrudge it, I won’t curse it. These are my feelings and for as long as the tiniest ember burns, I will embrace them.

Once I returned to Bath, returned to work, I realised something very quickly. Nothing in this place had changed. Sure, we’d managed to get shot of the most irritating New Zealander the gods have ever cursed this world with, but the stress was the same. The ass-hat* customers still vastly outweighed the delightful ones. The conversationalists, the ones with eyes you could lost in forever, the ones who were just generally cool.

(*use of the term “ass-hat” courtesy of listening to “I’m the One That’s Cool” by The Guild as I write this)

So there I was. I had walked a while along one path, a leisurely pace taking in Puget Sound, hidden nooks on Bainbridge Island and gargantuan bookstores, only to find myself, once again, in the eye of a rift, a fracture in the garden, paths spiralling off in all directions. The weights that had been lifted from my shoulders crashed down again and where once I had borne them without question, I now grew weary of their demands. Perhaps I was too consumed with my own woes, but I found the drive and determination I once had at work was gone. My ability to tolerate and remain patient with customers dwindled with each passing day. Finally, after having been back for a few weeks, I made the fateful decision.

I set out from the centre of this new branch of paths, the new forks in the road, and chose the one that led to my resignation from Boston Tea Party. And so five years of dedicated service came to an end. Not a bitter end. In fact, a coldly logical one. It was time. My experiences in Seattle, the change in myself and my feelings upon my return, rendered staying at Boston a terrible prospect. I would end up hating the place, resenting it. No. I like the place. I like the people that work there and I like that now, if walk in there, I can choose who I want to talk to. I can talk to my former regulars who I adore. I can ignore the frakwits who wound me up. I can ignore EVERYONE. If I so wish.

This path was not the path I walked in Seattle. This new path was terrifying. Full of unknown variables, a vast swarm of quantum possibilities waiting to be observed and realised. I had intended to find a “proper” job, sit behind a desk...ideally something related to my degree in Creative Writing. That was the idea. The reality...well, slightly more interesting.

My friend Oracle recommended a recruitment agency that had successfully found her a pretty nifty desk job. So I email the person Oracle suggested and started the ball rolling. I went along to their offices to officially sign up with them. Now some context. This agency also finds people a lot of temp work. Oracle said it would be worth mentioning that I’d be happy temping, given that it would be a miraculous turn of events if they could get me, a man with no office or publishing experience, a nifty desk job of my own quickly.

Instead, I stumbled into temp work at a warehouse. But not any old warehouse. No. A sex toy warehouse.

Ladies and menfolk, I have the honour and distinction of, for the moment, working for Lovehoney.

All right, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t daunted by the idea at first. I’m not a prude, I’m just...not overwhelmingly experienced and I really hope my parents and siblings have chosen NOT to read this entry. Even saying that publically makes me a little uncomfortable. Want to talk about it over a coffee? Sure, I’m happy to do that, in the physical public domain. Apparently writing it in a blog makes me squeamish. With this squeamishness in mind, you wouldn’t think I’d be massively comfortable at Lovehoney.

Are you kidding? I love my job! It’s fantastic! It’s easy! It’s stress free! IT’S CUSTOMER FREE! I run around the warehouse, I have a list of things to collect, I put them in a box and then place the box in a designated area for someone else to pack. Then rinse and repeat.

We’re reaching a point where I feel I should do some kind of wrap up/summation. This blog exists mainly thanks to my dear friend, Hammerhead. She stands as I once did, in the garden of forking paths, with many options laid out before her. I write this to relate my experiences, in the hopes that it offers some wisdom that I was not immediately able to provide on Facebook, where one status started us on this road. Where it spiralled out from there.

Here now, an attempt at wisdom. I spent five years in comfort and security, but I was never truly happy. There was always something gnawing at the back of my mind, something telling me this wasn’t my destiny. That’s a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot. Destiny. Whether certain factors could be interpreted as someone being my destiny, etc. It took me five years, one trip to Seattle and the Ace of Hearts before I realised it was time to take a running leap. To pick the path that lead into the dark, into the gnarled and twisted trees, the roaming fog, the howl of the wolf at the Moon. It’s a terrifying journey but I swear that it is one worth making. Sometimes the best things in life are those that terrify, confound, but most of all, the things that challenge you.

So my advice would be thus. If you stand at the centre of your own garden of forking paths, take the path that challenges you. Take the path that leads you into the fire, the fire that will forge you, temper your steel and make you stronger.