Was it Norman Mailer who wrote ‘Advertisements for Myself?’ I don’t remember, I never read the book anyway, but the title lodged there somewhere in my brain amongst the files marked ‘curious and interesting.’ Perhaps the book wasn’t, books like people don’t always deliver what they promise, but like people we are often more interested in what appears to be than what is.
What surfaced ‘Advertisements for Myself’ from the archives of my mind was the sense of how hard it is to write about the things I am going to write about, momentarily, as the Americans strangely say, without ending up in self-advertisement. And this is not what I want to do.
No, what I want to do, is to reflect, to pause and wonder, about the course my life has taken – and about the moments that, as one skates around the riskier corners of one’s life, twenty years later, awake from where they have been sleeping, on a pile of blankets in a darkened alley, and hurl themselves forward with a humorous bellow – ‘it’s me again! surprise!’
So, I was going to write, for instance, how it suddenly occurred to me, as I settled down this evening with a glass of wine, the autumn cold beginning to settle as the light began to cool, that I have walked this way before. Back in 1992, at a difficult and fraught point in my career and in my private life, I left my job for a three-month research contract with the National Education Policy Investigation. I remember asking my ex-wife whether I should do it, could we afford the risk; it’s your decision, she said, meaning, I will have nothing to do with it. On your own head. And I did take the decision. A year or so later I had a Fellowship to the US, and then I was headhunted – you see what I mean? Advertisements for myself.
This is not where my heart wants to go, now, as I note, for the record, that today I signed my separation agreement, and a consultancy contract, with the organisation I have worked for and with and through for thirteen years. I wanted to reflect, instead, on the journey this has been, on the people and the places, the strain and the joy of it; and most of all, to remind myself, I’ve done this before, I can do it again.
This has been a week that I can only describe as a re-awakening. There is some of that excitement and anticipation in the air, that I felt when I was first recruited into the organisation; when I went to America; when I got married, thirty years ago. This is not about the self – at least, not about the self as spectacle or as a list of events and accomplishments. It is much deeper, much more personal – it is ethical, aesthetic, philosophical. It is about the eternal and unanswerable question: what does it mean, to live a life well?
Like Alice, today I stepped through the Looking Glass. So far, so good.