is an old man in my neighbourhood who is so perpetually hunched over
pavements he can no longer stand up straight. He resembles a thin,
brittle, bent, twig. When I first spotted him seven years ago, with his
pointy beard on his gaunt angular face in his tattered clothes pulling
grass out of the edges of pavements I thought he was a crazed vagrant.
I saw a resident in this area rough him up. The hunched old man didn’t
see or hear a car and continued his work of pulling grass from the
pavement blocking the entrance to the resident’s house.
was shoved aside. He protested a little bit, then moved down a little bit
and carried on pulling out grass. The pattern that emerged over the next
few years, as this twiggy man circled this area, pulling out every bit of
grass on every bit of pavement in his circumference, was a man with a
mission: a man battling against disorder and chaos, against nature herself
- grass and weeds that would, after a few weeks of being pulled out,
spring up again.
humid afternoon, before I could stop myself, I found myself crossing the
road to where he was bent with his tools (a cardboard box and a chisel)
and said “Excuse me, can I ask you something?” I had invaded his space
but he hadn’t run me yet, so I continued. “Its real hot today.
Yesterday it rained all day. Why do you do this?”
he looked at me as if I wasn’t all there, and answered with his
toothless smile. “Because I like to see everything perfek”.
was this old man with his hair scrunched up in balls on top of his head
because he couldn’t be bothered to cut it, wearing bright blue rubber
slippers, and filthy tattered clothes, and he was talking about perfection
with the happiest look I’ve seen on any worker.
may laugh. He has done what every person who has ever achieved excellence
has had to do. He has found his voice. It does not necessarily belong to
mainstream society. It does not conform to conservative yardsticks. It is
not the voice of TV, or trade union, nor is it the voice of government,
religious leader; nor parent, husband, wife, or neighbour, nor child or
teacher although they might have all influenced him in some way. It is HIS
is focused on detail, yet sees the wider picture: To pull out every
possible blade of grass on every pavement. He knows what he wants from
life: To see clean pavements. He is driven: Not rain, nor heat will stop
years, ever since I began thinking someday I would like to be a serious
writer, I’ve been pouring over books on writing by writers.
Infuriatingly all these “great” writers never seemed to know the
formula by which they wrote and inevitably came up with something like
“the book wrote itself”, or, “the characters refused to do what I
had planned for them and developed the plot themselves.” Sculptors say,
“the perfect form lay inside the stone,” and they simply had to
“chisel” to find it. Painters say the painting “took on a life of
other words, their voice led them to their destiny.
(not always) in order to achieve that voice people have to get off the
track. The wide spaces on either side of the track are often lonely and
isolated because those who are still on it, are afraid of it, because it
is so vast and it is easy to get lost and forgotten here.
are more people off the track than you think. They are travellers,
painters, musicians, writers, accountants, scientists, sailors,
spectators, solitary dwellers, nature lovers, people absorbed in mundane,
odd, interesting activities but always driven by their inner voice. They
have peeled off layer after layer of societies’ coats, and confront
themselves honestly, until they find their core.
are the free spirits of the world. By that I do not mean that they don’t
support themselves, or take their responsibilities seriously. By that I
mean they have not allowed others to dictate their destiny. They have
found their own. These are the people who’ve done what we always say we
want to do someday. These are the people who haven’t waited for crisis,
tragedy, illness to decide to do what they’ve always wanted to do. These
are the people without regret. They will tell you that they had the same
fears like you and me, of the need for money and lack of time, but plunged
anyway, survived and thrived.
are people who understand instinctively, that once we are on the track, we
will be perpetually foiled, frustrated because there is always someone in
front of us. If that’s our challenge and destiny, wonderful. But what if
we haven’t taken the time to get off the dizzyingly fast roller coaster
so that we don’t know who we are? What if it’s too late when we do
find our voice?
older I get the more I aware I am of how quickly time passes. I think of
some lines from my favourite poet, I hope accurately to quote:
Here. Now. Always. Ridiculous the sad waste of time before and after” -