Neither fish nor fowl

As I brushed my teeth this morning I looked into the mirror and saw my face and wondered at it. There I was, mid length blonde hair tousled from sleep, wary blue eyes framed by horn rimmed glasses, high cheekbones, a 3 day growth more deeply etched around my chin and upon my upper lip. What is this face meant for, I wondered?

I recent months I’ve made reference to going off to ‘make cheese’ somewhere. I don’t mean that literally necessarily, though perhaps I do. It’s a comment intended to highlight the general urge to take myself off somewhere quiet and to live closer to the land and the environment. It’s an expression of a primal urge that has been building for a several years now. If not make cheese then perhaps I’ll grow vegies. I’ll breath in fresh air and contemplate a horizon uninterrupted by other human habitation. In the winter I’ll have a woodfire warming the house, the homely aroma of burning wood keeping me company. I’ll cook, I’ll read, I’ll take Rigby out for long walks across my tract of land. All those things. Looking in the mirror I asked myself, is that the face of a cheesemaker?

This urge is not uncommon I think, though it possibly presses harder in me than in others. At random I asked Cheeseboy over a bottle of red wine what he would do for a job if he had a choice. He’d become a tuna fisherman he said to me straight off. I grinned thinking how unlikely, and at the same thinking you think you know someone well and then they go and surprise you. Cheeseboy most definitely doesn’t look like a tuna fisherman, but he proceeded to explain to me exactly why he chose that. It made kinda sense.

Not surprisingly our conversation drifted onto the subject of mid-career malaise. Even before my recent misfortunes I was exhibiting symptoms of it. He confessed the same. The corporate life becomes stale. The ambition that has sustained you for so long is exposed as hollow in so many ways. The politics, the in-fighting, the petty squabbles and one-upmanship sour you. The language, the lingo, the corporate-speak seems foolish suddenly. The routine and habit hammers you down. Stupid managers, arrogant workmates, foolish dictums all tire you. And, often, you sense a futility at the heart of it, a treadmill that never pauses, but, just like a treadmill, never really goes anywhere either.

That sounds bitter, but I don’t feel it, and nor does Cheeseboy. It’s recognition of a fact of life – we’ve been doing it so long now that there is no innocence left. Against all of those things are positives, which I’ll leave for another time, but are authentic.

In any case I suspect that most come to a stage of their life and wish for a fork in the road. They may choose to take the same old route of family responsibility, habit and security, but to have a choice at least would be refreshing. It’s not really surprising. Even the humblest have a mix of yin and yang within them. It’s hard to live a life with them in balance, and natural that at some point we yearn to balance them up.

So is this the face of a cheese maker? Probably not. I get told sometimes that I’d never survive a life like that, that it’s too quiet for me, not enough dash or verve or excitement. They’re right I think in pure terms, but that doesn’t my inclination any less true. I’m smart enough to know that if I adopted such a lifestyle I’d need to balance it up with the those other bits. Live the life of the cheese maker for weeks at a time, but throw in a bit of the old-fashioned corporate just to feed the competitive spirit, if nothing else.

The question then is, is this the face of a corporate warrior? Evidence right now is emphatically no. It was once though, and I’m sure could be again superficially. I can look the part still. Put a suit on and I’m the man. I know all the cues, the angles, the curious rituals. But really? Really?!

It’s a good question. I look in the mirror and I see someone beyond that – or is that my imagination? Perhaps I need to reach that fork in the road to find out – right now I’m stopped by the side of it, and have been for months. I don’t know is the answer. I’m looking to discover what I’m meant to be – which is a curious admission at my stage of life. I look in the mirror and see someone alert and focussed. A little windswept and rough-hewn just now in a way that does feel like me. Like many men the urge to let myself go, to get about barefoot and grow a long beard and to forget all the vanities of convention is very alluring. I look in the mirror and the face there seems to match who I feel myself to be – but I’m unable to articulate either side of that: what that face says about me, or who the person is that face represents.

I’d like to know. I’d to be something. Right now I look in the mirror and it’s just my face, brooding, thoughtful, and remote.



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