The light of the day

Cover of "Darkness at Noon"Cover of Darkness at Noon

I went for a walk during my lunch break yesterday. As forecast it was a beautiful day in the mid-20's, still, fine and near perfect. I wandered up a little pedestrian laneway leading off the main drag towards the station. It was shaded by the leaves of the overarching trees with slivers of yellow sunlight penetrating to the ground.

There in the laneway there is an outdoor cafe popular with the students, and next to it is a very good second hand book store that has been there for decades. As is my wont I've been there several times before and bought the odd book. Yesterday I stopped again to browse through the trays of paperbacks set out front. Before too long I had three books in my hand which I bought for a total of $15.

One f the books is Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. It's a classic, seminal novel about the nature of totalitarian states. It was written in 1938 at a time when a burgeoning Germany was threatening the world, and when half of the worlds intelligentsia looked towards the USSR as an ideal of communal life. Koestler went against that tide. He saw what others didn't, that the essential character of any one party state is to oppress, no matter the stripe. His book was prescient when it came out, and important later.

In short it is book I'm interested to explore. It is a book I think I should read. Walking back to the office I considered that, curious about what I would find. And I was reminded in this passing thought of something else that has become clearer to me in recent times.

Working at a job that I enjoy and travelling every couple of weeks because has helped me to understand what I don't want. The opposite does not always follow, but this time I think I've figured out what I want. Whether I can manage it or not is altogether another question. 

I want to work no more than 4 days a week. While I want to be professionally challenged and to continue working at the pointy end of the tree, I don’t want any position of long-term responsibility. And I want to explore the things that make me the person I am.

Maybe it’s a tad self-indulgent, but I’ve realised that in order to be happy within myself I need to give space and time to the things that matter to me. Now there are a lot of things I like doing, but what I’m really talking about here are the things that fuel and sustain my soul. I need to read, to investigate and query, to wonder and learn. I need time to devote myself to my curiosity.

Why is this? Because there never seems any end to what I wonder at, and never enough time to explore as I would like. There would never be enough time, but some is better than very little. These peregrinations may seem idle but in actual fact they fuel so much of my aspirations. My life is testament to choosing the interesting over the conventional. I have seen and done unforgettable things; I have learned much about the world and about myself by exposing myself to adventure; and I have found fascination in the most unlikely places. It has broadened me as a person and as a result I have thrived. 

I can’t forget any of this. As much as anyone is anything I am this. I am curiosity. I am the spirit of enquiry. I am the need to know, to understand, to interpret. This is what puts words in my mouth and leads me on. Where it leads finally I don’t know, but that’s kind of beside the point. It’s about now and now and now…and all these now’s in a row like binary code that spell out the journey. They are the possibilities I need to reveal.

I need to stop and read books like Darkness at Noon, and others,
need for them to sit and grow in me, to add to what I already have.

To do this and to be this I need to find time outside of the working week and wedged somewhere before the domestic realities of the weekend. I need, I think, to specifically set aside time for this. To do that means achieving a permanent position of responsibility is unlikely, but the truth of it is that it’s a mind-space I’ve moved beyond. It’s not something I want, and not a commitment I can make.

I still want to push the professional envelope. I can’t ever imagine willingly winding back the intellectual demands of my work. I like to do things and to make things happen. I thrive on the creative fray of finding solutions to complex problems. There’s a fair degree of arrogance in that – I’ve set a standard I want to maintain – but I also enjoy the sensation of applying all my mind and experience to a situation and coming up trumps. It feels good. By itself though it is not enough.

What does this mean for me? Practically speaking I need to be my own boss so that I can dictate my own hours. Realistically that’s the consulting road I have already set myself on.

I’m my own man, more now than ever. I chafe when I get too caught up in the system. I need to go my own way, do my own thing. It’s all of a piece life, no matter how you choose to define it, the elements of your life fitting together like pieces in a puzzle dependent upon the other. For me now it’s important now to acknowledge those elements: the need for professional satisfaction and to maintain the lifestyle I desire; the personal, family and friends and lifestyle; and my soul for want of a better term, the ‘life of the mind’ and the sense of discovery that puts the edge on who I am.

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