My oldest friend P. visited me in our Manchester house and I took him along the great circuit of the streets I walked on a daily basis. 'Do you see what it's like?' I asked him. He knew what I meant. There was something obscure and retarded about this life, as though I had prematurely retired from it, throwing in the towel before I had begun. He had visited me in my parent's house in the south too, having already left me behind for a job in the world. Already I had retired, losing the job I'd found for some foolish venture which took me to Greece and brought me back again within a week. Job lost, and the agency through which I'd found it disgusted with me and Hewlett-Packard, that great organisation, turned from me now and forever. Why would they employ me again, when I left my job for foreign adventure?
Only the adventure was not so; in the too-bright beaches of Greece I thought: this is not life either and resolved to return almost straightaway. I had only brought one book, you see, with the aim of this being the last I would read, abandoning reading for a new, book free life in the tropics. I found myself back in the scruffy train station of my hometown. It was raining, but I had been relieved to see the green fields and woods of the country I had resolved to leave only a few days before.
Jobless and unemployable, I was visited by P. who shook his head at the obscurity of my life. He had a job, a flat and money, living in the far South. I applied for training schemes of various kinds; I failed to get on the training course to be a teacher, I liked to write but the chance of writing had been battered to death by the obscurity of the everyday. What chance was there? This was a time when recession had hit the south, even our mini Silicon valley ...
I would often see the twin buildings of Hewlett Packard from the train. Yes, there they were, vast grey boxes alongside a vast car park. I remembered the pond of koi fish and the suite of meeting rooms named after philosophers. I remembered the leather armchairs by the machines which served the best instant coffee where I would read every lunchtime. And I remembered the bosses whom I assisted so readily, being close, always close to the chance of a longer temporary contract. Alas, in the long hours when they could find nothing for me to do, I read and my despised temp boss, wandering from office space to space to check on her minions was unhappy to see me reading. 'Can't you ask them to find you something to do?' - 'I asked, and there was nothing to do'.
Nothing to do, and so the life of a little department would be closed to me. I would sit on its edges, listening to old jokes and office banter, laughing with others. But when they turned to me it was to say with great seriousness, 'I'm afraid that's all the work we have for you'. I always found it wonderful how a boss would switch from joking to seriousness in this way. How poised and elegant they were! How used to every circumstance! One minute laughing and the next terminating my contract! With a flick of their great wings they changed course in an instant, now wheeling, now diving, now climbing back to the heights which we theirs. I could not blame the company for paying them such large sums, they were marvellous minor deities whose body was joined to the great body of the company.
A graduate trainee advised me to make use of the training suite in my lunchbreak. 'Work on yourself', he told me. He was working on himself. Already in his mid 30s, he'd done a degree to improve his skills portfolio, he told me. It wasn't broad enough, he said. I could see his great wings spreading to cover the sky: here was a trainee manager who would soar. I thought: I am not like him, but went, nevertheless, to the training suite. It was closed to temps, alas and so I fell outside the chance of benediction. What happened to that trainee manager? I picture him beside Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard, a picture of whom graced the wall behind me. There they were, two older men smiling and shaking hands. How happy they looked! How happy I was to see them! I would like to have knelt and have them bless me.
Did I ever come close to finding more than a temporary job in the great buildings of Hewlett Packard? I was not a diligent worker, it was true. I liked to take long walks from one building to another and back again. Here I was, I thought to myself, at the heart of a great corporation, but I was still an alien body. How could I translate mine into the sleek body of a worker?
Sometimes I would see my an old schoolmate in the corridors between office suites. He had made the transformation, working in sales. I was always in awe of the sales group and hardly dared approach them. Men and women whose camaradarie was forged in the tough work which kept the golorious company on the move. A marvellous bond existed between them - I envied it! How I would have liked to join their team as one among others! Gender and ethnic origin were no boundaries - what, then, was it that kept me from their world? I thought: they can see I am not one them. I am marked in some way. They are the ones Plato would called the men and women of gold and I am a man of dross. They wheeled in great circles above my head and I returned, after passing, apparently invisible, between them, to the desk where I entered data into relevant boxes.
P. understood this. He had a life, a fiancee, a job and a flat. In between jobs, I'd listen to motivational tapes from business gurus. I had to get all my ducks in a row, apparently. My ducks were in disarray, most of them loss, bobbing far from where they should be. They needed to be all in a row. Tom Peters advised me on one such tape to find a small company in which to work. Small companies were more adept at recognising excellence, apparently. Was I excellent? I was in search of excellence, it was true and I knew excellence to day was not the arete of the Greeks. There was a new set of values to inculcate.
I listened to Tom Peters and played the first version of Wolfenstein. I applied for jobs. I visited the dole office. But the corporate world was closed to me, before and after my disastrous trip to Greece. Week after week fell into obscurity. A year passed, and I wondered how this passage of time would look if pressed into hardness, as a diamond is born from compressed carbon. I thought: it would be perfectly clear. You would hardly know you were holding anything. But there it would be in your closed palm: time, all this time, pressed into perfect translucency. I wondered what I would see ifI looked back along the long corridor of weeks and months which opened behind me and before me. Was it a kind of labyrinth into which I had disappeared? If so, where was the Minotaur and where the thread that would lead me from it?
I have written before, I think, of the university library which opened to admit me and the shelves on which, I am told, my bad first book can be discovered next to the books which opened another world to me. I remember them still, books which came to me from a space I did not know existed: Nick Land's Thirst for Annihilation, Cixous's Readings, Shaviro's Passion and Excess and finally, Josipovici's edition of Blanchot's writings. What led me to them? How did I find them? It must have been their titles. Titles I knew that formed a kind of thread I would follow out from the Thames Valley where a minotaur was following me with a razor in his hand.
I told P. I was leaving for the North, for Manchester. He was unsurprised. Disasters of various kinds followed. I lived for a while in a house with a woman similar to the witch expelled on Big Brother 6. Then there was a time of violence, burglary and paranoia. Finally, poor, nerves shredded, I found myself in another labyrinth in which I would wander my 20s away.