Sunday 25 March 2018

Mid-life crisis: We're not all we're cracked up to be

Farewell to the rat race: Brendan O'Connor has a plan to stop mortgaging the present for a future that may never come
Farewell to the rat race: Brendan O'Connor has a plan to stop mortgaging the present for a future that may never come
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

People sometimes think I'm joking about going off the grid. My wife did initially, and she played along with me. But now she's actually on board with the whole thing. She used to be the sensible one. But these things change, don't they?

I suppose off the grid isn't technically accurate for what I plan to do. I will probably endeavour to maintain Wi-Fi and iPad and whatnot, though I will be keeping my online footprint to a minimum. I suppose I mean more that my family will, at some point in the nearish future, be exiting the rat race. I don't have a specific timescale on it yet, or indeed a specific plan as to where we will go or what we will do. But I'd like to think we will be opting out within 10 years.

There are lots of reasons for this. Many of them will be familiar to you all. The more you go on, the more you realise that life is short. Someone I know who is not well was looking at a picture with her daughter recently of the two of them just after her daughter's birth, and she said, "If only we knew then what we know now." "What's that?" her daughter asked. "That we're not all we're cracked up to be," she said. It killed me. She's so right. We are wrong about most things most of the time because we don't have the perspective. Life can only be understood backwards, but has to be lived forwards, and all that. But I think if we can try to know now what we will know later in life, there is no doubt that we are not all we're cracked up to be and the things that seem to matter don't, and dropping out is the only thing that makes sense from that perspective.

I am also finding that while bullshit is proliferating more and more in my life, I am becoming increasingly bad at tolerating it. I was never a great actor anyway, as anyone who saw my Joe Fell in I Do Not Like Thee Dr Fell, or my Monk in Small Craft Warnings will testify. But I can barely muster a bit of fake enthusiasm for bullshit these days. The fact that this is happening in tandem with the inexorable rise of bullshit is rapidly making my position in the mainstream untenable. Not only organisations but many social gatherings and day-to-day activities now float on a sea of bullshit. Maybe it's a lacking in me, but I find myself increasingly baffled as to what people are actually saying. I walk out of supposedly important meetings with people and I have no idea what just happened.

And then there is Mary, my second born. Mary, it is fair to say, will never be in the rat race. She will never climb the corporate ladder, she will never 'get on' in life in the conventional sense. And you can think of that as some kind of tragedy, or you can think of it as one of the small blessings of Down syndrome. I met a kid with Downs who was called Saoirse, and I said to her that she would always be free. And her mother told me that's why she called her Saoirse.

So you focus on trying to ensure that Mary has the tools to be happy and free. She will go to school in September and hopefully she will get a lot out of it and learn her reading and writing and social dynamics and maybe some cooking and whatever else they pick up. And maybe one day Mary will do her Leaving and I'll be very proud of her. But equally I don't know if there's any point in that, if she wouldn't be better off learning other, more practical things, like how to be happy.

Once you question what good the conventional education system is to one of your kids, it's hard not to wonder why the other should be subjected to it. Should she too not just learn to be happy? Why make her do the Leaving so she can do college, so she can get a job, and climb the ladder in that, and keep struggling to get on in life, so that then she can die, having possibly bred a few more rats for the race.

So we are agreed we are not running a rats' nest in my house. We will keep them in the system as long as it seems useful and enjoyable for them and until we figure out a plan to survive, and then we will all stop mortgaging our present for a future that may never come. And we will make a world for Mary where she will be happy and free, and we will get to enjoy it too.

Because we're not all we're cracked up to be. And better to realise that now.

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