The Costs of Having it All – or Balance and How I’m not Good at it.

Lew and Evan leave for debauchery in Amsterdam on the 23rd.

Both squealing skint. Lew more so – because his car just cost him £423 in brake system repairs… Evan mildly so – because he knows he’s getting no sympathy from us on account of he’s spent the last 6 weeks (at least) drinking and clubbing and living it up.

I’m just jealous. Jealous of their ability to have and do it all. To manage the tightrope walk between too much and just enough.

That glittering lure of hedonism… ahhh… if I had to relive it all I’d want their ability to switch it on and off; the seamlessness of the lives and the integrated way they live.

Their congruent, all or nothingness, is liberating – joyful – exhilarating – to watch and listen to. Vicariously I pop, club, drink, joke, drink and couch-surf – incarnated as the party animal I never could safely be.

When I hit a gold seam of inner clown and wildly-sought-after-night-out companion I’m forever overwhelmed by my ferocity; the juggernaut ability to just keep partying on; the craven depth of my spotlight hogging; the fact that ‘they’ want me to be that crass entertainer. I’m vicious and sparkling and always and completely lost in the me-ness of it all. Stunned and reeling from the incongruence: the lack of bridge between sobriety, hard work and academia and this manic wired animal.

I’d work and party and work. I remember residential training weeks, way, way down south where sleep didn’t figure and where I’d party until 5.30am; return to a hotel room and shower, dress and be ready for work again. Wired, I’d perform the training tasks, recklessly, carelessly scoring ‘excellents’ and ‘a’ grades and attracting resentful, reluctant praise in feedback sessions with watchful trainers.

I could have destroyed everything. Me. My fledgling marriage. Relationships all round.

The turning point – though it took some time to percolate – was the final feedback from the most respected experienced and watchful of them all. Yes, I was the brightest he’d seen. I had it in me to go far, achieve much. But only if I stopped – and stopped now – because if I didn’t, I’d burn out.

He recommended me for a fast-track post. He couldn’t do otherwise as it was all based on scores.

But it was all a fluke. I was behaving the way I did when I was taking nothing seriously. When I didn’t care. I’d never not cared before. So I’d never quite let go and dared myself before. But I didn’t want any of it. And in truth, the knowledge I was going to move on soon – as soon as I got the legal post I wanted – freed me to behave like this hedonistic spanglewanker.

When I left I went into the traineeship. But ironically – for something I’d wanted – it was stultifying, crushing, an arid sterile brain rot of an experience. I inherited the last trainee’s cases – and spent months unpicking mistakes and re-winding to the start of things. I despaired of the paperwork and the processes and the endless soulless legal rules. I had no patience for it. I wanted action and doing. And anyway I feared and hated my boss – and she was never more content than when picking me apart: If I had children I wouldn’t work  she announced to me in an office of men.  You can’t go in to court with hair that colour (it was auburn) she spate at me, early one morning as I gathered up 137 files I’d never seen before for their imminent calling in the heritable court. Just tell them your practice certificate is in the post she instructed me, as I set off for my first appearance in an Education Prosecution that she told me will just call over, there will be no trial (it didn’t and there was and I lost because I hadn’t the first clue what I was doing and it was utterly humiliating). She would trawl my cases looking for errors that she never found – and her anger at finding none would result in more files coming my way. Eventually I grew to hate law. It was the incarnation of Hell – my boss was Satan – and I was suffering the burny fires.

I left. Just turned up one Wednesday morning at 7am, cleared my desk and walked out. I was the third trainee to resign – the one before me being savvy enough to assign his traineeship before leaving.

I left my resignation letter on her desk. When the Director saw it he called – telling me not to be silly and to come back, that the post remained open. But by that time I was a snivelling wretch of a rag of a person and welded to my bed. Doubting my ability even to wash the shower or hoover the carpets of make a packed lunch box for the kids – and suffering so many recurrent bouts of shingles that the Consultant presumed I had Aids (he’d made some breath-taking assumptions of his own – but that’s another story).

She called me and apologised and talked of how she found me difficult to manage (funny how some words lodge in your memory like un-swallow-able lumps of verbal gristle – and then haunt you ever after). She told me of how her husband was dying and she was drinking a bottle of wine every night and was not coping.

I couldn’t feel sorry for her because she terrified me. And because I felt a dire failure.

Years later I faced her across the table at a local Sheriff Court. I did the job I’d come to do. I did it in the way I’d become habituated to. The parents threatened me with violence (it was that kind of case and the Dad had threatened everyone so I comforted myself that it was nothing personal) and she offered – before the Sheriff – to drive me back to my office. I could not decline the offer. And in the car she finally apologised for her behaviour – without qualifying it with a litany of excuses. She was complimentary about my performance. Greasing her apology with obsequies. I accepted the too late apology. I didn’t need her too late praise. I was nice. I realised then that I’d haunted her – just as she and her words had haunted me.

I’ve tried to be easy to manage ever since.

But, as I don’t know what the words mean, I can offer no testimony that my efforts have been a success. I suspect that report is mixed.

I do know, now, that it’s always been about my all or nothingness. My troubling intensity. The obsessive way in which I attack things. It’s the disparity between my mad self and my applied, sensible self. That and the tension I always feel between fitting in and standing out; between too much and just enough. And an inability to ignore the elephant in any room.

Age has – in many ways – rescued me. The opportunities to fight the mad manic me are fewer and fewer. My control greater.

There’s a blessing in that. But a sadness too.

So I don’t grudge my lads their fun. Amsterdam will be a blast and that is as it should be.