Next week I’ll hit pause on the thing I call my dayjob, and take a year off. During that time I’m going to see how close I can get to generating a full time freelance writing career. You can browse previous entries about the lead in here.
Edges define people. Picture this.
You’re at the side of a busy road. The traffic is heavy and fast, and you’re waiting for a break that you can use to dash to the other side. You watch the cars and trucks sweep along, this vast, indomitable force of metal, and just for a second, even though there is no gap, you realise how easy it would be to step out. It’s not just a realisation that you could do it, but you can actually picture that you already have. You think you understand exactly how it would feel to step forward and feel that first impact, then everything that would follow… and for a moment you’re not afraid of that. There’s nothing stopping you, and the lure of taking control of that moment and making it happen is absolutely intoxicating.
You’re on a balcony in a hotel, dozens of floors above street level. You can lean out, and see the drop to the street. You can’t stop looking at it. The difference between falling and not is a single step, and you have an overwhelming urge to take it. You’re that close to the sensation of falling, to committing to something unknowable, the rush of air on your skin and the long fall. Just thinking about it is exhilarating, and you understand that the difference between fantasy and reality is a split second. Once you commit, you will be free of doubt and second thoughts, because they will no longer matter.
Neither scenario is remotely metaphoric. Some of you read the above and nodded. You might even have shrugged, because yeah you’ve done that often, and who hasn’t?
The other sort of person. The one who knows too bloody well what happens when you step off a ledge, and can’t even imagine what it’s like to want to do it. Because it’s stupid. They’re right, of course.
I’m an edge person. For most of my life, it never occurred to me that these weren’t universal imaginings. I was surprised to find out that it isn’t, and that a lot of people – maybe even most – would never be a heartbeat away from embracing disaster just because they can.
The problem with being an edge person is the law of accumulative probability. The chance of us stepping off the edge on any single occasion is incredibly small. We almost always pull back, shaking our heads ruefully as our pulses return to normal.
There are a lot of edges in the world though, and we only need to step off once. And we’re selfish, we edge people. In those obscene moments we aren’t thinking of the people we love, or the implications of what we want to do, or the countless things that will shatter if we step forward. It’s just us and the unknown. If we recover and step back, then those other things occur to us again, and they’re part of what makes us feel sick and dizzy as we examine what nearly happened. But if we step forward… well, they can present themselves all they like. There’s no undoing the decision, and the world has to bend around our choice and reshape, whether it (or the people in it) like it or not.
Of course, sometimes the edge isn’t an actual edge. Sometimes it’s a decision that will irrevocably change everything about your life.
I’ve thrown myself off a lot of edges in the last thirty-eight years. The immediate gratification aside, it’s almost never gone well for anybody involved, me included.
This time is a little different, I hope. The overwhelming urge to step out isn’t happening now. It happened six months ago. As slow and frustrating as the intervening months have been, they’ve allowed me to explore that immediate impression of what it would be like, and ask is this is a good idea?
It’s not me I’ve been asking, of course. I’m the one with the mad, selfish urge who wouldn’t be able to properly answer. The person I’ve asked is my wife, and I’ve been astonished to find her nodding and agreeing that it probably is. That’s what’s different this time. I’ve got a lifeline. A second point of view. Somebody who’s investing in the leap just as much as I am. She’s given me permission to fail*, and a means to clamber back if it all goes wrong.
I wouldn’t be able to do this without her support. She’s awesome.
All edge people need that, and almost none of us know it when we step out.
One week to go.
*much more important than the opposite…