Our dreams are rooted in who we are most fundamentally, but the plans we evolve and adapt to reach the essential dream life are always changing, always flowing. You’d have to get an update on our thinking every single day to ever be caught up, which I’m sure would be exhausting and infuriating. We probably come across as flakey chronic non-finishers; over-ambitious over-optimistic over-sharers. We can always be counted on to have news. To be making changes just when we seem the most settled.
Things are going well for us. We don’t need an escape route. But for us, with the privilege of freedom, of choice, comes a responsibility to live the best lives we can. Not just for ourselves, or our family, but as far as the wider world is concerned. With the niggling feeling you are meant for one vocation in life, a calling that you can never quiet or dampen that returns in ever clearer and louder epiphanies, comes the responsibility to fulfil that purpose. It’s no longer a dream, it’s a duty, a moral imperative. Especially when that calling has the potential to help others.
And that’s where this whole project started. How to free up Ben to be a full-time writer, not to make a living, but to share the talent he shared with me the day I met him, with generations to come. No matter what my own career path, I always thought I’d make a good vicar’s wife, a better politician’s wife than a politician. A benevolent Lady Macbeth. So my part in this dream has always been supporting. Mom too. We see Ben’s genius and we believe in him. He’s a sure thing to follow, anywhere in the world. Even though he’s full of paralysing self-doubt and so prone to self-sabotage.
I didn’t give my PhD up to become a Mum. Meeting Ben helped me to accept that academia wasn’t my true calling. From day one Ben was my dream guy because he was my equal in every way. After 6 years of intellectual growth and debate, of listening to him piece ideas together and identify patterns in everything from human behaviour to linguistics, of watching him become more politicised, more humanist, more confident in his opinions and being so proud of his unwavering passion, only now do we both realise, academia might not have been my path, but it could be his.
After longing to be a full-time writer for so many years, the recent reality of finding a way to earn money through writing while personal writing projects are still pushed into the margins has proven wide of the mark. That’s not the dream. The dream is not possible where writing is tied to money. The act of writing is not in itself enjoyable for Ben. It is the act of creation, of expression, of sharing through writing, and then talking about that writing that is the dream. And that’s not greed or ungratefulness, it’s just a fact.
There has been a common thread to all his half-written poems, screen-plays, non-fiction and novellas since I met him. One question he has been grappling with and wanting to discuss and express creatively through his writing most of his life. And that is Human identity. Over recet weeks we’ve easily been able to refine a research question for a doctoral thesis that would offer a way to delve into everything that Ben is fascinated by, and a way to focus his magnificent magpie mind. It’s an elegant solution to his predicament. He can never turn his calling into a hobby. And he can never settle for a job that happens to involve the act of writing.
And it’s a solution that could work for all of us. We could live anywhere in the world there is an English-speaking university philosophy department. We could move from country to country every four or five years if we wanted to, giving our children the education of the real world we so want for them. Instead of writers around the dinner table on retreat with us, we’d welcome in students and fellow academics, for our children to benefit from the intellectual community we have always yearned for. It would be an adventure but it would actually be a far more sensible option than B&B in France. Giving us much more financial security and probably a better quality of life, no matter where we lived.
Right now, the idea’s perfect.
But Ben has never thought of himself as intellectual. He’s not sure he’s good enough or that there’s even any point to pursuing his research question. He needs to commit to the plan. He needs to believe in himself.