The Second Strangest Time In My Life
I find myself in a weird place, Venice Beach, but also in my life…
Through a series of coincidences that start with a dead fish at a festival in Margate nine years prior, I’m living in America and represented by one of the top commercial production houses in the world despite being desperately middleweight at something I possibly do not want to do anymore.
I don’t have the conviction to take the next step in my life, which is finish a writing project that I am thinking night and day about, and I am slowly destroying myself over it.
I ride my bicycle to the office and park it next to everyone’s Porsches. I sit next to a guy who I studied at film school, who has flown in to make the next ad for the biggest brand in the world.
I just sit.
Work never comes in and I never use the time to finish the writing project either. What funds I have left after moving countries is starting to dry up and I am paralysed with fear and insecure about the position I am in just because of pivoting off a fish.
So after the free lunches which are always worth waiting for, I cycle home again and park my bike outside my neighbour’s window. Two weeks before I move in, he becomes the youngest person in the world ever to win the ‘Best Director’ Academy Award. We share a garage and his free Tesla he got at the Oscars takes up some of my half but my bicycle I bought with my own exchanged South African Rands can still fit. Sometimes when I consider resuming my writing project, I hear him through the wall discussing the ending of his next film with Ryan Gosling and the imposter syndrome makes me nauseous. Being in the office is overwhelming and being at home is overwhelming and sometimes when I am debating whether to go exercise or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger cruises past my apartment on his way to Gold’s.
I ride my bicycle up and down the boardwalk alone, practising no-hands.
I’ve gone and made something quite exciting into my own personal hell but this is not my insight at the time.
One day I wake up and it’s a Saturday so the self-flagellating cycle doesn’t repeat itself as much. I decide I am going to sort out this hell I have created. I ride to Gjusta, the coffee place down the road and download The Artist’s Way on my Kindle. This will give me the shake up I need. I get five pages in and the parking attendant tells me someone has stolen my bike. I didn’t lock it up because I have this thing called ‘Dave’s Bubble’ whereby nothing bad ever happens to me. And if it does, it corrects itself of its own accord. Everything is always fine.
I walk around outside the shop and see my neighbour and tell him the story. Like everyone else, he says don’t bother looking, this is Venice Beach, it’s gone. I try tell him about my bubble...
I roam the boardwalk assuming it’ll turn up. Nothing. A new experience for me. My friend, John Henry comes over that night to show me a van he’s just bought to live in on the coast of South America. It’s at the peak of that trend so I think why not and it’ll be a good way to cut back on rent till I land my first gig here.
I find a real beast of a van on Craigslist and put some Tibetan prayer flags up across the windows at the back. I am the cliche. I spend three months living up and down the Californian coast and even down into Mexico for a while.
My lifestyle is outwardly so convincing that Time magazine pulls John Henry and I over after surfing Malibu to do a feature.
The odd pitch comes in and I lose every one of them. I realise that when your van breaks down, your lounge, bedroom, bathroom and office is also broken. For the rest, it is pretty good and I have some wild experiences. Wim Hof and I out of our minds from sitting in a -19C/-2F freezer, cruising through downtown LA at 2AM together being one of them.
At some point I realise I have not solved the problem.
My bones and muscles feel stiff with stress and my back goes into spasm. I am stealth camping outside Yogananda’s temple in Encinitas at the time. I put my van up on Craigslist at an inflated price, just to see, and I go for a surf. My body is in pain. I have a headache. Everything feels wrong. I paddle out past the backline at Swami’s and just breath. I look up and see Yogananda’s temple and it reminds me of this story Mickey Singer tells in his autobiography that focuses on how he says yes to any obstacle, about how a guy once came in for an interview with Yogananda’s book in his hand and he hired him on the spot because he loves Yogananda... or something to that effect. I might have the story wrong but the outtake is the temple reminds me of Singer’s process of just rolling with obstacles. I lie back and relax. Even though I am far behind the backline, a perfect wave comes out of nowhere and takes me all the way to shore.
I go up to my lounge-office-kitchen-bathroom and see a woman halfway across the United States has written me saying if I come out to her writer’s retreat in Taos, New Mexico to sell her the van, I can stay for free in E.M. Forster’s old room, down the way from Georgia O’Keefe’s old place, for as long as I want. Different places on the ranch are named after people that have spent a lot of time there (they had to take down the Grateful Dead bar because it got too out of hand).
Amen, Mickey Singer.
My specialised tire jack for this huge van is back in LA so I have to retrieve it first. I arrive in Venice late at night, pull off the road and go to sleep, with a plan to get the jack at sunrise and then leave for Taos. I am only set to be in Venice for two or three waking hours…
It’s about 6am the next day and I go to the park across the beach in Santa Monica to do some yoga. My stiffness is gone. I am embracing everything that comes up. I do the first up dog of my series and I look up at something.
“What’re you looking at?” this aggressive guy asks me.
“My bicycle, you piece of shit” and I run after him.
“The front wheel is mine” he says, takes it off and runs, leaving me the bike.
The more I go with things, the better my life gets. The responding officer even has the same name as my bike brand.
Everything is just lining up great: I get the tire jack and I am ready to drive out to my free writer’s retreat in Taos, New Mexico where I will finally put my life together.
I grab a quick coffee at Gjusta because honestly, I am still shaking from the stand off. The parking attendant recognises me and gives my van a preferential spot right outside. My neighbour walks past and I tell him have moved out since I saw him last, I live in a van now, and I have my bike in the back and I am off to Taos to makes some big changes.
I sit down and realise I am in the same seat I was in when all this started. Also, I never got any further with The Artist’s Way, so I pull out my Kindle.
The next page after where I left off three months ago when my bike got stolen reads, “the first time I did morning pages, I was living in Taos, New Mexico. I had gone to sort myself out — into what, I didn’t know.”
Mickey Singer for the win!
I get my coffee to-go and start the journey. The more perfectly it goes the more perfectly it goes... I pull into Taos on the weekend of a huge national pow wow. It is packed. I’m listening to this Joseph Campbell talk about ‘following your bliss.’ I park at the ranch, hop out and greet the lady who asked me to drive across three states for free. “This place looks amazing,” I say.
“Yes, a lot of people come here to follow their bliss.”
I get shivers. I pop open my van doors and my Tibetan flag are perfectly in line with a matching set up in the trees. More shivers.
I wake up in the morning and do my yoga practice on the banks of a river blessed daily by the Navajo and then get my Wim Hof on. I walk across the road to a coffee shop and out of nowhere, all the writing I have been wanting to do blasts out of me. I write more in that morning than I have in all the months since I moved my life here.
Meanwhile, the lady takes my van to the mechanic to do some due diligence. We text to meet back at the retreat for lunch.
“I’m not buying your van. It’s a lemon. You have five minutes.”
“No, you said I could stay for as long as I want in E.M. Forster’s room.”
“Two minutes. Starting now.”
She is a retired lawyer and soldier. Some experiences she had that forced her into early retirement seem to be slipping into this confrontation.
I only put the pieces together months after when the woman in Georgia O’Keefe’s old room texts me to say she overheard a man at a bar say he got told to leave his room he was renting once for a long weekend with no explanation, and when he got back and it felt like someone had slept in his bed.
I put my foot down and it gets pretty scary. I am no longer singing Mickey Singer.
The pow wow means there is zero accommodation in Taos. My van breaks down and I send it into the shop. My computer and phone break. A friend of mine back home sends me the details of a kundalini teacher who lives in an earthship that can maybe help out but I can’t reach her. I pay someone under the table to let me sleep on the floor of a Motel 8 store room without heating. Wim Hof gets me through where Mickey has let me down. A lot goes wrong until I click what has happened…
I said no to the crazy lady. Always say yes to crazy people.
That was the foundation of the book. I was just saying yes to the soft, cushy stuff.
I secure an Airbnb till my van is fixed, sell it immediately and effortlessly, hitch hike to Albuquerque, fly to LA, get a new place while still at the airport, lock myself in my room for a few weeks, write the next draft of the project and submit it in time for a tight deadline with Sundance where it gets into the last-from-final round, even though it is still rough. I come out of my room, the next week book my first American shoot and fly out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to start the biggest job of my career.
What I realise at this point — and I say ‘at this point’ because I have forgotten it several times since and created total disasters — is that all this hashtag synchronicity stuff is not just for when things go well.
After Wyoming, still on a role, I fly to a remote desert in Africa to finish researching the writing project… and then subsequently do nothing on it since, until last week, nearly four years later, which is what inspired me to write this: I finished the final draft of the project late last night.
Things are always going well.
Things are always the same.
Only your understanding or perception of this changes.
Anyone who’s ever lost a job, relationship or opportunity and been down about it, only to look back years later and be grateful, should be able to at least consider this theory.
There are these tiny moments that for most people make up just a few seconds of their entire life where they realise this — and they call these less-shitty moments of their poor comprehension of constant, permanent perfection, ‘synchronicity.’ I know because I am one of them.
Things are always synchronous. The rules and patterns of natural order do not bend to your mood or outlook. You bend to it. And away from it.
The chance of you and I being here, on this earth, connecting through this self-effacing Fall of Icarus-type story of personal disaster all because of that fucking fish is so rare that it has to be only amazing, only perfect, whether you see it now or not.
Looking back I realise I was in the perfect position to do everything I wanted to. The more I got on with it, the more my needs took care of themselves. I hope to accumulate a few more seconds of realising this yet.
Oh Mickey you’re so fine… Hey Mickey!