Some are mathematicians, some are carpenter’s wives,
I don’t know how all that started, I don’t know what they do with their lives.
My intention is not to demean mathematicians or carpenter’s wives, but this is one of my favourite lines from Bob Dylan. I’m not even sure why; like much of his work it seems to sum up my life, get to the very essence of it. I’ve never understood how people get along, how people who have a choice can devote themselves to various occupations, day in, day out, for the whole of their lives. I don’t understand the pursuit of money either – of course Bob Dylan has pursued it throughout his life – but I don’t think money has anything to do with his talent, which is genius, something I don’t think he has any control over. So, I’ve drifted for most of my life. Not that I had much opportunity, only realising very, very late that I was moderately talented. I’ve been quite happy with my life though. No complaints.
Of course, half the world is poor. They have no choice in what they do. They have to survive, and every ounce of energy is taken up with that – surviving. The other half, from bus driver to prime minister, have a choice. The choice varies, but they can do all sorts of things. Most men seem to want to get married. Even at a very young age, long before puberty, I thought this a strange choice. Men can do anything they want. They have complete freedom, but seem to be in a mad rush to lose it, to become enslaved to young versions of themselves, to provide for them forever. The woman will lose interest in them, if they haven’t lost interest in her, and they will be stuck, for life. Lately, they will probably divorce. But then most of them will go and marry again, somehow believing it will be different. Fidel Castro once said that anybody who marries for a second time is insane. Fidel has said many wise things (and the opposite), but this seems to me to be the wisest. Some men serial marry, again and again and again. It’s very strange.
Different people have different talents. I do understand this: mechanics, doctors, dentists, scientists – and carpenters – it is endless. And you have to do what you’re good at. I’m very glad that there are mechanics and doctors. To me, the only duty is to enjoy your life. It is quite short (although mine seems to have lasted forever), and I’m very surprised at the number of people who discount this, especially among the young, who seem to think that some kind of financial success represents happiness. The pursuit of most things, especially money, is a chimera. Perhaps it does make some people happy, it’s hard to tell, but not many. The same is true with many professions. Many years ago my friends and I used to play friendly cricket matches against a team of trainee dentists. We were all poor, would arrive at the matches in various old bangers, play our games and have a drink afterwards. We all knew that while we would stay poor, the dentists would soon be very rich. I don’t know if they went into that profession for money – would you do that by choice? – but anyway, they were all going to be dentists. Gradually we all lost touch. Rich they may be. But they have been peering into people’s open mouths for years, fiddling around under their tongues, dealing with rotten and broken teeth. I don’t envy them.
I’ve drifted from job to job, probably did about fifty different things before I reached the age of forty five, sometimes well-paid (on a low scale), sometimes not. I’ve never been without money or a roof over my head. I’ve never held on to any money either; I don’t have any money now. But I don’t regret anything. I didn’t commit myself to slavery or a career; I’ve travelled very widely; I’ve lived through a very propitious time, granted, but it wasn’t easy in the seventies or eighties to find work; it was certainly very difficult to get rich. I’ve lived through peaceful times, which I’m grateful for, and I’ve been lucky, and more than once I’ve had a lot of help from friends. Generally, I’ve enjoyed my life, but that’s what I set out to do; I don’t mean enjoy at others expense either – I’ve been mainly well-behaved.
So, that’s what I mean by my title. A bit of a ramble; I haven’t explained myself very well but I had a go. Many of Bob Dylan’s lines encapsulate things for me. Desolation Row makes perfect sense to me; it is considered a drugged out, psychedelic muddle by most people, but every verse, every word, rings true for me. Perhaps I’m a misfit:
I just don’t fit,
Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit.
You see, there I go again.