“You wake up in the night with a fear so real…”

(This piece first appeared on The Good Men Project by complete chance on my 49th birthday!)

When I’m feeling highly emotional, I find that song lyrics and quotations from poems and novels pop into my head uncalled for. And sometimes they offer solace.

The quote above from Bruce Springsteen’s Badlands has been in my head a lot recently. I’ve spent a lot of nights sitting up in bed in sweaty terror about what is going to happen in my future.

A couple of years ago, I decided to turn my back on formal employment and write a book. It’s something I have wanted to do all my life, but I always seemed to get involved in other projects. I have a tendency to gravitate to group situations and I get a lot of motivation from being with people. Writing is a solitary enterprise, so you need to be able to generate your own motivation.

The book I am writing is pretty much my life’s work – the story about a soccer team set up by former child soldiers in Liberia in 1997 and running to this day. They have had their ups and downs – some incredible highs and very credible lows. I have been in touch with them for almost all that time.

I’ve nearly finished it. I’ve got the full framework, several completed chapters, and the rest in draft form waiting to be polished. I’ve put together a decent Publisher Proposal, and I have been in touch with an old contact who has offered to show it to his agent.

But I’m still terrified.

“You wake up in the night with a fear so real…”

There are moments when I think the book will be a success. I have even daydreamed of it getting me bookings as a conference speaker, being picked up for a film treatment or even winning awards.

But I tell myself to be realistic, and I work under the assumption that it won’t make many ripples. I comfort myself that having a published book – even self-published – on my CV makes me look more employable, and if nothing else, I will have that for my two years’ work.

But my savings run out in January, when I am supposed to be in Liberia conducting final interviews.

I’ve got family and friends. I could turn to social security benefits – “welfare” as we’re increasingly calling it over here now. I could get a job in a call centre, delivering parcels or with a temping agency. But that would just deprive someone else of that job who hasn’t got a Master’s degree and 27 years of varied work experience, as I have.

I started life as a local newspaper journalist and I know my town – in depressed post-industrial North East England – is crying out for a local paper, based in the town, about the town. I already run it in a very small way through a Facebook page and Twitter feed, but maybe I could turn it into a fully-fledged local online newspaper.

Its Facebook page records some amazing stats for successful hits, and there is no genuine competition, but how to make it pay when newspapers are dying left, right and centre? And in three months? Because at that point, I can no longer rely on my reserves to pay my mortgage and credit card bills, petrol, food or other luxuries.

When I first heard about the Good Men Project, it connected with an idea I had that the fundamental reality for men is dealing with fear. I worked for nine years in London, in an environment where men can talk to each other about their emotions. That’s what the enlightened London middle-class world allows, because the men I knew had inured themselves to fear by having good jobs, strong relationships, and all the outlets for their expression that a lively cosmopolitan city offers. Back up North, we have only football and beer.

Back up North, we have only football and beer.

I’ve tried alcohol, I’ve tried working out the ideal selection for my favourite team, I pray, and I keep talking to my friends, even though they sometimes look at me like I’ve broken a secret rule that says “never show that you are vulnerable”.

I wonder what would it be like to lose my house, my car, the woman I only just met four months ago who astounds me with her strength. But at least, with nothing, there is nothing left to fear.

And then I put all that out of my mind as best I can, and I try to move something forward every day. Fear paralyses, but at the moment – thank God – it’s making me more active. I try to take one step in a positive direction daily, so that I can take comfort from that in the dark hours of the morning.

I am an optimist, in spite of it all.

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