“What would you like to be when you grow up?” Famous! A movie star! A brain surgeon! A football player! A doctor! I want to design cars and houses and ships! A pilot! I want to be a detective! You can take it for granted that most of us will not be what we dreamed of being.
Childhood is, for some at least, a golden age. A dream-filled epoch when we speak as fortune tellers empty words which delight hearers and speaker alike eliciting fatuous compliments such as ‘Oh, that’s good child. Isn’t that cute!”. The Solomonic truism that there is a time for everything is now threadbare and the age of gold comes and then drifts past. Afterwards come the ages of Bronze and Iron or is it Copper [I forget my Virgil] but you get the picture. Epochs like the human age deteriorate and as a man past his twenties but not yet upon his sixties (grrr! fear!) I have come to that time in life when one kids one’s self not unless one is a fool: one has grown up. I know now that palms are for sensory contact with the surrounding environment and not for reading and that the time for thinking like a child is past.
So, what do I want to be now that I’ve grown up? When I was young it was the navy and the white uniform. As a teenager I wanted to be a singer-songwriter but lacked the grit and courage to sacrifice all for a dream. I eventually settled for a safe professional career but “safe”, I now see, is not what it once was. Still my dreams won’t release me and I feel like a flamingo caught in the jaws of a hyena or the nut caught in a cracker.
Two weeks ago I bought a beautiful new camera, the Fuji X100 (yay!) and as usual for me I went OTT buying books on photography. One illustration from one of those books stuck in my RAM (er, short term memory). It was of a battalion of ants crawling across London Bridge on their way to work in the City of London. They are all probably retired now but back then how important their daily routines and tasks must have seemed! Fast forward thirty years and I see colleagues running around sweating over fund flows, regulation, trades, basis points, quartile performance bla bla bla. What difference in fifty years will all this make? A big fat doughnut is what!
Newtonian physics as an explanation for how the universe works may have gone out of fashion like pleats but what hasn’t changed is the inconsequence of any life, human or otherwise. The improbable machine that is our universe grinds on defying explanation. Now, I understand fully that if you believe in God then obviously there is a point to life. Heaven, glory, virgins and all those wonderful prizes for leading a virtuous life. I have no such illusions; fiction is for the age of gold. I may as well sit at home and masturbate and enjoy the company of Captain Jack.
But there is no despair; rather, this point of view is very empowering once one has thought through the implications and that empowerment comes with a justification for a special kind of selfishness: the single minded purpose to live and to seize life’s decisive moments. To be. To be. To do. Yes, to do. But to do what? Whatever it is one may conceive of: brain surgeon, writer, actor, cross dresser, philosopher, psychologist or whatever. In this brave new world consideration of the opinions of others is strictly verboten. Anyone we think of today as “oh my God, what would they think?” won’t matter (as we won’t) in a billion years.
You define how to dress, how to speak, where to earn a living, who to fuck, what to read as long as you don’t physically harm anyone else or postulate their being harmed. That restriction is plain common sense. Emotional harm on the other hand can’t always be avoided for if our decisions about what we do and which don’t concern others offend their sensibilities then their objections harm us in turn and so we are square and we can go back to doing what we wanted to do in the first place. In like fashion if you want to sleep around or sleep in or get drunk and spend all your Sundays watching football that is up to you too. We can choose to do whatever it might take to be, to do, to live in the pursuit of happiness and to accept that, like grown-ups, every choice has a price and that as long as we are prepared to pay that price then we will happily give up our golden age of pointless dreaming.