“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants. And do your homework.” – Margaret Kuhn
‘Only one thing astonishes me more than the stupidity with which most people live their lives, and that’s the intelligence of this stupidity.”
It’s the second day of the tenth month of the second millennium (and thirteenth year) since Time Zero (AD) and this pudding of a calendar year is rapidly going off. For humans a year is like “oh my god, it’s been like a year!!!” and our bodies age, our careers careen and our graves siren ever louder and grimmer. But let’s face it, the concept of time is a meaningless construct. It feels like ‘only yesterday’ I celebrated last christmas (in cold Chicago) and New Year a week later (in warm California) but I’m hard pressed to name all the exciting things that have happened to me since (a new MacBook, does that count?).
To spend a year on Earth is to spend one month on Jupiter and two days on Neptune and while in my imagination I see galaxies where a ‘lifetime’ is forever and where the dazzling luminary that colours the sky never dims; yet this dreamland is odious to me for I am married ’til death do us part to an evolutionary body that can’t deal with the concept of not sleeping. A place where eyes remain wide open? Oh no. It is good to sleep – in fact I am quite looking forward to a few days hence when I can (and shall) poop for twelve hours in one swoop. Yes, I know Solomon in his famous proverbs was quite severe on sluggards but what did he know of resting tired bones, he being a king and all? If I had three hundred concubines on top of seven hundred wives I think I could also find the energy to stay awake for some extra jiggy jiggy.
The obverse of sleep is not wakefulness but death: when the lights go out and life can go fuck itself. If I’m honest my life is pretty banal most days and so are the lives of the legions that I see boldly rushing to jobs that pay just enough (except for those in the top 2% who are granted the luxury of working from home or from the golf course when they feel like it). Our whole existence is aimed at just that: existing. We don’t get to ride a sunbeam at lightspeed. We don’t get to camp a night on Mars or the dark side of the moon. We don’t get to traverse black holes and live to retell the tale. The closest we get to magic is when babies are born or we come up close to animals we’ve only seen on TV or in books. Or when we dream.
Banality is the one certain bane of mankind. And each year we are weighed down more and more by the banality of life trying well-tested tricks for fun: from class A drugs to X-rated sex; from reality TV to absent-mindedly surfing the net. [Actually reading good books is pretty cool; and so is good music; and high quality theatre; and of course intelligent conversation and long rambunctious dinners with good friends settled with excellent wine – gosh there’s a growing list of things that make living worthwhile].
I feel somewhat like those poor souls sent to training courses only to return to the office to continue doing what they always did (and expecting different results) and I shall wake up tomorrow morning with a rotten sense of how much of my time, tomorrow, will be spent doing things that are … trifles, all in the name of a job that looked like a truffle when I started. Unlike Fernando Pessoa whose words I quoted above, it’s not stupidity that I marvel at; what astonishes me more than the banality with which most people live their lives is the intelligence of this banality.
The question ‘Who made me?’ cannot be answered, because we have no experience or authentic information from which to answer it; and that any answer only throws the difficulty a step further back, since the question immediately presents itself, Who made God?
– Autobiography, John Stuart Mill. First published 1873.