“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
I have been awfully naughty. I just finished a box of chocolates, seven truffles and pralines, and I am rediscovering Mood as a capricious mistress. Because there are times when coping with life’s uncertainties leave me feeling fucked over and wondering where did all the years go and asking wasn’t I supposed to be a spectacular success and ga-zillionaire by now? But today Mood is a benevolent dominatrix and I feel good being forked over. There’s no million pound bank account and next week I quit my corporate job (and an unproductive working relationship) for business startup world; setting off to “change my world” and who knows maybe even “the world”. So what my future is not neatly mapped out with deterministic outcomes; so what the prospect of doing something amazing is as thrilling as the risk of failure is terrifying; so what the future may not always be “alright”? Whatever the situation there will be at least one solution; of that I am convinced. I just need to keep calm, think clearly and execute. I will also need luck. So I’m feeling good right now and being something of an existentialist is, maybe, responsible for that. Or it might just be the chocolate.
This sky, my sky was blue with joy all day. How quickly this sky, my sky turned black from exhaustion; worn out from weary obeisance to King Sun whose splendour is glimpsed one half of every twenty four hours. This night, my night of winking stars; stars shimmering behind fuzzy white clouds; stars alive far beyond the constricted perimeter of our solar cocoon. Tonight’s constellation I can only imagine for the universe, my universe, is walled behind the fog that floats below the sky, my sky. I hear the drones of aeroplanes flying above cotton buds pregnant with vapour and I am comforted that at least someone up there is pondering how wondrous it is to be one with stardust. My stardust.
Those that I envy the most are not the rich or the great or even the famous, the young or the beautiful but the souls who live spontaneously in non-metronomic rhythm; in step with the drum that calls a man to life and to live. I, on the other hand, feel mostly, girdled, girded round, encircled, a bone-dry mummy entombed in a crypt and sentenced to a display cage in a museum. What hell to be constrained within the prison cells of pragmatism and convention! It is as if the souls of the bodies that I see outside of me are actually inside of me; maggots wending a slimy pathway through my thoughts, giving the thumbs up to ideas that meet not the dictionary’s definition of common sense but the public interpretation of it and then shooting down all my attempts to escape and float upwards on the lofty air of rhapsodic discovery. Those souls out there, outside of my imagined reality, living erringly or truthfully but always spontaneously: surely they are my true brothers and sisters; my long lost aunts anxious to send me on my merry way laden with provisions of honey and ambrosia. My magic carpet is ready to fly.
‘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.
“I’ve been everything. nothing’s worth the trouble”
– Emperor Severus
One of the better posts on FaceBook is Humans of New York, a delightful fest of New York’s finest pondering the great vanities of our age. Below is one of the best of recent. Ponder deeply.
Failure is not an option. That’s how my life looks right now as the days wind down to final exit from a 9-5 grind. The bugle calls: entrepreneurship!! Master of my own fate and captain of my own destiny. I’m no fool (I think). I am realistic and pragmatic but not necessarily practical. I know that I cannot do everything and anything. There are seven billion other buggers out there shuffling for space and recognition. Can I carve out a space where I can survive, succeed and be insatiably happy?
Failure is not an option. Hernan Cortes was said to have sunk (or burnt) his ships to give his army no escape options and thus no other option but fight to conquer Mexico. He did it for God and Spain. He wasn’t the first. Tariq ibn Ziyad is also said to have done the same eight hundred years earlier as he led his Islamic forces to conquer >> Spain/Iberia. It’s not unlikely that many others have tried this tactic unsuccessfully. Rather like the flightless birds of once uninhabited islands who cast off their flight skills only to face extinction at the arrival of a predator (most likely, man).
Failure is not an option. Who wants to be branded “loser”? The shame. Exclusion from the community. Being shunned and looked down upon. If you’re a loser you might as well forget about mating with desirable members of your species. Life for losers, if indeed one can call it that, can be grim. Life for losers can be fatal. Failure is not an option.
But failure is an option and if you think it through there really is no other option. Life throws so many curve balls that eventually we are bound to fail at something. Even the almighty Alexander the Great failed in his endeavour to conquer the world when his troops, homesick, finally had enough of fighting. He duly accepted that no man can conquer the world on his own and perhaps not at all. We can’t all be #1 at the same thing at the same time. Failure is very much an option. What is not an option is giving up.
Giving up is not an option. If you can’t be #1 or #2 (insert acceptable ranking) here you can be successful over there. You don’t have to bang your head against the same wall. If your dream is not working (say gold at the Olympics) then change direction, climb over the wall, dig under the obstruction or simply move to a different physical and/or mind space. These strategic options served our early ancestors well as they spread across the planet (destroying the local ecosystem) seeking new places where they could be independent of the old order they left behind. Moving is not always an option in our age when all the land’s taken and you need a passport to step across imaginary man-imposed borders. But in your mind you can always move.
Giving up is not an option because we can redefine our problems, reset our goals and sail in new directions. If we can’t have this then we will go for that. There’s no need to be stuck like a needle on a scratched vinyl record. You can’t go head-to-head with Microsoft in office software? Define a new market: creative software or games or something. You can’t go head-to-head with FaceBook in social networking? Create one for professionals or mums or [insert your passion]. You can’t get promoted at your current job? Move. Don’t die there. Move. You suck at maths but want to be an engineer? Can you code instead? Or are you good at drawing – you can be a designer! You hate your job but you love food? Cook but be creative about it and find a market you can shine in. You like beer? What about an independent brew? Your baby left you?
C’mon there’s no such thing as “He(she) was meant for me”. Nobody created any person for you – move your mind space and position yourself for another baby. [There’s only one person in the world for you. Really? There’s a Power out there who is ignoring all the problems in the world just to make sure you find that soul mate. Really?] And if you’re in the sort of job that’s truly dead end (street cleaner comes to mind) you have work to do to get yourself educated or vocationally trained in something that is worthwhile. Life is too short to be sitting on one’s ass or cleaning the street. Be part of the revolution: become an engineer and design machines for that sort of job – if we can think of cars that drive themselves then we can make machines to auto-clean our streets.
Use your head. Learn from failure. Don’t just pick up the pieces; sweep them away instead and start over, wiser and better.