Say things that matter.
Life should be exciting.
It won’t be easy. Sometimes even waking up is hard to do. But life should be exciting. There’s just so much going on, so much to do, so much to partake in, participate in. There will inevitably be boring, tiresome and schleppy work. But life should be exciting.
The first challenge is to see it. I saw it in primary school (in a primitive sense), which was why I taught myself HTML. Games are exciting, which is why I played them. They present surmountable challenges with a compelling narrative and payoff. But video games are often (so far, at least) limited. They can help you see things differently and open your mind to new possibilities and perspectives (and that alone is worth playing for), but that’s still one step remove from you actively sucking the marrow out of life. From making an active, lasting contribution to yourself and the world around you. To be in Flow in everyday life, and not just in a partitioned activity.
Books and games help with the seeing. Travelling does, too. Writing three. Makes sense to identify what works for you and to schedule it regularly. I have “seen the light” on multiple occasions- it’s absolutely beautiful and everybody else should see it too. But it is never quite enough. It decays over time, over life. Here we reach our first dilemma.
Don’t see -> encounter input/clash idea (through randomness, or on schedule) -> See -> Do
The “see” bit decays over time. Everyday living clouds it. Inner appetites cloud it. Advertising clouds it. The expectations of others cloud it. For me, school clouded it. An interesting parlor game question to explore is- what would life be like if school were not a concern? If grades absolutely didn’t matter, and all that mattered were learning and pleasure. Explore the idea of a school-free existence.
Explore school-free life idea, or assume school is an inevitable reality to be dealt with? Both will yield interesting perspectives, but I have to pick one as I write this. What would life be like if school were not an option?
“Life has a dehumanizing effect”, said a friend of mine when I joked that clubbing was dehumanizing. I laughed at it then and chided her for being cynical, but she’s right. There’s a certain… “entropy” that happens in day-to-day life. It wears you out. Almost everything about the world around you is designed to wear you out, to cloud your inner vision so that you act in accordance with what is desired by others.
What does it mean to be “human”? For the purpose of this exploration, we don’t need to get overly philosophical or abstract or absolute- I’ll just define it in contrast to its opposite in this context. To be dehumanized in this context is to lose your personal autonomy, to become a machine, an automaton following the instructions of others. So to be human (in this context) is to be free to choose, free to act, free to explore and follow your bliss.
Preliminary objections arise- aren’t there people who live and work like automatons, yet are happy? I used to reject this idea altogether. I refused to even consider it, because considering it made me uncomfortable. I was happy to hold on to my cherished belief that you’re either some sort of rogue/renegade/delinquent at odds with the system, or you’re a mindless cog- you just don’t realize it yet. But careful examination (for me- for others this might be self-evident) reveals that there ARE hard-working people who follow routines to the letter and are still happy- in fact, happy BECAUSE of their routines, and not necessarily in a localized, limited, “simpleton” way.
The simplest example that comes to mind is the Olympic athlete, who wakes up at 4am every morning to practice his routines. She does it deliberately, with focus. She strives to improve every single time. She is clear-headed, increasingly precise and develops autonomy WITHIN the constraints of her practice regimen. She develops mastery, and joy. The same applies to musicians, and writers. I myself have sort of felt this feeling on several occasions when writing, and my regimen is sloppy at best.
So this is the pursuit of art (and I think high-level sport has a lot of parallels with art, if it isn’t art itself). An artist holding himself up to a routine for the sake of his art- he’ll be happy, sure. This was the Tiger Mother hypothesis, isn’t it? Force your kids to practice goddamn hard at something- the pleasure will come later, when they figure out what they want to say with their remarkably skilled voices.
What about the laborer? The working class, illiterate laborer, struggling in the fields to make ends meet, that his children might have a better life than him. Is he happy? Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m guessing the real answer is… that the question “am I happy” is a luxury he cannot afford.
That said, I have two thoughts there- one is the sense of purpose he must have, knowing that his struggle means something. It’s still a kind of art- his art is his daughter, who will go to school and learn her numbers and live a far more comfortable, blessed existence than he. When you have something to live for, something to fight for, then the pitiful struggle of everyday life can still be do well meaningful.
I don’t want to blame anybody but myself for what I’m about to say- but I felt neither pursuit applicable to me when I was in school. I did not see how it was art, and I did not see how it was related to my survival. I often tried to believe it- I’d psyche myself up about it, and I’d listen to my parents warn me about my future failure in life if I didn’t study… but I don’t know, it never worked for me. Somehow, deep down I didn’t quite believe it, it never felt real.
I do remember working as “casual labour” in Shangri-La Hotel, and I also remember working at the Singapore Airshow in 2010 to earn money to buy a ticket to watch Paramore. I also helped my dad with the family business (industrial waste disposal). I served NS, working as a storeman, then doing BMT, then a signals course. And, of course, now I’m doing marketing for ReferralCandy, running Statement, writing for Poached.
Am I happy? Human? Yes and no. But way more yes now than when I was in school (most of the time). What’s the difference?
I enjoyed working at Shangri-La. I got to learn about the hotel industry first-hand. See the underbelly of a large hotel- chefs, housekeeping. Management. I got to see some cool events- rich people getting married, corporate events, school proms. I got to hear kd lang perform at a charity auction. I got to see lots of people’s wedding montages. I even served chocolate to a bunch of old white men at a meeting between Boeing and Rolls-Royce, and I listened to a lecture by the London School of Economics. Also got to witness some Entrepreneur of the Year thing, some commonwealth thing. Saw a local media event where I bumped into a photographer friend of mine- MDA or journalism or something. I remember thinking that the culture felt a little toxic, vacuous.
When I worked with my dad, I got to see the underbelly of the industrial “scene” in Singapore, or at least some of it. Ever been inside a incinerator? I have! I’ve seen cars crushed into boxes, trash being compacted, felt the heat of our rubbish being burned. Recycling facilities. What’s the waste management like at a large religious festival? I’ve seen it. How do you talk to people of different socioeconomic classes? How do you work with foreigners, people you don’t share common languages with?
At the Singapore Airshow (back in 2010), I enjoyed witnessing how the managers managed. I remember at some point the overall I/C (a very intelligent, educated guy) sat us all down and thanked us (ah bengs, mats, ITE students) profusely, sincerely. He told us that the show wouldn’t have been possible without us. I remember feeling a bit of pride then. It was a great feeling, worth more than the money. I built friendships with some guys- fleeting, because we knew we’d never see each other again- but it meant something to me. It gave m a little more faith in humanity. The same applies for a lot of the fleeting relationships I built with fellow NSFs.
You do build friendships in school too, and that’s often touted as one of the benefits. But you build relationships anytime and anywhere you work with others on something, especially something that’s “real”, to be consumed by a general audience rather than a hyper-specific, artificial construct (teachers, students). You build friendships playing in a band, organizing gigs, even blogging about politics. I dropped by UTown a few weeks ago to catch Nassim Taleb, and I remember being rather surprised after the talk when I was walking around and surrounded by students chit-chatting about their lives. These folks (I have to resist saying “kids”) were my age or older, but I can’t relate to them very much anymore. My colleagues are a decade older than me. I’m married and I own a home, I pay a mortgage. Our ages might be identical but our concerns have diverged significantly.
It’s certainly my fault for not having the “right” attitude, but I learnt very little in school that was actually useful to me, or more importantly (in this pragmatic dog-eat-dog world) of value in the marketplace. School teaches you to be replaceable, not unique and outstanding, and this is a source of anxiety because it’s good for the system… at your expense.
Cutting up the vomit into two here, at 1.6k words