This was written late March 2014.
It’s already March and soon it will be April of 2014, but I’m still thinking about 2013. 2013 was a year of tremendous change for me. It was my first year being married, my first year as a working adult, my first year as a homeowner, my first year away from my parents, my first year being responsible for the lives of others (2 cats). Lots of firsts.
I don’t think it was exactly an ‘optimal’ year, but perhaps it was less ‘suboptimal’ than all the 22 years that preceded it. I don’t know. How do you know if you’re living your life well, reasonably getting the most out of your grand adventure? Even Da Vinci claimed to have procrastinated and wasted his days.
Role of Idleness
I think some level of downtime is necessary and inevitable for a rich life. We don’t fully understand the importance of idleness, of sleep, of rest. But I’m pretty sure that I’m nowhere close to striking a great balance, let alone a mythical perfect one. The best I can do is to commit to living each year better than the last. Ideally, each month, each week, each day. I’m far from something I can be somewhat satisfied with. I still tend to go to sleep feeling like I had wasted my time, like I didn’t even remotely do justice to this blessed opportunity I’ve been given. This needs to change, and I don’t think it’s something to compromise on. I want to get better at this ‘living’ business.
Fear of Stasis. (Joseph Campbell?)
You know what I’m afraid of? I’m afraid of becoming someone who lives the same thing over and over again. I think that’s somewhat inevitable when you’re a child- or at least excusable, because so little of your life is in your own hands. I once saw a quote that said “some people claim to have ten years of experience, when really they experienced the same year ten times.” I’m terrified of that. I think that’s a sort of death.
The one quote that stuck with me from the movie Her was when the protagonist talked about how he was worried that he had already experienced everything he was going to experience, and everything else henceforth was going to be lesser versions of things he’d already experienced. I’m horrified at the idea of that. The simple solution to that problem is to have children, because then you’re forced by circumstances to relive everything from a different frame. Your heart permanently walks around outside of you. You could call it a lot of things, but boring isn’t one of them.
I don’t really plan on having kids anytime soon, so that’s out of the question. My teenage years were a bit of a blurry haze- I was often sleep deprived, smoking and drinking with friends, playing in bands, having crushes on girls, stuff like that. I’ve seen people stick with music their whole lives, and it’s something to respect- that sort of devotion- but it can also be a sort of crutch that you hang on to. And I don’t want that. I’d like music to always be a part of my life, but I fairly certain that my future lies in writing and thinking. Those are things that I want to get a lot better at.
Life gets in the way if you’re not careful
Digression, let’s return. A year of working and domestic living and I see very clearly how easy it is to allow your eyes to glaze over. If you don’t keep rekindling your inner fire, your curiosity and zeal, you end up stuck in a box that’s determined for you by circumstances beyond your control. You spend your life waiting for something that never comes. You start accepting your fate and start optimising for that reality. It’s absolutely terrifying to me. A stale marriage, a frail body, a tired mind. No.
I had to go for remedial training because I stupidly forgot to do my IPPT (it’s a fitness test). I found myself among pudgy, unfit older men. And I might be overdramatising it, but it’s a sorry sight. I’m not saying I’m any better than these men. Just describing what I witnessed. You see fat guys wearing a tshirt commemorating their completion of a marathon in 2005. 8 years later, they’re pudgy and unfit. Why? Life just gets in the way, wears you down. There’s work to be done, and it’s easy to fall into a routine. You’re not engaged or excited by work, it’s just okay. You think you’ll exercise when you find the time, but you won’t find it unless you make time for it. Same deal for your friends. For the books that you want to read. All the while you’re bombarded with advertising and low-quality news that keeps you occupied. You spend your money on new gadgets, watch movies when they come out, get outraged by the latest scandal. All of these things are decided for you at your expense.
Make time for Life
You have to make time to live the life you want to live, because nobody else will. You have to become a skilled negotiator for the things that you want. You can’t just wait. Waiting takes you nowhere. If you let the currents of daily life carry you, you’ll be swept away and wake up one day married 10 years to a person you don’t really know, working a job you don’t really enjoy, in a body that doesn’t quite do what you want it to. You live just trying to fulfill your obligations and the expectations that, oftentimes, were chosen for you by others. And there’s debt to pay, etc. Nothing quite prepares you for it.
Well- I’m sure life isn’t that bleak or bad. But I so desperately want to avoid that outcome no matter what. I caught myself falling into it. Just following my programming like a drone. Not reevaluating myself, my assumptions.
It seems like the things I cared about a decade ago were ridiculously trivial and provincial. I cared about the opinions of individuals who happened to come into my life by happenstance rather than my choice. I settled, in a lot of ways, for a lot of things. I wanted to take the happy-go-lucky route, modelling myself after Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. I think it’s important to keep that youthful vigor with you all your life, but I also think that… Life is a lot harder than what I was led to believe it was.
And I’m not talking about the hard life that my parents tried to warn me about. Their logic was- if you don’t get a good degree, you won’t get a good job, and you won’t earn enough to lead the life you’ll want to live. I think that’s actually the simpler part. The harder part is managing your appetites and interests. To keep yourself from getting into destructive cycles of consumption.
My biggest mistake in life remains this: I was determined not to follow the instructions of others, who I simply didn’t respect or admire. I threw the baby out with the bathwater and refused to obey anyone, including “myself”. I didn’t realize that I was enslaved by my appetites. I became a slave to cheap entertainment- anime, video games, books, cigarettes, pornography, Internet arguments. I’m lucky that I at least had some sort of mental home base to make sense of all of that. My days with the Saboteur-Bum are useful to me today because I can still reflect on them, analyse them.
Learning through play
All true learning is play. I played with things that were relatively shallow. I wish I played a musical instrument, or pushed myself physically. The one thing I did right was read. That was the one really good investment I made. I read broadly and deeply, and I’m still reaping the returns on those investments. Reading taught me to think. It helped me develop a rich inner landscape to make sense of the world with. And I think it’s the secret superpower that will allow me to defeat my demons, or at least keep them at bay. I hope.
Anyway. I still hold on to all these notes from 2010, 2011, 2012, hoping that they’ll be useful somehow. I want to refactor my blog and eliminate the shitty elements so that I can really use it as an extension of my thinking mind, rather than as storage for old thoughts that I’m probably overvaluing because nostalgia. I still want to sit down and go through my entire FB and Twitter and Tumblr logs, as a sort of spiritual cleansing journey where I go through my old data and make peace with who I was at the time. I long to feel connected with my past self. I know that I has put out signals then for me to look at now. But I keep thinking about it wishfully rather than doing anything about it. I need to set aside time for it, the way I need to plan for exercise and reading and dates with the wife. And I need to send myself updates so I know how I’m doing. Maybe.