0372 – no escaping the rehearsals

I’m not sure how I should feel about the amount of time I spend inside my head thinking about my past. I don’t want to be or become a person who is endlessly fixated on the past. That can be limiting. We’ve all seen the grumpy old men who spend the bulk of their time and energy complaining about how they were shortchanged, sabotaged, misled, exploited and so on. It’s always struck me as tragic, and I hope I never become like that. [1] I’ve been there before, for sure. I’ve sat around complaining to anybody who’d listen about how terrible the education system is. [2]

And yet there’s the opposite end, isn’t there? People who avoid and ignore the past. Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. And I’ve been there, too. We don’t even need to think about grand histories, about the history of our species, of civilizations and such. I’m talking about personal histories. Our own lives are full of useful information that we can use to our advantage. My own personal history tells me that I should always get as much sleep as possible.

So there’s this interesting contradiction. I’m fixated on my past, and yet I don’t seem to learn very much from it. It’s the worst of both worlds. Ideally, I’d like to learn everything that I need to learn from my past, and then focus on the present and the future– maybe reminiscing once in a while, like once a month or so. Instead, I find myself constantly playing the game of “Oh, poor me!”. I’m starting to get tired of this game. I’m getting less utility from it than I used to, and there are more opportunities to get more utility elsewhere.

So I need to change the game that I’m playing. I play “Oh, poor me!” to get validation, to feel somehow important and relevant in some way. I think it was Dostoyevsky who said that we love our ailments and diseases, and that we moan and groan and gnash our teeth to either elicit sympathy or just to make other people feel annoyed or guilty. It’s a way of feeling significant, which I imagine most people want to feel.

So I need to find another way of getting validation, a better, healthier way somehow. I know that exercise for example is a better, healthier way of “washing the brain” than cigarettes and alcohol. In both cases it’s just chemicals in the brain, sure, but the latter is damaging to health and can have a deleterious effect on health and mental well-being. Smoking makes you squint, it dries out your skin and tongue and mouth, gives you bad breath, makes you a bit of an outcast. Exercise makes you stand taller, more confident. You become more “radiant”. You become more sexually attractive, which is a valuable social asset to have when you’re a human living amongst other humans. Exercise compounds in a good way, cigarettes compound in a bad way. If you want your life to get progressively better, you learn to do the former and weed out the latter.

The “if you want your life to get better” bit is non-trivial. It’s not a simple yes or no proposition. Some people have it good– they know that life should be lived well, that you should do difficult, challenging things because those things make life even better. That you should manage your time, be focused, say no to stupid shit, choose your friends carefully, so on and so forth. I am not that person. Not yet.

Some people are at the opposite extreme. They are depressed, frustrated, angry. Or maybe they’re apathetic, indifferent, uninterested. In my book, these are both just different ways of “not-growing” or “not-progressing”. People who, when they hear something like “Do you want to be happier? Do you want more out of life?” think “Fuck you”. I’ve been there before, momentarily. And I have to say that being there momentarily doesn’t even give you an inkling of a sense of what it must be like to be there permanently. It’s like sleeping in a park for a week to feel what it’s like to be homeless. You get a sense of the conditions, yes, but you still KNOW that ultimately you have a home to go to. It’s pretty hard to imagine the absolute and total despair that some people must feel. We can try our best, but, ya know?

I can’t claim to be from either camp. I’m somewhere in between, as I suppose most people are. But that’s not a very nuanced statement. I should add some precision. I do think I want my life to be better, or at least I feel like I think it, and I say it. I think it when I’m alone by myself with nobody to impress, nobody to perform to. But my actions aren’t consistent with that thought. I don’t do what is optimal. Now it’s probably not fair to expect anybody to be optimal all the time, even those people who seem to be magically the opposite of homeless and depressed and despairing– those who are heat-seeking missiles, driven and focused.

Anyway, I wanted to write about the outcome that I specifically want to avoid. When I was younger [3], I didn’t quite fit in. I wasn’t a blatant, terrible misfit– I wasn’t a critical case– but I was always getting in trouble, always not doing what I was told, over and over– I’ve written about this to exhaustion. And I know that there were times where I felt really hopeless and weak, like I was being cheated and exploited somehow. I don’t want to make a value judgement about those feelings– they were feelings, and I felt that way for some reason or another. And I remember thinking my equivalent of “someday my fairy godmother will come”. Someday somebody will recognize my value. Just you wait.

I’ve since been lucky and had my equivalent of such an opportunity– but what isn’t in the fairytale is how challenging it is when you get what you wish for. Because now you’re accountable for the outcome. You’ve been fighting for an opportunity, and now you’ve got it and you better not screw it up! It’s like wanting a role in a movie, and getting the part, and then… realizing that actually doing the acting is way harder than you had ever anticipated.

With the benefit of hindsight, this is where preparation comes in. If tomorrow I get a book deal, I know that I’ve pretty much written 400,000 words and I can do it again. As Les Brown said, it’s better to be prepared and have an opportunity, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.

With regards to my work– I was not prepared. But then and again you can never prepare 100%. The challenge ahead of me now is to do the preparation. To do the reading. To do the rehearsals. That’s the only way to move forward in a complex and dynamic environment– which is what I’ve always wanted, which is what I was putting off the stale and boring reading for. But there’s no escaping the reading.

_____

[1] Escaping this situation requires grace and forgiveness. It requires letting go of perceived enemies and slights.

[2] I think there is room for fair, valid and useful criticism of the education system, or of any system. The challenge is to simply state the truth, as clearly and with as little varnish as possible. This can require a startling amount of effort. There is some utility in writing with a lot of feeling and emotion, and in a way, you always know when somebody cares about something even when they’re trying to be dispassionate about it (because they put so much effort into it!). But I think writing in a calm, neutral and fair way allows things to be interpreted by a broader audience. You bypass the filters that people put up to keep out content from out-groups.

[3] I don’t blame anybody for this, it was just the reality that I was born into. Reality doesn’t give a shit. Reality doesn’t owe me anything. And reality is hell of a lot worse for the vast majority of everything that exists, and for everything that has ever existed.

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