Posts tagged reality
"I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself"
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Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars
 

I read Kerouac’s On the Road and Bukowski’s Ham on Rye back to back. It made me want to quit my life, steal a jeep and leave, somewhere, anywhere, it wouldn’t matter. Away from the fabrication we all so affectionately refer to as the system.

I never understood the sacredness of freedom until I spent an under–stimulated year of nine–to–five in a corporation. Clock in, clock out. Stamp your hours, crave the weekend. Northern winter Europe cubicle monotony, hurting strained computer eyes. Zero. One. Zero. And repeat.

Before this I had been a student my entire life, and it wasn’t until this point that I realized how happy that had made me. How happy I had been to spend my days in front of books, art, human beings and ideas. How valuable it is to spend one’s hours relentlessly pursuing whatever new obsession one may happen to come across. Finding connections between seemingly disparate interests and mould them into a coherence of something previously unfathomable.

Then you are done. You graduate and you are excited because finally you get to take these skills and contribute to the real world where it actually matters and – hang on.

Reality.

Reality is the fact that grand utopian ideas of the poetic potential of creative madness has no value in a world of numbers. Reality is the fact that people don’t want the absurd and the sacred. They don’t want unbound creativity and invention and inquiry and ingenuity. They don’t want freedom.

People love their cages because within these they are safe. Trading the comfort of your bulletproof home for a life of unhinged unpredictability may sound appealing to some, but in practice, most humans value security. Ergo, that is the society we have constructed.

So is that it?

Is that the compromise? Is it really that dualistic? You sell yourself to the big man, earn your money, health and safety but in the process you give up the now, the creation, the madness and the screaming manic frenzies in raging desert towns. Kerouac makes it simple. There is no higher virtue than that on the road, off the grid. But the truth is less romantic. If you really dare to leave the system, the system will have you punished. And no wonder. You disturbed the order.

For Kerouac, freedom is a beautiful and dirty hustle. For Bukowski it is stupor, pain and death. It is a swimming pool of liquor, filthy bloodstained t–shirts and a bottomless contempt. Because despite the merit of being individual enough to dare reject the system you are still trapped within a society that submits to it. Maybe in a state of nature you would be the only sane one on the scene. But in a society of indoctrinated collectivists, you are a fatal liability.

Faced with that, then, is it really worth rejecting? For Bukowski, it was. For most people, it isn’t. Understandably. Most of us want happiness, not freedom. Comfort, not liberty. Achieving both seems an impossible contradiction.

Huxley knew this too. In the pursuit of happiness one must ban all suffering, but in so doing, one must also ban anything that carries meaning. Why? Because anything meaningful will inevitably also carry some form of distress. “To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise”, Dostoyevsky rightfully mused in his 1864 underground novella. The same is true of art, poetry and freedom.

But what if you think that is a sacrifice worth making? What if you are one of the few who thinks meaning is a concept worth preserving, despite its bitter tradeoffs?

In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy. Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer, the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ 

There was a long silence. I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.

True freedom isn’t your millennial dream of Paris cafes with a MacBook in your lap, sipping grande oat milk chai tea lattes and writing poetry amidst the city sounds and smells of buttered scones. You may think you are free. But do you understand what it took to make this privileged reality of yours possible? How many underpaid service people and overstressed labourers it took to create this polished world that you so casually enjoy?

You work hard. I know. You have had your struggles. The fact that you are sitting here today is a marvellous achievement. But you are standing on the shoulders of giants. Small, underpaid, overlooked giants. But giants nonetheless. Perhaps bigger than you and I will ever be.

Freedom is a fragile, delicate and abstract idea. It is that which we most strongly desire but also that which we most violently fear. It is painful, burdensome and difficult to carry.

But in the end, it is the most valuable thing we possess. It is not enjoyed by everyone and it is never to be taken for granted. And we must fight to maintain it.

Today, and in the future.

approximations

A friend asked for my advice the other day. I am trapped in a place I hate and don’t know how to move along. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I love.

She has voiced the same concerns before, and I gave her the same advice as always. It basically doesn’t matter what you do. As long as you do better than the thing you hate. You’ve set the baseline. Now move away from that. Somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t matter. But you have to move. You have to do something.

But then again, what do I know. I speak from no authority. Be extremely cognizant of the advice you take from mentors a mentor once advised me. People mean well, I’m sure of that. But they are shaped by inclinations. Their own biases and fears and faulty minds. Take advice on practicalities, sure. No harm in seizing guidance in matters of logistics. But on actual creation, the heart and passions and which path to move along? No one knows that but yourself.

So follow your dreams, basically. Right. If only life was as simple as the inspirational posters make it out to be. Follow your dreams. How? People don’t know their dreams. It’s the reason they are dreams. They are sensations, inclinations, dispositions in the realm of the unknown.

You do, however, know in which direction they are pointed. And that’s where you have to go. That’s the yardstick. Do whatever it is you fragmentarily prefer over something else. Turn your gaze toward whichever light shines the brightest at the moment, whichever star stand out the most. Scrape your way through the dirt and thorns towards it and once you’re halfway there and realise it wasn’t what you wanted – celebrate. It means you can check another thing off your list.

Do this passively and violently and over time, all those tiny scraps of sunshine glare and rainbow dust you gathered along the way will mould themselves into an approximation of the thing you may become.

The mistake you make is this: you think your passion already exists and all you have to do it find it. I repeat: if it only were that simple. No, you have you mould it yourself. You have to mix your hands deep within the dirt and filth and shape that thing yourself. Just as there is only one of you there is only one of your passions. No one else has found it because it is not theirs to be found.

I’m not there. Not in the slightest. But I don’t mind. I’m on my way. My mind is open and I am lucky to be brave enough to let my heart enjoy authority. I’m getting there.

On the other hand my speech is false. I’m getting there. There. Where? Which location precisely? Some magical nirvana of bliss and clear blue skies?

This where does not exist. It is no location, activity nor person. It is all of those and none at all. Patriotism is not enough, Huxley wrote. But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics is not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.

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Your where is your self, your soul and your unhinged pure true senses. But this self cannot be caught. It is too transient, too malleable, too ephemeral and interchangeable. It can never be captured because it never stays the same. Drown yourself in art until you’ve lost your senses, lose yourself in love until the world outside dissolves, sacrifice your worth for a pompous great grand scheme – it doesn’t matter. Your fictions may be worth their salt right now. But reality always catches up.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try? Absolutely not. Just because you never get there doesn’t mean you can’t approximate. And like the great Camus so famously asserted, that’s not the point anyway. If you do get there, you will realise it wasn’t what you wanted. And you will be on your way once more. As you should.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy.