Saturday, April 24, 2010

Welcome and unwelcome difficulties

I read Alain de Botton's Consolations of Philosophy a couple of weeks ago, and there he said that anger isn't an irrational power that comes over us, boils our blood and blinds our reason, but it's actually an emotion sparked by a thought, a rational assumption: That life and people should be easier and fairer and better. And as we learn more about the world and how it is not in fact that easy or fair or good, we will cease to be angry and try to summon the power to live with what we can't change. (To his credit, de Botton also realizes that aqueducts wouldn't have been built without discontent with the status quo. But he argues that we should discern between the things we can change and those we can't to put an end to futile discontent.)

When they see me angry or disappointed, people tell me that such is life. And I know that any project or relationship is so much more difficult than it seems when you start it. Last weekend I played scrabble with some friends at the Heath and I realized how you might have the perfect word on your rack, but everybody is trying to get their word out there and you may not find a place on the board for the ideal, and if you want to keep playing, you have to come up with another solution, no matter how unideal it is.

But then there must be a border between what is normal and should be expected and what is unacceptable. As I grow up, that border moves out for me and I realize how much work everything entails and I'm not entitled to anything, but the border is still, and always, there. And that border is crossed when somebody doesn't play by the rules. I know there is no single set of rules (or values, yes), but I still believe that we should hold on to whatever sense of fairness and justice we have and not let it vanish. We should trust our gut feeling and be prepared to stand our ground despite any practical concern or fear. Such situations call for fighting, not staying silent or adjusting.

The welcome difficulty of getting over the unwelcome obstacle.

Because when that border disappears, meaning and value disappears and you cease to care. And that is as good as dead.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Alles muss raus

This is a bad habit, but I neglect to clean out my closet unless I'm moving. Clothes accumulate and clutter. I have difficulty finding my new clothes among the old ones. But today, an unusual burst of energy helped me to give away the old clothes and shoes. Some of them weren't even that old, but I didn't want to look the way I did in them anymore. Some of them I was surprised to see again. I remembered buying them and my mom passing them on to me and the times I wore them and the times I mended them but they were taking space. Unsentimentality is key here.

I just read the pray section in Eat, Pray, Love and Elizabeth Gilbert was talking about rearranging your internal shelves, and today I realized how cluttered our heads must be. And we never really get to arrange them. And the clutter sinks below the conscience, to the bottom shelves, under other things, but even when we forget about them an uneasy feeling remains.

So we must let go of fruitless obsessions and let new air and light in. Let go.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kicking ass

A couple of weeks ago I went to a dance show called Blaze at the Peacock Theatre. In sequences of hip-hop, street dance and break dance, the dancers were literally kicking ass. The choreographers, costume and stage designers had also kicked ass. The beats spoke with that primitive language. The whole thing filled me with energy and envy. At first instance, I envied the dancers, I wish I were them. But when I thought about it a little deeper, I decided that everyone should find their own niche to kick ass. When we start rolling in the right groove, no difficulty would be a burden and work would be a source of joy.

We are going back to the discussion about one's essence, the question of whether we have a destiny we must fulfill. Something that is out of our control, something that is a given to us when we take nothing as given anymore, yet something we must become aware of and respond to if we want to live a fulfilled life. Call it self-realization or fulfilling your potential: you have the responsibility to bring your self to this world. And I learned last night from Eat, Pray, Love that responsibility can be defined as the ability to respond. The ability to respond to the truth. The ability to respond to the truth of our selves.

Life is too short to live without this feeling of kicking ass. And I'm sorry to point out that, especially for us with a "liberal arts" background who don't really have an occupation, it is difficult to get an accurate sense of whether we are kicking ass. If we were doctors or engineers or lawyers or cooks or pianists or actors or dancers (or cab drivers, for that matter), we would not really be able to afford seriously messing up. But our wishy-washy titles (consultants, analysts, strategists, economists, all shades of civil servants, social scientists in universities and think-tanks, public intellectuals, even some "modern" artists) allow us to produce bullshit while considering ourselves to be kicking ass. And who is to tell that we are not? Our bosses and critics and clients are either bullshit artists themselves or they have even less clue. Even if we get one call or another wrong, the consequances will be so far down the road and/or our contribution so vague and anonymous that it will be difficult to track our failure back to our selves. Success, on the other hand, simply becomes a matter of conviction. If we can convince ourselves and others successfully that we are successful, then we are. Our collective existence becomes a Ponzi scheme.

Ownership of consequances is the surest way to feel the thrill of life and work. Alienation from our work and its consequances saves us from personal risk, but it also robs us from the ownership of true (as opposed to perceived) success and happiness. We should stop lying to ourselves.