Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Dummy's Guide to Life and Stephen Fry on [Almost] Everything

So often have I heard my now-fellow graduates bemoaning their BA and who, after three long and fairly arduous years, still do not enjoy what they do. People who have entrenched themselves in the debt-ridden world of mountainous weekly readings, dungy damp flats, unfailingly clustered assignments, and caffeine-fuelled all-nighters of studenthood- only to ask, for what? It is of absolute importance, I believe, to love what you do. Above qualifications, money, or any other material quantifiers of ‘success,’ the ultimate achievement in life is to find and snuggle right into that niche which is entirely your own and in which you can immerse yourself wholeheartedly in your passions. That, to me, is sacrosanct.  My current genius of choice, and point of reference for all matters concerning art, life and everything in between, Stephen Fry, insists that “...everyone has it in them to express in themselves that fundamental thing that they know they are inside.” That inner person may contradict all our notions of respectability, and may be silenced by the economic imperatives, but exists within all of us- even if we haven’t discovered it yet.

I am tired of these generic classifications of success. Why, Fry asks, are we so obsessed with money, title, prestige and longevity of life? We seek these things as if there is some methodology to living and being, as though there is some unfailing formula in the pages of a best-seller. And what is most atrocious, is that these proscribed ways to ‘get thin,’ ‘get rich,’ and ‘get popular’ do become best-sellers. Are we really so misdirected as to believe that the answers to the complex and constantly evolving mysteries of life can be condensed into three hundred pages of one decisive and overpriced handbook?

Thus, it holds that we must fight against the malaise of commonality and  common expectations to find that which Henry Miller terms “...that Paradise of his own creation, that middle realm which is not a bread-and-butter Utopia of which the masses dream but an interstellar realm in which one rolls along his orbit with sublime indifference.” But such is the world that this is easier said than done. It seems glorious to idealistically rebel against the consumerist materialism of means to ends, and to break free of the dead weight of realism on our passions, but while dreams are free, following them is not necessarily so. Sometimes the artist within us must be temporarily subordinated to the unfortunate human requirements of food, clothing and weekly rent. 

Enduring the undesirable in order to achieve a particular goal is, in many instances, acknowledged as admirable determination. Persistence is often more exalted than wallowing aimlessly in a constant state of creative indecision and undefined dreams. But at what point do the ends no longer justify the means? Is it okay to work long and virtually intolerable hours in an equally intolerable job, if we insist that it is only a temporary step in the process to achieving our ultimate equilibrium? What is dangerous, to me, is how easy it is to become absorbed in the money driven routines of necessity and, in doing so, lose touch with that fundamental state of creative honesty and freedom in which we are our own and true self.

So where does my paradoxical argument lead me to? How are you to balance having to exist within a society driven by material needs and yet maintain your own creative individualism? Stephen Fry insists that goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. And here I have to diverge- but only slightly. I think he is wholly correct in saying that meeting your goals does not necessarily bring happiness. A life structured entirely around the pursuit of goals is, I concur, inherently dangerous. But a life without aspirations is equally wasted.  

Once again I am guilty of presenting seemingly contradictory arguments. How do you maintain hopes, dreams and aspirations without them becoming rigid and consuming? All my relatively young and admittedly naive intuition suggests is to be malleable. Let your goals be evolving, ongoing and adaptable. Allow yourself to step back from the rigidity of life formulae, of explicit intentions and of exalting material achievement, and subject your desires to constant revaluation and contextualisation. Step off the ridiculously linear work pace of the world just occasionally and clarify whether all that you profess to love and desire, is actually that. One should always have room in their minds to be astounded, and one of the greatest qualities in a person is to be willing to have their preconceptions exposed as misconceptions. So often, in the relentless and uncritical pursuit of our goals we forget to reconsider our aims in relation to the changing circumstances of our lives. There are times when we all have achieved that which we so fervently professed to desire, only to be left feeling hollow and melancholically unfulfilled. I am personally guilty of frequently loving an idea, or my perception of someone or something, rather than the actual reality.

Life, after all, is not linear but a twisting and pothole ridden road, we cannot simply coast along eternally perpendicular motorway lanes, but must diverge from the straight path to avoid obstacles and to intersect safely with others on their journey.

Often it is the journey that is the most important part. Henry Miller claims that his intention was never to become a writer, but somewhere in his attempts to express himself, became one of the greatest literary figures to grace this earth-  “Very much as if a warrior, challenged to mortal combat and having no weapons, must first forge them himself. And in the process, one that takes all his life, the purpose of his labours gets forgotten or sidetracked.” On the journey we may be forced to make sacrifices and at time accept the mundane realities and rude interjections of money in our lives. But even so, never lose sight of that which inspires you most. Constantly reassess how you are spending those precious and invaluable moments and ask whether you are truly happy, or are simply seeking an end that derives not from your true self, but projected into our minds by materialistic society. If you must subordinate your creative self in the short term, create an inner sanctum and reserve time to pursue your passions, whether they be music, art, football... anything.

To me, that passion, among other things, is writing. My love for writing has caught me quite by surprise. I have always enjoyed it, but recently I have found myself waking in the middle of the night and frantically fumbling for a notebook to jot down the rampant musings of my mind. And while I am unnerved by Thomas Aquinas’ words; “all that I have written seems in the end to be so much straw,” I write because I feel I simply must. I may not have any talent, but because at times I feel almost overwhelmed by an incredible desire to put into words what I have seen and experienced in this extraordinary world. Having worked fulltime over the past week or so, I have been denied of virtually any opportunity to write, and for some indescribable reason I am finding it quite intolerable.  I am beginning to wonder if the money is really worth it, and if I am destined for a life of a struggling, and forever unpublished writer. Here I am reassessing how I envisaged my life in a terrifying and entirely unprecedented manner.

As I am discovering, it is frightening to confront the nature and basis of our desires. I believe that we should always seek that which makes us happy, and beware of how we determine exactly what happiness is. I suppose, as a very insightful friend, just pointed out, the question is- what is orientating your goals? But that is only my humble opinion, hence I leave you in the inspiring hands of the wonderful Stephen Fry who has something wise to say on virtually everything.

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