Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Anything Can Happen Day

Although I started work on this entry in the small hours of the morning, I was sidetracked by the intensity of general life, and now Anything Can Happen Day is drawing to a close.

It was as a child that I first saw a film exploring the age-old premise of enemies trapped together in a closed environment where they must cooperate in order to survive. It was entitled Enemy Mine, and although it performed hideously at the box office, I maintain that it was a beautiful film, and one that remains close to my heart.

To summarise its relevance here: the human protagonist, Davidge, and his bitter enemy, an alien named Jeriba, are stranded together on a hostile planet and have learned to communicate. During one of their many arguments early on, Davidge angrily retorts to a quotation from Jeriba’s holy book by stating that back on Earth, it is now Wednesday, and according to Mickey Mouse, that means it’s Anything Can Happen Day.

Jeriba naturally assumes that Mickey Mouse is a great prophet to humans, and the throwaway comment attains a degree of gravity that makes him ponder on it with reverence. This theme is both evocative and thought-provoking on a number of levels: one of them being the way in which a seemingly simple, almost arbitrary statement like this one can become quite profound if it is meditated upon sufficiently.

The single most transcendent incident in my life so far took place on a Wednesday, and through the filter of confirmation bias, I could probably find many other reasons to justify there is something special about Wednesday, of all days. ‘Anything’ may be a perfectly neutral word, but being the pathetic optimist that I am, I think of this concept as symbolising an above-average probability of something miraculous taking place.

For a long time now, I’ve been making small steps toward precipitating major change for the better in my life, and I think the moment has arrived to make a solid commitment. There is a lot of truth in the idea that there will never be a ‘perfect time’ to do certain things, one simply has to seize the day and make a decision. On the other hand, it is also true that forcing the hand of nature, so to speak, is an exercise in futility, and any attempt to instigate change at a genuinely unfavourable moment is doomed to fail.

I have decided that this particular Anything Can Happen Day is the day when I stop fart-assing around, take ownership of my future, and push the throttle open as far as it will go. April 19, 2017 is not yet a particularly memorable date, but by my decisions and my actions, I have the power to make it so.

After all, it's Wednesday, so anything can happen. Let's see if Mickey Mouse was right.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The road to Hell

The event that ultimately led to this website’s inception was when I managed to deliberately orchestrate, through a conscientious application of my will, effort, imagination and belief, an outcome as improbable as changing the past. I figured if I was capable of pulling off a feat on that scale, then just about anything must be possible.

At the time of writing, I’ve endured some failures that have been so monumental, so cruel and so acute, I feel like some of that hubris has been bashed out of me. As a result, I am forced to revisit one of the assertions I initially made, and take a slightly meeker line with regard to the successes I tend to guarantee for anyone who chooses to apply themselves systematically toward their goals.

Nevertheless, I’m a resilient bastard, and not only am I getting through these adversities with my usual grim resolve and nuclear indomitability, but I also continue to stand by the underlying premise of the message I endeavour to share with the world.

That message is: if your life sucks, change it. Even now, after all my heartache and what amounts to a loss of god, my internal jury is still out on the subject of whether or not one can actually break physics. But irrespective of that, even if I end up concluding it really is impossible to regrow limbs, reverse ALS, or save a child from leukaemia, I believe I will maintain until the day I die that what we make of the difficulties life throws at us is overwhelmingly our own decision.

(And as an aside, I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before advances in medicine render the three examples above, redundant.)

I don’t want to be an angry man. I like myself better -- and I am more useful to others -- when I am blazing with happiness, clarity and empowerment. But if anger is the weapon I must use in order to survive my darkest hour, then that is what I shall wield. And when the battle is over, I will return that weapon to its resting place, radiating heat and stinking of cordite, and turn my inner eye to reflect on the path of destruction I have wrought through the barricades at the opposite border of Hell.

It was thanks to a song by Bruce Dickinson that I first became aware of the saying ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’. I pride myself on taking a notoriously non-standard view of accepted beliefs, so it follows that my own interpretation of this aphorism is a variation on the usual themes.

Specifically, my take on it is that -- despite all the reams of reassurance that abound about everything turning out OK if you live well -- no amount of nobility, kindness, hard work, or belief in happy endings is going to save you from getting comprehensively fucked up at one point or another.

Such is the natural order of life, and even though it is certainly within one’s power to minimise the frequency and duration of one’s sojourns in the abyss, I don’t believe it is possible for anybody to avoid the left-hand highway altogether. Maybe the Dalai Lama can, I don’t know.

But that place doesn’t scare me anymore, because I have never failed to make it out in the end. Perhaps one day I won’t, but honestly, I doubt it. At this point, I think I’m just about eligible for dual citizenship -- even though heaven will forever be the first home of my heart.

And as has oft been said by many a sagacious traveller: the only path to heaven is the one that leads through Hell.

Please note: if you are curious about the song that lends its title to this entry, please listen to it on YouTube and buy it on Google Play or iTunes if you like it.

Friday, 13 March 2015

In praise of New Zealand’s people

New Zealand has such a legendary reputation as a country of unsurpassed natural beauty that I don’t see much point in repeating what you already know. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t add my voice to the chorus and confess that I too have been utterly transfixed with wonder every single day that I’ve been here.

But meeting with and talking to the people who live here -- even in the fleeting, momentary interactions that a tourist has with locals -- has made an even more profound impression on me.

It is not my intention to boast when I say I have visited dozens of countries, I merely wish to underline that I have a solid base of comparison; my mother used to work as a diplomat, so I got dragged around all over the world during my younger years, and there was much less glamour about it than one might imagine. And while travel agents would have one believe that the people of every country in the world are exceedingly friendly toward visitors, this is not altogether consistent with my own experiences.

To be sure, the people of some nations are much kinder and more hospitable than others, but it is more than simply friendliness that moves me so deeply about New Zealanders in general and people with Māori heritage in particular.

The more sinister issues of alcoholism and gang hostilities that exist in this country were brought to global attention with considerable impact through the book and film Once Were Warriors, as well as its sequels, and I have no illusions that these aspects of New Zealand life are a troubling and persistent problem here. But until I sit down with some ‘average’ Kiwis and interview them rigorously, I have no way of knowing for certain how representative this depiction is.

While it would be dishonest to pretend such unpalatable realities do not exist, it would be even more unfair to view the majority of kind, forthcoming and incredibly welcoming people that I’ve met through the prism of the violent and unhappy picture that Mr Duff has painted.

I am consistently struck by a remarkable sense of stability, peace and harmony when I talk to people here. There is a friendliness and positivity about them that suggests a thoughtful respect for others, in stark contrast with the rapacious self-interest that typifies many inhabitants of my own country.

Just as one of many examples I could share with you: in a small-town pub* on a Friday night -- where there was much drinking and merriment going on -- even the most fearsome-looking and muscular gentlemen were the very personification of courtesy and friendliness. Everywhere I turn, there are countless little signs that the locals take pride in themselves, their culture and their surroundings, while also being considerate of others and taking responsibility for their own actions.

I am startled whenever I see graffiti here, because it is such a rarity compared to the default level of vandalism I’m used to. And I have not seen a single piece of litter thrown out mindlessly, anywhere, on the streets of any town or city I’ve been to -- the sole exception being a surf beach carpark which was visibly overrun with travellers.

The calmness and warmth that characterises the people of New Zealand resonates deeply with me, and reminds me of the idea that those who are happy have an instinctive compulsion to share their happiness with others. I’m sure a few of the people I’ve talked to were feeling a bit melancholy or annoyed, but they sucked it up and made the effort to smile as soon as they were greeted with a cheerful “Kia Ora!”

Such nobility is simultaneously humbling and inspirational, and above all it motivates me to follow the example that has been set and also be the best person I can.

*Special mention goes to the Muster Bar in Te Kuiti, where we were welcomed like royalty, enjoyed live music, received the finest personal service and were treated to a veritable banquet -- even though it was plain to see that we were just a bunch of dumb tourists.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

An excursion into free will

I recently read an essay entitled Free Will by Sam Harris, a scholar and philosopher for whom I have much respect and whose opinions I tend to take very seriously. In it, Mr Harris argues that free will is an illusion. Now, my entire approach to life hinges on the idea that -- perhaps within a framework of some limits -- we have the option of making decisions as we see fit, thereby shaping our world according to our wishes.

I’m sure you can imagine how troubling the implications of such an essay were for me -- considering that an adequately strong argument has historically swayed my worldview on a number of notable occasions.

I needn’t have worried. Although this is not the time or place to discuss my responses to Mr Harris’ outstanding essay in detail, it is enough to say that there are two main reasons why he did nothing but reinforce my existing belief system. The first is that according to my criteria, the objective existence of free will is irrelevant compared to the subjective experience of contemplating and deciding on a course of action, which then results in consequences that would not have eventuated if we had made a different decision. Mr Harris and I agree from the outset that feeling free and being free are two independent issues.

The second reason is that my own experience of life, and the phenomena I have been involved in first-hand, are drastically divergent from what Mr Harris has experienced. Therefore it is to be expected that my interpretation of why things happen as they do is different to the interpretations offered by Mr Harris. The net effect is that reading his essay felt like absorbing a passionate diatribe explaining why the world can be nothing other than flat, when I myself am a seasoned space cadet and have seen the planet very differently from orbit.

(I hope you will forgive my good-natured ad hominem jibe; ironically, the ‘flat earth’ analogy is one I use myself in relation to free will, and the side I argue for is that the shape of the planet is secondary to the fact that for all intents and purposes, the Newtonian world as we experience is indeed flat.)

In any case, it is a superbly written exposition and one I recommend unreservedly. It was extremely thought-provoking, intriguing and enjoyable to read, and as I previously alluded, I am in complete agreement with many of the points Mr Harris makes. I also learned several new words, and that is always a thrill for me. I respect Mr Harris’ views, and would never suggest my own version of the truth is superior; as always, I invite you to read for yourself and make up your own mind as to whose ideas are most beneficial for you.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

How much do one's coordinates of birth predetermine one's life?

Recently, I was talking to someone who asserted that more than any other factor, one’s fate -- at least, as measured by their likelihood of success or failure in attaining one's desires -- is dictated by the location of one’s birth. I would add that the time of one’s birth is an equally relevant consideration, but this does not detract from the basic question.

My own point of view is that the one overriding factor deciding how our lives unfold is the collection of choices we make. However, the issue of where and when one is born exists outside of our decision-making spectrum. As you can probably imagine, then, this is a variable that I find very troubling.

On one hand, I am eager to say that even the poorest Kenyan can still end up as a successful runner in the Olympics. But firstly, that is such a stereotype that I am almost embarrassed to even mention it, and secondly, what guarantee is there that the people who are chosen to run in the Olympics are, in fact, the best whom Kenya has to offer? Thirdly, closing the circle, what if the best runner in Kenya has more pressing priorities -- such as caring for his or her family -- and as a result, has elected not to even try out for such a prestigious title?

I say this consideration closes the circle, because you will note that the aforementioned ‘fastest runner’ has stayed out of the Olympics by making a choice. But at the end of the day, this is all a great deal of pipe dreaming, and really I am something of a hypocrite to be speculating about such things from my comfortable upper-middle-class life. I am well aware that even my most acute torments are not life-and-death issues; they are products of interpersonal politics, more than anything else.

My gut feeling is that choice does remain a great deciding factor in all people’s lives, from the poorest to the most spoilt. (As an aside, it is interesting to observe that in a survey of which nations’ citizens consider themselves happiest, the winners are generally very poor countries. Prosperous first-world nations tend to be uniformly miserable by comparison -- which in itself is a subject for a different discussion altogether.)

Since I have no way of verifying my instinct, I should probably best focus on the life that I know -- a first-world, Western existence. I maintain that the various tribulations I have been fortunate to survive have equipped me to prevail in almost any environment -- including one of abject poverty. How I would go about rising from such an environment is another matter, and yet another is how someone who has not benefited from my own life of learning and comparative luxury could do the same.

I would not dream of pretending to be some great philanthropist whose message is just as valid for a bus driver in Manila as for a well-to-do white British male. It would be so very fulfilling for me if the concepts I try to share could indeed help enrich the life of a person in the former situation; I do believe that with persistence, clarity of vision, and one or two other key qualities, it is possible to achieve happiness and a sense of success from virtually any starting point. Perhaps my idea that it is possible to engineer just about any future for oneself -- within basic physical limits -- is true for any human, no matter when and where they were born.

However, I am never likely to find out for sure. In the interim, I shall roll the hard six of triage: I am a pragmatic man, therefore I shall focus on empowering those whose lives I know I can definitely help change.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The sharp, hot stink of fuel

It is a singular sensation, when I can feel the inspiration starting to spool up in my mind. The dynamics of it really do resemble the behaviour of a giant turbofan, even if it often decides to awaken itself without any impetus from a decision on my part. At first there is the inertia to be overcome by whatever mystical starter motor turns the spindle -- at the perimeter of my attention, I become aware of that up-curving whine, matched by a faint, smooth line of vibration as the power stage gains rotary momentum.

It’s as if the pressure of concepts has been building up behind the turbines for some time before the low-pressure fan is finally clutched in and starts to turn. That is the equivalent, for me, of my ideas visibly gaining real traction, cooperating in the precursor of actual thrust. What was once an airy collection of thoughts becomes both concentrated and linear, and when that happens, I know I’d better wind up whatever else it was that I was doing. Because when those igniters light up, it’s all over, and I will be in the grip of an irrepressible creative frenzy that will flatten or ingest anything in its path.

Once the fuel is burning, the kinetic properties of my creative spirit have more in common with a solid rocket booster than a docile airliner powerplant. I believe it was a NASA technician who said there was no throttling back those things: “all you can do is light it and ride it”, and to me it often seems as if I can barely hold on tightly enough not to be peeled away by its sheer explosiveness.

However, as the personification of Lamarck’s complexifying force, I am discomfited by such a brutishly simple analogy. I would much rather imagine the intricate synergy of my neurotransmitters as operating like the J58-P4s that powered the iconic Lockheed SR-71. I love the idea of a completely unique propulsion system that thrived in Mach 3 cruise, at whose heart was a captured sonic boom that actually caused fuel consumption to decrease as the airspeed went up.

And on that note... I think it’s well and truly time to jam the throttle forward and haul back on the stick.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Sky Ended

It’s incredible how even the smallest throwaway comments can have significant effects on a person’s emotions and frame of mind. And this is even true of a hard-assed old bastard like me, who is consistent and level-headed to a fault.

I was listening to a remix on YouTube about which the uploader commented that “This artist has improved considerably in just four months.” I felt a genuine pang of jealousy for people who have so few responsibilities and the luxury of devoting four months of concerted effort to... well, anything. The point is that they have such time at their disposal. To me, four months’ worth of useful time seems like all the riches in the world.

I do admire the person in question for applying himself so conscientiously to his art. It is very commendable that he didn’t fritter away those four months on gaming or drugs or chasing tail or any of the other myriad inconsequential things he could have chosen to do. And in truth, I chose my responsibilities myself, and it is my own decision to continue meeting them. I have no misconceptions about the causes of my cruel temporal poverty.

Also, I would not trade the insights I have gained for the luxury of more time. If my life had been easier, I doubt very much that I would be on such profoundly good terms with the universe now, and the sense of understanding and being a part of all things is worth more than all the riches in the world anyway.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t say I dream of having some real time to spend on more beautiful things one day. And I’m sure that when the time comes, I shall apply myself to attaining this goal.

I am a man of action, and I do what is required to achieve my objectives.