The Starting Gun
A text for 15 to 25 year old people
Diego Caleiro 10/03/2008
“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines”
Life is happening now. There is no one to fire the starting gun. Life actually is happening now, it may seem odd to read that, it actually may seem even more abstruse to think about it. Most people, when they are old, look back and talk about life as the time they were in their 20’s and 30’s, yet, most people who are entering this age still look only foward as to where they should put the meaning of the word “life”. For many, life will be a concept that never lies in the present. That is a good way of escaping the task of living, you spend the first part of it ‘planning life’, the second one ‘remembering life’ or regretting it and you have found a perfect way of fooling yourself into not having the responsibility of living. As I am going to portrait here, life is to be understood as a metaphor for intense lived implementation of one’s desires into one’s existence. What I intend to say, and what I want that be told is that before each one of us may lie a path of treasure, realization and happiness. The effort of achieving it will be fundamentally dependent on our courage to make and execute plans.
The Fairy Tale Belief
We hear fairy tales where princess are bound to an ever waiting life which culminates in the great handsome prince comming to transform a pityful or mediocre life into a “happily ever after” ending. No one takes tales for serious, but strangely enough there seems to be a particular belief that is equivalent to the princesses that is widely accepted, and young people seem to live believing it quite strongly, or at least according to it. That is the belief that it makes sense to wait for something that will bring us purpose, joy, and fulfillment. As if there was a place (such as a prince heart) in the world of business, or art, or knowledge that expects us, and simply waiting is the best way to get there. The world doesn’t have a gap that we ought to fulfill. There is no such a thing as a giant pyramid that lacks a rock which needs exactly someone who has been doing what we so far have been doing. Actually, the world works in quite the opposite way. It is not a place that expects our particular abilities, and is craving for someone who can do the things we can and desire the things we desirte. The structure of the world has been planned for people to be effective and productive disregarding their abilities. That does make sense, for most people have no significantly interesting abilities, or are not emotionally strong enough to use their abilities in their jobs, or lives in general. The market, as well as universities are places where people are trained to be useful, to be part of the engine, regardless and inconsiderate to their skills, wishes or potentials. Most people think of universities as the place that will make them what they are, that will shape their lives, whereas most universities think of people as something ultimately boring that must be turned into a piece of an engine that keeps the world moving. So in believing that college will turn you into the great man of your dreams you are very likely to be entertaining a belief that may be quite contrary to the belief of the college itself, which surely is not the best approach to live a great life.
The Safe Path Belief
There is a somewhat stablished level of faith in a thing called the “safe path”. The safe path is supposed to be a way of achieving great outcomes without special risks, or efforts on the way. It consists basically of passing through school, high school, college, and finally getting a job. The safe path is credited by and incentivated by most of the tutors of society. Parents, teachers, schools and wise old men are likely to proclaim it as the best thing one can do with his life. I , as a being a little more interesting that a worm, do not feel particularly enthusiastic about it.
The safe path is, for all that matters, not a path, but simply a way of putting aside all your doubts, putting everything you might be uncertain about off the table. The safe path is, in fact, just a way of failing without even trying. Passing through this road without questioning it, without wondering where it is leading, who is guiding it and what is your part on the process is temporary suicide, since it is obeyance and acceptance of external circumstances to a level that whatever you value about yourself is diluted or deviated into something else not worth being.
The “safe path”, the older cousin of the “right thing”, is but a mith, and so is the right thing. What makes it right if it does not bring anything meaningful to you? Lawyers, philosophers and biologists have understood, along the development of their bodies of knowledge the fundamental importance of a question. Cui bono? Or in plain english, who benefits? Well, the path that is safe is not necessarily the path that is safe for us, but the path that is safe for someone else. If someone has to take the trouble of telling you that something is the right thing, than it is probable that it is the right thing for him, and not for you.
In the essay “How to do What You Love”, the computer programmer, artist and writer Paul Graham says “All parents tend to be more conservative for their kids than they would for themselves, simply because, as parents, they share risks more than rewards.” That shows a deep comprehension of the Cui bono? question, and its implications. Sometimes, terms are created to delude people into thinking that something is good for themselves, whereas actually they are for the benefit of those who created it. Both the right path and the right thing are strong candidates for such sort of ideas, and we are to be extremely careful if we are to take them in consideration at all.
The untold secret, the hidden opportunity lies in creation. The creation of the new. That which represents us. No matter how much we want, no matter how much we believe or how intelligent we are, there is no metaphisical space that lacks someone who is a mastercraft in the art we cherish the most. There is only a huge empty space, of all that never was. In this space lie all the ideas that could have happened, but, for some reason, never came to be. All the unwritten plays, all the uncreated machines, all the unacomplished plans. It is there that we ought to escavate in order to find something that we can put into the world. If we are to achieve something, if we are to make something out of it worth saying “I did this, I was there, I helped creating it, and now it lives” we must first realize this, and realizing this is one of the most difficult things in the life of many. Realizing this is taking control, and taking control is something anyone with self-consciousness knows to be fearsome.
The supposition of the space that needs us, of the spot that represents us and expects us must be torn apart. Also should be the supposition of the spontaneous arising of the amazing idea that will pull us out of inertial momentum. These have to be gradually substituted by a more realistic and logical idea, that is that if we are to be something, we are supposed to build upon our individuality, and bring something interesting and worth living from the world of all that never was to the world of what there is.
A creator place in this world is made from the inside out, it is not, as I have formerly believed, incentivated, developed and organized by the outer world. Most teachers are fond of feeling great about themselves, not of developing your interests throghout whatever it is that you find appealing in this world. No one is just there for us, expecting what we have of best to unveil itself and reveal, in a master achievement.
What Our Age Values
When we stop to think what is considered valuable nowadays, one thing, above all, will never fail to be mentioned. Money. Our age gives enormous value to the amount of money people have, spend, or pretend to have. It has not always been such way. Formerly, when our society would be a place where people were born, raised and aged within a single social class, money was not the main value (what was the main value would depend on to which social class you did belong).
An age gives value which can be changed, not for that that can be taken for granted. Our age gives value to money on the basis that people can change dramatically their economic condition. A company started today can make a man richer than anyone else in his country within five years, and in no previous time has anything like happened. A greek citizen would value knowledge and politics because those were the things that could change within his lifetime. People now value other things, status is always sought, what changes is that, in any given time, whatever it is that can be strongly changeable during peoples lifes will be considered status.
As a consequence of the valorization of money, we have become used to giving value only to the product of what we do. In the absence of delight in the process itself, we are to lose significant part of the satisfaction, as well as we are to lose part of the style. Most people are going to work in something that is created, and that as such, could generate happiness from the process of being created, and not just in proportion to the increase in income it will represent. Unfortunately, making people believe in that is, I presume, as an impossible task as it is to create an international unified state.
When men used to live in smaller communities, there was more valorization of ones work, for it was a bigger part of the whole. Not just every man could see the product of his work, a point that has been thoroughly enforced by marxists everywhere, but also everyone knew his share was important and meaningful. Most likely, people were one of the best in their activities for there were not so many doing any particular activity. This had the advantage of generating a feeling of realization, and a sense of potential. But it all has now diminished, for we may compare ourselves with people from everywhere, hundreds, thousands of them. I have recently watched a video that stated: “If you are one in a million in China, there are a 1300 people just like you. If you are one in a million in India, there are a 1000 people just like you” .
So, in such a big world, what are we to make of the knowledge we access of the existence of those who are great at what we want to do? My guess is that the shinning of others should not be an ofuscating force in the achievement of our goals, it should be thought of as a free course of how to get there, which has to be translated to your own language, to your own life. Since people face geniousness at a very young age they get discouraged from creation, from invention, very soon. The bigger the scope of the world that is available for appreciation, smaller the chances that anyone in particular shall consider himself apt to the task which he once foresaw. This doesn’t have to be the case. Our mindset is distorted by the hugeness of society, and by the strenght of the overvalorization of money, that suffocates other sorts of achievement. We should stand against this urges that live within ourselves, for we are living only by chance in this time, and we should not surrender to the opressive powers of our time. The people we celebrate and eternalyse are those who have been smart enough to see, understand and climb over the oppressive powers of their time. The opression of our time lies within more than ever before, only from our mind come the reasons for giving up, not from the sultan, the army or the governor, and it requires less strenght than ever to set one free from the inner chains that imprison realization.
Shakespeare became a great writer because he kept writing when he was not a great writer.
We should also not get unstimulated if not every single creation of ours comes to be the great achievement that will change the way the world views itself, for it is sure the case that whoever became great was once not great. Not being as good as one wishes seems to be almost a sine qua non condition for achievement, at least during the first years of a project.
One thing, more than all, we should remember. Hundreds of past generations had to fight, give their lifes, or their emotions or their lifestyles so that today we are free from outer chains. To entertain oneself in the realization of dreams is not just an amazing oportunity, it is the duty of everyone who is able to realize how lucky we are, how much others have desperately desired to be where we are and how much can be achieved.
The next step
Once the obstacle of the greatness of the world and of its best Men is behind us, we might look at what this greatness has to offer us. The greatness of the world, globalized and growing, has a lot to be found and used, no matter where we stand in the struggle for achievement. From the finding of others who desire and fight for the same causes, to the perfections of skills to a level which would be impossible before a world in the communication age, there is a lot to be learned from remote acces to information. If a man wants to be a pianist, for the first time there is a chance of watching and learning from the best pianists there are, or there were not long ago. Every day being good at something depends less and less on luck.
We experience a feeling, when we are as young as 15 or 25 that we are somehow immortal, that our lives will never end, and that therefore any plan could be interminably postponed. Unfortunately, it is the case that this spectrum of ages coincides with the period of energy, so that when we do not feel immortal and superpowerful anymore, we lack the necessary energy to manage to do our youth plans. This view leads to a youth form of hedonism, which is not particularly bad or harmful to anyone, but a sense of being too late is most likely to come for people who adopt the immortal hedonist kind of thinking. It is not the greatest idea to let ourselves have to deal with the problem of realizing mortality and the problem of wanting to achieve something with life at the same time, a better approach is to do them separately. There is no reason to suppose both views, the long term fighter and the hedonist, are exclusive. The only fear we ought to postpone to be able to endeavour a youth both hedonist and plan-achieving is the fear of failure. Einstein pointed out that “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” Fear of failure, though to some extend wise and necessary, is to be considered our sole enemy for trying to start soon.
Two ages or two mentalities?
A friend of mine once pointed out to me that there are two fundamental ages, that alternate ciclically, in the history of man. In one of them, everyone experiences something new, someting that innovates, and thinks that that thing can be applied for everything, politically, artistically, economically, socially and so forth. The world is enthusiastic, and people feel like being a part of something, and go for it. Examples would be the french revolution, woodstoock, dadaism, pop art. The other age is an age in which everyone believes that all has already been done, and nothing else can be invented, there is no inner tension that drives us towards something, and people are most likely to wait for the new “big bang”, well, or the second comming, depending on their religious preferences.
This idea kept me wondering, but I can see no solution for it except thinking that it is not about time, and history. These are two mentalities she was talking about. The world moves every day faster, things change in a matter of days, but to some, none of that seems to be proof enough that there is room for creation, room for invention. The first mind actually believes in a static world, in which everything interesting lies in the far past, but anyone who tries to rationalize such a belief will soon see himself going into some kind of trouble. Never before there were so many events taking place at the same time, culture doesn’t run, it gallops. As with quantum mechanics, whatever it is that is static, is in the eyes of the observer.
It was once said that a man spends the second half of his life living the habits he built up on the first one. To some extend, it is an exageration, but most habits of mind, indeed, are not as maneuverable as we would wish them to be. Inertial habits are immense forces, and that is true even at very young ages. Because it is so natural to just keep walking, most people are unlikely to stop, think, and give the first step thinking about their plans.
No matter towards what a first step is, because what we should avoid is not going on the wrong direction, but not going on any direction whatsoever. The first step is a way to stablish a mindset, a way of thinking, and it matters for what it represents, not for what it is. After giving the first one, if might take a long time to go back to the old self minimalized thinking, giving us enough time to find that which might be the achievement we had always faintly foreseen, without ever giving real consideration to the possibility of doing it, or even of reasoning about it enough to shape it, define its borderlines and understand what it is. This consideration is more important than most people realize. Dreams, both dreams about life and the dreams of sleep, are faint perceptions of ideas, which, when we do think about them long enough, start making sense. It should be pointed out before accusation of psychanalization take place, that it is not exactly that they start making sense, the case is that we build sense into them, and they become something that can be meaningful. So, when the first step is given, we are giving ourselves a chance to build upon faint perceptions a whole world of exploration and realization, and this world would never have existed if we did not build the habit of walking in the first place. When I started to think about writing a text somehow related to the music Time, I had only a perception of what it would be, and I thought it would be altogheter different from what, until now, it has become. Had I not actually started writing, asking for advices on what to write about, I would never have formalized and consolidated some ideas that now have entered my thoughts. Where less serious and well written, it became more easy-going and gained more ideas.
Does it matter?
When people are given orders to hurt others, they do it much more intensely then when they do it by themselves. This shows a deep principle of the human mind, we do give enormous importance to what people tell us to do, suggest that we should do and encourage us to do. Well, anyone who wants to be successful, specially with regard to business, arts or sciences will be always recommended to be productive. Being productive will mean, on most cases, doing whatever it is that gives you less pleasure than what you want to do. This is not a good approach to incentives. Of course on most cases it is a good idea to let go of a pleasure to grasp deeper whatever it is that we need to grasp to become who we want. But sometimes people get confused about what is really productive with regard to what they intend to do. Everyone will say that going to classes is the best option, but this comes partially from the fact that people think they should do what someone ordered, and classes are what the orders say should be done. Sometimes a conversation with a friend, a book, a theatrical presentation will far surpass classes as being part of the way to life as it should be. It is just silly to believe that the path of knowledge is found in school or college, that what these places should represent for us is to be the pinnacles of glory, the oracles of wisdom. They are not. Some people fail to realize that a single class is as much a part of the “Right thing to do” and the “Safe path” as is all the course togheter. If there is a seat in class that seems to be there just for you, it is always good to remember that it may just be doing mimicry and pretending to be there for you. Good evidence towards this hipothesis comes from the ammount of other seats there are in the class, just like that one. People who are told to hurt others in psychological experiments do not stop long enough to think how much it is right. Are we to do the same mistake and not stop to wonder, ever, if that particular day is going to be of any use in 20 years? Should we never consider the possibility that there is another place in the world where we could be and that would be more helpful for our goals? It just sounds silly.
People believe that being great requires seriousness, I want to point out the exact opposite, thirst for the new, a quality almost omnipresent in children is the chief mark of greatness. Sometimes seriousness will mean failure, more specifically, everytime that the notion of serious is considered equivalent to “fitting in” that is likely to happen. Once you fit in, there is little room for your curiosity, there is little room for exploring. Being serious may be a limiting factor.
Am I mad?
Some people believe that Jesus was the son of god, and that he made a huge sacrifice for everyone. I wonder, did Jesus ever, during his lifetime, went to bed early, couldn’t fall asleep and began wondering “Is it possible that I am mad? Is it possible that this whole project doesn’t make any sense? Is it possible that the orders I receive do not come from Above?” The answer to this question I think no one will ever know. Everyone does sometime feel insecure about life, about plans, about work. Sometimes we ask ourselves, am I going mad? For those who do internalize the starting gun, for those who feel that it is time to get started, this feeling will probably become more frequent.
What do we mean when asking ourselves if we are mad? Aren’t we in the end waiting from a word from above? Don’t we want the security that, except for the author of this text, everyone thinks that Jesus had? Everyone want to feel the approval, or at least the condescendence of some superior force, it could be a boss, it could be God, it could be our parents. It is a deep desire, of I think any member of the human species to have a specific path that simply does make sense, and that does make a sense confirmed by authorities. Unfortunately, there are no making sense authorities, which means that we have no alternative but trust in our own senses, sometimes taking the word of someone else, sometimes allowing the intrusion of randomness. Fact is that things being the way they are, we do not have and will never have certainty about our madness. Is it madness to write a text for people who are young about the beggining of life as it should be when you are still young? I don’t know, and no one will help me figure it out, because there is no such a thing as an authority in “Things that you should write when you feel like writing for your friends”. Is it madness? Might be, might not be. When we decide to get on the road we are always taking chances, and that is what we fear the most, chances. Once again, this fear is only justified because we mislead ourselves into believing that the other way, the safe path is not about chances. It always is, and, static as it is, it can always wait a dice roll for the big run before we give up and get back to it. I think the safe path is so safe it can wait an entire life of dice throwing for great plans and marvellous achievements before we go to it. It stands in the position of the grave, you can do whatever you want, fly wherever you fly, somehow the world will find a way to put you there if the time comes. Since the right path is not so hard to find, there seems to be no problem to let go of the madness question, if we are indeed mad, the world will take care of it, and it doesn’t need our help for such a task.
The Time is Now
This is the starting gun, one day, you will wake and find ten years have gone behind you. If you are lucky no one will tell you where to run, most likely people will tell you to follow their path, which leads to their lifes, which usually is as far from your desires as anything can be. Mankind seems to have a particular pleasure in leading others into their own path of desperation and mediocrity, luckily, younger people have a particular pleasure in dodging those paths, but this quality seems to faint before it should, before the realization of the beggining of life. The realization of the beggining of life, of the feasibility of projects, of the chance of turning passivity into activity will not come from the outside, it is born and lives within, and it must be reinforced everyday, for everyday we know this, our glimpse of paradise becomes less cloudy and more defined.
“The time is gone the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”
I wanted to thank my friends Daniel Nagase, Giovana Gasparini, and Specially Leticia Genesini for valuable comments and suggestions for this essay.