We forgot some important cultural shit along the way during the transition from the analog age to the digital age. First, that personal computers did not in fact set us free. And the internet brought change but never the promised revolution. But worse was the unanticipated rapid electron blur of change through which its high speed transition obfuscated our values.

You know I should be a high school career counselor for kids these days or better yet catch ‘em younger in the middle schools before they became such total lost causes. As it seems to me that our children aren’t getting the requisite advice from which to plan their futures around. And that sucks. So I think that’d be a good job for me right now.

And I would tell the children that all popular culture is one huge joke delivered at their expense; both literally and figuratively. And I would quote my daughter and tell them – concerning their futures – ‘hope is not a strategy’.

That the 21st century will be brutally competitive and prove to be increasingly more unforgiving and that all mistakes made in the here and now will be properly punished in the future. And I’d follow on to that by telling them only by choosing a properly thought out path will lead them safely onward.

I would then lay out all the harsh facts by first demystifying the baby bunny in the comfy velvety hat by telling them just how simply predictable their future really is.

Which is to either inherit the means of production or to line up for one of the following five scenarios:
• Service industry jobs. Enough said.
• Getting a certificate to learn how to operate an intelligent machine. Boring, narrow, competitive, and just plain soul-sucking bad.
• Getting a useless university degree. Expensively bad.
• Better. Becoming really, really good at something to where you are better at doing it than anyone else. Cabinetmaker or fabric maker; whatever. A DIYer of the first order. A doer. A maker.
• Best. Getting a really good university education that gives you the training to build tomorrow’s tools. This means at least a Master’s degree. Preferably a PhD. Why is this best? Because you are at the top of the food chain. Your Clausewitz battlefield approach to your education will position you to be in a very small minority that also had a very expensive buy-in proposition thereby generating an almost irreducible exclusivity.

But my biggest piece of advice would be to tell them to pursue a life – not just a job, or a career, but an entire life – that will be built entirely around spiritually satisfying acts of creation.

So why am I harping on this subject again? Maybe because I am rereading Albert Camus’s ‘The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays’. I first checked it out of the library back in ’69 or ’70 but I only remember reading parts of it. As a teenager I was drawn to his heady intellectualism and the absurd condition.

It didn’t seem ironic at the time that there was anything at all absurd about building a philosophical castle of sand around that idea. To me it was much less absurd, as Jim Harrison once pointed out, than ‘building a philosophy around our weenies.’

And also because I reckoned that anyone who said ‘Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence’ had to be on the right track. And at that age – in that era – I was all about the rebellion.
However this time I actually read the preface and learned something so compelling useful that it sparked me to have another run at the subject of values and life choices.

So where he got me in the preface is when he says, “Although The Myth of Sisyphus poses mortal problems, it sums itself up for me as a lucid invitation to live and create, in the very midst of the desert.”

So while the essay exams the validity of suicide as a response to the absurd – and finds that no, it isn’t a valid response – the real cherry to have been picked was actually buried up front in the usual, personally overlooked preface.

But it stands to reason that my teenager-self take-aways would be different from those of mine as an adult-self. For example, I did not know that man involved in the act of creation was sufficient justification for a man to live given an absurdist world view. The rest of the world might make no sense at all but as Camus reasoned through his essay that came down to little importance. What mattered was the realization that to create was to live and to live was to create.

Damn! How I wish now that I would have taken the time to have read the preface all those many years ago and maybe (just maybe) I would have wasted less time in a haze of bong smoke and instead gotten my life jump-started so much earlier on. I am so totally onboard with that. It took me most of my life to finally reach that point where I can firmly articulate my personal values. And – to create – definitely makes my top three.

And how positively marvelous – and my head is almost spinning in excitement – are the words, ‘to live and create, in the midst of the desert’? Those words are like fine wine.
They call to mind a review of a favorite poem ‘The Waste Land’ where the reviewer summed up the poem as “the junkyard of an intellectual mind.” What a mind. What an epic poem. And to read it is to wander through that marvelous junkyard:

“…A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust…”

The idea of man as a creator is fundamental to the book of Genesis. Contrary to many opinions, Genesis is not about the creation (as in the explanation of) insomuch as it is God’s introduction to Himself.

For example, when introductions are made typically we lead the introduction with the person’s most defining and/or [real time] relevant characteristic. And God saw fit to introduce Himself not just as a creator but as The Creator. So it only follows that God Himself places a very high value on the creative act. Moreover this introduction includes a promise that man would be made in His image.

And this image very much includes man as being a fellow creative being. In fact someone very wise once said that ‘for a man to create was to participate in the divine’.

And for those atheists amongst us, to use a secular example – one of the Beats famously remarked, ‘The typewriter is holy’. Why? Because to him the typewriter was the engine of creation.

It is most difficult to live a life of introspection these days. The loud continuous noise of modern culture has all but killed any thought or discussion on the subject of creation. It is interesting to note that the cultural noise of Mexico is by contrast not modern.

And to this foreigner, the cultural noise is at times an impenetrable fog. And ironically this fog is not vertiginous, but instead produces a soothing isolation that keeps one’s thoughts close by. As Karl Jaspers noted when he said that, “This limitation leads me to myself, where I can no longer withdraw behind an objective point of view that I am merely representing…”

Marrying this exclamation to my Mexican culture fog metaphor means to me that I have found living here can be likened to living in a place where the exterior, due to its foreignness, becomes highly reflective.

I remember a prose poem that I wrote a long time ago that captured a similar essence of this idea of foreignness as a mirror:

Is She Pregnant?
“I cannot look beyond Brazil.
Beyond this time and place
there will be a foreignness where
I might not recognize myself.
I should isolate myself to this
island in time – for today at
this table I can see myself
as I am.
Perhaps nothing but the folly
of my earlier choices have led
me here to her, now.
Yet, there is a magic here
if I could only find it.
At this table still cluttered
with breakfast dishes
I sit with my hands folded
and head bowed.
Not knowing whether to weep
for my loss or for the frightening
thought of crimes
yet to be committed.”
May ‘95
Valinos, Brazil

(So let me stray even further for a moment or two, to where hopefully at some point I can drift this wreck of an idea back onto the road).

I think back to the discoveries of the ancient Greeks and the architecture of the Romans. And somehow to me those analog civilizations erred closer towards more comfortable existential realities. Wisdom was a highly sought after value 2000 years ago and wise men were respected. I can’t think of the last time I saw the word wise used in a newspaper or a modern man written about as being wise.

Today it is much easier to place value on smart or clever. That somehow by incorporating these attributes, a successful man by modern standards has earned stature. That he has elevated himself. That he has achieved something.

The Sufi poet, Rumi once instructed “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment; cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment is intuition.”

And James Hilton wrote in ‘Lost Horizon’, “I would rather be and live like a dervish with the Mahdi than to go out to dinner every night in London.”

This post isn’t so much about the nature of wisdom as it is about values and the value of choices.

I remember years ago that someone opined that for every 100 men that chase and covet after the corner office that 2 will succeed and that 98 will fail. The take-away for me has always been that at the end of the day, 98 of those 100 men targeted their lives in the wrong direction and ended their days in bitterness.

And that my friends is the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

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