The Unfashionable Close of Year Post.

Future is the PastIt’s the end of the Julian Calendar year 2017, and the beginning of the Julian Calendar year 2018 is about to begin. Fashionable posts about the good and bad of 2017 will mire the Internet, and there will be a lot of positive things written about 2018.

This is an unfashionable post. It even says so in the title.

Culturally, we adhere to a calendar that was started in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, a throwback to a long dead Roman Empire that was once great but is decidedly now as great as the number of people who speak Latin natively. Yet we still use that calendar which we have hacked for leap years.

People promise themselves that they will magically transform themselves into people that they will be happier with – maybe quitting something, maybe losing weight, maybe sticking their thumbs in their belt and saying, “This year will be different!” There is a value to that, but that value can be found in any arbitrary date. That this is true is easy to see in how people find their own small and large successes throughout the Julian calendar.

In dealing with agriculture, I can tell you that no plants celebrate these holidays. In fact, no other species celebrates these holidays. I suppose, paraphrasing Twain, no other species needs  to. I’m not sure why we need to. Since I became of legal age to do anything I couldn’t legally do underage, I haven’t really seen the point. Drink on a birthday? I can do that any day. Eat cake? Any day.

So whatever it is that you think you’re going to do in the New Year that is going to be so awesome – you could have started yesterday, a month ago, a year ago – and you can probably still do in any month in the future, on any day.

You can be a better person any day. Why do you need a New Year to do it?

Plodding To Success

Astronomical Clock (Astronomical Dial), Prague, Czech RepublicHe sat in the gallery of the house, about 15 years ago – tired, beaten, only one boot off, his head bowed. He looked up at me, an odd openness leaking through his eyes as he shook his head, eyes unwavering.

“I never learned how to plod.”
“To plod?”
“I see you do it all the time.”

This put me immediately on the defensive; I had never been able to please my father with what I did or how fast I did it – but he never complained of my results and rarely even acknowledged them.

Seeing this, I think, he clarified, “Doing small things over time to get results.”

I was boggled. I’d been doing that as far back as I could remember. A long silence hung in that gallery, me pulling his other boot off. I left him sitting there as I went about my own work.

He did manage to plod himself to death, as at least some of us do – nothing dramatic about his death, not an accident, not a crime – he’d just died. In bed.

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There was a time when the thought of instant success was as seductive as a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Advertising in the back of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines were rife with it, back in the days when these magazine missives were something I eagerly awaited here in Trinidad, an island even when it came to magazine subscriptions and bookstores.

Instant wealth, seductive to a young man who had only seen strife – but to even get the money that they asked for to get their ‘secrets’ was problematic. I watched my father follow that path more than once, little by little learning by watching what came; reading the instructions and shaking my own head quietly. Was I cynical? Yes. But I saw what these were, and to get my point across I told my father that maybe we should take an ad out to sell our secrets – which would be an ad in the back of a magazine to sell secrets.

He didn’t think that was funny. I thought it was hilarious. This fed this belief of people around that I laughed at the wrong things at the wrong times. They were right sometimes; the world doesn’t like a young man that laughs at it, it doesn’t care about a young man that laughs with it. The world has no mercy, it’s instruments ranging from sadistic to ironic.

So I chose to do what I could with what I had. If it meant moving a stone a day, brushcutting a piece of land a day, reading a book, learning to use a computer (look how well that worked out after 2+ decades of software engineering) – it’s about using what you have as best you can to achieve a result. Sometimes – most of the time – it’s about small moves. It’s about not wasting your time and resources. Being busy doesn’t mean being productive.

And to the casual observer, it looks like plodding – they run about, busy, driving themselves into the ground because time or worse, other things, are their masters.

Plod toward your destinations. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.  In time, you may plod faster than others sprint, but what others do is of little matter if your success isn’t going to be determined by what others achieve.

The Key

KeyA morning of cutting brush out on the land, and a voice from a pickup on the road nearby shouts my name. I invite them up the hill; they had planted cassava when I had and had just gone to try to dig some up. They told me it was no good.

“It’s all in bush”, I said, looking over my cassava proud and tall in the beds, having just gone through by hand – pulling vines, hacking or pulling weeds. They admit to not keeping it clear… and yet, they thought by simply sticking it in the ground they would be able to reap something.

It doesn’t work that way. It never works that way. The expectation that it would work another way boggles me, a reality as clear as a sunrise, a truth as hot or cold as one makes it.  And of course, once there is bush, people start doing things – like letting their cows graze.

Crazy.

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The young man upstairs – about 6 – is doing handstands in front of my apartment. He’s getting better at them; I say so – it may be that he has the girl as an audience that inspires extra effort, but he has gotten better and I say so. I ask them if they’re ready for Christmas – people celebrate this thing, slaving for money to slave to purchase to give to other people – fellow slaves, typically – but it’s a popular thing, probably the most popular thing on the planet, and who am I to rob children of the dreams of their parents?

I expected a few remarks about Santa Claus, what they had asked for, etc. Instead, I was told that Santa Claus didn’t exist, that it was their parents. So I told them the truth.

“I am not a Santa Claus expert. I don’t know whether he exists or not.”

“But, T?”, they call me that, “But haven’t you gotten gifts for Christmas?”

“No.”

“Never?”

“No”

“Not even as a child?”

“No”

Now, I may have at some point gotten things for Christmas, but I wasn’t about to get into detail with inquisitive minds. I’ve never been much for all of that; when I wanted things I tend to get them – and as the years have come and gone, I have wanted less and less.

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I work for what I need, and what I want has become much more inline with what I need. I only bought a gift for one nephew that I have yet to drop off; I rarely buy things for people on agreed upon shopping periods… I do it randomly.

The point, I suppose, is that we have these myths that have become mandatory for society that make no sense to me. OK, let’s say that Jesus was born on this day – the reality being largely disproven – and even for an atheist, he was a nice guy who, after being born, disappeared until he was much older and was doing nice things (I’m waiting for someone to write “Jesus: The Missing Years”). But what are people actually buying each other other than shiny trinkets, metaphorical and otherwise? It keeps them happy, and that’s good.

We are all keys in our own ways, only – at least some of us – are sentient and can decide what locks we unlock. We choose our paths, we decide our futures with simple acts and simple habits. This, I suppose, was my gift from my abruptly ended childhood.

That key. That we can choose for temporary happiness or seek out contentedness, a nuance demonstrably lost in shopping sprees. Marketing constantly sells temporary happiness.

Contentedness is free.

Maintain

Warrior In The GardenIt is silent in the morning, aside from the gossip of the birds and the rustle of the wind through the trees and brush uncleared. The odd passing vehicle on the highway alternates between a diesel and a small gas powered vehicle.

Light peers over the horizon in the early morning, revealing the detritus people left at the boundaries – the two legged pests that generate rubbish faster than they can get it taken away – a constant battle on the perimeter not to be won in the near future, only to be dealt with. In the distance, the nearby houses and gardens, nearer, the vultures that roost in trees nearby whose roosts must be continuously disturbed so that they move elsewhere.

It’s a shame to disrupt this with the sound of a two stroke engine, but necessary – the whine of the blade as it spins through brush, clearing a path to clear a path, sometimes working the perimeter, sometimes working through brush that hides contours that can easily break an ankle or leg, sometimes clearing around the trees whose future depends on it.

Constant watchfulness, passively interrogating the wildlife nearby, always knowing where everything is, where it should be, recognizing things out of place – a stray footprint, tire mark, grass pushed the wrong way, clearings within spaces otherwise overgrown. Flycatchers pick out the insects left from the wrath of the spinning blade.

And it all falls behind – all becomes a part of the greater whole, and the mind is free to wander as all of this is watched. The matters of the day, the larger strategies, the small minds and the large problems pour out like the sweat of hard work. It is dangerous in this; it can be too attractive and draw from the present, so another part of the mind has to now keep an eye on the wandering mind so that while free it is safe and can be snatched to the present quickly. It watches the shadows, listens to the sounds, keeps track of tools… A passing driver waves, a wave back, a rustle in the trees or a snap, check 6.

Time passes, work is done, a break. The machine cools, and the morning returns to the natural sounds – more vehicles now. Maybe some bananas, definitely some water, and with better light a survey of what was done and what needs to be done.

And again. And again. And, maybe, again. Meditations, clear thought, hard work.

All one has is not what one can claim, but what one can maintain. Taking a hill means nothing when it is lost tomorrow, making a large profit means nothing when the money is spent immediately. True success in any endeavor is supposed to be a ratchet, locked so it cannot spin back – building on a foundation rather than constantly fighting one.

And that is coming.

Fool’s Errand.

Buddha Quote 103

He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect

– Sting, ‘Shape of My Heart’, Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993).

The cliché, that no one understands, echoes humorously in minds that take great pains to explain themselves, dedicating great portions of their lives such that they are not misunderstood – only to realize that despite what they may have been told, they are not the issue. Few people know how to listen, something that cannot be taught, and fewer have a reading comprehension that stacks up above the scribblings of graffiti they call ‘news’ in this day and age. The spoken word is confused, the written word a vernacular of acronyms that cascades down the chasm of context known only to the author.

If even the author knows.

WTF IDK EIEIO.

And then when they don’t understand the motives, the reason, the driving force…

He doesn’t play for the money he wins
He don’t play for respect

– Sting, ‘Shape of My Heart’, Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993).

Suddenly, the fool and the wise share the same fate as the intelligent and those less so: Babel, even in the same language.

That realization of the fool’s errand, that Scylla to the Charybdis, can either break or build. It’s so very hard to tell the difference.

Mortality

Skull facsimileWe humans have contemplated mortality for as long as we have been conscious – we’ve developed philosophy, and arguably, theology from it. So many do so much to avoid the inevitable, and yet it remains. We have people working right now to squeeze a little more life into our mortal coils. We live longer because of modern medicine, shoveling coal into the engine of society.

But… why? Are our lives so great that we simply have to continue on? How many more years of traffic, of software patches, of reveling in the idiocy of ‘leaders’… do we want more of that, not less? Do we want to work longer toward a retirement that society robs us of through the flawed ponzi scheme of economics that are based on the assumption that a larger population will produce more and thus be able to support a minority of aged people? There’s so much wrong with that assumption.

And yet, when in a hospital bed, being told by someone who casually hangs a stethoscope over their neck, that they will die… there is surprise. There is denial. There are questions of how long. There is almost no question of the quality of life except in movies and television shows. Those who believe in a deity will make urgent requests for more time, more medical bills, more of the same of  life that so few actually get to enjoy before. Those who do not believe may accept or not, they may fight or not, but typically they do not accept (denial), they do fight. Every breath is a battle.

Spoiler: We’re all going to die at some point. Every breath is a battle anyway; nothing has changed other than someone assigning a possible date that is closer than we might have expected. The world continues to spin.

Some of us fight for relevancy beyond our lifetimes – very few are actually remembered. Think of all those dressed so well after they died, over the ages. As of 2016, there were 100.8 billion dead humans. Our global population is roughly 7 billion at this time. How many are remembered? How many stand out? How many dead people can you think of right now? And how many of them will be remembered in a few hundred years?

But societies, cultures, civilizations – we remember those as we are taught, as was recorded by those who bothered. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead ones.

And underneath all of this, underneath all the things in ‘life’, there is this mortality that we deny through our actions, our words… and what we do not deny, we reinvent into another life, as if this one wasn’t quite enough. As if we have some higher purpose defined by people thousands of years ago scribbling into books.

And yet there are some, very few, that accept that they are already dead. Maybe they’re onto something. Maybe we already are, maybe we’re just echoes of society’s demands, the tools of our tools (Thoreau), going through the motions like Sisyphus, our blood turning the wheel of the great engine of society driving us… where?