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Tag: narrative

On Starting Each Day

I once heard a writer – I forget who – comment that there is an endless possibility of success if we never finish a work, and – for my mind – this is doubly so if we never start. If we never start we never have to face our own inadequacies, our own deficiencies and desires.

If we never start, then we never have to fail.

And so, each day we wake, we prepare, we sit – and there we find ourselves at the precipice of a moment. Some days we are lucky and step forward without thinking, and we are off, stumbling forth as best we are able, as best as our craft allows. And then other days – at that edge – something else happens.

That conscious critic of mind clamours and cows, it knows every reason why we won’t ever be good enough. Why we need a break from it. Why the dishes need cleaning. Why all the music is wrong. Why a walk is a good idea. Why our friends seem to get all the opportunities. Why the untouched page is the best we can ever muster, why each helpless mark smears and stains, why we will only ever be a failure.

It is the blocks in our own minds, the ideas we have about ourselves that hold us back. Brought on by fear, the fear of not being enough – even to ourselves.

So we let way. We go do the dishes. We give way to the rash and rubble of our conscious minds. We pack our hearts away and leave it to tomorrow.

Unable to begin.

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Yet we all know – we all know from lived experience – that once we get going, once we have started we can do it. But even here there is uncertainty, the fear can grip us. We can feel an other-worldliness of doing overtake us so it doesn’t quite seem real, so it doesn’t quite seem us. This person feels as a stranger, as unfamiliar as magic, as they have taken us across the threshold to doing, to an impossible world. It is not us that has done it. And we worry. Our minds worry that something isn’t right. That something is out of our control, not to be trusted, not to be relied upon. It was a trick. And we worry that we will never get back to that place again. We worry because the fear of not being enough, that fear has us still.

We worry because the success in our heads is not the success in our hearts.

Our heads dream of economic success, of awards and applause, of having our photo taken, of deference and power. But our hearts quietly dream too. And to our heads, our hearts are the toughest critic, the hardest measure, because our hearts just want us to be ourselves.

Our hearts crave self-fulfilment.

To be honest with ourselves; to live up to our own hopes and aspirations; to ask ourselves – in the quiet night when all we can hear is the distance rumble of the 1 am passenger train carried on the wind – ‘what kind of life do I want to live anyway?’ And we’re struck by the overwhelming enormity of answering so instead we watch another episode of mind-numbing video and lie awake until exhaustion makes us sick, and then we lie awake a little longer.

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And if we do ask the hard questions we might also ask: Do we aspire to be the best versions of ourselves? And if we do, then why aren’t we?

Why haven’t we started yet?

Who are we anyway to want such things?

Who do we really think we are?

I think that each of us live in a mental narrative of our own devising. A narrative fully immersed within the social conventions and our personal beliefs that sculpt us.

But some of us a trapped. By social expectation. By circumstance. By choices made before we knew how.

We see ourselves as a character in a story we are not in control of: The disillusioned mother. The distant lover. The crooked lawyer. The struggling artist. The unwanted son. The ingenue with a dark secret. When we are in one of these narratives they set our dial to repeat our failures, filling each future moment with a predetermined tragic arc, closing down our heart’s desire, each moment selectively reassuring us that there is no hope.

Such narratives are born from where our ambitions meet our failings, and as such are reflections of our very real weaknesses.

Flamed by fear once they have control of us they draw out the worst in ourselves in a race to the bottom, in a race to illuminate the very worse aspects of our nature. We cast blame, we find someone else at fault, so that we never have to look inside, never ask: what beliefs are blocking us before we even start? They are self-fulfilling narratives of frustration and instead we enrage, we shove, we cry, we push the other guy down – just for a short while – just so we can, ever so briefly, lift the weight of self-expectation pressing down, suffocating us with fear.

And in doing so we have lost ourselves. We have lost the better part to our fears.

I have lost the better part of myself to my fears and I must change, I must struggle to be better.

And so I ask:

Can we re-sculpt our lives?

Can we grant ourselves the permission to be different, to surprise ourselves, to inspire ourselves, to nourish ourselves, to love ourselves?

Can we actually be the better versions of ourselves we claim we aspire to be? The intellectual mother, the bee-bop lover, the crying lawyer, the unimagined artist, the serendipitous son, the ingenue with a pleasant secret.

What if?

What if we can change? And in so doing give hope to our hearts desires? Give hope to our dreams? And for a moment be ourselves at our best.

Let us listen to the carefree laugh, let us hear the heartbeat of a loved one, let us smile to see unconscious love, let us laugh, and smile, and laugh, as tension slips from our backs, as our shoulders feel free, as our throats feel less sore, let our face relax, and our mind wonder, what if?

I know, the struggle to start is very real.

But that is our old selves – that is the old story.

We can have a new story.

What if I can start? What if I’m that kind of person? What if that’s my story? What if I love that about me? What if, I’m awake at 1am listening to the last passenger train and I ask myself, ‘what kind of life do I want to life anyway?’ and the answer fills my heart with joy, that I fall asleep with dreams and fancy and when I awake my mind and heart are ready to be my true and nurturing me.

What if this new narrative of which we’re apart can bring us closers to ourselves? Closer to others, what if we find, we are loved, and that we can matter, and that we do love, and that others matter too. That we lift up those who are struggling, that we care when someone’s in pain, especially ourselves, and that we love to create seriously and joyously.

What if in this new story we love to start! We can’t wait to get started!

In this new story we love that we have started.

We love that about ourselves.

We love that we are about to start.

We love that we will start again tomorrow, and the next day. And every other day we are lucky enough to have.

But just today.

Just right now.

We love the idea of a new start.

We love the feeling it gives us.

Right now.

We trust ourselves to breathe.

We hug our hearts and our minds.

We elevate our heart’s true self.

We tell our mind it is going to love it.

That we are going to love it.

Now.

Begin.

Trump and the American Dream

Today feels like one of those days. Mr Trump has been elected President of the US. It matters because of the kind of campaign he has run. There were two key characteristics: a complete lack of shame and a willingness to pander to whomever to get into power.

This resulted in a misogynistic caricature of a man who promised a return to the glory days of US hegemonic power, and implicitly aligned that with the patriarchy of which he was self anointed head. It was a campaign in which he was willing to attack and blame everyone except his own kind. A campaign which was the culmination of a relentlessly forged narrative of success, of the self-made man, of the personification of the American Dream.

Unlike the current President who would have us give him the opportunity to lead, I say he has already been given that opportunity and failed.

His election legitimises the means of his campaign, his misogyny, his bigotry, his attacks on the very architecture of public discourse, and of course his brutish swagger and fear-mongering.

All this is validated and we are lessor for it.

So what’s ahead?

The reality is Trump probably only wants power to line his pockets and to mythologise his brand by creating a legacy of Trump the King.

The dangers are two-fold: first, the eroding of the commonly educated populace of which all democracies are fundamentally premised; and, second, the precedent he sets. The first is bad enough though fixable. In the early nineties, after some twenty-odd years of struggle the denizens of Queensland were able to throw out a similarly corrupt and patriarchal demagogue and put systems in place to prevent it happening again.

The second, the precedent he sets, the legitimising of his style of campaigning is far more dangerous, as it has opened the door for a candidate equal with Trump’s lack of shame and self idolatry, yet with a saviour complex and a religious fervour that would see the end of the life on earth as just a stepping stone to paradise. Trump’s victory will make such a candidate more likely across the globe anywhere there is a disenfranchised middle class, anywhere where multiculturalism and fear-mongering allow easy scapegoating of minorities, anywhere people are overworked, under resourced, and scared for tomorrow.

Where we went wrong?

The truth is it is the Political Left that has failed the under-educated, the traumatised, the desperate and the destitute. We have been too quick to dismiss the role of luck, unable to recognise the importance of help, unwilling to accept that everyone has a bad day, can get sick, or can fall foul to circumstance.

Such realities don’t fit well with The Dream in which we want to believe. The Dream that reassures us we deserve everything we have, that we are solely responsible for our own fortune, that with a bit of hard work and innovation we can make it, that success is earned only. Trump leveraged our desperation to still believe.His success shows us the myth is alive and well, but it is only a myth. There is no panacea of the patriarchy. Whatever Trump’s polices turn out to be they will at some deep level be contingent upon this myth, and so will almost certainly fail to address the real concerns of the economically disenfranchised.

Where to From Here?

We must begin to realise that in our increasingly globalised and oligarchised world that wealth and success are not synonymous. We must acknowledge that luck, help, privilege, family, teachers, social infrastructure, and even government plays a greater role in the outcomes of people’s lives then hard work and determination.

We must look past this Dream and recognise its sinister opposite: that if you’re poor it’s your own fault. The Dream for many is a nightmare of self blame and torment.

If egalitarianism is the goal of a free and open democracy we must recognise that it is contingent upon economic freedom. The fight for social justice is impossible without the fight for economic justice and in the fight for economic justice we must acknowledge that The Dream of the self-made man is dead.

We must recognise a person’s worth is far greater than their bank balance, portfolio or headshot. We need social systems that give care and help to those in need, to the marginalised and unfortunates among us, for its own betterment society must accept the price of social infrastructure that gives people the chance to turn their lives around. We need life-long education grounded in truthful descriptions of the world we live, and public discourse built on the common trust that lies and fraud only hurt us all.

Let us recognise this as we look forward, as we find our new leaders who exemplify our ideals of equality, harmony, and hope. Let not our discourse denigrate into self-denial or blame, let us show there is still civility in this world.

More Reading

Williams, R. (2016, May 15). How “The Self-Made Man” Myth Feeds the American Dream. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201605/how-the-self-made-man-myth-feeds-the-american-dream
McElwee, S. (2016, January 25). America’s dangerous “self-made” mythology: Why our ideas about upward mobility are seriously misinformed. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from http://www.salon.com/2016/01/24/americas_dangerous_self_made_mythology_why_our_ideas_about_upward_mobility_are_seriously_misinformed/
Miller, B., & Lapham, M. (2012). The Self-made Myth: And the Truth about how Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
vanden Heuvel, K. (2012, March 2). Challenging the Self-Made Myth. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from https://www.thenation.com/article/challenging-self-made-myth-2/