Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Knuckles splitting chalk

  The most charitable thing you could have sensibly said about him was that he was a somebody and a something which, if you think about it, isn't always so far from nothing as you would assume. Even that he was just the product of an arbitrary decision, somewhere far back along the tail of the chain of events.
  And he worked. And he lived. And he socialised. And with them was created the terrifying and mechanical construct of modern life on an individual scale - a thing of steel, of cogs, of steam - and this construct did its work, and he managed to steer his way through, along the way eating and sleeping and talking and laughing and consuming.
  Yet, one day, he glimpsed the vast beating pump at the base of this machine, rising like the strong roots of the tree growing under concrete and meeting to split it like knuckles split chalk. Beneath his existence, a thoroughly modern existence, a creation that fit him like a suit of armour, that defended him like a suit of armour, that was as heavy and cumbersome as a suit of armour, was still this uniquely fleshy thing. The heart on the sleeve.
  He considered, as its beating deafened him, he considered that: life was, in a way, a gift. It was not given, he considered, as he did not believe in God. It was not willed, he considered, for the same; and therefore not meant. But yet it was not necessarily meaningless. How could that be?
  He looked back and, in a moment of insanity, considered the almost impossibility of even existing. The events that culminated in him seemed to have, to his mind so schooled in various aspects of current thought, not been necessary in fate, been nothing more than absolute chance that had brought him here, to this maddening and self-conscious point. He cradled this web of chance, like it was a baby, marvelling over it, seeing in it the marvellousness of just being, just being allowed to be.
  But as his mind soaked in these realisations, he started to wonder how this realisation could change him. As if he had been given a vessel to try to fill, full of the bright liquids of doing and being, experiencing and making, creating and thinking. His throat choked at the thought of the responsibilities he had invented for himself, of the difficulties and trials. Just to be alive, when such a marvellous thing, called for a serious sort of joy, a fierce love, to push a way through closer to the truths and expose them. The dread of not being able pushed its rotting petals into his mouth and filled him with a sickness, and his hands moved, and he choked the kicking baby, and it was dead, and he was free from freedom once again.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Time itself.

It is possible to view growing up as a process of movement from one dependency to the next. First you are dependent on your parents for your ideas, you parrot them and defend them (a recent BBC2 documentary involving children being given camcorders to film themselves and their family showed this, with one young girl emphasising the positive aesthetics of a picture of her glamour model mother draped almost-pornographically over a motorbike). Then, school arrives. Who can doubt the structure that school gives to a young person, and our dependency upon it? At a determined age you must leave school, and this rightly considered a turning point in modern human growth. When this was coming up for me, a drastic change occurred in my idea of time.
Time might be termed a measurement of the processes of occurrence. Rather than measure the heat of something, or the size of something, or how fast something is moving, it measures the when. We derived it from solar movements, and it's very good for its own type of measuring.
However, it appears that the popular view of time is of a black hole that must be filled. An empty space that, if left empty, will annoy and perturb. This is the popular concept of 'boredom' - I am doing nothing, and if I am doing nothing, I am bored, and I am bored to be doing nothing. Time is what measures our duties from start to finish. It is the empty space between cycles of commuting, working, subsisting. A space that we must fill, or it will be relentless in troubling us. Time becomes an example of currency (albeit an extremely equal form of capital), one that must either be spent or lost.
I am concerned with how many people use their time. As long as it is used, we seem to think, it has been 'spent wisely'. In a world where many people feel that they 'learn life lessons' and 'grow as a person' through online RPG games, there is something dreadfully amiss.
'Carpe diem' is not a sentiment missing from most peoples' armories of bon mots. Sadly, this is where the phrase stays - something to nod at, agree with, murmur as a delicious secret, and then totally ignore. It is like everybody conspiring to talk of Shakespeare, profess their allegiance to his excellent plays, and then make sure to never, ever watch them. But it is a very important concept.
As I said above, my idea of time changed as school started to end. Not just anymore an empty space to be bridged between two necessary activities, such as the evenings after school which are filled with computer games, or the weekends which are to be filled with DVDs. Now the steady progression to the conclusion of my time within an institution which structured my life, which made my contemplate time as the progression towards the end of existence.
'How to fill my time?' is, in a sense, two questions. One expresses the logic, "I do not wish to be bored, and by doing nothing I will be bored, therefore I must find something to do". Time as tidying up the loose ends of existence so that our life is one long string from birth to death, always and forever occupied and never bored. The other expresses the loud, clarion call, "time is important". Time is a measurement of life, if life is treasured, so is time. Each golden drop must not just be spent but, perhaps, invested.
My problem is - how many times must we make this known before people take it up? How is it possible for any of us to hold on to the first idea, and amble meaninglessly on to nothingness?
Time itself is an area of hotly contested normative ethics. What should we do with our precious hours and minutes and seconds? That is to say, what can we do and who should we be?
Yes, these questions are an oppressive weight on our chest. They make us feel inadequate and unimportant. They express the fear, 'I am nothing, and am doing nothing'. But to consider them is like watching the horizon for signs of daybreak, a hope of now and a fear of never, and to act on the questions is to begin to do and be the best you can. My hope is that more and more people will come to ask them, as only then will anything ever really change.