SUNDAY, 25 FEBRUARY 2001
An Honest Attempt At Solving A Nasty Problem/A Preliminary Investigation Into The Purpose And Meaning Of Life, And What We Have To Do To Lead Fulfilling And Happy Lives
~ An Ode to the Movies ~
“Real life is not like in the movies where you get a realisation and your life changes the next day. In real life, you get a realisation, and your life changes a month later.” ~ From Postcards from the Edge
A few days ago, at a quarter past one in the morning, I gave myself a deadline: at half past one, I had to have an answer to the question of what I want to do with my life. I took up position on the porch, and smoked a cigarette. Half-past one came and half past one went, as expected, without any progress in my investigation. Help, or inspiration, would have been welcomed with an open mind.
A film I had seen a few months ago came to mind as a possible indication of how to look for an answer. The film is about a bunch of software engineers, and how they struggle with the question of the value of their lives. (As it happened, one character is a little more obsessive about the topic.) During one conversation, they discuss the difference between what they are currently doing with their lives, and what everyone would consider being more ideal for them. In other words, if they don’t have to while away at least eight hours per day, five days per week in office cubicles for an income, what would they do with their time? One character mentions that a teacher once asked them what they would do with a million dollars. The answer, in theory, would have given them an indication of what career they should follow. For example, if one had said he would fix old cars then that was suppose to mean he should become a mechanic. (Don’t you get the impression sometimes that life is a white elephant? Someone gave you this thing we call “life”, but you’re not sure what to do with it and throwing it away is not an option.)
Inspired by this bit of advice, I asked myself the following question: If I had a million dollars, how would I spend my days and nights?
Now, this happens to be a cloud upon which I often fall asleep at night, and preliminary answers are always the same – buy my parents a large house and give them enough money so they can retire, give my two sisters enough money so that they never have to worry about money again, buy myself an old building, travel for at least six months, see all the places I’ve always wanted to see, build up an international network of lovers … and then I usually fall asleep.
After an hour or so of considering what I would do with a million dollars, I could not come up with a better answer than the usual lineup. I knew these are all short-term goals. If I’m done buying houses and giving away boatloads of money, the goals are no longer valid.
So let’s say my parents and my sisters are comfortable for the rest of their lives, I’ve seen the world, and I’ve built up an international reputation, how will I keep myself busy? Or maybe I should go further and ask, what shall I do to give meaning to my life?
I then thought of another movie where some suburban fellows from a big city reckon it will do them good to chase some cattle across the plains. During this adventure, they meet an old cowboy. One of the city folk, who is also contemplating the Big Question, thinks an old cattle man ought to know the answer. The latter ponders for a moment, then raises a single finger in the air. “One thing,” he says. The city guy waits with bated breath for the rest of the answer. When the rancher fails to finish his sentence, he asks him what the one thing is. “You’ve got to figure that out for yourself,” the old man replies.
My own views made me comfortable with the idea, so my sights have increasingly been set on identifying a single thing. In fact, the One Thing Theory has become an almost dogmatic part of my thought processes on the Higher Questions of Life. I was convinced that, whatever the answer, it can only be one thing.
By the time I went to bed (at about half past four), I had an idea: to start a business that sells documentaries, music videos, travel programs and films on DVD, maybe a mail order business so that I don’t have to sit in a store every day of the week. This would cover my interests in history, music, movies and current affairs. I also thought if I had to tell people this is my ambition, the goal I want to pursue, they would find it acceptable; it would sound like the kind of response they would want to give if anyone asked them about their goals and ambitions. We all know people who go on endlessly about a restaurant they want to open, or a coffee shop or a bookstore, even a shoe store. Few of us are in the habit of laughing in the faces of people with such ambitions, and we rarely think their dreams are ridiculous. Such ambitions make sense. They will have something to keep them busy most of the time, and they will probably enjoy being in an industry that serves good food, or they will find it pleasing to stay up to date on the most commercially successful books of the day. And everyone knows this kind of ambition, if successful, will generate income for the owners and their families.
The notion of sufficient capital to fund whatever you want to do had thus brought a preliminary answer. Hoping that the answer would hold until brunch, I drifted off, dreaming of shelves filled with documentaries, music videos and other interesting items.
Next part: The purpose of my life – part one (b)