Commitment and place

WEDNESDAY, 25 MARCH 1998

In the first three years following my graduation from university, I struggled with commitment, or rather, with the absence of any significant commitment in my life. I had no clue to what I should commit myself. I was also reluctant to devote myself to something or commit to it if there were a vague possibility of failure.

If you don’t have a focus point in your life, something you’re committed to, you’ll do anything to change the situation, or you’ll do anything to lessen the effect this state of affairs will inevitably have on your sense of well-being. Shortly after graduating from university (which left me with a small mountain of debt), I went to Europe for a few weeks (more debt). Whatever I tried to achieve with the trip, it did not succeed. Then I spent more than a year wandering between places in the hope that “something will happen” to give me direction; in the hope that I might find something to which I can commit myself.

Eventually, I found my way back to a foreign land. Something had to be found to fill the void left by my lack of commitment. Or maybe I thought the mere fact that I was living abroad, away from the hassle of student loan creditors, away from even family and friends, would be enough – for the time being.

Alas, escaping does not work if you cannot escape from yourself. In my case, I could not escape the feeling that I don’t belong. If you’re not committed to something or someone, you’re not going to feel as if you belong. And if you don’t feel as if you belong, you’re going to experience what some call existential angst.

You can keep yourself busy for a while with a variety of things to make up for the lack of commitment in your life, but once the effect of these measures begins to fade, or if you get bored, you’re back at square one.

To what do people commit themselves? They commit to a god, an idea, a dream, an ideal, or to someone else, a group or even a subculture. That to which I want to devote myself ought to be significant and meaningful enough to keep my attention and to take hold of my imagination. It will also help if this focus point is of such a nature that, by keeping myself busy with it, I can provide in my daily needs.

I’m certainly a dreamer, but I am also realistic. I have seen enough, and I’ve experienced enough to know what kind of life awaits you if you are not free; if you’re not in a position to make choices and act on them. I know what a life looks like where you don’t know when you’re going to get evicted from your rental home, or when you’ll again sit down to a proper home-cooked meal; when you don’t know if the knock on the door might be the repo man; when you have dreams, but you don’t know whether a fraction of it will ever come true.

I can thus with a fair amount of certainty say that I am committed to the idea of freedom – freedom from debt bondage, freedom from poverty. I can go further and say that I am dedicated to attaining a position that will provide me with more options and to have access to the necessary resources to act on choices made; to have the ability to give more than I ask. It only makes sense to then also commit myself to a path that would lead to financial wealth – not as an end destination, but as a path to freedom.

Where is a better place to commit myself to the above-mentioned ideals than the piece of earth where I was born and where my deepest roots still lie anchored?

Find what works for you, and pursue it.

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Reconciliation with the monster

SUNDAY, 4 JANUARY 1998

What are the terms on which a Loner can reconcile themselves with society, or what are the rules of the game … or, if an alien lands in my room and asks me what he needs and what he should do to fit into society (presumably as a human being) what will I answer?

1) Money.

2) Conviction that it is worth the effort to fit in.

3) Knowledge of who you are and what you want do with your life, seeing that you wake from your slumber every morning to then “do things” for 16 to 18 hours, and ideally should make an effort to see continuity, pattern, direction, even meaning in the succession of days you function as a member of the species Homo sapiens.

Money for what?

1) Residence – a comfortable, safe space that can serve as your resting spot, your storage space and your refuge.

2) Food, clothing and other basic necessities.

3) Entertainment for if and when you need it.

4) Pension payments – in case you make it to old age.

5) Medical fund – in case you get sick.

6) Insurance – in case you have stuff that can get stolen.

7) Symbols of Stability – things like an address, a post office box, and a telephone.

… nearly forgot something without which you can barely survive, much less stand a chance to lead a productive existence! Confidence! Of course you need good self-esteem! Of course you need to believe in yourself and in your ability and potential to one day pitch camp on Higher Ground.

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IDEALISTS and their conflict

MONDAY, 24 NOVEMBER 1997

I am an idealist, but I live in a world full of corruption, injustice and inequality, with unideal relations between people, between people and nature, and even between people and themselves. In this world, I strive for perfect happiness, perfect love, a perfect life, even the perfect career for myself. This quest for perfection in a world so far from perfect inevitably leads to internal conflict – disillusion versus stubborn belief in the good and the possibility of something better.

Is perfect happiness attainable? Is it possible to achieve a perfect form of love? Is it possible to always, at all times, make the kind of impression on people you can subsequently describe as accurate according to the view you have of yourself? Is perfect faith an achievable goal that we should pursue? Are perfect relationships possible? Is it possible to always live up to your full potential?

I – the person asking these questions – am an idealist. My approach to life reflects a trend that says “yes” ought to be my response to these questions. What else should I do – give up on that which I strive for, and just assume that perfection is an unattainable myth? Should I be happy with whatever is offered, or whatever I have at that particular moment?

The problem, whether I accept it or continue swimming upstream in denial, is that the world is overflowing with imperfection. This forces me to face an unpleasant fact: The position of an idealist in an unideal world leads, in many cases, to confusion, loneliness, isolation and depression. That such a person displays a certain lack of success in dealing with this unideal world, that he displays an inability to engage in a creative, productive, mutually beneficial relationship with the world around him, should come as no surprise.

One option for the idealist is to withdraw – to retreat to a “smaller”, more easily manipulated world where he would be more at ease; where his sensitive nature won’t be afflicted by the occasional crudeness of life and the seemingly daily occurrence of injustice; where the dirty, contaminated hands of an unideal world can’t reach him; where he feels safe.

Some idealists take on the persona of the loner – the Solitary Man or Woman. This character is to a large extent only part of a cosmetic solution to the original problem: the inner conflict they experience brought on by the contrast between their expectations of how things should be and their ideals, and how things actually are.

* * *

How does one deal with such a disturbingly imperfect world? Do you accept and submit? Do you flee into the waiting arms and warm bosom of fundamentalist religion where all answers are dictated to you, and if appropriate pre-packaged answers can’t be found you are simply told, “God has a plan for everything” or “God is in control”?! Do you become a fugitive perpetrator of violence as a conscious or spontaneous response to imperfection and the humble efforts of ordinary people who try to cope in the only way they know? An anarchist who loathes and undermines government structures and institutions and efforts to enforce authority? A vandal who justifies his actions based on the widescale and inescapable destruction that is already part of modern day reality, and if not already in your face, will soon be?

Or do you pull into the driveway to collapse onto the couch minutes later for an evening in front of the TV? Do you become Gandhi or Stalin? Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar? Do you quit or do you commit? Commit to what? I’m going to drive myself crazy! Time for some tea and a cigarette …

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[For the idealist to take on the persona of the “loner” is more than just a cosmetic solution.

The character of the “loner” provides the person a temporary refuge. It is a measure that enables the person to do what they ought to do – to figure out a workable relationship with the world and to define it in a way they find acceptable. They must do so in order to utilize the inner conflict they experience because of the discrepancy between their expectations and their ideals on the one hand, and reality on the other, in a meaningful and hopefully productive way.]

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