Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Monthly Column- Part 1

Apparently, my photo came on an American theatre screen. Varun told me. And that's thanks to this writing gig Bujjimama got me. He just started writing this column and he wanted me to furnish a bio for him in third person. I did. Then he told me to contribute a monthly column as well. I said I couldn't because I didn't have the discipline. He told me that's precisely why he wanted me to write. So here's my post for July.

--


Life as a Checklist


People daydream a lot. It is their one way to escape the seeming pointlessness of everyday life. And to replicate the movies inside their head in the real world, they invariably consort to the checklist. You know, stuff like:


1. Learn Data Science to get a high paying job
2. Talk to S's father about our marriage
3. Backpack around Europe
4. Exercise regularly and have a great body
5. Read the Proust oeuvre before I die


You know what they're like. All of you have them. Checklists are great, they give us a purpose in life, a list of objectives to achieve, carve a path through the wilderness. But they are the most foolproof way to get depressed. Show me any man and I'll show you a list of unmet goals. We know better than to assume that all our lives will be awesome if we check every one of those goals. And yet we keep writing them down, keep pushing the timelines, keep scratching them off. I suppose we don't know any other way to live.


As kids, our parents and the social circle created those checklists for us. And the method of implementation was coercion or castigation. Either I'll give you something if you achieve this, or if you're not a certain way we will not let you enter this exclusive club. And so the primary focus of childhood and adolescence is to achieve the goals already set out- learning to play the guitar, breaking in to prestigious colleges, buying that fancy bike and the like. But as we grow older and become more entrenched in our real selves, whatever they may be, and are comfortable in our little social circles, we are faced with the daunting task of taking up new targets and reaching them.


 "I— finally, I have the body that I want, and that's a thing people really covet. It's a hard thing to achieve, and I did. And I'm going to tell you how to have exactly the body that you want. You just have to want a shitty body. That's all it is. You have to want your own shitty, ugly, disgusting body." -Louis CK


That's one way to get through the problem- With hedonism and indifference. If I have to have ambitions, let me be insouciant about them. If I can't achieve them, let me look down upon them. I call it The Dude Way (for those of you uninitiated, I can't recommend the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski enough). It's simply letting the Id take over. I think it's a great survival mechanism only if the bloody Superego didn't intervene from time to time. 


We want to achieve things in life because our advanced minds keep telling us there's more to life than just Self-Preservation and Reproduction. We seek acceptance of people we look upto, we try to build narratives around our lives so that we are remembered even after we're gone, we yearn for freedom from the repetition of everydayness. And for that we want to be a certain way. Which is precisely the root of the problem. We don't want to do something as much as be seen doing something. The focus of our lives has shifted from the being to appearing. Geniuses are exempt from this problem because they seem to be enamoured by the act. But the rest of us mortals aren't passionate enough to be obsessed by one activity and lack discipline to work on it at the cost of everything else. And so we seek to emulate them. When an act becomes play, it is ego-annihilating. When an act becomes work, it becomes ego-inflating. 


All of life is, essentially, a balance between surrender and discipline. How do we reconcile previously decided goals with present temptations? If my past me wanted to ride around the country on a motorcycle because of a romantic image in his head, and now that I have the bike and the time to do but don't have the inclination to do it, is it because I've outgrown that phase or I'm too scared to get going?


I once knew a man who said the moment you get something is the moment you lose it. The pursuit gives meaning to the thing being pursued, gives purpose to the pursuer. And that's how I see checklists too. They're just a random collection of traits and things we wish we had. Once we've achieved them, all that remains is the void. So all that we can do is keep making new ones. For what we intend to seek and who we wish to be defines the personality of our beings.