Something I read recently set the creaking gears in my mind to whirring and grinding: it was a reminder that each of us was the author of our own lives. Not an Earth-shatteringly new idea perhaps, but it had me pondering both the degree to which it is true, and also the implications of such a role.
There are numerous factors that make us the person we are: our genes, gender, sexuality, race, upbringing, social position, wealth, education, and the chance circumstances of one’s early life must all play a part.
Clearly an orphan, growing up in poverty in some war-ravaged corner of the globe, will have a very different experience of life and very different opportunities to the privileged offspring of comfortable upper-middle class professionals in a sleepy Surrey village. So we are certainly not all starting from the same place and with the same degree of literary freedom, when it comes to the authorship of our own tales.
Our lives tend to be ruled by habits. I’m not just talking about a fondness for junk-food, booze, or cigarettes et al, I mean the tendency to repeat any rewarding (or at least not-too-painful) behaviours, over and over again, ad nauseum.
It often seems to be our lot to follow the path most travelled and to boldly go where we have been many times before.
Of course one can try consciously to break free from the habit of being habitual, perhaps by cultivating the more impulsive and adventurous aspects of one’s nature. Although this in itself could become a habit.. You just cannot win.
Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”
I heard about this guy called Gary, who grew bored with the same old routine every day. So he started trying to shake things up by breaking old habits and diligently trying new approaches. Two months in and he was spotted leaving his office job in the city by abseiling down the outside of the building, dressed in a gorilla costume (no mean feat when you work on the twenty-third floor).
Yesterday felt like a day of strangeness and magic. First came a great deluge that threatened to wash away the parked cars and the occasional cyclist in an almost biblical-style flood. I stood under cover, caught between my local store and home after returning from work. I was listening to some sublime electronica at the time, a unique soundtrack to the cascades of water splashing and bouncing off roads and pavements. For a few minutes I just stood and watched, mesmerised by the experience. I found I was smiling broadly and felt an easing of the hangover headache that had dogged me all day. It was just a moment of subtle, indefinable magic.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the downpour ceased and I broke cover and headed the few hundred metres home, trying to avoid lake-Ontario-sized puddles. A rainbow appeared briefly above our block of flats, a fitting appearance at the end of Copenhagen’s Gay Pride week.
I will backtrack slightly to me leaving the cafe where I work, about an hour beforehand. I ran into a lady of mature years, standing outside. She wanted to know more about the place. It turned out she was a fellow Brit and after basic pleasantries were exchanged, I told her all about our lovely little non-profit cafe and the many activities we host within. The lady seemed most pleased at my invitation to come and sample our food and perhaps make some new friends. “You are my angel of the day” she announced, in a warm northern accent, and I was perfectly happy with this description. I have been called lots of things, but don’t often get called an angel.
I’m sitting on the suburban train into the city, scanning the headlines on the free-sheet when the guy sitting opposite morphs into a chicken. That’s odd, I think to myself, I would have seen him more as a lizard, or perhaps a snake. Something about his skin, and those eyes…
I look to my left to see if the student with the noisy headphones has noticed. She turns to look at me and quacks a couple of times, before preening her feathers, now shimmering in the early morning sun filtering through the graffiti-covered window. Very odd indeed.
The thought crosses my mind that perhaps my local 7-11 store, in an effort to maintain a competitive edge, have taken to adding magic-mushroom croissants or LSD-laced lattes to their breakfast options. Although I don’t recall seeing or ordering either.
New year’s eve is often a time of reflection and even regret, as well as anticipation and hope for the year to come. But we can only live in the present, so as a great sage once said:
“Be not afraid for the future or regretful of the past, for the past was once the future, and the future will soon be the present, until it quickly becomes the past, again. In this way there is no past, present or future. Or something.”
Wise words indeed and ones we can all easily choose to ignore.
We lost many wonderful people in 2016, including some personal heroes like David Bowie. I suspect we also lost a bit of faith in human nature, with the UK’s Brexit debacle and the US presidential election demonstrating once again how the masses can be manipulated by ruthless sociopaths and morally bankrupt media organisations to vote against their own best interests. We now live in a post-truth world we are told, although I’m not sure if that is true or not.
Life has a tendency to string you along for a while, giving the impression that it’s all rather predictable. Then one day you wake up and find you’ve turned into a giant insect and wham! The world is suddenly a very different place.
Of course not everyone has an experience quite as extreme as Kafka’s unfortunate protagonist Gregor, in his story The Metamorphosis. For most of us those unexpected events that you didn’t see coming may be relatively common, although still life changing. You lose your job, get in a traffic accident or break up with a partner and suddenly the sense of stability is gone and all bets are off. It reminds you of just how fragile a construction our lives can be and how a single decision or chance event, somewhere back in time, can potentially ripple through the universe like a personal tsunami, overturning your plans and hopes like so many little boats.
There was a survey a while back that showed that a quarter of the American population believe that the sun revolves around the Earth, and not the other way round. This was of course the mainstream view until our old chum Nicky Copernicus upset the apple-cart with his heliocentric model, published in the 16th century. At last the Earth was put in its rightful place, although not everyone was thrilled with this particular advance in human knowledge. There were certainly some major grumblings from the Catholic church. Still, at least Mr C managed to avoid the fate of his defender and fellow astronomy clever-clogs, friar Giordano Bruno, who apparently was just too much of a rebel for the church and had his chestnuts roasted on an open fire, along with the rest of him.