Workshop my life

English: Offices of "The Scottish Widows ...

English: Offices of “The Scottish Widows Fund and Life Assurance Society” In Change Alley, EC3. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is another possibility I realise.

Many times in my life I’ve striven to achieve things from a competitive instinct and sense of ambition that seemed outside of me. They were there, and so I wanted them. Maybe it was satisfaction I sought, or a sense of achievement, even status, though I can never really recall thinking any of that. It was more simple, see it, do it, own it. Sometimes afterwards I would be left to ponder if I really wanted what I worked so hard to get.

If that was not what I really wanted, what did I really want?

This is the question I ask now in light of my last post, and the post a few days ago. Throughout I’ve considered it from the position that by and large, this was the real me, badly flawed, inclined to fuck up, and perhaps occasionally apt to adopt a role to make it work for me. What if it goes back further than that though? What if the man I am now isn’t the real, or original me? What if I’ve forced myself – for reasons I can’t begin to understand here – to become the person I am, and that, in effect, I have for years since acted from a position of hubris? When did I dam that river, or change its course – and why?

I’m considering something quite radical in my life. In my professional life, I’ll often conduct workshops on issues of vital importance to the business. We’ll sit down, I’ll ask questions, posit scenarios, and between us we’ll pull things apart and put them all back together again – hopefully in a much more meaningful and efficient way. That’s what I’m thinking of doing with my life. I’ll get some close friends together one Sunday afternoon, crack a few bottles of wine to help with the candour, and proceed then to pick me and life apart, and put it back together again. Who am I? I see myself one way, but others see something different. What are my strengths, my weaknesses? I’ll be calling upon opposing perspectives to frame my place. What do I need to change, what should I promote? Who is the core H, what do you love about him, and what don’t you?

From this I hope to get a more rounded and accurate perspective on myself. I may not like it, but then that’s the value in the exercise. Need to understand, and own up to things, before I can act on them. I’m at a certain stage of my life when certain subjects are more pressing. I’ve gone this far professionally, but should I go another way now? If I ditch the hubris, the pride, what does that tell me? Personally, what do I want? Do I want to screw around or settle down? How do I do that? What should my expectations be? Need some reality.

Now I don’t know what will come of that. And don’t know how true my speculations are. Am I am who I am? And who then is the original, if not the real, me? And can I go back? Do I wish to?

I don’t know the answers to that. I know all of us change as we go along. Whether the change in me has been natural or forced I do not know. I know that if I have made of myself something different that it would not be possible if the base elements were not in existence – I can’t make something different of myself if the materials do not exist. I may be different, but it may also be just an elevated, and slightly skewed, evolution of who I began as.

I’m curious to know though, can’t wait to learn: what do I really want?

Easy come, easy go

It’s odd to have no money when once you had plenty of it. It feels vaguely unreal, like an unconfirmed rumour. The memory is in the muscles still, that ease and certainty is there still, but now boxed in, fenced off. If it wasn’t such a pain in the arse it would be a point of great anthropological interest.

Still, I find myself quite dispassionate about it much of the time. It is greatly inconvenient, and even a threat to my health sometimes – but there is also something fascinating about it. It’s not so long ago that I was earning $7,000 a week. I fully appreciated what that meant, and was quite delighted by it – but it also had a warping effect upon me. If I wanted something I’d generally just buy it. I lived well, though not extravagantly. One effect it had was diminishing the value of money. No matter how much I spent I always ended the week with a lot more than I started it with. It was not that it was easy – I had  to work for it after all – but it sometimes felt unbalanced.

Now the shoe is very much on the other foot. I’d laugh about it if I could find the humour, but I can recognise something of the absurd in it. These days the value of money has never been higher for me. It’s a fact of life, strange as it is. I often reflect on how weird it is, how much has changed. I wonder if there is a moral in it, and think there must be. Above all there is something deeply humbling to descend from being one of the entitled few to being less than the ordinary man.

It was brought home to me today as I wandered around KLCC. I paused at the Zegna store and gazed at a navy blue jacket I had instantly fallen in love with. 18 months ago I’d have likely entered the store and bought it – expensive perhaps, but still less than a days work. I walked on. I passed by shop after shop that once upon a time I’d have stopped at and lingered in. Today there is no point to it. I ended up at the Kinokuniya store. As always I found some books I’d dearly loved to have purchased, but gone are the days I’d walk out with a bag of books worth a few hundred dollars. Today I weighed up the pros and cons, and reluctantly realised that the cons held sway.

Later I stopped at a toy store I’ve walked by every time I’ve visited thinking that the boys would love the stuff in here. I thought it again today, and so wanted to get a credit card out and buy the things I knew would delight them. I couldn’t though. I walked out vowing, next time.

You might think times like these would change me, and perhaps they have. I don’t know if I feel it though. There is scarcity where there was once abundance, and tough times in consequence – but you just deal with it.

There are plenty of times I get all wistful, no denying it. I get nostalgic sometimes about the days when all I ever had to do was reach for my wallet. I miss that utter and unconscious ease. One of the things I miss most is good food – I live frugally, and so, dully. But it just is. I make do, grumbling sometimes, sometimes utterly pissed off, but mostly looking to make the best of it.

I don’t know what it says about me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to those halcyon days of yore, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I’m certain that I’ll find myself in comparative comfort again before too long, the money once more flowing. It’s been a busy, challenging time all round, but I cope, I think, by sub-consciously thinking of this time as a season that will pass. It’s a threadbare season of trial and some woe, but it will pass, the sun will come again.

It’s not always as easy as that, but it seems my default setting. I don’t really understand any other way. I think it’s how it must be, but realise that mostly it is not. Right now I am losing, and have been for a while. I’ve not yet lost though, the game is yet afoot and I’m still in it. Why give up? Why believe it’s too hard? What choice do you have ultimately? Curling up into a ball is not an option, and besides, I still have designs on that Zegna jacket. One day it will be mine.

More wisdom, etc

I don’t say I always apply the lessons I’ve learned to my own life, but at least I know them. They may not work for everyone, but seems to me that what I record here is right for me at least, and possibly for many others too.

#4 Buy a house with an open fireplace

#28 In a game of bullshit, escalate. Don’t be the first to back off.

#70 Know the pleasures of the quickie. The kitchen bench, the car, Christ, somebody’s front garden. Man, got to be spontaneous. Give it life.

#54 Don’t speed in wet weather.

#126 If you have to settle for second best, go without.

#139 Thick and thin. If you cheer your team along in the good times you’ve got to stick with them in the bad. Same with people. No point being gone when they need you most. That’s the rule.

#173 There are two kinds of problems in the world: those you can do something about, and those you cant. No point worrying about what you can’t change, but act on what you can change.

#180 I’m a man and I write as a man. I have learnt certain things as a man and could be many of them apply to both sexes equally. This I say to men at least, my son, for them to remember when they feel that flutter in their heart. You see that woman you might like is like a bird in a tree. You stand below, you admire the beauty of the bird, and it’s song. The bird knows you’re there. It sings for you, for the attention if nothing more. You want that bird nestled safely in your hands. Often you think about that moment. Nothing seems finer, greater. Do not grasp for the bird. Do not scare the lovely bird away. You must earn its trust. Remain still and true. Try and coax it to you, but know it is the bird’s decision to leave the branch. Be there, earn its trust, let it flutter down to you of it’s own accord, because that is where it wants to be. Then you’ll know that feeling you dreamt of.

#241 As a philosophy I believe each man exerts free will. The course of his life is a direct consequence of his actions. Do not believe in fate or destiny; nothing is meant to be. It is not God that steers your way through life, but yourself.

What would Kant think?

Immanuel Kant developed his own version of the...

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I’ve been reading bits and pieces of the great philosophers lately, particularly the Germans. It’s interesting and sometimes provocative, though most philosophers seem incapable of communicating in anything but abstractions and dense prose. It’s as if clear exposition is against the key principles of modern philosophy.

I’ve often thought that philosophy is sort of pointless because it seems impractical. Why lock yourself in a room to postulate and pontificate about something you can actually do if you leave the room – it seems the very definition of navel gazing . In my muscular perspective the philosophy of life is expressed through the living of it. ‘Philosophy’ is not a tangible reality after all, but a perspective, and often a description of something that ‘just is’. It’s like a bunch of people looking to describe something – a platypus say – in abstract terms, defining it in arcane terms while the marsupial frolics in its billabong. As Freud might have said, sometimes a platypus is just a platypus.

Yet that is to take a simplistic and wrong-headed sense of the discipline, of which I’ve been guilty. Gravity just is, and no amount of analysis is going to change its essential qualities – and yet understanding it means more than just scientific enlightenment. Once we measure gravity, understand how it works and why, then we can begin to work with it ourselves. Understanding opens many more avenues to us. So too, I think, can philosophy.

Philosophy is not so much an explanation of how we live and interact, but why. It becomes more than a dry abstraction when it moves into how we might live. It’s a search for enlightenment.

For every philosopher there is a different philosophy, though many take from their predecessors and build upon it. Each has their own perspective, in part due to their education, their cultural inheritance, their teachers, their passions, the tenor of the times.

Marx is one of the more contentious, and influential figures in history. He certainly couldn’t be accused of sitting quietly in a room thinking. His was a kind of economic philosophy that led directly into social philosophy, and consequently, the rights of the ‘proletariat’. His was a philosophy that demanded action as outcome, which chickens came home to roost (and have been crowing since) at later times in different places.

There’s much to admire in Marx and Engels.  Smart cookies both and extremely erudite, much of what they struggled for then seems pretty tame these days, such has society advanced (though almost in contradiction to his predictions). Everyone has an opinion, especially when the outcomes have been so spectacularly historical. Marx is a bogeyman, and for much of the last hundred years communism, socialism and Marxism have either been rallying cries for social progress or descriptors for evil. That’s a big discussion with a lot of misinformation both ways. As a died in the wool western capitalist I’d have to suggest that most of it doesn’t really work, even when purely applied (which is to say, practically never). But then I’d also have to admit that there’s nothing inherently evil in communism et al, except that it seems to attract and propagate opportunist dictators or hard line fanatics. In either case the centralised state tends to the totalitarian, and much evil has been done. But I digress.

Getting back to pure philosophy I can agree and disagree with much of what the headline philosophers say – Hegel, Fichte, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard etc (Nietzsche is in his own box) – but the one philosopher I find myself most sympathetic to is Immanuel Kant. We live in a different time from his, 18th century Germany, there’s been a lot of history since and we’ve progressed far, and so we can come at understanding his concepts much easier now than we might have then. I think it’s valid to consider Freud and Jung and the like as philosophers, and it is their investigations which have helped open the door to philosophical understanding within the context of human psychology. Man may exist within the world, but he also exists within himself. Kant understood that, and Freud, Jung, as well as most philosophers, have expanded upon that since as pretty well the central principle of the discipline.

My reading confirmed one abiding disappointment in modern society. We don’t think about these things anymore. We live and consume. There’s no interest in understanding, the conversation and level of thought has been reduced to the tabloid. Indeed, intellectuality is actively frowned upon as being elitist in great sections of society. How destructive is that? This is one of my great beefs of the time. Man, I can live and do as much as society does, and at times I can do it in spades, yet intellectually, and perhaps philosophically, I feel out of step with all but a few.

It’s perhaps now more than ever that we need public intellectuals and philosophers to step forward to make sense of our world, to bring some order and understanding to how we have come to live. I wonder what some of the great intellectuals of the past would make of the world today with gen Y in the ascendancy?


During another night of odd dreams I felt at one juncture a sense of alarm. I was not dreaming at the time, and was close to being fully awake. From nowhere I felt a sense of doubt. Even half asleep I knew what it was about.

I have embarked on this risky course of going it alone. There is no certainty, no guarantee that it will be a success. I have known that all along but have put it to one side. It was not something worth considering. Instead I looked ahead, the Nietzschean dictum that “you ought to become who you are” my inspiration.

It was not wrong to doubt though. It was, and I guess is, perfectly understandable. Even as I write this I can feel a small part of that in me. I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know how things will turn out. And so on that basis the better part of me says forget it. I can’t wonder what might happen, I can only do all I can to make it not: to be successful. And I that’s what I have been busy with the last few days.

I know in the greater scheme of things – if there is any such thing – that a venture such as mine is worth every bit of risk if honestly pursued. I was reading some Marcus Aurelius in the bathtub (which sounds like an awfully pretentious line) and I came across a passage that summed up much of what I believe about employing myself. He asks the question: “Where you brought into this world simply to feel pleasure, that is, to be acted upon by feelings rather than to act?”

To act or be acted upon: that is the critical question. For me it is a simple answer, but not always an answer that can be easily enacted.

I learned a lot from my father without ever really taking much notice of it. Like osmosis I absorbed it without knowing it. He and I are different people, and there are times when I look back at some of the things he would exhort me to do with a smile on my face. He was strong on the motivational stuff, whereas I, typical of my generation, often thought it was all a bit silly. He was intense, sometimes fierce. Though I can be intense myself sometimes, I am a more laid back person than he. Notwithstanding those differences though I learned. Much of what he said became a part of how I came to conduct my own life. Thinking about it now I can summarise what all he taught me into a small but meaningful phrase: to live life with intent.

“Toward what end am I now making use of my soul?” Marcus Aurelius asks in another of his meditations. That’s the question I am I exploring now, isn’t it, and the question I have explored many times before in these pages (it’s hard to resist quoting another philosopher here regarding the unexamined life…).

Everyone has a different journey, but these questions frame mine. Because of how I was made I have sought meaning in my life, and meaning as I have defined it comes from acting, doing, risking. Meaning comes from inside. You are the things that are important to you. And as you continue on that journey you are further shaped by what resists you, or diverts your course. The learning never ends I have discovered.

And so while much of who I am and what I believe has come from from my father, that raw stone has been sculpted into something that is uniquely me by my experiences. This is where I stand today, at this point in development. More will come, more that I can only wonder at, and just as I don’t know what the future is I cannot be sure of the ultimate me that comes from all of this. And it doesn’t matter. I am me now, that’s what matters.

The me now is taking a risk. It may come off, it may not. I know I will do everything in my power to make it right. The important thing is to be true. That’s something that hasn’t changed in all these years. To be authentic. To live with intent. To be brave and open yourself up to possibility. The learning never stops, and in this last year I have learned a lot.

There is another of Old Marcus’ meditations that is where I feel I want to be as a man, and it this past years experiences that have made this so:

“…Recall to your mind all that you have passed through and all that you have been able to endure; and that the story of your life will soon come to an end, and that your duty will be accomplished. Recall, too, all the beautiful things you have seen and how many pleasures and pains you have seen through, how many honours you have turned away from, and how much unkindness you have repaid with kindness.”