Sunday, 29 July 2007

Growing Up

When you grow up, your heart dies. It's inevitable. – Allison in The Breakfast
When I first heard that line as a teenager, I decided to never let my heart die. Result? I'm not sure that I ever grew-up.

One of the recurring themes in Goth music is the fall from grace. I pondered this topic long and hard as a former Christian and therefore fallen, however the true fall from grace is that movement from childhood to adulthood. It is that point when the illusions of childhood disappear. We are cast from the Eden of parental protection and must fend for ourselves in the world.

I hold to the belief that what defines an adult is the ability to be self-dependent. In Nature, the purpose of parenthood is solely to prepare the offspring to be independent. Once accomplished, their spawn are chased away by the parent to be independent and self-reliant creatures. This purpose is true for the human animal as well. Since human survival is far more complex, parenting takes decades of preparation, but eventually, in theory anyway, the offspring must be chased from the familial nest. Though sometimes they run from it.

If that is adulthood, what then is childhood? The child exists under the protection of the parent until such time as the child can stand-alone. They do not worry about where the next meal will come from, making rent, or putting clothes on their back. In the prosperous West, children are also provided with entertainment in the form of computers, mobile phones, and sometimes even credit cards. Once the child leaves the nest, the parents may choose to continue to help them by getting them into their first flat or any variety of financial assistance as required.

In poorer families and cultures, childhood ends early as family needs require the child start contributing to the mutual survival. However, among the wealthy childhood may extend well into a person's twenties. But whether rich or poor, there comes a time when a person's needs are no longer provided for and he must stand alone.

Many months ago, I was reading an article on the topic of separation anxiety. It said that it is impossible for an adult to be abandoned because it is the natural state of an adult to be self-sufficient. You exist for no one and no one exists for you. This is easy to forget during a long-term romance, but quickly remembered when that romance reaches its inevitable conclusion. I say inevitable because all relationships end. You may be married to the same loving partner for forty years, but one day that person dies and you stand alone.

A quick word here that will no doubt anger my teenage readers. You are more independent than a ten year old but not as independent as an adult. So for the sake of this blog, you are still children. Sorry.

For children, childhood hardly seems like a paradise. That is because a child's world is very small and it expands as they age and gain experience. Unfortunately for some, their consciousness stops expanding at some point a bit prematurely. Hence those adults with childish notions. Anyways. For a child a spilled ice cream cone is the end of the world, but to adult it is just an annoying accident. The adult has perspective that the child lacks. Furthermore, the adult version of the end of the world is not being able to make a mortgage payment, loosing the kids in a divorce, or dying of cancer.

This applies to the child loosing his ice cream, to the teenage girl who "really really loved" some boy who breaks her heart. These are all learning experiences that bring us into adulthood step by bloody step. Perspective helps us to see these events within a greater context of reality.

These two ideas of perspective and personal responsibility form the essence of adulthood. Perspective is an aid to ones judgement allowing us to determine which events are important and which may be a pain in the ass, but are ultimately trivial. It also helps us to envision the long-term possible outcomes of our actions and weigh the likely results against present gains. Personal responsibility means knowing your obligations to yourself and others and taking credit for the consequences of those actions be they good or bad.

Perspective and responsibility manifest in the need to ignore ones feelings. A father supporting his family may not "feel" like going to work. He may even hate his job. However, he has a responsibility to his family and his perspective should tell him that if he did not go to work, then his life would unravel. So he ignores his feelings and just gets on with what has to be done. He may not be happy and it may not be fair, but it has to be done.

An employed teenager on the other hand may have no problem following his heart and pulling a sickie with little or no consequences unless it becomes a habit, and even if he is given the sack, he is supported by his parents until he finds another job. Parental protection allows him the freedom to do as he pleases.

The metaphor of the man suppressing his feelings to support his family exemplifies the adult experience. There are countless examples of moments when as an adult we must do something that we do not want to do and we must accept that as the nature of existence. Events may fall upon us that we must deal with despite our feelings. So we may say that being an adult is about being forced by life's circumstances to do what we do not want to do and deal with it.

Now for the personal anecdotes. I often use the analogy of emotions as being like a horse that must be broken-in. They have to be trained so that you can receive the benefits of your emotions without their potential destructive force. Far too often I have acted on a whim or not acted at all because I could not be bothered. I would rather sit and watch a DVD than write that important essay or fill in that government form. I acted as I felt like. As a result I never trained my emotions as they should be conditioned. I never said no to my desires and I resisted acting against my feelings. By following my heart, I never really grew-up.

I have learned tactics to keep my life running smooth and pleasant because I did not want to be put into a position where I would have to do something that I did not feel like doing. The events that cause me the greatest emotional grief are those events outwith my control that force me to act against my emotional inclinations. I feel this powerful swell of resistance within me. I throw an internal fit like a spoiled child in defiance to the mandates of reality. I try to weasel my way out of doing what must be done with the most erudite of intellectual justifications to fool myself and others, but are ultimately bullshit. The more I squirmed the harder it got and the more prolonged the consequences.

Adult perspective allows a person to see what must be done and provides the knowledge that matters will only get worse if it is not done. If I do not feel like paying a bill, then in the future that debt rises until it collapses upon me bigger and more destructive than before. Or if I do not feel like cleaning the kitchen the mess only accumulates. The same holds true of life and personal relationships. Deal with the problem or it will only get worse. By not incorporating that lesson into my life, I failed to train myself to act accordingly in those situations. Once the emotions are trained to that behaviour, then it becomes easier. By resisting, I made it harder to cope and never learned my lessons.

In terms of relationships, I have realised that all of my major relationships ended because the woman did not feel like continuing. There was no great fight, or abuse, or issues. Of course we both had our personal problems that contributed to these feelings, but these are things that could have been worked out, and I was willing to work them out. When these relationships ended, people pointed their fingers at me and said, "that is what you get for going after young girls".

Granted, I have yet to date anyone over the age of twenty-two, but I never really saw age as anything but a number. Now I see what they meant by "too young". In this context, I valued the relationship over my own feelings and pursued happiness within the context of that relationship. The women in question valued their feelings over the relationship and may have gotten carried away. Unlike a slightly more mature woman who would apply the perspective of experience to her feelings and work through the rough patches for the sake of a brighter future, these girls acted according to their feelings, just as I would do in a different context. I appreciate now that for a young girl these feelings untempered by experience are powerful things. Even the most stoic of these ex's could not resist eventually acting on her feelings. Here then my inexperience was a contributing factor as well by not taking her feelings into account and acting accordingly -- but that is another story.

By acting on feelings without applying perspective these girls may have thrown away a perfectly good relationship, who knows, but what I do know is that I need to grow-up and develop a more adult attitude and perspective towards existence. This does not mean turning my back on Romanticism, but it does mark the difference between an adult Romantic living in the real world to its fullest and most glorious extent and living a child's fantasy.

Romanticism at its core is about the aspirations towards personal greatness, however greatness comes at a cost. One must swallow ones transient feelings or resistence and do what must be done today in order to create a better tomorrow. We must do the work before we can reap the benefits. Where the child lives for today with no care to the future, the adult must manage today in order to create a future. That is the way of things.

I was asked the other day how I define strength. I answered that it is the ability to do what you decide must be done despite the resistence of your feelings. Such strength can be developed, but it takes time, experience, and practice. This is what is meant by growing-up. Accepting the unacceptable and learning the skills required to be an adult. By acting against the whims of your feelings your heart may die, but it really is inevitable, because we all have to stand-alone at some point and that means growing-up.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Let's Misbehave

You could have a great career, And you should; Yes you should. Only one thing stops you dear: You're too good; Way too good! If you want a future, darlin', Why don't you get a past? 'Cause that fateful moment's comin' at last...

-- Let's Misbehave, Cole Porter

Profit from the happiest time of your life. The happiest years of our pleasures are only too brief! If we are lucky enough to have enjoyed them, then delicious memories will console us and amuse us in our old age.

-- Philosophy in the Boudoir, Marquis De Sade

I have done some terrible things in my past, actions that I am not proud of doing, producing memories that burden my mind with guilt and regret for the price I paid for a moments pleasure. Wait a I haven't.

Sure I have not followed convention. Yes, I have morally challenged myself. Yes, I have sought-out the darker regions and experimented for the sake of experience. In short, I have lived. So why the self-condemnation? It's not me – it's Them! (No, not the giant ants from the 50's B-movie). Them/They, the ubiquitous rulers and judges of the world, the people who sit in darkened rooms laying down all the moral laws for society in an endless stream of "thou shalt nots" about what should or should not be.

I realised today that my regrets stem from two sources. The judgements of a significant other derived from their insecurities – thus causing me to blame myself that I dared to enjoy pleasure before I ever met her. And my self-condemnation for not being without blemish in my pursuit of personal perfection. But by what standard is character judged? Social mores or personal values? Certainly the latter.

I should in fact look back on those events that I traditionally labelled "failures" and see them as the experiences in life that they were. Experiences that many only dream about. Experiences of pleasure that should bring a smile in my old age and not the thorn of regret born of another's judgement of how things should be – be these juries real or imagined.

At the age of seventeen, I told myself that I did not want to live a life with regrets over life unlived. I also swore that when I matured I would not allow my heart to die and become consumed by bitterness. When I look back I have had those experiences and more. The only penalty for that pleasure was born out of the judgements of others and my own self-depreciating perception of how I "should" have acted. And what was born of this bad habit? Fear. The "what if's" that never manifested but whose prospects restrained me with fetters of worry for possible consequences of my pleasure.

You are your own standard of judgement. Not your family, not your lover, and certainly not Them. Your life and your pursuit of happiness is your own and for which you must take full responsibility for its successes and its learning experiences and learn to rejoice in both. Damn the expectations of others. It's your life.

I'm getting preachy again, so I will end this sermon with a quote from the Gospel according to Charles Baudelaire (Paris Spleen), "If you are not to be the martyred slave of Time, be perpetually drunk! With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please."