Monday, 12 November 2007

Comfort Be Damned

The life of a Romantic is not a comfortable one. What is comfort anyway? Comfort is the flat line. It is not bad and not good, it's just okay. Comfort is that warm bed you do not want to get out of in the morning. Comfort is nice, easy, steady, predictable. Don't get me wrong, comfort is a wonderful thing. The problem is when we get too comfortable.

One of the driving forces of Romanticism is aspiration. The idea that we can become more, have more, achieve more. It is about focusing on and aspiring to our values. The opposite of Romantic is mundane, meaning routine, boring, predictable. In other words, comfortable.

I am reminded of the Lotus eaters from The Odyssey. Odysseus and his crew were swept onto an island inhabited by hippies. These people sat around in a serene narcotic state eating lotus fruits and flowers . They invited some of the crew to eat the lotus, and in doing so they no longer wanted to return home so Odysseus had to force them onto the ship for some cold-turkey drug rehab.

This is taken a step further in the film Serenity. On the terra-formed planet Miranda, the government had put a chemical called Pax into the atmosphere processors. As a result the inhabitants became so comfortable that they all laid down peacefully and died.

There is a story, which may or may not be true, that the city of Glasgow's Italian population arrived during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries when immigrants bound for New York were either left in Glasgow by untrustworthy captains or the ship stopped in Glasgow and the passengers thought, "This'll do."

In life we have dreams of going someplace, achieving something, or creating something, however there comes a point when we stop far from our destination and say, "This'll do." We settle for the comfort zone and it becomes our life. It becomes our little Miranda and eventually our soul dies. 

Perhaps this is why Romanticism is so often associated with the young. They have yet to reach that comfort zone and give-up. Next thing you know their little comfort zone fills-up with the spouse, the mortgage, the kids, and all the trials those things entail until the day comes when the kids move out, the spouse is either gone, dead, or hates you, and you look around wondering what happened to your life.

Of course it does not have to be like that. The Romantic is about the pursuit of values. If having a domestic life is your value, then you will find your happiness there. But if such a life is not chosen, but rather just happens because it is expected or comfortable, then it will suck the life out of you as surely as any opium haze.

I'm considering creating a viewing list of films, television programs, and documentaries that exemplify the way of the Romantic. One of these would be the documentary series, The Seven Wonders of the Industrialised World. For those curious, the wonders are: The London Sewer system, the Bell Rock Lighthouse, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Transcontinental Railroad, The ship The Great Eastern, the Panama Canal, and the Hoover Dam. Of these glories of the mostly Victorian/Edwardian Period, two improved the quality of life in term of sanitation and power and the other five involved transportation, but all were about the creation of something more, something better, the creation of values against impossible odds and in spite of defeats and setbacks. Sometimes I think to myself, "if Roebling can build a bridge, then I can get out of bed and get some writing done."

My regular readers will no doubt see patterns recurring over and over again in my blogs as I find myself repeating the same mantra. The way of the Romantic is like a religion in that it places demands upon your character. It tells you the kind of person you should be and constantly aspire towards in order to live the Romantic lifestyle.

To avoid the mundane life, you must be willing to live outside of your comfort zone always pressing for more -- a greater realisation of your values. This is more than just material values, but personal values as well, values of character. This requires you to live fearlessly in order to achieve more. It requires you to place your pursuit of happiness ahead of the expectations of others. You must live your life on your terms and be willing to discard anything or anyone that prevents or does not support you in this pursuit. This is easier when your adversary is a challenge or a threat, but not so easy when your foe is comfort and ease.

Oh, it is so easy to play the Romantic. The Mundanes are dazzled by any extraordinary display. What is truly difficult is to actually be a Romantic. I have read that if you are not born a gentleman, then it takes a tremendous amount of work to become one. Seeing as being a gentleman is almost synonymous with being a Romantic, the same holds true. Some people are born with a natural temperament and upbringing conducive to Romanticism, but the rest of us have to work at it. However, the work is pleasurable, fulfilling, and life enriching. I'm not saying that life should not be serene, peaceful, and yes even pleasant. Just don't get too comfortable.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Spirit of Fear and Loathing

Over the past five years I have been exploring the Romantic and many of the concepts I've discovered I have been working through in the writing of countless notes, a few drafts of my book chapters, outlines for an e-zine, and within these blogs. All this is an attempt to truly understand the way of the Romantic and to preach that gospel. This subject goes beyond literature and popular culture. It is beyond the Gothic that attracted me to it or the films, books, and characters that have inspired me. It is about understanding a way of living one's life gloriously.

Ayn Rand wrote in The Romantic Manifesto that Romanticism was all about the pursuit of greatness and the desire to make life more interesting. Here she makes the mistake of most philosophers. They tell you what but not how. How do you achieve greatness? What is the measure of greatness, or success for that matter? How does one live a life less ordinary? My regular readers will no doubt suspect what I will write as the key concept in living such a life. Yep, it's Values.

Mathew Sweet, the author of Inventing the Victorians, wrote "Victorian culture liked to improve everything and everyone. If there was data to be analysed, you can bet someone would be analysing it." The Romantic Era, also known as the Victorian period, was a time of incredible advancements in human civilisation on every front of human endeavour. It was a time of creating values. That was the driving Spirit of the Age – or zeitgeist.

The Romantic Era ended in Europe with World War I. Words, statistics, and pictures fail to truly convey how devastating the war was to European culture. With it, the dreams of an era came crashing down and the dawning of the first age of globalisation scarcely had a chance to take a breath. The United States was not as affected by World War I, so there Romanticism persisted throughout the 1920's until the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

The long century of Romanticism was over and a new spirit came to dominate this new age. Imagine living a life of values when suddenly your entire world comes crashing down. You tell yourself that you reached too high, too far, too fast. So you retreat from your values and the pain you believe they caused. What values you have left you cling to in fear of loosing them. Welcome to the 20th century. Welcome to the zeitgeist of Fear.

After World War I, we feared the Fascists, had another world war, then we feared the Communists, had a cold war, and now we fear the terrorists. We fear international companies, we fear the government, we fear the wild youths on our streets, we fear for our souls, we fear the break-down of morals and civilisation, we fear global warming, we fear for our children, we fear the loss of our relationships, we fear technological progress, we fear an energy crisis, we fear for our safety and securities, we fear humanity, and we fear the past and the future. Ever notice that no one accuses anyone of cowardice anymore? Where the Victorians saw challenges and opportunities, we see a threat.

The thing about zeitgeist, is that it refers to the spirit of an age. It is a generalisation. The 20th century is filled with examples of men and women of courage pursuing their values, but they are the exception and not the rule.

In my last blog, I wrote about the choice we have to live our lives in pursuit of our values or to live a life motivated by fear. Remember that fear is an imagined threat to our values. It's not real. As an emotion, all fear is saying is to be careful. It pumps your body full of chemicals to prepare you to take action of either fight or flight. The danger comes when the threat is wholly imaginary and we allow our fears and insecurities to get the better of us. Brooding over our fears only fuels the fires of worry until we are consumed by what-if's and maybe's. Next thing you know, you have unconsciously brought your fears to fruition. Most people would rather be right than happy.

A word about insecurities, we feel insecure when we are faced with a challenge that we do not believe ourselves to be capable of dealing with. This is not to say that we are or are not actually capable, just that we do not have faith in our ability to cope with that which we fear. This lack of self-belief will almost always secure failure, and failure breeds more insecurity and thus creates more things to fear.

It is important to see how you frame your situation. Framing does not change or ignore the facts at hand, it just looks at them from a different perspective. Do you see opportunity where others see failure? Do you allow your past "failures" and "mistakes" to weigh you down, or are they simply part of your learning process? Do you see something to fear or a challenge to overcome and thus prove your efficacy and right to exist? Positive framing is not about self-delusion or blind optimism. It's about learning to see reality in a way that will promote your success.

What is success then? What is greatness? The measure of your success is your personal happiness. It has nothing to do with the accumulation of wealth, status, fame, or love. Happiness is a response to the acquisition of your values, if you make a fortune at a job that does not enable you to achieve your values, then the money is nothing.

The other day I had a brief chat with a friend of mine. I told her that she was an inspiration to me. I met her when she was seventeen and a student at Glasgow University, but she wasn't happy there. I encouraged her to follow her dream and apply to the Glasgow School of Art. I remember how nervous she was when she did her paintings for admission. We only spoke on rare occasion in the years that followed, but she kept me up to date with events at art school. She recently graduated with accolades poured over her, including a very favourable review in the newspaper and a purchaser of one of her paintings set her up in her own studio. Last week she told me that her social life is non-existent and her relationship with her boyfriend is suffering, but she is the happiest she has ever been in her life.

What I admire about her is all the hard work she put into pursuing her values and I am happy for all the rewards she has earned from it. So many people I encounter have dreams, but they are not willing to work for them. They complain and moan that their life is not what they want or they criticise others who succeed where they fail. They blame others, or their circumstances, or their past. Anything to keep them from doing the work required to earn the happiness that they desire.

Now here's what really sucks. I started life like that. I believed that I was destined for greatness so I expected everything would just be handed to me. When it didn't come or opportunities fizzled I found myself blaming everyone and everything else. I lived life on the edge. No, not the really cool edge. The edge of becoming homeless. This formed a pattern of behaviour that has governed my existence for nearly twenty years. I clung to any shelter, any comfort zone, any shit home, any shit job, and any unproductive relationship became a dependency. I lived in an impoverished existence because of my fear.

Okay, I am well aware that I have created a body of work and that I have positively influenced the lives of others over the past twenty years. I have done remarkable things and I have had noteworthy experiences. I have grown in wisdom and understanding through these years. The problem here is what my teachers consistently said about me throughout my school years, "Daniel has so much potential, he just needs to apply himself." It's not about all the positive things I have done or accomplished, it's about achieving my values – and I haven't.

As per usual, I am not preaching to you from the mountaintop but from the factory floor. And I say that we must reject the spirit of this age. Reject fear, complacency, excuses, paranoia, and cowardice. Fear is the mind killer.

The proper Neo-Victorian gentleman is gallant. Although gallantry is defined as courtly conduct, it is also defined as bravery. The gallant man sees no situation or person as a threat to himself, which is a testament to his inate sense of self-worth. Wit and charm are his weapons of choice rather than anger or defensiveness. This is the attitude we must seek to cultivate in our daily lives. Train your mind to focus on the pursuit of happiness instead of protecting yourself from your fears. Look at possibilities and opportunities and not worries. Know that you will fail, know that you will experience set-backs, but do not allow these things to erode your confidence or determination to achieve your goal. As the saying goes, there is no failure, only feedback.

Romantics have always been viewed as rebels. How much more now than ever before when the entire world seems to be reacting to those things it fears rather than those things it wishes to achieve? The true rebel is the one willing to stand-up not for rebellion's sake or as a fashion, but to promote his values against those of the majority because he knows that he is right. Think of how unpopular the Romantic/Neo-Victorian values of individualism, capitalism, and humanism are these days. However it is through these values that the world may be saved from the shackles of its own fears.

How can Romantics change the world? By courageously pursuing and creating their personal values and thus providing inspiration to others to do the same. Those who will not be inspired be damned. This is the glorious life Romanticism offers.