#30 Letter to Youth

One day someone is going to tell you to believe in yourself, even though you don’t know what that means exactly. After all, in the first place you mightn’t be so sure of what you are, never mind what it means to think of yourself as something to believe in. So here’s a bit of background. You are the last in an unbroken string of human beings stretching back 200,000 years (1). If that seems like a long time, it’s because it is. And here’s the good news; things are better today for human beings than at any other time in the 200,000 years we’ve been around, which is partly why you are something to believe in.

You might be asking, how do I believe in myself? Its a good question, and many of the people who came before you asked a similar one. They didn’t always ask out loud, but as you’ll come to understand, people do a lot of things without being able to say what it is exactly that they’re doing. Often people are trying to make things better for themselves, and for their families and communities as well. The biggest challenge to making things better is change. Because everything is always changing, kind of like the weather.

Now, there are lots of people, the earth is big, and there isn’t one way to do things. Different people have different ways of finding food and building houses, different ways of speaking and even different versions of better. So one thing we’re always working on is ways to be free. The thing to remember is this; no matter how different people seem, everyone has a place. Even you.

Part of your place is where you come from, the rest is where you’re going, in the middle is your adventure. It will cause you some pain to realise that the place you come from is not as good as it could be. That’s part of growing up, its partly why you try to make things better and partly why you are something to believe in. You’re going to have to leave that place. If you’re lucky, the people there will encourage you. One day you will return.

But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. You’re young, and there is no need to rush these things. Time will have its way of telling you when to move and in which direction. If you’re ever lost, sit down and listen. Take note of what is calling your attention, gather those fragments together and organise them, which might mean you write them down. Or draw them, or turn them into something that speaks to you. Then let that go, which might mean giving it away, lest you confuse yourself with it. Remember you are the process by which the place you come from turns into the place you’re going, you are not any of the things you find along the way, which is partly why you are something to believe in.

From time to time you might encounter groups of people working together to try and solve particular problems. These are causes; and you might like to get involved. Beware of causes that demand self-sacrifice, which are all causes that believe people are the problem. They are wrong. People are not the problem; people are things to believe in. Which isn’t to say that people should always be believed, because as you’ll come to understand, people are always telling stories. 

As they get older, like people, stories get shorter. Two of the oldest stories are also two of the shortest. They are as follows. First, things were better before. Second, the world is coming to an end. Pay close attention to people who tell such stories, there is a reason they're always told, partly as conditions for improvement, partly as conditions for freedom. See, just like you, freedom is something to believe in. Its not a place, its a process, just like you. Its a way forward, a course negotiated between sets of opposing values, which we call the two hands of our body politic.

The right hand is cautious, it holds onto the past, places freedom in the individual and maintains firm boundaries. The left hand keeps those same boundaries flexible, places freedom in collective responsibility and reaches for the future. Both hands are necessary, each protects the other from its particular tyranny, each reminds the other that neither is the head. We make sure neither writes the word truth with a capital T, nor makes people the problem. Such is the nature of our freedom machine, and it works pretty well.

In fact, much of what you’ll come to know will emerge from dialogue, so it helps to have friends you can believe in. That requires learning to play, and the best way to play is fair. Here’s how it works. All games have rules, even though you mightn’t know exactly what they are. You’ll know when you’ve broken a rule because the person you’re playing with looks at you funny, or maybe even tells it to you straight. That’s okay, learning the rules is part of playing the game. If you notice that someone with whom you’re playing is making up the rules as they go, ensuring only they get to decide who’s playing fair, it might be that person is playing a different game to you, one that only they can win. People like that can’t be trusted. If you notice that someone with whom you’re playing is breaking all of the rules all of the time, it might be because that person is also playing a different game to you, one that involves breaking the rules all the time. People like that can’t be trusted either. If you are either of those people, you will find it hard to make true friends. Either your fiends will be scared of you, or they will want to be you. You’re better off playing fair.

Lastly, things are always more complicated on the ground. Its why people keep their feet there. Its where you’ll be most of the time, stumped by ordinary complexity. Then you should know not only that you have a place but that you have a family too. Even if you don’t. I know that’s confusing. But the most important thing is to find someone in whose eyes you see something of yourself, and in whose fears you see something of your own, and to let that person be vulnerable in your presence to the complexity of on the ground experience. There is love in that, and love is something to believe in, just like you.

Its Pretty Big  (2018)

Its Pretty Big (2018)

(1) This line references a quote by Dr Jordan B Peterson. The full quote is ‘you are the last in an unbroken string of successful reproducers dating back 3.5 billion years.’ That line, along with Dr Peterson’s delineation of the psychological significance of paternal resurrection as mythological trope has been of profound significance for me in my own understanding of culture and identity.

#29 Wolves Underwater

They say the ground is a thin line between skies. A narrow bridge. The water either side is impossible to grasp because it moves unpredictably and occasionally with intent to test the integrity of the bridge. Or to steal the innocence of small boys - who, having taken only a few steps - are still unable to speak up.

It would be remiss to lay all the blame on water. Its often other people who betray the illusion that everything is okay. Some of everything is not okay, and I suppose that’s okay, so long as its understood. 

But back to innocence. What tends to happen is this: following its removal, innocence descends, and among creatures at the bottom of the sea it transforms into a wolf. A similar thing happens to cats who run away. Wolves are hungry, but like small boys they know not how to speak. All they have is hunger and for having grown up in the water they know to unsettle things. Which is what they do.

On the surface that looks like children possessed by uncontrollable ferocity then suddenly silent and passive. We call that unregulated. Or acting out. But he’s a good kid, we say. Whatever that means. These days we recognise in the first place good kids need somewhere safe. Perhaps we give them a story about keeping their cool the next time sub-aquatic canine monsters fiddle with their circuitry.

If all this seems a bit abstract consider that sub-aquatic canine monsters are far likelier to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than kids in safe places who keep their cool. Because one day around 13 that monster knocks on the safe place door and says to the boy, “Wanna see with my eyes?”

The boy barely knows his name at this point. And the wolf’s eyes are supernovae. So he agrees, and besides, everyone’s doing it. Then years later when a natural conspiracy leads the wolf down memory lane he finds himself outside the house where he used to be a boy, and the weight of what went wrong is enough to press coal halfway to diamond. The remainder has to be performed by hand. So you can forgive a wolf for opting out.

Anyway there’s another road. Its the second half of the first story. See, the wolf replaced stolen innocence. Its a fragment of overcompensation for a moment of weakness when words didn't speak up. Think of it like a voice box gone rogue. Or a lost piece of personality. Try to forgive its aggression, not much separates aggression and assertion, only more time to figure things out. And more than anything, what was stolen from that boy was time. And now he’s haunted by a sub-aquatic canine monster in a world that tries to fight monsters with deep breaths and safe places.

That’s only half the story. The rest is how to fight. How to walk a narrow bridge. And let me tell you, it pays to have a guide dog. So here’s the plan for small boys. “Let’s go find that wolf and see if we can’t make a guide dog out of him.”
Naturally upon hearing it they will generally look confused. So start with the first part. 

What I’m trying to say is this: 
The ground is a thin line between skies,
The only way to cross that bridge 
Is to speak up.
Wolves are no substitute for guide dogs,
But perhaps they are a first step,
Because after all,
Innocence should be protected.

Subaquatic Canine Monster  (2018)

Subaquatic Canine Monster (2018)