Monday, February 20, 2006

What is important?

One consequence of my recent health problems have been a discovery of what in life is really important and what counts for little or nothing.

1) If you do something to say you have or add it to a list without liking it or wanting to do it you have achieved nothing. If you’re not up to doing something it’s no achievement to force yourself or be forced by circumstances. In an ideal world if you can’t manage something you shouldn’t have to.
As for adding to lists and showing off, as in ‘I’ve been to America, seen Arsenal, met Liberace’ etc., these are for our own personal pleasure, and interesting discussion points where relevant. But just shlepping 50 miles so you can see a celebrity or queueing for a football match to add a new team where you’d rather not do it means the magic of that particular activity has worn off and you shouldn’t bother with it any more. Obsessive statistical lists are not there to add to an additional career, but just so you don’t lose track of what you’ve done. My lists eventually took over from the activities, and when I realised adding new teams and countries had become more important than enjoying the matches and holidays I stopped worrying about it.

2) Therefore the other side of the coin is what is important that you do. To me that was what I or anyone else can produce. Doing things and going places is fine for pleasure, but not an end in itself, something that will be added to our ‘final judgement list’ on our last day. ‘I went to Paris three times’ is irrelevant to anyone except me, and should I have not even wanted to go the third time I’m the fool for doing it. ‘I painted a room full of pictures’ is valuable as. Assuming you can paint (if not, why paint that much anyway) you can’t paint too much. Every performer, whether in sport, the media or art, has their own unique way of doing it. Combine every elements of a human being, appearance, abilities, voice, technique etc etc, it means each performer at any level provides their own unique style which in itself grows and changes as they continue over time. Each comedian can’t be replaced by another, Frankie Howerd or Kenneth Williams are perfect examples of such special qualities (like them or hate them, they were special) and however hard anyone tried couldn’t either imitate perfectly or be born even close to the real thing. No musician will write or sing like Elton John or Paul McCartney. Every Elvis impersonator is just that, a poor copy reaching a percentage similarity while never being able to become the real thing. And each individual changes and grows over time so the longer you’re in a career the more new variations of your own unique method will arise. And if you run out of one, you find a new one.
So each of our talents, when added to, is valuable. Big and small. Even posting on an internet forum is part of it. If no one bothered, or just the same few, they’d pack up in a few days, unlike mine which are very active and alive, all thanks to each person who bothers to go and join in. We miss them if they go, and that applies even to just being there for your family and seeing them. When each individual dies we realise it wasn’t whether they travelled the world that counted, but whether they made us laugh or entertained us on the piano. Whether business, pleasure, or combined (as with many artists and musicians) adding to our careers is what counts, rather than what we have done passively.

3) For quality of life, I realised that with the recent health problems had I been living in a family it would probably have removed about half the effect of it. Besides the obvious company which takes your mind off many health problems, or at least the edge off, the practical benefits of sharing essential household jobs would make a major difference compared to a sole responsibility. Having to be concerned with simple jobs like food shopping do not make any health issues better.

4) Extending point 1, there is little problem in missing a job you thought you had to do. Life has essential chores, and there’s no need to add to them with other optional activities such as the gym. If I can’t make the gym, big deal. Why make myself guilty for something that really doesn’t matter? And people often forget when we miss doing one thing we nearly always do something else. So now I could have been in the gym, but I’m both clarifying long term issues in my own life and hopefully for others as well as these points are universal. Last year added more to my creative collection than any other just by being alone in the house for days on end or wandering the streets alone with a camera. I have a lovely A4 print on my wall of a scene less than half a mile from my house, and hundreds more if I wanted to do so.

5) All in all, I have both eliminated a list of things that I need no longer care about, and realised not to waste time worrying what other people think about what I can and cannot do. When I was young I was a bit like that (family trait) and assessed people as to their cars, qualifications, holidays etc., and now realise it’s for their benefit or not, and counts jack shit to other people who usually have an opinion unless like me they discover it’s irrelevant and should let people get on with their own lives in their own ways. What on earth difference does someone else’s life make to yours? None at all, unless they’re using you as their target.

I could give some examples I hear constantly. Getting up late is apparently one of the worst non-illegal activities one can have in this godawful country. The simple fact that however late or early someone gets up all that counts is how long they sleep. That is decided by nature and means many people get up earlier than others who went to bed later. Big deal. None of this is a race or competition, and using relative reality over absolute reality is both childish and totally unscientific. In absolute reality few know or care when Einstein, Hitler or Tony Blair get up. All we know or care about is what they did, or do in Blair’s case. Quality not quantity. As long as the essential chores are done, feeding, watering and paying the bills, what else matters if you’re not hurting anyone else?
My qualifications are important to me as much as they fulfilled my potential to pass them, rather than compared with others who will always do better than us if we look far enough. I was disappointed I had to give up a master’s degree as I knew I was good at it, but otherwise have done my projected best. So all that concerned me was that I did what I could do, and life without them would really be in the crap as much of the money I earned was totally dependent on those qualifications besides the shop work. But I had the option, and earned almost ten times as much doing professional work than that anyway so would have struggled financially without them. And having obvious talents without corresponding qualifications would be incredibly frustrating for anyone.

6) I’ve said this before but it fits in and can never be repeated too many times. The bottom line is if someone’s heart is in the right place, the rest is trivial and mainly their problem if it is a problem.

So, over the years I have changed my priorities discovering substance over style. To summarise the points, in the long run few people care a damn whether their friend has travelled the world or spent their lives in Watford. It doesn’t affect the friendship. Other people’s business is their own and should neither impress or irritate others for doing it. Treating missing a leisure activity the same as missing work is not necessary. Time is not wasted when one activity is cancelled. People matter more than anything (however many misanthropes say they are happy living alone). If you want to assess your life, think of the pleasure, and then the contribution you made to the world. This is not by leisure activities and being the audience, but being the performer in any field. For the thousands watching a performer, there’s only the one performer and that’s what everyone remembers. They can be proud of doing it, but you should feel privileged to see them, not impressed you made the effort, as it should be done for pleasure, not to make or score a point.

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