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Help Im Twenty

I watched the teenager pull a copy of Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus from the shelf and glance it over with passive interest. Front to back, back to front, then opening a section in the middle to inspect if it sparked any curiosity. I always enjoyed this part of visiting a bookstore, people watching as a cursory delight; It was the complimentary champagne offered at the entry hall reception before a great banquet. The joy comes from observing what ignites imagination and intrigue in others. Watching someone discover a book from the shelf that I’ve read, and wondering to myself: what did I feel, think, and not know before reading that title, what drew me to that book, what point in their life are they at?

He closed the title and proceeded to attempt re-shelving it. Surprised, I felt the need to intervene. I interjected, rather rudely, as a condescending voice attempting to guide one towards a particular path.

“It’s a good one.”

I said, not taking my eyes off the rows of books searching for a copy of Augustine’s Confessions.

“Oh yeah?”

The teenager aborted the operation and retracted his arm from the shelve pulling the title closer into view for re-inspection.

“Yep, but start on the first page.”

Naturally, I was referring to Camus’ striking opening paragraph that hit me like an iced bucket of water years prior:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games;

The Myth of Sisyphus, A. Camus (1942)

I added quickly thereafter:

“Depending on what you’re looking for”

I was trying to save face, realizing that endorsement of a book considering whether suicide is the fundamental question of being might be a bit much for a casual Sunday stroll through the shops. I don’t do so well at dinner parties and small talk.

Still scanning the shelves for Augustine’s spiritual autobiography, hoping it would allow me to intersect some ideas gained from Tolstoy’s A Confession and Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory, the boy replied after some time.

“I’m looking for books about how to go through life. Like how to live life.”

Meu Deus! Where to begin?

How does an individual, given such a Herculean task, even prepare to tackle it? There are countless ways to begin a first philosophical expedition — most by accident. Do you want to know: What or why? How or where? For what reason or from what places? How should you live or how should you die? The list goes on. Should you begin with classics you may risk boredom and impracticality — forever turning this individual away from the soulful nourishment that philosophy gifts us. Equally, however, if you choose a weighty burden of the existential or questions of meaninglessness, you risk terror and chasing this poor fellow from the cool stream of human experience. For this, they shall wander thirstily in the barren desert alone for eternity. All the better some might say, knowledge is the drug of contemporary culture anyhow.

“How old are you?”, I asked. “Eighteen”, He replied.

Rewinding your life ten years and attempting to unlearn all the experiences gained is no small feat. This is especially so when you feel like you have seen so much since then, yet feel no closer to the goal compared to where you started. The psychologist CG Jung, of “unconscious” notoriety, noted that the human being’s life and journey of “individuation” followed a rather circular shape. Not pointlessly and unredeemable in the case of Sisyphus but with a directional anchor — a spiral. To Jung, this fascinating structure of “individuation” and the “Self” was most accurately captured within Mandala symbolism. Despite this, the individual — at least with his orientation aimed at the union of conscious and unconscious content in discovering his total personality (“Self” in Jung’s terminology) — inches endlessly nearer the center with each rotation, acquiring magnification and greater resolution but never seems able to fully touch the treasure laid bare.

I paused a moment before replying.

“That’s quite the question.”

Then continued.

“To tell you the truth, absolutely nobody knows and most people are pretending they do. That’s why there are hundreds of books in the philosophy section.”

We laughed and I proceeded to offer him a few suggestions for titles that strongly affected me in my undergraduate and early twenties, parting ways thereafter. The last thing one wants is to appear as “knowledgeable” or “wise” in a bookstore. Expressly so when standing in front of a name like Friedrich Nietzsche; Lest you need another reminder of all those who stand towering above you, all you have not yet done, and just how scanty the sum you think your wisdom is. In Dr. Meg Jay’s non-fiction title The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter, it is suggested that one’s 20s are in fact, an exhilarating opportunity. The period of one’s life in which to solidify one’s identity in the world, their career, build romantic relationships, and more. Jay’s book provides some basic, at least to this author’s perspective, suggestions regarding how to, in essence, “get one’s act together” once the extended adolescent period of life winds down.


“The twenties are the midnight of the soul”

I wrote on the empty page in late 2020.

Why the midnight, and not the dawn like Jay suggests? I feel it is seldom touched on how deep the self-loathing, loneliness, and dark times of the twenties can be. Having nearly reached twenty-eight myself I feel woefully unequipped to suspect I know anything about it, but I will marshal the attempt nonetheless. Writing is, by its very nature, an attempt to capture that which will forever remain beyond grasp — why stop now?

At 20 years of age the Will reigns; at 30 the Wit; at 40 the Judgment.

Poor Richard’s Almanack, B. Franklin (1741)

In the early years of the twenties, one has a boundless will and arrogance to accomplish any task. Incidentally, and certainly the comical wisdom of nature, within this time one is also the most susceptible to influence and annexation by any given ideology or fanaticism.

I know also it was not you who ate the idea, but the idea who ate you.

Demons, F. Dostoevsky (1871)

The intoxicating charisma of novelty — to discover new perspectives not yet worn for oneself — in joint cooperation with the first opportunity for independence, leads one into a desperate state of assertion in identity and significance. Only too easily though, do these influences lead someone to go “on tilt” betting heavily into a given identity for themself; And then human, all too human, is the fate to fail in meeting such an ideal. The river may not transpire as desired. Maybe all-in was not the play you ought to have made, or so you think.

The third and last domain of the typical gymnasium German teacher… is the so-called German essay… The essay appeals to the student’s individuality; the more aware a student is of his distinguishing qualities, the more he gives his German essay a personal stamp… Consider what happens when someone produces such an essay at that age. it is the first thing he writes on his own; his still-undeveloped powers coalesce and crystallize for the first time; the dizzying feeling of having been asked to be independent gives the result a magical halo of newness, destined never to return. All his natural audacity is called forth from the depths; all his vanity, unchecked by any stronger barrier, is for the first time permitted to take literary form… Any true independence the student may have, necessarily expressed in awkward, exaggerated or grotesque form when provoked so prematurely — but still, this is, the student’s individuality — the teacher reprimands and rejects in favor of what is unoriginal, conformist, and respectable.

Anti-Education, F. Nietzsche (1872), pp 25–26

Everyone and anyone deals the inexperienced advice during the twenties. Some here, some there, and some everywhere. As if sprinkling bits of experience upon the mind of an individual, like salt in the soup, it will somehow provide the necessary catalyst for insight; Despite their intent, the coveted jewels of experiential wisdom are obtained usually in hindsight. Someone says: “You should live this way”, or “This is what I wish I knew”. Forgetful in the cheerful nostalgia of the past, they do not recall the wisdom to, “Be fearful in believing first what you have not understood for yourself”.

Now, I hear you scoff. You call down to me from your ever-privileged position as a reader, looking at my poorly assembled trench, my dirt-covered hands and face, peering back at you.

“Individualism! What of education? Look at his Egoism! What Arrogance! He does so to serve his Vanity!”

I plead, please calm yourselves Sirs and Madams. Forget not of Lev Tolstoy, who went before us all through this and even more difficult terrain. He found for himself the obstacle of vanity too:

“Vanity of vanities,” says Solomon — “vanity of vanities — all is vanity… I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit

L. Tolstoy, Confessions (1882), pp 24

If only the natural human instinct were towards wisdom then we could see that all terrains are not the same — or more bluntly:

“Truth is a pathless place.”

Truth is a Pathless Land, J. Krishnamurti

As human beings, we have a terrible habit towards via positiva (“the positive way”). This addiction is amplified by the bombardment of prescriptions and methods. We add endlessly, seeking new perspectives, hoping that like Cinderella’s slippers one will eventually fit. Do not be fooled, however. Such a period is required in the twenties. After all, one should try on the masks of those who are great, if only to become penetratingly aware of the ways in which we differ from them. In time though, the trench warfare of internal conflict between oneself and oneself (and oneself and the world), leaves the human being paralyzed, broken, and bleeding in the shrapnel and shelling of those who claim to know. Thereto, their endless confusion and recommendations of how to live and be. I’m led to believe over time that if I buy enough of X, or become like Y, or think like Z, I will eventually somehow come to a firm ground I’m so desperately seeking within. Especially so in the twenties, for you have for the first time the strength to stand on your two feet, alone in front of the serpent of chaos that is reality.

Then I hear you say:

“What have you to add then?”

You sly skeptics, you see right through me into my hypocrisy, I will be guilty too, I assure you. Yet first, provide me the humour to express my piece.

Quibus dubitantibus debemus. (How much we owe to those who doubt.)

In search of some form of guidance and understanding of the melancholy and confusion that painted my twenties, I wrote frequently. I brought a small notebook with me wherever I went in case some overbearing wave of sadness would crash down upon me. Here with me, I had at least a lonely rock to hang onto and weather the storm of my inward consciousness and questions from all the worry about the future.

You have all the energy in the world to accomplish, and all the ignorance to do so but are plagued in some sense by the leading questions solicited as advice.

What (unwavering) passion do I have? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? What is my purpose? What is it in fact all for?

There was something soothing, to me, about being able to dialogue truthfully with something or someone. That something or someone could stand firmly with me unmoved by these inquiries and withstand the painful excavation process provoked by the inquiry of how to live. I could have asked my peers, but at the time, these questions could not have appeared further from their point of intrigue. The goal was going to medical school, or focusing on acing the next final to move on to the next test — as if life would forever be the drone-like test after test process… what for? I was able to fall into line and swim the stream too, but I couldn’t help but feel my vessel raising a purple flag above its bow where all others were blue. That I did not live in a war-torn country, had electricity on demand, food to eat, water to drink, these were all elements acknowledged. A humble reminder that thank goodness things are not worse, in sincere gratitude, can go a long way. But like a tree, the individual spurs towards growth, it cannot help growing as tall as it can, and spreading its roots as deep as the natural environment will allow it to do so.

Most feigned from these questions like a shaggy dog splashed with cold water, they would shake off the moisture and carry on as if nothing had happened. The deepest envy I felt for those who could, with their infinite wisdom, snorkel through such territory rather than scuba dive. It felt to me, like a gravitational well pulling me in and nearer, without reason. And I had no idea what the question was anymore.

In 2017, I wrote to myself in the morning the following excerpt. The cordial elements of Alan Watts trickled their way into my meditations.

We turn to God for answers, but then we realize that we don’t want someone watching our every move forever and all time. We then say well, there is no God — and so we turn to Science instead.

But then Science quantizes every last molecule, and attempts to squeeze every last piece of magic out of it, and while we seem to have a never-ending stream of new questions, we feel more empty than ever before.

So we turn to Capitalism and Consumption to try to fill that void. And while it helps intermittently, it always leaves us with the same emptiness and continual dissatisfaction. The roaring desire for more, and our eventual entrapment in debt, social arms races, or remorse of lost time.

So at this point, it seems there are three options at hand: sedation, suicide, and philosophy.

The dopiness of drugs [and television] leaves us scornful to life, and not many are willing to take on Camus’ question directly, so perhaps it is the third door after all to philosophy.

Through it we see that there was never really anything to hold onto. The mind plays tricks on itself. That all the good comes with bad like cats have tails — that you can’t beat the game, but you never quite lose either. But when the ups have downs and winters lead to summers, I turn into the mirror and can’t help but see how improbable it all is. How snared I really am, and how that’s the gift I’ve yet to see. That I’m really licked, and there is just one way left to go. The middle way, no way.

Hopefully within it the tension dissipates, and I make it out laughing rather than crying.

Zen and oriental philosophy teachings became for me something of a shelter from the storm of my world: the external and internal media which I consumed and demanded I meteorically succeed at all costs. Moreover, the internal foreman of my ego consciousness had no trouble in reminding me, better put, he insisted on providing me with all the ways in which I was failing to live up to my potential as a human being.

As Alan Watts discusses in The Way of Zen,

Zen Buddhism, unlike any other philosophies or religious traditions, does not ask us to become supermen or superwomen.

Or more quippy:

You’re doing the best you can.

Though the sadness always left and returned, the writing continued.

Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, J.S. Foer (2005)

Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, being the elitist variety, postulated that there were two natural classes of individuals in life: the geniuses and everyone else. Through his poetry — it is said Nietzsche never fully belonged to the philosophers no matter how dearly they wanted and rejected him — one discovers his total admiration for genius in Schiller and Goethe. Of course, the ever critical in respect for language and words, it is reasonable to understand why he felt so drawn. Why but with the power of the pen and language, nations have ascended and declined, wars waged and ended, and lives made and lost. The power of words and the inebriating effect of language, strongly spoken, is not something to be taken lightly. Be not a fool to think yourself beyond the reach of a well-reasoned rhetoric’s smothering perfume.

What one ought to know in the twenties is that you do not know. You do not know who you are, you do not know what you like, and you do not know who you will become. Therefore, in some sense, it is wise to be fearful in all manner and regard for input (including the authors). Equally and all the more reason from this skeptic vantage point, you may sample from every ravine and terrace for which you have the opportunity and strength to trek. Paradoxically, however, what you also do not know in the twenties is that you do know. You have a faint sense of the personality that you call “me”, whose droning monologue accompanies your every waking moment. No one will ever know that companion deeper and more fully than you. You know inwardly your deepest shames, your greatest vocation, and the darkest part of your being that will chisel, motivate and drive your every behaviour and interaction with other human beings. This meaning and self-knowledge, however, are hidden in the fabric of reality and experiences that when sown together from your memories, will become the story of your life.

If you were to take consult in Nietzsche he might attest, though for these speculations I will be eternally reprimanded, that one simply knows if they are a genius. Being thus, it is therefore the correct course of action to take one’s rightful place in the seat yearned for by all philosophers: the throne of the Philosopher King in one’s arena of talent. But if you are confused, it is likely you are not a genius, and ought to take your rightful seat watching the birds fly instead. Better to be a spectator to soaring creatures roaming free, rather than pretending that you yourself have wings. This is, of course, not the desolate graveyard of all possible fates. Rene Girard, the French intellectual, speculated that the inability of human beings to conceive of their own authentic desire, leads them to imitate one another without end. Therein all products of humanity — sublime, beautiful, and horrifying — are merely the consequence of our mimetic behaviour. So within this seat, in front of the “geniuses”, you are in fact not alone. You may draw from them, absorb, imitate, and learn to the progressive development of yourself (Girard would disagree, however). In this way, you can be part of truly great work, which is better than to have never contributed anything after all.

Now, however, let your imagination soar, and put a genius — a real genius — in the midst of this mass. You perceive an immediate, incredible transformation. It is as if, by a kind of instantaneous transmigration of the soul, he has entered into all of these half-bestial bodies so that they all gaze out with a single daemonic eye. Look and listen now — you never see or hear your fill! When you regard the orchestra now, in its sublime tempests or heartfelt laments — when you sense the agile tension of every muscle and the rhythmic necessity of their every movement — then you too will feel that constitutes a pre-established harmony between the leader and the led, and how, in the hierarchy of spirits, everything pushes towards this kind of organization.

Anti-Education, F. Nietzsche (1872), p 86

I felt the weight of my legs crash against the pavement with each slow step I took down Hayes Street. Like the pain, you might imagine a rag doll would feel in response to the animation of a child, with excessive slamming movements against the ground. Mine were slow in comparison but felt just as bone-shattering. The feeling, if you have ever felt it, is the crushing weight of a dark cloud upon your shoulders weighing you down into an inward numbness. You feel at any moment you may sob uncontrollably and desperately wish to do so, yet at the same time the rotating tape of your thoughts repeats to you: “all the same, it won’t help”. I wondered how I got here — why did I feel so deeply numb and filled with sadness?

I started questioning myself — as the mind does — seeking for reassurance in the irrationality of human emotion:

“Was it in fact the coffee I had that morning? It was more bitter than usual wasn’t it? Was it just a bit too bitter? Did this bitterness push me over the security of the “high place” I had just found refuge in a day prior, into yet another dark and low valley of self-loathing? Yes, I said to myself, it must have been the coffee. It was too bitter. But was it? It was after all the same recipe. Same scoops. It could not be. But could it have been?”

This pointless debate repeated over and over again within the concealed secrecy of thought. I passed the Saturday afternoon patrons with a smile, watching them partake in the fine goods of Hayes Valley’s offer, unknowingly to them how miserable I felt. My life was in fact meaningless, I concluded. Any dreams of business or literary success had not yielded fruit. I had not a great magnum opus idea that would put me on equal footing to contend with Nietzsche (of whose voice, to this day, screams within my ear with the punishing weight of a judge’s gavel). I had not conceived of or built some great company within Silicon Valley. In retrospect, causal to the loftiness of my aspirations and imitation of the contrarianism and competition from the “geniuses” I modeled myself upon, I was left in isolation and perpetual gloom. It’s not easy to connect with others when you believe you must be smarter and more contrarian than everyone else. In short, I had no answer for Nietzsche’s Demon Who Spoke Thus, and I could feel it upon my back gnashing its twisted teeth.

I had sought refuge in the role model of genius but felt hollow. In the fledgling independence of young adulthood, how can you know which genius to follow, for you do not even know who you are? How will you choose the right path or ideal to devote your life and self to? More so, how shall you know if your choice aligns with the Truth of your life and is not merely a smoke screen blinding your natural vision? Below the mirky cloud, perhaps a siren song from another who claims to know. Unfortunately the complication too: at any one point the target can move unknowingly to you. Nietzsche provides a potential direction, but not a map. I can only assume his cleverness and foresight. Perhaps the slipper of role models does not fit forever, but it’s impossible to ascend without having first felt the material with one’s own hands.

In the failure of excessive addition to one’s life, the fearful yet optimistic thought begins to form of whether the reverse course may actually be the way to firm ground. Fearful due to time lost, optimistic because hope once again enlivens us to continue on. That is, instead of adding more perspectives, remove all such perspectives and rigorously examine all one’s beliefs. Why did I want to succeed? Why have I become so tracked? Why was the playbook that used to work (kicking the metaphorical dog of myself juxtaposed to my ideal into action), not working as well anymore? It would later become apparent to me that the metaphorical dog had died unknowingly to me, several years later.

Dionysus versus the “Crucified” there you have the antithesis. It is not a difference in regard to their martyrdom — it is a difference in the meaning of it. Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and recurrence, creates torment, destruction, the will to annihilation.

The Will to Power, F. Nietzsche (1910)

In classical Jungian canon, the individual must at some point make a conscious encounter with the “darkness” of their repressed component selves. That is, according to Jung, all the qualities of ourselves (typically malevolent, difficult to confront, and scorned) that are “heaped into the trash” of the unconscious. Jung’s thinking was that such unconscious qualities are observable in the projections made into reality onto others we interact with in daily life. Our contempt for the aggression of another signals the repression of our own aggression within. The summa of all such qualities is then personified symbolically in what Jung terms, “The Shadow”. An inward rival and companion which counterbalances “The Persona” often encountered within dreams.

The psychological “journey within” (i.e. self-knowledge), for the “treasure hard to find” (i.e. understanding in support of psychological wholeness), into the barren wasteland of ourselves (i.e unconscious) follows the archetypal pattern of The Hero’s Journey in mythology. The journey into a personal Hades in search of understanding the most broken and terrible aspects of ourselves. Such a journey is not for the faint of heart, either. For it was in Jung’s own explorations that he concluded the roots of the unconscious reach all the way down to hell. That is the darkest parts of human nature you scoff at, are in fact the same parts within you. Here you may finally encounter the part of yourself that encumbers you, a stranger standing upon your veranda, waiting to be let in.

“I understand all that. I understand that life could be about striving for better and creating more prosperity, that’s why we are all here. But how should we really be living our lives?”

I asked my friend as we sat in a wine bar, myself a bit tipsy from the sake beforehand. He proceeded to provide his perspective on a recent book he had been reading called Transcend by Scott Kaufman.

“One way to think about life, is in reverse.” He said. “Think about all the gifts you would want to give to your eighty-year-old self on their death bed: a healthy mind and body, quality friends, a rich romantic life, et cetera”.

I couldn’t help but recall the 1980s motivational speaker Jim Rohn, a strong influential figure for later speaker Tony Robbins.

“My mentor Mr. Shoaff never finished grade school, so a lot of the things he taught me were very simple. Very ABC.”

Take Charge of Your Life, J. Rohn (1981)

Many things in the world exist to confuse you. Language can be used for the purposes of clarification or obscurity. To relay independence or create dependence on another. Language is tricky because sometimes we want to be confused. Love and human emotion are the most terrifying and confusing parts that enliven and paint our experience; we watch dramas and films, listen to music and paint all to re-experience the recurring desire for articulation through confusion and mystery. Confusion is also harmful in that it can motivate you to buy things you might not need, spend time in ways you might not desire, and listen to people you might be better off passing by. But the perpetual struggle is as Mr. Rohn points out later in his lecture:

“One good book, conversation, sermon, or lecture could be the thing that turns your life around. So don’t be careless in the gathering of ideas, soak up every last one you can.”

Take Charge of Your Life, J. Rohn (1981)

You don’t know if the next paragraph I write will be one that mediates understanding or if you will have to spend five years learning that lesson. It would be foolish not to listen if it really could help you, or just as silly if it turns out to be a waste of time. Yet, no matter how much pastel I paint on the picture, at the end of the day there’s a very simple structure: we know the important categories of our lives and it is in part a balancing act among them.

The false marketing you are sold is that the allocation among the aspects is going to remain static all your life. Instead, the truth may be that, like the physiology of your organism responding to external stimuli, the allocation and reallocation of your energy and resources within these categories will flex. This all occurs within the boundaries built up by the framework of your values. These categories include (but are not limited to): relationships, family, romantic and social, health, finances, career, personal and spiritual, purpose (note your career and purpose do not have to be the same), fun, and legacy (should you decide that in this lifetime that’s something you want to leave behind). Within this framework, it is then left to the individual to determine how and where to flex.

Suppose you value financial security and social recognition as core elements of your identity. You voluntarily choose to walk the flaming coals of the “FIRE” and “Fat FIRE” mindset: a vow of present depravity for the future. You will need to allocate a significant portion of your time to work and finances. In fact, you will probably need to work a lot harder than most in the career and finance aspect of your life. This will feel deeply unfair as you compare yourself, in envy (that terrible quality in us), to your peers who seem to be living a highlight-reel life on social media. Few Instagram posts focus on the moral dilemma of a 2 am PagerDuty phone call because your company’s systems are down, or the severe drain of a 24-hour on-call shift for a resident medical doctor.

On the other hand, you may decide instead of career success, that building a steady family and acting in a provider role is what you value most. Tony Robbins’ has been caught saying that the greatest spiritual challenge is that of a romantic partnership. In Adlerian psychology, the basis of all of our problems is derived from the interpersonal interactions we have with others. The struggle with partnership and children is that each will always demand more from you than you have to offer: monetarily, energetically, socially, morally, and more. It is sometimes said that being a parent is an impossible job, therefore the only way to thank your parents is to you yourself become a parent. Just be aware that no matter what you do, you will fail to meet the ideal in this role. Because… well… being a parent is an impossible job, what did you expect? It may not become apparent until later in life, but there is no real manual for being a parent — you figure it out as you go along.

Alternatively, perhaps you value most strongly the purpose, personal and spiritual dimensions of your life. You are an artist, writer, philosopher, or world nomad. While you gain in the components of independence you will lose much in the places of romance, family, and social connection. If you have traveled before, it will become apparent how stagnant and rife with boredom the “warm up” period of getting to know another soul can be. You want to know who they are and what their purpose in life is, after all that is what you’re devoting your life towards. But most cultural instructions in meeting strangers deem that non-kosher. So you will have to ask the same tedious questions again and again. What’s more, your connections are always fleeting: relationships take time and stability to solidify, they are never a “done deal”. However, maybe you choose to stay put and devote yourself to art instead. For this courageous commitment that you have hauled upon yourself, you will be rewarded abundantly with many hours of toil, loneliness, and uncertainty with your work; The drive for purpose, manifest in art, is perhaps the most subjective of all objectives. Therefore, this pledge is the most solitary vow you could choose — you will become extremely accustomed to your own company, because few will understand what you are aiming towards.

Finally, let’s suppose you simply refuse to place a stake in the ground about where you want to go. Fair enough, we are free to choose what we’d like to do. The only fear might be that you could drift as time and life pass you by. Recall that not everyone is you. Through osmosis, your peers’ desires may become, your own desires by influence. Although, the more likely outcome is that your peers will float away into the comfort of those who share their values and goals. Families and couples join with other families and couples, sharing dinner reservations and eventually playdates enclosed with the parochial white picket fence. Wanderers join together with other wanderers, in the intense, effervescent, and shockingly brief relationships formed on the road until the next flight onwards. The ambitious unify with the ambitious, building great enterprises and devoting their energy to the next quarter, or year in search of financial freedom, social significance, or a better tomorrow. Artists bond with other artists, sharing their passion and struggles in insignificance and ridicule as they pursue their independent meaning. For an expanded view of possible alternatives, I might recommend Derek Sivers’ book How To Live.

The point is, we drift.

I watched the gentleman set up his equipment: pedal effects, speakers, and electric guitar in preparation. He could not have been a more unpicturesque performer: incredibly tall and lanky, with crooked teeth, and shaggy and greasy hair. His eyes fixed straight down at the ground avoiding any contact, and he appeared in terror to perform but also relaxed as if he were on a cloud. His outfit was a washed-out green bomber jacket several sizes too big, a faded red t-shirt, and a pair of torn jeans. Without expectation or perhaps in pre-conceived judgment, schools of couples, teenagers, and rowdy groups quickly passed him by:

“Who? You mean this guy is going to play?

What was he thinking, really?”

I sat down on a stone slab in the courtyard, waiting for the performance to begin. At this point, the artist signaled that he was fully prepared to begin with the slight lifting of his gaze, and gripping of his guitar. He proceeded to strum the instrument with an excessive layering of echo and reverb effects. The sounds emanating from the character standing alone to the backdrop of the streetlights, had a curious character of their own, like an angelic harp. But, as he played, there was no melody. There was no structure. There was no sense of any kind of musical idea or progression in any direction. Standing slouched over, with the most cunning grin upon his face, he played the guitar without a measurable damn about what anyone who heard him thought. The ambiance of the entire walking street, even though the sound did not fit at all with what any prior musicians had played, became enlivened. Several minutes of watching and listening elapsed and I felt a small group of tears form within the wells of my eyes, drawing down my face. I stood up, walked over, and thanked him, dropping a ten-dollar note into his hat. His twisted grin brightened into a full smile.

I barely managed to say:

“You have no idea, how cool you are man.”

As I wiped my face and left.

Several days later, I reflected on the performance and why it had affected me so deeply. The nature of the sounds had undoubtedly charged my emotions, but it wasn’t exactly that. It was that I had seen, perhaps for the first time ever, what a real rockstar looked like. This random person who the world didn’t seem to give two little fingers about, but played anyway for his own content. It wasn’t some false artificial personality, dancing in front of a camera or social media audience for adoration and attention. I saw within and through the guitar playing, the same thing that we see in a mother holding her newborn child, the grieving in the loss of a close family member, and the climactic moment before the words “I do” are announced: I saw someone else’s love and passion. I saw the way I desperately wanted to feel in my life.

Several years ago, I wrote an obscure post covering a theory I had that all people have a functional and envious art medium. Functionally, we have an art form in that we possess a natural talent. Counter to this, we have an art form that we are secretly covetous for. For example, a decent writer who wishes they were instead a musician. The self-knowledge of the difference between what we possess a natural talent in and what we wish we possessed natural talent in, provides an anchor into where we fit at the intersection of self and world; This knowledge is supportive in providing an orientation that can direct our energy and the choice of vessels that our purpose finds occupancy in. As noted previously, the activities for which you earn a wage and the activities for which find meaning in your life, do not necessarily have to be the same. If they are, great. You can earn an income and spend all your energy doing what you love; but, the conflicting motivations of money versus passion can create deep personal strain at times. On the other hand, if they are not, this could also be great. You can spend your excess income and energy devoted towards your craft in a pure expression of passion. However, the trouble will be time and energy management, you will have smaller allotments after factoring in your livelihood.

Every situation can be interpreted through a lens of positive and negative depending on the perspective chosen. This is, in part, what is meant when someone tells you that “your thoughts can create reality”. It is perhaps the greatest beauty and tragedy of the human condition.

You might have noticed that this essay has not recommended or dictated in a stern tone anything that you should do. I have not provided fourteen easy steps to improve your productivity or live your best life. In fact, the case is the opposite, really: random bits and memories winded together with no seeming major theme or conclusion. That is how life feels a lot of the time.

There is a cliche with respect to advice about success: two images, one a perception of how success is (a straight ascending line) versus reality of success (a series of curvatures). Placed next to each other they are compared and left to their own interpretation:

“This is life! Don’t you get it? Don’t worry so much about your twenties!”

What any such presentation fails in is the articulation of the depth and terror of the solitary gloom contained in those curves. The buzzing worry, seemingly inescapable dread, and serious consideration of whether everything will really be alright. The false masks that are adorned in the face of external demands to be positive and optimistic. Equally, however, is the reverse course. A real demonstration of the richness of those magnificent hues contained in the racy turns — a secret little seed of a dream whispered in your ear blooming its first petal from the soil; a flushed face and heart respondent to the thought of admitting your true feelings for the beautiful being in front of you; The expansive view upon a mountain-top to the sight of wild birds, a slow breeze of wind touching your face, captured only in the pensive thought: this is it.

“Yes, it’s a curvy line but did you ever really live it!?”

I have often wondered whether in sharing your perspective with another, you somehow deeply rob a person of a fundamental part in life: the experience and ability to touch the lessons for themself. Like a mystery movie that is spoiled by the abrupt revelation of who the perpetrator was all along. Others can (and will) lecture you all their heart on how to dance or ride a bike, but in the end, we must face the trials and invitations of life (including the twenties): to find out for ourselves. The words “find out” mean to “come to an awareness of” or “to realize”. One can never come to an awareness of, or realize reality without touching it or without letting it touch you.

But, I must make right the promissory note mentioned prior, and join in accomplice to those guilty of providing advice. I will leave but two pieces of advice from two individuals who taught me a lot about that eighteen-year-olds question of “how to go through life”.

“Here’s the big challenge of life. You can have more than you’ve got because you can become more than you are… [but you have to] let life touch you. Let the stories touch you. Let the drama touch you… Let life touch you but don’t let it kill you. Let sad things make you sad. Let happy things make you happy. I’m not saying give into it, I’m saying let it affect you because that’s part of the drama. There’s a time to laugh and there’s a time to what? To cry. Then they said, be so sophisticated that you can laugh with those that laugh, and cry with those that cry.”

Take Charge of Your Life, J. Rohn (1981)

“[it is ridiculous] to feel so inhuman as to never feel the regrets of the passing of time and life. It’s likewise inhuman, not to have the paradise fantasy, of that mysterious place, around the corner, just over the crest of the hill just behind the island in the distance. Because that place is really a big joke. It’s you. That’s why, you will find once you get up the last step, the last Tori, you’re liable to be confronted with a mirror. Everybody is seeking, seeking, seeking, for that thing you gotta have.. well you’ve got it! And nobody’s going to believe you but there it is! The real thing that you are, is the paradise land you’re looking for, and it’s far more reliable than any kind of external scene that you could love or hold onto. But of course, the whole fascination of life is that this seems perfectly incredible”.

The Uncarved Block, Unbleached Silk, A. Watts (1978)

Be well