This is a post belonging to a new blogging project — the title is pretty much self-explanatory, I think; the project’s introductory post can be found HERE. Credit for the idea: BeetleyPete.
As always, the only thing linking the two items mentioned in this post in my mind is that they both start with the same letter of the alphabet.
I know that Fleetwood Mac’s song Go You Own Way is actually about the breakup of a relationship, but the moment I first heard it, I knew it was going to be the theme song of my life for its title alone — and not just because of my dislike of bandwagons, crowds, and conformism generally. Nor is this about standing out in each and every aspect of life: My “fashion sense”, for example, (if it can even be called that) is — with one exception to which we’ll be getting later in this blog post series — fairly conservative. I hate the feeling that people are or just might be looking at me because of something I’m wearing; this invariably makes me suspect I’ve missed something that’s flat-out wrong with my clothing (open zipper, specks of dirt, T-shirts worn the wrong way round, trouser legs too short or too long, unraveled seams … the list is practically endless).
BUT as a general matter, I prefer to be around people who have a clear sense of their own self and individuality and arrange their lives accordingly. I believe that we are all masters of our own destinies, and we’re on this earth only once — so we owe it to ourselves to make the most of the lifetime that we’ve been given. If fitting into the traditional mould fulfils all that you expect from life and takes you where you want to go, that’s fine for you. If it doesn’t, though, you had better sit down and take a long, hard look at your options. The latter was the case for me.
When I was in my late twenties, I had secured the job that I had, until then, thought I wanted to secure; I’d secured it faster than many others in my field, I had attained a level of responsibility that I had had no earthly expectation to reach this soon, and it was a position coming with life tenure: even if progress on my career path had slowed down further down the road, I knew that literally short of me committing a crime, nobody could take my job away from me and my future would be secure. And in an insecure labor market, that should have meant a lot; not least given the fact that even the entry bar for the job I held then was a fairly high one to begin with. Yet, I had had to leave certain alternative options unexplored in order to embark on this career path — and several years into the job, just at the point when I was promoted to a position that under normal circumstances I could only have expected to reach several years later, I began to foresee that some 10 or 15 years further down the road, I would almost certainly be dissatisfied and looking back with regret on the options I had left unexplored. It wasn’t necessarily a “road less traveled” thing in the sense of Frost’s poem, but there was decidedly a fork in the road, and the two paths branching off from it were inexorably leading further and further apart from each other. So, after a considerable amount of soul-searching, I decided to set the clock back, return to where I’d started, and explore the other path after all. *
In the environment where I was moving at the time, this was pretty much an unheard-of thing: A friend and former coworker told me several years later that it was still being talked about as something totally out of the ordinary (this might no longer be the case to quite the same extent today, which, if true, would of course only be to the good) — and the President of the institution where I had been working until then on one occasion asked me outright, in light of the fact that my step also involved a move to a different country: “So who is the gentleman to whom we owe losing you?” I spontaneously blurted out, “So you’re the one who started this rumor!” (only to turn crimson and apologize as hastily, explaining that the whole thing really didn’t have anything to do with anybody but myself) — but his question, though not meant in ill will, had angered me because exemplified another way in which I was breaking the mould in the perception of the time. While right and left, my female friends and coworkers of the same age as myself were getting married, pregnant, or both of these (in whichever order) — and had all resolved to somehow find a way to reconcile work and a family, in most cases foreseeably at the price of setbacks in their career paths — I had just taken a step in the opposite direction; and I knew that if I was going to make a success of my venture, I couldn’t rely on anybody but myself. If assistance and support was going to come my way eventually, that would be great (and in one instance in particular it did, and I was very grateful for it); but it was not something I’d be able to count on. So, too, with romance and a family. And yet, all of this, I could easily accept; self-reliance had always been a big part of my life until then already. What did worry me considerably more was that the whole thing was very much a “putting all my eggs in one basket” kind of situation: not the sort of thing I’m ordinarily inclined to at all, least of all if I don’t even have the slightest way of foreseeing where I’ll be even a single year later, never mind three, five, or ten years further on, and if or how precisely I’m going to realize the goal I have set for myself. But there was nothing for it; and even though I’ve since had to “reinvent” myself professionally several times — let alone explain my decision to reverse course in just about every single job interview, of course — I’ve never regretted my decision. I can’t begin to adequately chart the breadth of life experience to which my new path has taken me, far beyond what I had been looking for at the time (not all of it positive, of course; and some of the lows were really low, but obviously all the more important), and professionally, I’ve not only been able to gain the experience that I had been looking for but I’ve also been fortunate enough to be given the chance to do some work that, although it had long interested me, I would never have thought would actually come my way. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t made that one crucial decision all those years ago. Of course there is no saying where I would have ended up instead — but I am more convinced now than ever that even if all the promotions I could still have hoped for had actually materialized, I would always have felt that I had missed out on something much more fulfilling.
At my high school graduation, I was one of three students chosen to briefly speak about our expectations for the future: While the other two chiefly spoke about their hopes and / or fears, I said that although I didn’t view my future life with rose-tinted spectacles, I was curious where it was going to take me and what challenges I was going to come up against. It turns out that I’ve ended up setting my greatest challenge myself — and while I neither expected nor found it to be all plain sailing, I think my 18 year old self’s curiosity has been more than satisfied so far. And I’m not done yet! 😀
High school graduation — starting over — commencement: first stage successfully concluded!
(Photos: various private sources)
* For purposes of this post, there’s no point in going into further details — I shared some of the background, though under a different topical aspect, in the first paragraphs behind the spoiler tags at the end of this post on BookLikes.
Impersonal Living Spaces
Model apartments / houses and similar show pieces of course, as well as furnished corporate accommodation — but essentially, any and all living spaces that don’t tell you anything about the person(s) inhabiting them; be it because they’re furnished more with an eye towards being trendy (fake book spines or generic books, anybody — or book spines turned towards the wall?), or because of their soulless furniture, or because they’re so thoroughly sanitized that you could literally eat off the floor without fear of catching any germs … if you weren’t too scared of being scolded for leaving food stains behind instead.
A home should, of course, first and foremost feel comfortable (to its inhabitant(s) if nobody else); but ideally it also tells you something about the person(s) calling it their home — some of the path they have traveled in life, their priorities, preferences and likes, etc. And I’m not necessarily talking about long-term accommodation only … personally, I tend to start making a “home” (of sorts) even of any hotel room where I’m spending more than a single night: I move some of the furniture (somehow chairs and, occasionally, tables and reading lamps never seem to be where I need them to be); I don’t plug in the electric water heater where it’s (presumably) meant to go but where I need it to be in relation to the table, bed and TV, I rearrange the bedding in a similar fashion as I’m used to, etc. And my actual home tells you everything about me from the fact that red is my favorite color to my love of books, the fact that I share rooms with (two) cats, that I place a premium on comfort, that I am not exactly organized, as well as some the places where I have lived before and cultures I am particularly interested in.
(Image sources here, here, here, here, here, and here)
9 thoughts on “An Alphabet of My Likes and Dislikes: “I””
Fake books? Really? Man, that is just low. I can’t imagine associating with anyone like that…
When I resigned from my position and explained I was moving to Australia (which was for MT, but also: Australia!), the CEO and I ran into each other in the parking lot, and he asked “Why can’t you find a man who lives here?”. He said it kindly, and it made me laugh. I continued to working for the company as an international contractor until the GFC flattened everybody, which forced my cateer path alterations.
It sounds like he *knew* you were moving because of a man, though? My boss just made a blind assumption, as if it couldn‘t possibly be anything else. It was chiefly this that angered me … especially given that by and large he was a nice person, and not half as entrenched in stereotype as his own comment had made him come across. (He’d intended it as a tease, but it was clear that at bottom he believed it to be true, too.) Sigh. Oh well!
Btw, regardless of the actual geography, what feels further away to you, looking at it from Australia — the U.S. or Europe (any country, but especially the UK or the Netherlands)? I remember when I was traveling in Australia, the U.S. seemed a lot further away in my mind than the UK / England … and even Germany. Even though the cities looked a lot more like American cities than European ones, and the countryside / the Outback … while not exactly the same as rural America or the deserts of the Southwest, they, too, came at least closer to the equivalent American features than to anything European. But even if Australian society is very much its own thing, too — and Colonial society is long dead and gone —, it always felt like Europe was, well, not right around the corner, but definitely not 24 hours‘ worth of net travel time away (not counting overlays, etc.), whereas the U.S., mentally, really did seem half a world away. Skewed perspective of a European? Has MT ever commented on this? (Or would it be, in his case, “what do you mean? Of course they‘re *both* in equidistant galaxies far, far away …“?)
Europe definitely seems closer. I can’t really say why though, other than if I look at a map, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia are usually displayed (at least here) clustered together. The flights are the same shades of hell.
There is something more demoralising about the US flight, and I probably wouldn’t feel that way if I lived on the West Coast of the US. But arriving in LA (or SF), after 14 hours in the plane, knowing I have a long layover followed by another abyssmal 6 hours on a smaller, rattier looking plane just makes me want to curl up and cry.
Thinking back, the last flight to EU was 2 flights of approximately 8 hours each (changing in Singapore), and I arrived in Schipol, only 20 minutes from my BF’s house. Actually, considering flights to FL have us travelling for 24-32 hours (depending on layovers and internal US flights), flying to EU *IS* much shorter. Though I remember the UK flight being hellaciously long – but there too, we arrived in London and had two train trips ahead of us because we were starting in Cardiff.
I laugh at my younger self, remembering how I used to dread 6 hours in a plane to go from FL to EU. HAH! With the exception of the South Island of NZ, I can’t hit foreign land from here in anything like 6 hours. No, wait, I think if I get the direct flight, I can get to Vanuatu in 4.5-5 hours. Worth every minute it takes too. 😀
MT is more adapted to the long hauls, as a native, though he doesn’t relish them in the least. Long hauls are ‘normal’. But, hilariously, you should see the pained look he exhibits whenever he has to drive more than 30 minutes to get somewhere.
You constantly remind me, in this series of posts, that much of what you say applies — in a general way, of course — to me; individuality and not being part of the herd is one; and quirky personal spaces, whether homes or interiors, is another. I put down most of my own quirkiness to autism, but I can’t understand any drive to conform to uniformity and I suspect you don’t either.
No, I can‘t; I actually find it scary. To a limited extent, I can get behind the Asian notion of not placing yourself ahead of your community; at least insofar as it balances out excess egotism — though I would never want to take it anywhere near the “you are nothing, the group is everything“ levels that seem to predominate certain strands of Eastern thinking (and, as a byproduct, so well serve the Communist ideology and the power structure of its Chinese incarnation).
At bottom, losing your sense of self or placing peer / group applause ahead of your own opinions and personality makes you a malleable tool in someone else‘s hands: It‘s no coincidence that an only slightly exaggerated slogan describes the workings of all strictly hierarchical /authoritarian structures by the shorthand formula “first break their spine, then slowly reconfigure them“ (or “build them up again“) — and of course, reconfigure them so as to best serve the hierarchy’s needs. Whether you do it pied piper style like Goebbels and every demagogue since, or by simple peer pressure, or whether you apply the methods described in the first chapter of Huxley‘s “Brave New World“ — the result is the same.
And popularity / mass appeal is the first step towards a bandwagon; it may start out with the person or item (or idea, or lifestyle choice, etc.) finding genuine, considered favor with a large number of people, but as soon as critical mass is reached, it takes on a dynamism of its own, which is fueled by people‘s need for harmony (which isn‘t exactly furthered by being critical of something everybody around you loves) as much as it is by marketing and similar forms of indoctrination. — To me, by contrast, mass appeal just operates as a giant warning bell; e.g., the moment I learn that a given book is a bestseller, chances are that I will genuinely lose all interest in it, or if I don‘t it at least goes onto my back burner an I won‘t touch it for at least a year or two … or however long it may take to see whether the book has any long-term power to recommend itself even after the hype has died down.
[Ugh. Sorry, didn’t set out to make a speech! * TA steps off soap box. *]
I had to smile, btw, when I saw that you (twice) used the term “quirky“ in the context of individuality. That term is going to feature in one of the upcoming posts in this series, too!