Friday, 28 June 2013

Emperor of the Mundane!

The 28th June. As far as I'm aware, no grand personal achievements, no incorruptible friendships, no tragic conclusions, have affected my life on this particular date. Sometimes we have days where not a lot happens. These days might be part of a laborious routine consisting of waking, eating, working, eating some more and finally, sleeping; some days, we fall ill, bed-ridden – don't you just hate those days?; and on other days...well, everyone can be forgiven for the occasional bout of indolence, can they not?
            The 28th June, 1519. Charles V was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Quite a remarkable day for him, no doubt. The last emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in fact, to receive a papal coronation – eleven years later. In 1516, he'd become Emperor Charles I of Spain. Not bad, huh? Yet, let us return to his 28th of June 1519. It stands out more than all of my 28th Junes ever have...I think.  
            Let us travel the dark warrens of time to 1838, and again it is the 28th June. Victoria of England, known also, from 1876 onwards, as the Empress of India, is crowned Queen of England. Somewhat of an adrenaline-pumping day for Her Majesty, too, don't you agree? Now, I begin to wonder in a moment of self-denigration: why haven't I had a special 28th June yet? Unfortunately, I'm unlikely to receive a coronation anytime soon (however, the future is a shroud of mystery and possibility...beware!), but I don't feel, racking my brains as I have been, as if it is a date of any serious significance for me yet. Well, perhaps not so much for "me", since who knows how the past can affect the future? But for my life. Nothing has occurred on this date in particular to swing the pendulum of my life into a new-found, avid motion. No glorious ideas of plot, character, or technical strategy have broached my struggling imagination on a day of writer's block, a day I'm wont to consider ineffectual, for I hate languishing. No great sporting event has drawn upon my every energy. Nor have I experienced the beginning day on frontlines, when the sun rises, promise-filled and brazen, only to bleed crimson day after day, week beyond week until thin rays of light struggle to bleed through the swampy mists of aftermath. I have not seen, on a 28th June, tailored politicians shake manicured hands before scribing their signatures (in gold-filigree fountain pens that cost more than some of us earn in a month!) on a treaty optimistic of change, of growth, of...progress. And, accordingly, I am yet to see the day where a treaty of such magnitude, when signed, ultimately crumbles to ashes beneath the standard of subjugation...who knew!
            Events of the past are remembered, rejoiced and of course, regretted. Regimes begin, enacting and changing lives, reviving authority. Relationships invested in – new routes to assure the growth and the security of familial bloodlines in order to consolidate achievements and inveigle the world to realise fully (with you at the forefront) the next human goal. Whatever the event, and whenever it occurred, occurs, or will occur, it is remembered by somebody. Location, age, gender, race, religion. Decisions of substantial magnitude shape these different categories we can align ourselves with. Often we are serried into profuse, seemingly endless legions – the British, the American, the Asian; the man, the woman; the young, the middle-aged, the old; so on, so forth. These events that affect and influence our lives in ways we might not even fully comprehend, can often be found to be ensigns and pennants for the decisions of those few who can extort and manipulate "power".
            These manifestations of will, of belief, of leaders' estimations of what is "best for the country" and other such phrases, can play out in ways that will shape the lives of so many who will not be crowned emperor, not receive the final papal coronation nor ever be able to witness the signing of an auspicious treaty. Many of us will view the 28th June forever more as "just another day". Some people won't, however, and much of this can come down to decision making.
            Decisions, decisions! What time to wake up, what to eat for lunch, how to prepare the next national budget in a forlorn attempt to decrease unemployment – which of these is the most difficult decision? Well, the first is out of our hands really, as we decide only when to set an alarm, not to actually awaken, for indeed, we are asleep – we might sleep through such hideous noises, too, if we are so very exhausted. What of the other two decisions? A person with serious vacillation over their appetite might find the budget question a whole lot easier; however, the budget imbroglio concerns the lives of millions. Their jobs or lack thereof, their welfare, their happiness. As distressing as choosing one meal over another and living that day in regret, excoriating your bad choice, can be, it is unlikely to disable you in any physical, economical, social manner. (Unless, of course, you are a singer and the meal burdens you with a serious food poisoning, ravaging your vocal chords and ending your career entirely, or some other severe example).
            Oftentimes, people condemn the choices of others out of spite and unfounded contempt. Unfounded up to the point where the censurers simply wanted to make the decisions themselves. Is it, therefore, out of jealousy? Some people believe that there exist the strong-willed and the weak-willed. Some people who find decision making easier than others. Is this through a more refined intellect? Is it a side effect of a less stressful life, culminating in a freer mind with which to draw conclusions? Is it a greater determination towards accomplishing tasks? Who knows! Ultimately, there isn't enough room for every decisive human being to be in a position of recognized power, and a consequence of this is their derision, their snorting at the action taken by those fulfilling jobs the derisive might believe they could execute in a more adroit way.
            I myself am in the process of making a decision. More than one in fact, (and women say we can't multitask, jeez!) As well as deciding each week what topic I should write on, what aspect of the human condition I might ponder, and how and wherefore I could apply my own experiences, I also have a dental operation coming up. Supposedly I need a filling. Somehow, in my incredibly busy lifestyle (hah!), I have managed to brush all of my teeth bar one (the dastardly devil hides in the bottom right corner) to an exquisite standard. The earliest appointment I was offered happens to be three days before I go abroad for two weeks. Consequently, in the sceptical, worry-filled state we humans often find ourselves in, I wonder...what if I'm abroad and my tooth explodes into a bleeding vessel of pain and blood and anguish? What if, angst-ridden, I forget about some minor, often taken-for-granted allergy or fear of needles that I suffer from. I don't have any allergies (other than an allergy to hard-work) that I know of, but nevertheless...And, is there even a dental surgery where we will be staying? What if it is a thirty mile car journey, and I bleed out in a pathetic mess during what would be (for all concerned) a long, arduous trip?
            The odds are, I wouldn't suffer any problems post-operation, so my holiday would progress as smoothly as it always does; even more likely, I wouldn't be a screaming wreck weeping blood from my lips. Yet the thought amuses me...somewhat, omitting the pain.
            If I wait until after the holiday, my tooth might fester and might I die while abroad? Nobody needs that. I suppose I could have a seaside funeral, and be buried in a sandcastle, left to decompose into sand and mica grit, or perhaps even become crab fodder. Now there's an interesting thought!
            When faced with decisions regarding the unknown, we can be forgiven (to some extent) for conceiving unlikely-yet-macabre possibilities. Our imagination feeds on fears. It can turn mild concerns into worst case scenarios, leading us to not only fear, but believe possible, the severe. The chances are, whether I have my minor filling before or after I go away, I will experience mild numbness, perhaps a little trouble eating on that side for a few days, and the occasional soreness when the harsh, biting winds sweep through my mouth. Egregious, mercurial pain is an unlikely happenstance, once we allow our minds to rationalize the situation, for, surely the NHS would see fit to keep me in and monitor my condition, (cue unfettered fear) RIGHT?
            Decisions, once we allow ourselves to consider outcomes, consequences and the way people can be affected (a blog post seed is planted in this very sentence!) often turn out to be easier to make on the small scale. We must overcome fears, worries and doubt. Infrastructure, such as the National Health Service, is in place to help us, not cause us harm (I hope).
            Concluding, I have reached my decision. Today is the 28th June, and while I cannot boast sovereignty over the Holy Roman Empire, I am, and many of us are, the emperor/empress of our own day-to-day routine. The different days, when we embark on medical operations, job interviews, sporting finals and so forth, are the days that, unlike Queen Victoria's and Charles V's coronation, we can affect ourselves. They were appointed, crowned and chosen for their roles; us lowly plebs, with big financial decisions being played out beyond the veil of power, remain at liberty to decide what to eat, when to set our alarms, and when to have our teeth filled in!
Note: This week, my blog has fostered a more light-hearted approach. This was intentional, for next week my post covers death. See you then.


Friday, 21 June 2013


Picture yourself at the foot of a mountain. Before and above you stands a monolith of nature's jagged, unstoppable existence. Snow-covered rock blasted by the harsh wind; vegetation buried by winter's pallid sheets; air so thin you might believe nature pulls it away, a tug-of-war predicating your very survival.
            Beside you stands another. They are clad as you are: replete with harnesses, straps and buckles, the necessary paraphernalia of the mountain climber, the conqueror, the successful.
            Your goals are one: to reach the summit.

My father – Tony – and I were just this week pondering the value of living vicariously. Why do most of us do it? Perhaps you're wondering what I even mean?
            Have you ever browsed the internet, ever read a newspaper, ever watched the news channels, and discovered useful information regarding a sportsman, writer, actor, musician, perhaps even a friend, who you consider to have inspired you at some time? Were they scoring a winning point, unveiling a new piece of art, opening a new charity? How did you feel? Proud?
            One of my favourite bands, Dream Theater, recently divulged details of their new, eponymously titled album. As a fan, the concomitant excitement of new art being unleashed to be heard, heard and heard a whole lot more, suddenly having a concrete release date, felt wonderful, felt thrilling, felt relieving. It felt as if, once again, they had travailed across the dangers of a quagmire. What sort of quagmire? One of writer's block, creative stagnation, synergetic languishing. Once more they had navigated through with all of their skills that fans (such as I) love them for. And this new album was once more their way of illustrating the band's success, of cementing their brilliance, of further forging their legacy. And how did I feel? You guessed it. Proud.
            Yet, why did I feel proud? Music, art, creation. The feeling of pride when something we as individuals are devoted to becomes a public topic of conversation. That notion of secret expertise we indulge in, believing that our opinion will be the most desired, the most veracious, and through such veracity, our opinion will be the voice of authority.
            However, their success, after all, is theirs alone, really. I'll buy the C.D., attend the gigs, talk about the band and the music to other fans. But, am I a part of this success, and do I even deserve to be? Support breeds success through the concept of belief, in the recipient, of the band, writer, sports team. If we believe in their talent, we might buy tickets, merchandise, and associate ourselves with them; however, don't they alone reap the real, palpable rewards? None of Dream Theater's money, acclaim, success, will go to me. So why do I bother? Because I believe in what they do to be wonderful.
            Kowtowing and giving support drive these talented, inexorable money-making machines to achieve what they sought to achieve, and their gratitude can be perceived through their continuation rather than simply resting on their creative, sporting, technical laurels.
            Let me pose a question: if I had a photograph of Dream Theater, with one, perhaps all, of their signatures, but nothing saying "To Shaun, best wishes, the band!" or something similar, would I bear any real foothold into their success in such a fashion that I could attribute it to my own constancy as a fan? Are they not printed and signed in bulk? The same goes for sporting icons such as Lionel Messi, Rodger Federer, Sebastien Vettel. Does having their signature in my possession augment my  connection with them, therefore bringing me...fame?

            The higher you climb, the thinner the air, the harder your lungs struggle to breathe. Snow thickens, bulging upon sharp rocks, obscuring any good handholds within reach. Obfuscated are any advantageous animal trails from a glorious past, a past now abandoned by fleeing summer. Boons have been expunged.
            The person you had been stood contiguous with is above you, climbing ever onward. They are a vessel of physical performance and mental fortitude. Their ambition, their determination, their will, drives them ever onward – a reliquary of eluctable triumph.
            You are exhausted, cold and doubtful. Yet your companion never relents, and will succeed. What will you do – become inspired, carving your own path? Or find a connection to their own success?
            What will you do?
            Is it the fairest outcome for recognition, acclaim and fame to be rewarded to the labourers, the creators, and the proponents? Exponents, of which in some fashion or other, almost all of us are, can be guilty of suckling on a siphon of success we do not bear right to. (I myself have done so in the past when it comes to music and books and football – I used to hate it when Manchester United lost!)
            What innate trigger buried within us humans is so very susceptible to struggle and a need to be triumphant? Let us turn to sports. When a team I, you, anybody, supports, loses a match, why do we feel so thoroughly bereft of joy? Surely the sportsmen and sportswomen have tried their hardest, have understood the pressure of national, continental, global support, and have sought to achieve as much as possible? One of my close friends, Gus, owns a poster of Rafael Nadal, the caption reading: "Train as if you are the worst, perform as if you are the best." With this attitude in mind, how can we find it in ourselves to verbally attack people who lose, considering that, when they win and succeed, we sing their praises? Over the thousands of years of human existence, survival appears to have been the quintessential goal. To forage, hunt and find shelter from all manner of threats – bears, lions, sharks and of course, the dangers posed by nature. It seems to have been a fundamental motive of ours, ever since the first homo-sapiens, to not just survive, but...thrive. Conquer. Overcome the threats of the world we faced, still face and will always face for as long as we inhabit Earth. We are a species driven by ambition, and our most inchoate and yet, in many ways, most gilded desire, is that of power.
            As supporters, we blame officiating, we vituperate surface conditions and we curse the fates of injured players. Perhaps if we allowed ourselves to first think (of our own team): "That was not good enough," and then, because we are each individuals, "but no matter, I have my story to write, my chair to build, my song to record, my own football/tennis/cricket to play, my charity work to continue, I have blood to give, service to attend," might we see that this vicarious thrill is, when fully realised, nothing but a form of self-abnegation? Are we not denying ourselves indulgences? Thwarting the chance to fulfil our role as humans by becoming so indolent? (Believe me, I've had my bad days watching sport, too, but now, my writing is one of my favourite times of the day.)
            Rather than being proud that a rockstar we once shook the hand of is coming back to town, and how we somehow have more right to see him again than somebody who didn't shake his hand, why don't we each strive to become the next rockstar? To bring our own little ingredient to society. Success should breed success. Before human settlements, before monopolies on trade goods, before suzerains and despots, there was a raw urgency to prevail day by day. Let us take such an ideal. Write so many words of your book a day, play your guitar for so many hours, go jogging whenever you can, but understand that life throws challenges, daily, at each of us. Listening to music, reading a book, watching sports, is only escapism, not a resolution. And by living our own lives more, and other lives less, and by embracing our own talents, will our own self-actualization be realised.

            The flag is planted, and beneath you lies thousands of feet of conquered rock and snow.
            Your companion, a winner for so long, stands slack-jawed at your equal victory.
            In your own way, in your obstinate defiance, you have beaten them.
            Now can we all do the same?


Friday, 14 June 2013

Destiny's Implacability

During my time studying and drinking in Aberystwyth, I've also spent a lot of time thinking - at points until my mind has gone numb. Those of you brazen enough to brave this storm of thought can contribute, comment, accuse, question any aspect of it. After all, we all love a good debate, don't we? With each post I write, more and more incremental blocks of information regarding who I am, what I do, and some explanation of my purpose in life, will be unveiled.             
                Now, shall we begin?
            Recently I read this line on a social networking site: "Destiny is for losers, it's just an excuse to wait for things to happen, instead of making them happen."
            Is this an accusation? A criticism of somebody being indolent, wasteful? Is it self-realisation, and therefore, self-deprecation? The bitter, stinging reality of an epiphany's purpose? Or, perhaps, it is an instance of solipsistic self-assertion. This is how it is and you shall believe it for ever more! Ever come across anything like that before...?
            Soon after reading this, mind numb, my body cold from almost ten minutes of motionless reflection, I asked myself, "could destiny instead be the reason for things happening? Could destiny be the force that drives everything, if anything, at all?"
            The ever-dependable Oxford English Dictionary has destiny written down with this definition at its forefront, "that which is destined or fated to happen to a particular person, place or institution".
            An interesting concept. The most simplistic question (and perhaps most complicated) seems to be, 'does destiny exist?'.  Is there really someone, or something, controlling the fate of all that happens, and all that is, in this universe, right down to the finest gossamer threads of seven billion different lives? (Now that would be something to put on the old C.V., wouldn't it?) Yet, there seems to be an egregious flaw in this theory - death and birth. The many people who die each day, and the newborns gracing mothers and fathers all across the globe - they are different people, living different lives, from those who have recently passed on. When is our fate determined? Before we are born, before we make a decision ourselves, relying upon our parents and carers? Or does destiny follow a more one-step-at-a-time methodology? People often hear of somebody burning in a fire, or drowning, and say "I wouldn't want to go like that," and I've wondered myself, how, when my time comes, I'd want to reach my demise. Usually, the quiet, peaceful descent into oblivion seems more appealing than being singed or shot or decapitated. But are we helpless to merely guess and hope for or against? Do I already have a predetermined, invisible ticket with "motorbike accident" written on it? Yes or no, so many of us intertwine our lives every day - can this alter our destiny, change our fate? How does this omnipotent lord above keep balancing these threads of life? Are each of us, humans, dogs, cats, trees, the existence of everything...are we woven onto some great tapestry; are we to be found in the glossary of the largest story ever composed? Just how much would the 'being' in control of destiny have to orchestrate? Nature, the cosmos, everything?
            What about motivation? This being, creator, god - what drives it? Collective belief? Across the human population, individual beliefs range across a gargantuan spectrum, and some of us (the more capricious amongst us), cannot fully pin down what, why, nor how, we truly believe things happen. So then, this lord that is the great leveller, the bringer of balance, the definition of happening, is it all an intricate composition? Are we spun as a web by their daedal craftsmanship, each step we take - our failures, our successes - are they recorded on a script of cause and effect, where every detail is accounted for, and ultimately, meaningful?      
            Destiny. As a student, when I'm walking to the university, hedging my bets as to whether or not an essay of mine has been marked (usually not, surprise, surprise!), I, perhaps like many, perhaps like only a few, go through the multitude of possible scores I might have achieved. 1% all the way to 100%. Each is, at this point in my nervous mind, as possible as the next. The dizzy heights of a First Class essay, all the way down to the suicide-tempting FAIL. That I'm writing this blog is a testimony of no fails thus far, not of me resisting the aforementioned temptation. I read through the essay the night before any day where I resolve to check if a marked copy is ready for collection. Sometimes, I've re-read my essay seven or eight times before I receive my mark. Often, I find slight flaws in my sentences, questions in my own interrogations which I didn't ask, impositions I could have played on more than I did, some that I didn't notice at all. Such discoveries are...too late. Perhaps, to some extent, a contrivance of my nervous imagination, seeking to lampoon myself before I've even passed or failed. (Drive and determination will feature in another blog, count on it.)
            The important reminder in this struggle for composure is that, this essay now has one mark. Be it 67%, 59%, 17%. Be it anything. It has been marked, "my fate is sealed" as the saying goes; my destiny lies before me. Yet what does this mean? No matter which way I walk to the essay office, no matter what shirt I wear, how many prayers I now sing, my mark is going to be the same. My chance to make it better disappeared when I believed it was a finished product; any regrets I'll have over the final score could have been mollified somewhat by setting aside more time to work on it. Destiny waits for nobody.
            What about another example - football. Are match results pre-determined by how players will each react and act differently to each pass, tackle, shot, flash of movement, that they experience? Will something unexpected happen to swing the pendulum in one team's favour? Perhaps. Goals often happen, after all, because defensively one team has faltered, allowing the magical moment from the attacking team to occur.
            Let us also consider the emotional investment. We have no idea what will happen. Be it a game of sports, receiving an essay mark or finding out if we got a job; would we rather ride the uncertain waves of the unknown, allowing the fate of the match, the score of the paper, the state of our happiness, to be controlled by the tension of the unknown, or, as impatient as humans can be, would we each prefer to know in a quick, sudden manner? No tense penalty kicks, no sticky examination envelopes, no formal phone-calls, just...everything, there before us.
            The latter doesn't seem very possible, yet that is just as well, for tension is one root of emotion that we should never forget. 

Shaun Carter.