Everybody’s angry these days, simmering with prickly discontent or snapping impatiently. And at family gatherings I see people yawning and sighing over stories of unmet aspirations they’ve heard a million times before. The eyeroll and deep breath signalling to empathic others that here he goes again talking about that tired old dream he’s been chasing for forty years.
Why doesn’t he give up and let us all get some peace?
In fact, how about we all give up on our dreams and just have fun? Would we be more contented, easy-going and patient as a species? Look at sloths. They don’t bother hurrying for anybody and they seem pretty contented.
The problem is that we are conditioned from birth to expect satisfaction in all areas of our lives, miracles even. Romance will lift our station and complete us. The right job will buy us a nice house, car, lifestyle. Good friends will make weekends fun. It’s all possible of course with education. Education is a magic wand, wave it and you will have choices and ANYTHING YOU WANT.
When I was out of work and once again burdening Centrelink I was offered a set of courses to make me “work ready”. They included Business, Sales and Hospitality. When I was asked which of these three best aligned with my preferred career I was at a loss to answer. “What would you like to be doing if you had the choice?” they asked patiently.
“I’d like to run my own Musical Theatre Production Company and in conjunction with that I’d like to write more novels and lyrics for the best composers on earth.”
“We can help you get a job in a shoe store in Westfield.”
“Or there’s that new Call Centre opening up,” added someone helpfully.
I ended up doing the Sales Course and when that finished I got a job washing dishes at a local café whilst completing my online Creative Writing Course. When I finished my Writing Course I started writing in the morning before work and in the evening after work. That pattern continued for almost a decade and then in 2007 I won the Women’s Weekly/Penguin Short Story Contest which gave me enough prize money to quit my dishwashing job and stay home and write for almost a year.
I was lucky. I knew what I wanted in life and I took the elementary steps required to prepare myself for the responsibility of realising my dream. Not that I’m there yet but it’s getting closer and when I get there I will be competent enough to handle the challenges. In the meantime, there is the ongoing challenge of being patient, which brings me full circle to my opening statement. Why are so many people prickly and angry?
People feel cheated. They bow to convention, take the jobs that pay well and promise to give them everything money can reasonably buy. They marry the “right” person who not only fulfils their romantic fantasies but also halves the bills or gives them a leg up to a higher social rung. But they’re not satisfied. Something’s missing and when they dare to complain they are told they’re ungrateful or in need of a holiday.
A holiday. Now what the hell does that ever do short of emptying the account? A mindless booze-fest where we attempt water-skiing or paragliding only to end up injured. And has anything changed back home? For a week we feel better but then the old ennui sets in.
An affair. There’s a great solution. Get involved with a pretty stranger who doesn’t find you repetitive and dull. It’s so nice to be appreciated again. But that doesn’t last and when the glitter settles you wake up one day, older and sadder and soiled and wasted and wondering why you screwed up a perfectly OK mediocre marriage.
Now you’re living alone and for a while it’s fun learning how to do things for yourself and not worrying about pleasing someone else. But then it gets lonely and the old dissatisfaction takes hold.
Midlife and you wonder what it was all about. Life. What the hell was it supposed to deliver and how come it didn’t deliver to you? And then one day you remember being fourteen and standing on a beach looking out to sea, the horizon glittering with the promise of adventure. You stood there for ages imagining sailing over that horizon and onwards until, looking back, the shore had slipped away and nothing divided you from acres of blue. You wondered about the night sky at sea, how it would look crusted with stars that reflected in a mirror of ocean. Floating on this star-crusted eternity you felt yourself expand and become one with the universe. Not a sound. A silence so profound it seemed to breathe and you felt alive. ALIVE. And then you remembered you had dreamed of being a sailor but your parents thought there was no future in that and persuaded you to study Law. There was more money in Law, more security. If you still wanted to sail you could buy a yacht later and make it a weekend hobby.
You never did. Somehow it all just slipped away and you forgot the boy and the sea and the dream and even now when there’s no-one to answer to, no-one who would really care or try to stop you still you don’t bother buying that yacht because something inside has died, a spark has gone out and it can’t be rekindled. And even if it could it’s all too much bother now.
So, why are people so prickly and angry? Because this world encourages and applauds compromise at the expense of LIFE.