Life Like a Skilfully Edited MGM Picture Montage
Recently I started thinking about things in terms of color blocks, as though my life were a Gap sweater and all of my activities were color blocks. It looks much nicer when there are wide blocks among the thin blocks. The width of the block corresponds to the amount of time spent at the activity (or, as some people like to say: job, career, life goal, etc). This suggests a future-oriented thought process, in which I grit my teeth through a present unpleasantness in order to achieve a certain goal in the future, for instance, a job that will make a nice one and a half or two year block on my Gap sweater.
Previously, I was a much more present-oriented thinker. I thought about my life in terms of movie montages, such as are featured in the beginning of some MGM, Universal or Paramount VHS movies. I pursued activities that would make me shiver if it were ever featured on an MGM classics montage, like this one:
What this brings me to is that I sense a flawed pattern in both of my approaches to life. Life is neither a color block sweater nor an MGM movie montage. Sometimes I see many people, including myself, trying to live as though it is. Maybe this is my skewed perception of how other people are living their lives, but I think it’s true for some people. What a color block means is that you are living so that your life looks a particular way from the outside, as though you can knit your way to a perfect representation of the life you would like, one that contains all of the right things in all of the right quantities. An example of this life I have gone over in my head would be, for example: a four year block at a prestigious university, a two year block doing something productive, a half-year block doing something international, a three or four year block getting an advanced degree and there I hit the end of my rope (or skein).
I think I came up with this plan mid-year, and already I am sensing its inherent weaknesses. First of all, I did not enjoy my three-year block at a prestigious university. I had never thought about life as a series of color blocks before this university, and secretly, I hope not to continue thinking this way for very long. But as I am for the moment, let us go forth seeking out its soft spots. Second of all, while living life as an MGM movie montage is admittedly not the way to go, either, this way of living just does not make it easy to be a happy person. I am actually at heart a very self-centered person, and one of my most important life goals is to be happy. I would like to put on a good face to the outside world on my path towards getting happy, and I do also believe a person cannot be happy unless they at least try to improve the condition of things. Whether or not that is a self-delusion in order to ease my conscience (which just wants to be happy) remains to be seen. Whether I actually do want to improve the condition of things, myself included among the things as I would greatly like to improve the condition of me, and just say I really only am concerned with pursuing my own happiness in order to create a coarse and impenetrable outer shell by which I can keep myself safe and sound from all things Other also remains to be seen. I have a track record of doing very selfish things towards the aim of improving my own happiness, that have mainly resulted in securing my own misery, but I am not sure if I have learned sufficiently to become a more altruistic person. I don’t even know if someone can change from being inherently selfish to being inherently altruistic. I try, but then, if I am an inherently selfish person who knows what kind of effort I am actually putting in?
I do worry a lot about how selfish I think my nature is, and then I tell myself that if I were as selfish as I thought I would not even be worrying about it. Then I say to myself that it is actually just more evidence to how selfish I really am. I am sure truly altruistic people do not consider themselves nearly important enough to waste so much time thinking about themselves as I do thinking about myself.
Ultimately, it’s best not to think about one’s character for too long. You are the most abjectly subjective observer you could have possibly found, after all.
This brings us back to the subject of the color blocked life. Following my nine-year plan, which admittedly was not a plan in the orthodox sense of the word, but rather a hastily scrambled together pattern by which to explain the past five and future four years of my life, has led me neither to the hedonistic giddiness of my previous “plan,” nor the self-assured and contented stability I fear those who are legitimately on the color block plan indeed enjoy. Why is this?
I think it is because I am not actually built for the colorblock life. I do not actually know what I would like to do with my life. I would like to be a Nobel prize winning novelist, I would also like to teach 5th grade (all subjects) and 12th grade (AP English), be a photojournalist for National Geographic, be a “consultant,” become a criminal defense lawyer, an environmental justice lawyer, a seasoned Yankees fan, a cellist and an ultrarunner.
Now, before I went to a presitigious university, I think I would have been okay with all of these things, though they are a colorblock nightmare. At the prestigious university, however, I met young people such as myself who left the university (with much better grades then I did, probably) and are on their ways to creating sweaters with wonderfully wide and resonant blocks of color. Some of their sweaters are made of all one color. They are very impressive looking monocolor sweaters. And I look down at my own paltry, stringy little sweater and I begin to think that even MGM montages must represent a very wide block on somebody’s sweater. Not mine.
In short, I am a very insecure person and I imagine that people with only a few colors on their sweaters are more secure than I. Is this true? I do not know. Will having wider blocks on my sweater make me more secure? Perhaps. Will it make me happier? I do not think so. I think the secret to being happy is to stop caring about what my life will look like when taken in as a whole. Will I be satisfied to think that I served four years here and two years there and ten years here? Or will I be satisfied to think that I explored this and that and this until I fell into what I wanted to stay into. Or never fell at all and kept exploring. There is a new, conservative part of me that thinks exploration is very irresponsible these days. My old self cringes at that. Why? That is the question.
Until next time.