Tuesday 4 August 2015

The perils of the Internet as a tool for existential optimisation: Part 1 - Conspiracy theories

I have always considered myself as being in the possession of an open mind. I have always thought of this as a good thing. But it strikes me that if you use the Internet instead of, say, the library, which must be its analogue equivalent, to start looking for 'answers', then there is no end to the queue of people lining up to push all sorts of things through an open mind.

As this is a travel blog, albeit currently of a non-geographical kind, just a quick note on actual geographical travelling as a tool for existential optimisation: it didn't work. I simply took my issues all the way around the world with me and sometimes they weighed heavier than my actual luggage. Travelling was fantastic for all kinds of things but 'finding myself', Losing Luggage, and anything of that kind, were not among them.

Another quick aside to explain my use of the term 'existential optimisation'. What I really mean is spiritual fulfilment or something, but even I can't help rolling my eyes at that, it's like an involuntary tick. Given that I don't think I'll actually know what I'm looking for until I find it, 'external optimisation' seems like the best fit name for this journey, which obviously has its own eye-rolling qualities, for which I can only apologise. Or I could just stick with Losing Luggage.

Anyway, the Internet is not like the library. While you might stumble across the 'Esoteric, Mystic and Occult' section on the way back from 'Philosophy' or 'Religion' in the library, you won't have a bunch of strangers in the aisles who probably have viruses chucking pamphlets at you about how we're made by aliens. At the library, the guy with the sandwich board telling us that The End Is Nigh is not, from what I've seen, allowed inside, but on the Internet they have their own websites to really get into the details. Whatever print publications from established publishing channels that might be accepted in a library might lack or fail to satisfy with fact, the Internet is more than happy to make up for with theory.

So it is a disadvantage for me that I've always been partial to a conspiracy theory. There was only one when I was a kid - the JFK assassination. The first time I was allowed to watch television past nine o'clock was to see a documentary about it. They'd show one on every possible anniversary. I would look out of the window on car journeys wondering if England had grassy knolls, or if they were just in America. The JFK assassination was followed by the conspiracy fact of Watergate, so the idea that governments and institutions might have a complex and perhaps creative relationship with what others would call the truth has always seemed quite obvious to me, as it must surely do for anyone who has ever been to the cinema. I don't, for example, believe there will be a public service broadcast asking us to calmly make our way to the eastern hemisphere of the planet, take our seats and fasten our seatbelts as we are about to experience some celestial turbulence if an asteroid really is hurtling in our general direction. Obviously, a lot has happened since JFK and the conspiracy section on the Internet has it all covered.

There seems no end to how deep that particular aisle in the Internet library goes. You would have to take me to the pub and get me a beer for me to get into any of that. If you don't already have an idea about what's down there, you probably don't want to know. To satisfy the curious-but-non-commital-minded, you could look to David Cronenberg's Videodrome, or the 1988 film They Live (whose star delivered the immortal lines "I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and I’m all out of bubblegum" and "They Live is a documentary!!" RIP Roddy Piper) for an executive summary of the common themes.

Regardless of whether they're true or not, I find them more interesting than TV, but can't tolerate the following:
  • bad grammar and spelling, a generally poor writing style
  • extensive use of capital letters and exclamation marks
  • bad attitude and bossy tone e.g. 'Wake up, sheeple!'
  • use of the word 'sheeple'
  • use of the word the word 'repent' and derivations thereof
  • smugness about having taken out the correct religious cover against an impending apocalypse
because they seem to be used by mean-spirited nutjobs. Even then, there's only so many theories you can take before you have to get out in the fresh air. They all seem to trade in the same currency: belief, which is why I leave mine at the desk before I go in. But when I look around, everyone seems to be trading in belief: whether immigrants are taking over or play a vital role in culture and society, whether religion is better or science, Conservative or Labour, Pepsi or Coke. Beliefs appear to be a valuable commodity. To continue any further on this journey, I can see that I will have to be extremely careful with mine.

Friday 17 July 2015

What's it all about?

When I was a kid, back when adults were strange and boring beings, always sitting about and talking instead of running around, playing and having fun, I asked my dad what philosophy was. "It's when you ask questions like 'Why are we here?'" he explained. That's a silly question, I thought. I got here without anyone asking or explaining why, so what could it matter? It was a silly and also annoying question. It made me not much look forward to being an adult if that was the kind of thing they talked about. I would probably have been mortified to know that some thirty years later (the other day), I would have this conversation with Dad:

"What's it all about, Dad? Why do you think we're here?"
"Does there have to be a reason?"
"I guess not." I pondered. "But wouldn't it be awful if there was and we never even asked?"
He laughed and buttered some toast.

So, I'm still stuck with this blasted question and only a rough sketch of an answer, which I didn't even come up with. It was a teacher, on a school report. "Tania has not reached her potential." Annoyingly, this continues to be a problem. I think I'm here to reach my potential and I still haven't. Even a glimpse of it would be nice.

I mentioned this to my best friend while we were sitting about in the pub and talking. Although she is far too nice and considerate to use these specific words, I believe I can paraphrase what she said to "You're thinking too much," and I don't disagree. She is fully occupied with a gorgeous child, a husband, a house, a good job that she enjoys and I completely understand it if she, and indeed anyone, thinks that looking for an invisible and perhaps fictional concept such as 'potential' is a pointless and wasteful luxury.

On the other hand, it has led me to some very interesting things. So for now, I will leave you with a fruit of my, er, 'labour' which, hopefully, can show that this journey is not as miserable and pointless as it may well sound.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

The journey continues...

It has been just over four years since we returned from our travels. Perhaps the most common question I was asked was 'So, what's it like to get back to normality?' After deciding that they weren't deliberately trying to wind me up or bring me down, it was still a tricky one to answer. What did they mean by 'normality'? Having no job and no money? That the first violent experience I encountered in over two years of travelling happened on the tube when it pulled into my home station on the night of my arrival back to the UK? Finding that a KitKat now cost 60p? Was that 'normal'? And what did they think was going on in everywhere else in the world? Oddness? Obviously, it would have been somewhat abrasive to respond honestly to what was clearly assumed to be an innocuous question (and no one likes it when you answer a question with a question, let alone several). The closest I could get to both truth and courtesy was 'I feel like I haven't stopped travelling,' and even that would trigger a long pause and then an awkward change of subject. It would have been a lot more straightforward if they'd asked me what it was like to come home, because that was great.

I existed in a quiet and stable state of euphoria right up until I got promoted at work about a year later. My excitement at life and all its possibilities (for a person with a British passport) was slowly and eventually entirely consumed by concern for issues that I'd spend all day trying to sort out, all night worrying about and all weekend zonked in front of the telly trying not to think about. None of which was the problem. The problem was that it was not for what I could describe as a worthy cause. No, I'm not really sure what a worthy cause is either.. maybe meaningful or important or fun or interesting or to support a family or household of my own (which I still don't have)? Or maybe just knowing what you're doing it for? Because I don't think the job provides the meaning - that's up to the person and I can't find it. But if this was the normality they were banging on about, then it was shit. So, six months later, I quit.

I'm no stranger to existential crises, I have one at least every couple of years, but this one's a humdinger. So, I invite you to join me on another journey. And this time, it's spiritual!