OK so here’s the thing. We may think that what we want out of life is to sit by a pool sipping a martini while a naked man (or woman) massages our feet. But we are essentially problem-solvers: and if we don’t have a problem we tend to make one. We argue about the temperature of the pool or who has used up the massage oil or whether I’m getting fat. Watch Big Brother and shudder…
So here’s the thing: life is problems. Not only problems but mainly problems. You have a problem; I have a problem – and we both want our problems to go away, but they refuse to. My problem sits there like a crossword-puzzle on my laptop which won’t let me open any other applications: before I can move on, I have to solve the puzzle. But even though I’ve done lots of crosswords before, I can’t do this one. The clues defeat me. I’ve phoned a friend – in fact I’ve phoned all my friends – I’ve googled everything I can and I’ve beaten my brains trying to find an answer. Because this is like a whole new layer of crossword: it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. And still it sits there, and still I have to solve the thing in order to move on – which means I have to find some new strategies. I don’t know how to find those strategies, so I must first discover them and then apply them. It seems impossible.
But here’s the thing: as I look for the strategies a window begins to open up. I begin to see answers where there was only blank space. I look at the puzzle from a whole new angle, one I hadn’t even imagined before. I find unsuspected, hidden clues. I start to fill in the gaps. And in finding those new strategies, I am changed. In finding these strategies I grow as a human being.
Then again, supposing I don’t even try: supposing I just sit there and complain that I have a problem. Other people may try to help: but since the crossword is for me only they can’t get behind the screen and see it properly.
This reminds me of something a Friend said at Sunday’s meeting:
‘Another person is more successful than you in exams. So you decide to copy them – you do what they do, behave as they behave. You mimic their habits, their walk, their clothes and way of talking. But what you don’t realise is that in this exam, everyone has a different set of questions.’
And that’s what we’re talking about here. No-one can see your laptop screen like you can because no-one sits where you sit. When I think, ‘I wish I knew what it would be like to be that person,’ there’s no way of knowing – because then I’d be them and not me. That chair can only be occupied by one person at a time.
My life at the moment is like this. You know the concept of fractals? They’re wiggly things which on closer examination have wiggly things inside them. Like a coastline: from a distance it looks smooth but on closer examination it has lots of ins and outs: little bays and inlets, outcrops and headlands. When you examine these more closely they too are made up of wiggly bits – and so it goes on. Even a grain of sand is not smooth; its surface is also wiggly.
Here’s an example from a set of images called the Mandelbrot Set:
So my life at the moment is a bit like this picture – or, if you will, like a coastline. Every day there is a new twist; a new turn. One day we take a left towards the horizon and I think ‘Aha! I see where we’re going – right out to sea!’ But the next day we turn towards land again, whereupon I get really depressed (‘Oh no, we’re going back again!’) – and the day after, we head towards the lighthouse – and so on. I drive myself mad trying to figure out where it’s going to end up, because it’s all so convoluted. The only way it looks smooth is from above – a God’s-eye-view, if you like. Except that of course a God’s-eye-view is from every single imaginable point…
You can drive yourself mad thinking about all this. Or you can try not to see it as a problem. You can even try to see it as an incredible journey. Because the question ‘Where am I going?’ can only be answered by the question: ‘how am I living?’
PS: Oh, and the title? It was Monica in ‘Friends’ firing Joey as a show of strength. I feel for her in this episode – I know exactly what it’s like trying to assert authority over people who have no respect for you. A propos of which I shall post a review of the excellent ITV series ‘Victoria’. But that’s a twist for another day…