Ten Thousand Days

The Irony of a Public Life

July 17, 2021

Photo: Michal Dolnik

Day 2486 – Day 2527

I wrote a post a few weeks ago and decided against making it public.  There are always many things going on that I could write about but now that I am no longer anonymous, I have to carefully think about what I post and how it might impact those who are living.  

It’s an irony of our public lives that some things should never be made public.  In a quest for a “better and shinier” public life can easily forget that some things are sacred.

I’ve been coming across snippets of journals as I’m pulling out drawers and trying to downsize my crap.  I did it in New York and I did it in Arizona.  I did it in London but doing it here seems to be the hardest because there are a lot of things that belonged to my mother in my “stuff,” which, now returning here, my father has passed to me.  I look through the boxes and realize that these figurines are gone, those clothes got given away and I realize that at some point I was somewhat ruthless in my culling of her things.  Not ruthless enough and add to that my own things that I’ve held onto, all these years. My journals are one of them.  I now keep them digitally.

 

Photo: Lawrence Aritao

 

I remember someone once saying that he burned his journals.  I can’t imagine that – maybe I am a sentimentalist or I’m just far too attached to former versions of myself.  But the thing is, I have a pretty terrible memory.  I always have had.  My short-term memory is pretty good and that’s how I managed to make it through school but my long-term memory?  Not so much.  My journals and photos serve as my memory.  I know I saw Barbara Streisand in Las Vegas.  I don’t remember a thing about it.  I saw David Copperfield too.  Nada.  I travelled to Indonesia and went to Jakarta for 2 days and then all over Bali.  I stayed in Singapore as well.  I hear people talk about the food in those countries as being amazing.  I don’t remember a single thing I ate.  I do, however, remember a tea ceremony that a friend took me to enjoy, in Singapore.  I think I remember the things that have meaning to me, at the time.  If it is potent, it remains.

People always say I should write a biography because I’ve lived an amazing life.  I’m not sure it was amazing but it is full of stories.  The thing is that there are probably more stories that I’ve forgotten than I remember.  To make an impression on me, it seems, it takes a lot.

Last night on the news, there was a short piece on some new crew diving to discover the artefacts and stories of the Titanic.  It reminded me of the time that I worked briefly on loan to one of the Titanic salvage and exhibition companies, in their New York office.  

The company was mired in legal battles between competing salvage companies and even among their owners.  I was there to answer the phones and keep the office running.  I say office but it was really an empty floor of an office building with a couple of desks and a few chairs.  I was the only one there and I answered the phones and kept the door locked for my own safety but also to avoid the legal process servers. 

I was studying acting and training to be a minister at the time and so I got lots of time to learn my scripts and write my services, and they had a microwave so I was able to bring food and have something hot for lunch.  This I remember.  There were Russian billionaires and pirates and even Hollywood producers involved in the cast of the drama unfolding on the phones.  The office was in the financial centre, at the bottom of Manhattan and even by New York standards, it was a glamorous location.  I got to walk home after work up to Battery Park and up the West Side piers to 20th Street, where I lived.   I got to have a hot lunch, learn my lines, write my spiritual services and I tucked away the story of the famous Titanic company and their crazy cast of characters. 

 

Photo by: NOAA

 

One of the cast members was really my boss.  He was a lovely man with great tales of his own from the days he spent in the entertainment business and his times up in Canada and abroad.  When I left the job, he let me buy one of the office chairs for $50 and I remember his wife being annoyed because those chairs had cost hundreds of dollars.  This I remember!  It was a great chair and I loved it well, as I worked on finishing my degree and taking on sustainability post-graduate work.  I remember that he offered me a job as his permanent assistant and it would have been a pretty fun job to have, given all the different pies he had a finger in, but I would have to leave New York to take the job. 

I wasn’t in a position to take up his offer, but I always appreciated him for it.  He was a lovely man and he treated me well, and like an equal, despite the fact that I was on loan from my film company (between films) and I knew nothing about underwater salvage expeditions or artifact exhibitions and despite the fact that he was making half a million a year (before bonuses) for his role and I was taking in just enough to pay the rent in New York.  I wasn’t his equal but he saw beyond people’s current position to what they were capable of doing and he saw in me a quick study, a smart cookie, and a talented, resourceful and loyal employee.

Some people would have thought that job was stressful, but I found it amusing.  I’ve thought of him from time to time over the years, whenever the topic of the Titanic would come up and whenever I would think about some of the best bosses I’ve ever had.  Yes, in that mayhem, I found one of the best bosses I’ve ever had. 

Treating people with dignity and as an equal, despite our roles being different is a rarity, in my experience.

I looked him (let’s call him G) up last night to see what he was doing.  I should have thought twice about doing that.  It turns out that he died 2 years ago.  I was saddened by the news, and felt sorry that I hadn’t sent him a card to say hello and tell him of my adventures since we parted company.  He was an adventurous soul and I kind of felt a kindred spirit with him.  He would have enjoyed hearing that I’d travelled the world and done new things.  He would have been happy to see that I was enjoying my life.  I read up on several of his subsequent legal battles and was happy to see that he won his case in federal court, several years after we parted ways.  I only hope that he enjoyed his life until the end and that he passed quickly.  I wonder if his wife is still alive and if somewhere in my journals, I might find their address in that other city where I wasn’t keen to live.

I was sad to think about G passing on and all that joyful rambunctiousness gone from the world.  I turned to Facebook for comfort and found that two people I knew in high school had passed away this week, from cancer.  HM was a shock to me.  I knew that he had been battling cancer but I was sure that it was only a few weeks ago that I last saw him post.  And then I realized that I’ve pretty much avoided Facebook after the first 6 months or so of Covid and during all the political rows of the last 18 months.  I am sorry I didn’t have one more conversation with HM.  

 

 

Photo: Annie Spratt

 

This is why I hate Facebook these days.  It’s a crapshoot of what you’re going to get.  In bygone days, obituaries would announce the death of a loved one.  Now we get recipes, memes, political tirades and announcements of death all mixed into a single scroll of the mouse.  It’s a gut punch followed by a cat meme and it seems to take the sacred out of living and dying.

It’s an irony of our public lives that everything is given the same importance, whether life-changing, of historical importance, or simply silly entertainment.

After a certain point, death becomes a reality for us all.  But there comes a point where the rate of people departing seems to speed up.  I don’t know how people in their old age manage the weight of grief of all of their friends having died before them. 

Who is left to care about their stories?

One of the things I do is tell stories in public.  I also cultivate relationships with other storytellers and sometimes that becomes a real relationship.  Sometimes it is more one-way if the other storyteller doesn’t have what G had about him – the ability to understand that the size of one’s following doesn’t make you a better person.  I had one such relationship with a fellow YouTuber (let’s call him “The Personality”) about a year ago.  He made a video saying that he – as a burgeoning writer – should remember to consider himself part of the same club as Tony or Pulitzer or Academy award winning (pick your genre) writers out there, but that he was just the newest member.  He gave himself, and fellow writers, this pep talk, to encourage us all to consider ourselves equal to those who have gone before us. 

I had real life experience of being treated that way by famous people, so I believed this to be a good way to live one’s life.

Imagine my surprise when I realized – definitively – that The Personality didn’t really consider other aspiring writers (in this case, specifically, me) to be HIS equal.  That had a sting to it, but as soon as it became clear to me – beyond a doubt –  I withdrew my support.  I still check in on The Personality’s work from time to time because I learn from other writers – either what to do or what not to do.  He stopped writing stuff for adults and really began tailoring his work to middle and high school kids (the target demographic of YouTube).   It used to have substance and now it is light humour. I find that a shame because I was drawn to his writing on serious adult challenges.  It is yet another loss for me, because I felt a real connection to another human being through his writing.  My loss is my loss, and I saw him as an equal and so it was a real relationship for me.  For him, because he did not, it remained para-social.  Who am I to say it’s a shame? He’s making the big bucks from it.  Unlike G pulling down a half million dollar salary before bonuses, however, The Personality appears to only consider those who are MORE famous than him to be his equal. 

I have to laugh at the way the brain works and how easy it is to drink the poisoned Koolaid* of social media. (*Reference to Jim Jones and his Guyana cult, intended)

 

Photo: Lucas Bee

 

I haven’t gained the following The Personality has, but I have attracted some of his more mentally unbalanced followers.  One person – let’s call him “the Christian” – is a regular reader of my blog and continues to comment on my YouTube channel from time to time.  His last comment was about how ugly The Personality is.  (The Personality is not everyone’s taste, but he certainly is not ugly).   Either way, I don’t understand how it has any relevance to my videos about Gratitude.  Is it meant to hurt me that the Christian thinks The Personality is ugly?  Why do I care?  Is it meant to hurt The Personality?  How likely is it that he would ever see that comment on one of my 100+ videos.  I don’t see how it hurts either of us but holding on to that bitterness must be hurting the Christian.  I really wish him peace.

It is the irony of public life that the sacred is mixed with the profane in a toxic Koolaid and mine is the last generation not to be feeding on it as a source of sustenance.  When you live or die on social media, it matters what people say in comments, and it matters how many followers you have as a measure of your worthiness as a writer.   If there is a writer out there reading this and despairing of not being read, please remember all the writers and musicians and artists that lived lives of obscurity for their art and who maybe later became famous – quite often posthumously.  The object of art is not fame, but creation.  The object of any communication is to be heard, felt, understood and to touch the receiver in some way.  It doesn’t matter if the audience is one or one million.  A pebble makes ripples.  Heck, Jesus only had 12 followers and look what impact He made?!?! I have put myself out there in public and I’ve been caught up by this, and now I know it is my job just to work harder on the craft of being a good storyteller. 

I’m grateful for all the adventures I’ve had and for the wonderful and not so wonderful people I have known in this life.  They’ve all taught me something because I was willing to find meaning in the experiences and they’ve given me memories and added to my story.

If anything I’ve written today sinks in, let it be that life is too short to waste time on nonsense.  Let go of ego, one-upmanship, and of bitterness.  The irony of  a public life is that it is not real life at all.  We can let our lives slip by, fussing about the maya of public life.  Send the card to that old boss, have that one more conversation with the childhood friend.  We only get so much time to live and tell our stories, well.  Love one another.  Treat one another with respect, dignity and equality.  Put down the phone this weekend and forget about that toxic Koolaid that is anti-social media.

 

Photo: Prateek Katyal

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

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