As I see it there are three options. One is to join in with the madness, the second is to try to change the world and introduce some sanity and the third option is to ignore the world, laugh at the madness and go your own way.
In my teens and twenties I chose the first option – or perhaps the first option chose me. I bought stuff I didn’t need with money I didn’t have. I constantly compared myself with my peers – especially in relation to the way I looked and what relationships I was in and so didn’t like myself very much and was generally discontented. Work increasingly became a matter of lonely competition rather than communal cooperation and although I had plenty of money, foreign holidays and excitement in my work, I became increasingly unhappy. To combat the madness I drank and smoked to excess and to stave off the loneliness I indulged in a series of unhealthy relationships.
In my 30’s and 40’s I changed my life and embarked on a quest to change the world – or at least my corner of it. I chose religion as a vehicle for this; in particular the brand of religion that promoted feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner and spreading love and justice abroad. I worked really hard at this, giving up the quest for money and possessions as well as the unhealthy relationships. But I discovered that however hard I pushed this brand of sanity it made no difference as the world wasn’t listening. The more I pushed, the more the world treated me as if I were the mad one! I eventually replaced my cigarettes with anti depressants as the sense of failure and futility took hold. By late on in my forties, I realised that option 2 wasn’t working.
And so I am now trying the third option – ignoring the world and going my own way. In my opinion the world is now even madder than it was when I was growing up. People are more afraid – of just about everything, That fear translates into aggression on the roads, ignoring each other in queues or as we pass on the street or share public transport, even in seeing our children as threats to be avoided! The rich are getting so much richer while the poor get credit cards. Children as young as 6 are so concerned about body image they are making themselves ill. Work is now almost entirely divorced from the good of the community and is all about money and self promotion. Being alone and anonymous is the new big sin. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your relationship is, you just have to be in one and if you can find any way at all of becoming a ‘celebrity’ then so much the better.
Living on a boat certainly helps with image obsession. No wardrobe space, oil under fingernails and a limited water supply means casual dress is the way to go! The community spirit on the cut means I am no longer afraid to smile at strangers or greet people passing by. When I do though, you can tell those who still live in the mad world as they avoid my eyes and hurry by as if I am about to mug them.
I have given up smoking and am experimenting with a bit of alcohol free living at present, not that there is anything wrong in my world with smoking or drinking.Having a Whisky Mac while watching the sun set is a rare joy, but I want to see how many crutches I can do without – just as an experiment. Soon I will no longer be a wage slave and so will need to live on very little. That will solve the problem of buying stuff I don’t need. When I do work again, it will be to earn just enough to get by, so no need for competition or too much ugly pushing and shoving.
Lastly in a world full of noise, I will be exploring the gift of silence. No social networks – I prefer flesh and blood friends. I have a mobile phone but sometimes I turn it off! More and more I am also turning the TV off in the evening and instead doing some reading or practising my new ukulele. Increasingly though I want to practice just sitting in the quiet without anything to distract me from my own inner workings.
This way might well lie madness, but I think it is preferable to the current madness of the world. I’ll let you know how it goes!