Sunday, 16 October 2016

I know what I like and I like what I know

We recently had guests staying over with us. As a side effect of having people of a significantly different culture to mine in close proximity over a significant enough period of time, the experience is quite an eye opener. In my particular case, this glimpse of lives lived differently provided conviction and security to the notion that my way of life, as reflected by the choices I have made, is indeed my preferred way of life. True, that last statement sounds obvious, but is it, really? Can you truly claim that the things you do in your life are really the product of your own preferences, the direct and exact results of some plan you've formed?

Kenneth Branagh describes the character he portrays in the excellent (what an understatement!) series Wallander as "an existentialist who is questioning what life is about and why he does what he does every day". I may not be a murder investigator whose personal life is ruined by exposure to abnormal violence, but I do share the approach to life with my fictional Scandinavian counterpart. I do often ask myself if what I am doing every day is the right thing, and I do wonder what I should be doing instead.
I started noticing differences between my wills/wants and conventional wisdom in my childhood already. At the time, the dominant leisure activity after school was over and done was getting down to the street/park for some outdoor play, usually involving [foot]balls. I've enjoyed that, but with time I tended to gravitate more and more towards reading books inside. The introduction of the Atari 2600 games console, and later the personal computer, dealt a knockout blow to outdoor activities.
As I grew up, the default leisure activity for most people switched into "going out". You know what I'm talking about: going out for a movie, for dinner, or for some other type of entertainment usually provided to us by others. I like that, too, but I could not avoid noting how I often preferred to buck the trend and read a book. With time this changed from books into anything that taught me about the world; let's call it non fiction as a catch all phrase. That contradiction between others and I made me feel uncomfortable: what is wrong with me that I do not seek the entertainment everyone else seems to favour so much, and instead I prefer things that others actively avoid? How many of us count learning about the world as their prime leisure activity?
My answer to that question defaulted into "this is what I end up doing not because this is what I actually prefer to be doing but rather because I have no choice". I told myself I have no choice because I do not have the willing partners for going out on town, and later I told myself I have no choice because I need to go to work, and more recently I have been telling this to myself because my parental duties did not leave me with much of a choice. What I never did was stand up to myself and acknowledge that what I am doing is actually the exact thing I like to do best, and to hell with everyone else's preferences.
That has changed. Seeing life through other people's eyes helped me go out of the wardrobe, so to speak. Now I am openly saying that, yes, I actually prefer to stay at home and learn about the latest in technology over going out. Yes, I prefer learning new tricks with computers and playing around with computer programming. Yes, I thoroughly enjoy playing board games like Carcassonne to watching a musical. Yes, I wholeheartedly prefer to watch an episode of Wallander over the latest trash Hollywood blockbuster. Yes, I much prefer to analyse music's finer qualities on my hi fi to a live venue where the seats are uncomfortable, the toilets stink, and the sound is crudely amplified to ear bleeding levels. And yes, I'd take an intellectual discussion over most forms of passive/light entertainment.
I can continue on and on about where I now confidentially stand without feeling the need to kiss up to what others' preferences anymore. But I will conclude, instead, by citing this blog and my other reviews blog: for a person who is occupying himself with existential questioning of life as his main pursuit and prime source of happiness outside of his direct family, these blogs of mine are the inevitable conclusion. Reviewing a book, or analysing certain aspects of my life the way I have been doing here, are by far the easiest tools available to me to achieve my goals with. 

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