Week 47 - The Front Stoop Conversation
Outside sitting on stoop
MAN: It’s a good day.
WOMAN: Is it?
MAN: Ya, it’s a crisp day. Clean and in focus.
WOMAN: As opposed to---…?
MAN: Dirty days
WOMAN: Ah. <Incredulously>
MAN: no really, there are clean days like today, and then there are those where everything makes you feel like you need to take a shower.. memory is hazy, thinking is not quite in focus. Don’t you have days like that?
WOMAN: Sure, usually the morning after a company party <laughs>
MAN: No, not like that or at least, not only those days.. but regardless, today seems extra crisp
WOMAN: Extra crispy? You do realize you just compared today to a variety of fried chicken, don’t you?
MAN: Har har har, you’re a comedian now, huh?
WOMAN: Only when you’re pitching me the lines that are just asking to be hit out of the park
MAN: <sighs and runs hands through his hair>
WOMAN: So. We’ve got this extra crispy day, what are we going to do with it?
MAN: I have no earthly idea.
WOMAN: oh come on..
MAN: seriously I’ve been thinking about it since I got up today and nothing’s come. Maybe this is it?
MAN: Sitting here.
WOMAN: sitting here?
MAN: Ya, sitting here. You know, just taking it all in, seeing where it leads us
WOMAN: ok, but what if it leads us nowhere? Isn’t that a waste of a perfectly good day of the ‘extra crispy’ variety?
MAN: Maybe. Maybe not. What if while sitting around talking we come up with the answer to world hunger? Or maybe we have a moment that clarifies our plan for the rest of our lives?
WOMAN: Wait. We have a plan? You mean you’re going to be around for the rest of my life? Oh good greef! <laughs>
MAN: Come on, seriously. Maybe a day of rest and reflection is exactly what we need?
WOMAN: The rest part sounds good. And for the moment I’ll trust you on the reflection part.
MAN: Gee thanks... you’re a hell of a girl.
You know some people say that the great meaning of life is that there is no meaning. That it’s all just a chemical soup with no predefined morality or cosmic judge who’s gonna tally up your final grade when you die like your 8th grade math teacher. “Well I see you made a lot of money, so that’s 5 points, plus you had a large family, another 6 points, good, good.. and you never cheated on your girlfriends, 2 points”.
Did you know that as they’ve learned more about the brain, they’ve learned that humans are amazing at pattern recognition, it’s what our brains are wired for. Even better than the best computers out there. Maybe a little too good.
WOMAN: What’s your point?
MAN: Just that maybe the people, religious leaders, political pundits, fashion magazine editors, artists, everybody, maybe they’re all doing circles around the truth because they don’t see the truth for what it is. Like they’re seeing pictures in the clouds. Building this great edifice of structure around something that has by definition, no structure at all. And all that building is just putting a wall up between them and the truth. A barrier, no more like a lens that distorts reality so that they see what they want to see… a self realized prophesy.
WOMAN: You think too much
WOMAN: Well to play the other side, what if what they’re saying is true.
MAN: How can they all be right? All the religions AND all the magazine editors?
WOMAN: Maybe they’ve each got a little bit figured out and if you put all those bits together they actually add up to something. One big galactic jigsaw puzzle.
MAN: Maybe you’re right. But if that’s true, someone’s got tell them to stop fighting each other and start working together
MAN: You ever think about your own death?
WOMAN: Sometimes. A few weeks ago I had an episode where I couldn’t get over my own mortality, you know, the fact that my death was a brick wall up ahead that I was flying towards at 100 miles an hour. And all I had were the few seconds between now and then to do everything I wanted to do in life. It was like the clock at a basketball game, ticking away the seconds until zero.
WOMAN: Ya, kept me awake for hours into the night.
MAN: It’s funny, the more you think about death, the stronger two opposing thoughts become. On one hand, you can sit and argue that life is meaningless so don't worry so much about whether you're doing it right, yet on the other it becomes all the more precious because it seems so finite.
WOMAN: True. I myself am radically scared of mistakes. Or more specifically choices that can’t be undone. I think part of the problem of not having a solid well-defined world view is that you know that it can always change.
MAN: I’m not sure I follow.
WOMAN: I’m scared of making the wrong choice. Taking the wrong job, getting the wrong degree, being with the wrong man, having kids. So much so that I’m paralyzed to the point of inaction. Even though I know that most of those things can be undone, or at least chalked up to a lesson learned, I’d rather not take the risk.
MAN: Sounds like a pretty limited way of going through life, scared of fucking up all the time. Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you…
WOMAN: Ya, ya, ya. I know, but a lot of it is because I’m scared of letting people down. I don’t want to hurt the guy, or leave my co-worker hanging or waste the time in classes for a piece of paper that doesn’t get me to my goals.
MAN: Ok, so what are your goals?
WOMAN: Well, that’s the problem isn’t it? I have no earthly idea what I really want. All of this would be so much easier if I did. I'd have something to aim for. At least I know what I don’t want.
MAN: That’s a start I guess.
WOMAN: What’s your goal?
MAN: To be happy.
WOMAN: Bit of a cop out isn’t it?
MAN: I guess, considering the fact that everyone wants happiness. It’s just the flavor that changes. Some people want love, others security, others live for the adrenaline rush, etc. So you’re right, I guess I need to be more specific.
WOMAN: So let’s hear it.
MAN: I want passion. I want dynamic energy. I want beautiful change. I want to feel alive everyday. I want to touch. I want to expose stupidity. I want to help people get our of their own way. I want to be inspired. I want to inspire. I want others to find my work beautiful.
WOMAN: Some lofty goals there.
MAN: I guess they are. But then what’s the point of being alive if your goals are not something you really need to strive for?
I love the articles where people complain about how hard their lives are, “I’ve got to juggle my job and my family and my friends…” as if we’re really supposed to feel sorry for them. When there are people people out there who don’t have food to eat, or are sick, or born into the wrong social caste or whatever.
Look, I’m a white upper-middle class WASP from New England. Statistically speaking, I’m golden. Short of me getting a crank habit or killing myself, I’m pretty much guaranteed a nice house in the suburbs with all the fixings. I’m not saying I deserve it, I’m just talking about the way the system works.
WOMAN: OK, I follow.
MAN: But what if I don’t want that? What if I see that as the consolation prize? What if I see that not as the end result that I’m going to sit on but rather as the springboard to something more?
WOMAN: Like what?
MAN: Like I want to change the world.
WOMAN: What exactly are you planning on changing?
MAN: I have no idea, but my guess is that all the people who have actually done it didn’t know either. Einstein didn’t set out to change the world with Relativity, he happened to come up with a great idea and the idea changed the world. Same with art. I think the Beatles just wanted to write good music, I don’t think they were trying to fundamentally change the way people wrote pop songs, although that’s exactly what happened. That’s kind of the point right? You can’t really know how you’re going to change the world because you’re part of it in it’s “before” state.
WOMAN: Give me another example.
MAN: Ok, let’s say the people who started the computer revolution.. So Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, and Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee (to make the british folks proud). Now they’re all famous and rich, but I don’t think that’s why they did it, because if they did, they’d cash out and hang out in the back room of the club drinking Crystal with Puffy and Paris. Instead, let’s take Mr. Gates for example, is quitting Microsoft next year to spend all his time giving his money away. Trying to make the world a better place single handedly.
WOMAN: So? Lot’s of people want to make the world a better place. He just happened to get lucky and make the billions of dollars you need to do it.
MAN: Perhaps. Or maybe he just is that good at what he does that there was no way to stop him. Either way, he’s now in a position that he can try things without the “old” world getting in his way. He’s got enough money that he doesn’t need permission from financial backers or a consensus with the rest of the world health bureaucracy.
WOMAN: You’re saying he can try things other people can’t because he doesn’t have all that baggage.
MAN: Precisely. And it’s those people that really effect things. It’s the outside of the box ideas that don’t have to live under the umbrellas of superstition and orthodoxy that really mix things up. They’re under the radar as it were and can slip in and shake things up.
WOMAN: OK, this is all very interesting and all, but last I looked, you weren’t at the forefront of any technical revolution or compared to John Lennon in Rolling Stone.
MAN: True. I’m just hoping my chance comes. I’m old now compared to most of the people I just talked about when they made it big, but there are examples of late bloomers too. I guess this goes along with what you were saying about being scared to make a mistake.
WOMAN: No time to waste?
MAN: Exactly. Except in my view, if you’ve got x days left, I’d rather use them and fail then not have tried at all.
WOMAN: The old, “Nothing is worse than regret”?
WOMAN: But what if what you regret is not what you didn’t do, but rather what you’ve done? The mistakes you've made? Then my view becomes valid again.
MAN: See, now you’re just being a pain in my ass.
WOMAN: My pleasure
MAN: Well, we’re quite a pair aren’t we? One of us wants to do everything and the other is to scared to do anything.
WOMAN: So precious that you don’t want to waste it is a better description of my position.
MAN: Ah, but what’s the point in having it if you don’t use it?
WOMAN: I’m sure as I get older I’ll become more adventurous as I become more desperate.
MAN: Maybe by that point you’ll be so stuck in your ways that you’ll be too scared to change.
WOMAN: Ughh. This line of conversation is depressing me.
MAN: Depresses me mostly because I realize there is no good answer. Shades and shades of gray. I guess the goal is to be somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. A little of you and a little of me.
WOMAN: I’m not sure that adds up to a lot of anything.
MAN: Unfortunately I think you might be right.
WOMAN: We’ve said, “maybe” and “kind of” and “perhaps” a lot during this conversation.
MAN: Yes we have
WOMAN: Isn’t anything for certain?
MAN: Death and taxes.
MAN: The sad thing is, I am being serious.
WOMAN: A few months before my grandfather died I talked to him about this kind of stuff and he told me that I think too much.
MAN: That’s a generational thing I think. We have the luxury of being able to think about. Taking time before marriage and family if we want, that kind of thing. I personally go back and forth as to whether it’s a good thing of not.
WOMAN: Aren’t choices a good thing?
MAN: Yes and no. One of the big mistakes that young artists make is that they don’t take any position at all. Instead of making a bold statement, they put off making any statement at all for fear of making the wrong choice. Computers have made this worse I think. Word processors and digital recording and super hi res digital camera that cost next to nothing per frame. They’re so dynamic and flexible that end up giving people too many options.
WOMAN: Sounds like me. So many roads that I don’t take any road at all.
MAN: I guess it is, yes.
WOMAN: So what’s the answer?
MAN: It’s sad, but I think the answer is putting false constraints on yourself. What would you do if you could only paint with blue and green paint, or only photograph in black and white, or only use one guitar and vocals on a song arrangement.
WOMAN: Great idea, but that only puts the choice one level further up and that’s not helping.
MAN: I’m not sure I follow.
WOMAN: Well, then you’re choice just gets moved to what constraints you’re going to put on yourself.
MAN: Hmm, ya, I guess you’re right.
WOMAN: I think one answer is that you’ve got to give someone else that choice. i.e. let your friends choose the limitation.
MAN: Yuck, then the whole thing becomes an assignment, some kind of school project.
WOMAN: Unfortunately, yes, I see your point. But what does any of this have to do with someone who’s not making art? You know, like 99% of the population?
MAN: Well, that goes back to my comment about whiny middle-class people thinking they’ve got it so bad. I think that people need to step back and think about what they really need and want. Do we really need all this ‘stuff’? Is that new car, or bigger house, or promotion really gonna make me you happier? Is that what you’re going to think about on your deathbed?
WOMAN: Maybe for some people it is.
MAN: I doubt it. My guess is that they'll be thinking about the day they met their wife. Or the Christmas Eve they spent holed up with their family next to the fire because the snow storm knocked out the power. Or the nights spent making love. Or the feeling they got as they watch man walk on the moon…
WOMAN: Or the time they spent sitting on the front stoop of their building talking about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness with their best friend?