In ‘Invisible Light’ posted on March 16th 2011, I implied there was a more cathartic article to follow concerning embracing the chaos that surrounds us all, in everyday life. Well, following a concerted effort over the last few weeks to structure my personal productivity, I have actually managed to allocate time to pull together my notes and overall message(s). I have two aims for this article 1) to help articulate the thoughts I had while reading the books/films discussed; and 2) facilitate a response of any kind from anyone reading it - be that a direct correlation/alignment to my thoughts or even just a positive or negative opinion on the overall content. It is said there is no such thing as bad press! …Well… bar Kinga & the wine bottle on BB6, this is probably true!
Considering the cathartic countenance of this post, it seems somewhat bizarre that the initial creative spark that gave birth to it came from watching the film ‘The Hot Tube Time Machine’. During this time travelling comedic romp with John Cussack, there is a cameo appearance made by the legend that is Chevvy Chase as a mystical hot tube engineer. Ok, so on the surface it is doesn’t seem like a deep thinking film, but it does challenge how events in our early lives affect our future states (Sliding Doors-esk). But there was one line delivered by Mr Chase in the film that has resonated with me ever since:
“Embrace the chaos... that way life might just astonish you!”
This quote formed the corner stone (not Veronica of Anchorman fame) while pulling together my thoughts on; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; Papillion and its follow-up Banco by Henri Charriere; The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz; and Shantaram by David Gregory Roberts. These books all have an underlying theme of personal challenges and physical journeys of self-discovery. While, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey; Survivor and Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik; are more centred on the internal manipulation of the mind and its challenges.
I will endeavour to articulate how all these publications and the film 'The Men that stare at Goats’ fitted neatly with the chaos (check out the paradox there!!).
A Challenging Journey
As I have mentioned in previous posts I have been riding the natural flow of ‘what will be will be’ when it comes to literature lately. Drawn to each book through random discussions with friends and impromptu meanders through bookshops. However these books found me, they all did so at a specific time in my life that allowed me to see shared themes between them all.
I wasn’t expecting much from George Clooney’s film ‘The men that stare at Goats’ but it surprised me and is now definitely one of my favourite movies (Point break being firmly at number 1 – 100% Utah)! It has a very spiritual undercurrent, which we will discuss later in the post. It was while watching this movie that a friend mentioned ‘The Alchemist – by Paulo Coelho’, a book I had bought 2 yrs ago but had not read. While Papillon, Banco and The Long Walk are all about prison breaks and the many adventures that occur; The Alchemist is about a young Andalusian shepherd’s recurring dream and the journey to discover his destiny.
At first it may not seem like there is much in common but many of the messages which Coelho conveys in the Alchemist exist in Papillon, Banco, The Long Walk and Shantaram. A critical person might suggest that certain aspects of these autobiographies have been embellished to ensure these messages are present. I know for certain if I was writing a novel about my experiences after a daring escape, I might bend the truth slightly (…yep 3 sharks killed with my bare hands, two babies saved and my leg grew back … a normal day for me sunshine…). So what messages I hear you ask… well let me give you a very brief overview of the Alchemist:
“A consistent man believes in destiny, a capricious man in chance” (Benjamin Desrali)
“It is in moments of decision that destiny is shaped” (Anthony Robbins)
Whether you believe in the notion of destiny or not we all have to make decisions that impact on our journey don’t we? Is it possible to deviate from the plan and fight the flow of the river? Or is fate going to lead us back to the same place or is fate just an excuse for not taking action? (I will explore this more in part 2).
“I will find a way or make one” (Hannibal)
The Alchemist is summed up on the back of the novel eloquently as…. a transforming novel about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read omens/signs strewn along life’s path and above all following our dreams.
In a sense the characters in Papillon, Banco, The Long Walk and Shantaram were on a journey to achieve their dream – that being of escape from the confinement they all were in. They too had omens and signs on the way to stop them from being recaptured or surviving dangerous events (e.g. Shantaram – his time in Afghanistan; The Long Walk – starvation and the elements). In all the books the world seems to present a dichotomy by conspiring against them, while also providing solace and embrace to guide them along their way. The main characters have to overcome mental as well as physical anguish.
Three further novels present more of an internal journey of self-discovery, while no physical journey in terms of crossing country boards is made, I read into them similar messages to the books mentioned above. ‘A Million Little Pieces’ by James Frey, ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Survivor’ by Chuck Palahniuk all depict mental journeys. In ‘A Million Little Pieces’ James has to overcome drug and alcohol addiction (it was since proved on Oprah that he had great embellished the truth, with regards to how far he had fallen). The novel is a riveting read and depicts James journey in graphic detail and similar characters and events seem to guide him at times through choppy waters. He regains compassion by the end of the book and is able to connect with people and the world again.
Both Chuck’s books have darker messages and almost revel in putting a mirror up to the chaos we exist in and the negative effects it can course. I am sure you are all aware of ‘Fight Club’ about a ticking-time-bomb insomniac and a slippery soap salesman Tyler Durben (who are one and the same) channelling primal male aggression into a shocking new form of therapy. The crux of the story being that the main character is unable to cope with his dull working life existence that he creates a character in his mind to express his anger through, attaching to him traits that he dreams of having (e.g. cool persona, a womanising rebel non-conformist).
‘Survivor’ is a story about a soul survivor of an American cult and the journey is about his re-introduction into the real world, becoming a TV religious icon and then ultimately committing suicide. A slightly darker take on ‘Embracing the chaos’ you would have to agree. The main character Tender Branson lives in a spiralling freak show of an existence, which has a massive affect on his frame of mind and the way he views world around him.
All the books apart from Chuck’s, in one way or another, depict triumphs in the face of despair! Where as ‘Survivor’ and ‘Fight Club’ depict a less desirable alternative.
We are all on our own journeys and I have to remind myself of this when I find myself comparing my current situation to some of my peers. I realise that everyone is different and we have all succumbed to different effects of the nature & nurture process. I often wonder what is must be like to have known your calling from an early age, chosen your academic route to achieve this goal. It seems to me that there is a sense of contentment to knowing where you are heading and that you are immersing yourself body and soul in achieve your dream. But this is probably a rose tinted spectacle look over the garden fence at the grass in its greener glory! Or more likely I see my past lack of direction as being a blockage to me achieving my own contentment.
The vast majority of us will never experience trials and tribulations like the characters in the novels. Life is a challenge for all of us, in different ways, and I strongly believe that the journey I have had over the last 10 yrs in the big smoke has shaped me in a way to help me fully achieve my dreams (ok… probably not the one about the huge calculator and a the girl elephant smoking a cigar, playing tennis and talking in an American accent! … I just made that up before any of you try and analyse it ….. e.g. Lee is calculating his chances of finding Beautiful American woman who is as dirty as Monica Lewinski, as athletic as Anna Kournikova and with the intelligence of a savant so they can win BIG in Vegas!!).
It has taken me some time to realise it but I have always been on a journey to where as a young wipper snapper (child for none northerners), I wanted to be (e.g. drawing, painting, photography, business). May be we have all been heading in the right directions and we just need to open our eyes and see the signs to guide us…..
Destiny - “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their destiny is” (The Alchemist)
[End of part 1] …
The cathartic musings of a CRE8IV mind, living at the EDGE of chaos.