Wednesday, September 2, 2009
If you have a teenager or can remember being one, you are well aware that they are not tremendously keen on listening to adults. I have a 17 year old daughter, and while she politely listens to my ramblings, I can tell by her expression that I am not making a big impression on her. But there are things I would like to tell her, and a blog post will be here for a while (I don’t think Google is going anywhere. So here are 12 lessons from a father to a daughter.
MONEY- As you know, your father has not been very successful in this department, but don't let that make you think I don’t know what I did wrong. I made many mistakes with money, but if I could do it all over again, I would be a wealthy man. Follow these rules and you will always be financially secure. 1. Always save 15% of what you earn. Always, no exceptions, no matter what the amount you earn, 15% goes to a saving account. 2. Only use credit to buy a house or car, others wise, never use borrowed money. If you need a credit card for traveling etc, pay it off at the end of the month, never carry a balance. I have made reasonable amounts of money, and if I had followed these rules, my quality of life would have been more or less the same, and I would have had much more peace of mind and solid financial security now.
DRINKING & SMOKING - Again, your father has drunk far too much, and while I have things under control now, I spent too many years boozing it up. Here I really know what I am talking about, so listen carefully and you will be okay. Never drink alone, ever. If for whatever reason you need a drink, go to a bar, but never drink alone. Make it a rule. Drinking is a good thing, as long as it always remains a social activity. Dinners, parties etc. That is when you should drink. Try and keep it to the weekends, and learn to catch a nice a little buzz and keep it going all night instead of getting plastered. Smoking, again, too many years smoking, though I finally did give it up. This one is easy, just don’t start. Do not ever try a cigarette, and you will never become a smoker.
LOVE & HEARTBREAK- This is a hard one to figure out and I am sure that you will not pay any attention to me now, but what I am going to tell you is the truth. Falling-in- love is a mild form of insanity, and it is all about you, even though you will think it is all about him. While falling-in-love might be one of the most wonderful feelings you will ever have, it is like a drug, and once it wears off, there is not so much truth to the feeling as you once believed. Our society believes in the myth of love, but it is just that, a myth. Real love is something else. Much more profound, more grounded. Chances are you will break a few hearts and have yours broken a few times too. It can be the most horrible feeling you will ever know, and only time heals it. (For me novel writing has been very cathartic for it). But it is much less important than you imagine. Love yourself, respect yourself, and hopefully it wont hurt too much when it happens.
WORK- I have been hired and fired more than most people. But I will try and say a few words here. Find something you like and believe in, and don’t worry too much about money. Be respectful to your bosses and co-workers, don’t get involved in office politics, and don’t have any affairs at work. For me, in the end, I realized that the only thing I can do is write. It's my vocation, when I have tried to do other things, I only got in trouble. Whether you have this type of vocation or not, I don’t know. You certainly don’t need one; it can be a terrible burden. Try and have a job that is satisfying, makes you feel useful, and pays you reasonably well.
SEX- Sex is a wonderful thing, one of the nicest parts of being human. You should enjoy sex to the fullest without hang-ups or guilt. Just be discrete. First, and especially as woman, there is no need to publicize your sexual life, it is very much in your interest to be discrete. Talking about sex is a poor orphan to the real thing. What you do, who you do it with and how you do it should remain in the intimacy where it occured. DO NOT talk about past sexual relations to your current partner. It serves no useful purpose. It is like dragging dead bodies to a dinner party. If you have a “lost weekends", or "weeks” let them remain lost. Sex is to be enjoyed to the fullest and not talked about.
FRIENDSHIP- This one is so obvious that I will remain brief. Have as many friends as you can and the more diverse the better. NEVER go into business with friends, and don’t borrow money from them. That is why there are banks (and remember, only borrow for a house or car).
FAMILY- For me family has always been a bit overwhelming, an enigma, so you will have to figure this one out on your own. I put it here only because it is important.
ARTS- Humans have an innate need for art, drama, and ritual. It can be found in religion, in politics, in pop-culture or in “high culture”. It is like an appetite, you can satisfy it at McDonald's or with the most exquisite cuisine. For me, the highest realms of human culture lie in physics, real spiritual experience and the arts. Assume you only live once; you can only taste this bizarre fruit of being human for a brief moment. Take full advantage of it.
Pursue the difficult in music, literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, as well as in the sciences and spirituality. Any piece of worthwhile art must resolve a conflict. The quality of the art always lies in the difficulty and complexity of the conflict it creates and the completeness of the resolution. The most important thing you will feel as a human is the sense of the sublime. It can come in many forms, but one place you will always find it is in the arts. Not in your run of the mill Hollywood film, in the real and timeless works. I have had a rule with books that has served me well. In general, don’t read anything that won’t be around in 50 years, and the best way to be sure of that is to read what has already been in print for 50 years. Remember, time is by far the best critic.
POLITICS& DOGMA- When you see or hear dogma, turn and run. It is a curse whether in politics, religion, art or philosophy. It can raise its ugly head in many places. First, what is dogma? Dogma is a firm belief in something (or the apparent belief in it) that doesn’t come from experience or data, but from prejudice, fear, or personal interest. How can you tell the difference? Very easy. Ask. If you ask someone why they believe something, the dogmatic answer is the one that says, “Because that is the way it is!” and the non-dogmatic answer is the one that gives you arguments, data and facts. Dogma leads men to hell. Practical, democratic institutions are the safest way for man to govern himself. When you hear politicians spewing dogma, denounce them. The best political philosophy is a practical humanistic one. Don’t get caught up in bizarre theories or big personalities, they are usually dangerous.
RELIGION- I put this right after Dogma, because it is similar. Most conventional religions are filled with dogma. Someone has an authentic religious experience or is truly enlightened, but what their followers can’t feel they turn into rules and “sacred books”. Our own religious background, Catholicism, is much different than the simple words that Jesus spoke. What was added later to what he really said, and why, is an interesting question. Part of it I think is the need to create myths to fill collective needs, and the other part is our “need” for narrative. But being Catholic for us, at least on the Irish side, involved politics, history etc., it became a national creed.
Don’t let all of this sour you to the spiritual life. The essence of life, the sublime, is uniquely correlated to our spiritual sensitivity. It may reveal itself in the arts, in physics and other sciences, and of course in nature etc.., it may appear anywhere and everywhere. The key to the spiritual experience is transcending yourself. When you become part of the whole, just another peg in the wheel of an enormous universe that is when and where you will feel the sublime. Read physics, especially astrophysics, it is a wonderful vehicle to reach the spiritual world. Buddhism and Hinduism have been very helpful for me, and the words of Jesus have always inspired me.
THE EGO- People are usually their own worst enemies. I am now 42 years old, and it is absolutely clear to me that I am, and have always been my biggest obstacle to peace and prosperity. The Ego is a difficult thing to manage, but if you can do it, you will be far ahead of the rest. Why do we get in our own way? It makes no sense. The problem is we think that we are our egos, and we are not.
The Ego serves an important purpose in human development. It separates us from our mother’s bosom, drags us out of childhood and into adolescence, and finally allows us to have an identity outside that of the tribe or village. But like a solid rocket booster that has freed the spacecraft from earth’s gravitation, it must be jettisoned. The ego is wonderful for blind ambition, and its temple is the sect of romantic love. But we are not our egos; we are something much more profound and universal. Remember, whenever you have a problem with someone, or at work etc. Think honestly, is it a real problem, or your Ego needing juice? If it’s your Ego in need of juice, let it go, the less juice you give it the better.
MEANING- The best for last. This is the eternal struggle not just for you but for all persons who have ever lived or will live. And no one has a clear answer and no one ever has had one. There are different ways to approach this. You can avoid it as irrelevant and unanswerable, and try and have the most pleasurable, love filled life you can. Fill the doubts with pleasure, the existential angst with love, and you will get along okay. But remember, you only live once. And a life is like a work of art; it must forge a really difficult conflict, and then resolve it originally.
You can live for romantic love, money, status, bravery, medals, but those are all a bit obvious. If you feel brave, take the risk, live a life that would take a miracle to resolve.
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