(Python Diary) The Great Personalty Switch of 1981

I have gotten to the point in Michael Palin‘s 1980-1988 diary, in the vast, viking-riddled, uncivilized wasteland of 1981 England, where John Cleese (the doing-it-for-the-art guy who briefly disbanded the group in 1972) and Eric Idle (the loner musician who always seemed to be doing it for the money and who was often out for a fast buck) switch roles.

Cleese wants to push forward with the script for “The Meaning of Life”, despite artistic concerns and a lack of direction, because he needs the cash quickly, and Idle is throwing up red flags, saying he doesn’t want to move forward unless they keep their artistic integrity.

It’s like a great stop-motion space ship full of clay aliens has come down and switched their brains. The entire world has reversed itself! Gravity now pulls up, and you better get off the toilet, and quickly!

This is the most novel-like element to the the Diaries, where we get to watch two characters grow, change, and, eventually, come to embrace positions they previously found abhorrent (for a couple of minutes, anyway). The best part is that this IS a a diary, not a biography, so it’s mostly devoid of the “sense” people tend to make of their lives, the “story” they spin. To quote Palin himself, “It is a narrative in only its most basic sense,” meaning that events happen in an order, but there is no meaning. You see real, day-by-day change, as close to the real thing as possible. Really fascinating.
Amazon links:

On: Seeing a Field For the First Time

When you look at a field, what do you see? Do you see “green” or “grass” or even just “field”? If so, you’re not really looking.

I am looking at one now, and I see at least five to ten different shades of green, at least 3 different shades of tan and brown, and everything bit of grass, living or dead, at a different length. Even grasses of the same species look unique. They clump together, run in strips or curves, and the leave huge open spaces. Fate and randomness has textured like the rind of an orange.

This field was once a building, a vast warehouse, and the foundation of it is still there underneath, and there are tiny bits of rubble just beyond sight, The bulldozers scraped the whole surface clean once, long ago, and so the field always looks like it has been plowed for crops and then overgrown even though it has never been plowed before.

But what really amazes me are the bushes. You don’t even see them when you look at this place at first — you look and you see “field” and that’s all, and all the bushes disappear from your eyes because you see a category, a shape, an abstract object instead of the thing itself. It is cruel and heartless dominance of the abstract over the real.

Really, it’s like Plato and Aristotle had it all backward, that the abstract, perfect world of “forms” is not a thing beyond or behind reality, but an instinctive creation of the mind, a simplification that the brain resorts to in order to be able to process all of the data and sort it and organize it in a useful way. The “shadows on the wall of a cave” are not the physical world at all, but the cognitive system of grouping, classification, and ordering that our mind uses to construct meaning.

Reality is always complex, textured, nuanced, with layers of history right there, visible under the surface, between the bushes and the blades of grass, but the mind cannot handle all of this information at once. It is too much. It is not useful, not relevant to survival or thriving, and it is discarded. And that is the way it should be. Usually. But sometimes you need to turn that filter off, and you need to see what is actually in front of your eyes. In detail.

Because sometimes the “perfect form” is not enough.
Because sometimes you need the truth, with all its various shades.
Because… sometimes… the world is beautiful.

“Master of the Five Magics” and Me: A Peaen on Being a Rouded Individual

Once upon a time I was a twenty-year old in College and I read a book called “Master of the Five Magics” by Lyndon Hardy, and it was good. In it, young apprentice Alodar travels across his world, learning each of the five magics there, but consistently being defeated by his enemies. He doesn’t give up, though, and eventually overcomes adversity…

Fast forward to today, and here is me, S. Boyd Taylor, struggling to learn Mandarin, dedicating myself to 8 different martial arts — Baguazhang (Liang and Cheng Styles), Xingyiquan (Hebei Style), and Taijiquan (Chen, Wu, Wu-Hao, Yang and Sun Styles) — and doing my best to master the art of writing fiction. I am trying to be the Master of 10 Magics, and that doesn’t even count Spanish or any of the other languages that I want to learn.

This, I believe, is a noble pursuit: the pursuit of a better, more rounded self. Admittedly, I still need to learn music, but I have at least made a passable attempt at learning guitar, and one day I shall return to it.

There is a serious problem with this path, however. I am spread very thinly. I have very little time for each individual endeavor, and many skills that must be maintained or the fade quickly. And I also have a day job. And money problems. And, most importantly, I have a family, and I treasure every moment with them.

Arguably, it will take a long, long time to become a master at any of these skills, but my answer to this is that I have been doing several of them a very long time. I have been writing and alayzing fiction since I was 11. The internal martial arts I have been doing since 2005 (however, with a 3 year hiaitus — I am really in “getting my skills back” mode here). Chinese, of course, is new. And, accordingly, it is getting a lot of attention —  Pimsleur every day on the commute, Rosetta Stone in the morning.

But there is anther, more insidious problem with all of these hobbies: Opportunity Cost. I could focus on one of them (presumably writing) and become absolutely as good as I can be at it, more fully developed, more fully skilled. And from there, if I get lucky, I could possibly, one day, in a perfect world, in a dream, make enough money not to need the day job.

I am deeply conflicted about this. I really love my martial arts, and this drive to learn languages is almost an illness. But, though I really do like my job a lot and love my boss, and I am reading the Michael Palin Diaries: The Python Years, and it is amazing how much brilliant work he cranked out by the age of 35.

I am 38 now. And what have I done?

This troubles me greatly, in a very fundamental way. How can I achieve my dreams if I do not focus more tightly, more intently? But can I really be satified if I leave my other dreams behind?