Friday, December 11, 2009

Fools Rush In by Bill Carter

So, it's been a while since I've written anything and there are two reasons for that: 1. I've been busy as hell. 2. Everything I've wanted to write about has been the sort of thing that requires sit-down-and-really-think time, which I haven't had much of. Why is it that December is always crazy? It irks me. It's like even though you've finished all your gift-getting early so that you can relax and enjoy your christmas tree that has only lights and no ornaments, when you have to go to the store for toilet paper while everyone there is in panic mode and buying soo much shit, the toxic poison of our obsession with all things bright and shiny seeps into your body and puts you in a foul mood. I'm just sayin.

Anywho, on to the post. I've been reading a new book that my dear friend Mallory sent me called Fools Rush In by Bill Carter. It's a sort of memoir about his journey into war-torn Bosnia during the 1990s. He struggles with the idea that he might in fact be a "war tourist," the term locals give to foreigners who come into the heart of a war that isn't theirs to "find themselves" or whatever. Mostly, Bill Carter (an American) talks about how peoples' everyday lives become so full when they know they may not see another sunrise. These people are dodging bullets on their way to retrieve water or check on a friend. Their night skies are full of explosions and fire. And yet, what he sees in their faces, much more prominently than fear, are laughter, love, joy. They play music and have secret art shows while buildings and streets crumble around them. They are living in the present, enjoying every moment because they know it could all end any second. Bill mentions several times that he gets completely overwhelmed by the constant wonderful feeling of living in the present moment. Here is a conversation he has with one of the locals in Sarajevo...starting with the local:

"You are in the center of the cosmos. Outside, in London and New York, they believe their lives are real. Feed the dog, say nice things to the neighbor, act like they understand everything. That is not real. They think they are real, but nothing is more real than what is happening here."
"So they are surreal?"
"No. They are unreal, the non-real," he said...."Non-real people are people who watch other people die on television and then turn it off to go eat dinner."

And another:

"Yeah, but what can I or Graeme or anybody really do?" He leaned in and for the first time looked directly into my eyes.
"...Tell me. Everyone in your home city is sleeping in their large beds with the alarm set to wake them in time to go to a job they hate. But you are here, yes? They are the ones that are truly dead."

Bill Carter never seems to be under the impression that we should all run off to the war-torn places of the world and save everyone. He does, however, make it clear that he believes we should do all in our power to make our lives meaningful. That we should seek love, live simply, and find joy with friends. We should live in such a way that when the shit hits the fan, we are not lost and we are not wondering who we are or what we ever stood for.

Here's one last passage from the book when Bill is reflecting on what in the hell he's really doing in Bosnia, after all:

"As much as I would like to say I began this journey with an agenda in mind, a fixed purpose I was working toward, I cannot. The truth is, up until this point, I had never thought very far ahead. It was in my training as a traveler: live in short spurts until the next portal opens up.
Yet there would be no turning back. Not now. Not after meeting the people I had met and seeing what I had seen. It would be like hearing a woman scream rape and going for a drink just to get out of earshot. No. It was too late for people like Graeme and me, suckers who believe that if we give a little more it will all turn round for the better. It wasn't that I thought I could save the world. At this point I would have settled for erasing my memory. Once memory gets hardwired into your brain it gets more difficult to erase your sense of responsibility. Why else do we have that cancer called television? Why are we inundated wit sound-bite news, and infantile politicians making promises they never intend to keep? Low ball, baby. Keep it simple and stupid. Keep the masses doped up on false expectations of lower taxes, second mortgages and entry into the country club and you've got yourself a happy society ready, willing and able to ignore those cries of rape. No one can hear them--the TV is too loud."

I've been making a mental note of things I've learned since I discovered I have control over my life and my happiness. I was going to put them in another post, but I feel compelled to put them here. Feel free to add to it. These are in no particular order.

1. Eat dinner with your family or spouse or whoever. At the table. With the TV off.
2. Turn off the TV.
3. Be careful not to find yourself "living for the weekend"
4. Actually cook your food.
5. Food made in a factory is bad for you.
6. Know your kids. Talk to your kids. Play with your kids.
7. Never hold on to any set of beliefs so tightly that you become blind.
8. If your job makes you miserable, leave.
9. Don't let other people's ideas about plans and the "future" keep you from doing what you need to do to be happy.
10. Thinking too much about the future is bad for you.
11. Love people without condition or agenda.
12. Don't buy too much shit. It will clutter your soul and your mind.
13. Try new things and go to new places.
14. Engage in meaningful conversation on a daily basis. Even if only on your blog.
15. Read.

Okay, I'm out of coffee and out of brain juice. Til next time, people.