Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Who we are in the garden

Aha! Some writings! well, I have to keep my mind alive and my tools sharp. As will become apparent should you read this, circumstances dictate that some intellectual rigour must be maintained. And what better way than this: The examination of thoughts and the putting-into-words. And so, where to begin? With the situation I suppose. it's been a while, but here goes...

To look at a life and decide what it is about it that defines us is a difficult thing. I suppose this is why people ask at parties or when acquaintances are formed "What do you do for a living" or some variation thereof. It seems to provide a shortcut to an understanding of who it is we are talking to and their probable value system (or, if I am to be cynical, in some cases of a person's potential usefulness to the questioner).
Such pigeonholing seems ubiquitous and I think undermines the potential for friendships. To learn that someone is a consultant anaesthetist or works at a recycling plant sorting bottles from cans tells you something about their likely educational level and possible drive but nothing about whether they might be kind to animals or fun to spend an evening with by a fireside.
It is an unimaginative question and one I never ask unless it becomes pertinent to the immediate conversation. A better one, i have found is "So, what do you do for fun?" (Though sometimes this has startled the recipient by the sudden realisation that they actually don't do much beyond work and watching television).

And so, here I find myself at a loss now. I have no job. My questionable career trotting round the globe persuading people to buy what I genuinely believe to be very high quality and innovative technology has come to an end. After almost thirty years, inevitably and understandably, the market changes and my services are no longer required. That's ok. These things happen. We all need to adapt to new situations.

But of course, I now have to answer the tedious question on those occasions it appears. I could of course reply "I am a confidence trickster. I identify suitable people at parties to take part in my audacious and almost certain-to-succeed business ventures. Would you like to buy my miraculous tonic wine?"
Or I could just respond with a euphemism for "I am unemployed" such as "I am between jobs" or "I am currently a gentleman of indolence and leisure".
This latter is actually quite accurate. Though I am no longer being paid by a company for the hours of a week I attend to their endeavours, I am finding plenty to occupy my time. Imagination does that.

If someone were to ask how I spend my leisure hours, I could reply with any number of activities: I garden. I dance! I bake bread. I brew fine ales from the basic ingredients. I make furniture from suitable recycled timber. I kayak on seas and on inland waters. I work on my self-build camper van. I make pizza ovens out of clay from gardens. I ferment my produce. I read about science. I write (occasionally).

And any one of these can be a point of commonality. Myriad conversations might begin from any one of these topics. Or a long and enthusiastic dialogue might begin from the natural links between some of them.
So much better, it seems, than talking about the rather specialised and artificial nature of my (former) employment.

So, we never need fear the question. There is plenty that one does that can indicate or define the type of person we might be. Of course, I could do all of those and still be a psychopathic manipulator who enjoys pulling the legs off flies (I am not, btw. But I do resort to fly papers in my kitchen due to the rural populations of insects that otherwise tend to congregate where many of my aforementioned activities take place).

So, are we what we do? An opinion exists amongst learned thinkers that personality is an illusion and no more really than a set of individual cognitive processes. There appears to be some merit to this argument. But that aside, we cannot deny that we each possess a kind of set of characteristics and behaviours that define us and which others may like, tolerate or abhor.

"Doing loads of stuff" and the nature of that stuff may therefore tell us and others a lot about what that personality is. And by this I do not say "appears to be" because if that is how we appear to people, it must by definition be what we present to the world. Being "Not like that at all on the inside" is not really relevant with regards to how the world finds us. To all intents and purposes what we manifest is what we offer the world as our personality.

In the last year or so, I have divorced, moved house, lost my job, got another relationship. It is as if every single component of my life has been replaced by something new and different. And yet, I feel in all of this, pretty much the same person. Perhaps a little more carefree and dismissive of life's niggles. Maybe a little more outgoing. But essentially pretty much still me.

Is who we are immutable then? Is it not contingent on our situations? well, that is a complex question. But it is one I feel is a little bit clearer to answer in the light of my recent upheavals. My feeling is no. The essence of us is subject to modification in some minor ways (brain damage aside) but the essence of who we are remains essentially the same.

And asking what I do for a job isn't going to tell you what that is. So ask something else. It will almost certainly yield more fruitful results.

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