Tag Archives: thoughts

The Tao of Barry Black

14 Jun

For the first time in a number of weeks now, I’m feeling compelled to write a new blog entry. What on earth could have shaken me from my torpor?  TED. Or to be more exact, Psychologist Barry Schwartz and his insightful speculation on why we are so conflicted by modern life.

 

I suppose I should really explain my thoughts of late, you know, give you-the all-important reader-some catch to read further into this provocation of shared thought. I suppose I really should. And I will, but allow me to exact somewhat on this little sentence. Re-read what I just typed. That my friends is the crux of my everyday apathy towards what is happening in life, and also the turning point to why, as Barry Schwartz put it so eloquently; we have too much choice.

 

I’ve probably spent almost every day, consciously and sub-consciously since I was about 6 years old thinking about what I’d like to do with my life. I’m sure when I was a little kid I wanted to be an astronaut, an explorer and all manner of interesting and fantastical ‘careers’. But I can’t honestly remember back that far into the foggy abyss of memories. My mind goes back around 15 years clearly, and even then it’s in a patchwork of Polaroid moments where the details suffer an after-image effect like I shook the camera. Head traumas from my youthful follies I blame this on you. I tried to look up some academic information to back up the length of time for memory recall, but there are so many different classifications of memories, and most are measured in percentiles; I assume because of the variable uniqueness of each human. Anyway, as I was getting at before, careers. I’m a child born of the early 80’s and the crazed advance of capitalism, material gain and technological advancement. And choice. I, and many of my contemporaries have been born into a world where there is an endless amount of choice and possibilities. Heck we even have T.V. shows devoted to showing the fictional side of multiple parallel dimensions (Sliders, I will forever miss you.) The point in all this is along with the technological march, life’s choices expanded and so did the ease with which one could obtain knowledge, skills or simply accomplish a task.

 

Bare with me on this, it’s all going somewhere.

 

So it was, armed with all these great improvements in living standards, and ever expanding expectations of what was possible that I continued to grow, indulge and expand my experience base in life. I’ve been fortunate to be born to parents of the baby boomer generation. They were both in a comfortable financial place when I blessed them with my presence and thanks to them both being in their 4th decade of life, they had some valuable experiences to share with me. My early years were spent meeting a wide range of adults and children from all walks of life, and thanks to my parents occupations at the time (mother worked doing the books and behind the bar at a popular 80’s nightclub, and my father is a plumber and general fix it man) I got to be in places most children would only dream of or never be allowed. I would often be allowed to run around the dance floor of the nightclub with my earliest friend I can remember, the daughter of the nightclub owner. I would accompany my father on his many trips to the various characters he did business with. An arcade owner, local and well-known tattoo artist, properties in various states of repair, building supply yards, movie prop showcases (an amazing, but relatively short lived exhibition called “Movie Magic”. They had on site SFX artists, and original props used in most of the famous 80’s and early 90’s horror and sci-fi films).

 

And everywhere I went, there were many people who would look out for me and treat me. I felt like I was special. Whenever my dad was doing work in or near the arcade, I would be asked which machine I wanted to play on. Once chosen the local arcade mechanic would open the cash slot of the machine, and reprogram it so I had infinite credits. Think for a moment what that kind of special treatment would feel like to you as a child. This was the genesis of my view on choices. I didn’t have to go without anything wherever I was. No need to worry I didn’t have the funds, or the freedom to run off and see what was round the next corner. Whatever I could want to do, it was possible. Fast-forward through the years I would experience numerous paid for trips abroad, both with my family and with friends; Europe, the middle and Far East and America. I was exposed to all these different cultures and possibilities, often not just as part of the tourist trap experience. My good fortune didn’t end with that neither. Once I was of an age when I could obtain transport and further my own exploration of freedom, my ever-generous parents got me a scooter. This started my love affair with powered two-wheeled transport, and they further funded that with my full licence and a steady step up through the displacement categories of motorcycles. By the time I was 21 I had owned double-digit numbers of motorbikes, experienced all manner of legal and illegal escapades on them and seen speeds most people only witness at race tracks.

 

So far I’m almost certain most of you reading this will view me as the spoilt rich kid, and wonder where Barry Schwartz’s talk on too many choices comes into it? Whilst I was experiencing all this freedom, experiences and making choices, I was drifting along through my formative years absent from almost any form of restraint or discipline. And this led me to making some random and unfocussed choices when I was required to in life. Left school with no real goal or plan; just thought I’d head to college on a graphic design course as I’d done reasonably ok at school in this subject. That course then presented other choices, as the first year of it was an amalgamation of photography, illustration, fine art and graphic design. I was paralysed by choices. Me, being the free-spirited youth with no sense of discipline or responsibility couldn’t focus hard enough to choose or study for any single one of them, and as such left the course before the end of the first year. And after that I started a small bit of part time work, but didn’t stick that for long- a job held too many restrictions for me. I was hooked into my motorbikes by this point and thought maybe studying for a motorcycle mechanics qualification would be the path for me, so I returned to college. This however proved to once again offer me some choices. Did I focus on the motorcycle mechanics? The welding and fabrication side of the course? Or even the bodywork and paint shop? Choices, choices…choices, there were so many of them. And again I was struck with paralysis. So I passed the first year, but by this time was too old to get in with a garage as an apprentice, and as such left to consider my next choice. Further work experience and life experiences, all in areas of interest, yet none of them to provide a sense of purpose. So I chose to make an attempt again at education and head to university to study art.

 

Barry’s talk was trying to get at the way we in the modern age of a developed society have lost sight of purpose and self-worth. We have been raised, given a choice over everything, but too much choice leads to this constant feeling of regret and self-doubt. With all this choice we can never make the right choice, and every possible thing we didn’t choose to do is cast in a bright light that casts shadows over the choices we live with. In the simpler times of the past we would often inherit purpose from the family members we were born into; the class of society we were born into; where we were born. No more, we are told every step of the way that we can become whatever we choose to be. But this freedom is so vast it simply paralyses us with fear of the unknown. A fear that failure is all that awaits us as every choice we make-no matter how good-we could have made a better choice.

 

I’m a victim of this paralysis of choice. It has moulded me into the eclectic and educated individual I am today. And I know the choices I’ve made have been good ones that have coloured my life. But it’s left me haunted by the possibilities of what could have been and great difficulty in living in the now, something I’m getting better at. I will always wish my father had removed that choice from me and trained me to follow in his footsteps as a plumber, yes it may not have been my choice, but I would not have this overwhelming sense of expectation from life. Ah. The final link in Barry Schwartz posing philosophising on an affliction we all share.

 

Look back on this snippet of my life; not just my parents, to have such towering expectations of what life would provide me that I was setting myself up for disappointment, raised me to feel that every possibility was achievable and that I had no limits. I’m now facing a void in my life that needs to be filled, and no amount of materialistic gains will plug that gap. You see I feel, as I’m sure every human does, the need for a purpose in life. Something I can do that validates my existence other than to consume and feed the cycle of daily society, and something that I’m better at than the next person. I need to shrug this paralysis of with a volt of purpose to jump-start my next stage of life.

 

But that will require me to make a choice…

 

I’ve yet to make that choice, but I’m not making the same mistake of this cycle again. I’ll be setting myself some barriers, and placing restrictions on myself to break through societies trap of freedom of choice.

 

I’ll leave this article with a thought I have often; “We are all sold into a slavery of freedom the day we are born. We cannot buy our freedom from this, rather we must bind ourselves with restrictions to free our inner self”

 

Thanks to Barry, I think I get my thoughts a little more.

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The Road To 30….or How To Have a Mini Mid-Life Crisis

21 May

Turning to my right as the light ripples across the sun streaked glass walls to the old abandoned car dealers, I can’t help but marvel at the gust of wind I have caressing my close-cropped hair; ZZ-Top strumming out the quick yet steady rhythm to “Tush” and the feeling of my heart racing to the whisk of my legs. It’s the closest I can get to forgetting my daily routine and enjoying the summer sun.

 

I recently got a new push-bike. It’s a purple single speed bike, very light thanks to the simplified components, yet sturdy. The goal? To gain some much-needed fitness that my under worked office corpse has seen robbed from it over the last 7 years and before I turn 30. No simple task when you live in the UK and the dream of English summers of old continue to evade the modern age. Seems these isles have two seasons now, autumn and winter. Add to that being on the husky side of the male figure with a few health issues and that task starts to seem both difficult yet a necessity.

 

So how did I choose to start my endeavour? Why cycling a BMX 5 miles from the nearest city! Time to back-peddle a little. This whole experience has been something of a long-winded torture process for me, heck simply getting the bike has taken me the best part of a month to secure funds and choose. And trying to decide on which bike to get, that probably cost me at least a years worth of good eyesight and mental capacity. I’m not the sort to just buy what looks nice, or if I walk into a shop and sit on one that I thought was comfy, I would have to check out it’s specs, see what components it had and also see some reviews on it. I need to make sure that my money isn’t going to be wasted on a piece of junk that’s going to collapse at the first crank of the pedals. Never used to be like that, I had an easy-going upbringing with a lifestyle bank rolled by my parents.

 

Now, well I’m in the wonderful world of being a homeowner with a regular job, and you know what, you don’t need to hear all the rest of it. But thanks to this, money has become something I can’t ignore. I’ve never had a fondness of cash, it controls too much in this world, shortens the perception of time as it becomes the all consuming waking thought of what to spend on and a dread of being conned. A fool and his money are soon parted.

 

So to that end, pass me the jester hat and my fool’s stick. I’d no sooner got my allowance courtesy of work, than I’d set about getting my order in! After teasing on an almost weekly basis the local bike shops, stringing the poor guys along with the temptation of a sale, I ended up purchasing my bike online. I’d tried, really tried to support the local economy, I’d run through all the available bikes they stocked, or could order. Heck one of them actually had a bike in I test rode-and nearly bought but I’d read too much, seen the insanely cheap deals online, and listened to my inner design tart.

 

I’d read up on bikes by a company called Charge. A small UK based company; they’ve been making small allotment of bikes for several years, and crucially for my taste, made a selection of single speed/ fixed gear bikes. Wait, why on earth would anyone in the modern day who doesn’t live in a completely flat area who’s sole occupation in life would be to cruise up and down the boulevard eyeing up the bikini clad babes, want just one gear? Simply simplicity.

 

I’ve got a motorbike, a nice, fast, modern once-it has all the gadgets and complex modern equipment I could need to propel two wheels down the Queens highway at highly illegal speeds. It has electronic steering dampening, dual stage fuel injector, a close range gearbox, 16 valves and an advanced CPU that tells the engine to do magic things on its way to a giddy adrenalin rush fun. This also has tyres; chain; sprockets and oil; petrol the list goes on. In short ongoing costs and maintenance that must be done or the rider runs a very real possibility of death and disfigurement, fun no?

 

So why on earth would I want to have a similar level of upkeep on a vehicle I want to be able to get some exercise and just go rambling on. Hence the single speed was decided upon. There’s some excellent resources out there that sing the praises of the single speed bike, and plenty who prove you can do distance and speed with one carefully chosen gear ratio. And then there’s the weight. One of the biggest must haves I wanted from this bike was lightness. I knew of the magic of carbon and titanium, but I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a push bike that could all too easily end up as a fancy wall ornament, so by ditching all the gears, derailleur and associated equipment, I’d drastically reduced the weight and expanded my choice of materials. Whereas I would have had to choose a cheap aluminium framed, poorly equipped geared bike, I could consider good quality steel frames, carbon forks and good quality wheels for the same money.

 

And this was why I’d become enamoured with Charge bikes. They specialise in steel framed bikes. They do make the odd aluminium and titanium bikes, but mostly steel. And Japanese steel at that! Considering my love of all things from the mystical orient, especially that from Nippon, they just couldn’t be beat! But sadly, as with most companies since the recession and “Age of Austerity” hit, they had cut back on the outsourced components and were making more in-house.

 

So to that end I widened my search online, and found a Charge Plug Freestyler 2011 model. The other thing with Charge is they tend to do a model for a year or two then change it, so new old stock is worth hunting. This one had all I wanted Tange steel frame (from Japan), Sugino cranks and chain ring (also from Japan-natch), Sanko cro-mo forks (again from Japan…notice a pattern). But the real pièce de résistance; hot purple coloured frame with white deep-v rims!

It pretty much felt made for me. Or would it? I couldn’t find one of these to sit on, let alone test ride and the bike I’d managed to get a ride on, although a single-speed was a very different geometry. But heck, I wasn’t going to let this chance pass up. Especially as it was only £350 in the sale! It was the best quality for the lowest price, and the pictures just seemed to whisper into my little bells atop my jester hat “buy me…buy me”

 

24 hours later and sitting in my living room was a very large box-with a very purple treasure inside. Fortunately I’m fairly competent with my hands, thanks to years of owning and fettling motorbikes, so the assembly was as straightforward as they come. Which brings me round to the ride.

 

Would it live up to my expectations? Like a child sleeping with one eye open on Christmas Eve, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa with his toy sack, not a snippet of Dad; face littered with mince-pie crumbs and clumsily stuffing presents under my bed I set off to test my purple people eater from Japan via England. With a good dose of summer sun, a calm air and a tenacious strike round of the pedals I was off. What a revelation! I’d rushed to spend my money on a slice of dream made real and I wasn’t disappointed. The bike was quiet, accelerated with almost instant urge and an agile and springy ride.

 

It’s been some 4 weeks since I first tasted that freedom long forgotten since the days of childhood had departed. I’ve since managed to get out for a ride at least 3 miles of a fast sprint ride around my local village to a personal best of a 28 mile round trip to see my folks. Almost every night bar a couple when it’s rained has seen me pounding the rubber into the asphalt or dirt, either heading into the nearest city, or taking the canal towpath. I’m still seeing Santa from the corner of my eyes.

 

I’m hoping to keep this up, and steadily lose some fat, gain more fitness and keep enjoying freedom that can’t be gained with motorised transport. To savour every moment of this sunny patch and use it to shake up my life a touch before I start the next decade.