Real life? Just fantasy? Is it high time you took just one day out of life to escape from reality? What, truly, is life’s purpose? Is society nought but a cock-up?
It is a truth all but universally acknowledged in blogging circles that around this time of year – as people head off on their summer break with bucket and, in all probability, spade in hand – we will soon see a cavalcade of embloggenation on the value of unwinding, of getting away from it all, of stepping away from everyday life. I have blogged before in just this manner.
Clichés are clichés with good reason. I will add here to the cavalcade of embloggenation on what life might really be all about. Gentler readers be warned, I will also soon have reason to use the language of the streets.
Just one day out of life
This past week has been one of the happiest of my life. For the first time since 1999, I got to see one of the greatest people I have ever met, one of my best friends, Hang. Hang finally made it over to this side of the pond from Portland, Oregon. She brought with her her lovely wife, Heather.
Who wouldn’t be nervous after not having seen someone for nigh-on 16 years? I certainly was. But within a minute of getting to talk to Hang again, it was as if only one day had disappeared out of life since we last saw one another, not a decade and a half.
I had the privilege to host Hang and Heather last weekend, and take day trips with them to Brighton and Lewes. They then headed into London for the remainder of their stay, and I commuted in each day to see them. It was the best of times, it was the loveliest of times.
Society is a cock-up
Traveling into London one day this week to see Hang and Heather, I listened to a Nerdist podcast interview with John Cleese*. This podcast is delightful. It is very funny (more than once I had to work very hard to stop myself almost weeping out loud with laughter, so as not to commit any #traincrimes that might disgruntle my fellow commuting types). It is also wise.
Cleese has long been given to intense self-analysis. It seems that in his mid-70s he has arrived at a general theory of life that is both compelling and very Monty Python.
“Society is a cock-up,” he says. Humanity “can’t invent something that humans can’t fuck up.” It is therefore inevitable that anything we do with good intentions is tantamount to laying another brick on the highway to hell.
But to this deeply cynical and deeply Python outlook has more recently been added a very sweet and very human sense of obligation. Given that society is a cock-up and that humans will never be anything other than imperfect, Cleese argues that the most important thing we can do is make people happy.
He arrived at this conclusion only a year ago, during Monty Python’s umpteenth (but this time probably actually genuinely) farewell shows. I was surprised while reading Michael Palin’s Python Years diaries last year that as far back as the early 1970s, both he and Cleese suffered a creeping feeling that the Python live shows were money for old rope. But that money was quite attractive.
Something changed in 2014. In the podcast, Cleese speaks touchingly of how the collective air of jubilation flowing from the audience at these shows defeated his ingrained cynicism. This was a singularly positive, euphoric moment in time. A day out of life. What he and his fellow Pythons were doing – as hackneyed and old-ropulent as it might have seemed in the run-up – was making people happy.
What higher purpose could there be? Making people happy is invaluable. Taking people out of the grinding idiocy of daily life and giving them a taste of what we might call the real life is a perfect purpose to any life.
This is the real life
Is this the real life? Is reality a reappropriated painting of Cupid’s foot stamping on a human face forever? Or is real life when we step out of the everyday, and taste wonder, joy and freedom, however fleetingly? My money is on the latter.
My good friend Natasha Stallard expressed this more simply and more perfectly than I could ever hope to, just the other day. I was telling her what a superlative time I was having, finally getting to catch up with Hang and feeling like no time had passed since I last saw her. Quoth Tash:
this is life 🙂 the other bits too – but this is really life :))))
Now go forth please, gentle reader, and enjoy the real life. Even if it’s just one day out of life.
* There’s way more very wise and very funny stuff in this epic podcast interview. Here’s two further delicious soundbites: Cleese on making things simpler: “We must do more of it. We don’t look at the simple.” And I absolutely love his dismissal of Facebook as a place that deals in “quantified attention.” (If you agree with the latter, please please please LIKE it now!).
- Brighton’s imitation London Eye, as photographed by Hang.
- mjcarty and Hang in Seattle, September 1998.
- mjcarty and Hang in Brighton, July 2015.
- The immortal (one rather hopes) John Cleese, via Wikimedia Commons.
- That selfsame Cupidful foot, as kindly shared by Wikipedia.
Competition the second
After getting a mighty two responses to the quiz in my previous post (step forth @dds180 and @rafadavies. Sirs, I will stand you a cold beverage of your choice next time we meet), I thought it would be fun to run another quiz offering a paltry – maybe even a non-existent – prize. Any reader who has ever heard music will immediately know that the title of this post is filched from a famous Queen lyric. So my quiz question this time is Queen-related:
What was the name of the (sadly never to be) supergroup that Freddie
Mercury discussed forming with Rod Stewart and Elton John (perhaps when
all three were “in their cups”)? If you don’t know the answer, please
don’t google it – instead please tell me what you think this never-was
troupe should have been called. Your version might be even better than