The Costumer's Manifesto: HOW TO LIVE AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE
HOW TO LIVE AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE
[What follows is a personal diary rant I wrote in 1995 when I was in a depressed state, and was attempting to pull myself out of it. It not only has some great insights for the depressed, it worked.
My God, how do I do this?I fear I am dull.Dull, both naturally and by habit.I fear, well, I FEAR.And we all know what Roosevelt said about fear itself...I struggle, (and struggle valiantly) against being tedious, but mostly succeed in merely being odd.Yet struggle one must.For if one cannot be happy, one has at least a duty to one's self to be interesting, adventurous, perhaps even amazing.This is the secret that drives people to the heights of fame and adventure:personal misery.When you at last realize with mounting horror that you just lost at the game of life, you have an overwhelming desire to upset the table, scatter the pieces to the wind and run with whatever you can grab.This is when extraordinary lives begin.
Mine has had two points where I lost the game and ran.The first was as a child.I was one of those mysteriously "untouchable" children whom all the other children hate and revile.Nothing I said or did, or didn't do, seemed to change matters.I tried being friendly, being mean, being indifferent.It changed nothing.I was shoved, insulted, spit at, and tormented, with a hatred that was extraordinary, all without ever knowing why.Naturally, I invented a "why" as I grew by becoming an eccentric.Since I had no friend's or peer group's opinions to consider, I cultivated my own unusual interests:Classical music, costume history, plays.By high school I dressed, in the midst of mid-1970's shag cuts and platform shoes, like a mourner at a Victorian funeral or a debutante at a Regency ball.I was still spit on, of course, but something strange happened.In a high school of 1000 students, I can name perhaps four of those who went there, yet dozens, whose faces are quite unfamiliar to my eye still remember me by name.I was "famous" simply by doing what is natural to the lonely and outcast:I was "myself".
Oneshould never underestimate the advantages of alienation.Acceptance, contentment, happiness, they all lead to inertia andhomogeneity.There is nothing wrongwith this, quite the contrary; one is lucky if this is one's lot in life.However, when one asks the central question of life:"Are We Having Fun Yet?" and the answer comes back a resoundingNO with no relief in sight, this is when one is moved to do great things.This is only natural.Whenwe are caught like a fish on a hook of pain, we will wriggle with all ourstrength to escape, and even if escape is impossible the struggles are oftenjustification in themselves.
Have you evernoticed how mediocre Romantic novels are all written by prosperous, happilymarried women with children, and how the Great Books of Literature were allwritten by tortured, alcoholic, manic-depressives?This is not an accident.Noris it an accident that all our best film directors were persecuted"nerds" in their youth.Whatis more, the whole computer industry was founded by people who felt so alienatedfrom other humans that they invented machines they could talk to.Yes alienation has its uses.
My ultimate alienating experience came less than two years ago.My last, my final hope for a mate, rejected me, very politely, but insuch a firm way that I realized, at length, that there had never really been anyhope at all.I am, no question,simply one of those people who has absolutely no sex appeal, despite fair looks,a nice figure, and a good brain.Itwas, in a way, the same thing as in my childhood:no "reason", but some mysterious invisible sign of beinguntouchable.If, by 35, a woman,despite a healthy sex drive, and tolerable looks, has not ever had a regularboyfriend, she has to face the fact that she most probably never will.I can think of few prospects more depressing in life, for it is a wholeinclusive chapter of disappointments:Nolove, No sex, No marriage, No children, No family, No future.
What to do?Roll over and die?No,one struggles on the hook, trying to find a way to stop the pain, no matter howextraordinary the measures necessary to do it.I quit my job, I went to Russia to live, I wrote twice as much in thelast six months than I have in my whole previous career, I painted five times asmuch, I photographed till I had to buy film wholesale, 50 rolls at a time tokeep up, I walked in the forest picking mushrooms till my toes grew bloodblisters, I drew, I kept volumes of diaries, I toured every museum, I adopted acat, I painted my clothes, I learned to cook.I even lost 20 lbs without dieting, just from the constant press ofactivity.This, despite the factthat at least half my time is still spent inert and withdrawn in a state ofdepression.
None of these activities is a "cure" for my broken life.But all of them are good temporary analgesics for the pain.And more importantly, they are productive:I am now constantly getting my writing and photos published, I can eatwhat I cook, mushrooms included, and the starving flea-ridden street kitten ofsix months ago is now a healthy, happy,
catFrom the outside, anyone observing my life would account me moresuccessful than I was when I still lived in hope of everyday happiness.This is the value of misery, it spurs us on to do extraordinary things.
Happy people must fear action because it may disturb the calm flow oftheir families, lives, and jobs.Theunhappy fear action only so far as they fear their pain will be made worse.Once the point of rock-bottom misery is reached, fear evaporates, actionis escape, and there is nowhere to go but up.Up, and out, and around.Anydirection you go is better than the one you left behind.Anything you do is better than doing nothing.Once that thought strikes you, you can do anything.Fear is the place from which you came, not the place to which you aregoing.An extraordinary lifebecomes easy.It becomes anecessity.
You start by looking for a "cure" for the problem.When that fails, you will try to ignore it, and hope it goes away.You may even try making everyone around you equally miserable, in thevain hope they will fix your problem for you. Noneof these helps.There is only oneoption: Escape.As Noel Cowardwrote "When your life gets too miserable to rise above, sail away, sailaway. When your heart feels as weary as a worn out glove, sail away."You can always return later.Youneedn't go to Russia.Go anywhere.
Then ask yourself, "what do I, in my wildest imaginings, want tobe?"Don't say "apainter" if you've just been blinded, or "a heterosexual" ifyou've just figured out you're gay, or "married" if you're like me, weare talking about possible, if difficult to attain goals.Pick the thing that you can still feel a passion for, a hard to winprize, a terrifying leap, a crazy dream, long buried.It has to be big, so big, that if you succeed and get it, making do withthis "second best" option may be better than having got what youwanted in the first place.As thesong says "You can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes,you just might find, you get what you need."
And then, as Nike puts it "just do it."You slog away at it.You addmore goals.You chase after themtoo.You do anything that feels funor good that isn't self-destructive.Youmake a spectacle of yourself.Yousay what you really think.You dowhat you feel like doing.You lookfor new things to do.You say"Why Not?" instead of "No" all the time.You stop caring if people stare.Youlearn to take chances.You riskyour dignity.You may even want torisk your hide.
Do not stop.Do not listen to "sensible" advice from happypeople---you are not one of them.Keepat it till you are one of them.Andif you can't ever be one of them, keep at it forever.Don't curl up and quit.Don'thide.On the contrary, be asindividual as you can be and shout it from the treetops.You will find, if you advertise, that there are other folks out thereliving on the edge of humanity, and some of them can accept you for who you are,without reservation.One or two mayeven be a bit like you.
And if you never find happiness, you will at least find fame, andsuccess, and a productive, useful life.Somany of the people who we admire as "Great" led tortured, frustratedinner lives:George Sand, SergeiProkofiev, Mary Wollstoncraft, Michelangelo, T.E. Lawrence, Catherine the Great,the list is endless.They achievedgreatness by refusing to let the world have the last word.They fought, tooth and nail, for goals that were their substitute forhappiness, and so they succeeded in leading extraordinary lives.
I no longer have trouble with depression,I'm too damn busy with living. Since coming to the realization you seeabove, my
youare now in a tiny corner of, II bought and
decorateda house, and I've turned myself into one of those wild and crazypeople who does all sorts of strange things that come into their heads. Ialways was slightly this way, but it is now so much my normal way to be that Ican't fathom why anyone would settle for living an ordinary life.
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