To Live With Meaning

Dear You,

If there’s one question I’ve learned to ask myself more than any other, it’s this:

Is the thing I’m doing moving me closer or further away from the person I want to be?

I want to be less stressed out, happier, have more energy and have more meaningful experiences with the people I love.

I find if I remember to ask that question, I can slowly, gently move myself closer to that and I believe that if life is anything, it is that: the slow journey from who we were born as to who we imagine we could be, accepting each step as it comes and forgiving ourselves when we falter, so that we can carry on.

We are meant to move slowly but we are meant to move.

I find my primary method of movement in that journey is being present with the people I love, and in the experiences I seek out. And I find the more distracted I am, the more I am pulled away from where I am by plans and memories and the bright lights and colours of everyday life, the more miserable I am.

If I am with my children, when my phone bings and bingles with red and exciting notifications, I put my phone on do-not-disturb and I engage with them fully in whatever we’re doing.

If we’re having a tea party, we’re only having a tea party, I’m not trying to solve a problem or write a new poem. If we’re on a swing, we are only on the swing, I am fully invested, spiritually, emotionally and mentally in what we’re doing, I am engaged with them and interested in every story, ever nuance of who my children are.

My children have never been upset or brats or challenged me when I’ve treated them not as obstacles between me and what I want to achieve, but as the people I want to be with, experiencing things I want to experience.

I’m not saying that phones are bad, I run my life from my phone, and I understand that this isn’t always possible; that parenting is hard and that often as parents, we need to accomplish things -while- juggling our children. My point is that we should approach our life with intention, and when it is time to spend time with the people we love, that is all we should be doing.

When we are with someone, let’s be with them.

I believe we should treat everyone and all our experiences in this way, meaningful and with intention.

Thank you for your time.

My best,

Iain S. Thomas.

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Strength Comes From Love

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In Montblanc Lucky Orange. I’m still amazed that there are parents who don’t understand this. My kid is braver than yours because I don’t give her a hard time or make her feel bad for how she feels, I let her choose what she wants to do and then I support her. If she feels afraid, we talk about being afraid. If she gets hurt, we talk about getting hurt. At no point do I ever tell her what she is or isn’t supposed to feel. She feels what she feels and she knows that’s fine with me, and she’s a thousand times stronger and braver for it.

Dear Creative Person, You Are Not What You Do

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Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

 

You are not what you do.

This is one of the hardest things to accept for people with a creative slant. For some reason, we firmly believe we are the applause from the crowd, the award being won, the painting being sold, the deal going through. And we are elated when these things happen. But of course we then go on to think that we are also the one star review on Amazon, the job at the studio we do not have, the empty book signing, the unreturned phone call or the business that never gets off the ground.

So we get depressed.

But we’re not those things. We are not the things we do.

Do you know what 99% of the world spend’s their time thinking about?

It’s not the prestige of their job because for most people, a job is just a job, it’s a means to an end and who they fundementally are doesn’t depend on it.

Their families are who they are. Their friends are who they are. What they spend nine, ten, eleven hour days putting in a can or serving behind a counter isn’t them, it’s just something they’re doing.

You will go on an emotional roller coaster than will break your neck if you convince yourself that who you are depends on what you’re currently creatively doing.

So let me be clear:

You are not your painting, your poem, your song, your movie, and you are definitely not your instagram account.

The success or failure of your work doesn’t change who you are, even if it does change people’s opinion of who you are (which doesn’t change you either).

You are a creative person who wants to bring beautiful things into the world in whatever way you can and no matter how you do it or who responds to it, you’re still you – and you are remarkable and beautiful and incredible and so far out of the average just for trying.

And that is as true when you begin and it is when you end, regardless of whatever success happens along the way.

My best,

Iain S. Thomas

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If you’re in Cape Town, I’ll be at The Book Lounge on Wednesday reading and signing books – click here to find out more. You can sign up for regular, often encouraging (I hope) messages from me here, and you can buy my books here.

A chance meeting in a restaurant.

Dear You,

Today, I’d like to briefly tell you about somebody I met yesterday.

I was eating lunch at a restaurant and a fly kept buzzing around my head. It was the most frustrating experience and I thought to myself, this is exactly what always happens. I can’t ever have anything nice. As I swatted at the fly my eyes fell on a man at the next table in a dark jacket with a hat pulled down low over his eyes. He looked away but we made eye contact for a second and I realised immediately that I knew him but I didn’t know how.
So I went over and sat with him and said, “I know you.”
“Yes.” He said.
“From where?” I asked and he sighed.
“I am your pain.” He said, and I believed him.
“I see.” I said and I felt the urge to get up and walk away and to go and do something, anything else but I decided to ignore it.
“Aren’t you going to run away? Or yell at me? Or scream at me and say that you knew I’d show up sooner or later?” He asked.
“Is that what I usually do?” I replied.
“Yes. And then you always forget about me.” He said. He spotted the waiter out of the corner of his eye and said, “Would you like a drink?”
“No, I’m fine thank you. Why are you here?” I asked and his eyes grew wide.
“Do you know, in all the times we’ve met, you’ve never asked that?” He said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes.” He said. I looked away for a moment before replying.
“When my head hurts, sometimes it means I’ve not drunk enough water and I should drink more. When my stomach hurts, sometimes it means I’ve eaten the wrong thing and I should avoid it in future. When my legs hurt, it often means I’ve run too much and I need to give myself a break. So I imagine you must have a reason for being here.” I said.
“I do. Would you like to hear it?” He said.
“I would.” I replied.

And he whispered in my ear. And I listened. I did not think about what I wanted to say next or what I had to do later, I just listened to my pain and what it had to say.

When he was done, I hugged him and I thanked him for telling me what he had to tell me. And then he left.

It was one of the strangest meetings of my life.

The Rise Of Exclusionary Nerd Culture

I don’t really talk about video games or comic books or any of the other flotsam and jetsam of nerd culture I’ve been into over the years and I feel like maybe it’s because it feels like nerd culture, if such a thing still exists, left me behind and I’m just an old man yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, or despite the fact that I still play video games and read comic books, I just don’t feel like I’m part of it anymore, or maybe to be completely honest, it’s that I don’t really want to be a part of it anymore. I feel like over the last ten, maybe fifteen years or so, it’s become more and more exclusionary, and less and less open, which was its defining quality when I was growing up.

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Photo by Carl Raw on Unsplash

In the beginning, there just weren’t enough of us to be exclusionary – I’m talking specifically about my small town experience – there simply weren’t enough nerds to be exclusionary, no matter how weird you were, no matter the colour of your skin (and this is Apartheid South Africa I’m talking about here), if you liked the same video games as me or played Dungeons and Dragons or knew about some obscure fantasy novel I was reading, we were friends for life. I’m glad to say that, as I approach my forties, for the most part, this seems to have held true for a lot of those friends I made along the way.

But now nerd culture is popular culture. I remember sitting around the one comic book shop in our city that only lasted about two years before it shut down, talking about what an X-Men movie might be like and who we would cast (Sylvester Stallone as Wolverine and Arnold as Colossus) very aware that we were day dreaming. Remember, everyone else thought the same thing which is why Marvel sold off all their film rights in the nineties. And even though it’s obvious in retrospect that nerds all over the world would grow up and have disposable income and technology would advance to a point where it could create the kind of visual magic needed to bring these things to life, it wasn’t obvious then. There aren’t nerds anymore because everyone’s a nerd. And the bigger a group is, the easier it is to divide it.

The problem with Ready Player One:

I always had a soft spot for Ernest Cline, or Ernie Cline as he was known when he was known more for his nerd-centric slam poetry (Look up Ultraman is Airwolf or Dance Monkey Dance) than as the writer of Ready Player One. But I don’t like Ready Player One. I know I’m one of many and I don’t think I’m taking a fringe position here but I do feel like it’s only recently that I’ve been able to put it into words. I don’t like it because it is the epitome of exclusionary nerd culture. The functional benefit of watching the movie to many is being able to nod and wink at how many catchphrases, how many more nerd properties you can identify than “Normies” would be able to. The first season of Stranger Things has elements of this too. It’s about belonging to an exclusive club, it’s about creating an “us” and a “them.” To many I’m sure it’s nostalgic but that nostalgia hides something that I feel, however unintentional, is insidious and divisive.

I feel like there is a connection, however tenuous, to phenomena like the dark side of 4chan and gamergate and if you look at a Venn diagram of that, and things like the incel movement, I honestly believe you’ll see some overlap. It all starts with taking something you enjoy, and turning it into an “us” club, that “they” don’t have access to.

I just don’t believe the things we like make us special, and they certainly don’t make us more special than other people.

Back in that small comic book shop on the tip of Africa, the idea of excluding anyone, the idea of telling anyone that they weren’t cool enough (who were we to be the arbiters of cool?) or weren’t welcome at our game of Dungeons and Dragons, or to pick up a second controller was crazy.

Maybe some part of us knew back then, that was the way of fear.

And fear, leads to hate.