Tuesday, 30 November 2010

More musings in a similar vein...

In my last post, I was thinking about how people perceive their own futures, and how current society seems defined by a confusion over whether following one's dream is possible, or even sensible. I've just started reading One Day by Dave Nicholls, and it's kept me thinking on that theme. The concept of the book is that we encounter two characters, Dexter and Emma, on one day each year, starting from their first proper meeting the night of their graduation from university. As they get older, we see how their lives pan out, and it's fascinating to compare their actual futures to the ones they hoped for initially.

Here's how Dexter starts out: At twenty-three, Dexter Mayhew's vision of his future was no clearer than Emma Morley's. He hoped to be successful, to make his parents proud and to sleep with more than one woman...but how to make these all compatible? He wanted to feature in magazine articles, and hoped one day for a retrospective of his work, without having any clear notion of what that work might be. He wanted to live life to the extreme, but without any mess or complications. He wanted to live life in such a way that if a photograph were taken at random, it would be a cool photograph. Things should look right. Fun; there should be a lot of fun and no more sadness than absolutely necessary.

And Emma: The trick of it, she told herself, is to be courageous and bold and make a difference. Not change the world exactly, just the bit around you. Go out there with your double-first, your passion and your new Smith Corona electric typewriter and work hard at...something. Change lives through art maybe. Write beautifully. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved if at all possible. Eat sensibly. Stuff like that.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

"Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world", and other stories

Today, I had a few free hours between an Opera North workshop and some college commitments so, as I am very occasionally wont to do, I made an impromptu solo visit to the cinema. The film I saw was the social network, a reasonably accurate portrayal of the origins of the website we all love to hate, Facebook. It's really very very good indeed, and I'd strongly recommend a viewing; firstly, because it's fascinating to get a hint of what went into the creation of such an internet phenomenon, but also, and more significantly, because the writing is extremely intelligent, the film-making is beautiful and the young acting talent on display is absolutely first-rate: Jesse Eisenberg should unquestionably receive some award nods for his pitiably defiant portrayal of the main character, but mention must also be made of an astonishingly (in my mind, at any rate!) accomplished performance from Justin Timberlake and (the best of all, I reckon) an unforgettably moving turn from Andrew Garfield, last seen on the British theatre stage as Romeo at the Royal Exchange.

What surprised me most, however, was how deeply thought-provoking the experience turned out to be; it was one of those serendipitous things where a piece of Art unexpectedly resonates with stuff going on real life.

Last night, I was having a long chat with one of my housemates, and one of things we talked about was an odd feeling of restlessness in our hearts. We both have so much to be thankful for in our lives and, to a massive extent, are really really happy with our jobs, and our personal situations etc etc...but it never quite takes away this niggling feeling that we're missing something, that there's something more exciting, more fulfilling, more significant that we could be doing. And that made me think of another conversation I'd had at the weekend. Some of the other younger men at church have made, or are considering making, quite dramatic changes in their career paths, and it got a few of us chatting. I made the point that the age in which we live can be very puzzling indeed: young people are now constantly given the message that anything is possible; that, with the right balance of ability and hard work, absolutely anything can achieved. So it's now perfectly acceptable, and often even laudable, for someone who's spent a huge amount of money and time following a particular life-path - like law, or medicine, or teaching, or whatever - to give it all up to pursue their lifelong dream of being, say, a poet, or an entrepreneur, or a textile artist.

And I think that that affects an awful lot of people - they start to wonder whether the life they're living is really "the one", whether they have more to give than their current career or situation exploits, whether it's time that they, too, followed their dreams. But I suppose that it's one of those self-perpetuating myths... In a rather boring, unremarkable way, I guess I am actually living my dreams a bit; a large part of my income comes just from singing and acting, and virtually all my work is Arts-centred, which is one of my biggest passions. But I still spend a lot of time soul-searching and wondering whether it's really the right thing to be doing... At the moment, I'm thinking a lot about whether I would rather focus on performing or education/outreach, and also whether classical singing is really what I want to do, as opposed to some musical theatre, or even straight acting. The restlessness never ends.

Watching the film today brought these thoughts to the forefront of my mind again. The story is populated by immensely gifted young men who, despite their talents, are deeply discontented, and longing to do something of real significance. For the main guy, Mark, the whole Facebook saga stems from his desire to get into the highest rank of Harvard clubs - when asked why, he says "Because they're exclusive and fun, and they lead to a better life." There it is, you see - that underlying suspicion that there are other people around him who are having more fun, achieving more of their potential, heading towards a better future.

So yeah...lots of thinking today! And I haven't really arrived at any conclusions yet. As a Christian, I believe that a lot of the restlessness in the human soul is down to the fact that, in our natural state, we're extremely messed up - our sins have destroyed our relationship with our creator God, and it can only be repaired through faith in Jesus Christ - but even when, by God's mind-blowing mercy, our sins have been forgiven, life seems to still, often, be characterised by restlessness and a fear that we're not fulfilling our own potential. Despite knowing that a truly worthwhile life is one that is spent serving God and telling others about Him, the decisions over what career to pursue, what dreams to follow and what life-path to take are still pretty befuddling, often unbearably so.

But this blogpost is already far too long! So I won't continue. Perhaps there'll be some more thoughts along soon. First, I must update my Facebook status...