The Ego Trick

For the last few days I have been reading contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini’s book The Ego Trick, in which he poses the following questions: Are you still the person who lived fifteen, ten or five years ago? Fifteen, ten or five minutes ago? Can you plan for your retirement if the you of thirty years hence is in some sense a different person? What and who is the real you? Does it remain constant over time and place, or is it something much more fragmented and fluid? Is it known to you, or are you as much a mystery to yourself as others are to you? I found the questions ones similar to many I had myself in recent years about myself and changes I felt I had experienced. They also reminded me of early 20th century philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s Stages of life, which I had previously considered in my post on the meaning of life. I decided to look back on my life and the changes I felt had happened but had they really happened, was I now the swan not the ugly duckling?

I thought back 20-25 years ago during my teenage years, as I hid in my high school library from the bullies surrounded by books for company with one thing that always stuck out – the Greenpeace leaflets that sat on the librarian’s desk. I knew of Greenpeace as watched the evening news nightly, preferring it over the Australian soap opera Neighbours. Combined with my occasional discussions with my great uncle, winning prizes for my writing against CFCs, and reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, my interest in the environment and natural world was very much the teenage me. I also got into trouble, not with my teachers but my mother, for drawing peace symbols against war and nuclear weapons to anti-animal testing doodles on my chemistry to religious education notebooks; issues which even now I feel strongly about and would draw them again. Equally, I’d spend my evenings listening to or practising playing music for bands and orchestras, as well as enjoying writing when I could, and questioning to myself the world around me. Therefore, on some level I am still the same as my teenage self with her passions and interests, but have I changed at all?

However, despite my passions and interests noted above, my school and family pushed me away from three of the subjects I excelled at and loved the most – music, Latin and French, and towards chemistry with biology. I found the sciences interesting to an extent but not the laboratory time, it didn’t quite grab me the same and often went wrong! One time doing an experiment connected to a computer, the whole thing had to be abandoned as the computer broke down and was unable to be retrieved…I joked to my teacher it was a sign I shouldn’t be studying chemistry. Yet if you look at my university qualifications you will see my undergraduate degree was a mix of both biology and chemistry, my first masters is in environmental analytical chemistry, second masters is in archaeology and PhD is in geography…not bad for the girl they bullied and called stupid! I tried to convince myself every year that I enjoyed being in the laboratory but quite simply I was fooling myself, I considered giving up during my second year undergraduate as felt so unme, but not one to give up I kept going. My current eyes see it as a form of emotional self harm, which is why I will probably never work in a laboratory ever again in this life time (or I hope not to)!

The last few years since my PhD I have been considering where my life is going and what I want out of it beyond my three desires (a place to call home, a dog for company and to be happy). Realising that my love of the environment and the natural world is still as big as my teenage self, so often photograph and/or write about it here, equally my love of writing has come to become something beyond what I could ever have imagined. Yet, I do not feel the same woman who looked down the microscope counting proxies of charcoal, seeds, bryzoans, ostracods and daphnia ten years ago; she would draw and daydream what she saw, trying to make the data visual from her mind to the paper and not in numerical form. I feel a sense of freedom now that I am finally being true to myself – the woman I have learnt to love, appreciate and respect, is a quirky creative not a mad scientist. I also know how often I am the person people turn to for help as have an unjudgemental ear, caring shoulder and arms happy to hug, leading others and myself to question if I should not be a counsellor or perhaps speech and language therapy due to my voluntary work with adults with aphasia. I am currently putting the foundations down to try go that path as feels like I’m being deafened by the screams!

Therefore, I do and do not agree on being the same person as I was before. Part of me is the same that has always been there, deep thinking to gentle woman and lover of the natural world. However, there are parts of me that I was either to scared to share or did not know they were me. I have also learnt the importance of a select group of friends that love, trust, respect and appreciate you as you do them. A few years ago I hated myself and found the darkness blinding but now see the light of the world’s multisensory being as though a child experiencing it all for the first time. I also feel it is our experiences in life that change us, for good and bad, so we are in a constant change like the constantly changing world, which we are trying to adapt to. This all brings me back to being aware of the present moment, so we perhaps should remember to try not to be who were ten years ago but use those ten years of life experience to be who we are now. Equally, we can make foundations today for where we would like to be in ten years time but a full on plan is impossible as tomorrow is promised to none of us.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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The Glass Vase a.k.a Life

Life, in the words of one of my favourite authors (Neil Gaiman) is “a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal“. With the recent deaths of musicians and actors that we have all admired (maybe even idolised or fancied) for many years; from David Bowie to Lemmy, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, we feel we have lost part of ourselves as they wrote the soundtrack to our lives or a distant friend that never judged but was there in the background. As a result I have been thinking about the fragility of life, which to me is best thought of as like a glass vase held in a toddler’s hands, which could shatter in an instant.

No amount of preparation is able to prepare any of us for death only that that it will happen one day; nor can we protect ourselves or those we love from the impact of it. The shards of glass are like the bits of the person now gone; there are things we all may like or admire in a person, but equally there are bits only some people saw like the unique design that made them who they were or with the addition of flowers they became like an amazing support that many took for granted. At first we may try in vain to glue the shards back together before realising we cannot bring back what is gone, and the water on the floor increasing as the tears fall from our eyes like a river meeting the sea. Even when the shards are put in the bin, there is still part of them that will forever be part of us, as had a shared history (good and bad). Some may think getting a new vase will be the same, but it will not have the memories and identity that the one now gone had, and can never truly replace it.

However, it is important not to be scared of the vase shattering but remembering what the vase meaning is to us every day as can mean different things to different people, just as life can be different for us all. It can vary in the colours/shape/form because we all come in different ones, the only thing we share is being human and it is the diversity that is our true artistic self. It does not matter where the vase is, be it on a broken shelf in a run down house or a museum as created by some artisan of note, we all matter to someone. What that is can vary too; a vase may hold flowers that a loved one gave us to mark our birthday or Valentine’s Day, it also may have bought at an art gallery shop after enjoying an exhibition by a favourite artist or the colour fitted with the new décor of our living room. Finally, remember no vase is truly perfectly made, just as we all have flaws or hidden defects, perfection is a lie we tell each other as a way to convince ourselves as much as others. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

Our changing world

Have cars become our homes and sanctuaries on wheels? A place to escape the noisy neighbours, screaming children, and nagging or cheating partners. Where as before we may have gone for a walk, let the clouds take our woes far away to rain on who or whatever is hurting us, a forest of trees giving a large hug of support and a sun smiling to give us hope.

We also have built buildings of fifty shades of grey that suffocate our passions and connectedness filled with an air of jealousy, oneupmanship and bitchiness instead of a gentle breeze to revive the soul, bird song to make us sing with them and friendships of mutual love and respect. Why are we surrounding ourselves in monotone when there is a muticoloured and multiscensory world just outside only a footstep away.

Also, we have mountains of waste as everything has become disposable, nothing lasts more than a few years before being replaced be it a mobile phone or partner. Equally, our communication has been reduced to words on or a face on screen rather than face to face. Is so we as can hide real feelings and emotion? Create fantasies or cry wolf?

Has the world changed or have we? Not wanting to be merely an actor, we have turned away from being part of the cast of Planet Earth, but become her director. We are becoming blind to what is around us, sleeping walking to a brave new world where we will have lost compassion and empathy for the world. Isn’t it time we woke up and broke down the wall?

© Fi S. J. Brown