An Interesting Life

The funny thing is, many people have genuinely fascinating, even amazing lives, and never write about them. One example: I used to know a guy who hitched around Africa in 1991, with no map and no money, where he got caught up in a coup / civil war and nearly died. He lived in a houseboat as a mature student. He spent one Christmas Day shivering in a phone booth in rural Poland. And finally he suffered a series of major psychotic breaks which resulted in a criminal conviction for threatening behaviour.

To me, this is a very neoliberal idea of an interesting life. Skipping between continents and having outlandishly mental issues is interesting only within a worldview that promotes the accumulation of experiences at the cost of belongings, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. I see an interesting life as the one where a person figured things out, made something out of nothing, thought deeply, loved with constance, and can share insight instead of outré vignettes of almost dying in coups in places he doesn’t understand or care about.

The most fascinating biography I have ever read is of Anthony Trollope who worked like a dog to provide for his family while pursuing his dream of becoming a well-paid author. He was a very stable person in every way, and I don’t think that made him less interesting than adrenaline-crazed snowflakes making a nuisance of himself in Africa and Poland.

15 thoughts on “An Interesting Life

  1. The uniqueness of one’s “lived” experience (as if you could have any other sort!) seen through the prism of exemplary singularity – “Look at me! Admire me! Envy me!” – is one of the hallmarks of the middle-class, neoliberal mindset. It’s grnerally accompanied by that kind of insufferable sanctimoniousness ever present in Bruce Chatwin’s so-called books which makes them unreadable for me.


  2. My dad has a wonderfully interesting life. The thing to know about that is: most of the stuff that makes interesting stories later, was traumatic, miserable, or terrifying when it happened. His interesting stories resulted in permanent brain damage and the inability to hold down a regular job. It’s a book I’d love to read, sure, but I’m not gonna pretend it’s better than making good decisions and having a regular boring life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “He spent one Christmas Day shivering in a phone booth in rural Poland”

    For a moment I was wondering it it was anyone I’d met… (I’ve seen some spectacular failures to come to terms with reality here…) but I couldn’t think of any likely suspects that had also been in Africa…. and when was this supposed to be? Phone booths haven’t been a thing here for many years (and were marginal in the best of times)….

    “making a nuisance of himself in Africa and Poland”

    Back in the days when I was involved in orienting the occasional English speaking newcomer, part of my spiel was letting them know what the prevailing stereotypes were (for Brits these were really…. not….. good, not good…. at all….) and sincerely requesting that they not contribute to them…


  4. He had me until “He spent one Christmas Day shivering in a phone booth in rural Poland.” and it did not get better from there. Why would anyone want to read about that?


  5. Some people have an extraordinarily high need for variety and activity. They always have to be going somewhere and doing something, and once they’ve been somewhere or done something, then they have to find a new place to go and a new thing to do — someplace they’ve never been and something they’ve never done. I’m just the opposite; I prefer my life to be peaceful and predictable.


  6. “… a guy who hitched around Africa in 1991, with no map and no money, where he got caught up in a coup / civil war and nearly died. … He spent one Christmas Day shivering in a phone booth in rural Poland.”

    Robert Young Pelton, the author of “The World’s Most Dangerous Places”, wrote about these kinds of people in that book.

    Paraphrased: “And there I was, in a leaky row boat, in the middle of the actual shit, without even a bucket to bail out the boat …”

    Any story starting with “and there I was” immediately became highly suspect.

    His opinion was that people like this were magnets for all kinds of trouble because they’d enter into dangerous situations with almost zero preparation other than arriving on the scene so that things could get even worse.

    I stopped helping these kinds of people because karmically speaking the debts would never be repaid.

    Instead, I started helping people who looked well-prepared except for the most extreme forms of failure, especially gear failure.

    Most travellers don’t think they need two to three rolls of duct tape in their suitcase just to patch it together enough after cracking apart in multiple places so they can make it to their destination.

    Even the more prepared varieties of travellers pack just one.

    So, yeah, sure, I’ll go buy those people some more duct tape while they watch over their stuff.

    They at least made a reasonable attempt to be prepared.

    A lot of this “middle class memoir” stuff is a bit too much like Harriett Wheeler of The Sundays singing about how her finest moment was finding a pound on the Underground.


  7. OT, but I must tell someone who understands:

    I spent the day dealing with the new Schwab utopia. I needed a letter from the electric company in order to turn on my gas (we’ve been two weeks without hot water, so far). I was getting nowhere through the website and the impenetrable telephone tree, so I drove down to the office.

    There is no office. The electric company has decided, in its infinite wisdom, that offices where customers can go, physically, and talk to a clerk to get their problem resolved, are unnecessary.

    At the gas company they were like “just pull up the email on your phone and hold it up”

    I held up my flip-phone. She was like: “…. oh.”

    Fortunately, she knew a way to get around the uncooperative electric company. So maybe we’ll get hot water this week!

    My husband missed an appointment to update his drivers license at the DMV today, because there are no parking spaces within half a mile of the DMV building that you can park in without a smartphone: the meters use some app for payment now. We had never encountered this oddity before.

    And then, to top it off, I talked to my brother and he noted that he had to talk to his kids’ teachers today. Both kids? Same day? What happened? It turns out the local schools have installed electronic locks on their bathrooms, and now you have to scan a QR code to use the toilet. His kids do not have smartphones. Their teachers think the kids are screwing with them, and lying about not having the devices. And now they are all annoyed with his kids because they inconvenience the teachers by having to get a special temporary paper QR code every time they have to pee. Because of course everyone has a smartphone. Even ten year olds.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to say, the story of QR codes on children’s toilets just about finished me off. We all know how I feel about children and smartphones (i.e. murderously angry), and this is just the limit.

      By the way, my father always said that one of the most effective ways in which a totalitarian regime schools people into obedience is through making toilets hard to access and turning it into a humiliating process.

      I refuse to patronize restaurants that use these moronic QR codes instead of menus. But utility companies? Schools?This is obscene.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It is a perfect microcosm of how minute totalitarian control is being rolled out in the broader society, though: students were vandalizing the bathrooms. Rather than enforce the law on the students, or kick them out of school (oh, no! that’s discriminatory!) so that other students can have working toilet facilities, this is the solution they come up with: track everyone via smartphone so they can tell who used which toilet when. I’m not at all sure what good that’s supposed to do when they’re not going to enforce any rules against the vandals anyway. Because that’s not the point anyway. The point is to train a whole generation of kids to use an electronic permission-granting device to access even such basic needs as toilets. They’ll be wonderfully compliant adults in the new electronically micromanaged world.

        I think as a parent, if I were in that position (look, there’s a reason I keep my kids out of school!), I’d be coaching my kids to shit in the hallways.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. We don’t have smart phones and don’t want them, but it gets harder and harder to get by without them. The laundromat I am forced to use occasionally (because I have things I can’t wash in my elderly top loader) used to let you scan a credit card to get the machine to start, but recently they removed the credit card scanners and installed QR code scanners. For the time being you can still use quarters — and you know how much fun it is to stand there and feed six dollars’ worth of quarters into the slot — but I expect that option to vanish soon as well.


      1. Ditto. We don’t smartphone. Where we lived previously (and I am missing it already) was fairly behind the times– if you wanted anything done, there was no way to do it over the internet. So you used this archaic device called a phone number to talk to someone in the office (and there was actually someone there to answer the call!). Or, you drove down to city hall. Or (oh, the horror!), for things like state taxes, you mail it in an envelope. With a stamp.

        The new place has been kind of a rough adjustment. Wish we could have stayed on the other side of the county line and commuted. It’s almost close enough.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Surprised by Joy. With bold knife and fork…

    They are as much about the beloved virtuous thing as they are about the life in which it was lived.

    What do you call these memoirs?


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