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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Who's the Fool on April Fools' Day?

Daffodils in April

Every day has its own sound, its own particular music. And when I look out of the window in the morning, I listen to it. I embrace it. I know when I step out into the day, I'll hear its individual sound under my feet. If it's a good tune, I try and tune it in with mine. If it looks stormy, I tune it out. I've got my own tunes for those rainy days.

I woke up today and took a look outside. It's the perfect spring day. A crisp, sparkling day. We've had a long winter here in the UK this year. Some say it'll lead the way to a brighter spring. Take what metaphors you will from that, but it sure felt like a bright new beginning as I went for my customary walk.

It's also April Fools' Day today. I love this day. Not only does it herald the start of my birth month, it is a day of fun, where we pull pranks on our friends and loved ones. I tend to treat it as my own personal new year, too.

OK, so you're going to think I'm crazy. Or maybe you'll think I'm a fool. But read on. If we look back in history, this month has always been a month of beginnings, of fresh new starts. Using the limitless value of the internet, a bit of research about the tradition brings this to the surface (thanks to MSN UK):

The April Fool hoax dates back to ancient times, when Romans and Celts celebrated the spring equinox by playing practical jokes on each other. The custom was formalised in 16th century France, when Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar moving the New Year from April 1 to January 1.

Anyone celebrating it on the original date was henceforth considered an "April fool".

What better way to begin a resolution, but with a laugh?

New Beginnings

Sometime in our lives we're all going to need a reboot. We can reassess our lives instinctively, when the need arises, or we can set our own personal "New Year" date, where we take a step back and look at where we are in our own personal journey. Today is that day for me. I guess I like to try and wise up on Fools' Day.

New beginnings can inspire us, re-affirm our best intentions, give us a chance to prune out our bad ones. It's something you could do everyday, but (a word of warning here) you could also overdose on being self-analytical. Instead of making us more decisive, it could have the opposite effect. Striking a balance is the secret formula to its success.

Striking a balance is a good motto for life. It's best to learn early on the world has its own desires, and that we have our own, and sometimes succumbing to the world's above our own can make life suck (as I know an American friend of mine would say). And although it would be great if we could live as though we were on a solitary island, with no one else to think of but ourselves, we can't do that either. So we need to strike a balance.

Sometimes having life suck is OK, too, because that's just the way it is. We can't eradicate every hint of sadness and anger out of human existence. We weren't mean to. Negative emotions are a vital part of the human condition and it isn't until we experience them that we truly appreciate the positive opposites. In other words, we need sadness in our lives to be able to fully recognise happiness when we come across it.

Without the long winter, would I have appreciated today's spring day as much? Maybe not, maybe so, but without anger, we can never appreciate the calm; our hatred and indifference emphasise our love. To deprive ourselves of any emotion characteristic to our nature is to deny the very things that make us human.

Healthy minds work the way they do for a reason. Generally when we are sad, we are not broken; we've just caught one of the diseases of life and our healing will come once we recognise this and attempts are made to repair it.

Sometimes a new beginning, turning a new page in our lives, is all it takes.

Sharing Stitches

So, let's say we've figured out our life does suck in the long term. This doesn't have to do with anything in particular. We don't need to live through a hurricane to get shaken up. Sometimes it's exactly what we feel we need. We could be currently living a very comfortable lifestyle, and yet we will feel like running off - so what exactly are we going to do about it?

There are no hard and fast rules. We are all individual; so our way to self-improvement will be, too. I can only offer what works for me. It will work for some, it will not work for others. But maybe it can give everyone ideas, or the drive to find what will work for them.

It's no secret to long term readers of the blog that I've had a tough past year. One of my best friends passed away from cancer. I didn't do any of the fighting for that, and because of her love for me, she only allowed me to even be there for her towards the end of that roller-coaster ride.

The fight for me began after she lost hers. I learnt a lot of lessons from my own personal battle royale, and I want to share some of the stitches I got from the bout to mark my own new beginning, if you like.

Giving Value

For me, I don't like to simply turn a new page, I like to write on it. For others it might be to shout it out. Some might sing. Whatever works, right?

I read somewhere that the basic test of whether someone is a real writer or not is if they really write. There's no magic to it. Either you write or you don't. It's that simple, they say. However, to me, although there might not be any magic to the writing, there's magic in the writing if it's done well.

I believe in the alchemy of writing well, but writing well is only part of it. Writing well with value is what is important. To give something of value to others, to ourselves, is what it's really all about. It can be life-altering, and if that isn't magic, then I don't know what is.

When my friend died, I turned to some life-altering articles for advice. I did a lot of reading. I did a lot of thinking. You know what I finally came up with?

Life is just too precious to waste.

Hardly ground breaking, I admit. It won't stop the presses. Doesn't make it any less the true for that, however. But it goes on, like a chain.

Life is just too precious to waste. You've got to find what you love.

For example, if we are spending our days working at a job that isn't deeply fulfilling to us, then we're spending our days guarding dust until one day we become dust. There's no real value there. However much we make think it will, stuff cannot fulfil us. We can't get internal value by paying money for it. Ultimately it will only distract us from living out our purpose.

Now, here's the thing: We may never find what it is we love, but just by looking for it will open our hearts and minds to countless other benefits we might never have experienced unless we had gone looking for it. We usually think that the ends can justify the means, when really the means should always justify the ends. Often in life we can get this in reverse, which only ends up with us going backwards rather than forwards. It's not just winning the game, it really is how you play it.

What does it mean to really live? Deep down, if we go shopping in our soul supermarket and tempt out our inner voice with some goodies, we'll already have a sense of the direction where this answer lies for us. Ultimately, it's a choice. Get up and live. Lie down and die. Living as though you're going to die tomorrow might make us live irresponsibly, but it make also make us live to celebrate every day we have.

Life is just too precious to waste. You've got to find what you love. Live for what you love.

We shouldn't waste our lives living someone else's dream. We need to seek our own, sow our own seeds in our own plot of soil in anticipation of spring. During the winter of doing our own thing, we're inevitably going to come up with problems, but that doesn't mean we're not going to reap the benefits of our soul gardening.

Imagine if we settled for someone else's dream, we'd grow old and die without ever seeking our own. That would be a barren life indeed. No matter whether it was winter or spring, no flowers would ever grow in the plot of land given to us for such a short allotted time.

Who's the Fool?

And after we've turned a new page in our lives, and our lives don't suck as bad any more, we naturally want to share it with the world, because sharing something of value doesn't diminish it, it doubles it.

Some, after finding what they love to do, will turn that into a source of income. I don't (and some will call me a fool for that), but I don't because I think that type of sharing can diminish the value of your work if you don't need the money. I don't need the money. If an artist needs money to continue his art, then of course we should support that.

To me though, what is more important than money is your health and happiness. Yes, I mean you, the person reading this. April Fools' Day notwithstanding, I kid you not. I want happy readers coming to the blog. I share doing what I love, because it gives me value, but I want to share it with others that value themselves, too.

There is an important clause to this contract, however: When we share our talents or the results of them, we are invariably opening ourselves up to the opinions of others. By becoming a blogger, I've learnt through the years to hold the opinion of some in high regard and to hold the opinion of others lightly. The ability to know when to take on board what others are saying about you and when to leave it, is a skill that comes over time.

One of the reasons I loved my friend I lost to cancer - and one of the reasons I miss her so much - is because she kept me in check. She never let me get too high, or too low. She helped me strike my balance. When I discovered this after a lot of soul searching, I decided to be my own balance. I came back to blogging once I regained it.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how much help you do, how much value your writing holds, nothing will make you a messiah. Don't get big-headed or bash yourself too much. Keep it in perspective. Don't be invisible, but never be in anyone's face. Every one will have an opinion. Respect it.

On the flip side it's also easy to become disillusioned and depressed when complete strangers rant about and attack you. There'll be others that will benefit from everything you have done, and never credit you with even a thank you. They somehow think it will diminish them. If a thank you can diminish you, then how big are you really?

But that's the way the world's music plays. Sometimes it will be against you. But some days, like today, might just be singing a tune you can play along to. Just whatever you do, don't die with your music still in you. Let it out, and one day you'll find magically that the world is in tune with you, too. That'll be the day you'll realise you finally found your own balance.

So, here's the final bit of the chain from what I've learnt:

Life is just too precious to waste. You've got to find what you love. Live for what you love. Share the love in you whatever the cost.

If any of what this fool has said resonates with you, let it inspire you, and maybe even - if only in a very small way - change your life. You'll not only have honoured the memory of my friend, but I'll consider myself paid in full.

And if that truly does makes me a fool, then this is the day for it wouldn't you say?

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