Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, January 31, 2005

So who's the quiet bloke?

It's just struck me that I've not really said much about myself on this blog. Aside from that whole pothead thing just now. And I wouldn't want anyone to think that was my sole defining feature. This site's been running for a month now and I've not really introduced myself. Which is a bit impolite really. Also, as I make no bones about following a political diatribe with - say - an album review, or a film review, or perhaps a description of getting stoned with a High Court Judge, then it probably makes sense to know a little bit about the author. Set the context, if you will.

I'm living in London at the moment, and have done (on and off) for a while. But I'm not from here... not even from England (bloody immigrant!) and I've lived and worked all over the place. Right from when I was a kid my family were moving around the world. Then after university in London I did some moving around of my own. I've built a factory in Saudi Arabia (not with my bare hands, you understand? I did the various schematics) and I've dismantled one in Berlin. Dismantling an entire factory in Germany containing six production lines, 30 miles of very complex pipework and almost 4 miles of conveyor; labelling it and reassembling it in a way that makes it 15% more efficient in Ankara, Turkey is a very complicated process. Unsurprisingly.

And those were just the first couple of projects I co-ordinated.

See... I have this spookily intuitive grasp of complex systems. It's just something I can do very easily that seems to take most people a lot of effort. Give me the basic rules governing a particular system, show me the schematics, and I have a knack of being able to make it more efficient. As talents go, it's not exactly a hoot at social gatherings. But the engineering company I worked for exploited it to the fullest. And for a whole bunch of semi-rational reasons I willingly allowed them to. Apart from anything else, my ego was being given the massage of its life, however high the pressure got. I knew I was doing something that only a handful of people could do. Like it or not, that makes you feel very good (See also: Point No.4 below).

I worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week for 90 days. At which point my US visa expired and I took a week's holiday in Amsterdam before returning for another 90 days. I did that 3 times. Halfway through the fourth, just as the project was reaching a successful conclusion, I realised that what I was doing would either kill me or turn me into an arsehole.

At heart I'm a hippy for god's sake! I can't help it, that's where my head's at... but I found myself co-ordinating a project with a budget of more than 60 million dollars... having to choose which factories got closed down and which ones kept employing hundreds of workers. I unearthed irregularities in generator contracts that eventually sent two men to jail. They were just scamming the system for a few thousand dollars. I was just identifying inefficiencies in the system. They were a blip on a graph, how was I to know?

A distribution centre in one of the most deprived towns in America got the chop. It housed, among other things, the main service depot of the Mid-West truck fleet. The depot was moved. A lot of people lost jobs. Every now and then the name of that town pops up in a media story about deprivation in America (it's near the bottom of a lot of lists of statistics, and near the top of a lot of others) and I think about my own personal contribution.

Of course, it was all just Excel Spreadsheets to me. Pivot tables and incremental variable adjustment. Abstract shit. And I was good at it.

And of course, if I were my father (who has done things of a similar and larger scale pretty much all my life) then I'd be focussing on the other things... things like the fact that the 60 million dollar project was a rescue package for a company that was just about to file for bankruptcy... all those jobs were lost anyway... because my project was successful more than half of them were saved. And that's good right?

No it's not. Because you get shot from both sides... because saving those jobs represents the continuation of an unsustainable and destructive way of life. Another cog in the great capitalist engine, consuming resources (albeit in a very efficient way, now) and churning out consumerist nonsense that's both unnecessary and bad for the health.

So if you're like me, and not my dad, you end up with the worst of both worlds. Fretting about the specific places in which you had a negative impact and then feeling like you sold out to The Man where ever you've had an apparently positive one. You'd never imagine I was reading Bukowski at the age of 12 whilst attending a strict Catholic school, would you?

And of course my globe-trotting hasn't all been in business class. I spent a few months in the Amazon doing a little bit of nature conservation but mostly just hanging out with a psychopath. I took ayahuasca with a native shaman there. I once helped out a great Taoist teacher who had been unintentionally spiked with a lot of acid. I sat all night with him, helping him deal with his first (and absurdly massive) dose. Here was a great and wise teacher who - for 12 hours - needed my guidance. He had come to a new and treacherous path, and I was the person at hand who was most familiar with that path. Leastways that's how I was seeing it... but then, I was on acid at the time too. A lot of my more arcane phraseology has its roots in that long slow conversation. A couple of years later I took peyote in Southern USA and turned into a being of pure light.

Aaaaaaanyways, such experiences have a tendency to make you question the validity of a lifestyle that is defiling the planet in the name of the transient thrills of consumerism.

Which is not to say I'm about to descend into cod-psychedelic philosophy. Those days are long gone. And I'll never be 23 again. Besides, how can I say "All you need is love" when I really believe that "All you need is love, AND a centralised global authority to manage essential resources in a just and equitable fashion, AND about a thousand other things, but an Oil Depletion Protocol would be a good start".

I think even John would've had trouble making a great song out of that.

So what else? Introductions can be a bit tedious I suppose. But it's far preferable to those interminable "100 things about me" lists that seem all the rage with the cool kids these days. All the same, I shan't drone on much longer... I should really get back to writing about why the world needs someone like me in charge. So... in the interests of tedium-prevention and brevity... I'll finish this post with a list of eleven really interesting things about me. And in the interests of keeping things interesting, exactly one of these interesting things is not true.
  1. I once got myself accidentally embroiled in a bar fight and ended up being shot at. Luckily the gunman was very drunk and missed by (geometrically speaking) almost as far as it's possible to miss and still be recognisably firing at someone.
  2. In Leningrad (as it was then) in my mid-teens I was interrogated, at times with some menace, by the KGB. Nasty threats were made.
  3. During the three months I spent in Cairo smoking hashish and pretending to be an international playboy, my bedroom balcony had a view of the Giza pyramids on the horizon, the Saqqara 'step-pyramids' in the foreground and overlooked the Nile.
  4. I have a father who - at one point - was considered probably the best in the world at what he did (he's retired now). I am in my mid 30s. The chip on my shoulder is scheduled to have completely disappeared by my early 40s if all goes to plan.
  5. I was once in a serious accident in a stolen car. At the hospital I told them I'd fallen out of a tree. They believed me.
  6. I have written and destroyed three books. No copies of them exist any more. I currently have an unpublished volume of poetry on my hard-drive.
  7. I have an IQ which once made a psychoanalyst wince. Actually fucking wince. "People in that sort of range often have certain associated difficulties". No shit doc! And I'm paying you to tell me this? Don't tell me to count my blessings... the ability to do differential equations hasn't yet compensated for the anxiety attacks.
  8. I was attacked by a shark while diving in the Red Sea. Despite it being 20 seconds of absolute terror, I only suffered one single scar... so small that it's impossible to convince anyone it's a shark bite.
  9. I became vegetarian at the age of 16 for environmental and ethical reasons. About 18 months ago I decided to eat fish again for health reasons. This is causing an internal dilemma that I've been fastidiously ignoring but which will have to be resolved before too long.
  10. I've never been a believer in party politics and have abstained from voting on all but a couple of occasions. In almost all cases (the one exception being when I was ill) I have made a point of going to the polling station and spoiling my ballot with a slogan of some sort. The only times I have voted were for Ken Livingstone as London Mayor... on the single issue of Congestion Charging.
  11. One day in the late 80s I had breakfast in Africa, lunch in Europe and dinner in Asia. This was not done deliberately. The day just turned out that way.


Blogger merrick said...

My guess for the untrue one is the shark thing. Not that you'll say if I'm right or not, and indeed it's funnier if you don't.

5/2/05 21:54  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

Well, I ain't saying!

But it's hardly fair for you to guess. I must have mentioned at least three or four of those things to you by now. You can probably rule out nearly half of them!

Actually, for number 11, I wasn't sure whether or not to go for the three continents thing or this:
11. I have been forced (under threat of violence against family members) to aid with the smuggling and distribution of lurid pornographic videos starring the mother of a good friend of mine.

In the end I went for the 3 continents thing cos I'm still worried your mum might "break some legs" if I go public with the story.

6/2/05 23:43  

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