On the meaning of life and being a badass

This month’s commute has seen me working my way through Michele de Kretser’s “The Life to Come”. 

Like some long journeys it’s only now, as I approach the final few pages that I actually think I understand the meaning of all those words I have been reading, reluctantly, begrudgingly and only because it is a winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. 

I know it’s a dumb reason to persist with a book if you are truly not enjoying it but hey, nobody’s perfect. 

The book, told in five parts, is written in a poetic style awash with vibrant imagery and a kind of hand-held camera style that is jumpy and inquisitive. It tells the story of seemingly disparate groups of people bound by a character who, in the first part of the novel, appears to be a relatively minor influencer but in fact appears and reappears throughout the story. 

Part of the reason I didn’t like the book is that I didn’t really like any of the characters. Part of De Kretser’s talent appears to be to distance herself enough from her characters that she betrays no fondness for them and, as a consequence, neither did I. 

This life is one observed in fragments, in parts, as one observes the lives of others. We can never truly know other people – what motivates them, what makes them tick – so why should the author?

And the broader question it posed for me in the end was should it matter? Should it matter that these people didn’t act, say or do anything particularly likeable? Is my compassion and understanding of other people bounded by how like me they are or whether I can relate to them? I guess the answer is yes, it is. To a point. But I am prepared to be challenged on that.

The latter part of the book, which spans decades, is a kind of wistful contemplation on ageing, loneliness and living a life with meaning. It is almost unbearably sad, so doesn’t make for good reading on a tram. Unless of course you like doing a deep dive into vulnerable states when on your morning commute! 

The other book I’ve been listening to on Audible is a self-help book by Jen Sincero called You are a Badass. There is something about the term “badass” that appeals to me – don’t know why. Makes me feel all proud and feisty. 

Like all self-help books that talk about achieving your dreams, being your own authentic self, making lots of money, etc, etc, this one stands on the shoulders of some great philosophy and great thinkers. 

She talks mindfulness and meditation, motivation, the laws of attraction (things, lifestyles, careers, moments as well as people), and a whole lot of other stuff I recognised from other books I have read (I have read many). 

And like any self-help book, no matter how good it is, you’ve got to be ready to receive the advice, otherwise it just goes over your head, right through you or around you. 

Well, I was ready for this book. Maybe it’s an age thing (having suddenly found myself 50-something and realising that no, I can’t go back to uni and study to be a clinical psychologist) but I was (am) ready to start living more closely to my authentic self. 

What this means is yet to be determined. But the realisation has and is leading me to a calmer and more accepting state I quite like.

Until next time. x    

Maria Doogan

CBD Worker

Old Melbourne Law Court

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