This time of year is the season of contemplation. One year ends, all the possibilities of a new year open up.
Dates for the new year are of course arbitrary. The Middle Ages saw the date move about, the Chinese New Year has yet to arrive, and we are comfortable with the financial year starting in the middle of the calendar year.
Nevertheless, arbitrarily manufactured and imposed numbering has an effect on us as individuals. At the very least it is assumed we will take a long, hard look at our lives (in the time it takes for the clock to strike midnight) and make ‘resolutions’ for the future. Despite there being no proof of their efficacy, and ample proof to the contrary. Even the simplest things can turn out to be unachievable, to wit, singing around the house more often.
In this contemplation of the past, maybe we cannot make claims to a good life, but there is always solace in having led an interesting life. Is your interesting my interesting, I wonder? It can be a double-edged sword: we’ve all heard the Chinese threat ‘may you live in interesting times’ (though we may be disappointed to learn this curse is apocryphal).
Once we’ve done enough new year navel-gazing, we can project beyond twelve month resolutions and on into the future – to what we want for the next generation. The instinct is to protect, to wrap our offspring in cottonwool. Which is a very long way around to introducing a book I finished over the New Year break and didn’t ultimately like much, but still wanted to discuss with everyone I know because of the ideas contained within it.
‘The Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson is set in a future full of nanotechnology and a geo-political world that is recognisably evolved from our own. It is a feat in world-building.
‘The Diamond Age’ also links to the vague point of my post: one of the questions the novel asks is about an interesting life. Men who have struggled and smashed through to success, worry about their children who are cosseted, sent to the best schools and given everything money can buy, and turn out as adults they cannot recognise or admire.
The solution is, obviously, a book.
The plot of the novel centres around A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, an interactive book given to a girl (and as it turns out, more than one girl) to challenge her and steer her intellectually toward a more interesting life, as defined by the ultra rich and successful Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw (p. 24). Interestingly, an interesting life has a lot to do with having a subversive attitude toward the status quo.
The plot goes other places (don’t ask about the drummers…) but this premise hooked into my new year contemplation. The sharp end of it scratches around as I write.
Just as an aside, ‘The Diamond Age’ came out in 1995 and there is much in it that looks real now, twenty-odd years on, but really was the realms of Science Fiction when it was written. Stephenson’s Primer, an interactive, digital e-book, preceded everything that is now on the market.
From Stephenson’s website:
A little girl finds a magic book that changes her life. One of the girls in the story, Fiona, later became the namesake of early Kindle development efforts, and her name now graces an office building at Amazon.com
The power of the imagination and influence of fiction strike again!
After much post-Diamond Age contemplation, I have no answers to how to live an interesting life let alone a good one. Writing is a way to ask questions, and to search, but not necessarily to find.
I am still trying to make up a new year’s resolution.
The image of the three Kindles is by Robert Drozd. By wonderful good luck the images on the Kindles themselves are relevant to my general thrust about writing and people who lived interesting lives.