Seek Wisdom

Today is my birthday. So I beg your indulgence for the rambling that is to follow.

I’m a Capricorn if you believe in such things. Scorpio rising, but credibility sinking for about half of you reading these first sentences. But wait, there’s even more astrology. According to the Chinese, I’m also a Fire Horse. The horoscopically savvy among you can use that to carbon date me exactly. But why bother? I’ll just ‘fess up. I’m 45 today.

Older readers will scoff at my whipper-snappishness. Younger ones will recoil in horror at the thought of my being (and therefore their one day becoming) so very, very old. This age thing is all relative. We know this. A friend asked me yesterday if I felt my age and I don’t, because until your body really tells you how old you are, you can fool yourself that time isn’t passing.

My eyesight isn’t what it was. After 45 years of gravity pulling on my eyeballs, my lenses are slightly slack and so I can’t focus on close items. Reading a ‘phonebook is out of the question no matter how good the lighting conditions are. Fortunately here technology has rescued me with the advent of the Internet. I can mostly read a road map, but here again the digital age means I don’t need to very often. Like many people my age, I need to get out the specs to check small print. Big deal. It’s a minor inconvenience that I don’t need to think about.

When I was at a new dentist recently he asked me how old I was. He told me that my back teeth have the pattern of wear and cracking consistent with my age. He didn’t mention if being fed up to those teeth had contributed to the erosion. I didn’t want to hear about it, but then again he wasn’t saying, “We’ll have to whip all this out and give you a Peter Waltham special”. (Are you with me Curtin FM audience?)

So, like that lovely rocky ridge, the Darling Scarp, I am wearing down slowly; tiny bit by tiny bit. And it’s imperceptible. That’s the cruel and kind thing. I don’t have to check the location of all my bits every morning, like Mr Potato Head or a Lego Man. I am relatively the same from day to day, existentialists.

WE are all relatively the same from day to day. Sorry those older readers who haven’t already left to watch Foreign Correspondent on iView. You are all too aware of all of this. Younger readers, none of this will matter for a good ten or twenty years. That illusion of being bulletproof will take you up to your forties if you’re lucky. Everyone deserves to feel invincible and revel in the delusion that you will be the first one to avoid ageing and death.

And at some level it is about the Big Dirt Nap. How does one fill in the hours between now and then? Becoming indispensable at work? Raising a family? Learning Esperanto? Learning Elvish? Tuck pointing the patio? Teaching a new dog old tricks? There is more than one kind of Biological Clock. Are we using our time in the best way possible? At this point, of my meandering dissertation, I could introduce God, Love or Increased Personal Wealth as one of the big reductive answers to all my questions. However, thanks to my Chinese Buddhist mother and my agnostic, socialist Irish father and my (mostly) free 1980s university education, I am far too pluralist, humanist and unpersuadable to believe in any one idea. Just believing in any idea has been a long struggle for me. (Thank you, 1990s therapy sessions).

When I was 18, I drove my TE Cortina with its 3.3 litre engine and 6 cylinders very, very quickly. I used to try to shave down the time it took me to get from home to uni. I wasn’t really a revhead and my car wasn’t particularly fast or powerful. But it was potentially too much for me. One day, I was driving three of my closest friends through a winding road in one of the newer Northern suburbs. There were no street trees and only a few houses, so I thought I had clear vision of everything up ahead. I was probably driving about 90ks or so and somehow I nearly smashed head on into a car speeding in the opposite direction driven by someone equally young and stupid. I hit the brakes and skidded to halt. The other car just kept driving. The dust subsided and the car smelled of burnt rubber and brake pads. For a few seconds afterwards, the four of us were on pause. We all had the same thought. That was so fucking close. Then we laughed and I drove on.

So a near miss and a non-story. What was I saying? What is my point? Why am I here? Twenty-seven years ago when I didn’t die in my green Cortina, I was a blank slate. Today I feel like a palimpsest – a page that has been written on and erased so it can be written on again. I learn things but some of them don’t stick. I experience things, but some of it just seems to disappear.  At 18, I imagined that I would know more and understand more today.

We have an expectation that this journey is about becoming wise. I couldn’t feel further from it. I don’t even understand the rules of Deal or No Deal.

Seek Wisdom is the motto of the University of WA and as mottoes go, it’s pretty good. I got my degree and diploma from there and proceeded to do very little with them for a number of years. First I had to get a clue.

Maybe certainty only exists in retrospect. Maybe wisdom is the thing we think we need to deliver certainty. If I am wise enough I will understand how to live. Then I will be able to do so with certainty and confidence. I won’t be fearful and I will be able to do…what?

Damn you pluralist, humanist eurasian questioning reflex. Just goddamn relax and believe in your football team, the writings of Dan Brown, the philosophy of Machiavelli, the writings of JK Rowling, the philosophy of Barnaby Joyce.  Relax and put your feet up and have another scotch…egg and let the Rafters, the Bathurst 1000, the Hottest 100 wash over you in a fine automatic Glade aromatic mist.

Nope, I can’t relax. I can’t not think in circles. I am not wise and not certain. I am making it up as I go.

And that will have to do for now.

Phil Jeng Kane

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