I have just arrived in Sydney, and while sitting drinking my first flat white of the trip, I jotted down some thoughts, prompted by the following lines in a book I was reading on the flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars.
Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
We allow dreams to fade and die. Should some dreams be allowed to die? How much compromise should we tolerate? Let’s think of wine. In wine there is a trade off. Making wine comes with risks. How much risk can a winegrower tolerate? Should she try to make the wine she always really wanted to make? As a wine writer, I have a choice, too. To play it safe and do what everyone else does – or to risk failure, writing bravely with a clear voice?
I can’t speak for others, but as a teenager I had dreams. As a young adult I was idealistic, and had no desire to compromise. But life happens and brings with it a set of restrictions and commitments, and you get caught up in it. Some of this is inevitable; some of it less so. Many of our ‘settles’ and compromises – if we are honest – are actually self-imposed. We portray ourselves as victims; we aren’t.
But we are locked in by our habits and circumstances. There’s a comfort, even in uncomfortable situations, if we are surrounded by the familiar. People living crowded, difficult, busy lives are comfortable in them no matter how much they complain, because they are comforted by the familiar.
One by one we trade our dreams for comfort. We settle for something approaching normal. We make a pact with life: if you can insulate me from major discomfort and pain, then I’ll hand you my dreams and desires.
The problem? Well, there’s more than one. The first is that life doesn’t always keep its side of the bargain. We still encounter pain, and sometimes in the form of tragedy. Life resists control. The second is that by making this trade-off, little by little we die inside. We lose consciousness and become zombie-like. [But respectable, functioning zombies who rarely bite others.] Occasionally we are jerked out of this unconscious state before retreating quickly back into it.
This is why art is so important. Books, movies, plays, paintings and music all have the potential of reaching us, even in our zombieness. So does great wine, I think. It has a way of connecting us with reality. Art and wine together: that’s a great combo.
Travel also jolts us into consciousness. Immersed in the unfamiliar, our minds are wakened. Shorn of the comfortable familiarity of our daily routines, we have a chance to look inward and then look around, and of connecting with reality in a properly alert, conscious way.
A lot of our life is automatic. Our brains don’t bother us with conscious awareness of the things we are doing: walking, getting up, reaching for a glass of wine. We decide to make the movement, the brain predicts what action will be needed and warns the muscles to expect it, and then we do it. As long as there are no error readings (the predictions were pretty close), we’re not aware of making the movement. It’s possible to live pretty much unconsciously and, once we’ve settled and died inside, that’s what many of us do.
But it’s not too late, for most. If we find a way to jolt ourselves out of our rut, then we can begin to live properly. There’s the attendant risk of pain, of course. But this pain can be used positively. It isn’t to be sought (that would be weird), but if pain finds us then we beat it by turning it around and allowing it to spur us on towards creativity and fully conscious living.