The Narrow Road to the Far North

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Content advisory 16+ I was having a spirited conversation today, early, with a really bright man -- he was frying breakfast eggs while talking with me on Skype (the ONLY way to eat breakfast !) -- about the best way to go about living one's life.

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Of course, the thing about this very bright man (aged 47 and me -- a stout 69 as of today, 8 May--) is that both of us have turned out more or less successful despite all the stupid things we have done. Successful in different ways, I should really emphasize.
He is a businessman. He has been both a very high-flier indeed, and occasionally (O how the bitter truth slips out in various theatrical 'asides'), a "low flier" too. But he has, seemingly, the wonderful ability never to panic. (Why do I always feel the need to qualify everything with 'seemingly' or ' apparently'?)

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Always smiling. Some people smile too much, and my friend gets close to that edge, but nightmare never rules him. If it ever has or does, he is either The Second Coming of Harry Houdini (slipping the handcuffs) or the best-performing liar who ever lived. And I sense he is neither. Just a good guy who could smile his way through a heart attack.
That's him. Cheerful.

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I am an artist, a writer, a teacher. In Moscow, I can say (maybe I flatter myself) that I eventually became a small man's entrepreneur/businessman. A pretty-much-former drinker and doper (the beer stays, the rest has disappeared) who finally got it right and started to maximize. Avoided ass-plopping to a seat in front of the metro station among the Homeless or settling for a lying down spot in the graveyard in Snuff no more than a hair on my chin. I should have been dead by now.
I have had 5 wives, my friend has had 2. He has 5 children, I have 2 (that I know of).
And so, to cut to the chase, we were talking about the best way to get the most out of our lives, And so my friend, whom I will call Boris, started telling me about his plan to start giving life-lessons to people in order to help them get in touch with the (business) angel inside of them. And charging them a helluva fee to do it (well he IS a businessman). Maybe you get the drift? Motivational stuff. Speeches. Books. There are many motivational speakers in America and the UK, for example, and some of them "earn" more money than doctors and lawyers, pop stars, and footballers.

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I wasn't convinced. The difference seemed to come down to this: Boris told me that, as far as he was concerned, I had only "actualized" 30% of my potential. (I am, I repeat, 69, so this bad news was about as welcome as a root canal minus anesthetic.) As soon as he said it, I knew he was right, but -- squirming in my chair -- I hurrumphed a bit, and said something inconsequential like "Not necessarily, my good man!. And what about you?"
More bacon, more eggs. More coffee. "15%".
OK. Not good news for either of us. But something of a relief to me. What to do?
Well, that's a question that my friend Boris usually has an answer for. And he did this time. He told me about a chap named Tony Robbins, and this proved to be good advice and a good introduction. Tony Robbins sits at the top of the heap of the motivational world. I checked him out, and I can vouch for him. He’s damned good.
But then Boris asked me a pointed question based on the 30% estimation. "What could you have achieved," he proffered fiercely, "if someone had told you or taught you how to maximize your potential prior to your doing all this COLOSSAL FUCKING UP that you did???? Huh?? You could have been the owner of a publishing house, or at the very least the Head of some English Department at some college or university. Or you COULD have been a Pulitzer Prize winner? Yes????"
Yes. Maybe so.

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And what, Boris, what could YOU have been?
A moment of brotherly love passed between us. Boris, not being a charlatan, Philistine, or otherwise shallow person, had the right idea: it's about life-features as well as money. But (he IS a businessman) MONEY was at the end of it. Money is the Fox that calls him and his inner Hounds into the depths of his inner Forest.
Boris turned the eggs, repositioned the bacon, hotted up the coffee, and said simply, hushed as a priest in a great cathedral: "More than I am now."
Pause. Then he resumed:
His message was, IF you had had the right advice (motivational speaker), you would have identified your goals and become the Head of/President of/CEO of... (you fill in the blanks).
My message was, I have listened to many Motivational Speakers: my dad (the absolute best); taxi drivers, bartenders, whores, nuns, college professors, judges and jailors, wanderers and pilgrims, seekers, optimists/pessimists, evangelists, nihilists, communists, capitalists....
-- and in the end, I always did what the hell I knew I was going to do in the first place.
In short: the great advice I heard in the past helps me write blogs NOW; it did not help me to live better THEN.
So, Boris and I agree that motivational advice will help.
We disagree on WHEN.
Boris thinks that by prioritizing upon receiving good instruction, you can find your way to the North Star in a short time.

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I say: the narrow road to the Far North has many detours in between and on these bad roads you lose time -- OK, for sure -- but you LEARN.
Maybe one form of learning makes the businessman. The other form makes the poet.
Like that wonderful book "STUART LITTLE" (you know, the one about the mouse who is adopted by a human family and which is only partially a “children’s book), I chose to travel north in hopes of finding the little bird that I loved. And like the end of that marvelous book, I try, guided by a compass in my soul, and with a Zen-like optimism, to find what may never be...
Maybe my bird is not there, maybe my beloved is long dead under whatever crushing fate. But I travel that road nonetheless.

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Boris travels a similar road. The difference is that he is looking for detours and shortcuts, ways to avoid the congestion, the human forest blocking his way. And it is because he chooses to travel amid this congestion that he must discover philosophical ways to profit from it, ways that will render such a life meaningful to him. He wants the reward, and he deserves it. But my reward and his reward are different. He is looking for a golden bird, an imperishable emblem. The bird I am looking for may have died along the way, headed south, or found other friends.
What he thinks has been a waste of time -- something that could have been avoided -- I see as part of the pilgrimage necessary to find the little winged and blessed friend who flew away that day.
I heard a guy in an English pub say long ago: “Life is a Shit Sandwich. The more bread you got, the less shit you have to eat.”
Boris wants a way around eating shit. He thinks, I believe, that if he can climb to the highest office with the highest windows, the shit will evaporate. Or, if not, HE, Boris, will be the one dispensing it. He wants to motivate others to think the same way. Wisdom for a Fee.
He says that the money they must give him is a very small investment for what they will receive in return...and, anyway, their money signals COMMITMENT.

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Boris is right of course, in his way. The keys to the kingdom always come at a price. Even God knows this, which is why the Church asks us for our money.
I may read a self-help, self-motivating book or two along the journey, why not?
But I believe that the true way -- my true way -- is long and there are few if any shortcuts. Probably none. It is the narrow road to the far north that I am on, seeking a little bird that I hope to find waiting for me aloft on some sweetening branch of a cherry tree when the snow is falling.
I have asked people along the path if they have seen my little bird and they shake their heads.
So I turn up my collar and keep walking.

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===Eric Richard Leroy===

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