Knowing You've Arrived
How to you know when you've come far enough to reach the climax of your destiny
Lost in a dream, you will sleepwalk past the corporations that offer free lunches; past the sandwich lady with the cheapest deal; towards the pizza slices that made sense to eat before you had a career. Retrace your steps, and you’ll find yourself.
The homeless man along the way has lost his mind, rising from his own filth under the bridge near 5th and Bryant to scream across the block, over the policeman, at the rich man up in his penthouse office. The indignant words cut deep. You tune in, for a moment, to realize that none of them sound like words. The grim blanket covering his shoulders once covered you in the middle of the story, the middle of the eastern front, when bombs knocked on the city doors to ask if you'd please consider the fucking road, instead of staying home. You, too, had no voice once. A lost man sees himself everywhere, over and over again.
You will carry stories about enemies conquered and mountains overcome; stories that you'd leave behind as experience, except for that nagging uncertainty about whether you were the enemy all along, and if the mountains cried under your footsteps before getting washed into the sea of time. Do you carry stories throughout the day, or do the stories carry you?
The pizza man, too, looks lost. I recognize him. Half a decade ago, a friend and I walked in here, interviewing him to see if he'd like a chat-service to manage part-time workers. “To, ya know, expand!” my friend said. He'd love to, said the past pizza man, "because a full time worker will soon become a relic thanks to job redistribution." He's still here, but so are the chat-services. Because of their success, the rents have gone up. San Francisco now sports the highest rent in the country. To keep his relic of a business, he works harder than ever against adopting any technology.
He had dreams; wanted to branch out. Judging by the records from the 70s hanging from his walls — starring Bob Dylan closest to him — he's an American Revolutionary at heart. But the revolution took his delivery people, one Uber Eats at a time. His dreams rang the telephone all night long, back then, but now they arrive in silence, through Eat24. He cannot remember the exact moment he stopped becoming Bob Dylan and started becoming the pizza man.
The pizza man struggles to please; keeps the place clean as if cleanliness gave the place meaning. A group of younger women sit at a table, looking like regulars. They exchange advice over pizza. He cranks up welcoming music for them, and their conversation becomes a struggle. When you reach the climax, every way is down.
The Eagles blast through the sound system. Their dramatic melody welcome you to Hotel California. And had it not been for the middle-aged faces behind the pizza oven sporting long ponytails, you wouldn't remember that the rock band won their Grammy Award more than 40 years ago, when anytime of the year you could still "find it here". But now, watching the unmoved faces of the young ladies, you cannot help but realize the punchline. And it's not the welcome chorus line that the revolutionary man wants the ladies to hear. "Some dance to remember", the song says, warning him, "some dance to forget."
You finish lunch and walk back to the office to make the world a better place. Does the madman screaming want money, a passerby wonders. "Fuck you!” the madman says, and continues screaming at the towering world. A young professional records the insanity on his cellphone; for YouTube, no doubt. A Star Wars poster looms large above our heads, reminding us all of the climax of the movie. "Luke, I am your father." Where did Darth Vader go wrong? What's the difference between Luke and an anti-imperial terrorist?
It all stops making sense at the climax. Whose revolution did our parents participate in? Did the founding fathers usher in independence and freedom, or genocide? Why did we fight that war? Which world will our work make better? What qualities of the father are we still proud not to possess? If the cultural problems come from the top, are you now the problem? Do you still care about the life of the man you see in the mirror?
At the climax, you reach existentialism. You care for the past, screaming through a neck crushed between your claws, and the future you invite between the sheets at night. The symmetry of your allegiance reaches perfection between tomorrow and yesterday; those to whom you'll give birth, and those who gave you birth; between the newborn and the aged father; between the liberal and the conservative; the apprentice and the master; the modern and the classic; the efficient and the authentic; the scholar and the lunatic. At the center of mortal ambivalence begins opposition: the Big Bang, hiding behind the neutrality of quantum physics. As Nietzsche said, “God is dead.” At the climax, everyone’s insanity makes sense, because you no longer exist as yourself.
If you curse, mean it. When you take a left, take as sharp a left as you want. If you'll stick to your guns, bring chained canon. If you're building technology, make your knife the sharpest and don’t apologize for it. And if techies make it hard for you to live, fuck em! Fuck them all. Wait until they implode under the weight of their own ambition. When you look back at this chaos, you will remember nothing but the blanket separating the stories of your self from the supernova we call “life". They can all fit in a few thick books, stored in a dusty library that nobody will ever visit, among billions of stories all about the same fucking thing: Write down where you want to go, or you will not know it from any other place once you get there. At the true north, the inner compass points to nothing, and thus you know you have arrived.
Amin Ariana is a software entrepreneur in San Francisco.
Readers shared their thoughts on this essay:
Thought provoking. Well done Amin. Great questions like "Which world will our work make better?"
I'm glad! -- My own conclusion from reading my own thought stream tells me that without the innovating force of youth, we devolve into corruption once we get what we aimed for all along. It's probably why 4-Year Presidential Terms in republics replaced Life Terms of kings, and why corrupt characters in dramatic series like The House of Cards get portrayed as childless -- to remain invested in the struggle of mankind, even when you get older, you must connect with younger people to keep your inner compass in the confident direction of North. Man without desire has nothing -- explains why Eve talked Adam into dropping out of heaven.
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