Dear Ella and Ewen
I read a letter today by Aaron Sorkin, from him to his daughter, it made me cry, christ it was funny, what a kind of father writes stuff like that to thier own child? I’d send you a link but I know you only watch Youtube, but you’d have pissed yourself (maybe when I see you on Thursday I’ll read it out in my winy Californian voice - you’ll been stocked).
Seems to be a lot of these open letters from scriptwriters, pop-stars and celebrities to their kids at the moment - the word ‘open’ meaning they’re for us to read, not their kids (a vlog would be better for kids) - all tend to run the same, some kind of apology, some kind of pity or shame, that the future looks dark, that they’ve let down the next generation, but that they’re going to fight, start stockpiling guns, join the NRA etc, such letters like a back dated suicide note, and no doubt - like any emotional outpouring to the forum - a future source of embarrassment.
This scramble to share their thoughts seems to have been spurred on by some election or other, far away from you or me, in a land called America, but also far away from them, the result beyond their control and apparently beyond their understanding. I wrote the other day that if I fruit fly had one day to live, would he focus on such things? ‘But you’re no fruit fly’ people said, but that’s what fruit flies always say, the reality of being one too much for some.
Anyway this has nothing to do with that.
By addressing their letters to their kids, not you, they use their children as emotional leverage, a fairy story, a bed time story, much easier to drip in your ear than a hissy fit. Soft empathy is the loaded gun to our twentieth century minds, which is funny since our adult minds are as sensative as thick as scar tissue, yours too (I’m sorry). We lack the perception of any subtlety anymore, the spectrum of feeling binary, the middle ground between outrage and tears simply uncertainty: which way to fall?
I’m a sensitive soul and can remember the most extreme thing I saw by the time I was your age, JFK’s head exploding, his face peeling off as a large chunk of boney meat on the Zapruder film after the watershed on ITV, or maybe Poor Hungry Joe being cut in half in Catch 22. To see horror in the real, although most usually in black and white, you’d have to dig out some book of war photos by Don McCullin or Larry Burrows from the library. Now I know you’ve watched Ramsey Bolton having his face eaten off by his hungry dogs, see your favourite characters having their heads smashed to a pulp in Walking Dead, see Rick forced to cut off his own son’s arm. You know that the human skull is a vase held together by skin, that it can be smashed flat, brains and eyeballs and tongue squeezed out like cream from a bun. I didn’t when I was your age. You have no need for dusty books either, now you just type in ‘plane crash bodies’ and your own head explodes, or you search for ‘chinless’ brings up a man who’s jaw has been blown away in Syria, so many horrors you can never un-see one search away. You’d never actually watch it because only a black and white copy remains, but one of the most prescient programs ever made was Nigel Kneale’s The Year of the Sex Olympics, a film set in the future where people can no longer feel anything but the extreme, murder and sex, everything consumed second hand by video screen. What chance have you to be moved I wonder? The trade centre towers fell with you in my arms only a day old Ewen, the start of this new world. Since then there’s been so much death, not death unseen, but beamed into your head by TV, computer and phone: Beslan, Paris, Tōhoku, men with heads cut off, men burned alive in cages, and yet we adults wonder why our kids self-harm? What do you see when you sleep? Do you dream still? What dreams can you have - in the dark or in the day - with so stimulated a mind?
At the other end there’s the Dianafication of so much these days (Princess Diana was a princess who died long before you were born so you’ll not get the link), where we are so stimulated and moved that we lose our minds, you can see it now, people have lost all sense of perspective, rational logic, both the mob and the media. We are swept along, Facebook and Twitter and outpouring that betrays some strange madness and manipulation. To be unmoved or to stand in the way is some sort of crime, to be unfeeling actually the very opposite, to be uncaring the very same. We’re a rabble at best, a bloody mob at worst, rampaging on foot or in our forums, indignant and righteous. We lose the run of ourselves, the clever and the stupid. We rage against getting involved in far of wars that have nothing to do with us, about imperialism, then rage against ‘isolationism’. We despise the capital markets and bankers, then get angry when they say they’re leaving, play ‘Imagine’ in our heads while our champion for peace sells more weapons than Bush and pushes us towards nuclear war with Russia for her own ends. We’re funny creatures, us humans, always feeling we’re on the right side of everything, looking down at the devout, with their silly book of lies, while equally as deluded by our own beliefs. We laugh at primitives who hope for heaven in the next life while we are equally deluded in thinking we can have it in this one. If you ever get the chance, check out Saddam Hussein’s 1979 purge of the Ba’ath party to see the fearful mob in action or anything from North Korea.
Really such a letter as this should be written not to their kids, but to their parents, hard not soft, angry at the world they helped to create, so tied up with their own hippy self-indulgent bullshit - sorry - crap - to really care. They sang ‘we’d like to teach the world to sing’ when really they drank the well dry, didn’t they? “Scratch a hippy, find a nazi” as I often say.
It’s never good to generalise, people always do that, but often the authors of such shit as this - sorry - crap - tend to be soft and cuddly, kind-hearted, knowing, smug in fair trade merino sweaters died in squid ink and Patagonia down jackets, they listen to Coldplay on their wireless earbuds as Rome burns. They have big hearts that bleed for causes, yet tend to care more about what coffee they drink, know more about the wineries of Napa valley than Helmand. Their beliefs and ideals are like the contents of their handcrafted fruit bowls: organic to prove they are better than the rest, but expensive to assuage their guilt at being so, also impermanent and quick to rot. Well you know me, I’m not like that, I’m Mike from Breaking Bad, I wear Twenty dollar Walmart Jeans, my fruit comes on a slice of toast.
So you two, instead of writing a letter to you in order to shame, to draw pity, to appear positive while being negative, a vanilla slice where the vanilla is actually dog shit, this is a letter of another kind.
I think I’ve been lucky enough to seen life from both ends in many ways, lived on £5 a week and made £500 an hour, eaten with the masters of the universe and masters of dust, been to the edge of things both in body and mind, seen star ships on fire over the shoulder of Orion. And so knowing how much you both love Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen, I thought in these supposedly troubled times I’d share some random truths.
Life is so fragile, more fragile than the skim of ice on a puddle. One degree and it’s gone. Every second of your life you are but one second from tragedy, all happiness taken away. Should you then go around expecting the worse, tense to misfortune and misery? Or should you be thankful for that second that’s past and make the most of the one to come? That’s for you to decide.
Know what happiness is, and what it isn’t. Remember it can’t be bought, so if you see it on sale then pass.
All luxuries become necessities. Unburden yourself as many as you can afford. This applies both to the material as well as the spiritual.
Things can always be worse. Focus on that rather than the other.
Whenever you feel something, feel angry or upset or charged ask yourself who is to gain, who’s pulling your strings and for what ends? When I was kid, we were brought up to believe that the truly painful should not be shared, told ‘don’t look’, while now we say ‘come and see’. To be made to feel some intense feeling is a prod to make you share it, stimulation a virus. Who does it kill and who does it save? Once the great leverage was fear and want, but now you live in a world were your love, kindness, softness and empathy are exploited by dark forces. If you ever see a child crying, or a child in distress, watch your pockets.
You are a cog in a machine, you were born that way, formed and sculpted and moulded by me and your mum as we were, by the school and by everything you experience. The purpose of this machine is civilisation, it goes fast and it goes slow, politicians having little say in its running, although they’ll tell you they do. As a cog the greatest act of rebellion is to refuse to turn, and if you do, then expect to have great forces applied on you by the cogs closest by.
Be the master of your past, not its slave.
Being poor takes up all your time.
Capitalism is the only way.
In 1918 100 million people died of the flu, that’s about five percent of the human race. 50 million Chinese died of hunger in the great Chines famine of 1959-61. The first slaves sent to America where the Irish and 20 million African slaves died during the Islamic slave trade, with only one in ten males surviving castration. The term ‘being on the dole’ comes from the grain dole, grain given to the people as a way of controlling the mob or used by populist rulers to gain power or maintain power and influence. History is a compass, use it.
The violent minority can control the passive majority, be that at the edge of a head cutting blade or a shaming tweet. Bend the knee but not your thoughts.
Read books. Write down your thoughts. Walk.
Don’t ask for pity, or give it, nor shame or outrage. You’re not a dog, take time to consider what you feel, and if you’re no good at arguing then don’t (to withdraw is not defeat).
Everything is understandable if you take the time to understand or have the strength to make the leap of understanding.
Hitler was Hitler, no one else fills his shoes. They’re something else, the consideration of which is a consideration most needed to know.
Don’t judge people who dislike you, but take the time to consider why more don’t.
All pools of knowledge are somewhat poisoned, people, ideas, points of view. Drink from one and you’ll grow sick, drink from them all and you’ll soon recognise what’s sweet and what’s not.
I’m halfway through my life - I hope - and don’t envy the future you must navigate, no actually, I do, what a trip you’ll have, just imagine how far the world has come since you first opened your eyes? There are things to fear but they’re beyond knowing, beyond your control, like global warming (we’re fucked, get over it) so save your worry. Mankind always fears the horde on their borders. Make hay I say, go buzzing for fruit. People cling to hope things are bad but will get better - it makes them feel special - but things are simply what they are, present reality no chapter. A reading of history shows that each decade is better than the last, and as a family on this planet we are richer now than then, more educated, more connected, freer. Irrespective of disasters, falling markets and governments, this machine is moving on.
A Snickers bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram