Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chapter 3: Onwards, Into the Breach

"Do one thing every day that scares you. Sing. Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours. Floss. Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself."
(Baz Luhrmann, Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen), 1998)

The day that followed was a strange one. I walked into Strathclyde Police HQ on Pitt Street and the desk clerk looked sure I was about to hand myself in. My hair was orange, and I summoned up what personal pride I had left and said I had a meeting with a policeman. This seemed to startle him and he looked around for something (maybe, I thought, his specs so he could examine my atavistic traits) which turned out to be a form I had to fill out to get a visitor's pass.

I filled it out and was seated in the waiting area when the policeman came out.

"Right, Thomson, just get out! We only accept criminals here if they are wearing handcuffs!"

Ha ha ha. Good one. I had a horrible feeling I was going to have to get used to this type of thing. The meeting which followed was a strange one. I couldn't help noticing him continually noticing my noticable orange dome, and it seemed to put him off. Further to this, I was extremely hungover and just wanted out of there. It was the final handover of the project which I had long slaved over and he seemed genuinely pleased with it, if not my aesthetical beauty. I walked out to the sound of the officer's superlatives, scoring a tactical victory over the desk clerk on my way by.

For the rest of that day, my mindset was in a position to laze about, but the weather was good and I fancied an adventure, something to really challenge myself, to see what possibilities were out there. Taking heed of Baz Luhrmann's advice to 'do one thing every day that scares you' (from Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)), I phoned a friend I will only refer to as Shitebag, seeing as that's what he basically is. I relayed to Shitebag my vague plan and, to be fair to him, he came up with the goods. When I say 'goods' I mean a terrible idea. And when I say 'a terrible idea' I mean jumping from a massive waterfall into a less than shallow pool.

The plan was thus: myself, Jamie, his girlfriend and Shitebag would take Shitebag's car up to Lenzie (just North of Glasgow) to meet Shitebag's friend, McPhee (or McFritzel to those who know him), drive into the Campsie Hills, find these waterfalls and gleefully jump off them - nae bother. This is known as tombstoning, and we were very soon about to find out why. We arrived in the Campsie Glen to glorious sights and sounds - not a cloud in the sky, running water, and birds chirping in the trees. As we walked further up the path, however, this was slowly but surely replaced with empty cans, buckfast bottles, cigarette ends and the unmistakable sounds of neds in the distance. We had been beaten to it. These neds, however, were not the usual joyous, happy-go-lucky neds you come to expect when you were brought up in Lanarkshire, but ones who looked genuinely concerned, almost vexed.

I approached the gentlemen with caution and, in that way I always subconsciously do, spoke to them as if I actually was them, lest they be (by my ridiculous logic) unable to understand me:

"Awrite mate."
"You, eh, you been jumping off those waterfalls aye?"
"Aye mate, it's fuckin crazy! Oor mate just goat lifted out ae here by an air amblance. Jumped aff that big wan and fucked it. Broke his back they hink."

This threw me and, by the looks of their now white faces, also threw my fellow compatriots. This was serious now. I had gone in way over my head - not even two days of the Yes Man had passed and already I was being faced with paralysis! But which was better - paralysis of the body, or paralysis of the mind? My sterling logic, which had served me so well in the previous couple of days, told me paralysis of the mind was worse and, as the boys instructed me on where to jump, how to land and how not to break your back, the Yes Man was ready to do something very, very silly.

Ten seconds later, I looked up in agony at the rich blue sky, unable to feel my hands, legs or feet, my life flashing before my eyes. Or, to be ever so slightly more accurate, I splashed down, my shoes (worn on the neds advice) softly hitting the rocks at the bottom of the pool. Nice one. This was easy. How did a guy manage to break his back doing that? I watched Jamie, his girlfriend and McPhee all do the same as me, before the inevitable 10 minutes of convincing Shitebag that it was fine and he wouldn't hurt himself (what a 
shitebag eh?). He made it down ok, after which the two neds came up to us.

"Right, that's yooz done the baby wan."

Oh shit.

We proceeded with caution further down the glen to a waterfall which dwarfed the previous one we had jumped off. Not only that, but you had to jump through overhanging trees to land safely! We listened carefully to the colloquial instructions in a state of utter petrification. Regardless, in keeping with the Yes Vibe, the force was strong (except in Shitebag, who told me to take a run and jump, which was exactly what I was mentally preparing to do).

To use this example, what you will notice throughout this story is a constant battle between heart and mind, something which for myself seems to have always been part of my inner monologue. Do you do the thing that your heart, your gut, your instinct, your very being compels you to do, or do you instead listen to the gods of logic, where doing something on the spur of the moment is to commit the most grievous of sins against your adult mind, which should, at your age, know better.

Of these two opposing schools of thought, I was always a pupil of the latter, preferring instead to let my mind tell what was right and wrong. As previously alluded to, I didn’t take many risks. I was a hardcore pessimist, always looking at the risks of a decision before the rewards. But recent events had seen the tide of the Everlasting War of Within slowly shifting. The Yes Man had given me an oasis of hope in a desert of pessimism. Again, I took solace from Baz Luhrmann:

the race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself’.

And that was it, pure and simple. If we can overcome the over-cautious man within, then can we conquer all? I would be prepared to say yes, I think we could. But, as with most things of this nature, they are easier said than done. I am very conscious here of over-glamourising what, in effect, is just jumping off a waterfall, but the fact is this is just a silly wee example. From my experience (which is all I can go on) it applies to all things, and transcends the gaps between the physical, social, mental and emotional parts of our lives, making just as much sense for jumping out of a plane as it does for telling someone how you truly feel about them. It is about breaking down these boundaries, acting on who you really are, rather than who you think you should be, that 
is the ultimate goal.

I realize that all this sounds a bit patronizing and holier than thou. And I am not saying for a second that if we were to all act in this way that bad things would never result. For then this story would all be about good things, and it is not. Far from it. Shit happens. But consider whether you would rather accidentally step in shit or be forced to eat it. Of course, you would rather accidentally step on it, and you would accept the consequence of which is a shitty shoe. The problem with listening to your head too often (if you are/were a pessimist and introvert like me) is that you get used to, if not feel compelled to, eat shit: to do and say things that aren’t really you. And you know it’s not right, you know your life would be better if you just went for it and jumped or said it or whatever, but you don’t. You listen to your head and not your heart, because you’re scared of the consequences. Because you know that the one thing that can really hurt you when you listen to it is your own heart. But perhaps what you (and certainly I) did not realize is that being true to one’s self carries with it, as well as crippling lows, unimaginable highs. When your heart gets it ‘right’, it is amazing. When it gets it ‘wrong’, you feel like you’ve been shat on, but at least you won’t constantly have the taste of shite in your mouth. The race is with yourself, and deciding whether the lows are worth the highs is the crux. I am perhaps biased towards one side, but this is not meant to be a lecture, kids.

Anyway, to escape from that (oh so terrible) metaphor and slip back into the real world, we were standing atop the waterfall, with a growing feeling we were about to step in some serious shit (sorry, last time). After some deliberation, we went for it (see video here). Looking back at it now, I would never have done it before my epiphany. Having said that, were that the case I would now be remembering the day and wishing that I had just thrown my intuitions out the window and done it. I guess what I am trying to say is that experiencing something, even if you get physically or emotionally hurt, is better than not knowing what it could have felt like.

After a trip back to Glasgow, a China Buffet King with some questionable mousse and a couple of pints, I felt nothing of the hangover I had woken up with. I went to bed that night for the first time in months a happy man, with a new kind of satisfaction - of knowing that I had said yes to the day. And already I could not wait to see what was in store for tomorrow.

IN NEXT WEEK’S CHAPTER: ‘That’ Birthday Weekend.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Beginnings: Prologue, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

"Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you."
— Eckhart Tolle


These are 3 words I have attempted to train myself to think, believe, preach and ultimately put into action over this past Summer. The resultant effect on my life(style) has been fairly dramatic: it has led to me to highs I never thought possible and lows I never hoped were feasible; to trains, planes, boats and weans (not really, but it rhymed); to love, to friends, to beginnings and ends; to drugs, to booze (lots), too wasted, "two shots". Anyway, you get the picture.

I'm not going to try and tell you about some wacky Summer where I travelled the world, 'found myself' (whatever that means), and saw the most amazing sights (in fact, I didn't even leave Europe). I'm also not going to tell you about how my whole perspective on life completely shifted and I am now a different and wholly 'better' man - I am still the same guy in the same very oddly shaped body. Indeed, the results of 'saying yes more' also led to some negative (mainly financial) effects as well as positive ones. What I am going to attempt to tell you, as briefly as I can, is a story - a story of a guy who, at 21, and unbeknownst to him, had to start appreciating the amazingly privileged life he had previously been (complacently) living, where opportunities to say Yes literally ran into the hundreds each day, and where each one missed represented a chance to experience and fulfill something new and exciting.

This may sound like utter bollocks to you. In fact, reading it back I realise I sound like a total vagina - like someone blethering shite to anyone who will listen on Buchanan Street about 'The Endless Possibilities of The Freedom of The Mind, man', and who you would deeply love to punch square in the jaw. I realise this. I, too, being a former hardcore pessimist, would have told that man to shut up. Then I would have gone up to my flat, sat about watching telly, playing Football Manager and smoking fags, before retiring to my bed to sleep until the following lunchtime. A nice life, some may say. But is a nice life ok? I may have been contented with my nice life, but with the potential opportunities I had in front of me, was it right, or morally responsible, to sit in and play Football Manager with my 'nice' life? Was 'nice' enough? I thought nice was good. I thought it was fine. In fact, I managed to convince myself it was worthwhile. And that was nice.

But then a few things happened. I came to a metaphorical fork in the Road of Life, a fork with many tines (look it up, like I did). I had to pick a tine, but could I pick the 'right' tine? Were any of the tines the right one, and did I even have the right tine-choosing capabilities? Despite what skills I may or may not have in the tine selection department, I realise I am again starting to sound like Buchanan Street Man, so will move quickly on to the start of the story and I explain these tine-related ramblings in due course.

Chapter 1 - A Big Yellow Taxi Took My Girl Away

Picture the scene - I am coming up to the end of my 3rd year at university, getting increasingly good marks and generally putting most of my spare time into university. Further, I am two and a half years into the only lasting relationship I have ever had. I stay in a lot. I watch many DVDs (including, and especially, the complete works of David Attenborough), watch a lot of television and, as previously alluded to, am addicted to Football Manager. I am quite an anxious person and generally do not take many risks, although this, I feel, was only borne out of staying in a lot. I know this, and I don’t care. It is nice. I don't really answer my phone (only to my mum) and I like having time to myself. I am passive in my approach to most things. I am Ross Donaldson Thomson.

Now, take that information and delete it from your brain. Delete it, because one day towards the end of March this year, that man ceased to exist. That man died an agonizing death just when he thought everything was going nicely. He had been taking his girlfriend for granted and when she finally got fed up and ended it, he felt he had nothing.

This truly was something that man did not expect. It completely blindsided him. Naivety? Possibly (in fact definitely) to the extent that he figured they could just get on with their lives, remain friends and he would meet another girl eventually. Problem solved. But, by the time he had realised how big a part of his life she was, it was too late and so, after a couple of (failed) attempts to get her back, he had to accept reality.

I do not want to dwell so much on this part of the story (not as much as I did in real life anyway) as it isn't greatly important, the main point is that something happened which meant I had to take a step back and (re)configure my life. The options were clear: stick (i.e. continue the same life as before (obviously minus the girlfriend)), or twist (i.e. try living a little bit differently).

I was anxious now, extremely anxious. I didn't sleep, I hardly ate and my heart was constantly racing. I had a fear of the unknown, a fear of having to make that choice - to choose my tine. I wanted to turn back time - to go back to a point where I didn’t have to think about what could broadly be referred to as 'my future'. But I couldn't. It was high time that I got my finger out. And then, in the darkened depths of one ashtray-filled night, just when all hope was lost, just when  I had consigned myself to a life of being a bumbling mess, I got an idea...

Chapter 2 - The Yes Man

I must firstly admit, for those of you not in the know, that it was not entirely my idea. It was a stolen idea, a borrowed idea that I figured I could at least try to piggyback on for a while if nothing else. To be honest, it seemed a bit outlandish and immature, but by this point, at this tine (sorry, last time, I promise), I was desperate. I had watched the film The Yes Man (if you've never seen it, it's pretty rubbish, but my favourite scene is below) and had decided that it would be pretty fun to try it, if not for a sustained period of time, then at least for a week or a day. I ordered the book (an excellent read - way better, and completely different from the film - although I'm no book critic) from the ever-trusty Amazon and decided I would endeavor to say Yes to any opportunity I was presented with. This would mean, in effect, that someone else, something else, was making my decisions, that it didn't matter where I ended up, because I was bound by Yes. The unknown no longer mattered because it was already pre-determined - set out for me with a series of Yeses, where one Yes led to another one. I could just relax and let Yes do it's magic, without having to worry about the consequences or the Big Bad Future. It was my 'get out of jail' card.

But this posed several problems. As previously mentioned, I didn't take many risks. I liked to be in control. Submission to Yes meant I would lose all control over my life as I knew it. This would be not just a timid step into the world of the unknown, but a massive leap, and one which I wasn't entirely sure I was ready for. Added to this, anyone who knows my personality knows that a decision like this could have potentially catastrophic consequences. When I go for it (as I tended to do when I was previously a single man), I tend to go for it, no holds barred, no prisoners taken and no expenses spared. Anyone who I explained my new venture to seemed to put forward the proposition that it might, in fact, lead to my death. All of a sudden, this didn't seem like much fun at all. Nonetheless, after taking all the advice on board and (like any self-respecting machismo male would) fucking it all out the window, I strengthened my resolve and vowed to engage with this most glorious of quests.

I was going to have to do a little bit of work before I could start though. First of all, there was going to have to be a set of rules, a manifesto written in plain English which I could consult in times of need. After wracking my brains for several hours I looked down at what I had created:

The Yes Manifesto

Rule Number 1: Say Yes to everything.

And that was it. Ok, it was a bit basic, but adding too many rules would just confuse things and, anyway, how hard could it really be???

Around this time, I thought of a good entry level test for myself, just to check that my heart was really in this and it wasn't just some stupid game. If I was going to become a new person, then it would surely follow that I needed a new image? Something which would symbolically and aesthetically start me off on my adventure, so I could look back and say 'YES! That was the exact point whereby I became a Yes Man!' My thoughts immediately turned to bleach. I had had many battles with this most ferocious of chemical-based foes in the past, any only a few where I had emerged the victor. But this time, I was determined to conquer and overcome it. I went to my local Boots in earnest and bought the deadliest hair dye I could find (you can usually tell by the number of warnings on the pack, and by how thick the gloves you get with it are). The one I selected came with mandatory body armour - this was going to be a fight to the death.
I was quite pleased with my purchase. I was going to turn over a new leaf, be a blonde idiot, and one who actually enjoyed his life. On my return to my flat I was welcomed by my flat mate, Jamie, in the usual way:

"Want to do something tonight?"
"Hmm, dunno man - like what?"
"I was thinking about snooker - always wanted to play it and would like to give it a bash."

To tell the truth, as was the norm, I really couldn't be arsed (no offence Jambo). But then I realised, what was I doing? I had forgot already! This was my first opportunity (even although my Yes Man image was not yet fully established) to Say Yes, to do something I wouldn't usually do. I put the thought of burning bleach deep into my scalp to one side and said that immortal word.

"Yeah, okay" (well actually that's two words, but it doesn't really go into general conversation very well if you just say 'yes' - it is always followed by an awkward pause)
"You want to just head out just now? I'm pretty bored."

Again, Yes was the answer and off we went, like two little tiny ducklings swimming in a sea of snooker-based friendship.

I'm not entirely sure on the specifics of said night, but I know it involved a lot of guinness, whiskey, and very poorly played snooker. It was a good laugh.

I awoke early in the morning, cold, naked and alone, feeling like I had spent the last 12 hours eating nothing but cardboard. It was 8am, and I grudgingly got out of bed as I realised that I had a meeting at 9 with a V.I.P (a very important police officer (or pig if you like)). Before you jump the gun, I was not in trouble with the law but was, in fact, to meet with said policeman about a research project I was doing at university which he was supervising. I went upstairs, forced some water down and went to turn the shower on.

The image I saw in front of me when I turned the shower room light on was one which absolutely, utterly and completely horrified me.

Bleach 1, Ross 0.

The Yes Man was born.