Shapes of Stories – Applying Vonnegut’s Tool to an Ancient Story

By: Heero Yuy

shapes-of-stories

Once upon a time the Ketuvim (כְּתוּבִים‎‎) was written. In it contained three poetic books called Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. It also includes a collection of five scrolls (Megillot) that has the book of Ecclesiastes. The introduction to Ecclesiastes the author is introduced as “son of David, king in Jerusalem” or better known as Solomon.

This book is a very good candidate to analyze and discuss with Shape of Stories as used by Kurt Vonnegut. All of stories can be mapped on an axis such as the one below:

plot
All stories have a beginning and an end filled with a mixture of good and ill fortunes. Within each story there are sub stories that follows the same principle. This is how all stories are told since the beginning of time and some get creative by jumping around on the timeline to tell slices of the story in non-chronological order (i.e. Fight Club or better yet Pulp Fiction).

The story of Ecclesiastes is told from the perspective of a King who’s done it all and seen it all and can truly profess that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” Each pursuit begins with purpose, progresses to fruition, celebrated with delight upon triumph, and ends dismissive as a useless and meaningless journey. Each chapter is a mini story and each paragraph a sub-story that follows this story arc.

For instance, the story begins where everything is meaningless in a very bottom-line upfront approach in story telling. Next the author tells the audience that:

  • Wisdom
  • Pleasures
  • Wisdom and folly
  • Toil

There is an intermission where the element of time is introduced and different elements on the spectrum of human experience in opposing pairs such as:

  • Birth and death
  • Plant and uproot
  • Kill and heal
  • Tear down and build up
  • Weep and laugh
  • Mourn and dance
  • etc, etc
  • War and peace

Before resuming his negative stream of consciousness the author also gives a hint at the idea of infinity, eternity, and God. Along with these elements the author describes beauty, happiness, satisfaction, toil, and fear.

A continuous chorus of “everything is meaningless” is song constantly throughout the dialog to drive the point home to remind the reader of this “ill journey” on the shape of the story. The “ill journey” on this journey is eternal confusion and failing to comprehend eternity to be stuck in an infinite loop of questioning in a finite world without knowing how to migrate to the next level of infinity.

Before resuming to telling the next elements of meaninglessness the author runs through yet another mini-story explaining the meaninglessness of toil, dragging down the story towards “ill journey”, and then at the end offers a solution which is to journey in life with a battle buddy and never going it alone:

“Two are better than on, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

Journey resumes and the list of meaningless continues with:

  • Advancement (Keeping up with the Jones’) [Part 1]
    • No way any normal man can keep up with a King, and no way a life can have meaning if a King cannot find meaning in it… Right?

Another intermission to remind man of eternity and “fulfill[ing] your vow to God.”

Meaningless list drags on with:

  • Riches [Part 2]
    • Can’t take money to the grave!
    • Your clout doesn’t matter worth a damn in a finite life vs. infinity

Now the entire meaning of life, major elements of it, and the toils and pleasures are all essentially worthless the author turns over a new leaf to then bring meaning back into all forsaken elements one by one. This is powerful for two reasons:

  1. He got your attention by riding the story up and down the line of good and ill fortune
  2. All your current perceptions and prejudices against all known things in life are now wiped clean
    1. You are now a clean canvas
    2. The teacher can start his lesson anew to build one up again

Each brick of the foundation is thus laid as follows (rising up from ill fortune to good fortune):

  • Wisdom
    • “A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance”
      • Metaphoric for internal self image and perception
  • Obey the King
    • Basic law and order
  • A common destiny for all
    • We all die (Sorry!)
  • Wisdom is better than folly
    • “Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.”
      • People chase paper credentials and social status more so than real life wisdom (Even back in the day!!!)
  • Invest in many Ventures
    • Talks about diversification to hedge against risk
    • Observe market conditions to know when to throw down and toil, when to restrain oneself
    • Concludes with step-by-step investment strategies and the mechanics of investing
  • Remember the Creator while young
    • A troubled heart and anxious mind confuses the young
    • Message is to ponder about the infinity and see how small your daily problems are in comparison

Author after mentoring the young closes his Sales pitch by saying the hard earned truth is the most concise guide to a no non-sense life without any addition or subtraction from the principles outlined. Studying too much and reading too far into other texts in search of the distilled wisdom is a pure waste of time.

Major arcs in the story consists of a beginning where it is “ill fortune” with mini-stories of ill and good fortune and the story progresses to “good fortune” until the conclusion where it remains neutral like the glass surface of a still lake on a calm day. Stories conclude like this for only one reason and that is to leave the choice up the reader to willfully live a different life or remain the same as before even after learning of this knowledge.

The lights fade, curtains drawn, stage empty, and either the audience applauds or walks out in silence.

 

Letting go of the Past – Time goes only one direction

By: Heero Yuy

mad-men

[Readers discretion: Has some dark and negative parts]

I have a habit of checking on people occasionally to find out how they are doing and to see what new things happened in their lives. An old friend of mine, Big V, was last seen in Japan with a beautiful lady settling into an apartment after his retirement from Active Duty service. My mind finished the thought by saying “And they lived happily ever after.” Sometimes it is good to check up on old friends because real life is rarely Hollywood or Disney. My friend Big V had to give up the Hollywood ending as an expat and turning down lucrative job offers to keep to his duties to take care of his family back home in the USA. Real life is filled with sadness and despair that isn’t captured on film after the credits start rolling on the screen.

Real life, as we find out daily, is filled with challenge, grief, and misery. We want to find that sense of happiness if only to see it on the screen while streaming Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Netflix. Why settle for what we have or don’t have in our lives when we can vicariously take our minds to experience distilled human emotions as projected by actors and actresses on the screen? It’s the constant medication for our insatiable miserable lives, right? It creates a sense of Nostalgia as illustrated by this scene from Mad Men. Entertainment is a pharmacy of infinite delusions with prescriptions to cure every single emotional malaise. We also can do this ourselves because we have a collection of past called our memory. We can always escape to the past experiences or emotions to run away from present realities and future worries.

Most of us have a hard time letting go because we have the Disney life of “Happily ever after” to play out in any circumstance or situation that we get into personally or professionally. It is impossible for every permutation of reality to be favorable in a one track simulation called this life (multi-universe and realities). The sooner we can let go or learn to let go the better off we become. The Sedona Method and the ideas within this book by Dale Dwoskin are tremendously beneficial for learning this fine art. Bruce Lee describes this very precisely by saying:

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

No matter if you go back to the past with that person in that exact place, wearing the same outfits, trying to recreate those emotions back then as you want to experience them today, it will never be the same no matter how hard you try. That is a curious thought because chemically and physically (DNA) we don’t experience a drastic change so if the scene is set in the right way we should technically be able to reenact that script from the past. Emotionally and mentally, however, we will never be the same and it’s that gap of the mind and heart with the passage of time that separates us from mere animals. My friend Big V and I discussed this very thing and we came to the conclusion that we have to let the past go to live in the present.

Professionally, it’s easy to lie to ourselves to think that the dream(s) is/are still alive and that we must keep chasing it. We often feel that we are entitled to success with more effort we’ve committed or sacrifices made so therefore the universe owes it to us. This is a fallacy and there are many other factors like luck, networking, and creativity that are key in conquest. Since we live in a one track world not one of infinite paths, it is therefore crucial to let go of the dreams that drag us down instead of elevating us. One of the best things I’ve realized this year is to know and understand myself better, know when to pursue an endeavor 100% and when to simply let it go. Letting go of losing positions is fundamental in investing as well so you don’t lose your entire cash position/liquidity so that you can invest in something with growth potential. Let go of the dreams, people, possessions, habits, lifestyles, perceptions, and other things that prevents true growth opportunities from blossoming.

Let it go and feel that weight come off of your shoulders.

George Clooney from Up in the Air.

Experiences – Learning from Others

By: Heero Yuy

tao-te-ching-lao-tzu

A Chinese Philosopher named Lao Tzu (老子) once wrote:

English:
“Without going outside, you may know the whole world.

Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.

Thus the sage knows without travelling;
He sees without looking;
He works without doing.”
– Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 47

Chinese:


Asians are known to be the geeky bookworm type and this quote gives a good reason for this hypothesis! There is a wealth of content that can be extracted from the wisdom of the Ancient Chinese Philosophies. A lot can be learned from the experiences of others either living or dead, captured in writing, seen in a video, or heard from radio/audiobook/conversations.

Watching UFC Champion Conor McGregor speak about MMA training during an interview I noticed he placed a huge emphasis on sparing and training working on the precision of his strikes and training the mind. He said this is upgrading the “software” to his “hardware” which is his body. You don’t necessarily NEED to be beaten to a pulp in order to learn how to fight! There are smarter and better ways to get the same if not better training if you know how to upgrade your software.

In the military we drill and train to fight. This repetitive discipline keeps us very sharp and ready to respond to various scenarios effortlessly so that we can smoothly carry out the mission with minimum mistakes. This quote from the post-war debrief of a German General captures the spirit of training:

“The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.”

As individuals, we also can find a lot of life’s intricate answers through self reflection rather than seeking out the advice of gurus who found the same solutions by doing the same introspective meditation by themselves. When you find out this truth for yourself it is many folds more rewarding than getting it regurgitated from others. Once the veil comes off, pharisees abolished, and truth liberated we can seek the direct path to our own truths through meditating and using critical thinking.

Society is filled with the concept of outsourcing everything to increase margins. On the subject of self development and reflection we can benefit greatly from the practice of insourcing. For every solution found externally must be internalized for any change to take place and solutions found by oneself within is one step closer to attaining a better direction for life.

Before asking what would XYZ Guru/Person do next time simply ask:

What would YOU do?
What can YOU do?

Then go out and find the answers from within.