George & Eileen Anderson
First published 1985 by Small Cords Press, Whangarei, New Zealand. Reprinted October 1985, Third printing October 1986, Fourth printing June 1988, Fifth printing December 1989, Sixth printing July 1991. On disk April 1994
Copyright 1985 and 1994 by George and Eileen Anderson
ISBN 0 9597816 1 7
This book is copyright, but you are welcome to copy and give it free of charge to friends as long as no change is made to its contents.
------- DEDICATION -------
To STEVE, KEVIN, TOM, ALISON who were here when most of this happened
To John Hawkesby, Anchorman of TV3, Radio Hauraki newscaster, former host of TV's "It's In The Bag", "Top Half" and the Tonight Show's award-winning series "Reflections" - for writing the introduction to this book.
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INTRODUCTION by John Hawkesby
The Andersons write as they live...slightly off the wall, at times confusing, but always with vigour, enthusiasm and an unquenchable search for the truth.
In this book they have sought to unearth some of the mysteries and essences that too often are so elusive.
Like me, you may not agree with all they have to say. That may well be the book's enduring strength.
Being prodded into examining and re-examining our own values, attitudes and prejudices is not a bad thing.
George and Eileen write as they live...and live as they write. It's an endearing pilgrimage...one worthy of our attention.
PART ONE: THE REAL PROBLEM
HALLO, MR. MURPHY
Murphy's Law is alive and well. Fat and flourishing. But...
You can live BEYOND MURPHY'S LAW.
That's the object of this book.
You won't join anything. Or start some elaborate course of studies. Let's explain...
It was our first week in the Cook Islands. We were passing the evening in a Rarotongan cinema. Not in the main centre, Avarua. Where the tourists go. But on the far side of the island. In the makeshift surroundings of a packing shed.
Friday night, so every child for miles around was there to cheer and boo and shout and laugh. The seats were hard, backless benches and our backsides were anaesthetised. Lizards clung to the corrugated iron walls, catching unsuspecting mosquitoes. A large, friendly dog was soundly asleep across Eileen's feet.
It Was One Of Those Evenings...
The film started off with the wrong lens, making Roger Moore a pudgy, overweight blob for a few puzzling moments. Reels two and three were shown in reverse order, so the plot was a trifle obscure. The sound had given up while the projectionist was outside enjoying a quiet smoke. And now we, and a couple of hundred others were sitting in total darkness while someone was sent out to find fusewire.
"Murphy's Law," I thought, wryly. "Everything has gone wrong that possibly can." Which was par for the course, situation normal, in the Pacific islands.
But, I wondered, what about more sophisticated societies? Does all the effort, expense and expertise to make cogs mesh quietly and polished surfaces slide smoothly really achieve better results?
If not, why not?
And having determined why not - how do we get round the problem? Beyond the reach of built-in pandemonium and chaos that afflicts our waking hours.
At that point, the projector flickered into life, and Moore continued to manage masterfully with a hi-jacked oil- rig in the North Sea. Somewhat hampered by his image being split, with head and trunk on the lower half of the screen, and waist and legs striding manfully along the upper part.
We struggled to remember the plot.
But Murphy's Law had begun to ring bells somewhere at the back of our minds. The question was - how to get beyond it.
Okay, it just makes a Rarotongan film show more amusing.
It's different in other situations. Where things matter. Where everything depends on events dovetailing smoothly. And - that's the problem, isn't it?
It's a big con. What is? Life is. Stare at it from any angle. Be honest with yourself. And you'll see it's jacked up. By others. For others. Not for you.
Take any aspect, any scale. Something simple, like pouring concrete for a garage base. Nothing to it - phone up three or four friends, tell them to keep Saturday morning free. Or let you know if they can't make it. Book the readimix. Buy a carton of beer. And you're all set.
Not on your life. Gary - the one who's a wizard with the float - breaks a leg. Ted and Sally think you said eleven. The truck driver thinks you said nine. And at ten o'clock sharp a monsoon breaks overhead.
Switch to the other end of the spectrum. Like political theory. Any party, any system. Freedom. Liberty. Prosperity. All the good words. And the techniques. Building up the nation. Encouraging workers. Sharing benefits. Result - Utopia.
Just one little question dangles. From whence cometh all the yucky pogroms and secret police? Compulsory purchases and political prisoners? Bumbling, mushrooming bureaucracy and laws against any form of initiative? Corrupt, lying politicians and costly development schemes built in the wrong place at the wrong time, upside down.
What goes wrong in that shady someplace 'twixt theory and practice?
Answer: Murphy's Law. But don't forget: you can live beyond it.
Now, before we start getting super-serious and tracking down the archetypal Mr. Murphy and wishing him good morning, let us offer the odd warning or two.
How prejudiced are you?
Or, to rephrase the question, what trick do you use for copping out when the situation starts to get heavy?
Non sequitur? Let's explain. Prejudice - in any area - is a whole different box of bullets from opinion or conviction.
With the latter we are pretty relaxed about the belief in question. We regard it as reasonable. (Well, of course we would.) If we trip over someone who thinks the precise opposite, we'll shrug and say "fair 'nuff". Or at worst, we'll think the bloke must've escaped from the funny farm.
And if someone grabs a pencil to show us we've been off- beam all the time on that belief, we don't up and bash them. We utter a mild oath and have a chuckle at how wrong we can be.
Not so with prejudice.
We have to defend it. At all costs. Anyone whose ideas diverge from ours by a hairsbreadth is criminally stupid. We give impassioned harangues. And throw tantrums if we are contradicted.
Because we are avoiding something. Running away. Insecure and uncertain. Hence the vehemence. The bad temper. The missionary zeal. The offence taken.
So, back to the warning. How prejudiced are you? On what? You see - prejudice eventually grows on you, until you will only read books slanted to your particular views. Only talk with people who see things your way. It's safe. That way there's no danger of having to switch lanes. Or do a U-turn. Like we said, it's a cop-out.
You sit there reading. And after a few pages you slam the book down and exclaim triumphantly to spouse or whatever: "Thought so! The guy's a communist, catholic, flat earthist, transvestite, pentecostal, zionist, feminist..." Or says shit or picks his nose.
Which proves - to your satisfaction - that he, she or it can't possibly have anything worthwhile to say on any subject under the big yellow ball.
Right. If your religion conveniently happens to have it all. Or your politics are the answer to everything from sore noses to sweaty feet. Or if you only listen to people who belong to your arcane little group...
Either don't bother to read on. Or grit your teeth, run a deodorant under your armpits and stay with it for a few more pages. And - note where you switch off or get offended. 'Cos that's where you're wrong. Not because we say so; because at gut level you damn well know it.
And there's a problem with this kind of book. It covers a fairly broad range of subjects - all of which are matters on which people tend to have strong opinions. Some of which have been responsible for impressive bouts of blood-letting in bygone days.
It isn't a tidy book. You can buy any quantity of literature on - say - successful living. Or psychic research. Or theology. Neat, orderly books, with arguments and examples arranged systematically.
But this book's about real life, the broad-spectrum, untidy sort. Where one moment you're changing a flatty on the car; next moment you experience something totally other. Supernatural, they call it.
And you have to be able to handle both.
Okay, there are philosophies, religions a-plenty. Some are pretty comprehensive. Some are complex. Some - expensive. And they all suffer from the holy huddle syndrome - they produce a steady stream of remarkably similar-looking converts. All giving a similar-sounding party line.
We've been in that scene. Frankly, it's a rather nice ego- trip to organise people to all be, do and think the same. For a while. But we discovered there were problems. Those folk could only handle a limited set of circumstances. They had to keep huddled together to maintain their confidence. Real life scared them.
So what we're trying for in this book is an open-ended system where you can actually handle anything that comes along - from punctures to poltergeists and beyond - without turning into Anderson-type clones in the process. And we're not fronting for any organisation, either.
All we want to establish is how you can live beyond Murphy's Law.
The label has been around for a while. Simply stated, Murphy's Law says: "WHATEVER CAN GO WRONG, WILL".
Savvy? Read it carefully. Memorise it and give yourself a gold star for saying it without peeking. For it is the fundamental law on which everything in life is based.
These five little words give the reason for the systematic chaos around us. From stubbed toes to nuclear holocausts. TV commercials to gang rape.
With a little bit of bloomin' luck we'll be calling up a few prejudices. No?
"Murphy's Law indeed! Young people need the ten commandments. Discipline in the home. When I was a child... Social credit is the answer. Fewer additives, more compost- grown vegies." Et cetera.
Suit yourself. And meantime, try a simple experiment. Plan something. Anything. Say - order something on the 'phone to be ready by Friday. Something you'll need that evening. Drive into town to pick it up. Drive back and use it. Don't make contingency plans. Like "phone me back if you have any problems". Or "I can always get a smaller one at McShingles". Just wait until Friday and watch the foul-up. Listen to the excuses, the reasons why they couldn't do the job. And if they did it, the reasons why they blew it. And console yourself that you have had a personalised demo of Murphy's Law.
Or, for sheer simplicity: light a stinky bonfire. Bonfire smoke blows towards you. Wherever you are.
There will always to those who shrug and say "so?". Those who accept foul-ups as inevitable. Who have learned to live in a 10% efficiency system. If you're one of them, have a deeper look at the implications. Not just the pretty-pretty ideology that hides the gimme-gimme politician. Or the nucleamatic wonder where the plastic driveshaft snaps after running for all of ten minutes. They're just bad jokes.
But then there's life. The 24 hour variety. Where pallid- faced men work from adolescence to senescence in soul- deadening noise and stench; when women trudge with pushchair and shopping bag through tawdry shops and dismal streets. Or worse; where all is glitter and novelty, bright small-talk and conversation pieces, and happiness is a higher credit rating. The pointless existence. Where you exist for them. Where whatever could go wrong went wrong God knows how many years back. Sum it up in the scene behind the "Coronation Street" credits. Row upon row of terraced houses: battery cages for featherless bipeds.
If you don't like it, cheer up. You can live beyond Murphy's Law.
* * *
...AND GOODBYE, MR MURPHY
There's got to be a fair bit more to it.
Being born. Five years of more or less haphazard influence by well-meaning parents. Ten-plus years of the current trends in education. Some sort of job training - depending on the economic and political climate. A few more years. Marriage. Struggling to jack up enough credit for a first home. Children appearing at predictable-or-otherwise intervals. Twenty or so years juggling family, home and job. Learning as you go, and when you've learned, the kids have flown the nest. Fewer responsibilities. Cash and time to spare. But you're set in your ways. Calling each other mum and dad. Living in a neat, respectable house in a good suburb. Making plans for retirement. When the joints begin to seize up and the plumbing isn't reliable. When the lease runs out.
There's got to be more to it than that.
You didn't choose to be born. Did you? That was your parents' bright idea. So there's no obligation to stay on the treadmill. You didn't ask society to organise itself for you. Did you? Previous generations jacked that one up. So you're not obliged to subsidise its inefficiency. There's got to be more to it than a predictable self-perpetuating life-cycle.
D'you ever get the nuttiest feeling that we're sitting in a waiting room? Herded in with the rest of the world.
No end of folk make the best of the situation. Stake out their own little niche. Clean and tidy. Enough light, ventilation, elbow room. While others are downright uncomfortable. For a variety of reasons. Too lazy to bother. Or the big bloke in the next seat sprawls everywhere. Most folk put up with the long wait. Inevitable, they say. An end in itself.
Meantime - people are born. Grow. Die. Between times - twiddle thumbs as best we can. Rearrange the flowers in the vase yet again. Read dog-eared back numbers of magazines. Stare at goldfish in the aquarium.
Or listen to the rumours. Always, the rumours... There's a train due, to take us all to the seaside. The dentist'll stick his head round the door: "Next, please". An exam will start; marks will be awarded for neatness. The Board will begin interviewing the prisoners to decide who is eligible for parole. Heaven. Or Hell.
Nice. Depending on which rumour turns out to be accurate. If any.
Who says we have to sit and wait?
Someone makes a move to another part of the room. Nearer the radiator. Or where it's not so crowded. Instant reaction. "What right have you got to shift? Aren't we good enough for you? Pushing in like that! Get back to your own corner."
Funny, that. Once you've moved, all those little squabbles, the protocol and "in" gossip, so important back there - don't matter a damn over on the other side of the waiting room.
The bluster from those who warn "you'll lose your place in the queue" is meaningless. Because up and down the room, inevitable organisers form and re-form little queues. All facing different ways. Waiting for different things.
Then - let's say you make a move to the door. That causes it. Hullabaloo from everyone. "Gitaway from that. It's locked. Keep yer hands off. They'll call us when it's time. You trying to push in first? Listen, will you - it's not safe outside."
So you pause, a bit scared even to grab at the handle. The waiting room never looked so secure before.
And, of course, someone might've locked the door from the outside. But... Try the handle. There's always the possibility the door's not locked. And all along we were intended to go outside whenever we chose.
Don't just sit there, waiting. Don't conform to the inertia of the majority of folk in the waiting room. Conform, and you get nowhere. Conform, and you merely reinforce in your mind and in the minds of others the importance of Murphy's Law.
Oh, it's important enough. But what we're wanting to establish is the fact that you can live beyond it.
There are many popular explanations surrounding the origins of the law. They are all wrong. Oh, there may have been a literal 20th century Murphy who first stated the epigram "whatever can go wrong, will".
But the establishment of the law by the primeval Murphy belongs to the era of pre-history. Before Adam ran a speculative eye over Eve and decided replenishing the earth wasn't too much of a chore after all.
Like - in the beginning.
Rationalists will huff and puff against "a literal Adam" and that sort of thing. In their club, history books aren't valid unless written this century.
Religious bods (not all of 'em, but those at the respectable end of the spectrum) will go twitchy if we bring in a devil with horns, tail and sexy red tights.
Funny, that. Because religion - particularly Judaism and Christianity - is chock-full of supernatural goodies. And at the same time, religion puts it all firmly behind bars, and tells the faithful to get into the ethics business.
Well, it's safer, isn't it. But the simple fact is that when we mention Murphy in these pages, we mean a literal, supernatural, essentially evil being. Maybe not in red tights. But nonetheless real.
Now, we grant you that "the supernatural" (whatever that is) doesn't immediately inspire confidence. Ole Zeke's flying saucers. Daniel's chums outdoing Fijian fire walkers, and lashings of grog suddenly materialising at a party haven't quite got the makings of the neat little stained-glass-and- collection-plates club we know and love so well. Or something.
Pity. The facts don't fit our religion. Perhaps we'd better sing that old hymn "Sumpn's gotta give, sumpn's gotta give, sumpn's gotta give".
We're anticipating things a little. We'll get round to the trick of going beyond Murphy's Law later on. But even at this early stage you'll find things slide a lot smoother if you accept life as it is.
Not as it isn't.
In other words - that life has a whacking great supernatural element. Here and now. For real. Sure, we can lead some sort of a life by cutting out all acknowledgement of and involvement in the supernatural. At best it'll be a sterile existence. And there will be continual frustrations. Disasters, even. At worst.
Try pretending roads don't exist. You can go from A to B across country. Bumpy, but you can. The trouble's on those elongated asphalt ribbons. Odd brrm-brrm noises, loud honkings and soft thud. End of story.
That's life, ignoring the supernatural. It can't be ignored. So the cop-out is to compartmentalise it. Make a little box. Two or three little boxes, in fact. Sort the funny stuff into them. And don't let them spill over into "real" life.
Here's how we do it.
One box is, of course, labelled "religion". Clean, sterile, pastel-coloured. Neatly arranged within is God, angels, miracles, Satan, heaven and hell. Plus a few other goodies that vary from one denomination, cult or sect to another.
Another box has "superstition" stencilled on the side. It's a bigger box. Untidy. Jam-packed with Greek myths, Maori legends, footage from late-nite movies, werewolves and vampires, folklore and quaint customs, Merlin, UFOs and Dennis Wheatley.
There's a third box. Tucked out of sight, behind the other two. Small. Padlocked. No name on it. Inside are things we'd rather not talk about frightened the pants off us. We couldn't explain them, yet we know they were shatteringly real. Or perhaps they were other in a totally different sense. They didn't belong to this world, yet they had an unforgettable quality, a heartbreaking beauty. Something that triggered a yearning for heaven-knows- what.
Only sometimes do we go to this box. Seldom do we betray its existence to others. But it's there. We all have one.
And mostly we live in what we call "real" life. Where everything is explainable in terms of high school physics. Where our behaviour follows a tribal pattern. Where Murphy's Law reigns unchallenged.
Ask yourself this question: What would happen if you kicked down the sides of those three boxes? If you gave the supernatural the same validity as the rest of life?
Apart from the fact that your friends would say you'd gone cuckoo, that is.
Answer: Murphy's Law would have less of a free hand than it normally enjoys. It wouldn't be completely flattened - that's a matter we'll get into later - but at least it wouldn't hold the sway we've currently been allowing it.
But the cost... Prejudices again. We'd have to admit that the weirdoes and mystics and such were right. Primitive natives and superstitious peasants were right. That religions weren't intended to be nice, ethical social clubs, but represent man's struggle to organise the Uncontainable and respectabilise the Totally Other.
For the moment, assume that there is Something - or Someone - "out there". Because we're not trying (in this paragraph, at least) to annoy your prejudices, we're hesitant to glue a label on It. Fairyland, Heaven, another dimension, eternity - hang loose for a while. Just realise that we're not into something ethereal or misty. Vague or imaginary. We're trying to suggest a "world" - a place, a state - that is tangible, palpable, walk-in-and-poke-around-able. But on a different wavelength from this one. Slightly different, that's all. Or, if you want to be technical, on a wavelength that's a multiple of ours - so every now and then, different places, different times, there's a harmonic, an overlap. Double exposure, to change the metaphor.
A point where the two worlds meet. A bridge. Or a Gateway.
Later, we'll go into details. Produce evidence. Plus a few first-hand anecdotes. Although, even at this point, we'll give a word of discouragement to the compulsive sceptic. If you're looking for a supernatural something that'll sit submissively in a laboratory and react with mechanical regularity when you snap your fingers... Give up and go home.
Or read a book on quantum physics. Learn that, even in the universe that science generally agrees exists, there are many wild and woolly variables. To be sure, they are part of, and subject to, umpteen higher laws. But to our Euclid-Newton attitude they have strong overtones of the paranormal.
Even buzz-words like black holes, quasars and masers are tricky beasties to replicate with our Boys Own Chemistry Set.
And "proof" can be another term for intellectual dishonesty.
Prove that that bloke you've been shacked up with for a couple of decades is your awfully wedded spouse. Meantime we'll get into our no-nonsense rationalistic act. Marriage certificate? Could belong to anyone. Wedding photos? Faked. Testimonies by in-laws and friends who were at the ceremony? Well, flippin' heck, how unbiased d'you reckon they are! Case dismissed.
While you jump up and down protesting that he is your hubby for mostly worse, and you know because you were there. So!
You're convinced. Not us - it we don't want to be.
And, ultimately, that's what proof is. Something you know, whether by a flash of insight. Or by experience. At gut level. By intuition. That's proof - for you.
We've got to find out for ourselves.
All second-hand methods (and that includes merely reading these words) are hearsay. Great, as far as they go. For clues in the treasure hunt. For saying "hey, fellas, it's thataway". But not to be trusted. Or swallowed. That's religion. Dead and stuffed, like King Tut's mummy.
That was a digression. What we're going to do now is look at the technique of breaking the Murphy barrier and getting life to function. Smoothly. Efficiently.
Above all - excitingly.
We guarantee: you can live beyond Murphy's Law.
As far as technique goes, it'll have to fit two dramatically demanding standards:
IT MUST BE SIMPLE.
IT MUST COST NOTHING TO RUN.
Unlike (if you'll pardon me) religion.
(Not that I'd be adverse to setting up my own little cult. Be the venerable father-figure, pocket the 10% per week and generally seduce - metaphorically, I assure you - the gullible. No-one's perfect.)
Statistically, though, the bulk of the world's inhabitants are illiterate and stoney broke. So this must function free of charge. With no obscure philosophy.
So for those who want the nitty-gritty in the proverbial nutshell, we'll put it in one, unoriginal sentence. The remainder of the spiel will be commentary, padding, anecdote, and some of the nuts-and-bolts on why the thing works.
To get beyond Murphy's Law takes one step:
YOU MAY HAVE ANYTHING YOU CHOOSE.
That's it. Nothing more. Off you go and do it. Start to live. Make a dubious gesture of farewell to Mr. Murphy once and for all. And don't trip over the snag on the way out.
Oh, it works; you really may have anything you choose. Trouble is, it's too simple. And we aren't. We've got this kinky little perversion that demands intricate circuitry and polysyllabic nonsense phrases, lashings of perspiration and a price tag like the national debt. If it's nice and complex we'll give it a go. Perhaps it'll work.
Simply, the trouble is us. Our mind.
We've dealt with Murphy. (Or, to be honest, we've claimed to.) Now our mind is racing away with its print-out spilling fathoms of objections for us to ponder at our leisure. Before we've had the chance to try and fail. Perhaps even try and succeed.
In effect, our mind doesn't object to being handed the key to the universe. As long as it can reserve the right to discuss it, sniff it, pickle it in formaldehyde - in short, do anything except use it to open the appropriate door.
Herewith, another digression. Later in the piece we'll take a sideways look at the mind and throw up our hands in mock surprise when we find it's nuttier than the proverbial fruitcake. Everybody's mind, not just the few select individuals who are on the receiving end of the shocks and potions doled out by shrinks and things. For now, remember that our mind is less than honest and - despite its seeming importance in education and "good" jobs - it is only a small part of the natty complex we call self.
So - don't pay much attention to what the mind is saying. Basically it feels threatened and wants to firmly establish its authority. Tough bikkies. It should never have been put in charge in the first place, and the first rule of the game is to tell it to shaddup and behave itself, instead of letting it squall like a spoiled brat. And if the claim that Murphy has been dealt with sounds hopelessly glib - follow us into the next chapter for a bit more explanation.
* * *
THE FRUSTRATION FACTOR
Where were we?
Claiming to have dealt Mr. Murphy a death-blow.
Now - that's just words. Remember the statement: "YOU MAY HAVE ANYTHING YOU CHOOSE"? Words. Mere words. Unless you, the funny-looking hunk of meat and bones sitting reading this, get your A into G and try it out.
Get firmly into your consciousness the precise wording of the statement. Each word is chosen for the simple reason that no other word would do.
Therefore, make sure you aren't making a few sneaky changes here and there, then looking at us all wide eyed and innocent and saying "see, it doesn't work".
Look - take the last word. C-H-O-O-S-E. Not "want". Not "like". Not "wish". Not "imagine". Choose.
Does it matter. Damn well does. It's possible to fritter away a hell of a lot of time and energy by basing your outlook on the wrong word.
"Aw, gosh. Look at that car. Just look at it, eh. Will you listen to the exhaust! If only I had something like that. Man, some people are lucky. I wish I were."
"One day, I'd like to buy a little place in the country. Nothing flash. Me and the wife often talk about it. Run a few chooks. Get away from the noise and traffic and the neighbours. It'd be marvellous."
"Don't laugh, but ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to be a concert pianist. Silly, I suppose. But I had a music teacher who just sort of inspired me. What? Oh, I never even lift the lid these days. There's no time."
And so on.
Sit with most folk, get 'em in a mellow mood, out pops a shy little daydream.
Listen some more, and see how pale and thin the dream has become. Hear the wistful tone of voice. Then see the half shrug as it is send off to bed and the subject changed.
Think through your life. Or the lives of people you know. How many real choices do you or they ever make.
"D'you want to watch the play tonight?" "Er - yes. There's only a talk on the other side." That's not a real choice. Somebody called it electronic valium. Fair comment.
And your job. Did you choose it? Would you choose it now if you could stand back and think things over.
You know - in the Middle Ages there used to be violent controversies, pitched battles and highly holy homicides over the question of whether mankind has a free will, or whether life is irresistibly fated to follow a predestined path. People took sides on the issue. Passionately.
Popularly, the free-will brigade won the debate. Most people imagine that they have free will. But you wouldn't think so, to watch how little use is made of it. We lap up conditioning and programmed responses in a way that must gladden the hearts of advertisers and politicians.
Eileen and I had a valuable lesson early on in our marriage. We needed some ready money and began doing part-time work - evenings, weekend - for a swimming pool contractor. He had contracts to build school pools in several major English cities. We were a little awed by his expertise.
I wondered aloud how he started in such a specialised trade. He sat us down on the bucket of his bulldozer and explained.
"Listen, you two. I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. But I've always reckoned that anybody can do anything. So I rented some floor space at one of these flash exhibitions. Got a few concrete blocks in a bit of a circle, and draped polythene over them. Filled it up with water. Went to a local nursery, asked to borrow ferns and stuff with the promise that they could have free advertising. Got ornamental paving slabs the same way. Bingo! Instant pool. Looked quite neat. The brother-in-law loaned me enough cash for business cards and brochures, and there I was, in business as a swimming pool contractor."
At the exhibition he got his first order. The school that placed it was a well-known one, so our friend's bank manager was happy to loan enough to provide materials.
"Every book in the library, pretty much. It's surprising how much information you can pick up. Plumbing, excavation, reinforced concrete. It wasn't easy. But I was doing something I wanted to get into. Then it's just a matter of keeping at it."
Anybody can do anything, he claimed. Or at least - they can if they choose to.
Don't wish. Don't like.
(I'd "like" a new pair of shoes. I seldom wear the things. Weddings and funerals, mainly. But I wouldn't dislike a new pair, so I suppose I'd "like" to have them.)
By extension anyone could "like" a holiday in Paris, a better job, a thousand dollars, or any equally empty phrase that's not obviously nasty. We "like" sweets, and "don't like" having teeth filled.
And, because such liking is ineffective, we build up a pattern in our mind that strongly links what we like with what we don't, can't and won't have.
Don't "like". Choose.
When you think about it, choosing isn't something we're encouraged to do.
We were born, kicking and screaming, into a world that is already well established and going its own merry way. There's not even a take-it-or-leave-it option built into our contract: the survival instinct is too darn strong for that.
And we grow up being taught that life is the way it is, like it or lump it.
Sure, there's some pretence at offering us a choice now and then. Parental pressure v. peer group pressure. We have to choose.
Big deal. Often means little more that dropping a previous generation's prejudices and picking up this generation's ignorance.
Which job will we take? Out of the limited range available. Which candidate will we vote for? To parrot the party line, come hell or high inflation. Which religion will we join? From a selection of solemnly ritualistic, clinically intellectual, and fervently emotional.
Tick the appropriate box. Pass on to the next question.
Hang on. Life isn't a multiple-choice exam paper.
Leastways, it is. Because "they" say it is. But there's no reason why it should be. To hell with "either...or". Rhubarb or plums. Why not both?
Or neither. Instead, something outrageously exotic.
Perhaps you didn't know there was anything else, other than rhubarb or plums. You'd be surprised what's in stock.
Just make sure it's your choice.
Try it. Find something that pings with you. Something that means just a bit more to you than whatever else comes to mind. Don't go all noble and heroic, and look for something "worthwhile".
Be honest. Mebbe you've been eating sensible, balanced meals - and you'd love a packet of gooey Syntha-pops.
Or it could be something wildly ambitious. Crazy. A real change of lifestyle. Quitting the nine to five and watching the grass grow. Or whatever.
And whatever it is - make it a conscious choice. If it's something simple, like eating those luscious meaningful Syntha-pops, buy a packet, sit and enjoy them. Don't worry what others will think. "Fancy you eating that rubbish! Thought you'd have more sense." That's your little furry friends sensing something's up, trying to drag you back to the predictability of Murphy's Law. Ignore them.
At this stage - don't explain to them.
If it's something a bit trickier, like walking out on twenty years of being a junior button-pusher's assistant with Universal Strangleholds, the principle is the same. This time, break it into steps. Take the steps. Enjoy yourself. Sure, you could do it in one big jump. But that takes a bit of practise. Or, more accurately, courage.
You see - until you've had some experience of this, there'll be the tendency to chicken when things don't go as you'd expected. Don't chicken.
Apparent setbacks aren't Murphy catching up with you, demanding back rent. It's a pure, "good" (if that's not too religious a word) phenomenon that Murphy siphoned off for himself some six-plus millennia ago, and that you're just restoring (at least, a weeny bit of it) to its correct function.
Call it "the frustration factor".
Just enough resistance to weed out those who aren't really prepared to see the thing through to the bitter end. And to make those who mean business more determined than ever, come hell or high water.
Because the cliche "easy come, easy go" is a fact of life.
Doting parents give spoiled offspring a glossy new car for his or her sixteenth - the vehicle accumulates rust and scratches, contracts a nasty dose of piston slap, and generally dies of early old age. Youngster doesn't give a hoot - the olds have plenty of cash, let 'em buy another.
So a parent with any gumption complicates things a bit, works alongside us. So we understand what's going on. So we get a sense of values.
Here's an example. From real life, folks!
We run a small (very small) craft business. The opportunity opened up a hairsbreadth for us to do the same type of work on a trial basis in the Cook Islands. We knew we wanted to go - George, Eileen and our handicapped adopted son Tom. So we chose to go.
So far, so good. Our business had made enough to pay the fares, and we calculated that in the intervening two months until we flew, enough work would come in to keep us in spending money on our tropical paradise. At that point, events became interesting.
Everyday life is always a mite complex to describe in a few lines, so I'll gloss over all the minor quirks of fate and trivial catastrophes that queued up at our door, and tell you about the two biggies.
That evening we were staring moronically at the telly, only to be jolted awake by an announcement that Air New Zealand had just upped its fares to the Cook Islands by an insignificant 25%. Bless 'em - it was the third price hike that year, and the largest had to be where we were heading. Nowhere else. At times like that you expect a bloke "...and it only applies to the Andersons". Then, next day in the mail, came the advice that our work permits were going to cost untold.
Disaster. Leastways, it would have been if Mr. Murphy had been driving the bus. Like I said, though, if you choose something, it stops being his little show. Events may look funny (funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha), but it'll work. Grit your teeth and stay with it.
Recognise the frustration factor.
Financially, we were in the poo. Even with what we had hoped to earn before we flew, we weren't going to make it. Yet we had chosen.
So we drove into town to see our travel agent. And whad'ya know? Air New Zealand hadn't notified him of any ups in the going rate to Raro, C.I., and he was still in the business of issuing old-price tickets. Legally.
We bought three.
That left the question of the work permits. We could afford them, just, and posted off a reluctant cheque.
But. Those next two months saw an all-time low in the history of craft businesses. We lived somewhat frugally.
However. Came the great day when our plane thwacked down at the airport in Rarotonga, and we learned that there had been an ambiguity in the work permit rates. Our quote had been for a year, whereas we only needed ones for ten weeks. Whereupon a cheque for the difference was pressed into our travel-stained mitts.
Spending money. Which would have been used up in the preceding lean months if it hadn't been annexed in the meantime.
Get it? The system works, if you ignore the facts and stick with it. Don't chicken.
(By the way, it helps to grin while you're gritting your teeth. Eileen says I'm to be honest and admit I don't. She claims I get pretty scratchy when we're going through the tricky part. I think she's exaggerating - you know what women are like. Rather nice.)
Oh, if you want to know how the Cook Islands thing turned out - sorry, we can't tell you. We're writing this bit after only a couple of weeks there. Sitting on the blindingly white coral sand, surf breaking on the reef, waves plashing at the lagoon edge. Eat your heart out. The system works.
Let's extend the explanation a bit.
Say you're going shopping. There's the usual range of goods. Different prices, different specifications. Perhaps what you're after is also available secondhand.
So you set out in your usual way. If you're a careful type you might go for the pre-owned goody. If you like to skite to your mates, you'll make eyes at the biggest, boldest and best.
But - at the same time, keep a eye open for a gut-feeling suddenly surfacing. One moment you're checking costs v. quality; next moment you somehow know the blue one is for you. Just like that.
All quiet like. No compulsion. No obsession. You don't have to. But if you buy it, it'll prove to be the perfect one. For you.
Experiment. In a small way at the start. Build up confidence. Watch out for the pseudo-Murphy symptoms partway into the situation. Keep a sense of humour. Don't get intense about things. Life's too important to take seriously.
Remember what I said earlier? All this is merely black marks on white paper. Worthless until you do something about it.
Perhaps you're wondering how it functions.
Not willpower. Not positive thinking.
They work, after a fashion. They can manipulate folk around us in all kinds of jolly little ways.
You see them in action in those door-to-door salesmen who appear on the doorstep with an armful of encyclopaedias or a shiny Hoover. Tastefully dressed (you've been cleaning the septic tank or something), oozing confidence (you're puzzling over what they're pushing, if the jam is boiling over, and why Gavin is screaming) and radiating a force-field that says their product is exactly what you always wanted.
Positive thinking works. Ten million insurance agents can't be wrong. But it works regardless. In the same way as a .22 works ideally for drilling cute little holes in woodwork. Irrespective of who might be standing on t'other side of the stud.
We're not really wanting that sort of blunderbuss effect. It might be nice in an amoral way to have everyone jumping when we snap our fingers. But merely to achieve our purpose despite the consequences is a bit tough on others. And what if the consequences boot us in the backside? It'd be like all those fairy stories where the fairy's three wishes carry a sting in the tail.
That's the difference between the positive thinking- willpower trip and choosing.
The things you choose originate at a different level.
Not from your mind. From your spirit. (Sorry if that sounds religious. Or mystic. Or whatever turns you off. Call it "level 3" if you would rather give it a neutral label. Meanwhile we'll call it spirit. It's our book; you go write yours.)
You see, us humans break down into three major parts.
One: body. That's the easy part. All the butchers' shop business. Hands, knees and naughty bits. Five senses. A preoccupation with shovelling food into and unloading rubbish from. And having it off, whatever that means.
That wraps up the body. Sure, there's a brain. But that convoluted grey matter isn't the big deal that popular mythology makes it out to be. "She's quite brainy." "For goodness' sake, use your brains, lad." Crap.
The brain isn't an organ that originates very much. Medical researchers have found many instances where hydrocephalics have a dramatically tiny brain because of pressure of fluid in the skull - yet, in a significant number of instances, these people have been capable of normal lives, looking after themselves and holding down responsible jobs, where one would expect them to be cot cases.
You see, the brain is (in computer jargon) an interface. The left lobe links the body to the soul. The right lobe to the spirit. Cross connections between the lobes preserve a balance from each output source.
On to the second part.
Two: soul. This is the source of rational thought. Reasoning. Good/bad, for/against. Intelligence. On this level we closely resemble a computer. Murphy's level. There's a swag more to the soul than that, but for now it's enough to be getting on with.
Three: spirit. In a word - the area of intuition. That's an oversimplification. But we're trying to avoid developing a pseudomystical jargon to impress. If you need impressing, go grab a guru. We're writing for nerds, nitwits and no-hopers like us.
Intuition isn't a woman's exclusive. Just that they're not too embarrassed to mention it. At least, they weren't in the bad old days when men were men and women were glad of it. If the feminist thing has downplayed intuition, it'll lose far more than it gains from shucking its sexist shackles.
Intuition - gut feeling - "revelation" - ping - vibes is a matter of becoming aware that you "know" something. Just like that. No reasons offered, no perhapses.
Take a stereotype situation. Wife and hubby meet someone. Small talk. Good time had by all. Later, "I wouldn't trust that guy an inch," says wife. Intuition. Spirit.
"But why? He was interesting. What did he do wrong?" says hubby. Reason. Soul. And we'd bet on the wife any day.
But, as we said, it's not a woman's exclusive. There are enough top businessmen around who've made the peak by playing hunches. Hiring and firing. Investments. New projects. Flying y the seat of their pants. Okay, using reason, intellect and experience for what it's worth. When nothing better is available. But when the gut-feeling strikes - that's it.
There's a nugget of truth in the cynical phrase "I've made up my mind; don't confuse me with the facts". As long as the decision comes from the spirit, not from a good old made-in- Murphyland prejudice.
At the start, you'll probably tie yourself in knots wondering if such-and-such a bright idea is from the soul or the spirit. Don't get intense. It's not the end of the world if you blow it. Chalk it up to experience and have another go. We're all a teeny bit neurotic, hesitating to make a choice because of the "what-ifs" that lurk in the shadows; wallowing in a sumptuous spa-pool of self-pity afterwards. "I knew it. It was all my fault. Oh, the shame and ignominy of it all. How can I live with myself after this!" Background music by Mantovani.
Whereas, in fact there are very, very few mistakes on this path. Not mistake-type mistakes. Like - bad. Trouble is, we expect perfection to be a sterile straight line. It isn't. It's the untidy one-step-forward and two-steps-back of a runny-nosed toddler. That's life. Or did you teach your brat to walk by giving it a demo? "Watch me. Left foot first; right arm to counterbalance. Then right foot, left arm. One two, one two, one two. Off you go." With a smart skelp on the bum if the hapless kid goes base over apex at the first try.
No way. Learning to walk is a series of sprawls and tumbles, tears and chuckles. "Darling, junior took his first step, broke his first tooth, and said his first word."
Perfection. Untidy. Scruffy.
Real life. That's spirit.
And if disaster strikes - don't chicken. There can be a neat twist if you hang on.
Tell you a story. Friend of ours - call him Ian - was approached by a family who'd gotten themselves in difficulties. Ian had helped folk before. Didn't take him long to get them somewhere to stay. Bought them enough food to keep them going for a while. Then started to straighten out their finances. They were in a mess. The easiest way was to pull a hunk out of his savings - he'd gone through this with others, bailing them out until they were flush enough to repay him.
Ian had dropped in to say hi to us. All of a once, for no reason whatever, I had a clear conviction that the family he was helping were a bunch of confidence tricksters. Or, at least, the husband was. So I told Ian, and it pinged with him.
Well, he - perhaps unwisely - went straight over to where the family were living, and laid it on the line to the husband. "George says you're a con man. So that's it. No more money." Needless to say there was a reaction. Angry scenes, threats: our phone was red-hot for the next twenty-four hours. Slander actions, physical violence. Taking bread out of honest mouths. And, as Eileen knows, little me in a state of mild depression at having boo-booed.
One day later, in walks a long-lost chum from Invercargill. Spies my woe-begotten visage and asks the origins of my misery. Choking with emotion, I tell all. Including the name of the aforesaid husband. Chum from Invercargill roars with uncontrollable merriment. "That's the bloke who took a bunch of businessmen to the cleaners last year and left town with their savings. He's an expert."
Chortling gleefully, George leaps into the van and drives to give the husband a piece of his mind. Alas, he was gone. That morning he had made a valiant attempt to seduce a plain- clothes detective and was "helping the police with their enquiries". Poor chap was AD/DC as well as on the graft. Last we heard, he was enjoying free board and lodging. All sorts of skeletons had come home to roost; know what we mean?
Like we said - don't chicken partway through. Practise trusting your intuition. Okay, it'll be exciting. But the more you use it, the more you'll just know at the right time and in the right place.
It's a bit disconcerting, though, the first time you get a burst of intuition. A detective described how it happened to him.
"There'd been a robbery from one of Whangarei's shops. A clean job - no clues whatever. Except a telephone operator on night shift happened to cut in on a call where someone was saying 'it all went smoothly'. She knew the caller's number began with an eight. Nothing more." That narrowed the field down to ten thousand subscribers. Not exactly much help.
"Anyhow, I was sitting in among all the other detectives being briefed on this case, and suddenly - well, it was stupid, really. I knew the phone number. All five digits. So I scribbled it down, then interrupted whatever was being said, saying this is the number you want." There was a moment's shocked silence. Then a burst of good-natured leg- pulling. Nobody took him seriously.
"But I couldn't shake off the feeling of certainty. Even when I checked the name and address of that number, and found the person was a stolid citizen with a blameless reputation. So I decided to follow it up. Drove round to the house and knocked on the door, prepared to give some sort of story to get the bloke talking. Never needed to, though. The guy opened the door - and over his shoulder, there was all the stolen stuff piled high on the kitchen table. Funny that; he'd always been straight before. There was no logical reason for my knowing his phone number."
Intuition isn't logical. But worth cultivating.
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