Life: you’ve gotta squeeze it a little

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.*
(John O’Donohue)

[Keith] Jarrett didn’t produce a good concert in trying times.  He produced the performance of a lifetime, but the shortcomings of the piano actually helped him.**
(Tim Harford)

It’s 1975 in Cologne, Germany and Keith Jarrett is sat in a car in the rain having walked out from the venue that had supplied a sub-standard piano for what was to be a sell-out performance.  Jarrett had asked for a Bösendorfer but the instrument supplied was too small for the venue, out of tune, with the middle black notes not functioning.  A nineteen year old Vera Brandes had arranged this performance and she came out to the car and pleaded with Jarrett to go ahead.  He relented and what followed was a performance that produced an album that has outsold all other solo jazz albums and solo piano albums.

Tim Harford opens his book Messy with this story, warning against the “tidiness temptation.”  Life is messy and when we embrace this, we find some of the most beautiful things come into being.  Constraints and limitations aren’t the trouble we think they are:

‘In a world without constraints, most people take their time on projects and assume far fewer risks, while spending as much money as you’ll give them.’^

We each come with limitations and constraints built in.  When we reject rather than embrace these, we can end up looking around us for everything being absolutely right before we’ll try something different.

There’s a relationship between messiness and tidiness and when these get out of kilter then we begin to have problems.  Messiness can swing into chaos and tidiness can become regimentation, we end up bottling the past and calling it the future.  Nassim Taleb knows a lot about messiness – or randomness as he names it.  In his book about thriving in a random universe, he writes:

‘You cannot look at the future by naive projection of the past.’^^

Here we are with another day.  It doesn’t wish us any harm, it offers to all of us the basics of air to breathe, time to use and space to move in and through.  It just needs some squeezing: a different way of seeing, the finding of challenges, asking questions, seeking possibilities and knocking on the doors that won’t open easily.

‘Young writers often think – are taught to think – that a story starts with a message.  That is not my experience.  What’s important when you start is simply this: you have a story you want to tell.  A seedling that wants to grow.  Something in your inner experience is forcing itself up towards the light. […] As you write a story, if you can let it become itself, tell itself fully and truly you may discover what it’s really about, what it says, why you wanted to tell it.’*^

(*From John O’Donohue’s Echoes of Memory.)
(**From Tim Harford’s Messy.)
(^From Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold.)
(^^From Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile.)
(*^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)


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