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Beginning, Again

Shane Anderson (2019)

But how do you do?

You consult an oracle. You make offerings. Gold and silver, pottery. Then you slaughter whatever there is to slaughter. You make sacrifices. In Delphi, to Apollo. Remember, you have consulted the oracle because you want to change your life or something in it. You have been told the Oracle will give you some guidance and you prepare yourself for the message. Then you receive it.

Afterwards, you spend your days unraveling the riddles the Pythia relayed. If the oracle’s pronouncement about your future is unambiguous, this doesn’t mean that the pronouncement’s meaning and application won’t be ambiguous to you. Although the Oracle of Delphi had explained to Croesus, the king of Lydia, that a great empire would fall if he attacked Persia, he didn’t think it would be his own. In a further consultation, the Pythia reprimanded Croesus. He allowed himself to be tempted. Croesus had no one to blame for his failure but himself.

And so, what do you do after that? Even if the stakes weren’t as high as with Croesus, you still might feel like you’ve ruined your life. The life that you have tried to change through the advice of outside sources, through self-help manuals that also speak in Pythian riddles. What do you do after you fail to embody the tightly packed aphorisms that you have highlighted or underlined on the pages of the self-help manual? Do you blame eating a piece of cake on a bad day or do you condemn the whole system of dieting? Maybe you make self-accusations when you don’t throw a pack of cigarettes away. You were told to feel pity for smokers huddling under entryways on cold and rainy days in the book that guaranteed you would never smoke again once you finished reading it but in fact you feel envy. You also feel like a failure so you might as well enjoy yourself in this failure. As you inhale the smoke from a fresh pack, it is clear to you that you have learned nothing from the book’s contents. Worst of all, you haven’t been magically cured by the book’s prescripts, the book that was expensive as half a carton at some airport’s Duty Free.

So what do you do? You blame yourself, you curse your fate. You make comparisons. Everyone else, the baker, your friends, your neighbor, they are all in control of their lives, of their destinies, and it is only you who is so lost as to require the guidance of an astrologer, a Tarot reading. This is a rather twisted form of narcissism but it is mine. I am special because I am broken.

You realize that all advice contains a lie. It makes life a straight line and denies any swerving. The times when you don’t want to do anything but sleep until late in the afternoon or drink a whole bottle of wine and not listen to some successful person mythologize their rise to stardom, their justifications for why they deserve their riches. Advice forgets that some things are not possible and that success isn’t guaranteed if you listen. Advice hides the fact that sometimes you are lucky and that sometimes it is better to be lucky than to be good. Advice would be embarrassed to admit that it is a lot easier to be rich if you start rich and it would definitely deny that progress is not everything. Worst of all, advice also makes you feel like you are worse than you already are.

But what do you do when you know the oracle is right? When you feel, deep down, that you would like to change your life and that you have forgotten the best version of yourself that you agreed to strive towards? If you haven’t caused irreparable damage, you repair whatever is broken. You throw out the manuals that only reinforce a negative self-image and you start again. And then you start again when that time didn’t work out either. You start again and you start again. You keep starting until you die. It might be the only way to keep living and not just slowly dying.

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