By: Professor Horatio J. Nannerpants, Official Bookshelf Battle Blog Literary Correspondent
Ahh, there’s nothing quite like Paris in the summer, 3.5 readers. The streets are awash with with inspiring sites, the cafes are filled with delectable aromas and my poop? Why, it sticks to the wall effortlessly whenever I fling it, the warm weather makes it extra sticky, you see. It’s all science, really, and as my former colleague, Dr. Hugo von Science has been known to say, “You can’t argue with science.”
Now then, good people, and also you people reading this here…have you ever been down on your luck? I should assume so. After all, if you were a very lucky person you wouldn’t be spending much time reading this pitiful excuse for a blog now would you?
But seriously. Have you ever been stuck in a rut? Down for the count? Perhaps you’ve felt like the world has turned its back on you, that life isn’t going your way, that it would just be easier to lie down and give up rather than keep trying and failing?
Balderdash! Whenever my poop misses its intended target, do I give up? Nay! I just fling another poop and try, try again.
And you should too. In fact, when you are down in the dumps, you should peruse a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” It’s a short read, but full of powerful inspiration.
If you’re very obtuse, you might see it as a tale about a crusty old bastard who caught a fish, but it’s so much more than that. Let us discuss the various takeaways, shall we?
Getting Out of a Rut Takes a Lot of Work and a Long Time
At the start of this tale, the old man has gone eighty-five days without catching a fish. That’s a long time to try and fail at something. His fellow Cuban villagers have begun to see him as hopeless. Don’t misunderstand – the old man is loved by his people. They would gladly feed him and look after him, but he is too proud not to at least try to fend for himself.
Whenever you face any kind of problem, be it the inability to catch a fish for eighty-five days, or perhaps to put it in real world terms, an addiction that’s killing you, or perhaps the inability to find a job, you can’t quit. You must always keep trying, even when things look bleak and it seems foolish and useless to continue to try.
Know two things. To get out of your rut, it will a) take a long time and b) take a lot of effort.
After his eighty-five days of failure, the old man hooks a big, fat ass fish, a thousand pounder. Over the course of several days, the old man and the fish struggle against one another. It’s hot. The old man is far out at sea, isolated, little food, little water, exhausting himself physically and mentally just to catch this fish.
At any time, he could have just cut the line and set the fish free but no, he didn’t. He was tired of being a failure. He wanted that victory, to feel like a somebody again. So he didn’t bail out when opportunity presented itself. He fought the fish and he won.
Apply this to real life. If you’re an alcoholic, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort to get off the sauce. The effort might come in the form of attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, finding more kosher pastimes outside of the bar – working on your body and mind, getting yourself in better physical and mental condition. You’ll have to tell your enablers to shape up or take a hike. You’ll have to stay away from whatever triggers you to take a drink.
It will also take a long time. Don’t feel depressed if it’s been a couple of days without a drink and you still feel like you’d give a hand job to a hobo for a sip of beer. Maintain hope that the longer you stay off the hooch, the less you’ll want it.
Can’t find a job? Same idea. Work for it. Put out those resumes, applications and cover letters. Go forth and seek out key figures in your field and find ways to get your foot in the door. Network. Seek volunteer and intern opportunities to boost your resume. Seek the necessary education and credentials. Take some job, any job, just to have money coming in and to be able to say you’re doing something other than playing video games all day when you finally land that interview for the job you really want to do.
Whatever the problem is, your opportunity will come one day (i.e. the fish). Will you puss out and cut bait and run from that opportunity, or will you be like the old man and wrestle the shit out of that fish until you can finally bonk it on the head with an oar and tie it to the side of your boat?
Haters Gonna Hate
Sharks. The buttholes of the sea. Once the old man bags his fish, sharks swim up to his boat and chow down on the old man’s prize even though they did none of the work required to land the fish. The old man fights them off desperately and managed to land some powerful attacks on them but ultimately, it is too late. There’s nothing left of the prize fish but a skeleton.
As you venture forth to solve your own problems, there will be many “sharks” who will get in the way. People will try to take advantage of you while you’re down on your luck in order to improve their own stations in life. They’ll try to make you feel worthless and hopeless and they will do shitty things to set you back.
Be like the old man. Try to steer your hypothetical boat away from them, fight them off if left with no choice and if they do get the upper hand, just take a deep breath, calm down, then go back to work on trying to solve your problem. Do not be deterred from your ultimate goal.
Knowledge of Your Success is Its Own Reward
People struggle with their own internal plights all day. They rarely, if ever, advertise to the world what’s bugging them. That person you know who seems like he has it all together might very well be a basket case on the inside.
The villagers are generally aware that the old man is going through a rough patch, but it’s doubtful that anyone other than Manolin, the old man’s little buddy, knows how badly the old man’s pride has been wounded.
Thus, when you do reach your goal, it is unlikely that anyone is going to throw a big party, or parade, or celebration in your honor. Even worse, you might get what you were always after only to have life pull a George RR Martin (maybe Hemingway was GRRM before GRRM) and do something totally unexpected that tanks your victory – i.e. you finally catch that fat ass fish…only for a bunch of sharks to do a drive-by on it.
Throughout the story, we await the victory moment. We yearn for the old man to arrive on the dock and show everyone who ever doubted him his giant fish. He gets it, of sorts, as he is able to bring the skeleton, so everyone knows he’s not a failure anymore…but he doesn’t get the joy of bringing that big fish ashore for everyone to see, posing for a photo with it, carving it up and getting a big fat stack of cash for it.
But he’s cool with it. The old man is very zen. He knows he won his own personal war against failure. He’s content. At peace. His pride is intact once more.
So, one day you might finally no longer desire booze anymore…or you might finally land that dream job. Don’t be offended if everyone doesn’t drop what they are doing and lead a parade in your honor. Everyone is too busy with their own problems. Find inner peace with yourself. Be content that you know you won your personal battle. If no one will be your cheerleader, then be your own.
Appreciate Those Who Don’t Stop Believing in You/When You Can, Help Those Who Helped You When You Needed Help
Manolin, a young boy, was once the old man’s helper, fetching his fishing equipment and cutting his bait and all that bullshit. However, his parents have demanded the he drop the old man and find a luckier fisherman to help. Sigh. Haters gonna hate.
But even though Manolin goes to work for another fisherman, he still drops by the old man’s house, bringing him food, newspapers, and words of encouragement.
Yes, when you lose for a long time, you’re going to get the losing stink attached to you. Some people, like Manolin’s parents, will steer clear of you for fear your loser stench will rub off on them or their kid.
Still, if there is someone who still believes in you or hell, even if they secretly don’t believe in you but are kind enough to pretend like they do…be there for that person, help them if you can, and appreciate them back.
Whereas we evil modern day people would probably catch a giant fish and lord it all over everyone who ever doubted us, then spend all our fish money on titties and beer, one gets the sense that the old man is not like that at all. Early in the story, he talks about wanting to help the people who have helped him. He talks about how if he catches a fish, he will share it with those who gave him food when he couldn’t afford to eat.
Bottomline – if you do solve your problem, try to pay the world back and help others solve their problems. You got off the booze? Good. Help someone else get off the booze. You found that dream job? Awesome. Help someone who can’t find work find a job.
What a great world it would be if we all help each other.
Make Memories While You Can…and Hang Onto Them
The old man wasn’t always a failure. Arguably, no one in his village even thinks of him as a failure – just that he’s an old man who is past his prime and his best days are behind him.
But the old man did some shit in his day. He had a wife. She’s dead and he puts her picture face down because he starts to miss her if he looks at her. Also, he once worked on a boat that sailed across the world. His travels took him to Africa, where he saw lions fighting and playing on the beach – lions so rare to see that it’s like staring at unicorn or something.
And, one time, the old man participated in an arm wrestling bout with an opponent so fierce that the match lasted an entire day – and he came out the winner and ended up as the toast of Casablanca.
One day you will get old and you won’t be able to do things like you used to. The older you get, the less opportunity you have – so stop feeling sorry for yourself and start getting to work on making your dreams reality.
Ask that hot babe out for a date. Go on that dream vacation you’ve been putting off. Go to that rock concert. One day, when you’re old, the memories of what you did will be in your mind and will give you some solace and peace. Whenever the old man feels sad, he remembers how awesome it was to see those lions and to have once been an arm wrestling champ.
Don’t forget to keep making memories for as long as you’re still kicking. The old man might not be able to arm wrestle or visit Africa anymore, but he will no doubt be consoled by the memory of his big fish catch for whatever time he has left.
Don’t Kick Yourself for Your Mistakes…Learn from Them
Throughout the story, the old man makes a number of blunders. He doesn’t bring enough water or food. He didn’t expect to catch a fish that would fight him for days. He didn’t bring a weapon to fight sharks.
But that’s ok. He thinks on his feet and improvises. He crafts a shark fighting weapon out of what he has on the boat. He rations his water so he doesn’t drink it all. He catches some smaller fish and eats them raw – gross, but better than starvation.
Then, when he gets back, he talks with his buddy Manolin and makes preparations. Next time I’ll need a badass anti-shark weapon. Next time I’ll need extra food and water. You get the impression that the old man has learned from his encounter with the big fish and the sharks, and perhaps if he is ever put into this position again, he’ll know exactly how to fend off those sharks and protect his fish.
Don’t get down on yourself for your mistakes. Learn from them. Do better next time.
You stopped for a drink because you just couldn’t avoid stopping at that bar you like on the way home from work? OK. That was stupid. Realize it was dumb, then move on. Take a different route home next time, one that doesn’t pass a bar. Can’t find a route that doesn’t go pass that bar? Hell, walk in and politely tell the bartender you’re a booze fiend and beg him not to serve you. Better yet, tell a loved one about this problem. Ask them to check on you at a certain time. Perhaps the embarrassment of being at the bar when they call will keep you out of the bar.
Did you screw up that job interview? Did you say the wrong thing? Make a note to not say that thing the next time. Did your potential employee find your resume lacking? Find out why and seek out the experiences your resume requires.
Your Opponent Doesn’t Always Have to Be Your Enemy
The genius of Hemingway is you don’t just feel bad for the old man…you also feel bad for the fish. You get the sense that while this old man is playing out his own real life drama, trying to catch a fish after a long dry spell, this fish is fighting for his life. The fish may not be able to vocalize exactly what is going on, but he knows that same shit is transpiring, and if he doesn’t keep trying to break free of this hook in his piehole, he’s going to end up on a plate as the old man’s dinner.
So it’s two titans, locked in a struggle, one for pride, the other for his life. Perhaps the fish’s fight is even more sympathetic than the old man’s. At one point, the old man even goes so far as to tell the fish that he loves him and he’s sorry that he has to kill him…and he means it. It’s not the heatstroke talking.
Not every opponent is your enemy. There are limited resources in the world. You can’t expect that people won’t try to get the same thing you want.
That person who applied for the job you wanted is a competitor, but not necessarily the enemy. You don’t have to hate this person. If he gets the job over you, be respectful and move on. You don’t need to call him a dick. If the situation were reversed and you got the job over him, you wouldn’t want him to call you a dick.
If you’re fighting alcoholism, your old booze buddies will most likely try to drag you down. “Come on, come out with us, one little drink won’t hurt.” There’s a lot of psychology behind this. Most likely, they really do enjoy your company and are afraid of losing you if you lose the love of booze you once shared with them. Or, quite possibly, they regret their own inability to get sober and will try to sabotage you because it will become less easy for them to believe that quitting is impossible (thus they are blameless for the own addiction) if they see you succeed.
Just keep on, keeping on. Try not to hate those people. Just see them as obstacles in your path. If they won’t get out of the way, you must go around them. No need to argue or fight but if they can’t respect your wishes then they can’t be in your life anymore. You need to keep moving towards sobriety.
If you’re life’s been flushed down the shitter, it’s not too late to pull yourself out of the bowl. The old man did it and you can do. Read this classic tale whenever you are feeling sorry for yourself. Personally, I feel sorry that you have nothing better to do than read this awful, awful blog.