North Pole, South Pole

north_pole_MG0233My friend R. is a brilliant guitarist who spends a lot of time on the road. Road trips and trans-Atlantic flights can get long, and musicians tend to be a pretty funny bunch, which is, I suspect, how R.’s “North Pole, South Pole” game came into existence. The game goes something like this:

“Hey, Hil. North Pole, South Pole. Would you rather live in a remote village in Papua New Guinea with all your favorite records OR in New York City, but you’d never be able to hear music again?”

“Okay, North Pole, South Pole. Would you rather write ‘jazz is dead’ 5000 times on a chalkboard OR be forced to transcribe every note of a Shooby Taylor solo?”

And so on.

Now, it’s fun to play “North Pole, South Pole” on an endless road trip or after a couple of beers, but we engage in real-life “North Pole, South Pole” thinking at our own psychological peril. Regarding our life choices as binary, “either/or” propositions can actually leave us with some pretty miserable options:

“I can be an artist and live in abject poverty, OR I can give up my creativity and be financially stable.”

“I can have independence and a strong sense of self, OR I can sublimate my identity and be in a relationship with someone.”

“I can be liked OR I can say what I think.”

“I can have a career OR a family.”

At times, I’ve bought into every single one of the “North Pole, South Pole” scenarios listed above. But, invariably, whenever I start to paint the world in black-and-white, Life comes along and throws a bunch of gray onto the canvas. Free from “North Pole, South Pole” thinking, our choices, our challenges, become about balance. How can we:

weighing_the_balance_587x30…pursue our creative potential while maintaining financial solvency?

…connect wholeheartedly to our partners without losing our connection to our individuated Selves?

…articulate our own needs and ideas with the right blend of assertiveness and compassion?

…navigate the distance between our home life and our life’s work?

Pic2-3aSphereNot surprisingly, the answers to our biggest, most pressing questions can’t be found in a game of “North Pole, South Pole.” Truth, like people, tends to live somewhere in the middle.

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6 thoughts on “North Pole, South Pole

  1. There is a balance. Life is usually about the middle ground. On the other hand, some things are black and white.

    I usually weigh the potential costs vs benefits of a situation.

    A moral victory, whether just or not, doesnt mean much if it doesn’t help your overall aim.

    Rule #1: Look out for #1

    • Life is usually about the middle ground, I agree. I’m finally starting to wise up to the fact that I’m not able to brute-force my way through a tricky situation to arrive at clarity. More often than not, I’m thinking in terms of balance and proportion. And you’re so right: being “right” doesn’t necessarily help us in the “big scheme of things,” if we burn bridges or get in our own way as a result.

      With regard to your Rule #1: I’m finding lately that one of the great joys and challenges of being in a relationship, musical group, corporation, or any other collaborative effort is the awareness that every decision one makes affects someone else. Of course, it’s hard to make good decisions and be of service if you’re not taking care of your own “backyard,” so to speak.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. defining one’s own success is the journey and the reward is feeling successful on one’s own terms. north pole/south pole…that’s just someone else telling you whether or not your successful. they don’t pay my rent. in fact, they don’t do much for me except distract me from my own pursuit of happiness. fucking gnats.

      • DG, you’re never stupid! (-: I agree, a lot of the north pole/south pole stuff is detritus from external sources of “should.” But I am constantly doing battle with my own deep-rooted tendency to make everything black and white. Either/Or. Yes or No. You get the idea. The longer I kick around here, though, the more I am enjoying all the shades of gray, all the possibilities, all the maybes.

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