Wednesday, July 20, 2022

How to Plan an Alternative Timeline While Remaining Momentarily Complacent (Part 2)

A few days ago, I recounted how I'd spent time as a child plotting my exit from Nazi Germany circa 1935. And, without intending any direct analogy - because there absolutely isn't one - noted that I will shortly move out of America.

We're obviously nowhere close to Nazi Germany…but that doesn't mean I'm loving it!

I didn't, however, detail the tactics. So here goes:

You're in 1935 Germany, or some other scenario where ill winds conjure a feeling in the pit of your stomach that things might turn real bad.

Perhaps it's just paranoid overreaction. After all, everything cycles! Up and down! Better and worse! One doesn't flee whenever things turn south! One resiliently awaits the turnaround! This, too, shall pass!

But what if it's a descent that never reverses?

That's what people always say during downslides, isn't it? Sane people don't immediately plot their escape! That's for kooks!

History shows what happens to people who wait too long. A refugee is an immigrant who wasn't paying attention. Who didn't want to feel kooky.

Yes, we've heard about people who got into trouble for waiting too long. Movies are made about them. But you never hear about the many more who jumped ship unnecessarily. And there have been tons of them. For every lobster boiled alive while relaxing in gradually warming water, a thousand lived unnecessarily desperate lives, jumping spastically whenever the water warmed up a bit.

We're torn between two wise but contradictory maxims:

1. Don't freak out just because there's turbulence!

2. But don't be complacent!

This, I realized as a child, was the paradox faced by Jews in 1935 Germany. It's easy to be complacent, even when things turn legit nasty. Yet there's always nastiness if you look for it. Sane people don't pack their bags just because things are imperfect.

So how does one resolve this paradox?

By shaving sensitively away at it. Open your mind to possibility...and then keep gently stretching that opening.

A composer sits staring at a blank sheet of music paper. A motif comes to him, and he coddles it like an outdoorsman coaxing a spark into a campfire. He doesn't force it. He doesn't tighten up. He remains loose. Capriciously casual. It's all good, man!

To foster something fresh, remain loosely expansive. Make yourself feel a little “high”. Don't actually get high, though, as that will create false confidence that your choices are AWESOME while ensuring that they're not.

So, maintaining this state of mind - this framing - blithely consider emigration options. Put yourself in that position, like a composer places himself in the concert hall. Stay relaxed, and ponder the proposition: where would you go?


Woops. Let's try again without the unnecessary anguish. Remember you're contemplating this from a position of enviable comfort. You're not an actual refugee, or anything close. Prussian troops aren't hunting down your kids while they hide in a snow bank. No urgency to figure it all out right here and right now. You're outside that timeline!

Take a moment to acknowledge your immense safety and comfort, the envy of every one of your ancestors, going back to the monolith. Then once again entertain the hypothetical. Do you have some connection to another country? Easy immigration due to family connections? A language skill? Is there some aspect to the work you do (or other valuable skill) which might make it easier to emigrate to and live in a place where that skill is valued?

Take your time. This is not a 30 second knee-jerk think. More like a week or two. Really puzzle it out...bemusedly! Don't plan it. Use your fantasizing faculty, the one you'd use to contemplate how you might spend a lottery jackpot. You are not planning a move, just running a hypothetical. This won't go on your permanent record!

Say your wife is a Kiwi (i.e. from New Zealand). What are your immigration options there? What are NZ's policies? If you don't already know, take time to read up. That's something you should already have checked on. It's good to know your options!

Over the following weeks and months, keep exploring how you might one day start this process. And then start verrrrrry gently tugging the rope. Any steps that are cheap and easy and non-obligating...DO. Why not? You're still not emigrating, you're building options and alternatives. It's always good to have a Plan B!

Maybe you're a freelance graphic designer. Why not start marketing your services in New Zealand? Make connections and learn more about the market. Even if you stay put, this might drum up a whole new source of work!

You haven't committed. But you've taken steps. That's how you shave away at a paradox.

Learn about colors and fonts currently popular in New Zealand. Lazily surf Kiwi web pages. Since New Zealand is now of interest, devote time, as you presently do for, say, social media interaction or masturbation (fine line between the two, I know). Don't muster any sense of purpose, just be curious. And blithe. Don't back up the camera for a panoramic view of yourself plotting a bold trajectory. Opt out of that framing.

We all encounter fleeting facts or leads or connections relevant to New Zealand (or some other destination)...and ignore them. Now you'll find yourself paying attention, just because your brain's watching for that stuff. Befriend Kiwis as they crop up. Pursue all professional leads with a New Zealand angle - or with a degree of separation from a New Zealand angle, e.g. Australian, etc. The flywheel gathers momentum! Through all this, again, remain blithely bemused. You're not considering a move, you're just opening a window.

After a year, the notion of moving to New Zealand will no longer seem life-explosive or impossibly complicated or bewildering. Much human trauma is caused by the collision of reality with a narrow perspective. By mere surprise. You've eliminated that barrier, so if you ever feel a compulsion to move, you won't feel the gulping sense of disorientaton that prevents people from believing they can do perfectly do-able things. You'll be at step four, not step one, thanks to light, easy musing.

And you're still not the least bit committed! If you remain in America, you won't have wasted much time or money. You've increased your knowledge, broadened your network, and expanded your options. Who knows, you may decide to move to New Zealand just because! Having opened a fresh option, serendipity delivers unexpected opportunities. So never stop opening options!

But the first thing is to gently, playfully open the window without freaking out. That's how you avoid the paradox.

Next phase: methodically do every single thing you'd do if you were going to emigrate, so long as:

1. It doesn't obligate you.
2. It doesn't cost much.
3. You can do it calmly and playfully.

No weighty announcements. Still just light musing. Like assembling a model airplane. You're not going anywhere. Just cultivating options.

At some point you'll hit a wall and need to take more concrete action. You'll have to pay some money, or do something strenuous, in order to continue seeding this path. Shave there, too. What can you spend, what assets can you devote, to this Plan B without obligating yourself? Can you afford $20 to to feed the fantasy? $200? $2000? Can you reconcile it even if you never actually move?

If you can sell it to yourself as capricious indulgence, then go for it! People spend on their hobbies all the time!

I have no checklist to offer, because it's different for every case. I'm just offering a mindset; a framing; an approach. Thread the needle, sidestepping paradox via non-agitated musing, while avoiding the perils of hysterical overstepping. Plus, there's a bonus!

As you work on opening this option, your perspective will shift without your awareness. A few years down the line, if it starts looking like you truly do need to get out of the country, no chain saw will rip into your stomach lining. No cold sweat of panic. No movie camera zooming in for a close-up of your devastated, weepy face. Instead, you'll think, "Hmm, guess I'd better get my form #2477 notarized, and contact Indie, Cora, Blake and Beauden in Auckland about housing and job leads." You will have come a long, long way further than you'd realized.

You can travel awfully far via fine-shaving and light musing; by bemusedly entertaining hypothetical possibilities; by leaning your business and social life a bit this way or that way over the course of months and years. Subtle leanings and hypothetical ponderings can float you so far up Mt. Everest that you find yourself sufficiently altitude-adjusted to make an easy jaunt up to the summit.

I've followed this path multiple times using no special talents. I just remember, from childhood, how to playfully play and bemusedly muse. I keep it small. I don't turn things into dramas if I can help it. No big emotions or cinematic performances.

Your route might be more twisty/difficult than my example. Again, every trajectory is different. But regardless of specifics, you can ease yourself into a far better frame of mind, if/when the time comes, than the version where any such contemplation leads you shrieking "WHERE WOULD I GO???? WHERE, WHERE, WHERE?????" And that's how you avoid becoming so complacent that you eventually must drag your family over mountain passes to the border.

If you frame the world as a place where you own a Plan B, you'll live in such a world. And that's how you plan an alternative timeline while remaining momentarily complacent. 

That's Little Jimmy's Fantasy Nazi Plan.

Wait. That’s it? Was this a joke? Two thousand words to tediously restate the Boy Scout Motto, "Be Prepared"?

Correct. The word you're looking for is "juvenile". And that's the whole magic trick.

Who are the most adaptable and resilient humans? Kids! Kids think this way! They know, instinctually, how to hack a new world for themselves (at least until they've been taught to inhibit the faculty). That's how they manage to grasp this world, in a few short years, starting from scratch! Me, I brewed this plan up at age seven, after observing how grown-ups always screw up.

Adults rarely muse effectively on emotionally-charged topics. We're conditioned to tighten up and get serious as stakes rise. We stress and gnash our teeth because that's what grown-ups do. And that's 180 degrees off.

Shifting perspective must be done lightheartedly. If you think maturely about stuff like this, you’ll find yourself nursing an ulcer, even if it all ultimately proves unnecessary. In fact, we do it all the time. We pre-suffer!

When contemplating big changes, go light and breezy, with the playfulness of a child. Mull capriciously. We were taught as kids to apply discipline and maturity, but that was always bad brainwashing. I'm explaining how to reframe the world and prepare for any eventuality.

It's also the way to ride the flow of serendipity. You can't control that flow. You can't command it or force it, just as you can't push a string. But you can gently coax it, over the long run, as the Colorado River coaxed dirt and rock, a grain at a time, into reconfiguring as the Grand Canyon.

Open a window...and then keep stretching the opening.

A reason not to move out: if the good people, the smart people, the sane people all check out as the assholes gain traction, that leaves the assholes unchallenged. You're in this. Your actions are not divorced from the outcome. You create and define the future. So consider carefully whether you truly want to cede to the idiots.

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