This month I had more bad news from the University of Berkhamsted. They flatly rejected my latest research proposal: a study of whether bad news comes in threes. The University was not convinced by my exploratory work, although it conclusively demonstrated that 33% of BBC News at Ten bulletins feature a number of bad news items that is divisible by three. However, I may have hurt my chances because of how I categorized some of the news stories. For example, I thought it was good that most new jobs in Britain are taken up by immigrants, though perhaps I am overly influenced by the loss of my hard-working and very undemanding Macedonian housemaid, Elena. She returned to her homeland after she was offered a role promoting the Macedonian stock exchange. Thankfully, she promised to ask her younger cousin, Violeta, to give up her job playing first violin for the Skopje Philharmonic, and keep house for me in Elena’s place. I do hope Violeta will come, as not one of my clones will help with cleaning the toilets or peeling the spuds.
And last week, I had more bad news. ECPC Comics rejected my proposal for a new eco-political comic book hero. If you ask me, “Shale” was bound to be an enormous hit. The character is the disembodied intelligence of a 40,000 year old neanderthal chieftain, viciously slain by his Homo sapiens rivals. Dumped in a fast-flowing river, his body was washed out to sea, finally sinking to the sea floor where it was compressed into sedimentary rock over a period of millennia. At those great pressures, his organic remains were completely transformed into shale gas. Disturbed by exploratory drilling in the modern-day Vale of Glamorgan, the hero is sucked up to ground level, where he escapes confinement after causing a massive explosion. Then his gaseous presence wafts to Barry Island Pleasure Park where he tries to educate families about why human profligacy leads to global warming and how shale gas extraction might cause earthquakes.
Thankfully, that was the end of the bad news, although the end of the bad news might be bad news for my theory about bad news. In fact, the next bit of news was pretty good. After Elena’s departure, I wanted to cut back on household bills and spare myself the trouble of cooking and cleaning for all my clones, so I asked relatives and friends to take some of them in for the summer. Aunt Hilda has been greatly entertained by the poetry readings of Lim-Eric, whilst Î½M-Eric joined MaV-Eric at a big marketing convention in Las Vegas, and then both stayed on to exercise their card counting skills. I hope that proves to be a profitable venture. But the most surprising success came from sending my most confusing clone, EsoT-Eric, to stay with my good friend, Prince Karl Zeis of the royal house of Delthfia. This is the letter I received from Prince Karl yesterday…
I write to share some excellent news about your clone, EsoT-Eric. It seems we have discovered his niche in life.
When you first suggested EsoT-Eric’s visit, I recall you were rather apologetic about his manner. You described it as ‘peculiar’, and I agree that he has some eccentricities. EsoT-Eric is last to rise in the morning, and first to sit at the dinner table. At dinner he helped himself to the largest portions of food, and on the rare occasions he spoke it was to complain that the rations were still too meagre. However, I write not to complain, but to commend your clone. On one evening, over cognac and cigars, with my friend Major Thomas Jones in attendance, we proceeded to ask the often taciturn EsoT-Eric about his views on life. What a revelation that was! He beautifully burst upon us, like cherry blossom in a Springtime Japanese garden. Tom and I began by joshing EsoT-Eric about his not having a job or contributing towards your expenses. He responded thus:
“Work turns children into adults because it gets in the way of what we really want to do. We slowly kill our childlike passions in order to accommodate the adultâ€™s need of work as the source of sustenance.”
It was such an extraordinary answer, that both of us were silent for a good half-minute. Then Tom finally regained his senses, and chirruped that because EsoT-Eric proclaimed the advantages of a youthful outlook, he could not simultaneously play the part of the teacher. EsoT-Eric gave as good as he got, saying that:
“Learning from mistakes is the most common form of education. Not learning from other peopleâ€™s mistakes is the most common form of tragedy.”
I was dumbfounded by the perceptive insight. Are you entirely sure that EsoT-Eric is your clone? Perhaps there was a little residue of Solomon or Confucius lying at the bottom of the test tube from which he was born. Tom was unabashed, laughed hard at EsoT-Eric’s scintillating reply, and drew the reasonable conclusion that, given his talent for rhetoric, your clone might pursue a career in politics. EsoT-Eric snorted, and batted away that suggestion.
“Politics is the ultimate rationalization of competition between those who have power and wealth and wish to retain them, and those who lack power and wealth and want more.”
At long last I sparked into life, and asked EsoT-Eric whether he might pick a side in this grandest of contests. He demurred, saying that
“There are no winners in a rat race, because the finish line is an arbitrary demarcation.”
I was unsure whether he implied a subtle second meaning to running the course of life’s race, and I asked him accordingly. His reply was indirect:
“Death is scary only because we cannot imagine a world we don’t inhabit.”
In response I pondered if love was the opposite of death. EsoT-Eric was dismissive, and clarified the real opposites.
“Romantic love is the mindâ€™s corruption of the instinct to reproduce.”
With this, Tom, who has been divorced three times, thundered “bravo!” and warmly applauded EsoT-Eric’s sagacity. He then insisted that EsoT-Eric’s genius must find a proper outlet. EsoT-Eric’s answer was grave, and brooked no further interrogation on the matter.
“Many a life that seemed important whilst lived is revealed to be trivial in hindsight. Some lives attain significance only after they end. But what matters to me is not what matters to others, whether those others live now or later. What matters to me is what matters to me alone, and in the present. Ruthlessly living by that standard, I cannot seek to improve on what I currently do.”
Silence descended upon us, as Tom and I ruminated on EsoT-Eric’s meaning. Eventually, I think I fathomed it. EsoT-Eric’s purpose is nothing more or less than to please himself. I then asked him if his logic might be circular. EsoT-Eric took a last puff on his cigar, and stubbed it out. He drained his glass, and rose to his feet.
“I’m off to bed now, and shall rise tomorrow. I did the same yesterday, and hope to do the same tomorrow. This circularity will end only when I never rise again. If my life is circular, that suits me fine.”
After saying that, he turned on his heel and shuffled off to bed, behaving halfway between inebriated and nonchalant. After such an encounter, I am unsure what advice to give you, as I doubt that EsoT-Eric will ever live a conventional life, and he may hence prove to be a permanent drain on your resources. All I can promise is that I will be glad to relieve you of the burden, by having EsoT-Eric as my guest, whenever you and your clone find that to be amenable. Though EsoT-Eric may never prove his worth, I am sure his life will be worthwhile, at least by his own measure.
Prince Karl Zeis of the Royal House of Delfthia