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Brigitte Zieger, Détournement 2. 2010. Digital print, 148 x 104 cm. Represented by Galerie Odile Ouizeman, Paris, France: and Galerie Heinz-Martin Weigand, Berlin, Germany :

Limits of Control: Memo from the Deep End by Noelle Faulkner


How do you know you’re alive? Heartbeats? Breath? Pain? Love? Fear? Moments? Evidence left on your flesh? Risk? G-force? Caffeine? Existential dread?
If you’ve been keeping up with your meaning of life conspiracies, you’ll be familiar with “simulation theory”, which has been making the most noise around the internets in recent years. Simulation theory argues that we’re all living in a computerised reality, run by some form of higher intelligence with a wry sense of humour, watching us burn, fight, fall, fuck and flail. There are tech experts dedicated to “breaking us out”, apparent evidence in the massive computing leaps we’ve made in just 40 years and even minds like the Greatest Showman of Our Time, Elon Musk, insisting there’s a “billion chance to one we’re living in a base reality” – the case for is quite layered.

Personally, I don’t entertain or dismiss this but I also don’t care enough to know what’s on the other side, it’s likely a big black void and that’s a problem for my highly adaptable future self; time is too precious in the so-called-sim. But I will say this theory is convenient, because when you combine those two thoughts, YOLO-ing through life seems the path of least resistance and way more fun – so, may I take this chance to welcome our new high-res overlords?…But, seriously, as if we don’t all find reasons to be bad, to go against the grain? Even a little. Convenient truths, lies or excuses give us licence to chase escape, windy roads, sunshine, salt water, flights, great lovestories, greater luststories, risk, losses, wins, question marks, memories, destinations and ultimately, deep ends to be tested. What if you made it your quest to chase that all the time? If we’re moving towards the unknown, why be the sitting duck? This isn’t a religious argument –we can all still live by the moral code set out by the seven majors and multiple minors, and respect each other while doing it and I’m not making an afterlife argument, but more a case for living to know you’re alive.

I have been accused of this. I dive deep, take risks, drive fast, seek solitude, chase thrills, trust instinct and think post-leap, and I’ll say one thing: adrenaline is a hell of a drug. Arguably one of the most addictive, and most gratifying, it can push entrepreneurs to rise and creatives to create; it goes hand in hand with time as the enemy, and as the stress of legacy/power/creation swells like a pressure cooker, adrenaline is there to help punch through the self-hatred in the process and morph into pleasure at the finish line. The coasty flood of dopamine that follows adrenaline is a rushy reward worth seeking and chasing. Get it right, and you’ll want it again. Again. Again. 

There’s a fine art to flying as close to the sun as you can get without getting burned. You can’t toe dip, but you can’t let yourself fall either, and you’re your own safety net. I like to call it turning to smoke when you need air –a sort of diluted madness. It doesn’t have to come with a literal parachute, underwater cage surrounded by predators, V12 engine or signed disclaimer, but you have to be in bed with the worst-case scenario. Ask any professional who deals in risk, and they’ll tell you the same. Practice this in real life and sure, you might get your heartbroken, you might be uncomfortable for a few minutes or you might lose everything you had in the present. Well, it helps to remember the present is simply a transaction with time that as soon as it’s made, is lost…

Adapting to change is living and survival; it’s Darwinism 101. Hearts heal, true colours shine through and cream floats to the top. Uncomfortable situations create change, things lost can only be gained and broken ideas shape new ones. Is there anything more unattractive than seeing someone settle for less than 360-degree stimulation? No. And besides, life is kinder to what nows over what ifs.  It’s fear that holds us back.

Thus brings us to the visceral, thrilling element of the deep end: the thrill of the chase. Goosebumps. Tense muscles. Diluted pupils. Heart raises and stomach drops to the ground. Feeling. Living. Experience. It makes you mad for thrills. Mad for movement. Mad for risks. Mad for speed. Mad for heat. Mad for blind corners. Mad for self-faith. Try losing yourself while finessing your limits of control, and you’ll find there is great therapy in hedonism.

Psychologists describe adrenaline addicts as “sensation seekers” (which sounds a lot less “X-treme” and parachute-jacket and toe-shoe-y then the former). They call it the pursuit of an experience “without any regard for social, physical, financial or legal risk” – I beg to differ. There can be sensory stimulation within control. Within limits. Within regard. Maybe it’s a female thing? If so, the future is certainly ours. Apparently, thrill-seeking has been a necessary trait for humankind to have progressed to where we’re at today. Without those who have taken a risk, we wouldn’t have swum so far as a race…or something. Whatever you deep-dive into, be it a risk you don’t know you can quite pull off or an irresponsible thrill, is up to you, it can come at you in any form, flesh and speed, file it under a physical return to primordial self; fight response, with a little bit of flight.

None truly knows the meaning of life, what we’re all doing here, striving for, working away or chasing; whether we are even “alive” as the adjective is sold to us. Survival is not a one-trick pony, it’s not a dream and it’s not a painful reality. So, burn fuel to light the way. Lose control to gain it back, punch into the night, bet all your chips on unpredictability, never settle for anything less than brains, beauty, braun and, importantly, butterflies. Live a little. Because at the end of the day, we might just be pawns in a big, damn computer and existence without pleasure is a terribly boring simulation of life.