stolen from deviant art: elrisha

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We Are the Disillusionment

We’re adults now, you and I.

Going into the world, doing real things, though it really doesn’t feel like it, does it? I suppose I thought that by this point we would be on some road leading to some realistic but difficult to attain goal, one that would offer us fulfillment and purpose. Instead we seem to be mucking about in the details as there is nothing bigger than ourselves to join.

Not to say that the world doesn’t need us, that it doesn’t have thousands upon thousands of problems that need to be addressed. And that’s just it; it’s such a momentous goal that would require unfathomable amounts of energy, dedication and ambition, and I don’t know about you, but I really don’t have the stamina or expertise to even consider taking on even one aspect. Who are we but a collection of exceptional, intelligent, thinking individuals who dedicate our time to paying our bills and finding connection and release in whatever drug or addiction that is easily justified and proportionally acceptable to our sense of responsibility? It is the most reasonable thing to do; we are working for a realistic goal that is attainable with dedication and a bit of good luck, but what does it achieve other than the basic necessities of life? The struggle to maintain good standing in the eyes of the credit bureau, the gas company, the banks and student loan lenders.

If it is that for which we strive, to which we devote our energy, how does this not cause at least a modicum of existential despair? For eight hours a day, five days a week, we turn the wheels of the machine that both supports and binds us with checks and balances in innumerable sections, chapters, and amendments. How should it be different, you ask me, and I tell you, it doesn’t matter, what a pointless question. The point of interest here is that it simply is and we must learn how to pursue our purpose within this paradigm.

Would it be out of place to say that everyone’s goal is to change the world? A blanket statement is always dangerous, but who does not want to change the things around them, their world, to make it more comfortable and fulfilling? The cliché of ‘changing the world’ applying to the overlapping stable elements of each’s experience and understanding of their world, it has nearly lost any other connotation thanks to commercials and slogans. Because even your car choice can change your world. Since I cannot solve world hunger and don’t have the time or energy to address the homeless/elderly/healthcare/government/environmental issues I see going on around me, at least I can buy this car and have changed something. Substitutes piled upon substitutes until we can only glimpse the original in moments unguarded and infrequent. Otherwise purpose lies in putting your head to the grindstone until you can only feel the uneven surface grating away at layer after layer, grinding you down to your brainstem and setting you afloat for the retirement years of solitude and isolation. The art of gleaning what one can from the surrounding habitat and being satisfied with the luck of the draw is the measure of success and those endowed with powers of patience, perspective or self-delusion fair better than the rest of us.

We are adults now, we are coming into our own right, we are the daughters and sons of failed visionaries and revolutionists. We have inherited the sins of our fathers, the embedded thorn of disillusionment: the world is too big to change. We should busy ourselves with the things with realistic goals, use ten-step plans to plot our journey and have quarterly reviews to measure our progress.
We are adults now and the luxury of existential despair is not afforded us. This is how the world works, we tell each other, we tell ourselves, and these things are important.

I’ve been so busy; schedules, payments, responsibilities, I’m sorry we haven’t talked. I’m sorry we’ve grown apart, how are you? We should go out more often, meet up for lunch, have coffee and brunch.

I feel like I’m fighting an unending battle, that I’m isolated and those around me don’t understand, but we get shit-faced every week and check facebook at work when our boss isn’t looking and smile in our insulated self-delusion with our guarded eyes and hardened hearts.

O children of Isreal, I will send you into the desert for forty years, until everyone who remembers what it is like to be slaves of the Pharaoh will have died, and I will give you a nation unto yourself.

Forgive my paraphrase, as I only know a little about a lot.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Luxury by Lamplight, a Child’s Story (A Writing Exercise)

The sunlight never looks right at this latitude; it’s too bright and the blue from the sky weaves itself into all the colors of the spectrum. A white hot light, that early summer light, brushed from the shoulders by the late spring breeze.
Pepper runs with her nose inches from the ground, following the yellow-green scents through the forest of dark green blades and still damp twigs. Woody and musky, the dampness evaporates up from the ground underneath the woolen blanket, banded with bright neons and pinks. The colors send up their own scents, both chemical and sheepish at the same time. Patricia blinks in the bright light, noting the subdued input of her senses.

It’s Pepper’s favorite spot, so many other dogs to meet, and the quiet breathing of the conscious world winds its way in Patrcia’s thoughts, the penetrating peace drawing her back again and again to this spot. Her book lies abandoned on the far corner of the blanket as the trees’ individual leaves wink green and pink and blue.
She searches people’s faces instead of chasing the letters across the page, though the desired insight is still the same for both activities. Her face and eyes open to her peers, her comrades in park, she is looking for something beyond the leisure and luxury afforded by the environment. Like attending church, she and Pepper are regulars at this dog park, her striped blanket displaying as a gas station sign in the night; a familiarity for those individual travelers transversing their orbits.
Tell me, tell me what you are thinking, what you see, why you are swinging your arms like that, tell me about the world as you see it. Her eyes scan the passersby. Tell me that you are the same as me, tell me that you are here to find that sense of togetherness, just like me, that you have a need that you can satisfy here. Her eyes dart from face to face, from knee to shoe to hands touching dogs faces, tennis balls, books, other hands. She is looking for that small smile of understanding, that sideways glance of disapproval (why can’t that lady control her dog?), and on those few lucky days, the meeting of eyes that’s held just a little too long.
A childish decadence, really, her whimsical hopes for love and affection, but one she has been unable to shed since her father mixed her morning milk with chocolate syrup before the morning car ride of alphabet games to preschool. She carries it around like a dirty book in her purse, sure that everyone can see it and knows that it’s there, ashamed at the smudgy little thrill of curiosity and rebellion that quivers in her chest.

They say that eyes are windows to the soul, which makes the pupils the gatekeepers, the aperture gods over the intake of reality.

And of course, he’s come around the corner. The triangles made by his stride flash in her peripheral vision and the long lines of his legs lead her eyes to the shade of his jaw, the sharp nose, the symmetrical sharp eyes with the discerning gleam. The balls of his feet feel the crushed granite beneath him, ascertain the depth of the pebbles. The crunching of the gravel acts like sonar reflections of sound, detailing the minute details and spaces between the ever smaller, shifting sands of the path. His easy gait sails over the shifting tides of pink granite, adjusting ever so slightly to walking on water.

It’s his eyes, as she follows her glance to his face, that answer her question. His knowing gait comes from experienced eyes and a necessarily understanding heart; he would sweep her hair behind her ear when they sat face to face, eye to eye, with dialating pupils, velvety tenuous forays and connections having appeased gatekeepers, accepting the bribe and stepping away from their charge. She would look at her like that when he looked at her, when he broke his stride and turned his head those thirty or so degrees in response to his peripheral apprehension of her stare. He’s starting to feel it, she’s sure, her eyes following his movement. He will see the sun reflecting from her open face, she knows.

As if she had called his name, he turned his head and looked directly at her and she could see he was not very attractive. He held the gaze full moments too long and a frantic pressure built in her temples, his expectation burrowed into her pupils. Such shame washed over her as she met the gaze with her guilty acceptance of what she had asked for, though it fell so short of what she hoped. Shame, then stubbornness, then an angry challenging washed through the light around his head; who was she to hope or to judge? Such a child, such a child… She broke the gaze and stared down at her hands, called for Pepper, grasped for some distraction until she saw the pale moon of his face turn away and face the other faces.

He comes every week wearing a different face, wearing different clothes, walking a different dog or with a water bottle and armband iPod, he always showed up one way or another. And then he is gone, each and every time with a small gesture, with that lazy, dead stare, with one sideways glance of insecurity toward that girl’s chest. And like that, he’s gone.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stare Long into the Abyss

I’m conjuring a thunderstorm that matches the cool swirling air in this room; if I looked out the blinds I would see the treetops waving in the wind and the tungsten street lights throwing arched, waving arms of velvet black into the eerily golden leaves. The only thing to do would be to walk to the garage and sit in the slowly rising oil fumes watching the rain splattering in increasing sheets, basking in the blue light from my computer screen. The thunder would shake the lightbulbs in their sockets and if I was really lucky, I’d lose power and the flickering yellow of candles would lick the walls in the absence of whirling motors and fans.

Now, with my headphones on, the delusion is nearly complete. I can nearly feel the wetness creeping along the carpet and the dull rumblings of thunder.

In this space, built from nostalgia, I am free to concern myself with the idea of hope. The abstracted concept sits rather bulky and out of focus in the middle of the room, like an Escher square with obstructed corners and a tenuous grasp on the three dimensional plane. It bears the marks on my child-like handling; its confused edges mix with the sans serif fonts of phrases like god loves you and Everything changes, but it inevitably stays the same. The former, a set of words that are abstracted beyond my understanding, the latter, an abstracted perspective that waffles just outside my grasp. It is a baffling way to use the English language and my confusion leads me to believe it is ill equipped to handle such concepts; the very formulation into words and letters freezes a dynamic concept into a static generality.

Words as placeholders then, as grand generalities that threaten platitudes or overarching blanket statements with every tentatively formed sentence, paragraph. Hope as a placeholder for what dynamic necessity to the continence of the human collective psyche?

A friend recently drew me a picture of a stick person falling from a cliff of an indeterminate height towards a flat, briskly black line. This stick person was apparently me, and I was asked: What happens next?

I hit the ground, but of course this question is a trap.

No, you die.

Not necessarily.

After much argument, it is agreed that there is a 99% chance that I would die. But my answer concerns itself with the 1% chance of not dying with much more weight than it empirically bears.

And how much of my life do I do this with?

Let me tell you, I eat vegetables and brush my teeth and go to work and listen to music and work on self improvement and am nice to my friends and respect strangers because of some concept called hope. God knows if I’ll ever string together the right words and letters to net the phoenix, but it seems like a moot point regardless.

An abstraction that underwrites my daily experience, yet is impossible for me formulate beyond a vague pen and ink of an illusion.

Why is this so unsettling?

Did you know that the thunderstorm outside is a figment of my imagination and that when I step outside in the humid, sweltering stillness, the heat releasing from the granite walls will warm the side of my face and the yellow-orange lights reflecting from the bottoms of clouds will seem like an altogether alien world. I will be a stranger in a strange land, and the products on the aisles will show their faceless void and I will stare long into the abyss, that it stares back into me.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Starve the Ego, Feed the Soul

Trying to fit my words into the spaces between the sound of beating wings. The deafening wail of constant noise laying down over me and seeping into every pore of my body, slowing and suffocating me. A sedation of venom or morphine holding my arms and legs, turning the intention into molasses, sticky warm opium. Overrun by sap and pressed into a corpse of amber. Pressed under layers of sentiment until the outline is fossilized, until a new age has come to pass and my centipede lobes are stroked by children’s fingers on a museum field trip.

Somewhere then, respite. Look to the sky.

Up in the silent emptiness, the crackle of silence would sound like dry, brittle boughs splintering underfoot on a cold winter morning; lay on your back and stare down, out into the void with open solar plexus, daring to lay prostrate to the great expanse. It is there, just there, through the stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, reflecting back so you can just make out your outline in the morphing rainbows on the bubble’s surface, hovering in the still air above your nose. It is there, the silent stillness of infinity hovers just out of reach, rumbling with singularity in the everyday backnoise of whirling axles and gears.

Human, then, explain thyself.

What is it your years of introspection and watchfulness have brought you? Ego, tell me more about the world through your eyes, your infallible all-knowing opinion on the nature of all you rule; I’m being sarcastic you son of a bitch. Your childlike fancy dressed up in heels too big and daddy’s power tie like you know the responsibility of social contracts and the demands of your soul. Grab your empty briefcase and put in all you can imagine you’ll need: yes that calculator must be necessary, and perhaps a pen and that pad of paper. And what of your toys? The piles of pink and purple plastic in the cracks between the baskets on your crayon-resistant shelf: none of these things are like the other. This must be the full extent of adult life. Put them away, put them away, back to the shiny world of fancy and lavish attention with your doe eyes and big curls.

What then, what would you like me to say? How do I explain my motivations and movements, intentions and inflections without rooting myself into childish fantasy of beanstalks and golden eggs? Get to know me by encouraging my braggart ways? My ability to impress upon you my own sense of self-importance? Do you want to fall in love with my self-assured swagger that I wear on Saturday nights with well-practiced heels, the one that covers apathetic digust and dusty fatigue that creeps into my bones with the winter chill? I weary of the child. Jaded cynicism that fills a room with silent, stilling tension and slows the beating heart and thrashings of my sense of justice and the cold rain slips down the concrete and my breath curls in the air and I can laugh with slitted eyes. I can laugh at myself and the horrific charade of it all, ashes to ashes, mirth to dust, shameless chance to the choice that underwrites all choices. Finally, let go. Laughter because it is no other way than it is.

Statement of purpose. Letter of intent. Direct questions of abstraction. Explain thyself. March your feats of introspection to the tune of of subject-verb-object triads; set your favorite motivational quote from stun to kill and pander to those illusions of grandeur to change the world. Full song and dance please. Audition for the leading role of this performance and be sure to name-drop at all the right parties with all the right people.

Are you not entertained? Have I managed to impress some kind of response, some stirring of emotion to objectify myself in your eyes? Have I instilled a sense of trust and mutual understanding with my two hundred word sweeping summaries and application of the agreed upon tenants of good living, of virtue, or worthiness in quantifiable ways with reference letters? We are the same, you and I. But I cannot impress this upon you in any of the ways that you ask me to do so.

In short, I really don’t know what to write for my statement of purpose for grad school.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Howling in the Trees

I have an entire bookshelf looking over my right shoulder, and I don’t think any of them approve.

No matter, they don’t have to watch TV.

I have a friend that reminds me that I’m just a monkey. She doesn’t introduce it inorganically into a conversation, like saying, “Hey, you’re just a monkey” but she’ll sneak it sideways, with just the right amount of irony and subtly, like an inside joke.

We’re all just monkeys, and it dissipates all my anxiety and frustration at the world around me when I remember to remember. Monkeys with overdeveloped frontal lobes, with overdeveloped senses of self-consciousness and awareness. With this thought, everything makes sense again and I don’t feel a murderous rage toward Fox News and that drunk girl over there, I just feel a vague belly laugh mixed with a bemused bafflement. Sometimes though, all I can feel is disgust.

Change the world? Address overpopulation and the steady destruction of our environment? Solve epidemics and poverty and immigration? Why? Everything is constantly changing, yet everything stays the same. History repeats itself. People never change.

The rolling stone gathers no moss.

Look at that protester over there. Doesn’t he look happy? Doesn’t he look like he’s working to better the world for himself and his fellow human beings? No? You’re right. He’s spitting at the camera like a snake and shaking his sign covered in hate-filled references and imperative statements. I can’t look at those people. It’s probably the most disgusting and ugly sight I’ve ever seen.

What then. How does one live with the constant grating nature of one’s fellow monkeys? We’re smart. Look at where our goddamn frontal lobes have gotten us. There must be some redeeming quality we can rely on, when the fight is on over bamboo or healthcare or transfat or toxic mud flooding the ocean and killing every living thing that crosses its path.

I tell you, in these times, in all this chaos and disaster whirling, you must find the pillars, the people who are sane, who still remember how to feel and walk with their eyes open. People who, as the world is falling down around us, can smile and talk as if nothing is going on, who can shrink or expand the world as necessary to banish the chaos for those brief periods, to restore order, to connect. To ground and re-establish some sort of meaning, direction, order. The ones that remind you that you are just a monkey, that we are all just monkeys.

‘You and I, we are here, and I don’t know what the hell is going on over there, but let’s just sit here and talk awhile. Or just sit and be silent. Two under the sky. Six under the sky. We find each other and there is a great settling, a vast peace in one tiny part of this universe unto itself inside my head.’

And then it’s time for work or dinner or I’m bored or you’re tired and drunk and we break rank to join our disparate orbits, to dive deep into the cold dark sea. Our paths will cross again and it will be like coming up for air.

I have a recurring dream since childhood, the same scenario repeated a hundred different ways. I’m in a swimming pool, just below the surface, looking up into the refracting light and I realize I need to breathe. I start swimming to the surface, push off the concrete bottom with water rushing in my ears but I can’t reach the surface. It hovers a static distance above me. I begin to panic, my lungs ache and scream and the water around me turns dark and at some point I say, this is it. I make the decision to breathe in the water. There is no time or space for compromise or haggling, I know my lungs will simply breathe in for me and I might as well be on board.
I breathe and my lungs fill with water and a warmth like my mother's womb fills my chest: I can breathe water.
I can breathe water.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I'd like to take this moment to blame...

I am feeling notoriously unable to complete any sort of project.

In the past ten minutes, I have attempted:
1. to study for the GRE
2. to flip through the GRE book and find a good way to plan to study for the GRE.
3. register for the GRE extra materials online using the easy-to-follow instructions in the front of the book
4. to work on my statement of purpose for grad school
5. to work on any piece of unfinished writing saved on my laptop
6. to edit any piece of writing I have previously been working on

Enormously successful.
Using simple math, this means I have dedicated at least one minute and no more than 1.5 minutes to any of the above tasks.
I am really going places.

Instead, I am sitting on a porch being eaten my mosquitoes, drinking a tequila drink that is too strong for my taste and pretending to achieve something, which really just includes updating my blog and writing back to emails too soon. Green bananas, all of this.

It would be convenient to put all my goals on hold and age myself in an oak barrel. I would like to avoid these feelings of failure. This is why I don't try to quit smoking. It only leads to feelings of failure and another pack of cigarettes. I don't do guilt well.

Ironically, I have not smoked in a few days. One could even say I was quitting, if I allowed that kind of talk in this house. So far so good, except the fact that I have had an ongoing tendency toward violence today, specifically punching something that might yelp and yield. I would not mind blaming the lack of nicotine mixed with the most frustrating World Cup final game I have ever seen.

In the meantime, I get to struggle with this writer's block. I can't tell you the feelings I have when I open Microsoft Word and stare at that blank page. Intimidating as fucking hell. I'd rather stain this deck I'm sitting on than face that blank page, but no one asked me to, and I spent the day lounging and watching 'Deadwood'. And now I have to face that page.

Don't get me wrong; there is no shortage of ideas. I had a fantastic idea including 'The Darjeeling Limited' and the nature of the spiritual experience, forced and unplanned, in our society. Something I would passionately write about. The minute I stare at that screen though, all my sentences dissipate like smoke and I might as well pound the keyboard with fists rather than try.

Oh, there's that need to punch something again.

I do what I do because it's what I do.

I can literally feel myself getting stupider from being around television and the interwebs.
And by stupid I mean fragmented, ADD (yes, used here as a verb), and generally glazed over.

This is what it must be like to learn how to live with a crack addiction.

So, I've been couch surfing for more than three months now. Some would say that is a long time. It's been long enough that I can say I'm comfortable living out of a carry-on sized suitcase, my trunk and on my friends' generosity. I would like to claim I'm comfortable with instability, but I have to admit I actually waxed sentimental when I washed glasses by hand today. It may have been the wine, but the feeling of soap and warm water against glass- that squeaky sound it makes- gave me a sense of satisfaction I haven't felt in a while. That's probably the most intimate detail I'm willing to share in this post.

For a while, the finer things in life were the little luxuries I didn't travel with: nail clippers, lotion, miscellaneous body care products. And although there is still nothing like having freshly cut nails after enduring for days, waiting to run across a pair, I am desirous of more.

It is still enjoyable to watch the things I need just appear. Open a cabinet and I may satisfy an itch I have needed to scratch for days: q-tips, facial toner, contact solution, or, in the kitchen, freshly baked brownies, fresh fruits and veggies, soy milk, organic yogurt.

Let me tell you, I get the most entertainment from guys' houses. Open the pantry and find three year old cans of beans, two cans of tuna and some moldy bread. A fridge full of condiments. In the bathroom, I feel I am earning my keep by putting the toilet paper on the roll and washing my toothpaste down the sink. I get a kick out of using body-wash/shampoo/conditioner/aftershave-in-one, though it makes later body care product finds even more special. I ate a six month old bagel last week, merely because I couldn't read the expiry date. Laughter, always laughter.

This week its sunburns, sixteen pound watermelons and steaks. Sore legs and six hour drives. And of course, the World Cup.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Excerpts from Point Counter Point.

“[Revolutions] will happen,” said Rampion, “whether you count on them or not. Industrial progress means over-production, means the need for getting new markets, means international rivalry, means war. And mechanical progress means more specialization and standardization of work, means more ready-made and unindividual amusements, means diminution of initiative and creativeness, of all the vital and fundamental things in human nature means increased boredom and restlessness, means finally a kind of individual madness that can only result in social revolution. Count on them or not, wars and revolutions are inevitable, if things are allowed to go on as they are at present.”
“So the problem will solve itself,” said Phillip.
“Only by destroying itself. When humanity’s destroyed, obviously there’ll be no more problem. But it seems a poor sort of solution. I believe there may be another, even within the framework of the present system. A temporary one while the system’s being modified in the direction of a permanent solution. The root of the evil’s in the individual psychology; so it’s there, in the individual psychology, that you’d have to begin. The first step would be to make people life dualistically, in two compartments. In one compartment as industrialized workers, in the other as human beings. As idiots and machines for eight hours out of every twenty-four and real human beings for the rest.”
“Don’t they do that already?”
“Of course they don’t. They live as idiots and machines all the time, at work and in their leisure. Like idiots and machines, but imagining they’re living like civilized humans, even like gods. The first thing to do is to make them admit that they are idiots and machines during working hours. ‘Our civilization being what it is’ –this is what you’ll have to say to them- ‘you’ve got to spend eight hours out of every twenty-four as a mixture between an imbecile and a sewing machine. It’s very disagreeable, I know. It’s humiliating and disgusting. But there you are. You’ve got to do it; otherwise the whole fabric of our world will fall to bits and we’ll all starve. Do the job, then, idiotically and mechanically, and spend your leisure hours in being a real complete man or woman, as the case may be. Don’t mix the two lives together; keep the bulkheads watertight between them. The genuine human life in your leisure hours is the real thing. The other’s just a dirty job that’s got to be done. And never forget that it is dirty and, except in so far as it keeps you fed and society intact, utterly unimportant, utterly irrevelant to the real human life. Don’t be deceived by the canting rogues who talk of the sanctity of labour and the Christian service that business men do their fellows. It’s all lies. Your work’s just a nasty, dirty job, made unfortunately necessary by the folly of your ancestors. They piled up a mountain of garbage and you’ve got to go on digit it away, for fear it might stink you to death, dig for dear life, while cursing the memory of the maniacs who made all the dirty work for you to do. But don’t try to cheer yourself up by pretending the nasty mechanical job is a noble one. It isn’t; and the only result of saying and believing that it is will be to lower your humanity to the level of the dirty work. If you believe in business as service and the sanctity of labor, you’ll merely turn yourself into a mechanical idiot for twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four. Admit it’s dirty, hold your nose, and do it for eight hours, and then concentrate on benig a real human being in your leisure. A real complete human being. Not a newspaper reader, not a jazzer, not a radio fan. The industrialists who purvey standardized ready-made amusements to the masses are doing their best to make you as much of a mechanical imbecile in your leisure as in your hours of work. But don’t let them. Make the effort of being human.’ That’s what you’ve got to say to people; that’s the lesson you’ve got to teach the young. You’ve got the persuade everybody that all this grand industrial civilization is just a bad smell and that the real, significant life can only be lived apart from it. It’ll be a very long time before decent living and industrial smell can be reconciled. Perhaps, indeed, they’re irreconcilable. It remains to be seen. In the meantime, at any rate, we must shovel the garbage and bear the smell stoically, and in the intervals try to lead the real human life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Life Advice from Sociopaths

It has come to my attention that there is an endless amount of advice available at any given moment and even when unwelcome, it runs heedless like a river. To continue the metaphor, one can find the perspectives very wearing and, if one wishes, can drown out any inner voices by the rippling of many. Once more, with enough exposure, that inner voice can sit silent and dumb, staring back with a glazed expression upon the belated request for input. One conjures the image of the zombie mask worn by children who spend too much time in front of the television, or the wearied, dead look of those who have spent too much time in a cubicle.

“You used to have this spark. Where did it go?”

I feel as if I can’t go five minutes through my day without being accosted by some new, helpful tidbit of advice devised to remind me to get the most out of life.

The bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “Live, Laugh, Love.”
Magnet on the fridge at work: “Don’t frown because you never know who’s falling in love with your smile.”
Printed on the foil of my chocolate: “In your winter, find your invincible summer.”

Enough already. The platitudes pile up like trash, inexplicably and exponentially multiplying. I find the female demographic is specifically targeted with feel good tips and uplifting reminders and I am ambushed at every turn: the lid on my yogurt, commercials during a movie I enjoy, even my vitamins remind me how special I am, specifically my bones, as is their prerogative. And every single time I read one, I am reminded of all the little ways I am constantly failing, constantly forgetting how wonderful life is.

In my humble opinion, I think life is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Of course, it’s easy to point to all the problems with the way we live life now. Rampant materialism, corrupt and tottering bureaucratic systems, suffocating working conditions, rising health problems and death due to indulgence makes the cynic’s job something a recent college graduate could manage. But the unflagging optimism that radiates around and above these conditions requires another type of energy that is not known to me. For that I can thank the sociopaths.

I believe the sheer width and breadth of the optimism industry speaks to the pervasiveness of the sociopathic mindset in the day to day. The bite-sized, easily digestible commandments for happiness are on the mouths of prophets and repeated like a liturgy by the flagging, beaten down shadows that stalk to and fro. The buzz creates a din where contemplative thought has no place and one can go days, weeks, months without hearing a sincere, weighted word for all the hollowness. Like the empty calories and plastic food sold in bulk, emotional sustenance too is pared down to its most marketable form and sold in big box stores to the hungry.

The final creed, the culmination of these pieces is to live fiercely, passionately, going after goals and desires with unwavering singleness of mind and purpose and accepting no substitutes. Let no one stand in the way of happiness. Persevere against all odds and takes names while doing so.
It is an extremely attractive creed, one must admit. It addresses the rampant insecurities necessitated by the endless demands from our culture and justifies compulsive selfishness all in one fail swoop. Although I do recognize the importance of identifying individual goals and having the courage to achieve them, this creed takes it those few, small steps beyond that into a realm of surrealism. The traits necessary to live this creed are those found in sociopaths, whereas those who aim and miss this life-goal tend towards self-destruction in the attempt to twist themselves into this mold of unyielding expectations.

To break this idea down:

The creed, when executed by a sociopath, works with a beauty and simplicity normally reserved for razor edges and slaughterhouses. It is truly a sight to behold: the weighing and measuring and subsequent judgment and adjustment- it is a steely and cold as a decree from a surgeon with his scalpel. If something presents as an obstacle, it is cut out without further examination and regardless of any good qualities it carries. Any situation or person that carries an element of chaos or loss of control is cut out quickly and thoroughly. The end result is something akin to a bulldozer; the intensity and drive held by this person is a powerhouse worth marveling at, holding its ground with the unquestionable and immutable persistence of a brick wall.

However, when this creed is carried by those whose mental make-up does not include a fair amount of sociopathic tendencies, the result is, at times, pathetic, and at best, hollow and forced. These efforts are also accompanied by the constant feeling of failure, as the efforts do not mimic the grandeur of slaughterhouses and death camps, but like young children with knives, throwing tantrums and stabbing at their dolls in anguish and frustration.

For an outsider, the easy answer for the poor soul with fewer sociopathic tendencies floundering with the weights and measures of the creed is to merely stop heeding said creed and find one more fitting for their personality, and one may argue, specific mental illness traits and tendencies. This brings us back to the ubiquitous nature of the sociopathic creed in our culture and the phenomenon that keeps it thoroughly lodged despite the flagging masses.

It is no secret or great feat of insight to say that our culture is built on the ideal of the individual. It is, however, a great misconception to stop there. Rising up like totems for the worship and guidance of the lost are great personalities, larger than life, unstoppable forces, issuing forth decrees on personal happiness and leading by example. When one meets on of these personalities, it is not easily forgotten, and woe to the opposite sex who mistake it for something it is not. They are completely and utterly entertaining, their audiences swept along with tales and stories that make the teller’s life seem glittering with comedic farce, irony and misconception. Friends and acquaintances crawl over one another to bask like iguanas in the energy and light radiating from these individuals.

It would be an insult to the powerhouses of our culture, the media in its vast iterations, to not fully expect TV, magazines, motivational speakers and self-help books to pick up on this marketable trait and infuse their output with it. Here are the advice givers of our culture. In the age of disconnection, where everything happens behind closed doors, where the nuclear family has split into its individual atoms via atom-smashers, where internet forums offer more connections and ties than face-to-face interactions do, where cubicle walls separate us and computer screens entrance us, each in their own quiet fury seeks out the only sages left to us. Unfortunately, the realm of wisdom, experience and perspective has been commandeered and ironed out into according to our culture’s needs: quick, easy, and with minimal effort.

I submit for your approval: 5 Easy Steps for a Better You.

So what is missing from the Betty Crocker Recipes for Life Success? As the masses are weighted down with obesity, health problems and chronic illnesses from the empty calories, preservatives and fast food that we eat, so our souls are equally malnutrioned by the endless, empty phrases, tidbits and advice pouring from every open mouth, every TV star, every pundit.

Thanks to market-based economics, we know that companies produce products to fit the needs of the consumers. Considering the sheer volume, pervasiveness and dollar value of these Betty Crocker Recipes for Life Success, one can safely assume that the need for direction and assurance in our society is one akin to a ravenous pack of wolves. Marketing degrees are the home economics degrees of our generation. Self-help books have exploded onto the scene and stand, like bullies nursing an inferiority complex, next to the literary giants, their pint-sized and simple codes of happiness written in large print for the ease and comfort of those who are frightened of what lies between the lines. And yet, the hunger is never sated and one feels a slow hysteria growing in the unconscious of the collective mind, expressing itself in porn addiction, organized religion, school shootings, infotainment, reality television, consumerism; some of the hallmarks of American culture.

Another interesting coping mechanism for this growing hysteria is social welfare projects, with the prize bragging rights for those who can afford to undertake them in foreign countries. Although I feel that acts of selflessness are one of the main redeeming factors of the human race, many of these projects manage to parade self righteousness and congratulation under this banner. It would, again, not be a feat of sleuthing to find multitudes of documented cases in which the humanitarian efforts have left its beneficiaries in a worse state than they were found in, not to mention the undocumented or forgotten incidents. Even if the perversion of selflessness (indeed, selfishness) only caused in part these regrettable influences, the volume still demands attention and analysis. Indeed, when viewed through the lens of an emotionally malnutrioned society, these acts can often take on a sad desperation, grasping at real human suffering as a way to still the gnawing emptiness created by the intake of the empty calories of the culture. As these humanitarians are ridding the African populations of parasites, they are feeding their own. Ironically, those children with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes enjoy a more spiritually fulfilling existence, forging the human connections and integration to nature that our luxuries will not allow us to experience. In the culture of luxury, the sufferings and trials are turned inward and manifest in an argueably more debilitating way that poverty; luxury stunts the soul, the human spirit. Western culture has spent so much time worshipping the body that it has completely forgotten the soul. Even more devastating to our growth as a culture and species, the hunger wails of the soul are dismissed as petty and weak. Treatment for the soul’s cries include the 5 Steps to a Better You and a healthy dose of guilt and self-loathing, as prescribed.

As Karl Stern put it, “This is the world of slow and noiseless violence in which we live.”

To fulfill the mandates of the sages, the media machine, the expectations of our peers, a personality split is necessary; life is lived in two ways: the public and the private. In the public realm, the expectation is to exude the necessary self confidence and singleness of purpose deemed appropriate by the rippling of voices, by the stipulations of the career and the duties to one’s partner or family. The past creed of ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstraps’ has mutated with the evolving cultural environment and mated with the proverb ‘you are what you do’ to create a monstrosity of demands to each human soul: there is one definition of success, and it is worn on the outside for criticism and judgement. The private life, where personal growth and satisfaction would be delegated, is consumed by coping with failure in the public sphere.

“We work fifty-hour work weeks because we need to look responsible and motivated and have credit-card sized cell phones that carry four days of music, videos, and television so that we never have to hear the silence and the sound of fear. We complain about the shortcomings of our colleagues to deflect from our own; we whip and beat our bodies and self-images to look as if we care about ourselves. We have nervous breakdowns in the evenings and apologize to our superiors in the morning for giving less than 100%. We beat our husbands, wives, and children; we turn dogs into children and children into miniature adults. And over, during and behind all of this, we consume.”

In every bad relationship, the overarching advice given is just to leave. If the aforementioned attributes of our society was assigned to lover, friend, parent, boss, co-worker, the rippling of platitudes, of voices, of sages would agree that it is time to cut this out of negative influence from the fabric of one’s day to day experiences. And although there are certainly some remote places left on this Earth, some cracks of geography or poverty or insanity where the Creed of Self Interest does not reign supreme, even the minority of those who desire to escape the endless rush of advice for the masses will have no lasting respite from the battering emptiness of sociopaths. They will always have to find a way to live within their parameters.

There are many dichotomies one can pinpoint as players in this scene of human existence: public versus private, body versus soul, logical versus emotional, science versus myth, rational versus intuitive. Whichever of these dichotomies more aptly describes the aspect of this culture in question, they all have one thing in common: a pathological valuing of one and devaluing of another.

As Karl Stern discusses in the opening chapters of his book The Flight from Woman, the eventual devaluation of the aspects of these dichotomies generally assigned as ‘female’: private, soul, emotional, myth, intuitive is the logical and necessary outcome of the modernist thinking begun by Descartes in his Meditations and continued on by many great and respectable minds. A worldview or culture that values the public, body, logical, scientific and rational approach to the world to the exclusion of all other perspectives necessarily results in such power structures and individual struggles as seen today. In a society that values growth and success in the public sphere to the exclusion of the private, a necessary spiritual sickness and death will result. The collective hysteria that underpins the ills of American society will not be fixed by the same approach that has encouraged them, however it is the only approach that is considered, per the axioms of modern thinking: rational to the devaluation of intuitive.

In a society that is suffering from a spiritual sickness, from a childlike retardation, creating an even stronger, unified authority to relieve the individual from personal responsibility and growth will only worsen the problem. Continuing the champion the value of public success and devalue the space and time for private growth will only continue to create public leaders, role models and figureheads who have succeeded in mimicking or embracing the sociopathic Creed of Self Interest and will only further push the masses into a continued, downward spiraling hysteria. If a reevaluation and rearrangement of priorities regarding human growth is not an option, I would advocate a society akin to that found in Huxley’s Brave New World, as it would at least be kinder and more genuine in its aims for its citizens.