I am a special snowflake

The other day as I was getting ready for work for what felt like the ten-thousandth time, I sighed and remarked, “The bloom has come off the rose.” My wife asked, “What, from [your fairly new job]?” “No,” I replied, “from my whole life.”

My shrink says I’m depressed and wants to give me drugs. I laughed and told him it’s not going to happen. He said I have two options: I can choose to feel better or not.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think I’m starting to agree with him. Yes, I can choose to feel better or I can choose to continue feeling like shit. But a pill just isn’t the answer, at least not for me. You see, if you’ve read any of my latest posts, you’d have noticed that I have been obsessing over magic lately. Or, more precisely, the loss of magic.

You’d think that for a [__] year old man, that I would have grown out of it by now. The illusion, however, that I was a special snowflake persisted. I don’t think it’s all that uncommon either. But that morning when I remarked that the bloom had come off the rose was perhaps the first time that I accepted the brutal reality that my magic is dead. Maybe I am a special snowflake; maybe I am exquisite; but I only look special to the other special snowflakes in my immediate vicinity, and even then only to a select few of them. To most of them and to anyone more than a meter away, I look like all the other snowflakes. There’s nothing exquisite or special about me.

The thought left me depressed for a day or so. As I mentioned before, it is a terrible thing to be stripped of magic.

On the other hand, maybe the terrible thing occurred much earlier, in the act of thinking there was magic in the first place. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. And the trouble with thinking is that sometimes your thoughts don’t match up well against reality, and it is in reality that we all eventually find ourselves.

Correcting my vision, despairing not that my reality did not match my illusion, but rather that my illusion did not match my reality, is oddly freeing. Yes, there is no magic, but perhaps magic wasn’t my floor. Perhaps it was my ceiling.

Death

The world is not simply a thing experienced
by a thing experiencing the world.
The world does not stop
When ours does.
Fade to black
As comfortable as sleep,
(At least the thing itself,
But not, perhaps, its prelude.)

The event-horizon of experience,
From which no thought escapes
Prevents death from ever being directly experienced –
No one dies.
There is only experiencing,
And then there is not.
Those few precious moments before experiencing stops
Are
Not
Few.

Toiling ‘til the end
Not a thought to spare
To plan for a death
That complements the book-end
Of our birth.
Like ants
We scurry to and fro
Absorbed in work
Ascribing significance greater than deserved
Desperate to give life meaning,
Desperate to muffle
What, we do not know.

It’s not as if we do not have enough time.
Drowning in the plethora of our ray of life,
We have time enough
For boredom.
We spend our lives killing time
Coughing and sputtering as the fountain of life
Proves too generous.

Boredom.
Yes.
Boredom.
Is anything so ever-present,
Yet so ignored?
Like a prophet
Never accepted in his own country.

Until “it” happens.
When our ray of life is shown
To be but a segment.
When the arrow of time is shown
To have arced towards our hearts from the moment of our birth.
Quick now!
Live!

Our rage, now quieted,
Humbled by death’s indifferent march,
Cannot see
With irony
Men, scurrying,
Like ants
carrying our corpse back to the hill
To be stripped bare –
Some to the queen
Some to the workers.
Fighting, even, over the scraps,
Blissfully ignorant of their participation
In the desecration of their own grave
And the spoliation of their own souls.

Romance, Love and Intimacy

I wonder…if you took a survey of love poems, how would the demographics of the authors shake out? I’m going to guess young males. Consumers of love poems? I’m going to guess young men and women. Consumers of fairy tales? Probably mostly young ladies. Consumers of porn? Definitely young gentlemen. What do love poetry, fairy tales and pornography all have in common? They are all fantasies and they all require a suspension of reality to not laugh at their ridiculousness, yet they all inform our vision of what “romance” is.

Generalizing terribly, it seems to me that women who think of romance probably want their “prince charming” to ride into their lives on his horse and “sweep them off their feet” (maybe I shouldn’t use Pretty Woman as my source for what women want?). For men, it’s probably easier to generalize – they want to be sexually desired. When a new romance starts, rose-colored glasses come on and we see what we want to see and ignore what we don’t want to see. Our new romantic interest is “perfect.” Of course, this only lasts so long before the bridge supports crack and reality comes crashing back. Frogs do not become princes; it usually works the other way around.

In this way, romance is superficial. Hollywood spoon-feeds us this view of romantic relationships because that’s what we demand, and that’s actually the point of entertainment – to temporarily distract us from real life and to sweep us away into a fantasy. But entertainment is not art, and while true art (including movies) can also be used to show us beauty, to teach and inform our values, entertainment is wholly another thing. Unfortunately, many people are starved for true art and beauty and instead embrace the poor simulacrum churned out by Hollywood, with the result being that people begin to feel “that they are shallower than they need to be.” David Brooks, Social Animal, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011.

Real life has more to do with love and intimacy than romance. Think “Family Man” rather than “Sleepless in Seattle”. Movies and romance are both brief spells and we must always leave them to return to real life. Real life is not entertaining, so it is not the subject of media entertainment.

Real life requires boring work to earn money to buy necessities to ensure our daily survival. Daily survival is great, but it is not romantic. And thus it ever was, is and ever will be with relationships also.

While we may all think that we want the superficial excitement that romance brings with it 100% of the time, it’s just not realistic, and I don’t think we actually want never-ending superficial romance. I think what we want for the long term is deeper than that, but we won’t find it until we start looking for it.

Love and intimacy require time…lots of time…and pain…lots of pain. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote the following over twenty years after her child was abducted, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” Gift of the Sea.

Part of the excitement that romance brings is the unknown, but that excitement must inevitably wane as the unknown becomes known. Excitement in the face of the unknown can be replaced by “understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable” in the face of being known. Knowing someone includes knowing the good and the bad. It may sometimes feel like the comforting puffery of rose-colored glasses is replaced by the brutal examination of the magnifying glass. Flaws and weaknesses are exposed, but it is only in such exposure that love and intimacy can sprout.

Illusions

Magic and illusions. Illusions and magic. It all falls into place now.

When we are young, we believe that our parents, or even all adults, have all the answers. Hell, we even believe there are “right” answers – to every question. How do they know everything? Why, to our little minds, it’s like magic. When this illusion fails, it may sometimes be traumatic, but it is also freeing, because it gives you a voice in the cacophony of voices that previously disregarded yours.

When we grow a little older, our illusions change and mostly appear to focus on that old siren – young love. There really is something magical about this illusion. You’re too young to know anything, so the idea that you could know anything about yourself, let alone another person, is ridiculous. But that’s what makes young love so magical – It. Is. Whatever. You. Imagine. It. To. Be. You don’t love that person. You love whatever perfect illusion you’ve created and stapled to a real person’s face. Ultimately, when the illusion shatters, either by their rejection of your stapling or by your finally seeing the dissonance between the image and the reality, the breaking of the spell is typically a harsh lesson. (As an aside, some people never seem to get the memo.)

As you get even older, you think you’re getting wiser. Parents and lovers take more realistic places in your life. You become more balanced, with the perspective that comes with experience able to mellow out the drama from your youth. Yet, illusions continue. Friends, acquaintances, bosses, colleagues, kids, even culture* continue to foist their preferred images of us onto us. And, in return, we project our desired illusions onto them. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are not merely players, they are also directors, producers, cinematographers and, most importantly, special effects artists. You and your circle, walking hand in hand to whatever mirage has been jointly, subconsciously agreed to.

Did you ever stop to think how fucked up that is? The height of evolution (or God’s creation, whatever your priors) is self-awareness, and the immediate reaction of the self-aware? COVER THAT SHIT UP!! All the sturm-und-drang to get here, and we can’t get away from it fast enough. Instead of taking in the world as it is, the self-aware largely change the world to be what they want it to be by simply perceiving it the way they want it to be. It’s magic.

But you know what? There is no magic. That has been the most soul-wrenching lesson of my life. Imagine having something magical ripped from you and held in front of you, stripped of all properties that made it extraordinary – your parents, suddenly just ordinary people doing their best to keep it together amidst the stress of their own lives, completely unable to understand how their weaknesses will transmit to their children; your perfect lover, suddenly just an ordinary person that can’t hold a candle to the picture of romance or coolness or whatever-ness that you had stapled to her face; your career, suddenly full of ordinary tasks coordinated with ordinary colleagues; your friends, suddenly living an ordinary life not unlike your own notwithstanding starting something they are passionate about in an exotic location; your kids, suddenly just ordinary people, devoid of any of the cuteness of their early years that bonded you to them as if they were the most important, most interesting people in the world. A world suddenly without magic is a terrifying place.

Stripped bare, magic is just an illusion, a self-imposed mis-direction of your self-awareness. But I think I’m ready to forego the illusions.

*At a cultural scale, it’s a wonderful magic trick – controlling millions of people with nothing but an illusion. Depending on your alignment, this realization can be comforting or nauseating.

Smell the Roses

Today I was playing with the kids in the snow in the backyard. We were building up a pile of snow in which to dig tunnels and from which to make a snow fort. It was cold today. And windy. But very sunny, without a cloud in the sky.

I built up a tall section to block the wind while the kids were digging in another part. When I was finished, I lay in the snow on my back on the leeward side of the pile, propped up on my elbows, hunkering from the wind. I turned my face towards the sun.

The effect was magical. The bare thin tree limbs danced and dove in the wind, backlit by the darkest and purest shade of blue I have seen in a long time. Ice crystals shimmered in the air as they were whipped up from our pile of snow. The snow muffled the sounds of the kids and the wind. The sun warmed my face while my body was cool, pressed against the snow.

My body and mind, stilled, focused on nothing other than sensing the immediate surroundings, alive.

Bubbles of Consciousness Percolating in the Broth of the Universe

I’ve been working on this post for some time (at least in my mind), and today I read this post on waitbutwhy (great site btw) that reminded me of some thoughts. It also brought a few disparate thoughts together, from my summer injury, from recent reading, and even from some distant memories.

When I was in college, there was this girl that had a thing for me. Her name was Joy. Joy seemed nice enough, but I wasn’t physically attracted to her. Oh, and also I thought she was a wacko-bird. A sampling: “Do you ever just look at trees clinging to a cliff face and just think how hard that tree must struggle to survive? How it must find water and nutrients and cling to that cliff face every day?”

Well, today, Joy, I apologize. Several times since the summer when I’ve been able to go for a walk outside, I’ve been fascinated, truly fascinated by looking at trees.

The first time this happened, I saw not just a tree amidst a tangle of other trees, but I saw, and even felt, its trunk and branches and leaves. I noticed how each leaf and branch was an individual that was barely distinguishable from its brothers, cousins and neighbors. But I noticed each tree for itself, not just as a background collage of brown and gray and green.

On another occasion, the sky was particularly blue; the sun was perfectly orange, not just by color, but by the way it warmed my face in the cool autumn air; the dry tall wetland grass was a sea of golden husks that seemed to filter the light to imbue the entire scene with a warmth that perfectly matched the temperature. Even the wind was blowing just enough to provide a cooling breeze and to make distant trees sway just enough to draw one’s attention.

As I marveled at the dark green of the trees contrasted against the deep blue of a cloudless afternoon sky, I felt a strange sense of existence. The tree, the sky, the breeze, the grass and even the sun – in that moment I felt that we were all made of the same stuff. And there we were, all existing, together. I felt, more so than thought of, the miracle that the guts of one dying star had arranged itself in a manner to produce not only that scene, but also the scene’s ability to contemplate itself through me. It reminded me of a quote (Einstein I think) that reads: “There are two ways to live life: one as if nothing is a miracle, and the other as if everything is.”

The mindblowing aspect of the whole scene was not that there “I” was, a unique “me” viewing a scene that was outside of “me”. It was that “I” was the scene and the scene was contemplating itself. At the same time, occurring billions of times across the world (and perhaps trillions of times across the universe), other pieces of the universe were contemplating themselves. It was as if the universe is a giant broth of stuff, just simmering. All across the face of this vast universe, little bubbles of consciousness percolate from the depths of the broth, rise to the surface and pop.

The percolating, the awkward rise as you get banged around, can be disconcerting, but it’s the popping that usually concerns us and constantly weighs on us. But the popping only matters if you think of yourself as the bubble instead of the broth.

There is no spoon.

PS To the extent the purpose of life is to replicate itself (hat tip to waitbutwhy for the pointer), wouldn’t it be the biggest fucking trip if the universe were like that too – it is a thing, with trillions of tiny things inside of it that eventually learn how to reproduce the bigger thing. Heat death of the universe? Fuck that, we (or someone in another galaxy) will eventually figure out how to trigger the next big bang. Otherwise, our universe — we — will not evolve and will become extinct.

The universe – the grandest life form, about which we know nothing.

the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful

the Universe, she’s dancing now
they got her lit up, lit up on the moon
they got stars doing cartwheels, all the nebulas on the tune
and the Universe, she’s whispering so softly I can hear all
the croaking insects, all the taxicabs, all the bum’s spent change
all the boys playing ball in the alleyways
they’re just folds in her dress

the Universe, she’s wounded
but she’s still got infinity ahead of her
she’s still got you and me
and everybody says that she’s beautiful

Gregory Alan Isakov, The Universe

I Have Achieved Greatness, or the Importance of Doing Nothing

Don’t laugh, but I recently had a near-death experience. No, I’m serious. I woke up or shall I say that I regained consciousness from a place I had never been before.  It was like waking from sleep except that it felt like starting completely over.  Consciousness, I mean. The consciousness that awoke was not a consciousness that picked up linearly from where the prior consciousness had left off like when you awake from a night’s sleep. No, this was awakening from complete darkness, non-existence. Sure, I had my memories from a few days before, so this wasn’t amnesia, but it was more like the man in the machine left his shift and a new controller had taken over when production had resumed. This new operator had access to all of the machine’s memories and other faculties, but not to the meta-faculties of the prior operator.

The whole experience left me thinking of our place in the universe. How fragile not only we are, but even how fragile “we” are. All it takes is a little bump on the noggin and it is entirely possible that “we” can no longer be “us”.  How is that possible?

I grew up believing somewhere in my heart of hearts that I was or would be special.  That one day the world would see this incredible being or that I would accomplish something truly magical.  In other words, that I would become a statistical anomaly, which is a defining characteristic of those that become “great”. This belief was only reinforced when I became religious.  If you don’t look too closely, you might even be forgiven for believing that God created EVERYTHING for you. Like, you are the very center of creation.  Of course, not you, specifically, that would be incredibly arrogant of you to think that, but that honor is maybe reserved for a former or current leader of your particular brand of religion. Nonetheless, it is one or more humans who are the very culmination of the existence of everything else.  This notwithstanding the fact that the human race makes up a very small percentage of the biomass on earth, let alone its percentage measured against the mass of the earth, the solar system, galaxy, cluster or universe. Don’t worry, the magical thinking goes, it’s all about you.

But the biggest fucking trip of the whole thing is that we can’t even be bothered with the here and now of this fantastical universe-centered existence. We’re off preparing or becoming. For another day. It’s always for some other time. Religiously speaking, this life isn’t even special – the special part comes next, after. This life isn’t even about this life, it’s a time to prepare for the next life, whether with a god or just the next step in a cycle. Well guess what? Tomorrow never comes. From a career perspective, spend all your time studying to become a great Person-Who-Does-X-For-A-Job and what’s left at the end? It’s just a guy who does X. Why all the sturm und drang over the label, over the destination? It’s not fucking about the end, and it never was and never will be. It’s not about the prize at the end. It’s not about eternity. Eternity never comes. It’s about being, not becoming, dummy.

And here is how I know: recently, I became what I always knew I’d become: “great”, a statistical anomaly. I experienced and survived an injury that not many people experience, statistically speaking, and from which not many people survive. I AM SPECIAL! I HAVE ARRIVED! But, to where? The fact of my arrival has not changed anything. I am still here, experiencing my plain-vanilla life, as a plain-vanilla guy, no magic powers.

Put aside all the religious and ontological shit. Fact is, “you” however you want to define it, is here and now, reading this garbage. When you’re done with this, you will have time today to do more stuff. Who cares why or how this is so?  The only relevant question, given the fact of this vacuum of possibility, is what are you going to do to fill it? Questions of ultimate meaning, importance, purpose are interesting, but ultimately unanswerable and irrelevant. The fact is, you have awakened to this consciousness, to a game, the rules of which have been written long before your operator came online. You will do something. The only question is what? You can supply the why, and if not, there’s a long line of people willing to provide you a why, likely for a price.

In any event, my convalescing has brought me a great insight into the importance of a particular response to the question of what to do with our time: nothing. Stop planning, preparing – you’re already there; stop being opinionated – nobody gives a shit about your opinions anyway. Stop, look and listen. You are infinitely small – less than a speck of dust on a speck of dust measured against the vastness of visible existence in the universe. Our primeval ancestors had it right – gather with your friends and family and lounge around enjoying their company with nothing to do. Revel in the boredom. This is what we were born to do. This is greatness.