An introvert’s reminder

Arrogance is bad. Arrogance grounded in ignorance is even worse.

Independence may be a defense from the truth, a form of self-righteousness and silent arrogance.

Don’t seal yourself from the world, and claim superiority.

We may be our own worst (or forgiving) judges, yet removed from the tempering wisdom found only in human contact, our judgments lack facts.

A mind turned inward fails to recognize its reflection in the arena of social interaction.

The eye can’t see itself.

No one is an island.

Venting

Don’t hide behind clichés to justify yourself. Don’t blame the craziness of this world for your crazy actions. Take some goddamned responsibility.

Yeah, this life is crazy! Simply acknowledging that does not excuse your craziness, does not give it justification, does not clear the path to forgiveness and understanding.

Let me tell you, you don’t bring order to a chaotic world by increasing the chaos. There is no second law of social thermodynamics, wherein your personal order is attained at the expense of increasing social disorder.

You decrease overall chaos by first dealing with your personal chaos; get your own house in order before throwing yourself into the gears of the universe.

See it for what it is. That is the first step. Selfishness. Insecurity. Anger. Aggression. Weakness. Immorality. Willing blindness. Self-deception. Denial. Deceit. Lying. Obstruction. See it for what it is.

What is your role? Take the lead in judgement upon yourself. Develop some moral fortitude. Admit and attempt to remedy your mistakes. Few of us are so far gone that we can’t be pulled back from the abyss. Give yourself that first helping hand. Surely you must know, if anyone does, your actions are wrong, hurtful, dangerous, destabilizing. You simply have to ask yourself: ‘how would I feel?’

How would I feel?

How would you feel?

Bring some order to this chaotic world, and with humility and honesty, answer that question.

Quote #8 – Thoreau

Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star. – Henry David Thoreau

Catharsis

I’m not reaching out. I’m not playing the victim. I’m not drowning in self-pity (though my knees are definitely wet).

I’m reaching inward. I am fighting. I may be drowning in tears of frustration, sadness, hope, joy. I am suffering, but I am not only suffering. I am healing. Slowly, methodically, not always patiently, always hopefully.

I am reaching deep within. There is a drain that needs unclogging, a blockage that needs removing. It doesn’t flow. It doesn’t flow.

What doesn’t?

It. My breath, my optimism, my confidence, my self-esteem, my thoughts, my life. In short: my essence. It is laboured, shallow, unclear, overgrown.

It doesn’t flow.

I reach inward to purge myself of the undergrowth, the overgrowth, the malignant growth. I pull out all the doubt, the fear, the regret, the neglect, the loathing, the contempt, the anger and hate and jealousy. I excise the insecurity, the arrogance, the apathy, the dregs of my soul.

I pull it all out and assess it honestly; laid out before me, splayed and dissected and arranged in subjective orders only my mind can fully comprehend, I reward myself the final judgment.

GUILTY!

For crimes against my person – death.

Now GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT!

And after the stinking fetid shit – the rotting carcasses of my demons – is carted away,  buried in pages and posts and amateur journals, covered in virtual soils of obscurity and indifference, I can finally breathe. In, out, in, out, free, with ease, the soothing airs of health and optimism.

Conversations with myself – #2

Stop feeding off my pain. I cannot take it any longer. The burden, the weight, is far too great. I am no longer your scapegoat, your bearer of misfortune. My pain cannot heal you. I am not your savior.

Though I love you,

I need my strength for me. For me and for them.

(When my son hurts I care for him. I tend his wound, soothe his ailing body. How is it I know what to do?

What of his inner pain? How do I care for that?

When he cries out in pain, I hold him. When he can’t sleep for fear, I reassure him. When he looks down at his feet, reluctant to face the world, I cup his chin in my hand and lift his face toward mine. When he needs me, I am there for him. But even he…even he must someday care for himself.)

I avoid what should be done.

What must be done? What must be done?

(And by must I mean should, as should demands a moral choice: No other choices have meaning. To live with meaning, then, one must choose what should be chosen).

Care for myself as I would my son.

Not so deep within lives a little boy. And when he is afraid, he screams out so loud. A deafening, piercing wail. Screams to be saved.

Silent now. Do you hear him?

The fear of pain becomes the pain.

Fear of loss, of regret. Fear of mistakes. Fear of making an active, as opposed to a reactive, choice.

Through all this. Thirty-five years six months and four days later. That seems to be what I have learned. It all comes down to this: becoming a mature adult man, father and husband and citizen of this world, requires a choice.

Make a choice! Shoulder responsibility, or, rather, make responsibility my own.

I have avoided choices. Certain painful choices. Particularly risky choices. I fear an uncertain future. I sacrifice my present to the morning, but the morning never comes.

I fear an uncertain future, and the morning never comes.

Day in. Day out. Month after monotonous month.

The autumn breeze blows in winter’s chill. Melting ice reveals nodding snow bells, bowing to summer’s rising sun. Around, and around, and around this globe turns in its celestial ellipse. And I, my childlike existence, twirling and spinning and twisting limbs akimbo, orbiting my hard choices, year after bloody year.

(There are only so many seasons the flowers will bloom before these lights go out, and I feed the roots of next spring’s annuals).

I hover in childlike existence. I wait for someone to make the choice. To take it. To move the waltz along. I am not yet finished the dance, the high school wonder. I haven’t yet the courage to take her hand; or to turn my back. I haven’t the fortitude to say yes, to say no. Or anything much, at all.

Days into months, seasons into years; and there it is, nonchalant, uncaring, oblivious. Passing, turning, passing and turning.

Oh how the days pass me by, and the seasons turn their back on me.

And aging.

Thirty, Thirty-one, Thirty-two, Thirty-three. Now thirty-five. Now thirty-five and six months. Now thirty-five and six months and four days.

And it, nonchalant and uncaring, passing and turning. The seasons of my life, orbiting the hard choices, my choices, waiting for someone to make them.

Waiting for me to take them.

Fallen Poseidon

At the Bahnhof I headed toward my favourite salad bar. Located in a renovated wing of the station, one must first walk through a small corridor and a foyer, and as I did so, the smell struck a blow like an invisible acidic wave assaulting my sinuses: sour piss and stale sweat. A moment later I spotted the homeless man: sitting, back to the outer wall of a janitor’s closet, knees bent toward chest, hands holding a weathered toque, rubbing the forest green fabric between thumb and forefinger, muttering, right eye twitching with an uncontrollable tic, scuffed Crocs sticking out from baggy rags of pants like a clown’s oversized novelty shoes, overcoat askew, greasy thick black and gray hair ringing a bald scalp, draped over shoulders.

A shawl woven of rotten ocean kelp.

An aquatic creature recently thrown from the bowels of the sea; a sad caricature of a fallen Poseidon, trident rusted and broken.

‘Ich hätte gerne ein Chicken Fitness, ohne Tomaten’.

The order takes a minute. So I stare. I can’t help it.
He continues muttering to himself, to his beaten hat, which he grips like a toddler would a comfort blanket. Every so often he takes the hat and presses the mottled fabric to his twitching right eye. Is it weeping from infection or from emotional distress? He catches my stare and I look away, ashamed. I pretend to be reading the menu in the window which separates the two of us, the menu of assorted nutrients and calories paired to assorted prices. And what is in his bags? Will he eat today?
I stare again: empathy (or pity?), and more shame. Empathy at this fallen god, who in another life would stand regally with his trim, elegant stature, jet black hair curled in satin rings upon his shoulders, crown atop a clear head, sane mind. Shame that I stand and he sits; I buy and he begs; I, who look through this window into his world, backdropped by the outer wall of a closet of mop buckets and detergents. And the smell! Shame at the sickness I feel. Utterly sick to my stomach I must cover my face. Shame at the knowledge that all I want to do his help this man, but cannot step through the piss and sweat, cannot overcome my basest instincts of revulsion, cannot step outside myself, prevented by an inner barrier as transparent, yet tangible, as the window separating our two fates.
What a sad juxtaposition, a tragic irony, a cruel cosmic joke: a filthy homeless man seeking refuge at the threshold of a janitor’s closet, adjacent a bistro of fine salads and dressings and bread, a menu of nutrients and accompanying prices; our eyes meet and my world crashes – we are the same, he and I. I know it. And all I want to do in that moment is help him. But the smell…..and my shame…..
The realisation, deeper and more profound, more real, than any cold argument or poetic description found in a book, that there is no meaningful difference between me and him. That my security rests solely on the cards dealt to me by an indifferent cosmic dealer.
And I can only imagine this man’s suffering.
Bag in hand, I walk past. Offering nothing but these secret thoughts. My haughty neglect eventually feeding my self-loathing.
A stronger will would have done something; and yet, right action begins with awareness; perhaps I am not a lost cause.

In moral philosophy there is an argument that those entities worthy of moral consideration are those capable of suffering. It seems to me that we have failed this man, and millions like him. What affected me perhaps most in this experience was a deep understanding that the amount of suffering, the sum total of pain in this world is quite literally grotesque, and we as active accessories to this crime should feel ashamed at our complicity, at walking past with bags of food in hand. Once one realises this, internalises this, there seems no recourse to ignore this; as a moral person, how can I worry about the well-being of my friends and family, of myself, without risking severe hypocrisy and loss of self-respect by not only ignoring the suffering of others, but actively contributing to it.
And I do contribute to the sum total of suffering in this world! And chances are most of us do as well. Out of sight, out of mind, is ethically indefensible. Consider the suffering experienced by sentient animals in the slave-trade called industrial farming, the meat industry, the dairy and poultry enterprises. Can I maintain my ethical integrity by maintaining the intolerable prospect of causing another human harm while simultaneously actively contributing to the incalculable suffering of an incalculable number of sentient creatures?
So what is my responsibility? How can I be responsible? Open questions open to debate, but not open to being ignored. If we spend next to no time considering our ethical place in this universe then we shirk our responsibility. In so doing, we cannot expect at some future point, when we ourselves are in need of ethical consideration, to be taken any more seriously than we have taken our current responsibilities.

Conversations with myself – #1

I can’t force the parts of me to emerge, to come out from hiding.

That is one of the paradoxes here: set the mind to let go of control, make that a goal, and the mind automatically elects an executor, gives it the label ‘I’, and sets to work.

But by that very act, the goal itself becomes unattainable.

Letting go cannot be consciously willed.


There is a thought here about OCD. Something fleeting, out of reach. It has to do with an intuition, and the realization that explaining, arguing, defending the intuition with logic and reason, would in and of itself be all the argument I would need. The very act of arguing is itself the argument.

OCD needs control. Intuitions are suspect.


Consciousness from a distance, perhaps consciousness unclouded or uninfluenced by emotion or expectation or assumption, by narrative – perhaps that is dissociation. Viewing oneself as from the outside, and realizing that ‘oneself’ is not in fact one, is not a unified essence, but rather an association of multiple parts and systems subsumed by consciousness, abstracted under the simplified label ‘I’.

The brain abstracts. This is a fact. Is it any surprise, that once consciousness emerged, the brain abstracted itself? It has awoken to itself and given itself a name.

Just as the abstraction ‘tree’ denotes the concept of a tree, the abstraction ‘I’ denotes something, and not another thing. But what is that something?

Subsumed by the concept ‘tree’ are many types, forms, varieties. There exists a spectrum of entities with ‘treeish’ qualities. But, Plato aside, there is no form of a perfect tree, of which all actual trees are mere approximations.

No. At the extremes of the set of all possible trees will be trees that, for example, could arguably be classified as ‘shrub’. That classification would be a matter of arbitrary boundaries, imposed by humans on an evolved spectrum of entities.

What about the concept ‘I’? I know what I am not. I am neither ‘rock’, nor ‘tree’. But am I a unified entity as I sense myself to be, most of the time? Am I the actual ‘I’ in this sentence? What does that even mean? Does the question make sense?

In my more introspective, more passive moments, when I refuse or am exhausted from interaction with this world, I intuit I am an illusion.

I exist, and can be defined, only as concretely (if that!) as the concept ‘tree’. At the extremes of defining myself, I find a blurring of the me and the not me, and it becomes impossible to identify a clear boundary. It is experiencing this boundary, directly and clearly through introspection, that the illusion of a defined, unified ‘I’ becomes apparent.

This illusion is belied by the intuition of being united and disjoint, sad and happy, clear and muddied, young and old, wise and naive, SIMULTANEOUSLY! These are not sequential observations apprehended by the mind in quick succession; these qualities exist at the same time, in the same person.


Something unified, whole, one, cannot, in the strictest sense, contain contradictory parts. Show me a truly unified country. Show me any organization that doesn’t contain inherent oppositions. In reality, no amalgamation of disparate entities and divergent qualities is whole, is one, in the strictest sense. Harmony is constantly fought for, is hard-won, is at perpetual risk of collapse. Simple abstractions such as ‘I’, ‘Canada’, ‘United Nations’, masks these facts.


We could redefine the commonsense label ‘I’ to include all these disjointed, multiple systems and parts. We could do that at the risk of being misunderstood. Or we could speak with clarity, and say the person is a conglomeration of contradictions and strained relationships, that manage to coexist and, often, cooperate toward some greater end, such as reproduction,  democracy, world peace. Perhaps the simplification, the abstraction, performed by the mind on itself is a useful trick, a rule of thumb, to operate more effectively in a complex world.


Consider again the contradictory qualities apprehended by consciousness. I am inclined to say that these qualities, in fact, constitute consciousness. Consciousness and the ‘objects’ of consciousness are one and the same. Self-awareness then is a special case of consciousness taking itself as the object of consciousness.


‘I’, like ‘tree’, properly understood, must fall on a spectrum, if we insist on keeping the term at all. It is a useful term in fact. It does seem to denote something, that is, as opposed to nothing, or anything.

But the illusory ‘I’, the executor of your ‘free’ will (another illusion), does not exist as you think it does. It is a simplification, a useful abstraction, no doubt, but also potentially dangerous. It demands and often commands too much respect. It often weds the ego, or simply is the ego, and takes a life of its own. The illusory ‘I’, like the body it inhabits, refuses to die (which is perhaps beneficial to the body). But once its usefulness has been exhausted, it still clings to life, clings to the illusion it requires to exist.

To me, my ‘I’ represents the dictator of my life, is addicted to control, needs exactitude and axiomatic precision. Not only does it insist I be a certain way, demanding strict obedience to its dictates, but that reality be a certain way as well. Oh the arrogance! Conformity of reality to my boundaries ensures my deepest fears never become actualized (or, more precisely, I blind myself to their actualization), never bubble to the surface of consciousness, where they would need to be dealt with.


In a world of total control the substance of fear cannot form, cannot organize, cannot act. In a world of total control, fear is banished and forbidden to enter. The illusion of control: that is the reason my ‘I’ is so reluctant to die.

Dissociation

Stop that grasping,

and just let it go.

I don’t exist,

and never have.

This body, this mind,

these cells of bone, muscle, nerves and skin.

I am an illusion,

emerging from a neural network,

unifying through gross abstraction,

these multiple, interacting, embedded parts.

I am and I am not.

I am here, but I am elsewhere.

I feel anger, but simultaneous joy; pessimism and optimism; strength and weakness. I am both heavy and light.

These are no mere metaphors,

turns of phrase,

figures of speech.

In no way am I speaking in analogy; it is not as if I don’t exist; it is not as if I am multiple yet one; it is not as if I speak to myself across infinitesimal chasms in my mind.

‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘myself’, as descriptors, do not suffice.

There exists no single point, no central hub, no captain’s chair, where I take the helm and direct the show. But instead, there is system and sub-system feeding into itself and into the other; system within system of inter-networked biochemistry and electrical spikes. The sense, the illusion of self emerging from this near infinite complexity and potential.

Stop that grasping, that clinging, that clutching, that hoarding;

Stop that pining, that longing, that needing, that demanding;

Stop that storytelling, that narrating, that ascribing, that moralizing;

and let the illusion go.

Words do not suffice.

Let it go.

 

Bus station ecology

Outside a café by the central bus station.

Wasps. A gentle breeze stalling their forward propulsion. They hover, drawn to the foamed milk and cocoa powder topping my cappuccino.

Enlightening places: central transportation hubs. A congregation of humanity’s diversity: addicts; homeless; drunkards clasping and gulping bottles of warm beer; schoolkids travelling home from school; workers in dirty work pants and black heavy-soled boots; housewives pushing carriages of napping babies; immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe; bikers and walkers and taxi-cab drivers; old retirees in white Velcro sneakers and dated threadbare dress pants and sport jackets; the low, the lower middle, the middle classes; the working classes; students; artists; the down-trodden; the hopeful; the resigned. All jostling, vibrating, moving lives and lifetimes, stories, criss-crossing, weaving paths back and forth and back again on the concrete canvas.

And me. Another node of carbon-based molecules connected by infinite invisible threads to the world around. Inhaling. Exhaling. Respiring the same gas as the drug-addict missing her two front teeth; as the Arab hairdresser speaking a strange tongue to a friend on the threshold of his shop. Shooing wasps from my drink. Smiling inwardly at the too-fat pigeon waddling underfoot for crumbs.

A crippled man passes. The click-clack of a cane. And a woman on an old cellular phone.

Here’s one with cigarette in hand, shawl wrapped warmly, multi-coloured polyester handbag fit snugly into elbow’s crook, texting all the while, as she pauses briefly at my table, puts her bag – still looped over her texting arm – down on the seat, cigarette pressed between lips, and rummages through.

Do they know? Do they know I see them? I really observe them? I study them? I think of them? I remember them? For now. For today. And perhaps longer still. Do they know, they have become a part of me?

Now two ancient nodes have joined my table. Prehistoric lovers. His teeth perfectly pearly white. She wearing rouge on her once flawlessly beautiful, now wrinkled, and still beautiful cheeks. Wedding rings. Umbrellas. He making jokes. She barely smiling, barely giving an inch, but still giving that inch: yes, she’s heard them all before. Two ancient prehistoric lovers.

The pigeon waddles past. The breeze becoming a wind forces the hovering wasps to the eaves. Overhead a flock of city birds circles. Rested, the two stand, hand in hand, and depart.

 

Twenty-four fountains

Twenty-four fountains. Spitting vertical spouts of clear water a foot high. Each stream pulled down on itself by gravity; unfurling liquid ferns held together by surface tension. At the tip of each transparent crystal frond quickly accelerating towards Earth’s center, fracturing and division as multiple single droplets break free; the droplets pit patting, pit patting, pit…pit…patting, the grey concrete paving stones. Tapping out a plot, a rhythm rich in meaning, just for me.

Twenty-four transient translucent authors, communicating amidst the jostling bustling hive of unaware humanity. Secretly, just to me.

How to end a conversation before it begins

‘How are you?’ ‘How are you?’ she said.

In a floating transitional state, waiting for the cosmos to give me the sign. Where are my legs? And gravity?

In a hyper-(ir)rational state. Am I sure of my arithmetic? Who says the world is logical? Logic to prove logic seems, well, ill-logical.

I am tense. But that is not my tension. My muscles vibrate with anxious intent. But they are not controlled by me. My hair is thick (yet thinning on top). But that hair crowns another man’s scalp.


Through the windows of the eyes, in the place where a soul might be, staring back in the mirror, something unborn, non-existent, flickers. Possessing a living host, it digs a tiny hollow, one fingernail scraping at a time. Piece by agonizing piece it widens its enclosure, allowing fresh air and light to fill the concave spaces around it.

As the cocoon about shudders and frets and lurches this way and that, the weightless non-entity bounces and spins freely in padded enclosures, thick organic walls of muscle and bone, pliable, absorbing the shocks of a chaotic existence.


‘How are you?’ ‘How are you?’ she said.

‘Oh, me, well I’m fine,’ would have been the reply, the sound carried reflexively up the throat, rolling over the tongue, out the lying mouth.

A colossal misunderstanding, and we both must be excused. In this universe the laws of arithmetic don’t always hold; but how could she have known? And I am tired of lies.

‘Oh, me, well I don’t exist. But thanks for asking.’