Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Name For Myself

One thing I’ve learned from my inability to assimilate into the working world: To get by, to be successful, to be self-sufficient, you have to be a little dull. And by dull I mean unaware of things and people that don’t matter to you and your overall earning potential.

When I’m deeply depressed, I’m numb to reality. But I’m often depressed as a result of feeling too much anxiety, of being too focused on the bigger picture. What I need to break out of my funk, is less feeling and more doing—more doing that helps me get what I want out of life.

At its core, therapy has been about making me a better consumer. If I’m “healthy” enough to work, then I can earn my own money and go out and spend it on things I don’t really need. When I’m in the throes of mental illness, however, I’m not at all productive; my “inward numbness” pits me against the system.

But people who display what I’ve dubbed “outward numbness” contribute to the economy, all the while caring less about what others think of them, or how mundane their money-making lives are.

Rather than turning my anger inward, into depression, I now realize that I must direct my frustrations out onto the world, so that I might make a name for myself—and a little cash in the process.

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The Silent Dialogue

“Shot by a security camera
You can’t watch your own image
And also look yourself in the eye”

–Arcade Fire, “Black Mirror” (2007)

Technology has created a new place for us in the twenty-first century. According to one French thinker, Marc Auge, we spend a vast majority of our days less in specific places and more in non-place. We travel through non-place all the time. It’s the everyday oddness that welcomes and surrounds us.

So much of our identities are stored in distant databases and on plastic cards we keep safe in our wallets. Who we truly are is becoming blurred as computers continue to dominate our lives.

We meet our identities at the ATM, which tells us how much we’re worth. But the same machine that greets me, greets Joe and Mary and Bob. We’re engaging in our own automated experience each time we need a little cash, completing our transactions from a distance, in the comfort of our local branch.

On page 103 of his book, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995), Auge describes what happens when we enter non-place:

What he is confronted with, finally, is an image of himself, but in truth it is a pretty strange image. The only face to be seen, the only voice to be heard, in the silent dialogue he holds with the landscape-text addressed to him along with others, are his own: the face and voice of a solitude made all the more baffling by the fact that it echoes millions of others.

Auge conveys here the depths of our inner disconnect. It’s like that feeling you get when you return from a long trip—you sense that you’ve been gone. This is how we always feel, like we’re returning home from far away, even though we never left.

But returning is not enough—even when we’re home we’re not at home with where we are. Of course, some quality time online can alleviate our uneasiness. In the end, though, we remain strangers to ourselves, encountering our identities in the non-place that exists everywhere.

Perhaps I’ll visit a friendly teller at my bank tomorrow, instead of hitting the machine. This will serve as my partial protest.

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Filed under Culture, Life, Philosophy, Politics

Fate, Chance, And Scrabble

Like any game, Scrabble has rules.

The board setup is always the same, with valuable spots predetermined. Before every game, there’s a fixed number of each letter and each letter has a pre-assigned value. I’m allowed to hold no more than seven letters during each turn and I must select new tiles from a bag without looking at them first. The words I try to play must conform to the basic rules of the English language.

Of course, the words I make are dependent upon what I’ve done on previous turns and what my opponents have come up with. No move is made without previous moves affecting it. As far as strategy is concerned, I often count on my opponents to mess up, either due to oversights or a lack of skill.

Sometimes I pull better letters than at other times, but my success is always dependent upon the situation and my ability to form high-scoring words more frequently than others.

Equal distribution of resources is impossible; in fact, the game derives its variety from one player acquiring a disproportionate amount of valuable letters and putting them to good use for himself.

There are some unfortunate realities that often arise. Some people get all vowels on their rack on a regular basis; they have no chance from the beginning and there’s no real explanation for this, although we often consider such sad saps “unlucky.”

In truth, for every person who’s lucky enough to get “QUIZ” on a triple-word score, there are thousands more pulling a “Q” on their final turn, with no available “U” to attach it to. Yesterday’s winner soon becomes a loser today.

If we look at the larger picture, it’s clear that we’re all approaching the same board, and are bound by the rules set before us, but our experience with the game (our success or failure) is unique to us.

We’re free only to the extent that we are forced to work with what the game gives us, and with what we bring to the table. So much of our game-playing is limited by things over which we have little or no control.

Ultimately, some big questions must be asked. Who devised this game? (I mean, beyond the creative folks at Hasbro). And why are we playing it in the first place?

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