A previous version of this post was published here.
On February 23, 2008, about 200 volunteers flushed, level by level, every toilet and urinal at newly built Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to see if the pipes could handle the load.
Imagine a moment when everyone in the world with a smartphone sent each other a smiley face emoji at the same time—not to test the limits of all the networks, just for shits and giggles. Put yourself in the micro-second between everyone hitting send in unison and the possibility that no one would remain on the planet afterwards to respond. Are we not right now suspended between the final fantasy of synchronized global suicide and its fulfillment via technology?
A far more sinister way to end the world would be to realize everyone’s fantasies, a process virtual reality machines have already begun. Realizing every fantasy would destroy the symbolic power of fantasy itself. We’d be left with a literal translation of every metaphor, a logical explanation for every random thought. No more latent content to our dreams—every secret would be dragged out of our minds and streamed “as is” in real time. Before too long, we’d pray to God for nothing less than Nothingness.
For now, we text and carry on—everyone equal before the Law of Communication—forced to send and receive information, most of it useless. Just do it. Just speak.
The most radical message left for us today is to say nothing at all.
Imagine a moment when everyone on the planet with a smartphone refused at the same time to send a text. Or a moment when everyone on the planet flushed a smartphone down a toilet. Dream up a fantasy so spectacular it threatens to end the world and then, for the sake of fantasy, don’t tell a soul.
A sudden thought: what if throughout my adult life I continue to repeat childhood traumas? Is every day, every relationship, an unconscious re-creation of events over which I had little control? Maybe I’m fixated on variations of the same thought—the One Big Idea—that of recovering a self I barely knew?
The universe has its own issues. Space is occupied with making the best of a bad situation. Time finds it tough moving forward with respect to what’s passed.
Where am I going with this?
Sleep is hard to come by when you’re always dreaming. The stars and I—we’re the same, really. We shine brightest when nobody’s looking.
My dad liked to say that in life people are free to choose their own confinements. He chose to become a teacher and found himself confined to the classroom. He chose to become a father and when I arrived he built a life based around my mother and me.
I say that our confinements help us appreciate the limited amount of freedom we have. By becoming a teacher my dad was not a librarian or a fireman or starting first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. The classroom became his world. He was bound by district rules, standardized tests, report cards and textbooks. But he had the freedom to teach Hamlet or the five-paragraph essay as he saw fit. He encouraged students to follow their passions, even though as teens many thought little of the future.
I’ve heard a theory that the major events of our lives happen no matter the daily individual choices we make. My dad was in a way destined to teach—maybe not in Chicago, maybe not English—but still a teacher. Even after his initial dream of becoming a minister wasn’t realized, he wanted to help people—lifting their spirits, nourishing their minds. Minister or teacher—he was in the same ballpark.
Oftentimes we try too hard to force the action in our lives. We push for things we think we want, only to see them escape our grasp. Then there are those opportunities we never considered, appearing out of nowhere.
There’s power in submitting to the possibility that my life follows some kind of destiny. Accepting the will of the universe and learning to live with myself? How freeing.
Filed under Life, Philosophy
The other night I had a dream worthy of some Freudian analysis. A figure outside myself but clearly a part of my psyche asked me a question: Why be kind?
Why be kind when the world is full of cruelty? Why be kind when people can be so awful?
I’ve heard from more than a few women, upon expressing their desire not to see me anymore, that I’m a nice guy. I pride myself on treating people well regardless of the situation. We’re all suffering in our own way and the odds are often against us; a little compassion goes a long way.
But mean people take advantage of nice people. Sensitive men are often seen as effeminate, over-civilized mama’s boys. It’s not easy being kind. Sometimes I wish for a harder shell.
A dream full of questions left me with a partial answer. Why be kind? Because when you’re kind to people you’re showing yourself compassion. You’re being kind to you.
But my illness, hell-bent on keeping me down, challenges this axiom. In my darkest moments I abandon myself on the precipice of disaster. Life sucks and I turn the vacuum on full blast. I’m cruel to myself, curse my imperfections, swear off hope for a lifetime of dread.
I forget that I can’t show kindness to others without first caring for me. The world is tough enough. I can’t be strong for you if I’m too busying beating myself up. The question isn’t why be kind but how can we learn to forgive ourselves.
Filed under Life, Philosophy