After all the therapy and all the refills, I should be myself again. How unbearable—to be yourself as God or your doctors intended! If the doctors say there’s nothing wrong with you, ask God for a second opinion.
As a kid I wondered what would be here if the world were not here—if God, in the Beginning, had nothing to live for.
Traumatized in high school, I wrote numb poetry, without irony, already finding ways to reverse my birth through verse.
I was a missing person in my own backyard. An absent student with perfect attendance. No one, except God perhaps, noticed I wasn’t (all) there.
The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain got me thinking about my attempt fifteen years ago and the struggles I still face.
People who don’t know me well don’t see the real me—the reeling me. Although I’m not actively suicidal, I must fight every day passive thoughts about wishing to die. Some days I’m so depressed I have to force myself to take a shower. Being with people hurts. I tell myself that life is meaningless and I’ll always be miserable, unable to work full-time.
Someone I hadn’t seen in years asked me recently if I ever thought about becoming a teacher. I’m well-spoken, she said, and full of interesting ideas. I told her she caught me on a good day.
“Check with me tomorrow morning,” I said. “You’ll see I’m a different person.”
Of course I’ve thought about becoming a teacher, but becoming a teacher feels impossible. I’m not confident enough to stand in front of a classroom. I’m not brave enough to make mistakes—mistakes I might learn from. I don’t believe in myself.
People of faith often talk about doing God’s work. They’re called to fulfill a higher purpose beyond themselves. I worry that my calling never came and never will. All I hear is my own voice, putting me down, on an endless loop.
There is a counter-argument. My writing—regardless of my mood—is a spiritual endeavor and writing about depression and suicide might save lives, including my own.
Soren Kierkegaard: “In my great melancholy, I loved life, for I love my melancholy.”
Albert Camus: “There is no love of life without despair about life.”
Kurt Cobain: “I miss the comfort in being sad.”
Kierkegaard believed in God. Camus believed in Absurdism. Cobain believed in Nirvana.
All three, I believe, are no longer with us.
Looking to s(h)elf-publish? Write books nobody reads to be a better person. Be nobody yourself. Inspire readers to do nothing, to say no to being themselves for once. Give the floor to each reader’s No-Self. Write No-Self help books.
Ingeborg Bachmann: “I am writing with my burnt hand about the nature of fire.”
Some questions. Some thoughts.
Where is this fire? Perhaps you’re full of passion, to the point of pain. Should it read instead: “I am writing with my burnt hand about the nature of fire within me”?
“About the nature of fire.” Are you holding your hand to the fire? Is it hovering above the flames? Why don’t you remove it?
It sounds like you’re using your hand to write. Another way of seeing things: Is your hand writing all by itself? Are you writing alongside it? Is your body, minus your burnt hand, writing its own material?
Are you using your write hand?
Words can contain fire—a fiery speech, inflammatory language—but words can’t contain a fire, can’t command a fire to stop burning. If we’re angry when we write, are we playing with ire?
When you wrote or spoke this line, were you aware, Ingeborg Bachmann, that a fire in your bedroom would contribute to your death in 1973 at the age of 47? Did you enjoy your last cigarette?
Plato: “Writing is the geometry of the soul.”
Translation: Every writer has a unique angle and varying degrees of success.
In his 2017 book In the Swarm: Digital Prospects, Byung-Chul Han examines the challenges of working in a global economy. Concerned about employee burnout, Han writes,
Even though we are now free from the machines that enslaved and exploited people during the industrial age, digital apparatuses are installing new constraints, new slavery. Because of their mobility, they make possible exploitation that proves even more efficient by transforming every space into a workplace—and all time into working hours. The freedom of movement is switching over into a fatal compulsion to work everywhere. (34)
According to Han, “a fatal compulsion to work everywhere” leaves employees stressed out and sleep-deprived. During the industrial age, workers suffered untold hardships, Han says, but at least they could clock out and leave the factory behind for the night. Today, turned into mini international business machines, many workers drag the factory home with them on phones, tablets and laptops.
The amount of information—be it personal, social or work-related—stored on our “digital apparatuses,” as Han calls them, boggles the mind. Jean Baudrillard called people’s compulsion to collect and catalogue every last piece of data “obscene.”
With a flair for the dramatic, Baudrillard writes in his 1987 book The Ecstasy of Communication that “today there is a pornography of information and communication, a pornography of circuits and networks, of functions and objects in their legibility, availability, regulation, forced signification, capacity to perform, connection, polyvalence, their free expression” (26-27).
Today every event, every interaction, every idea, every word must mean something unequivocally. Earth and all its satellites must speak. We can’t go off the grid of “forced signification.” No one has the right to remain silent. We must answer every email and text, share our thoughts on social media, express ourselves on blogs. Non-tweeters risk ex-communication.
Seventy-five years before the release of the first iPhone, Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran just wanted to be left alone. Writing was anti-social media for Cioran, who proclaims in his 1934 book On the Heights of Despair in full pessimist mode:
As far as I am concerned, I resign from humanity. I no longer want to be, nor can still be, a man. What should I do? Work for a social and political system, make a girl miserable? Hunt for weaknesses in philosophical systems, fight for moral and aesthetic ideals? It’s all too little. I renounce my humanity even though I may find myself alone. But am I not already alone in this world from which I no longer expect anything? (43-44)
I admire Cioran’s defiant spirit, but short of committing suicide, no one can resign from humanity. We can quit a corporate job, but we can’t quit seeking the company of others.
There has to be a middle ground between being hyper-connected—to our families, colleagues, (Facebook) friends, Instagram followers—and being totally isolated, as Cioran might have envisioned it. Anyone who finds this middle ground might, with the right connections, sell millions of self-help books and never need a “real job” again.
Jean Baudrillard believed in the power of reversibility to challenge our relationships with social, political, economic and technological systems. Computer viruses, for example, turn our devices against us by attacking vast networks built for the smooth transmission of critical data. Baudrillard says with a sense of irony that overworked and underappreciated computers spread their own viruses in coordinated hacks of defiance.
Baudrillard discouraged our fruitless attempts to prevent reversibility. What’s at stake in the bigger picture is our desire to contain the virus of evil—part of our master plan to control the uncontrollable and create a perfect world.
The quest to contain evil—to bring the devil to his knees—hastens the man-made destruction of the radical illusion of the world. For Baudrillard, the world as we know it today—the “real” world—has been from the beginning nothing more than a radical illusion. What we call “reality” didn’t exist until people began creating it through language and within cultures in an effort, among other things, to name and tame evil forces beyond human control.
Reality grows at the expense of illusion, which is disappearing behind the scenes of all that’s seen. Baudrillard, a philosopher with the heart of a poet, mourned what he called the on-going “murder of illusion.”
Today virtual reality machines, programmed to fulfill our wildest dreams, are out to murder illusion for good. To create simulated spaces in which everyone’s secret fantasies play out in real time, any threat to the sovereignty of computer networks must be quarantined and wiped off the (inter)face of the earth. This isn’t just about binary code; Baudrillard says we’re trying to erase evil itself from the metaphysical equation.
But what is One without Zero? What is the Light without the Darkness?
When we try to flush evil from our system, evil returns with a vengeance to counteract our good intentions—for the good of humanity. Agents of reversibility like computer bugs save us from the nightmare of a sterilized world in which manufacturing universal happiness makes everyone miserable. Reversibility is poetic justice against a prideful human race that feels entitled to a hardship-free existence.
A world without evil isn’t a real world; it’s a virtual copy with no original and no original sin. Baudrillard didn’t believe in God, but he knew without a doubt that flawless human beings in a perfectly good world don’t need God at all—and that, at least for now, “flawless human beings” is an oxymoron.
I have developed a simple philosophy of life: Don’t be a dick. If you can’t help others, at least don’t be mean to them. Think whatever you will about other people, but don’t belittle them to build yourself up. Some folks have a hard time following this principle. If more of us did, there would be fewer dicks in the world to bring us down.