12 October 2012

A Good Little Thing

When I was in high school, my mom bought me a t-shirt that said, “I’d like to be an optimist, but I doubt it would work out.” The irony is, every bit of pessimism in my psyche came from her. She is a bitter, sarcastic woman who fights herself to gain any shred of hope, and usually loses the battle. I don’t know what happened to make my mom that way (her mom? marital disillusionment?), but I do not want to end up like her.

People change. Usually people change by drifting further in whatever direction they’ve already been heading. Some people, however, seize the rudder of change and strive to tack in a different direction.

I would not be comfortable with being an optimist, but I also do not want to be a pessimist. Frankly, both views seem unbalanced. I like balance. I like the middle path.

The other day I realized my utter insignificance, and it comforted me more than anything has in recent years. That may sound weird to some, that my insignificance was comforting. Let me explain. I realized that the universe is incredibly vast. I’m one person among 7 billion currently alive on this planet, orbiting one of billions of stars in one of billions of galaxies in the universe. My life will occupy a few paltry years in a universe already 13.75 billion years old. I’m incredibly insignificant. And that means I cannot really do any damage to the universe. I cannot fuck up so badly that the universe will register any lasting damage. I can’t wreck this planet significantly, much less any other planets, stars or galaxies.

What a fucking relief! I’d been raised by fundamentalists, for whom each action and decision was fraught with eternal, immeasurable consequences. God was breathing down my neck, and Satan whispering in my ear, and even how I ate my dinner or wiped my ass could shatter the world. When you’re raised with such dire consequences hanging over you 24/7, discovering your insignificance is a tremendous relief.

And with that easing of the burden, I can now approach life with a lighter touch, and a much more sanguine outlook. What I do doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. I don’t really matter in the scheme of things. So if I undertake changes or actions, I do so out of what I determine to be beneficial or personally significant. Being relaxed could even lead me to be a better person. Who knows?

So, reveling in my insignificance, I’m adopting a phlegmatic attitude toward life. However good or bad it gets, it is all so very, very limited in scope as not to matter a whole hell of a lot. And that, to me, is a good thing. A good little thing.

09 October 2012

Great Weekend; One Disappointment

This weekend I struck a perfect balance between time alone and time socializing. It was the most enjoyable weekend I’d had in months.

Friday evening I did my errands, going to Wheaton to pick up a few things, including a ‘motivational’ pair of jeans, and I scratch box for Manuel. I came home and watched tv, then went to bed.

Saturday I got up and watched my Saturday morning cartoons, then headed down to brunch at the Diner in Adams-Morgan. I wandered around Dupont Circle, and eventually ended up at Zenobia Lounge in Georgetown, with turkish coffee, a hookah and my journal. It was inspirational.

Sunday morning I met a friend for brunch. We went to Medium Rare in Cleveland Park. The food was extremely good. The atmosphere was a bit fancy for me (I had to leave my plain black hoodie on, because I was wearing a graphic t-shirt and would’ve stood out like a sore thumb in the sweater and tweed crowd – fashionista-gay I am not), but the company was enjoyable. We walked around town, and had coffee at Illy. I bought too many books.

Monday looked gloomy, so I planned to stay in and finish reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. A friend texted me wanting to know if I wanted to get the lacrosse stick and toss some balls. I did. We had a great time, and I learned a few things. Best of all, I got my stick broken in, and we played the Creator’s game on Indigenous People’s Day.

I returned home, finished Tocqueville, and watched my Monday television shows. The only down note was this: I’ve been reading Vincent Bugliosi’s new book on agnosticism. I’ve been looking for a clear and eloquent defense of agnosticism, and his book promised to take down the arguments of both theists and atheists alike. I had gotten a few chapters into it, and so far, so good. Yes, his style was a little quirky, and at times I had wished he’d gone a little further, or considered some points he did not consider. Then before bed last night I read his chapter on Darwin and evolution, and I was appalled. It was weak beyond excuse, and his argument basically boiled down to: “I’m not a scientist, but I don’t understand evolution, and since I find the evidence inconclusive, I cannot say that evolution is indeed a fact.” Well, Mr. Bugliosi, I’m not a scientist either, but I understand evolution, and geology, well enough to see how evolution must indeed be a fact. I was heartbroken: my hoped-for manifesto was so flawed, I cannot even make myself continue to read it at this point.

01 October 2012

Life and Death

Last week I read Damien Echols’s memoir Life After Death. Echols’s was one of three men convicted of murders he did not commit, in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1994. He was a victim of religious hysteria and paranoia (the people of West Memphis didn’t like his appearance nor his love of heavy metal music, and were convinced he was a Satanist), and because of that he was sent to death row. He survived the ordeal and after having spent half his life in prison was released last year. Echols is remarkably intelligent, a deep reader and a gifted writer (another reason he did not blend in with the usual Arkansan), and his book shows it. I highly recommend reading Life After Death, as a story of survival, of the abuses of the ‘justice’ system, and as a tale of hope and caution for all the misfits out there.

The entire book is very well-written; I’d like to quote two passages:

My life has taught me that true spiritual insight can come about only by putting your hand in the fire. Faith is nothing more than a watered-down attempt to accept someone else’s insight as your own. Belief is the psychic equivalent of an article of secondhand clothing, worn-out and passed down. I equate true spiritual insight with wisdom, which is different from knowledge. Knowledge can be obtained through many sources: books, stories, songs, legends, myths, and, in modern times, computers and television programs. On the other hand, there’s only one real source of wisdom —pain. Any experience that provides a person with wisdom will also usually provide them with a scar. The greater the pain, the greater the realization. Faith is spiritual rigor mortis.
—Damien Echols, Life After Death (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2012), p. 100.

There is only one way to avoid being swallowed whole by malaise, despair, and loneliness, and that is to create a routine you stick to no matter what. A physical routine, a mental routine, and even a spiritual routine. You don’t pass the time —you create it.
I began measuring time by doing thirty push-ups a day, and pushing myself until several years later I could do one thousand. I began doing ten minutes of meditation a day, and then pushed myself until I eventually reached five hours a day. It was only by becoming more disciplined, more focused, and more driven that I could prevent myself from falling into entropy and internal death.
—Echols, pp. 176-177.