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Balance as an Ideology

A misunderstanding about the concept of balance prevails in our society. Society would have us believe that balance is somehow a natural phenomenon: rain falls, plants grow. A person dies, a person is born. And so on.

In the same vein, a percentage of the population that is poor is balanced out by the percentage that is rich, and that combined percentage is somehow balanced out by the percentage of people who are somewhere in the middle.

This is a naturalistic fallacy, however. We “see” balance in nature because we want to see it; we believe, with reason, that our lives depend upon it. However, conflict is the rule, and balance is less than the exception. In nature and in all human endeavor, balance is neither a natural state nor a natural phenomenon. Rather, in any form, it is fought for, whether against society as a whole or against elements of it, in light of the fact that everything that exists resists balance, rather than hastening it. 

Development as a human being is generally considered to require some element of balance. If a person is personally “imbalanced”—for example, living a turbulent or unstable homelife, constantly in financial straits, plagued by mental illness, or generally ruled overmuch by emotion while remaining estranged from intellect or vice versa—that person will most likely not excel outside of her particular sphere. This is by way of saying that the idea of balance has value in our society.

Those who are able to balance emotions such as desire, ambition, and pride with intellectual qualities such as inquisitiveness, observation, and deduction, possess the potential to excel where “imbalanced” individuals would falter. Moreover, those who are further able to overrule any remnants of ethical consideration, conscience, or dissent they may have gathered incidentally along the way—shedding them as a snake sheds its skin—are encouraged to make the most of their potential in any direction they choose, as long as that direction preserves society’s overall status quo—rich, poor, and in-between—rather than endeavoring to alter its fundamental nature. 

Such balance as is produced by this tacit agreement is dependent on a certain level of self-awareness on the part of the individual, and a desire to “go outside her comfort zones:” to be challenged and pushed towards areas of achievement that are new to her and that put her skills and balance to use.

So, in order to obtain personal balance, these individuals actually create types of imbalances against society. Or put differently, they actively further imbalances that already exist. They are not concerned with finding or creating actual balance—in which anything is equal or any actual calm exists—within society.

This is not because they don’t want true balance in society (although they would not), but rather because they believe that the current state of society, which demonstrates the exact opposite of actual balance, is, in fact, balanced, and in such a perfect way as to allow exceptional individuals such as themselves to succeed. This success comes by nature of being able to strive for an internal type of balance: balance between what they want out of life and what they actually get out of it, regardless of “what people think” or indeed what they themselves think.

In this way, anyone overly preoccupied with “maintaining balance” by not pushing themselves or pushing against the prevailing idea of “balance”—i.e. passive acceptance of “what is meant to be” coupled with the ethical inhibitions of common morality—is limiting their ability to actually achieve any sort of balance, whether with a society in which true balance does not exist, or with themselves. They are resigning themselves to be always at the mercy of the demands of that society, such that their own desires are held as secondary to those demands.

Without some component of self-fulfillment and self-realization along these lines, balance in any form is a totally impossible ideal, reserved only for those who seem to have “the time and the money” to act on what they know will give them a sense of balance: feelings of freedom manifested in the realization of desires.

It is true that an increased level of financial and temporal freedom lends itself to the fulfillment of personal desires to some extent. However, this state of affairs is reinforced if not created and recreated by the unwillingness of “ordinary people” to place their goals, dreams, desires, and ambitions—whether societally implanted or not—on the “front burner” of their lives and to instead focus on what society expects of them: resignation and acceptance that endless deferral, struggle, loss, and insecurity are “just the way life is.”

If the destruction and reshaping of this state of affairs were to become somehow a priority in the mind of those who generally cling to “balance” as an ideology, perhaps after a long and costly battle we would see some true elements of balance enter into our societal sphere, i.e. more people positively engaged in their lives, less poverty, less crime, less mental illness, fewer suicides, fewer wars, less time spent on addictive behaviors, etc.

As it is, the “balance” between those who excel and those with mediocre and unfulfilled lives continues to justify the self-absorption of people with “the time and the money” to dedicate to personal fulfillment. In the shadow of their taut (and taught) disdain for “everyone else” who does not seem able or of adequate character to excel, the rest of us continue to wait and hope for balance to prevail “as it always has” (read: as it never has) without fighting for it, while beginning to actually take comfort in the belief that the disdain of our betters is warranted—that we are in fact lazy, unambitious, and undeserving of anything resembling emotional and personal fulfillment in this life—and in the hope that some conveniently eternal spirit will succeed where our mind and body failed.

I often unexpectedly get upset when I’m around my nieces. I’ll be sitting there with 2 and 1/2 year old Maren and 1 year old Jane, who will be doing normal things for toddlers or babies, respectively, and suddenly, a feeling of intense sadness will rise through me. Sometimes they will be crying about something, or trying to walk or do some other task that is beyond their abilities, or just looking around at the big world in front of them.

My mother and sister have both inquired as to the cause of these incidents of sadness. Their first guess is usually that I’m just a big emotional guy who is unable to handle how strongly I feel certain things. This is certainly true in some respects. Another good guess is that, when Maren or Jane is crying, I empathize with them and feel their sense of discomfort, fear, or unhappiness. Far from wanting to shush them, I want to join them. There might be truth to this too.

The third guess has been that I miss my own early childhood, when things were simple, when I played with toys (many of which my nieces play with now), when my family was still all alive and together. A bunch of years ago, this might have been the reason, but I don’t think it really is now.

At different points, I’ve realized what it is, and only this Thanksgiving have I been able to put it into words. I cry because I’m afraid for them, for the world they’ve been born into, for all the fears and miseries and losses of life that they have yet to experience. All I want is a safe world for everyone, where there is no suffering or exploitation, where alienation and self-sacrifice aren’t necessary, where dreams can be fulfilled instead of deferred, where there is no violence against women, or racism, or imperialist war.

Instead, the world they’re being brought up in is rife with all of these things in every direction, sad and angry people with no outlets, no true representatives, no hopes based on anything material, just on some vague quasi-nationalist American exceptionalism that we are all fed from the cradle to the grave, that America is somehow where the good guys win, where justice prevails, that “it can’t happen here” despite our horrific past of imperialist and racist violence and while a literal Nazi party (the “alt-right”) gains prominence. There is no truth to any of these lies.

Every good that has ever been achieved was done in spite of American society and systems of governance, not because of them. And all of them were accomplished by people, striving to making a difference. Not by hope.

That’s what runs through my head and heart when I see Maren and Jane just being little kids without a care in the world. On Thanksgiving, I suppose the feelings were extra prominent seeing as it’s the most hypocritical American holiday. Most holidays feel that way for me, to be honest, but Thanksgiving’s own hypocrisy appeared especially stark this year in light of what’s happening at Standing Rock, North Dakota. America is repeating history in a small but extremely significant way. The Native peoples “we” supposedly joined hands with at a long table a few hundred years ago have been fucked over in the most vile ways imaginable from then until now and that fuckery is continuing to this day.

Someday, someone is going to have to explain to those two young girls what America is, what it has done in the past and what it continues to do. Then, they will be told that there is a plague of unhappiness in this country caused by our inability to choose, on an absolute level, what we do with our lives. Instead of playing like we do as children, learning and discovering, we have to choose one thing to do for 10 hours a day, 5 or more days a week, for the next 45 years. We have to grow emotionally and physically crumpled and overburdened by the insane level of obligations placed on us, to meet expectations, to make other people happy, to appear a certain way to others. We have to watch our friendships end, our loved ones die, our true hopes and dreams pass us by, replaced by other people’s or society’s, as there is just never enough time to choose and act.

And throughout all of this, in our sick society there is the constant threat of violence. Our very way of life is dependent on destroying other nations and oppressing groups of people. For folks who look similar to me, well, we’ll probably be fine unless we join law enforcement or enlist in the military, where we have the guns. For everyone else—women, people of color, LGBT community members—violence is always a possibility. As long as one group of people cannot live freely, no one can. Moral obliviousness, willful or imposed, is a form of human bondage.

And at the end of our bonded lives, no matter what we do, no matter how much we stress about it, what exercise routines we take on, pills we swallow, or vices from which we abstain, we grow old and infirm, bitter and regretful, and die alone. The rest of the world goes on without us, having never really known us, never really needing us.

Of course I would never unload these feelings onto my nieces, pretty much at any age. I am going to tell them, however, that the world depends on them, to do something other than what everyone before them did, to fight for something greater, to change the face of reality rather than bowing before it like everyone else does, and as I sometimes see myself doing, not because “everyone else” are bad people but because no one told them to, and they didn’t realize the need until it was too late.

Maybe it is impossible to get a young person to avoid certain mistakes by being warned about them; maybe children need to learn on their own. At least that’s what people say. Maybe that’s what they tell themselves to justify not telling their children the truth about certain things. I really don’t know. But what I do know is that I must try. That is a lesson I learned early enough in life. The more things you try, the fewer regrets in life you will have.

At least I will be warning them about the dangers of NOT acting, of NOT doing something that’s important to them, rather than trying to keep them from doing things. I only hope it is enough to get them to see the truth: it is not that they, as human children, are inherently special, nor is it that America or humanity is somehow special either. It is not one or the other. It is neither or both. Either special human beings who want a special world, a world worth saving, will take action to change it, or they won’t. They will remain ordinary people who want an ordinary world, and everything will remain as it is: unjust, unremarkable, and unfulfilled.

I cry because I want my nieces to be special, but also safe and happy. Perhaps they will help create a world in which they, or their children if they have them, don’t have to choose. That is my hope.

It might seem like the title of this post is irresponsible, as though I’m saying that being prone to addiction is in some way a desirable character trait. In a way, I’m not not saying that; when you think about it, nearly every “negative” character trait has the capacity to act as both a strength and a weakness.

For example, knowing that you’re obsessed with the opinions of others and accepting it about yourself can help you push yourself towards greater levels of achievement than you would have if you tried to “not care what other people think” and instead act purely for your own fulfillment. It is all about finding the positive in yourself and, for lack of a better word, capitalizing on it, rather than trying to force yourself to change into what you think society expects of you.

Knowing that you’re good at one thing and not so good at something else and accepting it is the best way to improve, both at what you’re good at and what you suck at. If I have addictive tendencies and I know it, I’m in a much better position to reap the positive components of it and deal with the negative components constructively. When its dangers creep into my life, I recognize them and alter my behavior, not necessarily with perfect results but at least with results.

If I were to try to deny it, however, and try to just blend in and be “normal,” my behavior would continue to repeat itself, over and over. My life would stagnate and I would not know why, moving from one instance of overdoing it to the next with no real progress. The reason would be very simple: I’m denying the existence of certain parts of myself because society tells me that they are bad. As a result, they are not being managed.

For me, being an addictive person means being attracted to extremes. When I like something, I can’t get enough of it. When I’m engaged in a project that I’m passionate about, I’ll often work on it manically to the exclusion of everything else, including my own health and relationships.  

On a certain level, this might seem like the “lucky” side of being addiction-prone. I get things done. I have a relatively high output of high-quality, impassioned work and projects.

On another level, though, it is not very cool. Often, my interest runs thin before the project is finished, usually because another project, another idea, has supplanted it in my active attention. This leads to numerous unfinished projects that I am, in fact, very passionate about, which introduces a high level of stress originating from myself into my life. I’m still learning to finish one thing before I move onto another, and how to maintain a long-term project even if I start to lose some interest in it.

Before I was a functioning, fully employed adult, it was easier to finish things. The bulk of my short fiction, both of my completed novels, and a completed album were the result of this time of my life. I had more free time and less of an understanding of the crushing reality of workaday life. This was also the time I started to recognize myself as having an addictive personality.

My first addiction was to tobacco. Nothing remarkable about that, except perhaps when you consider that I’d suffered from severe asthma all my life. My parents had always gone to great lengths to keep our cigarette-smoking relatives’ second-hand smoke away from me. I’d used asthma innumerable times in school to get out of gym class or various other responsibilities. And here I was at 18, smoking Winstons like Humphrey Bogart.

In a way, you could say that I was lucky to have asthma, because without its increasingly debilitating effects, I might never have stopped smoking. From what I understand, some people outgrow their asthma. Teddy Roosevelt is one such person, reputedly. I might have outgrown mine too if I had never smoked. Probably not, but I’ll never know now.

My second real addiction was to marijuana. I’ve documented that experience thoroughly on this blog. Realizing early that I might be developing an addiction to it helped me avoid trying other, more dangerously addictive drugs like cocaine. That was very lucky too, from a certain point of view.

My third intense addiction was to alcohol. That was very short-lived and might challenge the definition of “addiction,” somewhat, being the symptom of a very specific period of heartbreak. During this time, I did nothing but drink alcohol and eat candy, at least that’s what certain friends have said. They would ask me what I’m doing later that night, and my answer would be, “I’m going to drink.”

Now, I drink less than once a month. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep that one in check without having to totally abstain. With help, I started healing from the main occurrences in my life that drove me to it. As I started getting into physical fitness, I also was able to recall the negative health effects of alcohol and how it tends to tire me out, which I don’t like. Sometimes, I still rely on it somewhat as a social lubricant. Someday, if I choose to work at it enough, maybe I won’t have to.

My third addiction was to working out at the gym, which supplanted alcohol at the tail-end of that deeply heartbroken period. Five to six days per week of intense exercise translated into overtraining, insomnia, and hundreds of dollars spent on supplements like creatine pills and human growth hormone boosters. I later realized these products had begun to serve the purpose that psychotropic drugs once served, a mentality of “hey, let’s see what this does to my body.” God knows what crap I was swallowing in those unregulated pills and powders.

And now onto the next addiction. I view pornography as a potentially addictive drug. If you cannot live without it, you are addicted to it. That doesn’t make it or you bad, but that’s the situation. I couldn’t seem to live without it. Exactly as was the case with marijuana, I was incapable of using it “only once in awhile,” “in moderation,” or “whenever.” So I stopped using it. I haven’t consumed any of it in over five months and I foresee continuing this way indefinitely. Maybe I’ll write a separate blog post about that sometime.

To be honest, I have a feeling many, many people don’t use porn “once in awhile.” I bet a lot of people use it everyday. I bet a lot of people can’t get aroused without it. And I bet, if you were to take it away from them (not that I’m condoning taking it away), it would result in other problematic behaviors, possibly ones entailing greater levels of harm to themselves and others. Or it would just lead to intense anxiety and depression.

The thing is, if you are unable to recognize your own addictive tendencies, things like porn, working out, alcohol, and marijuana can have very negative effects on your feelings of self-worth, your health, your relationships, your ambitions, your feelings of having control over your own life. Problematic, dangerous behaviors “keep coming up” and limiting your progress. Just admit you have no control over them, find other ways to deal with the stressors of your life, and abstain from them forever. Simple.

Obviously I’m kidding in that last sentence. As I said, I didn’t have to give up alcohol forever, and clearly I didn’t give up exercise since I work in the fitness industry. What I did have to do, though, was understand and accept what I am capable of controlling and what I’m incapable of controlling. That takes humility, a type that sets me free and lets me move forward in life, whereas pride in such circumstances would do nothing but restrict me to repeating the same stupid behaviors over and over again and living a pretty unbalanced life. Oddly enough, introducing an element of extremism—complete abstinence—can bring more balance to someone’s life than trying in vain to remain “moderate.”

So is this what makes me lucky as an addictive person? The “character” that develops in the face of adversity? Well, it is not really adversity because I choose to engage in these behaviors. Nor do I fetishize adversity as being necessary for character development. The shittiness of the world makes it necessary to be able to deal with shittiness, and the best way to know how to deal with shittiness is to be faced with it yourself. But if the world was a better place, if people’s lives were universally more comfortable and safer and they had a greater sense of self-worth and more opportunity to express that sense, there would be absolutely no value to complicating their lives for its own sake.

Is it that I am able to dedicate myself to projects and push through where others might give up? As I mentioned, I love all of the work and writing that I do, but it would be nice to be able to work on projects regularly, a little bit at a time, instead of seemingly needing to steep myself in them for days at a time. 

It would also be nice to feel like I’m choosing what to put my time and effort into. Addiction does not equate to passion, unfortunately. For me, it pertains to a certain baseline level of fear and the urge to circumvent that fear. Whatever I’m addicted to is acting as an escape, as a frenzied, dashed-off expression of hilarious terror, rather than as balanced, chosen piece of meticulous work. My best work is often done when I’m not feeling addicted or obsessed, when my life is balanced which happens so very rarely. This is because I’m calmer than those other times; I’m giving my mind a chance to really focus on what I’m doing. I’m not driven by fear of dying before I get everything onto the page. I’m driven by love of what I’m doing.

Sometimes addiction can feel that way too. Sometimes it is that way. Doing what you love is a double-edged sword because you know that what you are doing will end someday, so it is possible to do it both out of love and out of fear. Love is crazy like that.

But in general, no. I wish my life could be more rational, compartmentalized, and prioritized, and not seem to require such a massive effort of oversight and self-management, even though I know my extreme, unconventional way of thinking helps give me the potential to do great things.

No, what makes me lucky is that I’ve been given things that I’m passionate about that make my life worth living, and that I’ve received the help and support and love and education from various sources that I needed. If I didn’t have my passions, like writing and music, I might not have found a reason to stop smoking weed. If I wasn’t loved, I probably wouldn’t have stopped drinking. If I wasn’t made aware of the tendency of American society to encourage excesses and self-destructive behaviors, I might not have taken the steps necessary to avoid falling prey to the same fate as innumerable young people who, being unstimulated by society, “buy in” to various misguided ideas about youth and “rebelliousness” that lead them to self-destruct and deprive themselves of any greater dreams and goals in life, such as working to change the society that failed them.

I’m not lucky because of my addictive personality, nor entirely in spite of it. Rather, I’m lucky because, with help, I figured out a way to have it start complementing who I am. Personal growth is not about fighting yourself. It’s about accepting yourself for who you are so that you don’t have to be frightened of yourself and use your addictions or vices as an escape. It’s about making yourself complementary to who you are and to your reality so that you can grow beyond yourself, and make your reality grow beyond itself. It’s about believing that you’re okay the way you are, while simultaneously trying to do better. And once you can do that, you’ll do the greatest things of your life.

I’m having trouble processing the political situation in this world today, and, coupled with the difficulties, uncertainties, and fears of my own life, I’m losing hope.

New video footage of law enforcement killing a Black person surfaces so regularly, it’s as though the police’s strategy is to just keep ramping up the murder until the public becomes numb to it. Are the acquittals intended to send the message that the people will never win? How much absence of justice will the people accept until they “accept” the fact that there is no justice?

There are only two possible responses to this absence: giving up, or resistance. The system wants us to give up. The families and friends of the victims of police violence want us to resist.

Of course I would like things to get better, to calm down, to carry through to some kind of justice. But I know they aren’t going to, not without a fight, a mass struggle. Black people, simply by existing, by living peaceful lives, by struggling and surviving and doing what needs to be done, threaten the narrative of white supremacy in America. And so, more are being killed. This is to say nothing of those African-American voices that speak up clearly and unequivocally against this narrative, those African-American bodies who actively put themselves between the oppressor and the oppressed.

As more resistance rises, more people will die. It is the way of resistance, and it is hard to hear our consciences whispering it into our inner ear. “Things will get worse before they get better” is only one way of looking at it. It is not so much that conditions in society must get much worse before “society starts to care” about racist violence. The bulk of American society doesn’t care and generally isn’t going to. Those who say they care aren’t going to do anything about it, while the rest of American society is openly racist. We mustn’t wait for this society to start to care.

A clearer picture would be, “a thousand good guys must die in order to take down one bad guy. And then the fight has only just begun.”

This inescapable, dialectical fact scares me. As much as I want the revolution to happen, this type of continued destruction and death scares me into wishing it wasn’t necessary, wishing there was a safe way out for all of us. I just don’t know if there is. I don’t want anyone to die.

But I don’t see anything changing anytime soon. Body cameras will “malfunction.” Training will be flawed. Community policing will prove to be the idealistic liberal fantasy we already know it is.

People will advocate for these reforms, and while they are being tested on the flesh of Black bodies and proven ignominious failures at addressing the core problem, more lives will be lost on the road to real change, the road to revolution.

My sadness comes from knowing I will probably not be there to see it. But my hope is that humans of the future will be readier than we are, more knowledgeable, and more aware that the destruction of the current social order and financial system is a worthwhile goal if it means the creation of a world in which a person gets shot for being a racist, and not for being a race.


I don’t believe nature owes me anything, but I believe society does. Nature does not act with purpose; it just is. We perceive purpose in its actions, but it doesn’t. If the world ended tomorrow, nature wouldn’t care. It would just go on in a different form.

Nature is merely the means by which I am conceived and born. But society, in its various manifestations (parents, family, community, country, culture) is the cause, and society acts very much with purpose. No one asks to be born into this sniveling, pathetic excuse for a world filled with war, murder, racism, oppression, lifelong exploitation, childhood trauma, loss, sadness, disillusionment, confusion, and ultimately inevitable terrifying death. Rather, society asks that we be born, whether “society” means our parents who want to populate their lives with meaning, or whether it refers to culture, which tells our parents where meaning originates, or to our political system, which wants to prolong its “life” with a steady source of consumers and workers who all buy into that meaning. Society creates each individual person for these purposes which are alien to him or her; meanwhile, it creates or is complicit in all of its injustices and horrors.

In this way, while society brings us into existence, it presents us with very little besides the myriad reasons why we should regard that existence as a curse. The absolute and essential need for full-time employment makes alienated puppets of us all, contorting ourselves into our desk chairs or lifting and swinging hammers into concrete, turning our bodies into twisted, broken prisons consisting of one or another pain or preventable disease, and our minds into clenched fists of chronic stress that beat us into submission with refrains of “never enough time/money/status/possessions.”

“That’s life,” they tell us, as they were told.

Society wants to punish you for being born. It is completely ill-equipped to do anything else. Perhaps childhoods can be idyllic for some, but when “real life” takes hold, each person realizes what life has to offer, and uses what means are at his or her disposal to ignore this fact. Among the most common means for achieving this are drugs, alcohol, television, religion, unhealthy food, and expensive consumer goods at best; racism, xenophobia, patriotism, sexism, and imperialism at worst.

In essence, society brings us into this world and then gives us the means to kill ourselves, our hopes and dreams and aspirations for a better world. Rather than hand us a gun and have us blow our lives away, it prefers that we consume as much as possible before doing so, not because it eases any actual pain but because it enriches the people who benefit from society as it is. Mass infirmity, just like mass ignorance, makes those elements of society richer.

If we want to see any changes, however, we must not simply expect society to start giving us what it owes us. We must alter it as a whole. We must change its mechanism and purpose, from one that takes as much as it can from each citizen, to one that gives each citizen as much to live for—as much freedom, as much expression, as much value and worth, as much warmth and love and happiness, as much ethical fulfillment and consistency, as much support and solidarity, as much understanding—as possible.

That must be our goal. When we have accomplished it for everyone, we will have started to pay back the children of the world, and they will thank us, and then we can sleep peacefully, knowing they are safe.

The Pleasure Dome

There was a time when I believed that everything had meaning, and that that meaning was somehow objective, and that life consisted of being moved, literally and figuratively, from one meaning to another. Being divested of that belief was hard. It consisted of realizing that the meaning was only there because I saw and felt it. It would be just as easy to perceive no meaning to anything, and many people in the world—the ones whose lives consist of more suffering than comfort, more upheaval than stability, more hate than love—perceived it as just that: devoid of meaning, or of any meaning besides pain.

They were not wrong. I was wrong.

This was part of my experience that I describe as being in “the pleasure dome,” a time in which we juvenilely believe that there is anything intrinsic to life, to reality; that is, that life or reality have any intrinsic qualities: that they are good or pleasant or meaningful or valuable, that there is a “sense” or “intelligence” to either one (besides human intelligence), that they work out in a certain way because “nature does not act without reason,” as Aristotle teaches us, whether favorably because “nature has a plan,” or unfavorably because “that’s life.”

Some of us also hew to the misguided and self-serving (but also ultimately self- and world-depriving) belief that thoughts and feelings have value in any capacity beyond themselves (outside of the actions that result from them). The harsh, brutish, and uncaring world which actually exists in a material sense is somehow false because it is inferior to “real” reality, the reality of the internal or emotionalized, the idealized world of creativity, and artistry and “vision” are means by which to perceive and cultivate “real” reality and to leave “fake” reality behind.

It is not that internal life does not, in some significant sense, constitute a type of reality, importance, or urgency. It is more the patent falsehood that internality affects externality in any way on its own, without action as its mediator, or that it somehow outweighs it or constitutes reality in any sense because it is more pleasant, more agreeable, more manageable, more understandable.

Just the opposite: what is less pleasant, less agreeable, less manageable, less understandable, is in fact, what is real, and all of the opposites that we perceive in our minds are, at best, what should be real. Were we to act on them, were we to put them into reality in a material form, perhaps they would take root and persist in material reality as a material change, rather than letting them sprout, flower, and die in our minds, in miserly jealousy and fear that they would be denigrated and crushed under less sensitive feet.

And perhaps they would, but they might inspire someone else to speak their mind, to act on it, to do it, to live and exist in the material world, outside the quilted confines of the pleasure dome.

There is an epidemic of mental illness splashed across my generation like a heart-shaped bloodstain. Why is that? Is it that doctors are too prescription-happy and get kickbacks from drug companies? Is it that all humans are, in some way or another, intrinsically damaged simply by existence? Is it that young people are insecure and simply grasp at any convenient sign of their own identity, and any pill to go with it, anything to make them feel more entitled to the benefits of being “normal”?

We like to forget that society produces the mentally ill people upon whom it imposes the many designations of mental illness it also produced. It created these designations to seemingly address the problem of mental illness. But before mental illness was categorized, it certainly existed, and now that it is categorized with as much gradient variation as geology, meteorology or any other science, it still exists. It even thrives, such that every deviation from the norm—overt anxiety, overt sensitivity, overt awareness, overt fear, overt particularity—can now be categorized, diagnosed, catalogued, and panoptically scrutinized by a chorus of licensed professionals.

Notice my use of the word “overt.” If these traits are not overt, if they are kept inside, they are not visible to other people and hence the need to categorize them diminishes until such times when the subject commits murder or pedophilia, to the extreme surprise of his or her familiars to whom he or she was “such a nice quiet person. I never would have thought…Sometimes you just never know.”

How could you “know,” how could you “have a thought” about something you ignore? Of course we are told to ignore the hateful and embrace the lovely, and of course we are taught to espouse it as well.  Even while we over-diagnose, over-medicate, over-scrutinize, we ignore and remain silent on the hateful aforementioned truth: that society creates its many segments, including the murderers, rapists, and corrupt politicians, because it thrives as it is through them. We are not taught to understand why a person commits murder or other crimes, except that they are aberrations, anomalies, and outliers, statistically insignificant, not signifying any greater message besides humanity’s ineluctable “dark side.”

Society puts dark ideas into our heads, ideas like “what is different is bad, what is the same is good,” or, “to dominate is to be right,” or “life sucks, get over it.” In the manicheistic pursuit of happiness, positivity, and self-interest, most of us tuck these lessons away to fall back on in the event of indecision. When we are not sure what to do with our lives, we can always rely on imitating the herd, the will to dominate (or, more likely, to be dominated, assuming its inherent virtue), and excusing the inequities and failures of life to steer us in the right and safe direction. This is what is considered “good mental health.”

But for the mentally ill, there are two other reactions to these adages. The first is total commitment i.e. taking it too far. These are murderers, rapists, pedophiles, the senselessly violent, hurting the innocent or defenseless, attacking minorities, preying on those they perceive as weak or different, and resolving any moral qualms with some variation of “life sucks, they’ll get over it. Life has winners and life has losers.”

The second reaction is emotional resistance. This puts the young woman or man in a state of anxiety while taking a test comprised of arbitrary criteria, depression when life appears worthless, anger upon learning about the state of the world, and (antisocial) alienation while struggling in that harsh “real world.” Pundits would have us perceive ourselves as “soft” and “weak.” “Sometimes life is sad, get over it.” “Sometimes life is anxious, get over it.” “Angry? You should be grateful!” “If you act like a weirdo, you get what you deserve.” Notice the similarity to the refrains of the killers.

For the emotionally resistant, the body is willing, though only under duress, and the mind is not. The mind is unwilling to accept the terms of engagement that have been thrust upon it, coercively, not as a request but as a requirement, if she should hope to succeed, to live safely and well, and to remain safe from the social stigmas of “failure,” having “never quite made it,” “never quite fitting in,” being “uncooperative,” “immature,” “ungrateful,” “underachieving,” having had “all the chances in the world to get ahead and missing or messing up all of them.”

Perhaps there is some compassion, some understanding that one aspect or another of society failed, not the emotionally resistant individual. This sense of shame and of self-disgust, of non-acceptance of the self, is laid at her feet for her to voluntarily take unto herself—as though she was being told to climb into her own grave—in the form of social stigma and mediocrity, to exculpate the society as the ultimate robber of this person’s “success” (a hopelessly twisted and obscure concept) to whom it never gave a chance, and place the blame right where it belongs: on the shoulders of the prisoner who hates her prison, her prison-guards, her prison-owners, no matter how beautiful a cell is promised or delivered, no matter how wonderful a meal is reserved for those who really “work hard” at deserving it, at fitting in.

She remains diagnosed as “her own worst enemy,” unsafe alone, unsafe with others, generally too sick to be around. Keep her alone, and silenced, and unloved, because her anger, her revulsion, her rejection of what is baldly wrong and unjust, of what completely fails to live up to the potential she sees in her daydreams—where hope is unneeded and fears are acted upon, where nature thrives and justice prevails, where the eye looks where it will and not where it is directed, where people are free—might rub off onto you.

And then you would be to blame.

Do not betray your dreams or your goals, for to do so is to betray yourself, to deny the value of your own life. It is true that “you only live once,” but that is not the whole story. Not only do you only live your life once, but you also only live each moment once, and then it is gone. Each moment not spent in the pursuit of something more should be a moment used to recharge from all of the other moments spent in this manner. Make every moment count, and let every feeling be tied to a dream.

No matter how crazy your dreams may seem, never let their craziness stand in their own way. Don’t let anything or anyone stand in their way, especially you. No matter how possible or impossible…if it is possible, do it. If it is impossible, fight to make it possible, not just for you but for everyone.

It may take time, it may take failure, it may take heartache, it may take risk, but your parents took a risk by bringing you into this world. For whatever reason, they took the risk of creating a human life, someone who can hurt, and suffer, but who can accomplish things that might give the suffering a purpose.

Never believe that it is too late, but remember that your time is limited. You might have to refine your dreams as you go along, or pause on them as you take care of other things. You might make mistakes that can seem to take the dream away from you. This is why you must be careful, to guard your freedom, your avenues, your alliances, your friendships, the ones that cheer you on and believe in you, and not give in to the voices of doubt and infirmity that so many other people listen to and that are screamed at them from every turret.

You can stand above those voices, as a yes-voice, a voice that can say to others, “I believed in myself, in my dream, and I made it happen. I didn’t listen to the sad, the beaten, the destroyed, the cynical, even though I felt this way sometimes. I listened to my faith in my dream, to my confidence in my own desires, to my heart and my head working in perfect harmony towards what I knew had a chance of making me happy. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t short, perhaps it didn’t even turn out exactly the way I thought it would. And I’ll never be truly happy, never be truly content, or finished. But I didn’t use that as an excuse. I didn’t fall back on the safe and secure, on what was provided for me. I struggled for what I believe in, and saw it through, from one part of my life to the next: from a dream to a reality.”

Reality is beautiful, but it is in the minority. It is rare, endangered, and sought-after, not to be distributed far and wide, or beheld in all its beauty, but to be hoarded away by misers or crushed by misanthropes. If you want reality, you’re going to have to fight for it. But whatever it is, keep this in the back of your mind: your dream, much like your life, much like the world we live in, is always worth saving, improving, and fighting for. Feel pity for anyone who says otherwise, and rage at the voices that convinced them.

photo by seatgeek

Mr. Flame (R) and Steve Aoki. photo: seatgeek

Waka Flocka Flame, in the seminal track “Rage the Night Away” with Steve Aoki at the helm, presents two seemingly contradictory ideas in an exhortative manner to his audience. In the very first line of the song, he proclaims, “We don’t give a damn about money/we alive right now/all we do is party/and get high right now,” while mere moments later, and practically in the same breath, he implores the listener to “make yo money stack” [sic]. While Waka could simply be illustrating his own inner thought process (perhaps a daily reminder to continue making his own “money stack”), his tone suggests, not a reflective inner monologue, but an urgent message. So I assume he is speaking to me, recommending that I earnestly dedicate myself to the task of making my, as it were, “money stack.”

It is also unclear whether he means that a person who is attempting to “make their money stack” should be more concerned with constructing a single stack of money, a “money stack,” which I call the Noun-Level Stack (NLS), or with obtaining an amount of money so significant that it “stacks,” referred to as Verb-Level Stacking (VLS).

noun-level stack

Noun-Level Stack

Verb-Level Stacking is not a “stack of money” being constructed; rather, it is “money that stacks.” To elaborate, achieving the VLS depends upon accruing an amount of money that is so great, the money is capable of being formed, and perhaps even forms itself, into haphazard “stacks” of perhaps indeterminate but necessarily substantial quantities, and earning money to this extent is to be considered “making” (“making” in the sense of “forcing”) your money “[to] stack” insofar as you are forcing your money to be capable of being stacked by having accumulated so much of it.

Now that the distinction is perfectly lucid, it may prove worthwhile to add the following as an afterthought: I say “necessarily substantial” due to the fact that a very small amount of banknotes, say anything less than 20 count, would hardly constitute a “stack” but rather a small pile, at best.

verb-level stacking

Potential Verb-Level Stacking


Continuing on, in light of the fact that this apparent missive follows his proclamation that “we” don’t “give a damn” about money, are we to conclude merely that Flockaveli is indeed giving frivolous, contradictory advice? Is he that mercurial, airy, irresponsible?

Or is he attempting to intimate to the listener that, in order to “party” to such an extent that one could be said to do nothing but party, it is necessary to accrue a “money stack,” such that the expenditures associated with the traditional partying lifestyle (alcohol, food, nice clothing, cover charges, et cetera) are provided for, not simply sufficiently but many times over? Based on the rest of the lyrics, we can dispense with the naive and frankly apologistic idea that Mr. Flame is referring to any other manner of partying lifestyle than this.

This raises the question, assuming Waka does want the listener to follow in his footsteps and do nothing but party, how does he reconcile the need to earn the money (whether that money is to be accrued into one “stack” or, due to its bulk, to be in the process of “stacking”) with the desire to do nothing but party? Mustn’t a person do things other than partying in order to earn or obtain his or her prerequisite stack or stacks?

I’m going to stand tippy-toes on a stack of my own here and assume that that idea is so self-evidently clumsy and ignorant of the vicissitudes of modern life that it is virtually impossible Flockaveli—a person who comes from that very same modern life—could have meant it that way.

Rather, we can gather not only from the lyrics but from the feel of the song—high energy, blistering harmonic heat, pounding, surrounding bass, and anthemic, inarguable vocal fluorishes, certainly not something to be sustained indefinitely throughout every second of one’s waking life—that this song, itself, represents the attitude that one adopts when one is truly living, and that things done independent of this attitude do not constitute “living” in the same meaningful sense.

Therefore, we can derive that, of course it is possible to “do” nothing but party while also engaging in activities (i.e. jobs/employment/income) that make partying possible through the production of, first, a “money stack,” and then, one hopes, adequate levels of additional income such that one’s “stack” transcends the Noun-Level Stack and achieves Verb-Level Stacking, preferably to stay.

In this scenario, theoretically time spent not living would decrease commensurate to the degree to which one’s “money stack” is being made in the case of NLS, or the degree to which one’s money is “stacking” in the case of the VLS. This is the ratio of “living” to “non-living” which Mr. Flame would have his listeners improve upon, and which he has exemplarily perfected.

This is not meant to glorify mental affliction, but rather to explore what it is, where it comes from, and its function. It is not inherently linked to revolutionary inclination or consciousness; rather, some of it is the result of a society which demands the compromise of one’s conscience in exchange for the ability to “function” normally in that society—and for the greater ability to benefit from that compromise—and some natural psychological response patterns represent the capacity, the inclination, and the desire to resist these demands.

It is easy to see our mental symptoms as signs of weakness, as disgraceful and unseemly symbols of our own softness of character. From one perspective, they do weaken us to the onslaughts of daily life, the type which demands total complicity in an unfolding future to which we would rather not give our consent.

If only there was some pill to take that made us “just do it,” “just say yes,” or just ask “how high” whenever we are told to jump. But there are too many barriers, those which connote a sensitive nature, between our wills and the aims of our demanders.

Too many of us were raised with levels of privilege sufficient to grant access to the question why: why is what is “required,” required? Why are we being forced into this way of life in whose creation and shape we had no influence, but to which we are expected to either conform, or if we would not have it thus, to change entirely on our own when all the wise and wizened voices are entrenched against us, or to leave altogether if we don’t like it (and some of us do, for pity)?

Why does this seem such a simple demand, yet it quakes our bellies to contemplate fulfilling it? Why is it being demanded of me, when it only benefits those whose interests are as invisible as they are, yet their influence is as palpable and seemingly ubiquitous as snow in a blizzard?

Our “infirmities,” shaped by our chemistry, our upbringing, or our observations, are saying no on our behalf. They are telling us not to deal with “reality,” that we are not able to handle, to cope, to function. We are not able to accept and move on, to stay calm, to swallow. Our stomachs are upside-down for a reason.

This land, this language, these laws do not inspire insouciance. Or gross obedience. Our smile is reserved for ourselves when, for a brief moment, we feel at peace or a memory of peace or an idea of peace or of truly “living.” Meanwhile, we are required not only to compromise our hearts and minds, but also take up arms against them, to ravage them, to bury them, as we would the native enemy. We are required to conform, to consent, to forget there ever was a conflict between “what is” and “what should be.” The power of all of the forces beyond our control—the repressive and the ideological—are organized against us and that power is growing every day, commensurate with the growing level of powerlessness, incompetence, impotence, failure, and apparent halfheartedness of any organization of resistance that existed before or since. It seems there used to be outlets for people who dissented; there used to be an active community of antiestablishment freaks, for better or for worse.

Now, almost all such organizations demand first that we compromise, the type of compromise that created the situation in which we find ourselves. The only mechanism that works correctly is our conscience, scooting between the fragments of our thoughts as vague detachment, observant melancholy, itching fear, or the prospect of total paralysis in the face of a world that doesn’t care if you die—that didn’t care if you ever lived—but only that you succeed at the role to which you’ve been assigned: fool, simpleton, idiot, puppet, charlatan, traitor, taker, navel-gazer. And in our hearts we refuse to play these roles, even as we don the costumes and makeup and inquire as to the rate of pay.

It is a sad but liberating truth that part of our strength lies in our fears, angers, depressions, and anxieties, and only when we can listen to ourselves and to each other, no matter how much our hands and voices shake, and direct our feelings and thoughts at the society which produced them—as it produces so many criminals, addicts, indigents, and indolents that it would rather never acknowledge, address, or redeem—can we hope to wrestle the definition of progress away from “well-adjusted” people and derail their legacy: a perpetual shuffle in lockstep of our people, our planet, our potential, towards irrevocable doom, not psychic, not of the self, but of the thing itself. Suicide, seemingly originating from within so that the victim and her lack of strength can be blamed, in the face of mounting fear.

Our hope rests on moving the fight from the homefront to the enemy’s doorstep, from within against ourselves to without against “reality,” which is not a fixed and eternal concept just as we are not. Reality can be made just, just as our feelings of disgust can be justified, just as they can be clarified, directed, distilled down to their essence, and turned into weapons against those whose only weapon is coerced compromise, whose only refrain is “life is unfair, get used to it,” all while they make the rules, or got used to them long ago. They compromised their conscience, and look where it got them: doing the masters’ work for them, criticizing and crushing the hearts and minds of children, and making us brace ourselves to go silently through the meat-grinder, only because they can’t bear to hear us scream.