Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Front Lines

In what is strangely but indisputably a step forwards, my social anxiety from adolescence is back. I remember, in my more extreme periods of social withdrawal, how deciding to accompany my mum to the supermarket would represent a significant triumph over this tendency, and would be reserved for my more courageous days. Lately, I've begun to feel very keenly again the strain going to the supermarket has apparently never stopped causing. Asking questions in class also is a newly exacting ordeal. I will raise my hand in class and when the teacher lets me speak I will feel a massive stutter coming on, and it will take about 7 seconds of everybody wondering if I'm okay for me to be able to swallow it and somehow start my sentence. Talking to people one-on-one I'm oddly giggly and slow to understand what they mean, and when volunteers are sought to read out passages in Middle English or Classical Chinese as is my awesome new weekly routine this semester, there's an interlude of unmistakable blind terror while I do intense battle with myself trying to get myself to take a shot until somebody else casually or within the saner bounds of nervousness does it instead.

It feels like some kind of coordinated attack. What it is, I think, is me, genuinely resolved to not fake self-confidence, and not contrive to gain the approval of absolutely everybody everywhere, realising that this way I cannot be sure to have their approval. I have stopped trying to engineer it without ceasing to consider it important.

It is a strange time with strange moods, but there is truly something frightening especially about going to the supermarket. It feels like a harsh, duplicitous, loveless arena, where people are crowded in together like the products on the shelves, forced into zombie-like interactions, expected to deal with the overwhelming information around them and distill out of it some kind of workable household collection. That doesn't actually make it sound that much less strange, but it's definitely got something to do with expectations. When you come into direct contact with people, you have to be able to deal with the likely reality of disappointing them.

I'm used to being able to weasel my way out of being disliked by people I don't like myself. Probably many of us have this ability, but presumably most of us show more discrimination in utilising it. I'm trying to start on a road of more complicated and strained relationship with others for the sake of an easier relationship with myself. In spite of myself, I keep feeling like I have a lot to lose in this exchange. It's the difference between being a good religious devotee and being a good person and a good me. Every time I come to a point where this decision has to be made I feel like I'm facing down the entire religious-normative-moral establishment and demand that it dismantle for my sake. I really don't know how to deal with people who think you can demand or expect of someone to do anything besides being a decent person who tries to be fair with others, and in the absence of role-playing, I feel naked. How do you deal with being under attack if you have no idea how to hit back?

Monday, 30 July 2012

Sadness as Homosexuality

The more I think about this analogy, the more complete it seems. One day, a comprehensive study may find that all of us appear somewhere on the sadness scale, with, say, 15% categorised as full-blown sad. Some time down the line, sadness will be permanently removed from the list of undesirable social phenomena, and it will become politically incorrect to regard it as a setback.

I am deliberately using the term sadness rather than depression, because the word depression is itself a kind of negative value judgement. Its apparently commoner meaning is a kind of casual and belittling appropriation of "clinical depression", signifying a momentary but undramatic deflation, but the meaning it's ripping off is that of the melancholic mental disease. I'm comfortable with calling it that, when it's active, but it's curious that we have no middle ground between a debilitating and life-threatening disease of intense sadness and the condition of being cheerful. To not toe the emotional line, like not toeing the sexual one, is to be a deviant, and to be either accused of perversion or compassionately pitied, and have earnest attempts made to cure you. Until, one day, someone will figure out that what you "have" is just a thing, like hair colour, and it's completely harmless, and if left alone we'd as soon forget to get excited about it.

It's not "psychiatric", or psychological, as much as it is political. The monotheistic world didn't want homosexuals, and it had them more or less forced upon it, because that's what reality eventually does. They screwed up its teleological paradigm. Sad people screw up somebody else's grand vision of what the world is supposed to be. My theory is that it's a conception of the world as rightfully static. Sad people, represented as a demographic most conspicuously by artists, are the ultimate subversives. They are the ones who take a look at the world and have a visceral reaction of "fuck this".

You can level the same accusations at sadness as at homosexuality. You can say it's unnatural, or unsound evolutionarily. You can worry that if left unchecked it will start to infect the populace, that your children might turn sad. You can say that you don't mind people being sad, as long as they don't "act" sad. You can point to their dubious emotional habits, and to the preponderance of emotional diseases among them. You'd have to be a callous dipshit and possibly an idiot, but it's not like that's stopping people now.

Nobody has to bother with any of these things now, because the sad are hiding in the corners, ashamed of their existence and of their emotional urges. You have some fronting rock bands like you always had gays fronting drag shows, but for the non-exhibitionist, or for the somewhat timid, which is something that seems to come with the territory, it's of only limited encouragement. For every Kurt Cobain defiantly screaming "Rape me" there are a million smiling-nodders terrified of being ostracised and humiliated if they ever lose their guard and express themselves.

I don't know what the price is that gays pay for living in the closet. I'm kind of curious to know. For sads, I'm fairly sure it results in clinical depression.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Artistic Temperament

In the past few days, possibly because I'm studying for an exam in French Literature, I keep coming across these people whose mental illnesses appear to have played a major part in their creativity – which is to say, in their identity and their life.

You hear this said about these Van Gogh types sometimes – they were brilliant, but they were miserable, or their misery would contribute to and be assuaged by their beautiful creations. It always seemed a bit off to me, because what was the point of devoting yourself to art, if it had nothing to do with happiness?

The specific example running through my mind is of Robert M. Pirsig. After many years of persistent nagging, my younger brother has finally relented and begun reading his quasi-autobiographical Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Today he pointed out, quite rightly, that its protagonist wasn't really very Zen.

Which led me to think that what he is, actually, is an artist. Even before writing his two books, while he was a technical writer and university teacher and whatnot; he was an artist simply by virtue of his wanting to do things properly – critically, non-conventionally – in an insistence that put him at odds with society. Giving up this struggle, this criticism, to try and fall in line with convention was what made him bitter, torn, deadened; engaging in it essentially just made him rejected.

Rejection is unpleasant, and a much bigger deal than the platitudes would have you think in any case, but I don’t think it can hold a candle to the experience of being subjected to industrial processing.
Both experiences count as mental illness, in principle. If you stray too far and if you suffer too much you're a whack job, but in both cases your experiences would make fascinating fodder for aficionados if rendered properly.

William S. Burroughs seems to have considered his homosexuality and drug-addiction equally parts of this, as maladaptive and invigorating aspects of his life and personality.  One more piece in a long chain of evidence that seems to suggest that if you want to not suck, it is inevitable that you get into quite serious conflict with those who do.

Art is an arena, or institution, where this antagonistic conduct is relatively tolerated; sometimes more or less encouraged – which may be why those are the weirdos and freaks we remember and revere, but it's fully possible that the forgotten others, in less obliging professional circumstances, led tense but fulfilling lives as well.

Sometimes, of course, art doesn't seem to have ultimately been enough. Van Gogh really seems to have been pretty comprehensively miserable (do does Cobain, who for some reason I keep thinking of when I think of Van Gogh); Flaubert, if the introductory note I read about him can be believed, on top of everything else gone wrong in his life, in the tyrannical self-discipline as well as the unpleasant subject matter involved in writing Madame Bovary, made himself so miserable he grew to resent its success.

On the other hand, there are these Zen monks, and Taoist types, presumably, who claim to be happy through a different kind of non-conformism. So what is the Zen way to maintain your motorcycle? It doesn't have to be about calm – because who the fuck is ever calm anyway? - but if you're doing things properly, I think you should be able to feel the exultation that comes from being free of bullshit, even if people around you are calling you names. Or hospitalising you. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012


My life no longer feels lubricated. With a massive effort, I have managed effective detoxification. It's like childhood is back now, and things that happen in my interactions with people actually mean something.

When I was a kid the stakes seemed quite high. It didn't require much for you to annoy people out of liking you. The rejections seemed so arbitrary I couldn't figure out what set apart those that happened from those that didn't. Wherever there was tension, I would assume there could be a split, and would proceed only as far as my self-confidence and principles would justify it.

Here in grown-up world, at least theoretically the stakes are much higher. If I'm not careful, I might just find myself forced to drink hemlock for corrupting the youth. Self-confidence varies almost daily, ideology is confused and self-contradictory, and rejections seem as random as ever, possibly even more so, as people these days actually have brains that they could technically use to settle what's acceptable and what's pariah-material. Operating without lubrication and feeling like a human being, I find myself having trouble pinpointing exactly when friction becomes explosion.

Very possibly, you can't preclude explosion, and it's a serious risk you must be willing to regularly take, like getting into a car. Still, you should have an idea of where the car is supposed to be, so you don't drive on the wrong side of the road, or through a park, even if you're in a justified hurry.

It's a bad example because unlike cars, being eccentric is not something that is likely to kill anyone, or even harm them. But it can place you sufficiently out of people's comfort zones for them to not hazard treating you like a person. On the other hand it's an appropriate example because it's not limited to my wanting to do things differently; I also think that I'm doing things right and everybody else (well, most of them) are doing it wrong - which is a problem, because it's a little like the equivalent of being the only guy driving on the right side of the road.

Car crashes, explosions, executions - I'm sure there's a saner way of expressing disagreement. I see it all the time. People roll their eyes at each other, shout at each other, fucking denounce each other sometimes, and then go on being friends, which is a phenomenon I kind of remember from childhood, but it's been so long that it's getting a little fuzzy. What sets these clashes apart from those understood as demonstrating ultimate incompatibility? And how much compatibility is absolutely necessary? How much advisable?

I suspect that if I do what people sometimes tell me, and ignore arbitrary conventions and expectations completely, I'll get fired, and alienate and embarrass my friends to the point of insulting them. There's a certain degree of respecting people's arbitrary expectations in wanting to be their friend. It doesn't seem inherently unreasonable, but the question is where should I not have this flexibility, and where exactly are these red lines, in terms of other people. The main question is, I suppose, where is it almost definitely not an issue, and it's just me seeing explosions in regular life-sustaining friction?

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Dragging myself out of bed for a walk today, it appeared there were no more clean shirts in the confused pandemonium of the bedroom, so I went outside bare-chested and picked one up off the line, covering my shame while going out into the open street. I realise putting a shirt on is something of an everyday occurrence for people in these parts,  but the unusual thing here was that it took me about a second and a half to go from a topless-outside someone strangers would walk to the other side of the street from and acquaintances would raise an eyebrow at to a normal, unobjectionable clean-cut citizen, in a metamorphosis too dramatic to be done justice to in the casual way in which it was effected.

What it is, is an exceptionally apt illustration of what annoys me about the world and its arbitrary demands of you. These aren't necessarily all that taxing in their particulars, but there's something alienating, confusing, and downright depressing about their cumulative hollow totality, much like religion.

Apparently religion is traditionally the first stage and major facilitator in the repeated worldwide transitions from egalitarian nomadic wandering to exploitative sedentary imprisonment. What better use of agricultural surplus than the freeing up of working hands for the purpose of expertise in what you should think, what you should wear and where you should work? It's a kind of repression altogether different from that of the mob - trampling intelligent reflection in the name of impulsive emotion; in a kind of charlatanistic reversal of this, it strangles spontaneity in the name of bullshit.

Well-organised and meticulously coordinated bullshit appears, for most people, to be preferable to the headache of dealing with the chaotic reality of things not emanating from the anuses of cattle. I say chaotic, but I don't actually think it would inevitably be anarchic. We don't have to get rid of all the rules - just the clearly stupid ones.

It's the kind of heartache much more easily avoided by not taking the world and the morons largely inhabiting it seriously, but it's a problem because there's not all that much else to do around here. I still can't say I really see the point of treating people seriously who don't treat you seriously. So whaddaya do? Walk around without a shirt on and see where the chips fall? It seems like a role some people at least have managed to take on in the world.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Doing Things

I have spent most of my illustrious blog-writing career, I think, complaining about people's oppressive and unwarranted demands of me and my annoying tendency to yield to them. I believe it's fair to say that I have managed to reverse this tendency, but this achievement appears to have less to do with courage than with an exasperated pigheadedness. I have stopped doing what people want through stopping to do more or less everything. And it occurs to me that this process is probably something of a more verbalised, more rationalised recreation of what started my depression in the first place.

It's certainly less chaotic, and this time there's a girlfriend, which is an improvement. It's less drastic in general, but it's ridiculously similar, to an extent that can almost make me empathise with the idiots who go on about how everybody gets like this and "just pull yourself out" of it. It seems that when fear no longer motivates you to function like a person or else, you run the risk of undergoing a bewilderingly much more comprehensive demotivation.

One reason, I think, is that like I said, it's not that I've stopped being afraid of "standing out instead of fitting in" - like I saw suggested the other day on one of those over-formatted-sentences-pretending-to-be-pictures on facebook - or found some way of actually dealing with it, so it's mainly just down to pretending it isn't there. This is difficult, and it makes life in general that much scarier, which is also difficult, so it's kind of an exhausting prospect in general. An overwhelming pessimistic mood makes the effort seem not worth it, thereby also handily evading the scary stuff.

Another reason may be that sinking into indolence is kind of addictive, and you just need to pull yourself out of it. When I manage to drag myself out of the house for a walk, or to talk to someone, or to read or work on something, they end up, overwhelmingly, as positive experiences, but every day they struggle anew, not incredibly successfully, to justify my effort for them. In the absence of some kind of coercive force, everything is a real challenge.

This probably has to do with not separating the things I do because it's expected from the things that I do because I want to do them - effort in general seems to have humiliating hollowness associated with it. Learning to do things freely might be an uphill struggle.

Sunday, 19 February 2012


Pain is crucial to what makes me who I am. Getting along with people and meeting standards of performance in work or in studies are skills, compulsory diversions from the real thing. Approval and "accomplishments" are both equally arbitrary and hollow pursuits. Meaningfulness is achieved - you could almost say earned - only through pain. It doesn't have to exclusively consist of pain, but if it doesn't stop on the way to pick it up it is a futile journey.

This is probably true of everybody everywhere. If you don't recognise all that you feel, you proceed under false pretences and at an alienated distance. Still, I feel that pain specifically is more central to me than to other people, or in any case far more central to me than the life that I lead and the things I say in it suggest. I'm not sure there exists any meaningful thing I can do that doesn't involve a quite significant amount of pain.

I think it has to do with my relationship to the status quo. Not so much to any specific status quo as to the basic notion of a status quo, and the need to accept its authority in practice in order to be able to function in society. Before anything more dramatic happens - even if nothing else happens - this causes me pain. It saddens me and angers me, and does something else that can only really be described as a psychic equivalent of physical pain. It is difficult to conceive of it this barely. It is more difficult than usual to send this to be published. It feels like more than an emotional vulnerability. It's an admission of emotional weakness. I feel like a slow guy having trouble keeping up with things, and being told not to worry - just to try and be more intelligent. Try and grow a thicker skin.

I realise this is also a stereotype with positive connotations. I suppose that feeling too much pain is more relatable than feeling too little, but I suspect the rift would be too wide to sustain too many people's sympathy. People lose patience.

I have difficulty dealing with my private space being invaded. People come in without knocking and shit all over your stuff. People come in expecting and demanding things they have no reason or right to. They come and expect the impossible. They demand you pretend to be someone else.

Political and religious charlatans are after my intellectual independence. Predatorial lowlifes are after my emotional inclinations, mainly my capacity for love. Giggling idiots are after my entirely personal idiosyncrasies. This is not a schizophrenic paranoia. All of these people are actually out there, and in alarmingly high numbers. Prejudiced cowards of all shapes and sizes are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to assert their superiority by killing as much of what is not yet dead in the world as they can. They all have their own personal stories and journeys they had undertaken to get to where they are, but fuck it, I'm better than them, and I don't have to pretend to be on equal terms.

I want to keep my own stuff. That's more important than anything else. The only kind of "life" I can think of where keeping your own stuff is considered conducive is that of the creative artist, or possibly the philosopher, though probably not. What I probably need to do is make a living writing. Good luck with that, huh? Socially, it means embracing the pain. It's there for a reason.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


All of my post pubescent life life I've been conducting a personal crusade against unnecessary conflict. I can remember myself, sometime in primary school, returning all the time in my mind to the expression "superfluous conflict" (well, the less obscure Hebrew variant thereof). This crusade has expressed itself mainly, possibly entirely, in refraining myself from entering into unnecessary conflict, by the surefire way of never entering into any conflict under any circumstances.

As the years have gone by, I have grown more and more sensitive to and threatened by unexpressed disapproval, concurrently with its waning manifestations, and I've taken dramatic steps of self-assertion, some of them regularly, but they've all felt thoroughly superficial. I'm so afraid of becoming part of the aggression that overwhelms me so much all of the time, that I won't reconcile myself to its place in the social world under any circumstances.

People are idiots. That's a fairly antagonistic phrase I've repeated often in the recent (well, previous) posts. They are idiots because of the unnecessary antagonism they so often create, judging and proscribing and excluding what is not merely harmless, but often exactly what would make life sweeter, richer, and less achingly, depressingly stupid. This antagonism towards antagonism is not a contradiction. Only an idiot would suggest that, at least if he were to make it into a judgemental assertion instead of letting it stew long enough in his brain for him to notice he's being a self-satisfied dickhead entirely removed from reality.

Enter me. I can handle other people's aggressive promotion of people's right to be different. In fact I admire it,  relatively openly, even when this promotion is of themselves and when others deem them to be going over the line. But I think it remains a contradiction in my brain, or wherever this seemingly endless reserve of restlessness is located. Somehow, no context arises where it seems like it would be the right thing to do.

It's much easier for me to relate to the idea of it being a really shitty reality where people put others down just because an opportunity presents itself, and they don't have the self-discipline or inclination to stop themselves. I have my trouble getting my head, or I suppose my heart and soul, around the notion - accepted in principle - of it being a worthwhile life, or meaningful enterprise, defending your and other people's ability to deviate from stupid conventions, even when they're upheld by well meaning, fundamentally good people. I can't even make myself feel it as justified.

For at least a year I've been pumping myself up to reply "No, fuck YOU," but an opportunity somehow never seemed to present itself. And I'm sure it has tons of times. And even where nobody said anything, I would have refrained from expressing myself fully to avoid it. My day-to-day fantasy - the one I don't write about here with defiant pride, is of a life without antagonism. It occurs to me, that in a very crucial way, this is an aspiration to a life without meaning. A life of not bothering people as much as they bother me.

Conflict in unpleasant, and has a potential of finality attached to it. I don't actually know which of these is more significant in hindering its emergence. It would mean a real life and it would mean an end to the world of ponies and rainbows in which I live, at least in terms of the actual social interactions. It didn't use to be pleasant. Not apparently far enough in my past there was unequivocal hostility whenever I let my guard down.  At least some of this is bound to reproduce itself. And once I have actual memories to take with me of years in my life, they will be significant in defining who I am. It's like some strange kind of long holiday that needs to come to an end somehow.

Sometimes you need to respond in a way that is likely to ruin somebody's day. It's a novel thought. I'll see if I can manage to keep it rolling over in my head. It's probably purely a moralistic rationalisation anyway. Idiots have it coming. If they don't want the responsibility they can easily shut their stupid mouths.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bullshit Artistry

In the great brown land of Down Under, they have the curious habit of dubbing anybody suspected of momentary disingenuousness a "bullshit artist". In the land of English-speaking internet and pop culture, and therefore presumably in the United States of wacky Republicans, there is a tongue-in-cheek tendency to inform people that they have "failed at life". It is my intention here to try and weave both these threads of contemporary philosophy together, so as to shed further light on the childish dichotomy from my previous post, which I am totally sticking by.

"Succeeding" in life is succeeding in bullshit. Were I to be reasonable about this, I'd define it not as a steaming pile of bovine manure, but as survival skills; a faculty for successful cooperation with human beings within the various projects - economic, social, spiritual - they undertake together. It is, however, a steaming pile of bovine manure.

I suspect this is why when I have trouble doing one I inevitably end up having trouble doing the other. When the mere thought of dealing with people's bullshit exhausts me, so does going to work, buying groceries, even cooking. Everything feels polluted by idiotically fucking arbitrary expectations and conventions, in a feeling that probably isn't justified but that I'm pretty sure wouldn't arise were I a farmer growing his own food and not needing to play games even for the simple stuff.

"Survival"  in our close-knit society always has an edge of competition to it - of hostility. This is where all this love and individualism business inescapably leads to a political attitude. As I once irritated a friend professing total political apathy by insisting - your desire to be left alone and not have any service to a grand ideology demanded of you, is a leftist sentiment. Social well-being can be sought after either through victory in the Darwinian conflict - reverberating through my brain at any rate as the "better bullshitting the other bullshitters" option - or through not treading on people, and demanding not to be trod on.

For the life of me I cannot begin to understand why anything else is ever considered necessary. I cannot believe that any inconveniences enabled by a looser leash on people would come anywhere near the suffering and blatant waste of life caused by the current asphyxiating bullshit-regime. Expectations and demands are okay. But it seems like common sense to stop before voicing them to make sure they're not completely fucking stupid.

But that's not how the system works. It needs the act of judging almost more than it needs its supposed protection. It gives people something to do. It makes them feel that their life isn't meaningless, that their emotions aren't confused. Rather than try and keep two contradictory thoughts in their brain for more than 3 seconds, they'll throw a cockfight, and give their religious devotion to the side they think will win, and denounce the other as more or less impure. Or ridiculous. Or "wrong".

Doing this (and avoiding it) well is demonstrating bullshit artistry. But, to paraphrase an important insight more generally, the trouble with the bullshit contest is, even if you win, you're still covered in shit.

Sometimes something or somebody is just different. That really shouldn't have to be a big deal.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Love-Bullshit Spectrum

Rewatched the brilliant episode where Bart and Lisa are being rabidly set against each other by idiot sports fans in a hockey game, and they finally say fuck this shit, we're not playing, and go give each other a hug instead. A kind of defining moment for The Simpsons I think. Also pretty much a repetition of the episode where Bart and Todd are trying to impress their parents by their achievements in a mini-golf competition until suddenly they aren't, when Todd says "My knees are shaking, I got butterflies in my stomach, but, I guess this builds character," and Bart says "Who wants to build character? Let's quit."

But it's not a repetition, because the first time around, there was no hug, because Bart and Todd never did like each other that much in the first place. An essential corollary of dumping the bullshit is being more open to love. This fits in with this theory I have, about how people are depressed when they feel themselves so deeply sunk in bullshit they can't feel love any more.

Thing is, for some utterly insane reason, the world - that is, the idiotic sports fans, also ably emblemised in The Wrestler - prefer your bullshit to your love. The degree to which you immerse yourself in bullshit will determine the degree to which you'll become accepted by your surroundings. It's a compromise you have to make, one way or another.

The whole notion of Lisa Simpson is of someone rejected by their surroundings because they are too little full of shit. An integral part of finding meaning in life is putting yourself in that kind of conflict. An integral part of giving love is having it thrown back in your face, and being condemned for letting it lead you to fail other, stupider criteria. People do not appreciate you stepping out of the competition. Every move that you make outside it is subject to stricter scrutiny, to more aggressive commentary, to more enthusiastic potential derision.

Should you throw idiots a bullshit bone once in a while to keep them sedated? Probably. But that's all by way of buying yourself time. What do you invest time in? The only sensible investment, unavoidably, is of the kind that will send the sports fans jeering. As a wise, colour-blind prospective pilot once said: You do what you love, and fuck the rest. This "rest" isn't just judgement. It's judgemental people. They are aiming to drown your life in meaninglessness. Give them no more than you absolutely have to.