Fear

“Man goes constantly in fear of himself.”

— Georges Bataille

Human fear is ancient. It speaks in the tongues of ancestors we wouldn’t recognize and keeps alive by the old ways we no longer understand. 

Fear is the oldest part of us. Humans survive by fear. We came together because of fear. We fought, massacred, and enslaved one another and then plundered and destroyed nature all because we were afraid. We found religion and our we found our courage because of fear. This world is a cruel and confusing place, our fear led us to remove ourselves from what was dark and dangerous, and to make a new world in our image, and still, we are haunted by our fear. 

We’ve been on a journey to conquer fear but in all the wrong ways. We strive to rid the world of fear rather than to face what terrifies us. Humans have forgotten that fear was once regarded as a kind of wisdom, now we see only weakness, and feel only contempt. Our fears have been regulated to the parts of the mind we no longer listen to and so our terrors manifest in strange ways in the new world. We no longer know what exactly it is we are afraid of, only that where ever we go there is the threat of danger, of suffering, and of loss.

“The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. So potent is the amygdala’s response to potential threats that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.”

Peter Diamandis

We fear our own fear foremost and go to great lengths to avoid it. Fear is an unpleasant emotion, it’s completely understandable. At the first sign of pain, emotional or physical, we learn the first lesson, do not do that again. Do not go near anything that looks like that, that makes you feel like that, that can remotely be linked or lead to pain like that. A hot stove, a knife in an outlet, a car accident, a heartbreak, an assault, a movie scene, the death of a loved one, and so much more. Fear erects boundaries and restricts you from your own life all in the name of keeping you and the ones you love safe.

Fear has no other purpose.

It is rare that fear is a positive force in the human life. Fear seems to bring out the very worst in us. It forces us into a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or fall. Fear draws us in, warps desire, and hijacks the ego. You become a primitive version of yourself, ignorant, resentful, trapped. You lash out, you blame, you become suspicious. Sometimes you become delusional and see enemies where there are none and wish to strike out before you have to strike back. We fear suffering, pain, and loss but what does that mean in a world where our needs are now are so easily met ad we are so far from becoming meals for animals bigger and faster than us. What we are afraid of now no longer looks the way it did when the amygdala was being formed.

The parts of our brains that process fear do not understand statistics or proportion. This is why we hate to fly in planes but drive cars. This is why some of can’t drive cars at all. This is why we manipulate one another and fight wars based on the flimsiest of differences. We are seeking out things to fear now, new dangers and horrors to escape from and there is no shortage.

Like desire, fear can be hijacked. It is to the benefit of government and economy to keep you in a perpetual state of panic. You fear are prayed and played up to keep you under control, to keep you working, and to keep you consuming. This is not a conspiracy theory. It isn’t personal, and I don’t believe it is even intentional or conscious for most public figures or companies. We are only doing what works to make a living and keep the peace, but we are approaching a society so full of fear that no one is able to fully live their lives anymore.

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Most things we fear we’ve never seen, but we can imagine all the worst things in our minds day and night. Fear grows in the unknown and thrives in the imagination. We fear most what we cannot control and the more we try to protect ourselves the more fearful we become. Fear follows right behind us as fast as we can run gaining strength and power.

In the last year or two, maybe more, maybe my whole life on some level, I have suffered from intense death anxiety. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake wondering if this day was my last. I worried when I might die and how. I worried about leaving my loved ones behind, or worse, them dying and leaving me behind instead. I was afraid never to see my girlfriend again. I laid awake worried I had been wrong, and hell was real, or reincarnation, or something darker. What is there was nothing but darkness, loneliness, and the mind going slowly insane for eternity?

The thoughts started to creep up on me during the day while I worked, while I cooked, while I sat talking with my girlfriend. I would think “what if I died right now?” and I would be in a panic all over again. So I did something that seemed to make no sense, I downloaded an app that reminded me 5 times a day that I was going to die and shared a bit of wisdom from a historical figure or book.

Five times a day, Every day for months now I have clicked a notification that says “Hey, don’t forget you are going to die,” and you know what happened? I stopped lying awake at night in terror. The thoughts stopped intruding while I was just trying to live my life. I took control of my fear. Instead of trying to avoid it, which was making it worse, I found validation and let myself feel it, and it lost its power.

I have other fears too. I have a driving phobia. Last month my girlfriend went out of town, and I was forced through my anxiety to drive myself where I needed to go. I’m still somewhat scared, but I’ve gained confidence by leaps and bounds. I see my fear for what it is, and I know now for a fact I am stronger than it. When I am afraid, I ask myself what the worst case might be and what would happen to me. If someone I love dies, I will be sad. If I lose my job, I will find another. If I am afraid of war, or terrorism, or sinkholes, or the earth escaping the gravitational pull of the sun, I tell myself I will survive.

Fear is part of who we are, and like all things human it is better to accept it, explore it, and, as humans do, conquer it. Better to make it your friend. Better to give it space to exist in your life. You can’t escape it anyway.

In between everything you want to do and the things you find yourself doing instead is fear. The things you think about before you drift off to sleep, the thoughts that come to you without prompt and set your heart racing, face them. Think about them, write about them, talk about them, immerse yourself in your fears, find their source and you will find out who you truly are.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

— Marie Curie

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging ChallengeLetter F under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

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Desire

“All suffering originates from craving, from attachment, from desire.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

We are born, and then we die, and in between, we desire.

Desire is in all of us. The desire for food and water, the desire for health, the desire for love, family, and community, for a home, the desire for beauty, for knowledge, for money, success, and fame that lasts beyond our days. We desire power and control. We desire perfection.

We desire to be good, and sometimes we desire to be bad too. We desire the bodies of others, the lives of others, to be other than what we are. We desire pain upon the ones who have wronged us. We desire the destruction of those who possess what we desire most.

We desire people, things, and results. We crave, we covet, we yearn, and we long for. We are desperate. We’re excited by the very thought of having our hearts desire. Our every move is to be nearer to the thing we want most. We wish, we hope we toil, plot, and scheme endlessly, and we are never fulfilled.

There is none among us who can say they are beyond desire. Even the enlightened had to desire to move beyond such base needs as these to attain such a state, and for this reason, I believe we all, even the so-called enlightened, suffer in this world.

To be human is to live with a black hole of need inside of you that can never be filled. This is simply who we are. We want more than another other creature on this planet, and this is why we have come so far, conquered so much, and destroyed everything we have touched. Not even the best of us can say they are utterly beyond the owning and devouring of their home and their fellow humans. Each of us has felt some incessant need, and each of us has headed its call.

Each of us has suffered for it too.

“Why was I holding on to something that would never be mine? But isn’t that what people do?”

― Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park

To want is not inherently bad. Desire wakes us up, it moves us to imagine and act, but desire without thought, self-control, or direction can mean disaster. We have good and bad desires, and the pursuit of fulfillment is a positive and negative too.

We may long for a world with more peace, justice, and prosperity of all humans. We may desire awareness, equality, and wisdom for ourselves and others. We may desire that other people will have what they desire and that what they desire might be as positive too, but wanting is still wanting, and the world, for good or bad, will always fall short and leave us frustrated, anxious, and depressed.

Desire denied is the cause of suffering but desire denied is simply our reality. In all our longing and dreaming we never stop to consider the inherent imperfection and impermanence of reality.

What you want just does not exist. The woman you want, she has flaws. The relationship you long for will be fraught with disagreement and misunderstanding. That job won’t pay you enough and will ask more of you than you will have to give. That house will fall apart, and you will find you hate yard work. Your children will not love nor respect you as much as you wish. Something will always be missing. Some part of your world will not live up to what you had imagined it would be, and you will go on trying to get it. You won’t be able to stop yourself.

Even if for a moment you get ahold of what you desire you will still be left unsatisfied because everything is always changing. The world changes, we change, the things own, control, and covet change too. Nothing is permanent, consistent, or fixed. Nothing lasts exactly as it is in any moment and your failure to accept this fact leads to your frustration and sorrow. Life changes and your desires must change with it. You will not have everything you want and what you will have will not be as you want it.

So how do you find peace? How do you let go of all this wanting? The short answer, you can’t. The long answer, desire is always in you, but it is nothing to repress or be ashamed of. Desire is in you for a reason. To be human is to want. You should not want to rid yourself of desire, you should want to observe, understand, and direct it.

“It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.”

― Aristotle, Politics

It is beneficial for human survival that desire be put, for the most part, beyond consciousness. The body needs the mind to work for it, for food, for water, for shelter, for family and community, and desire is what keeps us working. Desire makes machines of us. If the mind cannot easily stop wanting it can’t easily stop achieving and in turn benefitting the biological needs. Evolution found a way to trick us all by giving us a drive we couldn’t turn off and if we tried we would feel uneasy, bored, depressed, useless, and stressed.

Sometimes we want things we cannot understand. The meaning and origin of the goals we set often beyond our comprehension and control. We can have desires we aren’t even aware of and act to fulfill needs and achieve goals that make no sense to us. Worse still, our desires can be manipulated. Our desires for love, happy homes, attention, belonging, and material things are twisted, warped, and redirected every day by politicians, social media companies, and ad agencies. Wherever we go want are told to want something but no matter where we turn, by natures accident or by human design we are taunted and never given release or peace.

Desire denied or unfulfilled makes us feel unsettled, uncomfortable, and often, angry. Who hasn’t lashed out or acted in cruel or shameful ways to get what they wanted. What compromises have you made with your soul and with society to fulfill your desires? What have you done to others and let them do to you to fill a need? What do you give up, what do you put yourself through? What have you pretended to be? Who among us can say they haven’t operated under less than honorable standards to manipulate or force a person, an object, or an outcome?

“Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”

― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Still, I reject that all desire is detrimental. Desire is what got us this far. What is detrimental is desire unchecked, desire undirected, and desire misplaced. I say only that you must choose your desires wisely.

Work to understand your desires and be aware of the price you pay to chase them. Consider what you might be missing about the objects, people, and an outcome you yearn for and ask yourself what flaws, unforeseen stresses, and frustrations might come with achievement. Ask yourself why you want what you want and what benefit anyone might have in convincing you that you want it?

Most of all, be aware that being human means never being satisfied. Humans want what they can’t have and in their quest devour and destroy everything they live including what they progress to love and long for, including themselves, but the truth is, the desire to live without desires is futile.

Freedom from desire is not possible, and even if it were, it might not be what you want. Wanting is part of who we are, and attachment is key to our happiness. To stop desiring would require you to cut yourself off from your humanity. It is through longing and wanting that we strive to be better, build better, and learn all that we can. Your desires do not make you weak or evil. Your desires give your life meaning and lead you through growth to wisdom. Your search for happiness—no matter how futile—is what your life is made of.

“Though surely to avoid attachments for fear of loss is to avoid life.”

― Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

 

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter D under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Choice

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

We are alive, though we’d rather not feel so. We are our bodies, though we’d rather not be so. We have free-will, though we’d rather not act so.

Humans posssess the gift of choice, but we’ve been cursed with linear time, memory, humiliation, and regret all working against us. It’s hard to choose when you might make a mistake, and it’s hard to make a mistake when you can’t go back. It’s easier to go with the flow, let fate take its course, let Jesus take the wheel, and let people made of stronger stuff than you choose the course. Better to simply forget you ever had a choice in the first place, right?

Most of our choices are considered arbitrary or unimportant. What color shirt to wear, what to have for dinner tonight, read a book or watch a movie, coffee or tea, text back or not. We make those without thinking much. These choices are more like habits and are made without us even being conscious of them, but too often we make our big choices this way too.

We do what we are used to, what is easy, what everyone else is doing or expects us to do. The jobs we take, the things we buy, the debt we rack up, the friends we make, the way we vote, the way we raise our kids, the way we treat people, the way we let people treat us, these are just a few of the choices people make every day without a conscious thought. And every day we lie to ourselves and say “that’s just the way it is. I have no choice”.

The truth is there is always a choice and only you can make it, or not, and no matter what you decide, or don’t, you are responsible.

Sometimes both options cause you pain, sure. Sometimes the pressure of biology, psychology, or society is too great, sure. Sometimes it is your own fear that is getting in the way. Sometimes you feel too connected to family or faith to see a choice but look closer, look here it hurts, where there is shame, where the unthinkable exists, and you’ll see there is most certainly is. There is always a choice.

I’m not talking about the legal definition of freedom or freedom from morality, what I’m talking about goes beyond all that. I am talking about you recognizing that you are free no matter what anyone tells you. No one can reduce you to one course. Even when the choice is life and death, you still have a choice.

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

A friend of mine, J, once told me a story in which another friend of his was lamenting over her station in life. She was sad that she had been so unlucky and had gotten pregnant and become a single mother while she was young. She hadn’t been able to finish high school, go to college, or work in a field that paid better wages and now she was struggling. While J was sympathetic to her situation, he didn’t see her as entirely blameless in it.

She had made choices that led her along the path she’d lived. She’d chosen not to use protection when she and her boyfriend became sexually active. She’d chosen to have her baby and to keep her baby. She’d chosen not to seek help from the father through the court system or other means. She’d chosen not to pursue her education, even part-time. She’d chosen not to seek help from friends, family, or social programs. She may have been impacted by family, society, education, and peer pressures, but she’d had some choices. He told her all this, and she couldn’t accept it.

Granted, this probably wasn’t a good time for J to inform his friend of her responsibility and blame, but in his defense, he thought he was helping. He thought he could show her that at any time she could take control of her life and change things. He wanted to show her that she’d had a choice all along and still did, she only needed to make it. He thought she would understand and maybe even thank him. Instead, she lashed out.

I believe at that moment his friend was confronted with anguish and anxiety. She was faced with guilt and regret and shame. Her choices had been hard ones, I’m sure, and she had been afraid too, I’m sure, and my guess is she found it easier to choose not to make them. Then she convinced herself that all of her choices had been taken from her.

We all do this. We lie to avoid regret. We lie because we are lazy. We lie to hide our cowardice, our weak wills, and our mistakes from ourselves. We give away our free agency because we’d rather do what is easy and never have to deal with what we should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve when there no chance to change it.

“To be or not to be. God’s gift to animals is they don’t get a choice.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Zombie

A few weeks I watched an episode of Hate Thy Neighbor in which a Christian “hate preacher Ruben Israel” spreads intolerance and homophobia in the guise of helping his fellow man reach heaven. Every time his sermon was rejected he would announce that “a choice had been made” to put the onus of future damnation back on the condemned.

Of course, I don’t agree with this man’s message—me being a gay myself—but the phrase tickled me. At first, I went around repeating it to make a mockery of the man, but I grew to like it after a while. Every time I said it I saw clearly that I had indeed made a choice and the more I saw the choices I made, the more I could see opportunities in which I could make more choices, and it has been liberating, exciting, and terrifying.

Now that I can see it, I can’t stop seeing it. In my head, I hear a running monologue of choices I am making all the time.

(I’m choosing to write this now, to write about this now. I’m choosing to write from my phone because I did not choose to write this last night. I am choosing not to be upset about that and to continue writing these posts the day of because the pressure helps me think and a daily habit helps me grow.)

I’m not saying you always have the choices you want or that it’s easy to make choices. I’m not saying your choices aren’t limited by your surroundings, your upbringing, your education level, how much money you have or need, where you live—when you live—the color of your skin, or your gender. I’m simply saying you have at least two options at every moment. I’m saying you have some say in the course of your life and some responsibility for where it has been. I’m saying you need to harden your will, wake up your mind, let go of what you must and take control of what you can.

I’m saying you must give up this illusion that you are trapped and powerless.

Something can always be done. We may be denied any do-overs. We may he asked to make choices before we know better. We may make choices and then change our minds and find ourselves in a world we regret, but the ability to choose is worth it. You may not be able to go back there is always another move you can make. They can never pin you down or take away your freedom. You have to choose to give it away. Luckily, you can always choose to take it back.

Freedom of the mind and will is something that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We have the power to examine our base instincts and harmful patterns and override them if we choose. We have the power to choose our fate and with lives so short and time moving so fast, why would you ever—no matter how terrible or difficult it is—want to give that up?

“Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”

― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter C under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Body

“I’m literally always looking at my reflection not because I’m conceited but because I just think it feels kind of strange to have a physical form and I’m constantly trying to process who and what I am.”

zygoats

When I ask who you are, how might you answer? I would wager you might tell me your name, what you do for a living, list your likes and dislikes, your political leanings and your moral absolutes. You might tell me about your personality and about your spirit, but what would you say of your body? Do you consider it to be part of who you are? Maybe I should ask what you are you instead?

Do you believe in a soul? Do you believe it exists before, after, and apart from the body? Are you a body with a mind, or a mind with a body? I do not believe in a soul, and I do not believe I am more than the matter I am made of, and science seems to agree. Even the Gods who made us in their image of arose out of mere human brain matter themselves.

Without a frontal lobe, the limbic system, the pituitary gland, the thumbs, and even the gut flora, we wouldn’t recognize ourselves. If any part of the body had been different, you would be different. What you are may go beyond what can be touched or seen, but you are still made from matter. This matter is where your choices are directed, where your memories are kept, where your needs and pain are felt, and where your personality is shaped. Matter imagines the self, and that self is made to serve the body. The spirit was conjured to paint the prison into a paradise.

Even the intelligence we hold so dear and take so much pride in is nothing but well-placed neurons and our emotions merely coordinated releases of hormones. The soul is an electrical signal and a chemical reaction firmly rooted in the physical world. You are not just in your body, you are only your body.

“Body is a home, a prison and a grave.”

― James Runcie, The Colour Of Heaven

None of us wants to be made of mud and air. None of us wants to be reduced to DNA and hormones. None of us want to be chained to a sad sack of meat and bones, and we surely don’t want to be dragged back to mud with it when it’s ceased functioning. So we ignore the body, compartmentalize who we are from what we hate and what we hate to be so limited. We hate to be so fragile and easily broken.

The immortal and transcendent soul has not been shown to exist, and when science deemed it unnecessary to our understanding of the mind, we needed a new illusion we placed ourselves at the top of the animal kingdom and announced we were the aim of the evolutionary arrow. We are biology at it’s best.

Look at this body, your body, any body at all. You think that is the peak of evolutionary excellence? Hardly! The human body made of “good enough” solutions. From the size of our skulls to the bones in your feet, you are made of weak points and inefficiencies. The knees are easily injured, the spine is stupid, each of our eyes contains a blind spot, your teeth are crowded, you can die if you don’t time breathing and swallowing right, and so much more. Your body is prone to problems and always aging. It was designed by chance with no forethought or care for the quality of human life. It’s a disappointment.

Worse, its delicate design is the end of us all. The truth is you are tied to something that is dying. You can prolong the inevitable with maintenance, medication, and mindfulness, but you cannot live forever. The smartest, most empathetic, prosperous, self-aware, and free among us will all be dragged, kicking and screaming, to nothingness right along with the body.

Death is not a being or a state that comes for you, death resides in your bones, in your heartbeat, in every cell of your body that is obliterated and replaced, obliterated and replaced, a little further from perfect every time. Eventually, the body just breaks down, from the bones in the feet to the lungs, to the limbic system, and everywhere else. The body is where you were born, it’s kept you alive, and it is where you will end. You will never leave this place.

“The body is the outermost layer of the mind.”

― David Mitchell, number9dream

But, for all its poor design and problems, isn’t just a prison, it’s our freedom too. The hips, knee, and ankle may be inefficient and fragile, but those bones carried humans all across the globe. Our opposable thumbs made tools and technology possible. Our large skull makes for painful childbirth, but the frontal lobe is worth it. We love with our bodies, we fight with our bodies, we feel heartbreak, loneliness, and fear in our bodies. The body is the boundary of your being and the interface through which you exist and interact with the world.

The human body is capable of many wondrous things but it has its limits, and the body’s limits, no matter how much you resist, no matter how much you fight, are your limits too. You cannot exchange it, and you cannot replace it. You may live in blissful ignorance for a time. You may even conquer it for a time, through rigorous workout and extreme discipline. You may take advantage of technology and surgery and mold it for a time to your vision of perfection but the fact remains and that facts catch up. You are limited to this space and resigned to the physical world, and it’s laws.

We are not beyond mere matter. We are trapped within the physical relm. We have limits, both in quality and quality of life that are set by the body, but there is freedom and great privilege in this body too. Realizing our limitations and your dependence on mere matter can be a hard reality to swallow, but doing so will help you face what is to come. You will get hurt. You will get sick. You will age. You will have to care for your body, for yourself, with acceptance and compassion.

The mind may recover some power, but care must be taken. Compassion and cooperation with the body are crucial. You will have to be patient, understanding, and ready for the body’s disappointments and betrayals. You must understand that what it goes through, so too, will you. You must accept that the body may die before the mind is ready, but the mind will still be taken too. You cannot separate the two.

Your body may not be what you wished it to be but is a prize to cherish. It has taken you this far and will surely take you further still. It has given you an identity and a universe all your own and shown you all you are capable of. Your body is a gift as much as it is a coffin, and you would do well to see it, and yourself, as both.

“Having a body is in itself the greatest threat to the mind… The body encloses the mind in a fortress; before long the mind is besieged on all sides, and in the end the mind has to give itself up.”

― Marcel Proust

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter B under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence” 

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Alive

“How wonderful to be alive, he thought. But why does it always hurt?”

― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

The first condition of being a human being is, of course, being alive. Some humans were once alive, but are not now, some aren’t yet, but will be one day, but all of us will have been in this world physically, and mentally.

Being alive and consciously feeling alive are two different things. Many of us are alive but don’t put much thought into it. We follow the prompts and live life according to a script but never stop to consider what a strange thing it is to be a freely moving agent made of meat and bone with a self-contained inside who is capable of choosing things, imagining things, making things, and reflecting on its own existence and meaning.

We don’t like to feel alive it because the fact reminds us that we once weren’t, and eventually we won’t be. Being alive means time is running out. We don’t like to feel it because it’s confusing and terrifying to find yourself to be so awake and aware. You are a moving and breathing and thinking thing, but what are you? Why are you? You have all these sensations, warm, cold, hungry, tired, wanting. You have hands that grasp, eyes that see, and parts that you can’t see that do things that you can’t understand or control.

What are you?

“creatures smart enough and unlucky enough to have figured out we’re alive, and we’re going to die without ever knowing any purpose. We can pretend all we want and we can wish all we want, but that basic existential fact remains—we can’t know.”

― James Redfield, The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision

We don’t understand how we could come from chemicals and dirt and still feel so fierce and full of light. How does a heartbeat come from carbon and water? How does love come from DNA and oxygen? How can an I come out of gray matter and neurons? And where do we go when those parts stop working? We know we will no longer be so awake and aware, but where will we be?

Why must we be burdened with such knowledge, curiosity, and awareness, huh? No other animal seems to know or care whether they are alive or not so why should we? Why, even when we try to forget and live as best, we can, do these questions and uncertainties creep up on us while sitting at a red light or in the middle of the night when all we need is sleep. Why must our peace be so disturbed and why must I remind you now that you do know that you are alive, even if you don’t know what that means exactly, and that you do know that you are wasting your privilege by ignoring it and refusing to face it.

I know you don’t like to feel so alive or to examine the related implications associated with your condition. I know you’d rather not spend so much time facing that confusion and horror, but it’s time you did, and did so often.

“The human heart beats approximately 4,000 times per hour and each pulse, each throb, each palpitation is a trophy engraved with the words ‘you are still alive.’ You are still alive. Act like it.”

Rudy Francisco

Rocks exist. Dogs exist. The moon the wind, and theory of relativity exist, but they do not feel like we do. They do not know they exist the way that we do. Our existence is something we fear, celebrate, and grieve for. Our hearts swell at the reminder, and then quickly contracts from our fragility, our transience, our insignificance. We recoil with regret and panic. We simply can’t process what it means to be a living thing, it’s too disturbing, but you cannot escape it. You know the truth.  Somewhere we know the truth. We are alive. Against all odds and beyond all comprehension we are alive, but only right here and only for now…

The truth is it hurts to be so aware and yet so transient, so temporary. It hurts to be given this body and this mind and no time to really put either to much use. It hurts to be something you cannot be comfortable being. It hurts to be given an existence you have so little control of. Being alive is disappointing and draining. It’s a horrible weight on your chest. The weight is eons behind you, eons ahead of you, and the knowledge that all you will ever get out of it amounts nothing.

“Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.”

― John Osborne, Look Back in Anger

Existing is a real pain sometimes, but it’s better than not existing, some would argue. Facing your existence isn’t easy, but it’s better than living your life on autopilot, maybe. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves I suppose but I would advise that any time your existence looks you in the eyes, you look right back. To look away is the biggest waste of all, the biggest regret you may have. Being able to face that you are a living being and consider what that means is one of the few dignities we have been afforded in this universe. So let yourself feel it, the pain, the fear, the wonder, and all.

Us humans aren’t very good at separating the privilege of life from the burden of life, but feeling alive does not require acknowledgment of any of that baggage. I’m not asking you to take stock of where you are, or examine the choices you’ve made, or where you want to go. I’m not asking you to love life, or even to be especially grateful for it.

I’m asking you to look up and admit simply that you are here and that that fact is really something. All of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all such a rare privilege and each of should acknowledge and explore what that means. Each of us should breathe it in and wear our existence with dignity. Roll your existence around in your head, breath in and out, wiggle your toes, look up all the sky, take in the light, and call your own name aloud. Plant yourself in space and time, and with spirit, with pride, announce your existence to yourself and no one else. You are here. You are here. You are here!

“The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.”

— Carlos Castaneda

You can see, and smell, and touch things. You can move your body and you can shout, laugh, or cry. You can feel sunshine, pain, and time passing you by. You are a you, an I, and that is something special. Can you even fathom the astonishing odds of that were against you? Can you fathom all that had to happen to get you here?

Not many things get to be a thing, let alone an I. You should never fear your existence, regret it, or ignore it. It’s too curious and too temporary of a state to shy away from! You should feel proud and interested in your being, and you should try to be as alive, feel as alive, as you can be and as often as you can. It will be over before you know it and you will wish you had faced sooner.

“It felt so amazing to be alive I could never think of anything else.

― Marty Rubin

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletterfor inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter A under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence” 

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Martin Luther King Jr. Style Patriotism

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

All men are created equal, but in American, as has always been the case, some men are created more equal than others.

Some are more American, and so, are more deserving of the American Dream. All others must prove, not once, not twice, but every day of their lives that they are deserving of some lesser version of the dream. They must beg for the favor and learn when to keep quiet, keep hidden, and give thanks for what they’ve been given. They have to accept that their lesser participation in the Dream can be revoked at any moment.

Many American’s believe that Martin Luther King Jr. was a pacifist, too many Americans. It is true that he was a lover of love and peace and dreamed of a day when fighting wouldn’t be necessary, but he never believed the exploited, the neglected, the suffering, or the needy should keep quiet. He never believed that the abusers, the exploiters, the greedy, or the cruel should be allowed to operate without being challenged. He never believed that talking about it made the problem worse. He never believed that “not talking about it” was the way to a more equal, more compassionate world.

Martin Luther King Jr. loved America. There is no doubt about that, but he made it his business, his life’s work, to continually criticize her. He was deeply disappointed not just in America’s past, but its current state and where it was headed. He called out injustice and lies where he saw them, and he demanded a change be made. He asked time and time again: What kind of country do we want to be? What kind of future are we trying to build?

He called for a more compassionate world, I thought we all wanted the same, but I’m starting to wonder. When we say “all men are created equal” we have to be honest with ourselves about what we mean. Does “men” mean only cis, white men? Does “all men” mean men and women, but only if they look like our forefathers and behave, dress, love, and marry the way that history, religion, and the patriarchy say they should. Does “all men” mean certain classes, certain belief systems, certain skin tones, or ancestral lands?

Does “all men” mean only American born?

America has many sins it must atone for, but the people who are in a place to facilitate such penance show no interest in doing so. Worse, they have learned nothing from history and are hell-bent on repeating it.

There is a long history of America opening her borders when cheap labor is needed. Whether its building railroads, picking oranges, or peeling shrimp we want immigrants, but only if they stay hidden, stay in their place, do the job we want them to do, and leave when it is done. We want immigrants who know they are not, in fact, created equal.

So again I ask you, who are we talking about when we talk about equality? And to that question, I’ll add another, to whom does equality belong? Who has the right to dole it out and whose responsibility is it to act as a haven for this highest ideal?

“I criticize America because I love her. I want her to stand as a moral example to the world.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

If equality and the pursuit of life and liberty are qualities we believe are intrinsic to human existence, and if we claim to be a land where human beings can come and live the kind of life humans were meant to, where they could be free, and happy, and fulfilled, how can we shut our borders and claim a higher moral ground?

How can we reconcile what we say with actions we are taking now? How can we reconcile a belief that all people are equal with the belief that where you come from and the way you look determines your future? Who are we to decide who is worthy of this kind of life? How, after all, our own ancestors have been through, has it become so easy to turn away the people who need it the most?

We’ve begun, once again to think of profits over people and as tensions rise and our fear and frustrations grow, we become greedier, more suspicious, intensely guarded. We start talking about closing our borders. We start pulling back the help we had offered. We change our stance from one of a world leader, world savior, world mentor and measure of what a country can be when it puts people first to one of America First.

Now the man who has been elected to represent those beautiful ideals this country was built on starts questioning why America needs people from “shithole countries.” He wants a merit-based immigration policy where people must prove their worthiness and earn their equality and freedom. He wants these gifts to belong to people based on arbitrary factors like where they were born.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and the true American Dream, are being forgotten. But it it’s just the President. Half of this country has forgotten what our role in this world was supposed to be. We’ve forgotten what sets us apart.

America does not open her borders only to people she needs most. America’s borders are opened to the people who need her most.

It would be nice if every country in the world could provide for its people. It would be nice if every world leader believed that all their citizens deserved to have food, medicine, work, and safety, but they don’t. In a world where so much suffering is taking place, how can we all, who know better, turn our backs and still believe we are the moral compass of the world and the land of bravery and freedom?

Once we took such an enlightened position, we couldn’t go back. The only course for us was one of more freedom, more justice, more opportunity, and more equality. To now try to close our eyes again to cruelty, genocide, and human rights violations in the name of protecting ourselves and furthering our wealth and power in a sin worse than any committed in the past. There are no excuses. We aren’t so ignorant anymore.

Now we let people die, live in squalor, and suffer hunger, war, disease, and loss deliberately.

What would Dr. King think of us now? How might he respond?

“Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

I firmly believe he would never stop talking about America’s failures and I do not doubt that many of the people who claim to honor his legacy would, if he were alive, tell him to leave this country if he felt that way.

I want those people to know they do not honor his legacy. I want them to know that, if he were alive, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be someone who would support immigrant rights. He would support Dreamers; he would support “chain migration,” and the Green Card Lottery. He would support more refugees. He would support people from Africa, and El Salvador, and Haiti, and Mexico. He would support keeping families together. He would remind us every day that American cannot be great and selfish, and greedy, and cruel at the same time.

He would be saddened, disappointed, and furious. He would take a knee, and he would shout Black Lives Matter. He would riot, and speak out, and he would not agree that America is becoming great again. I have no doubt.

And it would all be for love of country. When you love someone, you tell them the truth and I too love this country enough, to tell the truth. The truth is we have a long way to go. Longer in fact to go then we did when Dr. King gave his famous speech so often quoted and used to silence the very people he was dreaming for. At least back then we had the right vision. At least back then we were heading in the right direction. Quite a few steps have been taken backward since the world lost such a great man.

Honor him, his service, and his sacrifice by loving this country enough to make it great through kindness, empathy, and humility. Honor him by continually criticizing this us and reminding us of how far we have strayed and how far we have yet to go.

Because when we label some countries and some people as less deserving, less equal, and in effect, less human than us just because of the language they speak, the way they worship, or the color of their skin we are the ones who become less American. We lose our way and forget what the American Dream and King’s Dream are all about. A true patriot is never silent. A true American patriot can be found among it’s poorest, and brownest. True patriots are found among the disruptors, the criticizers, the ones who make us uncomfortable, who make us feel bad, who force us, kicking and screaming, to change.

A true patriot, one who puts his country first and wants her to do better by being better. A true patriot, a Martin Luther King Jr. style patriot, is one the masses would rather not hear. I hope we can all one day, live up to that image.

Oh, how great we might be then.

“There can be no deep disappointment where there is no deep love”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

 

The Week’s End // A Few of My Favorites from Around the Web

Hello and happy weekend friends! How are you? Got anything fun planned? If not, or if you happen to have a little downtime and you’re looking for some interesting or inspiring reads to check out I’ve got you covered. Here are a few of my favorites from across the web:

A church and the remains of an ancient village rise above the surface of the Sau reservoir in Vilanova de Sau, Spain.
A church and the remains of an ancient village rise above the surface of the Sau reservoir in Vilanova de Sau, Spain.

Pizza cinnamon rolls and sexual misconduct 

What are you?

Shitty media men.

50 Years Ago

Preparing for the Unthinkable

Reminder.

Are we saying happy new year?

Step one is to admit it’s there.

Legalize marijuana by actually legalizing marijuana,

Productivity is for machines

Cooking with Sylvia Plath

January horoscopes

Watch Vox’s Earworm. Listen to the J Dilla Cheat SheetFollow @stoppingoffplace.

 

High Above the Jovian Clouds.
High above the Jovian clouds.

So, have you read, watched, or written an interesting or inspiring thing this week? Has something on the internet made you feel strongly, think deeply, or see the world in a new light? If so, drop a link in the comments, we’d love to check it out!

 

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This list was originally sent out along with today’s newsletter, Our World Isn’t Ours // ZEN AND PI No. 37, along with some existential musings of my own. Check it out and subscribe, or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The Little Things Are Where Recovery Begins

“im team ‘cool karen ive got depression and that means i’m going to try this because i’ve got to try something’ i’m team ‘romanticize recovery’ i’m team ‘it isn’t working now but it might in the future and it’s worth staying to find out’.”

inkskinned

For as long as I can remember depression, anxiety, and god knows what other undiagnosed mental illnesses have been a part of my life. Some of it is nature, I believe. Some of it is nurture, I’m sure. But some of it is just being alive, being a person, being scared, and being hurt and disappointed by life.

Healing is a long journey I am still walking, and one I may walk forever, but I am always getting closer. Through trial and error, research and professional help, and, mostly, fumbling around in the dark, I am learning more and more about what works and what doesn’t.

The first time I sought help a therapist told me—after hearing about the bad things that happened to me, the stupid things I cried about, and all the ways I was hurting myself and others—that everything I felt and did was a perfectly normal response, considering what I had been through.

That is, anxiety, self-loathing, self-destruction, unstable relationships, and depression, were not at all indications that I was broken, or flawed, or unworthy of love. Mental illness is a perfectly human way of existing in this world.

The second time was someone I loved very much pointing out that depression and anxiety are not just illness. They are lies told to you by your own mind. The voices telling you that you are stupid, that you are ugly, that you don’t deserve happiness, that you don’t deserve life, that nothing will ever get better for you, it’s all a fucking lie. Every time that lie is spoken to you, you can speak right back. You can call out the lie. Like any liar who has been caught, your illness will double down when you confront it, but you just let it know that no matter how loud it gets, or what evidence it twists, you will never believe it.

It took me a long time to internalize these lessons, and some days I still struggle to stay on the track, but lately, It’s like I’ve hit a roadblock. My progress is slowing, and now, on my bad days, it feels more and more like I’m taking steps backward.

But my instincts tell me that when roadblocks are met, there are more lessons to be learned.

 

“There is no point treating a depressed person as though she were just feeling sad, saying, ‘There now, hang on, you’ll get over it.’ Sadness is more or less like a head cold- with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.”

― Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis—a chronic, incurable autoimmune disease that primarily affects the colon. Learning to live with a chronic physical illness, with the impact on my life as well as my emotions and the bunk advice from people who just don’t get it has really opened my eyes.

I’m learning to accept that life isn’t fair, but it’s still good. I’m learning to accept that even when your body fails and betrays you, it’s still a good body. I am learning that even when you are in a bad situation, there is still room for gratitude.

But the biggest lesson of all, the one I really need to internalize right now, is that just because there is no cure, that doesn’t mean treatment is useless, and that treatment is in every little thing that you do.

After my diagnosis, my doctor explained that treatment meant more than just visits to her office and medication. It included taking care of my stress levels, getting in tune with my body, asking for help when I need it, exercising and learning to eat well, drinking water, and making self-care a top priority.

She literally told me to meditate, do yoga, think positive thoughts, and do whatever it takes to get to my “Zen place” because the immune system is directly influenced by stress, anxiety, and emotions.

She added that, of course, none of that will stop my immune system from attacking the lining of my large intestines. There is no cure for ulcerative colitis, but taking care of myself in these little ways will help me achieve remission, and stay in remission, longer. She told me that even when I am too tired, and even when it hurts, even on my worst days, I have to try.

Depression, anxiety, and many other types of mental illness function the same way. You start with the little things, and all these little things are part of your treatment. They keep you healthy enough and strong enough to fight.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of frustration and anger in the comments and replies of posts and tweets regarding simple self-care reminders and tips as part of treatment. The new thing is to shout about how no one understands depression and nothing can help, that reminding people to shower, eat well, take a walk, drink more water, text their friends, or say something positive to themselves when they can, is bad advice. Those, in my opinion, are the lies I was talking about before and now, with social media taking up so much more of our time and attention, and with our online relationships becoming more and more significant, these lies are finding a new way to spread and take hold.

It’s understandable that after years of being dismissed or misdiagnosed a person might be sensitive to the ways mental illness is discussed by “neurotypicals,” but a lot of what I’ve seen online is too far to the other end of the spectrum. Mental illness may or may not be curable, depending on the cause, but it is under all circumstances treatable. Saying that out loud doesn’t have anything to do with how serious a person’s condition is, and it isn’t dismissive of the struggle and hardships sufferers endure on a day-to-day basis.

And, yes, some of the pushback is warranted. Some people do believe that mental illness is a choice, a weakness of character or failure to control one’s thought, or to properly care for the body and that a diet change and a little sunshine will cure you. Yes, those people fail to understand what depression is, but you have to learn to separate their misunderstanding from what it means to properly care for yourself. You have to take a step back look at how you might be perpetuating bad practices and beliefs about mental illness when you dismiss advice that might help someone else.

We have to be careful how we say things, and we have to be open to letting people heal in the way that makes sense for them. We have to be careful about confusing what doesn’t work at all and what doesn’t work for me.

There are some who may be losing a battle right now, they may be looking for help and what you say can sway their resolve either way, especially when they are young, or newly diagnosed, or undiagnosed but in need of help. To tell them there is no getting better is to perpetuate the same lie their illness is telling them. We have to change the narrative. You may not be cured, but you most certainly can get better!

Every treatment option doesn’t work for everyone, and certainly, none of them work for the same person all of the time either, but any doctor will tell you that to fight a disease you have to do all these little things if you want to be strong enough to fight.

Let others start with just being able to get out of bed and eat something so they can take their medication. Let others start by getting outside, taking a walk, and enjoying a damn sunset, so they can get out of their own heads for a minute. Let others have their face masks, bath bombs, and glittery nail polish so they can love themselves for a moment today. Let other people have silly conversations, and laugh a little, so they don’t feel so alone. Let other people try things!

Some days wallowing might be the best you can do, but it is no long-term strategy. Remission is the primary goal. You might not know what “no evidence of disease” will mean for you yet, but you don’t have to. All you have to do is keep working toward the best and healthiest life that you can have.

So I guess that’s what I am trying to do here. I am saying to you and to myself that, yeah, it sucks to wake up every morning feeling the way we do, and I know that people don’t get it and everyone thinks they know what’s best for us but please, don’t give up. Please, don’t shut yourself off from things that might help.

Be honest with yourself about what healthy means and what you know you struggle with. Be honest about what you haven’t even been trying to do, and try to do it. Try eating something today. Try taking a shower. Try drinking more water. Try a face mask. Try getting out into the sun. Try texting a friend. Try looking in the mirror and saying one nice thing. Try breathing. Try helping someone else try.

It might not cure you, but it might make you strong enough to find a cure someday.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

Hello 2018 // A Good Year for Dreams to Begin

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I wrote yesterday that ending of a year is a strange time. Of course, there is no difference in who we are or how the rest of the world behaves from December 31st to January 1st, not any more different from any other two days, but something is different though isn’t it. Something about changing the date from 2017 to 2018 changes everything else too.

This morning when I woke I felt a kind of pressure in my chest. I felt full of potential and possibility, and I felt afraid. I didn’t want to explore that feeling. If you don’t acknowledge it, you don’t have to face it right? If you never dare to dream, then you never have to regret your choices or hate yourself for being so cowardly. You never have to try, or fail, or try again and fail again. You can just float through life all the way to the end. Easy peasy.

But what a waste, and I should know, I have been floating along for a very long time. I have been lucky that happiness, for the most part, made its way to me, but lately, I’ve wanted to find a kind of happiness I had gone after myself. I wanted to feel I had earned something.

This year, I need a win! It would feel so good to have something to bring to my family and friends to show them that I wasn’t a loser or a failure. It would be nice to have them feel proud of me. It would be nice to know they didn’t think I was wasting my time. I need to prove that I’m more than a mere dreamer. I want to be a doer too. Maybe I need to believe those things about myself first.

So, I am going to explore that feeling of possibility and potential. I am going to dream big impossible dreams about all the things I want to have and do, and little impossible dreams about what kind of person I want to be deep down inside.

I’ve written a list of 100 dreams that I thought were impossible but aren’t actually impossible at all. It was only that I had convinced myself I couldn’t do because it was too terrifying to imagine a life where I could. Dreaming and trying, focusing and making a real effort, believing in myself and finding the strength to love myself enough not to get lazy, undisciplined, or timid, that is how I will get through my list. This is how I will make my life into the one I’ve wasted all this time dreaming of.

Of course, I can’t tackle all 100 dreams in the short course of one year, but I can start with just a few. Some highlights include:

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1. Get over my driving phobia
2. Get my driver’s license

This has been on every New Years Resolution list I have made in my adult life, and every year I fail, but going into 2018 I feel closer than ever to getting it done. I have been driving, to and from work, to the store up the street, and around the neighborhood,  up until a little over a week ago. Then the weather turned nasty here, and I didn’t feel ready yet to drive in the snow without having a full on panic attack.

But the roads are all cleared now, and I go back to work tomorrow, so back behind the wheel, I go. I don’t want to lose all that progress, and I don’t want to go on letting everyone, most importantly myself, down. I will get through this by the end of the year. I have to because I can’t keep relying on others to get me where I need to go, and I want to because there are so many places I want to go and things I want to do and driving is the only way to get there.

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59. Journal every day
60. Hand make all of my own journals

I already try my best to write in my journal every day, but buying the same old journal, again and again, is sucking the fun out of the habit. It’s boring and monotonous. It’s the same pages every day, with the same number of lines and even if I bought a notebook full of grid or dotted pages they would get just as boring eventually too. Why not pages that were all different? Some ruled, some dotted, some with a hexagon pattern, and some that were completely blank? What about some different color paper, something that pops! Hot pink or bright yellow?

I’ve been looking for a new hobby, something I can do with my hands, in the real world. I want to make something beautiful and useful, and a new journal, one I might enjoy writing in again, sounded like an easy enough place to start.

I found a tutorial by Sea Lemon on YouTube and decided to start making my own journals this year. It feels right that a writer should make their own tools don’t you think? So, a new notebook, and maybe a few notepads, and a pocket notebook, and a planner, and maybe a bullet journal for my sister and if people like them maybe I can make a few more for anyone at all who would like one.

I also have a lot of pages piled up just waiting to be made into a brand new art journal for number 72, “Complete one year of a creative habit.” Then maybe next year I can get to number 52, “Learn to paint with oils or acrylics?”

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48. Publish a book of essays and poetry

This one is the hard one. This one is what my year will be all about. This one will take discipline, and focus, and hard everyday effort! I’m starting with 400 words a day, no matter what. No matter how tired I am, no matter what else I am doing, no matter how much I don’t want to. 400 words a day that is all I have to do. I don’t have to write something great. It just has to be honest, and it has to be mine.

I’m not trying to get rich, I’m only trying to say something. I plan to self-publish whatever it turns out to be on my own when I am ready, and I will consider the dream realized if I can get 5 whole people, who I don’t know, to buy a copy of the damn thing.

I have other writerly dreams too. Number 46 is “Publish a sci-fi/dystopian fiction novel.” Number 47 is “Publish a graphic novel.” Those are big, and very far away dreams but number 49, “Publish 2 blog posts a week” and number 50, “Publish a zine” feel very doable for 2018, I think.

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66. Read 30 books a year

This is another repeat resolution. Every year I set a goal of 30 books on Goodreads, and every year I fall short, but by a little less each time. Last year I read 22 books, my best yet. I got stuck a few time on books I didn’t enjoy and out of sheer pride refused to let them win and move on. This year things are a little different. This year I will move on when books aren’t interesting to me, and come back to them when I have the strength to try again. Some books take more than one introduction to click. It has to be the right time for you to meet you know.

I’m also going to work on number 58, “Get a library card.” I had one, many years ago but I checked out more books than I should have once and never got them back, and I’m afraid of how much money I might owe to be allowed the privilege again. But books aren’t cheap, and I don’t have the room to bring a brand new one home to stay every few weeks. I’m also going to give ebooks another chance. Number 67 is “Read more philosophy books,” and I happened to have a list of 135 completely free ones! And when I get tired of those there are many more authors, genres, and topics to turn to, all for free too of course.

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37. Start running
38. Join a gym, attend regularly
39. Make meditation and yoga a daily habit
40. Become a weekday vegetarian

And finally, finally, I have come to my last resolution, so common and prone to failure I almost chose not to include it, get healthier. I want to start a running habit. It seems like the easiest place to start. Even if I just went once around the block, it would be better than all the couch surfing I am doing now.

Then there is a gym up the street. Walking, or rather, running distance away from my house. If I could prove myself by running every day for a month or two, maybe I could trust myself with a gym membership. I could cycle, take classes, I wonder if they have yoga? And then, I could take the two nights a week I don’t eat meat and make it 5 days a week. A weekday vegetarian doesn’t seem so hard.

As you can see, I’m trying to take it easy and make small improvements to my routine. Too many people try for a 30-minute hardcore workout every day of the week with a goal weight and a brand new radical diet. I have no goal weight, and I have no diet restrictions, as of now. I’m just going to try, and if I can just do that much, I can’t fail.

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One hundred dreams feels like a lot, and I doubt the list could be completed in one lifetime. I doubt I would want to complete it. There are things on there I may want to do now, but five years from now or more I might change my mind. So, the list is a dynamic one. Not only will I be crossing things off, but I’ll be tweaking, and adding, and deleting from them too.

Hell, the list isn’t even finished yet! I made it to 85 things before the ball dropped last night and I thought I’d give myself some time to figure out the last 15. There is no rush after all. I have my whole life to figure it out, I only have to remember that lives tend never to last as long as we hope they will. I have time, but I better get started, and no time is better than the first day of a brand new year.

But what about you? Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions? Do you believe they can actually work? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

― Neil Gaiman

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Check out my complete list of 100 Dreams, or what I have so far anyway and if you make one yourself, feel free to drop the link in the comments so everyone can check it out.

Featured photo is by Josh Boot on Unsplash

What I Learned from // The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

“Dr. Armonson stitched up her wrist wounds. Within five minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under the chin, he said, “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”

And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: “Obviously, Doctor,” she said, “you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

In his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides Jeffrey Eugenides tells the story of the beautiful, strange, and mysterious Lisbon sisters. The girls Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Therese (17) live in Nowhere, Suburbia—AKA Grosse Pointe, Michigan—in the 70s under the ever watchful eye of their mother and the timid parenting of their father. We watch them through the eyes and memories of the neighborhood boys who have become, and will forever be, obsessed with them.

Through carefully cataloged bits of evidence and eyewitness interviews, the boys present us with what they know. They know a lot, but it turns out it isn’t enough to have saved the sisters and certainly not enough to explain why they did it. Suicide may seem a grim topic for a novel about teenagers and love, but Eugenides gives us enough distance from the trauma to see what his characters cannot.

The book was a dream to read, but it’s taken me a long while to wrap my head around what exactly Eugenides was trying to tell me. The style is unique, written from the perspective of the boys years later, still obsessed with their investigation into the lives of these three young women. Their ordered presentation of evidence and testimony drew me in, and I became just as obsesses with the Lisbon girls as they were, but what I learned is that this story is not about the Lisbon girls.

“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides is the story of boys growing into men who know that women aren’t mysteries to solve or beautiful objects to pursue and possess, they are people. They have dreams and needs, and they experience emotional pain. They are complex, cunning, and sexual. They are no more mysterious than any man is too another man. Look at them, at us, as human beings, and you will see.

I suppose most boys have little reason to consider the growth and development of young girls. There is no reason to care whether a girl’s inner world is as rich and lively as their own, but maybe that should change. Maybe it already has, but thinking back on my own experience of teenage boys much more recently than the 70s I find many reasons to doubt that. Some boys loved me, wanted me, and who were very sweet in their efforts to show me that, but I never felt truly seen by them.

These boys also learn that even when you love someone, if you can’t see them as whole human beings you can’t even begin to save them.That kind of love is, at best, useless, and at worst, self-serving and harmful. This is the way men often love women and how parents often love their children. It comes from thinking that your experience of a person is all there is to a person. It comes from never considering that women and children (and gays, and transgender people, and people of color, and elderly people, and disabled people) are more than one-dimensional and that the solutions they seek may be complicated.

The system failed them, the school, the neighborhood, their parents, and ultimately the boys who loved them too but it was all a metaphor for the many people, men, and women, young and old, are failed by the people who love them and the systems mean to save them too. The Virgin Suicides is about our collective aversion to dealing with issues of mental illness and abuse.

“They said nothing and our parents said nothing, so we sensed how ancient they were, how accustomed to trauma, depressions, and wars. We realized that the version of the world they rendered for us was not the world they really believed in, and for all their caretaking and bitching about crabgrass they didn’t give a damn about lawns.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

We would rather pretend it doesn’t happen and hope it goes away, and when we can’t do that, we resort to empty gestures and shallow, often selfish acknowledgment. When that doesn’t work, we try anger. We shame and blame and force the ugliness away from us so we can pretend again.

And suicide isn’t the only issue we would rather not face. Poverty, sexism, isolation, religion, humans are always finding new ways to avoid what hurts, embarrasses, or confuses. We find more and more mundane and pointless things to focus on to leave as little time left to consider life’s unanswerable questions. We let people who can’t conform slip through the cracks because it’s easier that way but what we can’t see is the devastation under the thin and shining lie.

The truth is we can’t ever escape the ugly parts of ourselves and our lives. I would bet each of us has our own catalog of evidence and eyewitness accounts of every pain we lived through. We carry it with us wherever we go. Maybe it’s time we presented it too and admitted we know nothing at all.

“What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.

― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

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Featured photo via Pixabay