On Why so Many of ‘Us’ Suffer

Recently, a friend posted ‘Why do so many of ‘US’ suffer?’ Which was a question I found interesting and personally relevant, so I ended up writing a 4000 word response which I broke into several comments; both in terms of ‘US’ in the smallest and grandest sense I could manage. And now I’ve collected it all as a note.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” From Howl by Allen Ginsberg

I think about this quote sometimes, think about how it was true -for Ginsberg- then, and how it certainly feels true now.

I know a great many people I love who suffer, terribly. The causes and particular species of suffering are legion: anxiety, depression, loneliness, and all manner of ill of mind, body, and spirit. The fact that these people are so often brilliant, loving, kind, hard working, beautiful, and -depending on how you calculate such things- some of the most materially wealthy, successful, and powerful homo sapiens who have ever lived would be consistently shocking if it didn’t appear with such regularity.

We suffer for reasons that are (at least) as Continue reading

On the Stories I Tell Myself

Note: If Google Docs is to be believed I Initially Wrote this post in March 2016. I posted it to facebook but it somehow never got posted here. In light of my *last* post, I thought I should post it, again; for the first time. Because it it newly true.

I’ve been thinking recently about the stories I tell myself about the world and my friends and also, most importantly, the stories I tell myself about myself. I’m constantly weaving these narratives. “Well, this happened so he must think I’m incompetent,” or “That didn’t work hence trying this was a terrible idea.” I don’t think it’s possible (ultimately) to wholly avoid telling myself stories; and even if it were possible I’m not sure if it would be *useful.*

As a human being, I connect dots\points of data in order to make predictions & inform my behavior. One of the great problems with this incredible ability however is that every story is ‘sticky;’ they can so readily encourage me to overlook or misinterpret experience that doesn’t fit the narrative. It is of the highest importance to really evaluate the stories I tell myself; to avoid, replace, or otherwise transform the stories which don’t serve me. And I have a choice in all this: for instance, when facing failure or setback I get to choose to see it as indicative of a fundamental flaw in myself or I can choose to see it as part of the price I pay to learn & grow. Either ‘could’ be true (although I suspect the the latter is *more* true, most of the time); so it comes down to which story gets me closer to the life I want. Continue reading

On Quietly Losing My Mind

For a few months now, I’ve been quietly losing my mind.

In talking about what has happened, I think the easiest personal reaction for this is for me to collapse into apologies about it all because I *shouldn’t* be having these problems, I *should* have know, done better (or at least, that’s what that crappy internal voice claims… but then again he’s an asshole). I recently had a dream where a gifted impressionist was going to do his ‘John’ impersonation, which amounted to laying down on the floor and repeating ‘I’m sorry’ for some minutes. Dream me found this hilarious, while waking me winces at the recognition.

By objective measures, I’ve been doing ok… or even Continue reading

Be More Materialistic

This is the essay version of a recent Toastmasters speech. Hat tip to David at Rapitude whose piece We are not Materialistic Enough Inspired this speech/essay.

 

To be ‘Materialistic’ means ‘excessively concerned with material possessions, money-oriented’ and I’m not advocating that you, or anyone should be ‘excessively concerned’ with anything. But, in common usage, we mainly say ‘materialistic’ to describe people who aren’t sufficiently concerned with material possessions but who instead are interested in status and image and the appearance of wealth (and who are often quite unconsciously so). To illustrate, let me tell you a story about my daughter.

At two and half years of age, my daughter is innocently materialistic. This last Christmas was her third Christmas; her first Christmas was just another swirling cascade of sights and sounds without much context, her second Christmas was dominated by the crinkle joy of pulling wrapping paper apart, but this was perhaps the first Christmas wherein she understood that she was being given things that would be hers.

She would be given a present, a book say, and after opening it she would immediately want Continue reading

Writing is a Sacred Act

As counterpoint to tomorrow’s post about the absurdity of writing, I wanted to post today about how writing is a sacred, vitally important act for me.

When you compare human beings to our closest living relatives -the other great ape species- you notice several interesting and base physical characteristics: we have smaller jaws, we maintain our juvenile features longer, we are able to live and coordinate as part of larger groups, and so on. All of these are hallmarks of domesticated species. And so, one way to understand what a human being is is to consider them as a domesticated great ape.

If you accept this framework, you immediately ask well what domesticated us? We did, or dogs, or wheat are all compelling answers. But I think the most accurate way to consider us is that we were domesticated by story. And just as dogs have been selectively bred to better manipulate us (and we have been bred to better function as part of dog-human teams), so too have we co-developed with stories, our abilities to tell and shape them growing in tandem with their ability to guide and shape us.

To be a writer is to commune, argue, shape, fight, love, remake, and be remade by story. You don’t have to invent any fictional entities to understand that writers & storytellers of all stripes have always been doing the same sort of work; communing with stories to guide their communities and (if they are skillful and good) reshape their social world for the better or (if they are unskilled or bad) lead their people to ruin.

The use of word, the use of story is the prerequisite for everything not determined by biology and it is a fundamental tribute to the success of past writers that the most successful stories have been rendered invisible, are -for most everyone- indistinguishable from our biological imperatives. Long term, the stories we tell about ourselves lead us to heaven or hell, thriving or extinction.

Words are our escape from atemporality, like the ‘words’ of our DNA they allow communion over vast gulfs of time; the chance to preserve something worthy, transcend the limitation of our present moment. As writing/story weaving can be used to help or harm, reveal truth by inducing a sideways glance at it or lie; there is no greater sacred trust: Writing is a sacred act.