Tag Archives: Meaning of Life

The Art of Not Bitching

I’m trying to work on my not bitching.

I don’t think I do a particular lot of it  and I’m fairly stoic about most things. But it nevertheless creeps in, displaying as a jerk-ish comment,  commiserating gripe, or perhaps a common ground conversational piece.

Sometimes it’s over something petty, like the cash registers not yet being turned on when I want to buy coffee because the one person on the whole staff who has that magical power hasn’t showed up yet. Sometimes it’s something more significant, like when the leader of our country does… well, there’s a whole lot of bitch potential there.

And there’s also a lot of in-between: all the things that happen during the day-to-day to annoy my sense of what should and should not be the case.

Sometimes the bitch is justified. Sometimes it’s not. Maybe most times it’s not. But it doesn’t matter if it is or if it isn’t with respect to the question of To bitch or not to bitch.

I think the answer is one of effect rather than justification. And that’s how I’m trying to look at my life more: cause and effect. Look at it that way before good and bad, right and wrong, and other perhaps well-intended but somewhat vacuous, or at least subservient, terms.

I make a snide comment at the above store or rant on twitter or maybe just mutter to myself as the guy on the road cuts me off when I was doing “everything” right and he is “obviously” just being a–

But then what? The bitch, sure, but then what? What has it accomplished? How has it helped my situation? More to the point, how in the world could it help? There is no real action behind it.

I suppose I could talk to the manager directly about giving someone else the authority to turn on the registers, or bring a petition X to Twitter regarding Trump’s latest shoe drop, or get the license plate of the unsafe driver to report to whomever gets such reports.

But I will do none of those things. For when I start putting them into actionable terms, I force myself to face up to the fact that I was bitching just of the sake of bitching, without the intent of doing anything at all.

And that’s not how I want to live my life, and certainly not how I want to advise kids to live theirs.

Time is way too short to have on-paper-only beliefs and speak empty words.

If a belief doesn’t encourage you to take action, it’s a bullshit belief.

If a bitch doesn’t accomplish a damn thing, then it isn’t worth a damn.

We need to aim our bitching higher. We can’t remain satisfied with Facebook Likes and creating self-indulgent memes that go viral then evaporate. If there is something truly worth bitching about, then it’s truly worth the effort to try and fix it.

Which is exactly what I am trying to do, both with this post and myself.

Time as a Process

It’s a great time-killer

I’ve heard the phrase time-killer a lot. I have used it myself.

Often it seems to be used to mean something good. Something fun to do while maybe something not so fun is going on. But the last time I read it, in the context of a positive review for a video game, I had a visceral reaction of horror to it.

Time dies quite expediently on its own without needing any help from us.

I started thinking about how we use the word Time and different prepositions associated with it, such as:

On time (but not usually off time, at least not as an opposite)
Overtime (but not usually undertime)
In time, just in time (but not usually out time or just out time)
Nick of time (but not usually of time by itself)
out of time (but not usually in of time)
down time  (but not usually up time)

Think about what the meanings of the prepositions are and what that seems to imply about our conceptualization of time. Often it appears to be something separate from us, acting on its own accord, waiting for us to make use of it. Or, perhaps more telling, like this

Filling time (but not so much emptying time)

which seems to view time as a container…

But I wonder if our current models, such as time as an arrow, stream, container, dimension, and so on are all flawed by their assumed external characteristic of time. Even when relativity and personal time is mentioned as being locked onto the person, the subjective, time is often referenced as “slowing down” or “passing more quickly” depending on the perspective.

I’m thinking time might be better viewed in process terms. Consider this:

You turn over an hourglass and the sand starts running out. You have until the sand is depleted to live your life. The sand sometimes falls with greater ease and greater abundance. Other times it gets clogged or bottlenecked, trickling into the waiting bottom.

Our old model might say when  it is finished that it look “longer” than the  expected hour or maybe it emptied “sooner.” But that is vacuous wordplay from a life perspective.

The hourglass doesn’t take 65 minutes, 55 minutes, or One Perfect Hour to empty. It doesn’t take 5 years or 5 seconds. For what measuring device would you use to state such a thing, without that device itself needing another device  for confirmation, ad nauseum?

Instead, the amount of time it takes is nothing other than the process of sand running out having completed. There is no need for additional description of time expenditure and in fact such a model rejects such forced additions as being meaningless.

We never die of old age. What we die of is processes ending.

A 70-year-old man, for example, didn’t die because he turned 70. But he might have had a heart attack and his heart beat number 2,859,401,002 was his last. The beating heart process stopped. So it goes with other life-critical biological functions.

If my thoughts are correct here, then temporal-impacting thoughts necessarily shift from the weirdness of time “slowing down”  or “stopping”  to something far less abstract: did your heart beat or not?

And how many beats do you have before your process is complete.

Determining Freewill and Freewheeling Determinism

I love the cartoon above, even though I think it is wrong. Or, maybe more accurately, misleading, which is often worse than wrong. The caption is especially problematic, as it forces the otherwise brilliantly provocative cartoon into an unnecessarily limiting conceptual box.

It preys on fears of determinism by drawing our attention to the inevitable “end result” rather than the choices made along the way. In doing so, It trivializes the details of that along the way in a fashion similar to how believing the ends justify the means diminishes the moral content of a given action.

Indeed, we could rewrite that latter ethical claim into an agency claim of the “ends neutralize the means.” But by doing so, we are apt to miss three interrelated points:

    1. Freewill can never be absolute (or what freewill is not)
    2. Freewill requires determinism to exist (or what freewill we have)
    3. Freewill in any meaningful conception of the word exists only in the along the way (or what freewill we need)

One of the problems with language is that we sometimes  put words together to form a conceptual picture that seems viable to us, but isn’t. We will even stand our ground by saying that we can conceive of it being the case, so it must be a valid concept,  when really we can conceive of no such beast. Instead, we are just deluding ourselves, confusing our masterful ability to  conceive of conceiving with that of the conception itself.

Here’s a couple of examples to flex our thinking around this issue:

  • I want to study the pure forest. So can you please cut down all those trees so they don’t get in the way of my thinking.
  • I want to see what pure blue looks like. So can you please take all that color away so it doesn’t distract me.

Absurd, huh?

Yet we often assign such absurdity to things involving thinking, saying nonsensical yet specious phrases like “pure thought” or “I think, therefore I am,” where both think and thought are imagined to be capable of being  parceled out from the environment  and viable on their own.

THINKING IS ALWAYS ABOUT SOMETHING

It can be about objects, about other thoughts, or about itself. But it has to be anchored in some way for it to even exist. For if it isn’t, what exactly is thinking doing? How is operating? What is happening?

The same goes for freewill.  Absolute freewill sounds nifty, don’t it? The supposed ability to do whatever you will. But what exactly are you doing when invoking such a power? How is it operating? What is happening? The very moment freewill is exercised, it is at the same time necessarily being limited – determined – by the thing under its will.

Consider it this way:

You want to build a house. You might choose straw or wood or brick. But that choice will then limit what other choices there are and so on. The original choice might be expanded to include stone or 1001 other different kinds of materials, but the limit would still be in play. Sure, you can change your mind, which would be another example of exercising freewill, but that would just mean the limit changes form, and not that there is no limit in play.

The limit, of course, is a form of determinism.  For it determines what the outcome can and cannot be, like whether or not the wolf’s huffing and puffing can blow your house down. Our body itself is a limit, as, for example, we can’t breathe underwater, making living underwater difficult and problematic.

You might think, oh, but that’s not a conceptual limit, for I can imagine a being that can breathe underwater as well as air. But so what? That changes nothing. For if you live underwater, the living underwater limits apply instead of the living on the land limits. For if they didn’t,  what exactly are you doing when you exercise the will?

DETERMINISM IS NOT SOMETHING BAD

In fact, we rely on determinism to do anything — to will anything — at all. For If things set in motion didn’t behave a certain way, or at least were likely to behave a certain way, our will would actually be meaningless. It would be just a hope, a pray to the Gods, and not a will of any kind.

Yet determinism gets a bad rap because we don’t like the idea of our fate being dictated to us. So much so, we look at the cartoon and say poor ignorant cow, he doesn’t realize whatever choice he makes he will end up being turned into hamburger. Well, last I checked, all of us will eventually die, so at least that much is already determined for us.

And that’s a pretty big determined. So are we just ignorant cows. Maybe.

But what if we take death out of the equation? I don’t mean imagine a case where we don’t die. Rather, I mean not having death be the ultimate marker of the vitality of our choices or as the litmus test for freewill.

I’ve been playing around with inventing  models that I think might  best illustrate the  coexistence of choice and fate, of freewill and determinism. I’ve been trying to understand not only how they relate to each other, but how we can find meaning in that relationship.

THE TUBE:

Instead of focusing on the gruesome end of us and cows, let us travel along the walls. Round off the ceiling  and floor. Tilt the room. it is no longer a room, but a tube.  Imagine a ball thrown hard into the tube and it banging from side to side as it travels along its downward path. It’s going to end up wherever the tube leads, whether  to death or assorted stops along the way like a new job or boyfriend.  However, the route of its sideways travel itself is less predictable. That’s close to where our freewill lies.

THE BOILING POT:

We boil a pot of water to cook our pasta. Some of the molecules will be vaporized right away. Some will do so over the course of the cooking. And some not at all, unless we keep the pot on and at a high enough temperature. Regardless, while it is easy to predict that the water will boil, it’s far more difficult to predict which specific molecules will vaporize and when. That’s where our freewill lies.

Now with both scenarios, one could argue that individual route and individual vaporization, although difficult to predict, would not prove impossible to do so, if we had access to all the information. So isn’t every part of along the way just as much determined as the end of the tube?

That could be the case. And if it is, I might have to agree with Spinoza’s necessitarian assessment. There would not only no meaningful choice that we could make, but there would be no real choice at all. Such choice at all levels would only be illusion.

But my gut tells me there is something else going on that is at the heart of the freewill we need. Something that presides over the strange yet necessarily required interrelationship of freewill and determinism.  And no, I’m not talking about God, as that would simply take us back to Spinoza. Instead, I am meaning something far more sacred and profound:

RANDOMNESS!

Nanu Nanu No More

Is it living or just existence?

Suicidal Ideation.

if I stepped off the sidewalk in front of that Casella recycling truck, would it kill me right away or would it drag me first?

Would a fall from the roof of our apartment building be enough? Probably, especially if I hit headfirst, since heads tend to splat like melons despite our thick skulls.

If I cut my right wrist deep enough to do the deed, would the following cut in my left wrist be shallower due to the injured — and thus presumably made weaker — right? How long does it take to bleed to death? Who would find me?

I bet if I downed my supply of HIV meds all at once, it would stop my heart or stop my kidneys or stop something rather vital to life continuing, I’m just not sure what or whether or not it would be violently, painfully, and inconveniently slow going as it did so.

I fancy myself an artist, so such intermittent thoughts might just be residual morbidity from broad-sweeping creativity. Then again, maybe my output is just residual creativity from broad-sweeping morbidity.

Regardless, I do think about death a lot. But I also think about life; what it means to live. I search for the answer to the ever-elusive — or is it illusive? — why.

Religion seems a dead-end for such contemplation, devaluing life as it does by its shrill upsell of afterlife/post-life products like “Heaven” and “Nirvana”; a canonized carrot vis-a-vis the current stick that is life.

And life can be one shitty stick — or is it shtick? — indeed, allowing for flimflam men of faith.

My spiritual convictions notwithstanding — or is it not with standing? — I try to find a place for myself in the here and now.

I try to be a part of the queer community but feel disconnected from it. I try to be a part of the writing community but feel disconnected from that too. I know I don’t spend enough time working at being connected to either, but much of that is because I spend so much of my time just scraping by that I’m too wiped to be of use; to feel like I could be of use.

Yet at 46, suicide outside of dark thoughts seems unlikely in my future; in a way, life itself is one long suicide, as we are dying as soon as we are born. The older one gets, the closer inevitable death comes, even if we can avoid walking in the street in front of a gun-toting lunatic lawman.

So reading of Robin Williams‘ death at 63, my fist thought, after being stunned, was that he was so old — so close to curtain call already — that it seemed weird he’d go and do a thing like that.

My second was how brilliant of an artist he was, accumulating well-deserved fortune and fame for performances both comedic and serious. Sure his current series got cancelled, but surely his incredible past accomplishments and cross-genre successes should have allowed for final Golden Years even with some tarnishing by Parkinson’s.

Right now, bronze doesn’t appear to be forthcoming in my senior life, let alone gold, and I know how crappy I feel inside about my lack of such metal — or is it mettle? — so my third, and not yet final thought was:

How do you stop being your own worst enemy?

Exiting

There’s got to be just more to it than this
Or tell me why do we exist
I’d like to think that when I die
I’d get a chance some other time
Iron Maiden

I missed the exit.

We were going out to dinner and then to a movie. Which we rarely do because of cost. But Gary rarely turns 46, either, so we thought we’d make the night one of those rarelies.

The I-89 North ramp was closed so the department of transportation could blow up a ledge. I’m a bit foggy on the whys and other details of detonation, except for that it likely will be closed for a month. I think I could probably blow up something faster than that, but hey, no one asked me. I also think I might have tried to time the blowing things up with not having construction also occurring on the detour route going around the ramp.

But again, no one asked me. That’s okay, though, as people rarely ask me anything anyway. At least they don’t ask me things I want to be asked, like Would it be okay if I gave you some money and publish your work?

And besides, I had planned for it — we had planned for it — and left in plenty of time.

But exit 10, which was now an exit closer than usual since I went around the initial ramp before getting back on the interstate at Exit 9, came up faster than expected. I can’t say for sure why it did this, as I’m pretty sure that for the most part Exit 10 traveled at us at the same 65 mph that we drove at it.

“Weren’t we supposed to turn there?” Gary said, being right as he usually is about such things.

Now the blessing and curse of Vermont is all the gorgeous land. Miss an exit, and you’re frequently stuck traveling for several miles of it.

We nevertheless did make it to the next exit and had planned on navigating via non-interstate roads back to where we needed to go. However, getting off at the exit trapped us in stop and go traffic where stop dominated. So much so, I had one of those ideas that are much brighter at the time they occur than in the dim glow of the afterwards.

“I’ll get back on the highway and take us back to the exit we missed.”

Which might have been closer to a bright idea if the U-turn I made taking us in the opposite direction of the exit ramp we were on led us South. But the opposite direction in this case curved around to the not so much opposite direction of North.

We did eventually make it to dinner at the Depot Street Malt Shop. It took two exits further North and the same two additional exits back South again, for a grand total of four extra exits, to do so, but we made it.

We also made it to a showing of Gravity. Not the showing we planned on being shown, but a showing nonetheless, and one in 3-D, which is a good way to view things since that is how we view things.

The movie is good enough to deserve a good review.

And by good here I mean thoughtful as well as favorable, as in addition to cool effects it has philosophical layers to it which Gary and I talked about afterwards, with him adding insights I hadn’t thought about, which he usually does.

My life has been full of missed exits.

I missed an exit and stayed with a girl for five years. I missed an exit and ended up studying engineering. I missed an exit and dropped out of college. Several exits went by unnoticed but just as surely missed as I drank in a fugue state lasting several years, pulled over on the cold shoulder of life’s road.

Oh, I eventually got back on the road and found new exits.

I’m with a guy now. I’ve studied philosophy and graduated from college with a 4.0. I’m drinking mostly coffee now and trying to keep my car moving as well as pay more attention to signs along the way.

But damn, if I don’t feel old and wonder if it’s too late to really get anywhere; that there are no more exits of any consequence.

I act like it isn’t and like there are.

I volunteered at the Burlington Book Festival. I’ve started volunteering at RU12. I got appointed to the Montpelier Conservation Commission.

I am constantly looking for other ways that I can be in life motion, as the only way to find the next exit is to keep driving. But I’m also constantly racked with day-to-day doubt about not only the drive-ability of this used soul of mine, but the underlying metaphysical meaning of it that may very well not underlie it at all.

There has to be more than the force of gravity that anchors us to the world. Something inside us that pulls us not down but forward.

Sandra Bullock found her something when she had to.

I’m still looking…

Fair Thoughts

I went to the animal fair
the birds and beasts were there
The big baboon by the light of the moon
was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk
and fell on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees
but what became of the monk, the monk

I don’t know where or when I first heard that silly rhyme, but it’s stuck with me without deliberation in the weird way some memories do. I want to attach it maybe to my Grandfather Ross or my step-dad Max, or both, as I seem to remember it coming out of their mouths, but I can’t be certain beyond that seeming.

That’s par for the course for me, as my memories are at best disorganized. And at worst? Maybe lost or at least irretrievable.

I remember my life in fragments that are never attached to dates.

Oh, sure, I can sometimes calculate what the date must be, but that’s coming from the outside as I re-process the shard of remembrance with the conscious part of my brain. I mean that there is typically no date inherent in the memory itself. Instead, stray pieces of event data bubble to the surface.

As they did when Gary and I went to the Vermont State Fair.

We went on Patron Appreciation Day, which translates as Free Day. Gary had a caramel apple. I had fried dough (which sounds wrong to me, as I grew up calling the same thing an Elephant Ear, and that’s how I always think of the pastry, and will likely always think of it). We also saw different birds and beasts. And rode some rides.

The rides is where the most bubbling occurred for me. Again, without dates or any other such lattice to fully secure them into place. But I remembered:

Being downright chicken-shit with rides. One of the more embarrassing childhood moments for me was slinking out of line for a ride my step-brother Tim tried to trick me into going on. Or in. He told me it was a line to go watch motorcyclists drive around the walls in that gravity-defying way that is popular for watching.

Instead, it was that ride where you stand against the wall of a round room which spins fast enough to allow the floor to drop out from under you in your own gravity-defying, non-motorcycle riding way.

I was mad at him at the time but now I’m thinking he had to have found me exasperating.

Sometime, though, during the course of life, I became un-chicken-shitted. I rode The Racer — backwards and forwards — the Screaming Demon, The Beast  and The Bat as well as assorted rides that emphasized various degrees of equilibrium-disturbing spin. One of my strongest memory fragments is racing through Kings Island with my friend Mark making  sure we got our money’s worth of thrills.

Just a short decade or so ago Gary and I went with  the folks to Busch Gardens and rode, among other things, the Demon Drop, which is just what it sounds like:  a completely vertical drop

Now, though, I find myself viewing such rides again with more than a little trepidation.

Oh, I can’t rightly say I’ve reverted back to my scaredy-cat past. For one thing, the pair of balls I’ve managed to grow over the years won’t let me. I’m not the same afraid-of-my-shadow kid that I was and I think all-in-all that’s a good thing.

As it is, I reckon I even fancy myself being the butch — or maybe more butch — one of the relationship, so I kind of have an obligation to automatically agree to whatever ride Gary wants to go on, regardless of any reservations I might have about the amusement level of such amusement rides.

So I bought us each a ride band and we rode as he willed, us getting scrambled, tilted, whirled, and, déjà vu of that day long ago with Tim, spun fast enough so the floor could drop away from us as our backs clung to the wall.

As we revolved around our mutual center, I couldn’t help but think of that song by Duran Duran:

The world spins so fast
that I might fly off

And yeah, I had faith in the machinery that moved us, just like I have faith in the gravity of the considerably bigger ride we’re on, so I didn’t really believe I might fly off in either case.

Yet how are such beliefs grounded?

Yeah, sure, we can measure, predict, and mathematically model this spinning piece of rock we call home, but the starting point of such scientific explanation rests ultimately on a faith similar to that of a religious nature.

Oh, I don’t mean the silly dogmatic kind of religious faith that applauds dioramas of men riding dinosaurs like Neanderthal cowboys and weirdly if earnestly believes that calling evolution just a theory somehow is a refutation of it.

I mean instead the faith of those who are actively engaged in trying to make sense of something that at the end of the day, no matter how you grapple with it — philosophically, religiously, or scientifically —  is beautifully, wondrously, and awe-inspiringly more than a little absurd.

The ride stopped and I stepped out onto the ground that was there as I expected it to be, blind faithfully feeling the Terra Firma baptism of the cosmos.

Ear We Go

I can hear in my left ear now.

I took matters in my own hands and can now hear again in my left ear.

Well, rather, took matters into Q-tip. And yeah, I know, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that. But several days of using Rite Aid home treatment and the world still mostly coming up soundless from the left drove me to it.

There’s a mostly there in the above because hearing isn’t the same all day. I didn’t know that until no sound at all came in. For far too brief packets I felt my ear almost start to open up, but then retreat to its clogged state for whatever unknown to me  bodily reasons. So I clumsily but effectively unclogged it, with all the grossness implied, and presto-chango I can hear.

Maybe not band conductor great, but hear compared to deaf is its own kind of great. As is being able to wear headphones again while I write.

And I need to write. I want to write. I should write.

But I haven’t done that good of a job of it of late. I haven’t journaled regularly in quite awhile and my once steady production has waned to the point of being an endangered species.

Oh, I could blame it on externals. The work-at-home job I do is far from slack-at-home. It is intense during those hours and it is tiring. There are also the seemingly endless administrative and household stuff that always need attention and they are their own form of tiring.

I could also talk of mental states; states of melancholy, depression, and the meaning of life in general seeming like the meaningless of life, especially in light of the casual disregard with which we treat the loss of it.

But the main problem with excuses is they serve no purpose for the self.

Oh, sure, they are useful for trying to get out of a ticket or explaining a missed deadline or, I reckon, for trying to justify why the hell you would acquit a man who chased down and killed an unarmed boy. And yeah, sure, another problem with excuses is that they are often bad ones.

But the primary problem with them is that they don’t change anything; post-excuses, the self is still the same self that hasn’t accomplished its supposedly important goals.

So I’m trying to figure out how to unclog my writing life and open it up again.

And if I didn’t write today, if I used some excuse not to write today, it still would be as supposedly important a goal to me as it ever was; but I would also be just as far from seeing that goal’s actualization.

Too bad there isn’t a Q-tip for the brain…

Oh, wait. But there is.

There’s this.

So-so It Goes

I had a job interview today and the last question threw me a bit. He asked:

What in your current or previous jobs are you hoping to avoid in your next job?

I paused a long time to answer. For one thing, “avoiding” doesn’t sound like it typically would be a good employee quality to have. Especially not with “and other duties as assigned” being a common catchall — or maybe a common gotcha — in job descriptions. But also, I don’t tend to think in terms of avoidance. I mean, I would like to avoid the usual; hunger, homelessness, illness, etc. But tasks are what they are and if something needs to be done, avoidance doesn’t take away that need.

I paused for a long time, a maybe interview-crippling long time. But I think the answer I ended up giving was a good one and was actually more true than the interviewer might ever realize.

I said I hoped to avoid stagnation.

In context of work, it means striving to learn new things, pick up new skills, advance one’s career, and so on building upon et cetera ad infinitum. But I meant it moving beyond a work maxim, though, and into a Weltanschauung where life far too often seems like one giant, twisted mass of averaged-out stagnation: the distance between birth and death divided by the giganormity of the universe times all the moments before and after that you weren’t, aren’t and won’t be.

It’s a tad overwhelming. Underwhelming, too, from a different point of view.

But despite the absurdist-friendly math, growth is the only thing we have to combat the absurdity of it all; for the alternative to growth will eventually happen of its own accord, making actively choosing such an option redundant.

I try to avoid redundancy, too, which is stagnation’s sister.

I didn’t mention her in the job interview and now I’m no longer thinking about the job interview anyway and thinking more about my life as it is right now.

Earlier in the week, I had a better job interview; that is, for a better job. The kind of better, quasi-writing-but-still-writing job I got excited about when someone gave me a lead on it and became even more excited when that lead-turned-live-contact gave me a chance to prove myself worthy of that opportunity with a test of sorts.

But the excitement couldn’t be shared as at that exact same point in time, other, less pleasant circumstances manifested and dominated. That was okay, though, as I reckoned there would still be excitement enough left afterwards to make such insensitive-to-the-events-at-hand expression unnecessary.

But I ended up mucking the test up.

So that excitement moment disintegrated unshared under the weight of the subsequent dismal moment. Both those moments are gone now, as is the one in which you read this sentence.

I feel like I’m in a maddening holding pattern that is a first cousin of stagnation and redundancy; dull isotopes of decaying moments.

Like this one.