Last year I wrote a post about Little Brother Syndrome and I identified myself as one of the sufferers of it. Boiled down, it was a syndrome I described as wanting to get the blueprint on how to live life from elders, be it parents or otherwise. I have met many people in my life that seemed to have a good plan and sometimes those plans extended to me. But I have never actually gone along with all of them. Some inner rebel in me balks at the notion that someone else can tell you how to live your life better from afar, atop their own sacred mountain of bullshit. However, some words from the wise should be heeded. Also, some things should be figured out by yourself in the quiet solitude of your own thoughts.
Now I have another realisation to reveal. Well, not so much a realisation as it could be thought that this was logically building up from a certain point:
Chasing goals comes with fine print.
I’m going to qualify that point throughout this post but I just had to say it like that. I firstly want to say that by ‘fine print’ I don’t mean the risks involved with chasing a goal, no. This post is about rewards. Better yet, this post is about the malarkey that always fails to move people like me who are consummate hedonists when we are told that reaching a goal is reward in itself.
What the hell does that mean anyway? I’ll tell you a few things from personal experience which show why some of us struggle with that concept.
I’ll start with one of my basic goals from recent memory: getting a degree. I wanted that degree so badly I stopped partying and concentrated more on my work. I had already been attending lectures religiously, as I had found that most (if not all) exams are based on lectures and not the actual reading but I buckled down even harder. Suffice to say I got the marks I wanted. And I was happy. Or was I? You see the thing with being a hedonist is that you are never happy, no matter what the situation. So having a degree had seemed like such a worthwhile goal to have. I got it and then what? What?! Do I get a free pass into the halls of people who are pleased with their achievements? Do I then see it as a reward?
What I’m starting to realise with my nature is that such things don’t particularly move me. Not at all… I bought a car this year. All of that effort: securing the loan, making sure I didn’t blow it, flying home to tell my parents, showing my mom the car; all of that was well and sweet while it lasted but I never really felt as much of a sense of achievement as I would have hoped. You see, perhaps the best way to think of it would be that I struggle to find the innate worth of any so-called achievements. The worth for me has always been in the reward, the personal celebration at having done something else towards my dreams. My goal then was not the car but ‘after the car’. My goal was not the degree but ‘after the degree’. But the problem with that is that any time you think about the ‘after’ something, you don’t get to enjoy that particular something. My goal was to buy a car. I bought it but I wanted some sort of reward for it. I’m so used to getting marks that it has fucked up my sense of reward. I cannot, as so many psychologists would hope, conflate the two. For me, the goal is not the reward. The reward must be bigger and better. And so it goes with everything. And this, I take it, is deeply problematic.
Recently I got a new job. Now what? I actually have to work it. I want to go out and drink champagne until the dawn but can’t because I still have to work notice at the old job and also, champagne is just not enough. I do not take it for granted that I have travelled a long way to get to the suburbs of Cape Town where I am finally doing well on my own, but the continuation of the journey makes me want to fuck out because I can’t actually celebrate it the way I want. I’m starting to see the worth of small worthwhile sacrifices for small worthwhile rewards, even though those rewards bore me.
I worked two jobs while I was looking for a third. My car had to run on a quarter tank consistently for over a month. I ‘splurged’ only once on half a tank. So what do I want to do now as a ‘reward’ for my good behaviour and die hard work ethic? Buy a full tank that’s what. And when I buy that full tank I’m imagining what it will do for me. The places I can go. The people I can see. My hedonistic side would rather blow that money in a strip club or some other flight of fancy but my adult side recognises the need to pare down. And that hurts. Because paring down on something which is supposed to be good feels like a betrayal. “Why can’t I just do what I want?” your inner child screams. And the adult answers, “Because I said so.”
No really, it’s the “Because I say so” that hurts most, since it’s coming from a source right there within yourself. I recognise the need to pare down on the reward impulse. I want to pop champagne and congratulate myself on a job well done. “Good, you got a new job!” I say, “Well done, you bought your first car!” But I realise that those achievements mean nothing if in the course of celebrating them I take myself off the ladder and place myself firmly off the rungs which lead to success.
I want to finish a novel or two by the end of the year. I want to write a script. But I’m already so tired from all the other shit I had to do this year that I just want to let those things go. But I can’t. And how will I reward myself for a novel well done or another notch in my work ethic belt? Something which is another small but positive reward towards the kind of person I want to be. I’m learning albeit the hard way. When I got the loan for the car I fucked out, literally. I was so happy to have an amount that high for the first time in my bank account, off my own efforts I spent a good portion of it celebrating. And I regret it. I regret it deeply. Only Stolichnaya, Absolut, Hennessey and their ilk know fully of my remorse. Only the songs I heard and the arms of the early-morning clock can tell that story. I for one don’t have much else to show for it.
A hard lesson but a necessary one indeed… In order to get to the point where you want to be, AND THIS IS THE POINT OF MY POST, your rewards also have to be in line with your goals. It’s a difficult enough point to understand as a non-hedonist. Imagine how hard it was for me? Now, when I reward myself for a job well done, I look at practical needs and work that still needs to be done. Oh, when I finish those novels I know what I’ll do: either buy a much-coveted wetsuit and surfboard combo, so that I can surf harder than ever in the summer; or I’ll just buy something else which will bring positive change to my life. Maybe I’ll buy a bicycle and start riding it towards my health. Maybe I’ll buy myself Korean or Japanese lessons for the future I plan. And I understand that not all rewards have to be bought but it’s not really a reward if it’s free…
Too often we are fooled into believing the only way to reward yourself is to fuck out, get drunk and pop champagne. I’ve done that. And I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s a path that leads nowhere. It’s a ponderously lonely path, filled with Gatsby-like opulence but none of the greatness. You cannot overcompensate yourself for a job and then expect yourself to do yet another good job and follow the same line.
I regret over-spending money on nonsense. I regret that I knew that I wanted to surf at the time but didn’t buy a board; or the fact that I know I want to play saxophone and didn’t buy it. I had all the money to do it but I didn’t. However, the lesson has been learnt. And as an aside: not all the money went by the wayside. A portion of it was reinvested into good, future oriented things, tangible things. I’m just sad that I wasn’t smarter about my decisions. And when I bought the car and saw my bank balance slowly dwindle I thought, “So, is this it? You get something and then you want something else?” Not realising that the something else was having received the money already. It opened doors and I’m thankful for that. However, in order to stay up, your money has to work harder and the rewards themselves have to be in line with your dreams. Only then, I think can you actually make sense of hedonistic tendencies. Only then will the reward impulse and achievement reflex actually begin to grow.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece, a poem entitled “Embrace the Aether”. I would like to view this as a counterpoint to that, especially since I took “the aether” to mean a particularly noumenal and intangible feeling or state of mind.
In the classic conception of elements, which most people know as four (air, water, earth, fire), aether was actually the fifth and it represented an element that is neither one of the other four but which many believed to make up an integral part of the world. It’s there in the belief of the sixth-sense, supernaturalism and magic. Aether is that element that has no shape or form that cannot be felt, seen, touched or heard. Aether is the ever present absence, the nothingness of the void that fills you with dread and awe. Immanuel Kant referred to it as the sublime. Some have referred to it as the noumenal, the land of ideas which are living, breathing forms of themselves; ideas which balk at the very notion of ideation because they exist as entities beyond time and space. Hyperdimensional, science would say nowadays. It defeats the mentality we have because we cannot think of nothingness as a form, even though Buddhist philosophers taught that all is nothingness or if not that, that nothingness coexists with everything; apart from yin and yang, the darkness and light, as a sort of antimatter, a hopeless, ageless intangibility which cannot be rationalised by thought. I’ve heard some of my friends who have taken psychedelics speak of the space between nothingness and the world we know as only a matter of ‘pulling the lever’. This they explain as someone so high off psychedelics, he reaches a space where some sort of door is opened, a vastly cavernous terra incognita from which there is no return. Having never read him, I do appreciate however, the opinion of many readers that the only writer to ever capture that feeling most clearly is H.P. Lovecraft. The noumenal “you can’t touch” which is the makings of an eldritch abomination.
I’m finding more and more that sadness is a form of aether. Sadness is all-engulfing. This is why people are depressed most of the time or fall into bouts of depression without so much as a trigger warning. It just happens. I was reading the Hyperbole and a Half blog about a week ago in which the author details her struggles with depression. I can understand that. I can also understand why depression is chronic, yet you hardly ever hear of anyone suffering from chronic happiness. Imagine that: chronic happiness? What would it entail?
While going through my Facebook feed I thought: one of these days I’m going to write a blog post about why the New Age movement is bullshit! I guess that day has come.
Having been someone who was both fully cognizant and willing to accept their practices (meditation, community-oriented socialism, “unplugging from the system”) with a little growth and a fresher perspective I’m starting to see their cult-like hold over the masses of overly imaginative, sensitive souls who just want to believe.
In the absence of old-hat religious devotion a new paradigm has taken place with just as many mythical, purely (that is to say un-scientifically) inexplicable concepts just as unprovable as a man who can walk on water.
Yes, I agree everybody is entitled to their beliefs. Yes, I as a writer, want to believe in an übermensch human being: one who can glide through the skies unencumbered; one who can teleport himself into other dimensions; one who can find such ultimate inner peace, his thoughts re-shape reality as he thinks. I want that sooo badly! Maybe too badly…
Because when you want something so badly, a sort of placebo effect starts to take place. During your morning meditation, your mind will start to “unlock secrets of the universe”. You will read about enlightened beings, higher-dimensional forms etc. as if it’s gospel. Meanwhile, someone believing in various scriptures or suras becomes a person too closely led by the nose, instead of able to re-purpose the Bible or Quaraan to a higher form of understanding where Yeshua or Muhammed were just two of many ascended masters following in the steps of Thoth and the original Anunaki.
Come on, really?! As I read that now I feel oh-so-gullible at my lack of foresight and my inability to see the wood for the trees. I wanted to be a higher dimensional being as of 21 December 2012. Am I? Can I re-create reality with my eyes? Am I able to hover in and out of consciousness and see both past lives and my future, amalgamated self? Am I speaking to my fifth-dimensional self right now? Come on!
We’ve just substituted one story for another, one paradigm of belief for another. Granted, this paradigm of New Ageism is more open and willing to accept people of different colours, creeds and circumstances but it’s not perfect. I’m not trying to vilify it or anything but it’s another bait-and-switch.
Humans: we NEED a deus ex machina, always!
Over and above our own flesh-and-blood bodies we want a higher self, a centripetal substance which pulls us in and houses all our best wishes to be better humans than we currently are. Is our remorse for fucking things up so blinding? I mean, sure we caused many extinctions. We’ve taken some species right up to the brink before attempting to fix our actions. We’ve covered the world with our buildings and resource-wasting areas of leisure such as golf courses. We’ve changed weather patterns with cloud seeding. We’ve done this. We’ve done that. But to then vilify all of this as a completely bust system that needs to change overnight or through some miraculously concerted effort? Forgetting cultural, aesthetic, educational, resource-based and wholly contingent obstacles? That seems sooo LaLa Land.
Half of this was brought to a boil for me after I saw a post this morning from Patch the Spirit Science dude which said “10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job”. And then we wonder about youth unemployment rates when people are being fed this “find yourself and teach the masses” bullshit.
Nothing has ever gotten better by your retreating to an ashram or fucking making clay plates or whatever and hoping that your meagre contribution is justifying your continued existence. That is a privileged way of looking at the world. Actually go out there and volunteer. Get a job if you can’t stomach free work. Help someone better themselves by not only giving them valuable information but helping him or her acclimatise to the situation as it stands. Who can judge what tomorrow holds for a child born in the rurals given a helping hand by someone who is willing to donate 5% of his salary to a monthly scholarship fee?
I feel like the abundance of information has made a mess of us. So much of that bullshit could just be muted if people stopped and used common sense. How can you begin to think that your undermining a system which works but has major (major!) flaws helps to break down that system at all? How? To speak to a person on a level which he/she understands requires you to look at the privileges afforded to you by the very system you so sorely want to unplug from:
How all that medication you took as a child allowed you to grow big and strong and make something of yourself. How banks actually help to inspire people by giving them beneficial, financial currents so that they can one day potentially sail their own ships. Now I’m not saying it’s all good (once again) but I just don’t buy this New Age “Into the Wild” shit anymore. I just can’t. It’s counterintuitive, unproductive and breeds a generation of ashram-bound ninnies who just cannot for the life of them stop dreaming of fucking illustrious, (usually) drug-fuelled higher-dimensional transcendence.
Stop wanting to run away, dammit! We’re all here together. Help us fix it or shut the fuck up. I’m young too. I know less about transcendence than you do but I feel like having transcendental thoughts dissociates you far too much away from the current reality.
Last week I read a story on the news that a toddler was stabbed 99 times by her female cousin. That’s the sort of shit we should be working to stop. A real child in the real world suffered and died. Not some meditative impulse. Not something changed by wishes and intentions. No. Pure, realistic sadism. And you can stop it. Some of the people retreating have abilities to introduce legal reform, change medical history by introducing new psychoactive drugs to help cure sick people before they murder our toddlers. We need more cops, more social workers and more people who do and care about the world as a whole in a proactive way and not just as superficial communitarians.
For fuck’s sake… I generally don’t even like profanity in my writing but this is just too much for me now. Let’s catch a wake up, people. We’re all in this together.
This is the third story I wrote for the “We Lesser Mortals” blog. It was a ‘work in progress’ but I have no plans to finish it.
Today’s random words: tension lounging mowing downstairs
“Miles, Cathy, please get off the lounger. Aunt Franny should be coming anytime soon and I don’t want you looking sleepy when she arrives.”
We got off the lounger then, Miles and I because mom has a habit of repeating things and I just couldn’t bear having to hear her say it three or four times over.
“So what are we supposed to do then?” I asked her, “There’s not much to do on Christmas morning but to wait for the scheduled TV programmes or sit around since most business places are closed.”
“Not really though Cathy,” Miles chirped in, “it hasn’t been that way for years. There are many places of business that are open like McDonalds, the local mall and hotels. You must remember that Christmas is a holiday mostly significant for Christians. Although it may share passing significance with non-Christian holidays, it’s not taken seriously by everyone.”
“Yeah, I get that. But we can’t go to the mall because Aunt Franny is coming and I doubt there’ll be anyone worth hanging with there anyway. And I would never eat McDonalds on Christmas – that would be a travesty.”
“No, what would be a travesty is actually eating McDonalds while millions of people don’t even have the lowly bun, let alone the patties,” Miles continued.
“We’re not going to talk about politics on Christmas, Miles. No…”
“It’s not politics, it’s life…”
I walked into the kitchen then, but I could still hear him yammering on about the inequalities of the world and how that blah blah blah. I have a nasty habit of zoning out on my twin brother whenever he gets his Che Guevara impulse. We’re all potential activists as we sip our coffee and check our e-mails on our iGadgets, but none of us ever really gets anywhere with it. I know Miles will be saying these things for years to come but he’ll never visit his mythical Africa or actually engage with his views on a real level. The most difficult time he’s had is trying to locate a signal for his laptop while we were camping last year. Not a shred of genuine social consciousness in his bones. He just sometimes likes to be a smarmy know-it-all.
All Mom was doing in the kitchen was setting up the spread so that it looked like one of the photos in her Cooking with Delilah holiday cookbook series. Mom has tendencies too. I sometimes think that she fashions herself as some generic Martha Stewart, as if she and Martha are paraphrases of the same book. But dad is different. That’s why he’s outside mowing the lawn – salt-of-the-earth type, my dad; raised to appreciate each blade of grass as an organic extension of all creation. But he’s not neo-pagan about it or anything like that. If he was, he wouldn’t work for Appleton, one of Wisconsin’s premiere paper merchants.
Seeing as none of my skills were needed by anyone either inside or outside the house, I thought it best to go upstairs and sneak a quick nap, contrary to Mom’s wishes. Aunty Franny could wait. If she was bringing my annoying cousin, Collin, with her then she would have to wait because it takes sedatives and a crowbar to get me to let go of the banisters long enough to meet Collin. He’s that insufferable.
This is the second story I wrote for the “We Lesser Mortals” blog:
Today’s random phrase: Identifying Zone Sing Stunt
As I walked through the vast cavern of the hall, sensing the thick pillars in my periphery, I became aware of a faint sound emanating from outside the galleria. I couldn’t really identify what it was from the onset as I was still preoccupied with attempting to unblock my ears. I clenched and unclenched my jaw, opening it wide and moving it clumsily from side to side but still my right ear remained blocked. I told Suri that her percussion bomb would be too loud and what had she said of that? Only that it was in the nature of percussion bombs to be loud and it wouldn’t be her fault if I couldn’t run fast enough get out of the detonation zone. If my ear was going to be buggered for any longer than 48 hours there would be hell to pay.
She whistled from the darkness – somewhere to my left – perhaps sensing that I only had one good ear remaining with which to hear her.
“Ey, Sven!” she called to me sotto voce.
“Yeah, what?” I called back to her, not even trying to hide the irritation in my voice.
“Wasn’t that epic?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her then that she had probably reduced my auditory capacity to a shadow of its former self, neither had I the heart to reply to her question.
“But that REALLY was epic! You saw it, right? The way the percussion bomb went off in such perfect synchronicity with the others. Who knew that Aleksey’s creations would work so well? I should give that boy a kiss the next time I see him,” she said excitedly.
“You do that! And while you’re at it why don’t you get me a hearing aid and something nice to say sorry for fucking up my ear with your wannabe spy bukkake?!” I could sense her looking at me with that tell-tale incredulous look of hers, as if I had just told her I rode in on the back of an Easter Bunny. I for one was losing track of the real motives for this mission. My right ear had started to sting and I was asking myself difficult questions regarding how I’d cope with a future plagued with tinnitus. She hadn’t yet reacted in any perceptible way to what I’d just said and I guessed she was waiting for us to reach the light before she told me something.
Midway through 2012, while I was doing my joint Honours and becoming more and more disillusioned with academia, I felt that I needed an outlet whereby I could exercise my writing muscles. I embarked on a new blog project called “We Lesser Mortals”. The blog itself was hosted on Tumblr and it contained the motive for its existence. I basically wanted to use a random word generator to write 1000 words a day. What ended up happening is that I only did it three times before the novelty of writing a cogent story based on four randomly generated words started getting stale. Also, I skipped five days between the second post and the third and the lack of momentum defeated me. However, as with many writers, I find that simply having written those three thousand words should entail that I let those words see the light of day. As with the other series that I wrote for an ex-girlfriend once upon a time and which I then (much later) posted to this blog, I want to post those three stories.
Mind you, they represent a time in my life when the ‘art for art’s sake’ movement was very much enshrined in my heart. I would write for the sake of writing and nothing more. As I get older, I discover more and more that simply writing towards no end is a sort of irresponsible writing. It’s a writing which is not cognizant of the state of the world and people’s inability or unwillingness to express their thoughts about it, whether those thoughts are true or false. Also, it’s a writing which takes for granted that people can write themselves out of the culdesacs that are the sombre and at times traumatic lives of the general human population – those people who often don’t have the time, the level of education, the cultural and social capital or a varied combination of all of them, to ‘write what they feel’. Then, the writer’s duty becomes an ongoing mission to try and bridge that chasm in communication, such that the culdesacs become fully-fledged streets and those whose lives they represent can be proud of them. Not all streets should lead nowhere and by extension, not all human lives should reach their denouement unreported or uncommunicated. So I try. And with that I start my purge of all the writing which was done under the ‘art for art’s sake’ precept and which did not really lead me anywhere except towards a somewhat narcissistic form of artistic ego-stroking. And for that I apologise. I’ve come to know better.
This was the first of the random word generated “We Lesser Mortals” shorts:
Deliver me unto hopeless salvation.
Wherefore art thou, Peace?
Long have I missed thee,
Through the toil and rancour
Of this 21st century life.
I am with thee from time to time,
When I am most alone.
But then too,
Thy brother, Boredom,
Of all hell, doth hold my tired hands.
I made the mistake once
To take a doppelgänger,
That sly fox, Contentment, as thee…
I too am broken now
Like the boughs of a once robust tree.
Maybe the wind sweeps too forcefully,
This wind of change?
I hate it most when it rains,
Since my mind sinks
Droplet after droplet
Into puddles of doubt.
We once were together,
Love and I.
Now I only have The Aether…