Addict

“I want to want different things from the ones I actually want”. This is a core experience for me, and yet it seems very hard to relate to for other people. I’m unsure why; while I wish I didn’t feel it, I can’t help but see it as a good reaction to a bad situation.

In trying to imagine examples of when this would apply to others, I keep thinking about addicts, addicts of any kind who want to drop their addiction. You want, say, drugs, and you don’t want to want drugs, and then you give in and you enjoy them and you feel awful that you gave in and you wish you didn’t enjoy them. It seems simple enough when explained this way.

Most importantly, the reason you don’t want to want what you’re addicted to is usually some variation of “It’s holding me back from realizing my potential”. It’s never that “it’s not enjoyable anymore”, because if it wasn’t enjoyable on some level, you wouldn’t be addicted to it in the first place.

But, from what I can tell, many of those who surround me fail to see my situation in the same way. They reject the equation. I think the piece of advice I have heard the most has been “Try to do the things you want to do and enjoy doing, without judging yourself or feeling guilty”. In terms of addiction, that would mean “Enjoy what you’re addicted to without thinking about why it’s ruining your life, why you want to get rid of your addiction in the first place”. That doesn’t sound like good advice anymore, does it?

I wonder if it all boils down to the fact that I’m “too hard on myself” – which, from my point of view, means that others generally aren’t hard enough on themselves, they don’t expect enough from themselves. And yet, while I can’t say that I’m in fact any better than the mass (I’m possibly worse, and I could spend days describing all that is wrong with me), my being hard on myself, my trying to change for the better is my only (minuscule) source of pride.

Why should I change the only thing that I like about myself?

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The Sound of Perdition

Sometimes it feels as if the world is just made to make me lose my way. There’s so much around, too much. There is content everywhere. But content is not the right word: entertainment. Things made with the sole purpose of being addicting, of catching my attention, while they are, in fact, empty of any meaningful content.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It’s my weakness after all.

All those books, films, games, music albums, TV shows, videos, Social Network feeds, Sports and ESports, with nothing to say, and yet they make you hold on to them. They’re attractive. They’re so undeniably attractive, and I hate them. Even if you try and refine your taste, even if you specialize in just a small niche of things, they keep trying to suck all your time, all your energies. Actually, the more you specialize, the more time they take.

Most of the times, I believe that, quite apart from my actual taste, I can usually identify when something has a heart and when it is simply a pleasurable, hollow distraction, and yet, I wish I could be more resolute at saying no. I wish I could more readily listen to my soul’s melody rather than the hypnotizing sirens’ tune. All your superficial needs seems satisfied, while your deepest aspirations drown in a sea of wasted time, and your joy, your creativity, your curiosity, your vitality, they all rot and die, forgotten.

The sound of perdition is simply the one that cancels any notes of your own. It seduces you: how exhausted you must be, well, rest your heavy limbs here for a while, shut yourself down and come to sleep in this most comfortable of beds. I can guarantee you’ll never want to get up anymore.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. It’s my weakness after all.

Loneliness, Functioning and Human Warmth

For all the effort I put into escaping escapism, from time to time I suddenly realize how it has made its way back into my life in subtler forms, as a sort of survival instinct that is so hard to eradicate. Augustine was one of the first to realize that, the more you are self-conscious, the more your rationalizations become subtler, evil becomes thinner, hides deeper, but it never really stops.

Apathy still takes me all too easily, instead of letting me suffer like I should. Maybe that is the reason for my inability to act, to express myself.

I feel lonely. I could have said that at any time during the last several years, but these days it strikes me harder than usual. I realized I spend about 6 and a half days alone every week. Which then leads me to wonder how anyone is supposed to feel ok, how anyone is supposed to ‘work’ within circumstances like my own. At this point I turn to my Nietzschean “Higher men vs. the Herd” line of thought, and realize that I should, I should endure it, I should ‘work’ (function) despite it, I should shine through it. Not to mention those thoughts that reflect on how some truly despicable and stupid human beings have friends, which mean that I somehow don’t deserve them, either because I’m more despicable than them or because I’m clearly missing something that lets them have friends and prevents me from the same.

And so I’m left with two, almost opposite feelings: a profound wish, a crave even, to feel loved, to cuddle with someone, to have sex with someone, to share human warmth not just with words but with the body; and on the other side a mix of stoicism and self-deprecation – stuff like “I clearly don’t deserve it, so I have to earn it first”, “Maybe I don’t have it in me”, “I have to endure and make do without it, shine through it” and maybe someday, in that future that never comes and never will. And when I can’t negate either, that turns into profound dissatisfaction and a bleak outlook on the future, and inaction.

Perhaps it will always be a mystery to me, how some people tell me they struggle to understand certain things that seem so clear to me, and yet I fail to understand such a supposedly simple thing as how people get to know other people and make friends. Here’s another not-quite-contradiction: I hate and despise the vast majority of people just as I crave their company, their touch and their warmth – not of everyone, admittedly, just enough, just 2 or 3, to keep the loneliness away.

There’s one thing I know for sure: in these years characterized by failure to reach one’s goals, dissatisfaction, depression, self-hate and “not-enoughness”, my best friend – the owner of that o.5 day per week of my life – is the only thing that keeps me alive, sane, and sometimes happy and thankful. She makes me feel loved, and yes, I still think I don’t deserve it, but somehow she sees through that and she still does make me feel that way. She’s the only one who does.

But the feeling leaves soon, about a day after her, and I go back to normal. Still, those few hours that she gives me, they feel like freedom. They feel like hope. And I wonder whether, if I had a bit more of that, I couldn’t then overcome so many of the difficulties that keep me down, that keep me from going from though to action, that keep me listening to that voice that says “You’re not good enough, you don’t deserve anything”. I wonder…

I wish I could play with Lego

(For reference, here is where the title came from)

Today got me thinking about storytelling and my creativity more than usual. Part of it is because I finished reading The Outsider, and I’ve been thinking about it as a manual that may somehow contain the key to my salvation, to the liberation of my energies.

I am constantly haunted by the feeling that I have something to say, some purpose to fulfil, some important thing that I should be doing and I am not. Sometimes I fear that I’m actually empty and I’m just making it all up. I know I’m not, but sometimes I still do.

I know the main thing keeping me down is my own self-hate. I can’t muster even a tiny bit of self-respect, and I keep letting myself down on a daily basis. There’s other serious obstacles, like dispersal of energy, but I think my self-hate is the biggest one, as it colours everything I do. There’s always an “I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough” background to my actions, the more so the more they matter.

I honestly don’t know why I still try to do so many things. I guess that there’s a complementary instinct, one that asserts: “This is not how things should be, this is all wrong, I could should be so much better than this, I should be great”. It’s weak, but it’s obviously there, as a sort of standard that I always fall short of, but that I strongly feel as my own.

I wish I could play with Lego, but I can’t. My parents never bought me such toys, they always bought me toys with a very strong sense of how they should be played, the one and only way; videogames being an excellent example of it. I can lament the lack of intellectual, creative and emotional fostering I had as a kid under many angles, but today this one stroke me as particularly relevant.

Lego are more of a tool to play with, than a game in themselves. You don’t play Lego, but Lego allow you to play, to create your own game. And creation, from scratch, just based on my fancy, is something I never learned. I remember being in primary school and already thinking that I didn’t have anything to say, and if I had, no one was interested in it anyway. I knew the correct answer to most questions, but I didn’t know my answer to questions to which right and wrong didn’t really apply.

If I imagine myself playing with Lego now, I think I would fail out of lack of self-respect. Not because I’m playing a kids’ game, but out of lack of respect for myself as a narrator, as a creator of an imaginative world. I wouldn’t feel up to the task, without any instructions to follow: self expression? I’d feel nervous, scared, as if I had nothing to express, as if I was nothing.

I wish I could play with Lego, and make up a crappy story just because I can, just because that’s what the pieces allow me to do, even if it doesn’t make sense, just because it’s fun in the moment, even if it has no ulterior significance. Just because it’s for me and I’m having fun with my own imagination.

Even if it’s far from my view of art, I would just like to feel liberated.

Steven 1: Distractions

I am going to start this study by describing the most eye-catching feature of Steven’s life: the way he spends his time. This will also allow me to mention most of the themes that I will come back to, in time.

So, how does Steven spend his time? Mainly playing videogames. And this is valid both for the summer vacation and term time (Steven is a university student): Steven spends at least about 30 hours a week (unless something prevents him from doing so) playing videogames. When he is not disturbed by many commitments and chores, or when he finds a game he is particularly interested in, that value can easily reach the 50, even 60 hours a week, with peaks of more than 20 hours of gaming in 2 days. It’s safe to say he plays videogames at least as much as he sleeps, if not more. Besides the other obvious activities, like eating, Steven’s life beside videogames consists of watching tv series and films; he reads at night, before sleeping, but almost never during the day. Sometimes he listens to music, and occasionally he plays the guitar (he has an acoustic and an electric, but doesn’t touch them more than once every 2 weeks). Every day he checks Amazon for free music and kindle books, or cheap CDs. Studying doesn’t come to more than a couple of hours a day even during exam time. In separate, appropriate sections I will focus on the kind of videogames he plays and how he relates to them; the same will be done, in brief, for films and books. An entire section will be devoted in particular to Guitar Hero, and its relationship to the real guitar. In the meantime, I would like to note the absence of any “active” or “productive” activity: no writing of any kind, no diary or journal, no form of art, no volunteer work, in short nothing brought into the world by him, or affected by his existence. He even dropped out of the gaming clan he belonged to, for lack of will to be part of something more than his little world. When this individual will die, what will remain of him will be the save files from his games.

On his desk we find his computer (with which he plays most videogames), a DVD player and a small television. There’s little place to write or read an actual book on his desk. Beside a mug full of pens and a pair of iPod speakers, there are just a lot of knick-knacks: a lava lamp, a small Newton’s cradle, a mug-holder, and other smaller things that clutter the desk, although with a vague sense of order. Sometimes, his Kindle and his Nintendo DS find their place there as well. The posters on the wall are ordinary, and sometimes generic: an optic illusion poster, a Pink Floyd one, a “suicide bunny” one, a poster with funny street signs, one with the Rolling Stone’s mouth and one with some famous rock artists’ guitars. In the kitchen, another television connected to a VHS player, an Xbox 360 (his secondary source of gaming) and a PS2.

Another important thing Steven likes to do is getting reduced stuff at supermarkets. Not only he always looks at the reduced section when he actually goes shopping, but he often goes there for the only purpose of finding items that are reduced for clearance and freezing them. He finds some kind of joy in the very act of getting things for a very low price, for, although not rich, Steven would easily be able to afford shopping normally without great concerns. Moreover, he doesn’t need them: his cupboards and freezers, both in the house we share and at his own house, are always full, but if he finds something cheap, even if he already has it, he will buy more. And, what shocked me the most, he, together with a couple of members of his family, often do the so-called “reduced runs” on Sunday; that is, they go to every supermarket and shop in the area in order of closing time to get reduced items from all of them.

Some observations that I would like to do immediately, before getting in depth in each theme: the life of this individual, it seems to me, is utterly empty. He is, of course, one of the persons that said that he may get a part-time job because he doesn’t have anything to do anyway. (Cf.: This Post) To me, that sounds like an admission that his life is empty, that he has nothing to do with the time he has been given. (Cf.: Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”) He is a “bored” individual in constant, almost physiological need of entertainment, of distractions. (It will be even clearer, further on, that his fruition of books, music, films, videogames etc. is only and purely a source of entertainment, never of art or of personal enrichment) Distractions from what, I cannot be sure. To me they look like distractions from living. From thinking and realizing and feeling the huge lack of value and meaning in his actions.

Frankly, I find it a desolate life, and even, to some extent, offensive to the dignity of human beings (to borrow Kantian terms) insofar as he has a need to anesthetize all that makes him human (his rationality, as well as his emotions) for they find themselves restless, so unused and without purpose. He doesn’t keep up with the news, and doesn’t vote, and I strongly suspect he doesn’t watch television only because, in its passivity, it’s not anesthetizing enough, it’s not as effective a drug as gaming is (or rather can be) through its active engagement of a person’s attention. (Note: Actively engaging a person’s attention is no way related to a meaningful, intelligent task; surely intelligent activities require attention, but crosswords or puzzles do so as well, and they are not meaningful tasks.)

I asked him if he ever asks himself: “After being entertained for hours on end, then what?” He answered no, and by the tone I suspect he may not even have really understood the question. Distraction has developed to the point that it is not a means to forgetting something, but an end in itself. Distraction has succeeded in distracting him from why he wanted to be distracted in the first place. Frankly, hearing him deny any kind of thought about himself, his life, purpose or meaning, scared me, for I felt as if my housemate was something different than human, maybe less than human.

PS.: As for my point of view in judging (so as to answer some possible objections concerning the fact that I may be prejudiced) I myself practice, to some extent, most of those activities as well. I read, I watch films and tv series, I play the guitar, I listen to music and I play videogames. I almost never criticize the activities themselves, but rather how they are carried out, the attitude, the thought (or lack thereof) behind them.

Reflections on “The L Word” Finale

So, I’ve just finished watching the entire 6 seasons of “The L Word”, faithfully, one episode a day. Except for today, when the last disc offered me the last episode right there and I couldn’t wait for tomorrow, so I watched two. And I have to say, it’s been a wonderful show, and I’m happy to have spent the time I’ve spent watching it, as it became my mourning routine, to watch one episode every day, over breakfast.

The finale (I wouldn’t call it an ending) was perplexing at first. I mean, who killed Jenny Schecter? After the end of the last episode, that didn’t make me cry as I was expecting it to (I cried for some seasons finale, especially the ending scene of Season 1, with Bette cheating on Tina with Candace and the beautiful “Roads” by Portishead playing in the background – that scene changed the way I listen to that song now) I spent a few minutes seeing what a google search would come up with regarding people’s thoughts and reactions to it, and I’ve seen that many try to forget an ending that doesn’t end anything, and instead focus on how “the other 69 episodes have been so great”.

“But years from now, will it even matter how the show went out in its final hour? It was really the other 69 episodes that made The L Word a TV milestone. As the retrospective that aired beforehand reminded us, its impact expands far beyond its barrier-busting stories: TV’s first deaf lesbian, its first regularly occurring transsexual character, bisexuals of both genders, drag kings, the US military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, biracial identity, gay parenting, sex/drug/alcohol/gambling addiction, sexual abuse, midlife sexual awakenings, breast cancer…this show took on a lot. Judging by the frequent erraticism of its storytelling, it probably took on too much. In the end, I say, thank goodness it had the guts to take them on at all.” (Source)

While I couldn’t agree more on the deep significance of the themes presented by the show,  I’ve decided to offer a more positive viewpoint about the finale of the series. Continue reading

The Working Dead

I’ve heard those words again. Those words that can only come from the mouths of the ghosts of the dead, of the empty that don’t even know they are empty.

This time it was my father. He said that “It’s summer, so a shift at work just makes your day full.” Of course he meant it in a good way, for him. Like, “It gives you something to do”. What’s saddening is that he still has no clue of the kind of person I am. Not that I care too much by this point. I didn’t even bother replying.

I have first heard the complete version of this concept when watching an introductory video for the same job my father was talking about. This random guy in a sort of motivational section of the video said something like: “Why work for —-? Well, it’s better than staying home and being bored!”

Really?

REALLY?

I had already had some clue that large masses of people in the Western World could think such a horrific thought, but it didn’t strike me quite as hard as this one time. {I need to point out, unlike something like teaching, it’s not the kind of job one could possibly enjoy, or do as a form of passion. It’s just a retail job, or bartending, or cleaning around.}

Intellectual aside
When I read Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism”, I came across this piece of information that really shocked me, for the kind of mentality it implied. This passage compared different ways to motivate the labourers to work more in different cultures. A modern entrepreneur, with a Capitalist mindset, would think people want to earn more, just like he wants to earn more (that’s presumably why he wants them to be more productive). So what does he do? He raises the wage per hour, or per piece, or whatever. More money to earn, more people would try to work more. And in today’s world, it would work. But not in a pre-capitalistic mentality, and in an economic ethic that actually made sense and took the meaningfulness of life into account. In other countries, where the entrepreneurs were Capitalists, but the working class was not, raising the wage produced less work. People would aim to earn enough to provide for themselves, and a bit more, just to be on the safe side, but in general they would stop after earning a certain amount of money, say, what they earned in a normal day of work before the pay-raise. Therefore, they would finish early, and they would spend the extra time with their families and friends, enjoying each other’s company. Which behaviour is the weird one out?
——————-

I just can’t get my head around the fact that people can take this kind of job not because they need the money, nor because they like it, but just because they are bored. And as a poor person who has to work (cf.: Slavery), I almost feel it like an offence to my own dignity as a human being. For one, I cannot understand boredom, unless it’s the kind of boredom coming from having to do something you don’t like. But not boredom as such. I can’t conceive it. And even if I could, what do you do? To fight boredom you get an easy, repetitive job.

Well, here’s what I think. That this kind of job is alienating, I don’t think is up for discussion. Despite the fact that there a slight chance of knowing new people, the main characteristic about doing the same thing over and over again with a fake smile on your lips is alienation. And there’s not much one can do about it. It is necessary that someone shuts their brain down and fills the shelves of a supermarket when they’re empty. (It’d actually be easy to make a machine that would do it more efficiently, but let’s leave this aside.) But if you’re alive and self-aware enough, you can save yourself from alienation.

So, someone like that person (or someone like my father), average western citizens with internet access and the ordinary commodities of (low, in my case) middle class, what do they do? They want a job. They would want it even if they had enough money to live until they die of old age. And they don’t want it so they may have more money. Ambition/Greed is not the problem here. Some people who work with me can afford pretty much whatever they want, and they still work.

The only thing I can conclude is that they want something to do. For two strictly-related reasons: 1) They don’t know what to do with themselves when alone and 2) they don’t know how to deal with themselves in the event they should come to think about themselves. So they alienate themselves in a meaningless job. And may they never have a moment to think and peer at the emptiness in their lives. These people want nothing. They have no dreams, they have no wishes for the future, they don’t strive to improve themselves or to reach something. They are self-content in a very unsatisfied – and unsatisfying – way. (Cf.: Nietzsche’s Last Man)

For months now I have been dying to meet someone like that guy, look at him in his eyes and ask him if he’s so disgusted with himself, and why. What brought a person to have no dreams, no interests, no curiosity, nothing at all, so that even regular entertainment is just not enough and they need a job as the ultimate form of mass distraction.

I’m not like them. Even when I “have nothing to do”, 24 hours are never enough for me to do half of what I’d like to do. But I’m not saying everyone should have artistic aspirations (although, as a human being with a brain and a heart, you must have at least something to say, a story to tell, a point to make…?) But, even without active, endless pursuits, like writing, is there really nothing else? Watch films, read books, read newspapers and get involved in local politics to change your area for the better. Do volunteering to help people who are in need. There’s enough to do and to think about for several lifetimes, just in these few things.

What I don’t understand is how could these people lose what made them human beings. A heart, a brain and some curiosity would be enough. What do these people live for? I don’t understand, how do they go through each day?

I have grown up without an inspiring model that would make me wish for greatness. That model came several years later, way too late perhaps. But I was relatively proud to see how much my father had read and how many films he had seen. When I grew up though, I realized there was a lot of consumption lit and cinema in the lot. But there were some gems. He made me read “The Old Man and The Sea”. What saddened me the most, though, was to realize my father couldn’t go any deeper than the simple plot, in the understanding of this kind of thing. More than 40 years reading books and watching films, and never really understanding one. It makes me sad just to think about it. And it scares me that that could have been me.

How can a human being living in this world stop wanting to improve either themselves or the world, lose the will to both tell and listen to stories and sell the time of their life away for lack of a better way to use it? To me these people are just walking, working dead.