Food, Sex, Power, Possessions, Arts, Psychology, and Religion: Why none of it helps or matters.

After hitting “publish” yesterday afternoon, I really didn’t plan on sitting down to write again until next weekend, but an event from this morning caused me to change my mind.

I woke up, disoriented, around 8:30. I dug my way out of my thick, blue comforter (that features golden sun and moon shapes) and spotted German Shepherd #1, lying nicely on the floor. He heard rustling, picked up his head, and we locked eyes. Before the whining had a chance to begin, I murmured that yes, we’d be going outside soon.

I threw on some clothes (dinosaur pajama pants and a black T) and skipped down the stairs, Bruster trotting eagerly behind me. We went outside together, where Silo (German Shepherd #2) was waiting, already smiling, already bouncy.

 

After throwing the stick and then the ball and then the stick and then the ball twenty times in a row, I returned to the house, leaving my small but growing GSD posse frolicking in the backyard. I rinsed dishes and placed them into the dishwasher; sprayed disinfectant onto the counter tops and then wiped them dry; and then I transported some of my and Charlie’s misplaced things (a belt, binoculars, junk mail and a month-and-a-half-late birthday card from my grandparents) from the diner table to our respective bedrooms.

I’d received the birthday cards two days before; it was sealed in a bright orange envelope and addressed to Rose (Jace) Yarbrough. I smiled; awwwww. Thanks for meeting me halfway, guys.

“You should be receiving your birthday card sometime THIS week,” Sierra had foreshadowed on the phone a few days before the card arrived.

“Grampy specifically waited to mail your birthday money because he wanted to send it inside of a Halloween card,” she explained, laughing a little.

 

With the diner table cleared off, I looked down at the old tile floor that’s been in this room, the hallway, and the dining room since the late 60s; it had such a thorough film of dirt on it that it looked like some sort of artsy, half-assed attempt at modge podge. I ran my bare foot across its surface and grimaced. I thought about the laundry piling up near the washer; I couldn’t even remember what was clean and what was dirty anymore. I remembered that there were broken bits of trim and shards of door hiding behind the master bedroom door, and recalled how musty the room had smelled the last time I walked into it.. how I’d ventured into the closet, where, now, only a few empty hangers, an unloved stuffed animal, and a box containing my wedding dress, gloves, and tiara sat.

 

I sighed. There was a lot of cleaning I could do today. I could also make phone calls; finally have the garage repairman come out and repair the electronic wiring shit that had been malfunctioning for two years. I’d already rescheduled with him 4 times. I could call Sarah instead, my old realtor; ask her who she’d recommend to paint water-damaged ceilings, and who could also maybe repair three partially destroyed doors and doorways. And then there was the living room.. it was this awful white-half-way-turned-yellow color; Vernon had recommended that I paint over it with a neutral color. Gray? I asked myself. Would that work? I like gray. Will the next homeowner like gray? My house isn’t even on the market yet — it might be a year, or three years, or eleven before I attempt to relist it. But these things are already on my mind. My mind is always racing. It’s impossible to just sit somewhere and think and feel and do nothing.

 

I sighed.

 

I suddenly remembered that there was leftover pasta salad in the fridge — Charlie and I had prepared it the night before; boiled noodles tossed in olive oil, Italian dressing, and balsamic vinaigrette with portobello mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic and homegrown shallots. Delicious.

 

I poured some of it into a bowl, prepared a sandwich, and sliced a kiwi. I sat down at the table to eat my breakfast + lunch combo and decided to skip out on visiting my Facebook feed; there wouldn’t be anything new there.

 

Instead, I pulled up YouTube for the first time in a while and wondered what I could find to watch. Something interesting, I hoped. I’m not feeling a music video or cooking show tutorial right now.

 

In the “Recommended For You” section, a video title caught my attention: “How to Make Yourself a Better Person by Alan Watts.”

 

Ahhh.. self-help, I mused, mockingly. But still; I couldn’t help but click on it. I’ll watch 45, 50 seconds. If it seems lame, I’ll turn it off.

 

But the subject matter was riveting, so I ended up watching the whole 11-minute long video. I can’t accurately describe the impact that it made (and how much it resonated with me), but I’m including a paraphrased version of my favorite excerpts below.

 

You want to make yourself better, but you don’t know what will make you better or who can help you. So do this: Watch your thoughts. Feelings. Emotions. Build up a sense of separation between the watcher and what is being watched. Be the witness; impassive, impartial, and observant.

In the quest for happiness, perhaps you found the ordinary pleasures of this world — food, sex, power, and possessions — to be a drag. So you went into the arts; music, poetry, literature.. and discovered that these aren’t the answer, either.

 

“Wow,” I breathed. “It’s like this dude KNOWS me.. like he’s listened to my SoundCloud, read this blog, found my secret collection of personal journals.. all of it.” He continued.

 

So then you went to a psychiatrist, and when you couldn’t find answers there, you finally experimented with religion. But all of this is just seeking what you were originally seeking when you were seeking the candy bar; they — arts, psychology, religion — are just a dressed up and refined candy bar. Material things fall apart, you say, and spiritual things don’t. This is true. But none of it can make you better or keep you happy.

 

Again; that’s my paraphrased, watered down version of everything Watts said. And damn, it hit the spot.

It’s no secret that I struggle with depression, and that it’s (visibly) gotten progressively worse over the last 16 months. My mom thinks that it’s because I’m a divorced atheist (although I gently remind her that I’m an agnostic.. and that there’s a big difference between the two). I struggle with suicidal thoughts constantly — not because I’m miserable, or even sad, but because I’m depressed — overcome — by how futile and empty and inconsequential everything I do and say and love and care about is.

I was married to someone that I loved, and we lived a fairytale life together, and that wasn’t enough to complete me.

I had a beautiful brother who suffered from medical maladies his entire life and who ended up having a seizure and vomiting at the same fucking time and thereby choked to death. One minute, he was enjoying homemade macaroni and cheese and watching a kids movie in his bedroom; the next, he was on the floor.. still, silent, and gone for fucking ever.

I had a best friend for 8 years that I invested everything into and she turned out to be a heartless (but oh so godly) bitch.

And I loved the hell out of all of these people — I loved them unconditionally; I loved exactly who they were, and committed to loving and supporting whoever they turned into (because I knew, and accepted, that who they were would change, constantly). But that wasn’t enough. Come the end of their lives and our relationships, how does the fact that I really loved them matter or ‘count’ at all? How does surrendering to love do anything but promise to hurt and haunt and weigh me down?

And I’m working a job that I’m fortunate to enjoy the nature of, but even so, I have to step back and ask myself — so this is why you’re alive? To love people who leave and forget about you so easily? To work a job so that you can maybe go to school, maybe get a degree, and maybe become an underpaid educator or an intermittently compensated journalist, and then continue working to eat and sleep somewhere safe and buy new clothes that you don’t need and miscellaneous things that you don’t need either and..? Why? Why? Why? 

 

What’s the point?

 

In a recent post, I shared that writing is one of my deepest passions and that, if I could do anything for a living, it would be to live life for the sheer purpose of experiencing people and things, gathering data and details, and then publishing stories about people. So I guess that I’m still here, doing (waves arms around wildly) all of this, because I love to learn, I love to think, and I love to write. But even that seems senseless because of the fact that my words are impermanent; in 100 years, what I’ve written will (most likely) receive no passing view and mean absolutely nothing. These words will mean more to me than they’ll ever mean to anybody else, and I fully get that. So why write? And why stay to write?

 

“But, by staying, you can positively impact the lives of others,” someone might say. And this is true. We all make impacts, and impressions, on others (whether we intend to or not). Our influence might be uplifting, comforting, and inspiring (positive) or discouraging, unkind, and intimidating (negative). I do want to make others feel happy, accepted, loved, capable and important.. but even then; why do that? So we can all continue miserably pushing on for nothing — happily or unhappily working jobs that we’ll retire from X number of years from now and then die shortly thereafter? Do we toil and ‘live’ for the few years of retirement we hope and anticipate we’ll get, when our bodies are old and achy and tired? Or do we stick around for the 2 week-long vacations we take each year, where we either stay at home and lounge about, stupidly scrolling through Facebook and watching politicians perform on overpriced television channels, or do exhaust ourselves and our bank accounts (but become “cultured”) by traveling abroad? Do we keep taking out loans for bigger, better cars and bigger, better houses and waste money eating out in the name of good fun when we could cook healthier and cheaper meals at home? Do we birth children to reassure ourselves that a part of us will continue living and making a difference and being present after we’re just windblown ashes? Does that sort of take the edge off of futility?

 

I had a friend mention, recently, that they constantly struggle against their inclination towards nihilism. When I heard them speak the word, I loved the way it sounded, and when I looked the word up, I thought: Oh wow! So this is what I am at the moment. Somewhat of a nihilist. 

Here are a few web-sourced lines on the subject:

Nihilism is a belief in the pointless of existence. The absence of truth. The absence of reason. It makes existence feel insane and absurd.

Nihilism is used for a lot of positions in philosophy.. but the most common use is the view that nothing we do, nothing we create, and nothing we love has any meaning or value whatsoever.

Nihilism not only captures a philosophical point of view, but a certain mood, a certain melancholy: is this all there is? Is all of humanity just a paltry few years of events on an insignificant planet, about which the universe cares nothing?  Does anything matter?

Nihilism as an accusation is a challenge: if you don’t believe in God, or something else transcendent and eternal, why does anything matter?

 

I went to a show with a friend earlier this week; Die Antwoord (a band from South Africa) was performing. Their genre: hip hop/rave. I knew, from glimpses of images and isolated bits of sound, that the band was sort of out there, but I didn’t know exactly what they were like, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to experience live.

 

die-antwoord
Die Antwoord

 

I had to leave thirty minutes after the show began, after I’d seen enough creepy images on the screen, witnessed far too much twerking by the lead singer (who was, by this point, only wearing red, satin underwear and a baggy t-shirt), and heard too many references involving “motherfucker” and wanting to please “daddy.”

 

I felt sick, and not from the three sips of beer I’d had.

 

Sexual immorality and promiscuity have always troubled and bothered me in a special kind of way — when shown on television, pictured in magazines, or just manifested in life in general. There’s far too much to relate right here, right now. But I’ll say this: when I grew up, the only (unreasonable) expectations of my gender were to shave everything and wear thongs (sidebar: I haven’t shaved in three years now and I’m so fucking proud of it). Now, women have so many other expectations that I won’t go into detail on, but they make me sick.

 

I read the book “Gone Girl” a few months back (I went into the book blind — not knowing the plot or premise; only that it had been really popular and that I’d stumbled upon a free copy at a literary event). But, while reading the novel, one paragraph in particular moved me to the point of tears (because of how devastatingly accurate it was). I’m referencing it below.

Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.

Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men – friends, coworkers, strangers – giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them. I’d want to grab the poor guy by his lapels or messenger bag and say: The bitch doesn’t really love chili dogs that much – no one loves chili dogs that much! And the Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.

 

I’d met women like this before — cool girls; I’ve known them in the past, and I know them in the present. And at first, I was amazed by them; I believed them.

Wow — you’re okay with your partner watching porn, going to visit their ex, deleting their phone history every couple of days without explaining why and making you do things, sexually, that you aren’t comfortable with? You’re really cool with all of that?

And then, I began to resent them.

You’re setting the expectation that I should also be okay with these things; that if I’m not, I’m a selfish, withholding, and conservative prude. That I’m uncool.

 

And now, free of the shackles of a relationship and rejecting (nearly) all of society’s expectations, I just feel sorry for the cool girls. The ones who betray their authentic selves to keep up with appearances, and to superficially keep somebody who obviously isn’t worth their time around.

 

But it’s just one thing, among so many other things (discrimination; animal cruelty; unattainable beauty standards; religious warfare), that weighs on my soul; I’ve seen, firsthand, how the world’s level of sexual depravity has lowered itself to unimaginable depths just in the course of the last ten years, and I know it won’t get any better from here. It can’t. That’s not how the world works. It doesn’t re-erect old, broken boundaries; once it’s knocked down one of them — before the shock factor of the demolition has even had time to subside — it’s already preparing to fire at the next one. I know that TV ratings will only become looser; clothes will become shorter, tighter, and more see-through; relationships will become less and less committal and feature more and more ‘full disclosure’ statements at the on start, and I can’t keep pace with any of that. I refuse.

I hate to see young boys (and especially girls) running around the park.. 9-years-old, happy; innocent and free.. it makes me want to cry, because I can only imagine how stressed and miserable and unhealthy and confused they’re going to feel in just a few short years. How they’re going to do things they don’t want to do so they can be with people they think are good for them. How they’re going to question their looks, their worth, their appeal, and the solidity of their and their partner’s relationship constantly. Every day, in my mind, I watch the world burn, hotter and hotter, and I wish I could just finally close my eyes, because it’s torture.

 

So I’ll be honest. The things I love most in life are animals, people, music, and writing, and that’s what’s keeping me here. But if every person that I currently love were to be swept away in a tornado (or otherwise removed from this world), I would see no logical reason to continue living. The biggest reason why I choose to stay is because I can’t bare imagining the aftermath of leaving; how sad family members would be and how startled friends and co-workers would be. But if they were gone, and assisted suicide were legal (I’m sure it is, somewhere; I hate the thought of bleeding out or swallowing a ridiculous number of pills — I can barely take my iron pill with water in the morning without choking), I would handle all of my affairs, re-home my pups, donate my few possessions, and just dip. Why not? I mean really?

 

It is sad when your biggest motivation for staying alive is wanting to keep other people happy.

 

And I’d love to hear from you. Why do you stay? Why do you continue working and eating and sleeping and breathing? It takes more effort than you think to stay alive.. you’re just naturally accustomed to doing the work. So stop for a second and think about it; what makes this life worth it? Why are you still here?

 

 

Aun Aqui

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2 thoughts on “Food, Sex, Power, Possessions, Arts, Psychology, and Religion: Why none of it helps or matters.

  1. Thank you for writing this post. It really made me think. Even though I can’t fully understand the feelings of a nihilist on a deeper level, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have those feelings too, had I been through what you’ve been through. I’m really sorry for all of that (though I know that probably doesn’t help you; I still wanted to tell you). For me, I think the reason I’m still here isn’t only to make others happy but also to be happy. Whatever it is that makes me smile even only once a day, it makes that day worth it. I also think everyone, deep down, has an urge to live. It’s just a part of you. It can be damaged by sad, horrible experiences, but it’s always there, just waiting to be sparked again. It’s so amazing what people can go through and then get up and live again when they have that urge. When I witness sad, horrible things like the death of a loved one, I try not to think about if their life was meaningless or not. I try to think of all the things we’ve experienced together, all the joy this person was able to get, and try to appreciate life even more. Appreciate every time I smile and every time I laugh. Appreciate that I actually have the opportunity to do that. It’s hard, but in the end it makes it easier to cope with all the shit that gets thrown in your direction all the time.
    I wish you all the best! x

  2. I stay alive because there are a lot of things that I haven’t done yet. Books I haven’t read, places I haven’t been, friends I haven’t hung out with enough. Did you know that I’ve never had coffee with someone who seriously believes in Bigfoot? (I _have_ had lunch with someone who 100% believes that he saw an alien spacecraft.)

    I (basically) like most people, and I like knowing them…and more than anything I like getting to show or tell them about something amazing or interesting that they managed to miss. (https://xkcd.com/1053/) That, and I like making their lives strange.

    (http://theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy)

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