Thursday, May 29, 2014

a loner's manifesto

I've never been one to have lots of friends, but growing up, I always had one or two.  The last time I had a regular friendship like that, it was built in part on us both being social fringe dwellers.

Back in highschool, we were both loner types, who didn't relate well to others, so this created a bond of sorts, between us.  Somehow, he eventually started connecting with people, though.  I never really knew the details, only that one day, I'd show up to hang out as I had so often before, but he'd be amidst this circle of strangers.

They might have been more welcoming of me, if I hadn't looked like this weird little kid.  It might have helped if this friend of mine had made some effort to explain my situation to them, but guess that didn't really occur to him.  He had normal friends now, and that was the important thing. He stopped coming by to visit.  I felt left out in the cold, and faded away.  From what I understand, it wasn't until years later that he remembered I existed, and went looking for me, but I was gone.

I can barely even remember what it's like, having friends, but I was pretty content, having just one or two.  It wasn't until very recently that I started realizing that this poses a certain risk, as I've touched on elsewhere in this blog.  As I got older, and more distant from family, realizing that this was a precariously tiny little island I was depending on.  Maybe due to aforementioned past experience, I had a sense of what was coming.

Honestly, the relationship between Jenny and I wasn't great.  I haven't been much of a romantic in a very long time, but it wasn't even a healthy relationship. I don't know how long it'll take me to recover from trying to stick it out, but I guess I just had this idea that perseverance made the most sense anyhow, all things considered.  Jenny and I were both floundering, but we had each other.

Then she got into trouble for stealing dilaudid from work.  She'd been taking the occasional hydrocodone for years, but told me it wasn't an issue, and I never thought that much of it.  I didn't even know she was escalating, until weeks after she'd been caught.  Not that I'd have been able to do much about it. It was a mess, certainly.

They're pretty lenient there in Chicago though, and put her on unpaid suspension pending a successful rehab program.  Rehab strove to keep her too busy to relapse, so it was an all day thing, with meetings and and the like every evening.  Meanwhile, I was alone in our apartment, the entire time, just trying to stay sane.  She'd come home each night, exhausted, saying she was too talked out to do any more talking to anyone.

I did my best to be supportive at first, but a month went by, where I'd just been alone, all day every day, with no one to talk to. Trying to figure out what to do with myself, despite emptying my entire bank account at the beginning of each month, just to fall short of paying the rent.  I wasn't doing so well, stressed out and depressed, but figured we just had to hold on, and get through it.

She was meeting all sorts of people though, learning that maybe she wasn't as much of a loner as she'd thought.  On a regimen of anti-depressants and AA meetings, she found her way into a nice little circle of friends.  Wasn't long before she started wondering what she was doing with a creepy little pod person, like me.

Fuck, if that didn't feel all too familiar.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

consequentialism

In Hinduism, the concept of Karma is intertwined with the mythology of reincarnation.  The tenet that our behavior plays into the quality of our future lives, and that our current conditions are predicated on how we've lived in past lives.

From that, the idea that how we live today, may reward or punish us tomorrow.  Common to many religions, the idea that if we do something bad, we will be punished for it.  We should be punished for it. In the absence of evidence for life being at all fair that way, maybe punishment will come in an afterlife, or in the next life, or maybe we just need to take it upon ourselves to start punishing each other, for whatever wrongs we've decided to call wrongs.

Originating amidst the culture of ancient India, Buddhism uses a lot of the same terminology, and tends to be commonly misunderstood to follow suit, but puts a very different spin on it all.  Starting with the principal view of anatta - a complex subject that I'm going to gloss over this time, only mentioning it to reference how this inherently undermines the traditional idea of karma.  If there is no-self, than what is it that's reborn, and how could this cosmic justice be meted out, if there is no-self to punish or reward?  Not only how could it be, but really, should it be?

Alternately, karma refers to something intrinsically different.  Not at all a system of justice or righteousness, something that isn't at all dependent on any sort of metaphysical belief system.  It's just the idea that all behavior creates ripples of causality in our environment.  This will not come back to bite us due to any sort of overarching system of fairness, but simply because this is the environment we live in.  When we express hostility, we contribute to a culture of hostility.  When we show kindness, we teach others kindness. Whether we pollute our environment, or help clean it up, we're going to be dealing with the consequences.

It is not a question of cosmic justice, so much as all-encompassing cause and effect.  We are responsible for karma, just as it's responsible for us.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

dreaded judgment

What is the difference between someone of an IQ of, say, 81 and someone clocking in at only 79?  Aside from margin of error making them completely interchangeable, one might qualify to be defined as retarded, while the other, just a jackass.

What does it mean to be judgmental?  We might make common sense judgments about either individual, we may even perceive both as needing help, but one, we might cut a whole lot less slack than the other.  Easily slipping into judgments that are distinctly moral in character, as if by being over the entirely arbitrary line of 80, they're choosing to be stupid, while the other is not.

People make all sorts of judgments and exemptions like this towards each other, based on these categories we put people into.  When a person's existence can be summed up into these neat labels, that exempts them from our normal measures of free will and self-determination, to some degree.  Their failings can look more understandable, because they have these authoritative definitions slapped on them.

These distinctions are illusory social constructs.  On some level, intended to be practical, we seem to have this coding loosely effective for discerning who we should help by lending a hand, and who might better be helped by shaming into helping themselves. When teaching someone to swim, it can be better not to physically throw a person into the water, if they can be pressured into throwing themselves.  This tendency manifests in all sorts of ways, from parenting techniques to theories of crime deterrence inherent to our legal systems.

Sometimes that may be an effective thing to do, but there's often this tangling of good judgement and being judgmental.  A tendency to feel that this is the righteous thing to do.  Unless we have these distinctions which exempt people from such treatment.  You don't throw someone into the water who's clearly incapable of learning to swim, that would be psychopathic, but what of people who prove unable to swim for less obvious reasons?  Do we protect ourselves from sympathy and questioning our own good judgment, by blaming them for drowning themselves?

Reality is a whole lot messier than the categories we put people in make it out to be. As far as I can tell, the world is full of people who seem to insist on adhering to their failings, despite all burdens of social judgment or physical upheaval.  As if with or without these labels, we are who we are.  Struggling to be who we are, within the circumstances of our lives, to the best of our abilities to understand and utilize what we can.

Of course that can be incredibly frustrating, all too often screaming out to be some other way, but such is life.  When having faith in some sort of metaphysical ability to transcend such limitations means being callous and impractical, I think that might be the key difference between good judgment and being judgmental.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

if i am not for myself..

Decades ago, my great-uncle Daniel taught me this revolutionary concept that I'd never encountered before - that it was ok to be who I am.  As a teenager, when everything was falling apart for me, everyone else kept pushing for me to get my shit together, but he alone just accepted me.

I've been mulling this over, ever since.  It can seem to be a fine line, between a healthy sense of acceptance, and giving up.  Rolling over for forces that we might otherwise have been able to overcome.  It seems to be a perpetual battle, trying to discern the difference.

Few years ago, I asked him if he'd consider giving me a job, though.  I wanted him to help me aim higher - and he said no.  It seemed that he felt that who I was, wasn't someone he believed in.  He wasn't willing to go out on a limb for me at all.. at least, that's the way I saw it for quite a while.

Another way of looking at it could be that he didn't support me trying to be something I wasn't.  He was drawing that line between acceptance and effort differently than I was, to the point of refusing to even help me draw it the way I'd wanted to.  I suppose it might even be fair to say that he was adhering to his belief in me, in accepting me the way I am.

I hate admitting it, but regardless of all that, to be brutally honest, it may have been a wise decision, not to go out on a limb that just wasn't going to hold.  It's easy to forget that the very foundation of acceptance is really a matter of striving to deal openly and honestly with reality the way it just is.

The problem is that the rest of the world doesn't seem to agree, as far as I can tell.  Who the hell wants to support me, while I just lay around, being myself.  No, even after decades of this, I'm still supposed to get my act together, and if I can't, well, sucks for me.  I'm really trying, but as always, I'm just spinning my wheels, making myself miserable.

Hard to blame anyone, though, when the fact of the matter is, that if I can't support myself, I'm going to run out of options.  I need to able to survive - and if I can't do that, fat lot of good any amount of wu-wei will do me.

I remember Dan telling me that the wolves were not baying at my door, that I would be ok, but as time goes on, and I'm left more and more alone, I'm afraid that might have been so very wrong.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

me first

"If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am not for others, what am I?
If not now, when?"
~Hillel

My initial reaction tends to be to scoff at the first line.  It sounds like an excuse for selfishness, to me.  I immediately jump to the second, and think how much more important that is, I focus on that and eventually make my way to the third line, only to think.. easier said than done.

I really thought my life would go better than this.  I'm an intelligent person, a compassionate person, and when it comes to doing right by others, even a courageous person.  When it comes to being for myself though, I am a simpleton and a coward.  Not to suggest that I'm without selfishness, so much as that I'm pathologically terrible at it.

Maybe I scoff at the idea of prioritizing being for myself because it's foreign to me. I don't know how to live that way.  I don't even know what it should mean to me.  I can't even think of a damn thing I want in life, much of the time.  I'm lonely, I just want to live, but that's about it.

I didn't think it would even matter so much, but sure enough, as I cannot be for myself, nor has anyone else.   I know I'm not supposed to pick this saying apart the way I do.  As I understand it, those three lines are placed together, in that order, for a reason.  Maybe a better reason than I'd been inclined to consider.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

i fail at life

i've tried so hard to stay optimistic, but it's not really working.  this isn't existential angst, so much as basic fear for my ability to survive.  i've completely failed in my efforts to leave the nest.  every step forward has taken me out on a limb, only to see it break.

we've been hearing a lot these days about how minimum wage isn't really enough to live on, but not so much about how (without a work history) collecting disability is about half as much as a single minimum wage job.  way below the poverty line, it pays less per month than the cost of renting even a tiny apartment in most places, and while landlords aren't supposed to reject tenants for being disabled, they can certainly reject them for being too iffy on their ability to afford their rent.

there are some ways around that, but it can be tricky.  we don't really live in a society that guarantees everyone food and shelter.  no, that might be a disincentive to work, and we can't have that, not when there are so many extra jobs in need of being filled.  so how many people end up homeless?  considering the fear and loneliness of such a prospect, i wonder how many of the more than a hundred suicides per day we've got in this country, have something to do with that.

i feel like i've spent my entire adult life a small step away from homelessness, clinging to a social safety net that's full of holes.  so why can't i figure anything else out?  why can't i learn to take care of myself?  i really don't know.  i've never understood what's wrong with me.  sometimes i think it's not as simple as a single condition, so much as the intersection of a variety of factors.

i know i had a number of strikes against me, and trying to be objective, i know that statistically the odds weren't in my favor.  I grew up in an impoverished working single parent household.  i had a medical condition that crippled any potential i had in childhood and adolescence for a healthy social life.  compounded by being moved from one state to another when i was eleven, and then again when i was sixteen.  i've always been the highly sensitive cerebral type, prone to anxiety and depression, even under better circumstances.  i don't even know how to be friends with people anymore, let alone figure out how to navigate society.

All that's snowballed into what appears to be an utterly hopeless mess, yet somehow, i'm supposed to get it together anyhow, while struggling to survive on a few hundred dollars a month.  I feel like I never really even had a chance.

i look at details like this, and think if i were looking at someone else, i'd think i'd be pretty understanding..  we're not supposed to look at ourselves that way, though.  it looks like whining, it looks like giving up.. but it's a hell of a lot easier to embrace a positive attitude, when it's actually worked out better than this.

I've tried so hard to think of these things as building character, of making me stronger in some ways, but all of that seems like a lot of bullshit, when i'm almost forty and can't figure out how to get a roof over my head. as i get older, my life feels increasingly precarious.  i don't know how much longer i'll be able to depend on others for this, and i have no idea where i can go from here.