The tweet above is a bit of an overstatement. The fact is that my mind is always thinking about how I got into this position, how I continually made decisions in my life despite my intuition's warning system. Listening to that episode of Very Bad Wizards, however, may have helped to coalesce some of my thinking around my upbringing, however, as well as a few recent events and interactions with others.
On Monday, I performed at a vow renewal in Harrison Mills. For the weeks beforehand, the musician I was playing with and I had spent many hours over-rehearsing for this event. We talked a lot. He is a 60 year old man who's lived a wildly different life than I have: he won awards for bodybuilding; he acted in television shows; he travelled as a musician; he's done his share of manual labour and other things I can't quite remember. He's doing ok despite the seemingly chaotic bunch of things he's done with himself.
And I'd hear his stories and they'd kinda' stun me. This is the sort of person I admired growing up, and yet I consistently chose different things to do. As much as I wanted to try to be a musician, I shied away from it; as much as I wanted to travel, I made choice after choice that kept me in place; as much as I wanted to earn enough money to pay my debts, I kept doing things that kept me in the red; as much as I felt insecure about the religion of my youth, I kept holding on to it and moulding it so I could still call myself a believer; as much as I wanted to get experience dating, I settled on the first person who really gave me a chance.
And then here's this guy who's gone the complete other direction. He rebelled, he stood up for himself, he never compromised on his values, he fought through the hard times and still, well, he's doing ok. What was wrong with me to think I was undesirable and incompetent? What made me feel so incapable of a person? Why, when people would tell me "You can do it," and "You really shouldn't be worried about that," why couldn't I hear them?
Fear's the most common element in all of this. I was constantly afraid, afraid that I was wrong, that I was unlovable, that I was incompetent, that I couldn't survive in the world on my own, afraid of going to hell, of disappointing my parents, of serving the wrong god, of choosing a profession carelessly, of ending up on the streets or alone. Fear, fear, fear.
To bring it back to the VBW podcast, I don't blame my parents for this. This fear, this constant feeling of inadequacy, has always been there no matter what they've said or suggested. I don't want to blame anyone for any of it. I just seem to gravitate towards it. If someone told me to be afraid, I took note and stored it in the mental caution bank.
But then I see these people who live without fear, and I read these books that tell you to overcome your fear, and I hear these podcasts that say there's no one to blame, that you're ultimately who you are already, and then I look at myself and I don't like what I see. What's there to like? And then I end up back in that cycle of fear again, afraid even to think I'm worthy of anything.
I just wish I knew how to break out of it. Because I'm still in it. I still navigate theings with a fear mindset. In my career, I'm constantly afraid of being found out as a fraud; in my family life, I'm afraid that my kids will stop wanting to interact with me; in my art, I'm afraid of "putting it out there" in case people reject it and humiliate me; in my life choices, I'm afraid that I will make some sort of financial mistake that will utterly ruin me. But none of these fears are founded in truths worth looking at this way. I can look at each of these things and re-frame them in more positive, less fear-based ways. But I keep going back to the fear.
And nobody wants to deal with the fear-person, with the person in the fear-mindset. People will choose the confident person every time.
Every week we have these rehearsals for a play that I'm in. Last week they wanted to have me try to enter the stage in a smooth, confident way. I had no idea how to do it. Even in trying to just act without fear, I couldn't seem to get the hang of it. And that's just acting.
In the end, the simple fact is this: I am not happy with my life. I don't feel content. I'm not happy with the choices I've made or the places those choices have taken me. I'm sure that none of this would matter if I was content with myself. But I'm not.
But I still don't know what "next step" to take. And I'm too fearful to take some random step into the darkness.
I don't jive with memes. I remember back when people showed me the "I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER" memes a decade ago, but it took me quite a while to "get" them. For a while, I enjoyed them on Facebook or Twitter, but now when I see a meme-like image with a quote on it, I just scroll past it. They're not worth my time or mental investment.
However, my current English 11 class has confronted my habits and bias head-on: they are deeply involved and invested in meme-based thinking. Their quips and inside jokes are largely meme-ish. The class has pushed my mind into deeper thinking about how memes work and why I seem to sluff them off so much. I've found myself saying to the class, "Memes stop deeper thought," or "Memes end a nuanced conversation before we can get to the meat of it," or "Memes put down a flag before you've even reached the field," or "Memes make an in-out group mentality where it's not useful." I don't know if this sort of thinking really works, but it seems like my thoughts coalesce around "Memes stop thought."
While reading the print edition of The Globe and Mail last week, I saw an article that made reference to the following book, Memes and the Future of Pop Culture, by Marcel Danesi. It looks like it's gonna' be a good book.
The article from The Globe and Mail, "Malls, bowling alleys, and the places of our youth are disappearing. Where do we go for a nostalgic place?" by Odessa Paloma Parker, describes part of Danesi's book like this:
Danesi is the author of the recently published book Memes and the Future of Popular Culture, a work that explores how “meme culture” could bring about the end of pop culture – movie theatres, etc. – as we know it; he describes popular culture as “an experiment that may be coming to an end as we shift away from real spaces into virtual spaces.” If you think about what nostalgia means to a millennial, he’s on to something. Ferrao explains that the younger staff at Superflux have a twinge when it comes to older technology, much like she would catching a glimpse of shag carpeting or another symbol of a certain generation’s collective youth. Those even younger, under 20, might not even know how to ascribe a parallel set of emotions to a tangibly familiar place as to an evocative one, as Ferrao has done with the Barbican.
Hm. I wonder, perhaps, if my tendency to dismiss meme-thinking stems from my pop-culture stewardship. As I read the part of Danesi's book that's available through Google Books, I couldn't help but think "I get that," over and over again. But meme culture is something new, something that follows different rules, that exists in a temporal space different from my pop culture conditioning.
The thing is, I have no interest at all at playing with a culture that aims to score points by stopping conversation for a laugh, or for virtue-signalling points. So perhaps I don't belong in meme culture. I look forward to getting a copy of Danesi's book somehow.
And I have yet one more piece of data to support the following statement: I'm old.
A few thoughts I started pounding into Twitter today, with annotations:
I had so many chances to not try to be a Christian. My conversion experience, as my Camp "Counselor In Training" leader said, wasn't very convincing, for example; I had soul-affecting conversations with so many people along the way. But instead of scrapping the faith and identity, I mastered bending and contorting the faith to fit my understanding. Sometimes it was overly abstract; sometimes I clung to tradition. Most of the time, though, I clung to the false hope that I would understand better in the future why my beliefs seemed to contradict my understanding of the world so much.
I remember, not long after he became an atheist, having a conversation with my brother, for example, and I had an apologetics-based sort of justification for everything he said. And I knew I was jumping through hoops, but I kept jumping. I couldn't seem to let go. And I got accustomed to that magical thinking in so many places in my life. This became most problematic when I justified getting married when I knew I wasn't ready: I kept saying, "This may be your only chance," "just have faith," and it will work out in the end." And as a result of that magical thinking, I'm responsible for that broken home.
When I heard and read "saved a wretch like me" sort of stuff from practically every medium I consumed, when I read messages like "you are nothing without God," or "God killed his own child for you," it gets totally ingrained that that sort of thinking is legitimate. How many times did I hear, "You have no rights?" How many times did I hear about the "God-shaped hole" or how "life is hard and it doesn't make sense, and the only thing that can help you is God?" And all the times that I clung to those hopes, I got more and more alienated from myself.
I don't blame any of those people who gave me those messages. They were doing their best to help me with my "eternal soul" and whatnot. But I took those messages, despite my reservations, and I conditioned myself to second-guess myself and never trust myself.
I thought poorly. And although I abandoned the creed years ago, I'm getting so, so tired of fighting the internal struggle over and over again.
I love playing music, I love sharing music with people, and I love playing in a band, but I've never started one, so why do I keep telling myself that I'm going to do it?
I love taking photos, and I love sharing them with people, but I'm never going to market myself in such a way as to make a career out of it, so why do I put so much time and effort into it?
I love the idea of starting a business, but I've backed out of my one shot at it in the past and haven't come close to doing it yet, so do I really love it or do I just love the idea of it?
I love travelling and visiting new places, but I haven't got out of my province for almost six years now, so am I being honest with myself when I hope that I'll get to travel again soon?
I love teaching, but my brain doesn't seem to be thinking creatively in the ways it should, so it's harder to feel like I'm actually doing something, so am I doing something?
For the last few months, paring down my possessions has been on my mind. I've always liked having stuff, and I've always carried a lot of things with me in life. But lately, the sheen seems to be dying away on some of my collecting habits and I actually catch myself thinking to myself, "Maybe that... or that... or that... I don't need it anymore."
A few weeks ago, I went through loads of old documents I'd been carrying with me and I shredded loads of them, saving only the things I thought I might need in the future. I had bought a loveseat a few months ago, but it filled my space too much and I sold it this weekend, not thinking to replace it with anything. I've found myself looking at certain "collectables" and wondering why I've collected them. What insecurity led me to think these Funko Pop figurines? When will I ever watch these DVDs? When was the last time I looked through these hockey cards? It's a classic list of male-collector stuff.
However, to be honest, these aren't the things that really cause clutter. Most of these collections are sorta' packed away in one way or another. The Funko Pops and DVDs are in drawers; the hockey cards, coin collections, and stuff like that are in bins; the CDs and records are on dedicated shelves; the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 are in bins, waiting for a time when they can have their own dedicated space. These collections, the classic things that would be "easiest" to get rid of, aren't causing the mayhem in my life. And I really enjoy having them in my life for now (except for the Funko Pops. I feel like I really gave in to a consumerist craze to pick those up. I think... I think they need to go.)
My lack of desire to throw things away was a tension in my marriage. I didn't think we had too much stuff, but my ex thought we did. It was a constant battle between us in regards to the messes that would appear in the house, since most of the "stuff" could be linked to me. And I still think back on many of the things we disposed of with a little pain in my heart, mainly because I felt I often had to re-buy the item later on, usually at a lower quality. However, this was largely a matter of the circumstances of how we were raised: she moved around constantly in her childhood, so she got used to disposing of things; I spent the first two decades of my life in the same house, so I expected to put something somewhere and return to it in a couple years if it was useful. It made it so we both looked at the same types of objects with different eyes. And as we moved from house to house, many of those objects never found a tidy place. I still carry some of them with me, and still they haven't found a tidy place.
There are odds and ends, things that I acquired with the intent to use them, but they never found a place: a small television antennae, for example, or my heavy duty rain gear, which I haven't used since I moved into an apartment. There's the seasonal stuff that sometimes goes without use for a season or two: a basketball I bought when I coached basketball in my first year of teaching, for instance, or maybe my squash and tennis racquets. There are things that simply won't be used as long as I live in a rented apartment: decorations for the walls that haven't been mounted since our first house, for example. And all the odds and ends that a junk drawer can handle. Chances are a lot of these things could disappear without me hurting too much for it.
The most discouraging clutter is the stuff that I love, but it doesn't have a space to "belong:" the darkroom equipment, the musical instruments, the tools. These collections of objects are things that bring joy to my life, but in my one-bedroom apartment set up for a family of three, they might as well be clutter. One day, I might have a hobby room for them to belong in, but for now they live in easily accessible, yet cluttery corners of the house: my bass tends to sit beside the stereo; there's an accordion beside a bookshelf; the cameras sit in a tote bins on the makeshift pseudo-pantry shelf. What I'm saying is, the things I love the most, since I want them available, and since they don't have a space of their own, are the things that cause the most untidiness in my living space. What's up with that? What makes that fair?
The zeal to clean up our lives has Capitalist consequences. Some people can make loads of cash off of our desire our simplify our lives. This article describes a television show that capitalizes on it, and programs like Hoarders use shame and disgust to make people feel like they have too much stuff.
But sometimes minimalism, no matter what the gurus tell you, no matter what the meditation apps and Instagram-ready aspirations tell you, is more a product of your class than your state of mind. If you can afford to store all your stuff in the places where they would belong, if you can afford to rebuy things down the line, if you can afford to upsize and downsize as you need to, then you can be happy.
Now that I think of it, though, it's a matter of the space you have. I look at all the "stuff" I have right now and I realize that, if I had a typical three-bedroom place for a three-person family, my home would look barren. I have three people's worth of stuff in a one-bedroom space, and I don't have a storage locker for tools and nicknacks. And I won't be able to afford higher rent any time soon. So I need to come to peace with a bit of the chaos that I already have.
I don't have an aspirationally-friendly home: my bed sits in the living room and there's a wall of Rubbermaid totes. But for me, well, it works.
At the same time, though, there's certainly some junk that can just... go. Maybe even today.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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