We were all born stupid.
That one's for the humans in the audience, but to the universe itself, I present a less cryptic critique. Letting me get good at something was a bad idea. You fucked that up. Now I'm gonna bully you into submission. I'm gonna dominate you. I'm gonna eat your lunch and you're gonna find the slots in this hallway locker provide plenty of oxygen.
You shouldn't have let me get good at anything. You shouldn't have taken the boot off my neck. I am the product of the Baby Boomer generation's pod-grown scrub-science. If I'm the endgame of their legacy-defining ladder-climbing, man, I understand why the current-olds would rather people not shine a Bollywood-silver spotlight on their trophy case's malformed shape. I was born stupid, and it only took me the better part of a lifetime to get good at living with myself.
I Learned About Myself, Like I Was Told I Ought To, And It Made Me Sweat Blood
The richest horrors in life stem from time's unknowability. What will be? When will it happen? How severe will it be? Could it have been different?
We're now talking about agency. What can we control? What role do we play in understanding choice? Our own choices? The choices of others?
What follows is a daisy-chain of actualization. People struggle to control that which they cannot fully comprehend. Comprehension is a more healthy path to co-existing with mystery, as opposed to, say, destroying that which you cannot comprehend. (But, uh, that's a topic for another time.) Comprehension, in particular comprehending choice, and our own agency within a choice, requires intimately and truthfully knowing yourself. We often fear comprehending a choice because we are not certain how the choice will affect us. That's scary! We don't know how a murky change might affect us if we aren't certain who we are and what we're made of, with however much of our life has come and gone.
Here's an easy example: "Should I drink 60 ounces of coffee?"
Yes? No? But it's not a scary question because knowing what coffee is, and what it does, you can make the choice. You understand the choice and you can see beyond it. Now, certain people might be totally cool drinking 60 ounces of coffee. Maybe their bodies are built for that kind of stimulus intake. I dunno. If I did, I might just throw up or have a panic attack. That's just me.
"Should I go for a run?"
Yes? No? Personally, I prefer other kinds of exercise. Because I know my preference, just as I know my preference for, say, 12 ounces of coffee instead of 60, I comprehend, and do not fear the choice. I can see the outcome beyond the choice.
"Should I write a novel?"
Yes? No? Now, this is a more complex question. Or is it? It depends on the person. Should I, personally, write a novel? Man, I'm always writing novels. That's not a choice I belabor because I know it's something I need to do. I know it's something I can't stop doing. I know I'll feel weird when I'm not writing something. It's such a certainty, it's stopped being a choice. In the worst cases, these are unhealthy addictions. In the best cases, these are instances of self-actualization. A person's capacity to answer complex questions and comprehend the lavish choices life affords begins with knowing yourself.
Beneath depression's paralyzing weight, the terror of murmuring, alternate-dimension me's squirm in cheap seats, always ponderous and undying, representing the choices I cannot comprehend.
Am I ____? Will I ____? Can I ____?
I know horrific indecisions fester and zit-pop from personal choices I know I must make, yet I am baffled by the potential atomization of my fragile spirit at a poor outcome's conclusion. The fact is, in the moments of the most harrowing terror, these outcomes feel 99% foregone. I will be disintegrated because, knowing myself, I can only imagine a scenario where I make a choice, and it destroys me. I know my weak points. I see no victories. I see self-destruction. I see repetitious failure.
This is the form my depression has taken. And I say it's my depression because it's also not who I am. It's part of me, yeah, but it's a fever-heat on an overclocked brain. It relents.
It's a terrible trick I play on myself, using my own self-familiarity as proof that this hand-made doom is a certain thing—that I believe I am smart enough, and know myself well enough, to feel confident in my own slide into, well, whatever this is. I will be the one that causes all my pain, and failure, and hurt. It will all be my fault. Mine. The person that magazine racks at Whole Foods say is meant to care the most about me will rain down this disastrous tragedy (Me. The answer is me. I'm supposed to care the most about me.). If in moments of clarity, and personal truth, I write here that knowing yourself is required when comprehending the choice itself, I am straight-up handing WMD's to my dark half, and he is just dispassionately slumped against that bomb, waiting to thunderslap the button when the moment comes.
By then, the only choice I'm fit to make is when I blow up.
Because choice is vital to existence. We seek mastery when self-determination is extracted from life's most visible strata. We'll get it from anywhere. And after the meat is boiled from our bones and we collapse, skullish eyesockets pressed to our palm-heels, what remains ours, exactly? We've become invisible to the world but we cannot manage to become invisible to ourselves. That's all that's left. We're saddled with increasingly-binary choices, concerning life's last lingering substance: yourself.
Here's a difficult example: "Yes? Or no?"
Is that even a question? While I'm not confessing I morning-rise each day brewing my own pour-over coffee with superheated maple syrup instead of city water, as a normie VP-level breakfast cereal advertising executive might, I have measured the distance between many manners of brain-highs and suicidal pit-lows. To be seen and understood is a motherfucking rush, any third-grader can tell you that, but when your month-to-month life in modern America demands countless links to vacant jackbags of incompatible passions, there's an agonizing span between dependable sources delivering verifiable validations. My human condition needs its validation and it needs it bad! The troughs are deeper and emptier. My mind grows sharper, aware of bad product, needier of the good shit. So, low it goes.
Why did I have to get good at knowing myself? Why did I have to come to understand my needs? All it did was reveal more work to do. All that labor and the reward was more struggle.
I Sometimes Wish I Was Truly Thoughtless, Unaware Of My Effect On Others' Existence, So They Could Suffer Properly
Oh my God, I'm going to throw up. I'm going to fight until one of us dies, barfs, and collapses. Fuck you. Fuck you, I'll fight. Fuck you, drag me away from the battle, if you fucking can. Fuck you, don't leave me here alive. Fuck you, I don't want to live. Stop it. Stop it, I want to die.
Fuck you, this does not work if one of us ends up dead.
I'm not permitted to end the fight. My mind keeps fighting. It's sealed into a never-die mentality and not sleep, drink, or drug bring calm. I don't want your advice.
The fight remains intimate and cruel, the way only cruelty and intimacy can be. It's a jungle of double-takes, deja vu, and doppelgangers. It's a brain at the center of a hall of mirrors, assembled on the back of a Peterbilt truck trailer, parked in tall grass on the dark edge of town. In there, sometimes, you don't cast a reflection. Sometimes you do cast a reflection, but you can't recognize yourself. Smeared in shit, three-quarters insane, murder-lusting, and screaming louder, and louder, and louder than a living person beneath an electric light should, everyone's carrying on as quiet and soft as sadness itself. But the trauma of grief plays tricks. This extended life is forested with horror. The fight demands I release what's left while my mind rings with voice. The eye of grief is fixed, hot, loud, and mad on my face. Earth's unfamiliar languages, not simply doubting my right to exist, are misunderstanding my entirety. That is the chitinous heart weakly beating at grief's center: nobody knows what to fucking do with me. These eyes watch in fear. They observe me without seeing me because the sight of me is poisonous to life itself.
I've seen death. Inconvenient death. Wrong death. The very knowledge is a mysterious virus. Every truth I relay is a spider-bite, engorged with an entire Australian-outback's worth of toilet poison, ready to penetrate like a splinter in your mind, driving deeper, robbing you of sleep, stabbing you with new fears that you do not deserve and would never invite.
So the world observes me and the voices only whispering amongst each other, curious of this half-dead plague-bearer.
"—the fuck is his problem? Dunno how you're supposed to act, I mean, I dunno how I'd act, but I don't think I'd get all—"
Down I go. Back to fistfight that didn't end. Fuck you. Fuck you, look at me. Don't you just stay there, afraid for your own life, and for the lives you know you can't protect from death's reach. They will die, and the wind will rush, and the soil will spoil, and the water will dry, and this fucking planet will turn to dust in the neutron star at our galaxy's center, and you'll be nothing, just like me, attempted-life. You future-ghost.
Face me, you petrified fuck. Face me and face that question you think you've answered: what distance would you go? How long would you fight? What could possibly hold you back? What could you possibly endure, you fucking cozy weakling? Imagine what you would become when the unimaginable occurs. When it's inconvenient. When it's wrong. Truly imagine. And then ask, could you accept this new reality?
Self-understanding is a perfect game. People are not perfect creatures.
The difference is in certainty. We people don't know if labor will return deserved rewards. We people don't know if obstacles will fall as they should. We people so rarely operate with a clear workspace. We people so rarely operate with a clear headspace. The same goes for our sense of self. While one is perfect and one is not, everything in the self is certain.
Thus, it is perfect.
We ask questions of ourselves. We ponders existence, as those who have achieved nirvana are obliged. Never dismissed as background noise or high definition window-dressing, the perfect game performs a trick for us imperfect players: life has the capacity for perfection. Yes, it is only a possibility, but coming to know yourself delicately educates you on the possibility of perfection; its entryways and windows.
Voices wriggle through handfuls of brain matter from our deep in the meditative state. It's been only ten minutes of sensory stimulation but deliberate thought has given way to subconscious instinct. I've seen lost memories step forward from the shadows during sessions of meditation. Not long ago, I realized my memories of recent years had faded, or probably never sprouted in the first place. Emotional trauma so merciless forced my brain to turn against itself. No deliberate memories were formed for over a year. But reaching for myself set me into a state and invited them under thought's bright lamp for momentary evaluation.
Then, vanished. But the memory was retained.
In certain capacities, grandmasters of skill and craft reiterate to novices and neophytes that perfection is always only an objective—that perfection is meant to be a context-sensitive intangible. But I, with help from my self-crafted guidance, suggest another path. Because of the very fact that self persists outside of logic, perfection is simply an inevitability, should your mind be clear and your heart brave. By design, each puzzle piece in a person's life has no a perfect place. Nothing belongs anywhere. Yes, as in life, it may feel we observe only our accumulated mistakes in ourselves, but we also earn vision into perfection’s path. We people are a repeated, chanted mantra. Perfection is possible because this inner reality is inherently designed to be just and honest. This means one's limits are not limits. Time is the only true barrier. Time with yourself, as with life, teaches calm. Time pressures you to feel no pressure, even as fire and thunder evaporate the liquid from your quivering corneas. Time has given us a look at the horizon and the pedagogical brutality of continued life gives us not the gift of foresight, or fearlessness in the face of unknown dangers, but the terrifying gift of knowing the shape of perfection will change.
Tremble before the mistakes you've made and float to the surface. We might not earn the opportunity to live today, but we won’t be dead by tomorrow, either. Panic is a useless relic of a primitive mind desperate for its next meal. As a people, we ought to have evolved past a need for panic, structured rubble threatening to bury us. We ought to have learned. We ought to have evolved. We have not.
But, what if?
What if amid the calculations of an unjust universe, each dusty soul might arrive at perfection, once enough mortality was shed? What if we see the puzzle and it is obviously a puzzle no more? What if we always recognize that we were always good enough to be perfect and the only dividing line was the time between our souls, traveling at different speeds, glowing at different rates, preparing, hoping, dreaming, begging that we might align? The thunder fractal-pops off the universe's third rail and we know exactly what we’re made for because in this place, the lesson is simple contradiction: everything is where it belongs. The whirling pieces are, right then, in the persistent omnipresent, where they belong.
We aren't always perfect, but, fucking dammit, sometimes we really are perfect! Sometimes we are! We can shed our past mistakes. We aren't hurt, or busted, or rusted failures, wrecking the worlds that were and the worlds to come. We can be perfect and that is good enough.
To the universe, the unjust universe, the combative, cruel universe, imbalanced and mendacious, over-designed, and over-sized, I say again: it was a bad idea letting me get good at something.