08 October 2013

the grass is always greener.

When the 1980s began, preparing to unleash its firestorm of neon, hair spray, and cum-splattered acid washes on an unsuspecting public, I was just eight years old. So I guess you could say that the better part of my 'formative years' (or, rather, deformative years) are owed to that fateful, Swatch-guarded decade. 

As 'wonder years' go, I'm sure there could've been much worse. Consider the poor kids from the 1340s by way of contrast. You think acne is bad?  Try asking Winnie Cooper out on a date when you come down with the Black Death and large boils—endlessly seeping a thick pinkish amalgam of pus and blood—start appearing under your armpits and around your groin. See what good 10% benzoyl peroxide cream does you when your fingers turn black from gangrene and your skin eventually falls off. (That zit you had on your nose for class photos doesn't sound so bad now, does it?) And then what's your reward for enduring a week's worth of agony and suffering—without the benefit of a Walkman or The Cosby Show, I might add? Oh. You get to die. But before you finally shuffle off that mortal coil, maybe you'll serve as yet another link in the chain of misery and death overtaking the continent by infecting a few friends and family members. Then, at long last, you'll only be remembered as a worst-case-scenario statistic for some twat writing a blog over 600 years later.

Yay for you. Not exactly yearbook material, is it? Before you try to imagine how awful life must have been before cellphones, think about that for a while. Texting your bff an emoji sort of becomes irrelevant after your face falls off. I'm not advising you to look at the bright side—because I am surely no bright-side looker myself—but context is always important. When I'm complaining that the iPhone doesn't have Swype, I try to remember that a hundred years I might have died from diarrhea. 

But let's return to the 1980s for a minute. While there were undeniably some great features of the decade—the decline of the Soviet empire, the introduction of the space shuttle, the musical career of Samantha Fox—I don't recall the decade very fondly (on the whole). I realize that the notion of decades as unified, demarcated temporal-cultural units is preposterous when you think about it. The 1980s are only the 1980s because we say, 'Those were the 1980s.' There isn't anything intrinsically distinct about this ten-year period. It's an artificial framework that has been laid over whatever happened to occur.

I'm bringing this up because every time I go to youtube to watch a music video of a 1980s song, I inevitably come across one of those cultural nostalgia comments left by some drooling idiot who probably posted it during computer hour at the mental institution. Why do I read youtube comments? They are the single greatest anecdotal argument against the advancement of the human species. But in the same way some people have to look at a car crash when they're driving down the road, I have to look at the car crash of humanity—and where better to find it than in the comments section of youtube (or the comments section of any given news organization's website). It's truly impressive how stupid, mean-spirited, and utterly useless most people are.

For many years, we didn't know just how dumb the populace was. I mean, we knew people were dumb, but we didn't know the frightening pervasiveness of the dumbness. Then the internet was invented by Al Gore and we were suddenly provided a prime vantage from which to see all the dumbness sprawling all around us. It isn't that the internet exacerbated the dumbness or the mean-spiritedness; it just showed us more of it than we were ever likely to see in our limited travels on this planet.

Case in point: If you go to any music video from an earlier decade on youtube, you will very likely see a comment somewhere below it claiming that '[that decade] is when they made REAL music... not like this Lady Gaga shit today.' Or something to that effect. 

I really want to find each person who has ever posted something like this and piss in his or her face. I'm not really sure why. Don't lots of people have (irrational) affections for the past? It isn't particularly unusual. Most of us can point to a specific time in our lives that we thought was our 'golden age' of innocence, and many of the more feeble-minded among us will extrapolate this innocence to the decade during which it occurred.

All the same, I'm fascinated (in a negative way) with the kind of mentality that feels compelled to post the following comments. To all of you nimrods: I lived during the 1980s! The whole decade! It wasn't that great. Clothes and hairstyles were particularly ugly. (Not as ugly as the 1970s, but still.) It was, generally speaking, a bad decade for film. Republicans were in the White House the whole ten years. And Phil Collins was actually popular—which no amount of rationalization or memory repression can erase from our cultural history. We're all to blame. 

07 October 2013

the complaint desk.

I'm tired of the nature of things. 

What I mean by that is that I don't approve of the way things are designed in this world. What things? Everything that's organic or essential. I'm talking about the things that we didn't invent but were always here, establishing the rules and parameters of our subsequent existence. Disease. Deterioration. Death. The collusion of matter in this cumbersome, tactile universe in which we find ourselves.

As you probably know by this point, I don't believe in God—either as a super-powered son-of-a-bitch or as a diffuse, organizing principle tapped into by hippies and other Californians—so I don't really have anyone to register my complaints with. This, I think, is the most troubling aspect of my worldview. We are conditioned to seek out a Complaints Desk in every facet of our lives because we trust that—if the powers-that-be were doing their job properly—things would be improved, optimized, perfected... Even though we live in a mostly infuriating world of traffic jams, murder, country music, and pop-up internet advertising, we somehow believe (instinctively?) that there is an authority figure behind the scenes who's dropped the proverbial ball—another old man in a navy blue suit with an American flag lapel pin snookered by powerful lobbies or the base urges of their own corruptible natures. 

When you don't believe in God, you reach a limit. If you get bad service at a restaurant, you can complain to the manager. If the manager is rude, maybe you can write to an owner or the company that owns the franchise. If you don't get any acceptable response, perhaps you can write a scathing review on Yelp in the hope that you'll negatively impact the restaurant's business in the future. But if you keep going on like this, climbing the hierarchical chain of griping and grousing, you'll eventually arrive at a place where you finally zero in on the nature of things themselves and there's just nobody left to read your comment card. (Let me introduce the idea here—only as fleeting conjecture—that maybe humankind created 'God' in order to have someone to blame for how shitty everything else. I have no evidence of this idea, but nobody has evidence for the existence of God either—so we're even-steven.)

It's frustrating when things are shitty in your life—i.e., completely circumstantial things that have nothing to do with your own volition—and you don't have anyone to point the finger of blame at. (And you also don't have anyone left to give the finger to either.) Why do I have to floss my teeth to keep my gums healthy? Why can't we cure pancreatic cancer? Why does it get too hot in summer and too cold in winter? Why do spiders freak me out? Why do I have to get tired? Why can't I always have the energy to do whatever I want to do? Why am I intolerant of lactose? Why do I have to keep dropping things—my keys, the mail, coins, receipts, my glasses? Why do we have to die? Why can't we just live forever—or as long as we choose to? What's the use of pain and injury? Why aren't we more indestructible and intelligent? 

I know that some of these things have 'scientific' answers. But who created science itself—its laws and fundamental structure? Ultimately, every question eventually recedes to a brute fact that cannot be explained or understood by earlier facts. There is always a limit that we'll butt our heads against. But why this limit? Where's the twenty-four-hour hotline where I can tell a knowledgeable but indifferent operator about my allergic reaction to the nature of things—to the way things fundamentally are? She could suggest a salve or an ointment to reduce the swelling, and I would be pacified by her authority and by her mere presence 'behind the scenes' of reality, understanding its esoteric mechanisms.

But there is no operator, no quality control manager, no all-encompassing Fact that validates all of reality in a satisfying or conclusive way...

It's like this. If 'Life the Way It Is' were a product that I had ordered from amazon.com, I would like to be able to go the website and write a lengthy, critical review of this product—which would not necessarily be seen by anyone or anything that had the power to change or to improve it but which would (at least) offer the hope that it could be seen. It might be seen. It's possible that my protest would reach the iPad of the authority figure who had the power to change everything. Or at least explain it.

But there's no such recourse. This blog is probably the best proxy I can hope for.

(In case you were wondering, if 'Life the Way It Is' were a product that I had ordered from amazon.com, I would give it two or three stars. I'm not sure which.) 

05 October 2013

sigmund fraud.

I don't really buy into (traditional) dream interpretation. I think the whole enterprise is a distant cousin of astrology and is based on two rather ludicrous premises:

Firstly, we assume that the human mind (which already has a lot on its plate) is bent on encrypting our neuroses and emotional hang-ups—most of which are fairly obvious anyway—in an arcane or preposterously literary symbolic code. Why doesn't the mind just come out with it and say, 'Hey, you've got some major intimacy issues' or 'You feel like your life is out of control.' The conventional rebuttal is that there is some sort of egoistic scrim that either protects us from troubling self-awareness (i.e., Oedipal complexes and past traumas) or obscures deep-seated psychological dysfunction in order to maintain a basic (albeit superficial) functioning. In other words, if our fears and the hobgoblins of our so-called id became too preoccupying, we wouldn't be able to go to work or mow the lawn or get our driver's license renewed. In a way, this is itself dysfunctional because it prioritizes banal concerns over a more thoroughgoing happiness (which itself would make tending to these banalities less tiresome, one might assume).

As attractive as this speculation appears, I'm not sure we have any basis for this presumption. Yes, people sometimes do actively 'forget' instances of sexual abuse, for example, in order to avoid confronting the trauma head-on, but I am not so sure how this translates to the dreamworld. Do these same people 'remember' traumas through their dreams? Or is the imagery of dreams retrofitted to seem to represent these traumas after they've already been rediscovered in the conscious mind? It's another chicken-and-egg scenario really. Also, these kinds of stressors are truly exceptional, and most of us are fortunate enough not to have experienced a trauma worth 'forgetting.' For comparison's sake, it's interesting to note that Freud seemed to discover dream imagery related to the Oedipal complex while not ever providing any compelling evidence that the Oedipal complex even exists. It's as if he went searching for evidence to support a hare-brained hypothesis (which—viewed through the lens of this theory—may itself just be a product of his own individual psychological hang-ups).

This brings us to the second—and more disturbing—premise of conventional dream interpretation: certain 'experts' purport to enjoy a special insight into the mechanics  of dream encryption. This stinks of religiosity and authoritarianism in the worst way—especially since, as I just noted in the previous paragraph, these experts are subject to the very same mind games that they claim to decode! Always beware of religious gurus, prophets, metaphysicians, and experts in manufactured disciplines. Freud was a well-meaning charlatan. I don't think he set out to sell the world snake oil; I think he was excited enough by a basic understanding of human psychology to extrapolate these principles to areas beyond the purview of science and logical analysis. Don't be fooled. Whatever lies beyond this purview is mysticism and religion and superstition.

How did you like that puffed-up introduction? Yes, it was only an introduction. This is the meat of the blog entry right here. I am going to cannonball into the waters of narcissism and self-absorption in order to talk about my own dreams now. 

Generally speaking, I hate hearing about other people's dreams—unless something really amusing or coincidental happens in them. But this rarely happens. Mostly they're just mish-mashes of past experiences run through a food processor or scraps of ideas ground up in the garbage disposal of the human mind. In other words, if it wasn't important enough to be spoken aloud by your conscious mind, then I certainly don't want to be subjected to the blooper reel of your unconscious mind. 

Nevertheless—in an embarrassing claim to my own exceptionalism—I'm going to tell you about my dreams, not because they are interesting or remarkable in and of themselves, but because they occur with such obsessive regularity that I feel they must be reckoned with in some way.

I've been out of high school for (HOLY SHIT!) twenty-three years now. (I'll say it again: HOLY SHIT!) But judging from my dream-life, these four years of matriculation scarred me profoundly. I'm forever walking the halls of St. Joseph's High School during my sleeping hours, bathed in the faintly bile-green filter of those institutional walls. Of course, little if any natural light reaches the hallways, so everyone's face is hollowed-out, blanched by the sputtering overhead fluorescence. I'm not sure how this corresponds with reality, but the place smells dank in my dreams (or else I'm impressed by the idea of its dankness). The muskiness of too many bodies in a tight space sours the air. 

Where am I going? One of two places. The first is my locker. It's locker number 777, which was actually my locker—although I don't remember which year. If you were an interpretation fanatic, you might think all the sevens were a good omen, but they're not. It's the first day back after Christmas break, and I'm approaching the locker, which is a dismal army-green, and I'm oppressed by the task ahead of me. What task? you might wonder. Taking a test? Re-encountering some of the douchebags of my high school class? (Sorry, douchebags. You know who you were.) No, none of these things could be further from my mind. The impossible task which (as always) confronts me is remembering my locker combination. Holy fuck, what a terror. Why didn't I ever write it down? How could I trust my mind to hold on to those random numbers? I never even thought up a mnemonic device. I just laid down the numbers—one after the other—in my conscious mind, and I hoped they'd stay put. But they didn't. It's like trying to make out something at a very great distance. You're teased by the general shape of it, but you can't quite grasp it in its specificity.

Where else am I going? Algebra class. Delphine Luzney is the teacher. Who could forget a name like that? Delphine Luzney. Why is it always that class and none of the others? But the problem is that I don't know where the class is. Why didn't I keep my high school schedule? Why did I assume that just because I remembered it one day that I would continue remembering it forever? It's been twenty-three years (HOLY SHIT!) and I don't even know what floor it was on. I could stop and ask someone, but they won't know either and why would they bother helping me find it? Delphine Luzney, where are you? It's not like I'm goofing off like the other kids. I'm trying to find you, but I don't know where they keep you. Maybe whenever I start remembering where you are, they decide to move you again to someplace else. 

My point here is that I don't think these dreams are particularly symbolic. I think they are what they express on the surface: a fear of being lost, of forgetting, of feeling disoriented. Aren't these normal fears for human beings? Why does all of this wandering through the hallways of my dreams have to point to anything more profound or particular? My mind is saying to me, 'You are afraid of this,' not 'You are afraid of this, meaning that.' 

It's interesting to note that I don't ever recall once forgetting my locker combination or the location of a classroom in real life. I'm sure I probably worried about it at some point, but the object of the fear never really materialized. It was just the symptom of a general fear that still nags at me to this day. Nothing could be more literal-minded than forever not locating what you're searching for. You can apply this to locker combinations or to existential questions of life and death. It's all the same. 

04 October 2013

filth and squalor and dirty bras.

So, yeah. I'm going to just start blogging again as if I haven't been mysteriously absent for five long months, during which time I didn't really accomplish anything remarkable or improve the world or even my life in any substantial way. My life, you see, is like a stained brassiere discarded in a dark alleyway. Who would ever dare to pick it up or move it? If anything, it's gotten crustier and become a more intrinsic part of the scenery over time. That's me. The dirty bra. Or no. In this metaphor, I guess I'm the person who wears the dirty bra. Or maybe I'm the dark alleyway. In any case, it's a comparison best left unanalyzed. 

I have a particular fascination with filth. (Who doesn't? you ask. Why preach to the choir?) For instance, I love (artful) photography of urban and suburban squalor. The vivid sense of abandonment and disuse captured in these photos transcends the mere rust and detritus and discoloration; what these pictures really 'say' can be read in what is absent: the activity, the functionality ... the ever-present potentiality of objects and human beings interacting together. A photograph locks the elusive present into a strained immobility; even if it's a still-life, we sense the extension of the persons and objects into time and space. I suppose photographs are a lot like speeding trucks that have suddenly screeched to a  halt. We can still feel the residual momentum in our bones. The truck wants to move so badly that we almost move on behalf of it. Our imagination is the proxy.

When we see spaces and landscapes like these—and I mean really see them, not just assimilate them as more useless noise in our sightline—we see the places that weren't meant to be seen. We are looking at the party after all the guests have gone home; the setting has been used up or exhausted of its described function. Instead of a living room or ballroom or a church hall, we're looking at what has been spent there. It's almost a collusion of dread and euphoria at the same time. A free fall.

But also, regarding filth... I recently stayed at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco. It is a gargantuan old-style hotel with three distinct towers (each with its own bank of elevators) and a cavernous lobby aspiring to grandness but achieving only a burnished institutionalism. To its credit, my hotel room had an exceptional view of the San Francisco skyline, but anyone who knows me well understands my troubled relationship with hotel rooms. I am not altogether pleased at living in a space where countless faceless strangers have fucked, shat, walked in their bare feet, drooled, sat around in their underwear, and projectile-masturbated. (I say 'faceless strangers,' but let me assure you that my imagination supplies all kinds of faces.) Every time I set my head down on a hotel room pillow, I can't help imagining a Dirty Sanchez enacted atop the very same pillow just last week. Even if the resentful housekeeping staff has laundered diligently, I am (to put it mildly) uncomfortable with the intimacy between my face and a stranger's anus achieved by a shared pillowcase. And even if it's just paranoia, an imagined event is (psychologically speaking) just as troubling as a real event if there is no objective means of distinguishing between the two. The so-called reasonable person will say, 'What are the odds?' Well, let me just say this: someone eventually wins the lottery. And if it's the fat-man's-anus-in-my-face lottery, you can bet your Murphy's Law that I'll be the winner. [As you might guess, I cover the pillow with a piece of my clothing before I go to sleep.]

Hilton is an upper midrange hotelier, so for whatever deluded reasons, I was less worried there than I might be at a Motel 6 or the old mom-and-pop place along the highway (you know, the motel with the rust-colored carpeting—all the better for disguising the blood and urine stains). But I confess the bathroom bothered me. The drop-ceiling tiles above the shower were stained (and perhaps moldy?) and there was a suspiciously fecal-colored stain in the floor tiles that wouldn't come off no matter how hard I rubbed it with the bath towel. Every time I walked into that bathroom, my eye immediately went to the stain. It was like my eye was a starving man and that fecal-colored stain was a plate of nachos. 

It's interesting that (in general) I'm not a big germaphobe. I think nothing of touching railings or public restroom doors or flushers. I don't wash my hands nearly enough. I don't experience a creeping sensation after I shake a stranger's hand. I never think twice about airplane seats or subway poles. There are certain places that my imagination won't go. I like to think that this is an innate preservation instinct. If I thought too much about everything, I'd never have time to worry about the really pressing anxieties, like sinkholes and dirty bombs and catastrophic meteor impacts.