14 May 2014

the art of being broken.

Last night I woke up about 1 AM and the right side of my chest was extremely sore. 

Before you tell me to go the emergency room, let me remind you it's the right side, not the center-left—and it wasn't a pressure pain accompanied by a tingling sensation running down my arm. It was more like someone had been punching me repeatedly during the night. (If you were punching me repeatedly last night, please don't do that.) 

I wondered what might have caused this strange pain. It's not like I had recently been in an elevator with Solange Knowles. Or had ever been employed as Naomi Campbell's personal assistant or maid. Or had been in a long-term relationship with Jackson Browne (that I can recall). I simply awoke to this idiopathic pain while my cat Herbert lay nearby, staring smugly at me. (Incidentally, I don't think Herbert was involved in the injury. His default is staring smugly at me. Silently judging me. It's what cats do.)

This pain is mostly gone as I type this, and I have given up wondering about it. Most unexplained pains and uncategorizable ailments can be rebutted with the simple statement, 'I'm getting old.' That explains it all, doesn't it? We must resign ourselves to infirmity and general discomfort as time passes. 

Meanwhile, the on/off button on my iPhone no longer works reliably. I have to push (aggressively) on it an average of three to seven times (that's an average I pulled out of my ass, by the way) before the screen agrees to light up and the iPhone's many superfluous functions are ready to be used. 

My iPhone is approximately one year and eight months old. In human years, that's about ninety-two. I'm sure the phone's obsolescence function begins surreptitiously doing its work at about the one-year mark. Sometimes it simply decides not to ring—even though all the settings say RING! Although I'm not the recipient of a lot of important telephone calls, it's disappointing to realize that I missed a call from my pharmacist while I was just sitting there beside my phone as it silently rang. (My pharmacist 'knows' me by now. She's familiar with my prescriptions, and as such I think she's delicate with me. She worried of riling me or causing me undue stress. Her voice mail messages are calm, clear, and reassuring: 'Hi. This is XXX at XXX pharmacy. I just wanted to let you know that you don't have any refills left on your XXX prescription. I realize you just picked up your last month's worth, but I wanted to give you plenty time to call up your doctor's office and get a refill called in. If you have any questions or concerns, give me a call. Have a great day.')

What I am saying is that it is disappointing when (usually old) things don't work properly. It is even more disappointing when that old thing is me. Who would have ever imagined that I would have to deal with things like back pain and sore knees? (I know young people sometimes have these problems too, but I am disregarding them for the sake of rhetorical tidiness. Join me in disregarding them, won't you?)

The problem is that I think of myself as an iPhone 5 but I'm actually an iPhone 3G. Never mind the fact that young people don't even really care about the iPhone anymore. They've moved on to that graceless, gargantuan Samsung thing. I might as well be a dinosaur.

Don't get me wrong. I'm okay with my body's minor defects and obsolescent features. None of them is terribly debilitating. (In other words, I guess I am lucky, although that's not always easy to accept.) The really troubling thing is that this (right this very moment) is probably the best condition I will ever be in for the rest of my life on this planet. This is as good as it gets. So if I suffer from unexplained chest soreness in the middle of the night, I should consider it a pleasure cruise compared to what's likely in store for me.

I will always be the iPhone 3G. That's upsetting. Newer and newer models will continue to be released, and I will still be the iPhone 3G. 

It isn't as though I am standing on a ship that's moving out to sea and taking me along with it. No. I'm standing on the shore watching the ship get farther and farther away. I'll always be on the shore, waving to the ship's passengers. Or flipping them off (as the mood strikes me).

13 May 2014

the smörgåsbord of peril.

I had one of those moments yesterday. I think it started when I read about Antarctica. In case you haven't heard or have willfully chosen not to hear, scientists think a major ice sheet in Antarctica has begun an irreversible melting process that will result in ocean levels rising about ten feet over the next few hundred to nine hundred years. 

Of course—given the prolonged time table of the doomsday scenarios and my indomitable narcissism—I should be content to throw up the deuces and be all like, 'Boo-yah! Sucks to live in five hundred years, losers!' This mortal coil will have long been shuffled off before the more dire effects of environmental catastrophe have assailed us (and by 'us' I mean 'them'—i.e., the punk-ass bitches who will reap what we've sown); so, in the lexicon of the self-obsessed, 'Not my problem'... right?

On the one hand, it's extraordinarily difficult to feel sympathy for the human race. If you can't relate, just remind yourself that this is the same society that imagines the preservation of the environment is a political issue. Instead of trusting science, the right wing would prefer to believe that environmental regulation is just another incarnation of liberal America's wet dream of 'big government'—or perhaps the 'radical' left's attempt force one of its hippy-dippy pet causes on American society (usually at the expense of big business, of course, which heavily funds Republican campaigns). 

When you look at it from this perspective, it's tempting to just say, 'Fuck 'em all. Let the whole planet dry out and wither away.' On the macro level, we deserve our fate. Future generations aren't likely to be more reasonable or compassionate than this one. Sure, they'll curse past generations for turning the earth into a wasteland, but that's only situational—because they're there and we're here. It has nothing to do with their being better or wiser or more innocent than those who have preceded them. All the individual differences in the world population will average out into approximately the same mouth-breathing, braindead mean. 

You see, I don't believe that society had gotten better or worse over the ages. We're probably pretty close to same bastards that we always were. Sure, we may have new variables to contend with—new technologies and new ways of engaging with society as a whole—but the instincts, preoccupations, and predilections are roundabout the same. 

I'm getting a little off-track. I started by telling you that I had 'one of those moments' yesterday. Antarctica and global warning and political game-playing is only part of it. I suddenly felt as if every peril—both large-scale and personal—had surrounded me all at once: environmental disaster, nuclear holocaust, asteroid collision, genocide, terrorism, war, murder, pollution, toxicity, heart disease, cancer, genetic mutation, natural disaster, automobile crash, insanity (and so on and so forth) were all hunkered around me, asserting their presence, reminding me that I'm just an insignificant and dispensable atom in the great social body. 

Do you ever have those moments—when you are acutely aware of your own vulnerability? Usually we don't think about things like that. After all, we are everything to ourselves, so we tend to assume our endurance is a given. We trust in our continuity—at least in the near future; and this doesn't only imply our physical continuity, but our psychological continuity as well. We believe in our 'self' as this unbroken stream of consciousness that accumulates past experience and compiles it into a somewhat coherent idea of what it means to be uniquely us.

I was having these thoughts as I was driving home from work. Every day I drive past the apartment complex where I used to live about ten years ago, but yesterday I thought about who I was at that time. I was aware that there was a long line of experiences and thoughts that connected me to that younger me, who was familiar to me, of course, but no longer intimately. I couldn't really relate to some of my ideals or tastes of that time. I could only superficially understand who I was because so much of the context and peculiarity of that moment was lost to me now.

But despite all that, I felt a deep affection for that person—that younger me—who stood at the starting point of a journey that stretched from then until this very moment. It's strange how retrospectively I assign so much possibility to my former self because I know that he has ten years of life ahead of him during which to accomplish many great (and not-so-great) things; but the me of today isn't guaranteed ten years or ten days or ten seconds... I'm always at the furthest reach of my own life, no matter how old I am. I must judge myself only on the basis of what I've done and not what I intend to do.

As I drove home yesterday, suddenly sensing all the dangers of the world convening around me, I thought it was miraculous that I am still here. I don't mean that it was miraculous that I am still alive (or I don't only mean that); I mean that it's miraculous that I was ever here at all. It isn't rational to think this way, of course; many of our most elemental feelings aren't grounded in the practical. But I couldn't help thinking about myself as I was ten years ago and feeling grateful to him and protective of him and intensely affectionate toward him, as you might feel toward something good and unspoiled. I elided the ten years between then and now and saw my former self as a distinct and separate person, to whom I was forever indebted for my existence (as I am now). I saw myself as a child—but the child who gave birth to me.