For some reason, I believe Germans are obsessed with how they poo. From said poo, they can assess the state of their health. I could be wrong about the whole German thing but it’s certainly true for me as well as for traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. And pediatricians. They always ask: How’s the poop?
It seems pretty obvious, actually. Poop is a great indicator of how my whole system is operating, how I’m processing the world — or the part of the world I’m consuming. If things are, uh, unrefined I tweak my intake, the what as well as the how — less fried eaten less quickly; less raw, more cooked vegetables; no dairy; no wheat; more black sesame seeds (yum!). The point here is not as much poo as it is that I consider my output and adjust my input accordingly.
So I take this basic diagnostic function and apply it across my life. Sometimes, for stretches, I am just out of whack. I misplace things, stub my toe, hit my head on drawers and desk corners. My output is poor. And so I examine what I’m doing. Is it too little sleep? Too much booze? Ambien? Porn?
Sometimes, it exceeds any one thing I’m doing. Things get totally out of whack and it’s hard to pinpoint. I’m just in some kind of cosmic eddy — over the course of two months, my sister died; my start up ran out of money and refused to pay what they owed me; my girlfriend decided she needed someone who would give her babies and left me. Yes, sometimes shit happens. And then it has a tendency to spiral: someone steals my license plates, I scrape my car pulling into a parking place, my health insurance premiums skyrocket overnight. This is what is technically called a clusterfuck.
But we are never solely passive in this world. We are constitutive of it, even if our actions are supremely limited. When I’m in a clusterfuck, I am part of that clusterfuck, necessarily. I think of that great bumper sticker: You’re not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.
At times like these, I think of Nietzsche and his Russian fatalism. The Russian soldiers, retreating from Napoleon, found themselves deep in the tundra, snow everywhere, the cold eviscerating, food nowhere to be found. And so the soldiers would lie down, surrender to their conditions, move as little as possible. When you’re sick — sick in every sense, ill as well as ill constituted, when you find yourself amidst a clusterfuck — it is sometimes wise not to move at all, to sustain your energy and see if you can ride it out. From Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is:
Against all this the cultural worker has only one great remedy: I call it Russian fatalism, that fatalism without revolt which is exemplified by a Russian soldier who, finding a campaign too strenuous, finally lies down in the snow. No longer to accept anything at all, no longer to take anything no longer to absorb anything-to cease reacting altogether. This fatalism is not always merely the courage to die; it can also preserve life under the most perilous conditions by reducing the metabolism, slowing it down, as a kind of will to hibernate. Carrying this logic a few steps further, we arrive at the fakir who sleeps for weeks in a grave.
It seems not irrelevant that the title of that now well known painting, botched during its restoration, is Ecce Homo. There you are, a fresco of Jesus just kicking it. And then some lady comes along in the name of making you look better and, well, you end up looking like that. How one becomes what one is, indeed.
Of course, on the subject of Russian fatalism, sometimes doing nothing can be the death of you. Some change, some exertion, is necessary. This is poignantly true when it comes to dealing with other people, to relationships both romantic and not. This is why when little Joey starts acting like a real little asshole, his parents wonder who Joey’s friends are. Needless to say, Joey’s out of whack system, his poor intake, might be due to his depressed, overbearing, Ativan-addled parents.
But it’s important, if difficult, to turn that diagnostic eye on yourself. Ever been in a romantic relationship in which, much to your horror, you find yourself saying horrible, passive aggressive things to your so-called lovey? At first, you think it’s all her: she did this or that and so I’m right in having my knipshit and saying these repulsive things! But then it happens again and again. And while she no doubt bears some responsibility, the fact is the words and ugly moods are coming out of you. This is a psycho-romantic version of having shitty shit — explosive, inconsistent, unrefined, ugly and uncomfortable.
This is your system out of whack: bad things coming in, being processed badly, bad things coming out. In computer programming, this is called GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. Relationships are like any system. There are the distinct elements and then there are all the ways the different elements interact to create something else. We see this all the time in couples we know. They might be good elements on their own but, together, they’re just plain old ugly. They make ugliness. They’re a bad shit.
Lying down in the snow might sound mighty tempting but you gotta do something. Most likely, you gotta extricate yourself. Dump her, yes, but also cleanse yourself of all that accumulated ugliness. Because it gets into you, pervades your very fiber, how you think and feel and digest yourself. If you’re saying horrible, unseemly things, you’re no doubt feeling horrible, unseemly things — jealousy, anger, resentment. And these sensations will just kill out.
Now, an aspiring Nietzschean (whatever that is) or Buddhist (whatever that is), might say: Well, you gotta affirm everything! If I’m in this clusterfuck, I need to affirm this clusterfuck. It’s life, too!
But that’s just silly. The goal, it seems to me, is to optimize your health and vitality, to engineer your life to be a system that produces beautiful things. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel terrible, be sad, grieve, fight. But those are healthy, good things, even if unenjoyable. A life out of whack is something else entirely. It’s a poorly construed system, one that spirals downwards into nothing, into the abyss, into ugliness.