Or, Exciting Updates from my Most Recent Existential Crisis
Also Known As: More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
1. Is it true that I conducted myself honorably last night? It is not.
2. If people are the product of A) their genetics and B) their environment, and if C) people very obviously have no control over their genetic makeup and D) it seems crushingly naïve to think they have much more control over their environment, then it follows that E) we are all essentially an amalgam of random chance and intrinsic qualities that we did not select, and that F) our behavior is merely the end result of these arbitrary factors, so that G) it becomes almost impossible to ever truly blame or praise anyone for anything, almost like complimenting a puppy for being more cuddly than a cactus, and so H) it’s illogical to condemn people for their actions, because they acted exactly as you would have if you had their intrinsic qualities and inhabited the precise environment that created them, and now I) you begin to see yourself as less of an autonomous creation and more of a J) grab bag of cheap feelings and borrowed thoughts, and K) life itself begins to feel like a meaningless experiment in pain and suffering, in which… Z) is basically just full-throttle nihilism, so watch out.
3. I commonly mistake sympathy for empathy. I commonly mistake pity for sympathy. I need new towels.
4. When I was like a sophomore in high school some kid kept calling in bomb threats to the school. It was kind of amazing, at least from the perspective of a disgruntled high school student, because the administration was forced into shutting down school and either sending us home, which they did the first couple times, or, as it happened again and again until it became painfully clear that the threats were bogus, just quarantining us in the auditorium while they searched the entire building. The auditorium scenario being a rather awkward situation in which the administration took the threat seriously enough to stop class and gather the entire student body together in a central location, but not seriously enough to get us out of the potentially booby-trapped building, which we all knew definitely did not have a bomb in it, but, ya know, what if it did, right? Well my mom was obviously upset by this entire situation and once imploringly asked me, “How you can be sure that there isn’t really a bomb?” To which I responded, “Well, I guess if I’m there when it goes off, I’ll never know.”
The remark made in genuine sincerity – because I was not only not afraid of the bomb, but not afraid of the nothingness it promised – but one which she did not find comforting in the slightest, I can assure you.
5. When your eyes are open, it feels like they are in their natural state, like you’re exerting no effort to keep them that way. But if you close your eyes and want them to stay shut, they do so on their own. They are the mind’s window shades, controlling our views of the bustling city from the cheap motel rooms to which we escape.
6. At this point it seems quaint to think of eating as merely a biological requirement. Like, a totally ludicrous idea to eat only when you’re hungry, rather than at every possible opportunity permitted by societal norms. Eating being an opportunity to consume, feel pleasure, distract oneself, avoid suffering. Eating as a brief period in which one feels content and sated and at peace, rather than sad and anxious and confused. The phrase “eating your feelings” seeming like the kind of trite and hackneyed thing your mom clips out a newspaper article to warn you about, but, when you actually think about it, being like the most terrifying possible idea – visions of a sad man reaching into his belly with a fork and coming out with a morsel of sadness which he then lifts to his mouth, glumly gnawing at himself and feeling not so much relieved as merely occupied for the briefest of seconds by the physical diversion of chewing.
7. An Applebee’s commercial that depicts a family happily eating, lingering on their chewing faces, but the audio replaced with that of a pornographic film in which a woman performs aggressive fellatio.
8. “It was like either: (A) I was a terrible guy who was knowingly doing this rotten thing over and over, or (B) it wasn’t so rotten, really, just normal, and the way to confirm it was normal was to keep doing it, over and over.” – George Saunders, Tenth of December
9. The rather insidious catch-22 of alcohol being that it’s simultaneously a miraculous short-term solution and catastrophic long-term solution to any problem from which you’re suffering. Anxiety, depression, loneliness, angst – alcohol will comfort you through any crisis, offering some control over the unmanageable emotions threatening to suffocate you. But, at some point, the alcohol ceases to remedy and starts to exacerbate. Alcohol winds up making you lonely, rueful, sad, full of venomous self-hatred and regret. And then drinking becomes the solution to the problem of drinking.
10. People who regret nothing being either A) truly awful people devoted entirely to the pursuit of their own pleasure at the expense of others, or B) frighteningly perfect individuals with beaming smiles who make their bed every morning and know their credit score and who have never found themselves losing stomach acid onto the cold porcelain tiles of the bathroom floor.
11. You can tell from the angle of someone’s head as they pass a store window whether they are looking at the items offered inside or merely trying to catch a glimpse of their own reflection. With an ensuing determination made regarding whether this individual is searching externally or internally for relief. Knowing that there is no correct choice in this scenario.
12. The problem is not that my life has no meaning. Attaching meaning to things is what makes us human, and it’s the kind of beautifully hopeless task that makes humanity occasionally endearing. My life has no more inherent meaning than a credenza. I, for one, don’t find this especially disconcerting or frightening. What is disconcerting and frightening to me is that the things we use to fill that essential emptiness of our existence – art or entertainment or drugs or companionship or food or travel or whatever – are also ultimately hollow and meaningless, nothing more than cursory distractions. I desperately want these things to matter, to be more than packing peanuts stuffed into a box in which nothing was ever packed in the first place.
13. I have this weird and I think apocryphal memory of reading that Billy Bob Thornton has a phobia of being in large silent crowds, i.e. like a movie theater or a funeral or something. I have no idea if this is true (as in, that BBT has this particular phobia or that this phobia even exists) and the memory I associate with first hearing about it is amusement, like “Ha ha that Billy Bob Thornton sure is a kook.” But over time, my attention has shifted from the oddness of BBT to the specific idea of that phobia and what part of being in a large silent crowd could be fear-inducing for someone. With me eventually deciding that the fear is probably of the societal expectation to sit silently and not disrupt whatever the purpose of the gathering is, whether it’s to enjoy a show or hear a speech or see a coupled married. And now I often feel a slow creeping fear during these events that I will accidentally scream – the phrase “accidentally scream” being obviously and disturbingly paradoxical – thereby rupturing the group dynamic and calling everyone’s attention from the gathering’s given purpose to myself. So I think now I’ve given myself this phobia that I may or may not have once read that Billy Bob Thornton had, so that’s really fucking great.
15. I don’t think I’m losing my mind in the sense that I am having a psychotic break from reality. Rather, I am becoming increasingly unsettled by the idea that I am not fit for society, that I cannot walk around and talk conversationally and emote properly like everyone else – that I cannot “relax,” “hang out,” or “take it easy,” without feeling “sad,” “angry,” or almost “pathologically at war with myself.” It is concerning that human interaction tends to feel laborious and deflating. I worry that the only solution that doesn’t involve self-harm merely replaces actual suicide with symbolic suicide; I have fantasies of becoming a recluse or hermit, though my poor survival skills and inability to live off the land would require me to stockpile enough funds to pay for a lifetime’s worth of rent and Chinese takeout before realistically pursuing this lifestyle. I foresee myself ensnared in a lifetime of wood paneling.
“I tell you: one must still have chaos in oneself, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you have still chaos in yourselves.
Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.” – Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra