Brain Dead Serious

Thoughts on Matters of Taste and the Dutch Tulip Bubble of the 1600s

The first ever critique of someone’s taste probably went something like, “Man, your taste in rocks is horrendous! What a dumb, lowlife you must be to think such a rough, ugly stone dislodged from a mound of bison dung is worth anything. Why don’t you be like me and collect these shiny, smooth, grey pebbles collected from a river? Look how beautiful they are!”

The shiny, smooth, grey pebbles might have also been presented as suggesting something of the higher intelligence of the stone collector.

You think it’s ridiculous now but once there must have lived a cultured ape.

———

When I think about how people go nuts over matters of taste, I’m reminded of the story of the Dutch tulip bubble that happened in the 17th century. For those of you who haven’t heard this crazy tale before, you read that right–tulips. Apparently, at one point in history, the Dutch deemed tulips so valuable that a single tulip bulb was worth as much as or more than an entire house including the land where it stood. Some of these flowers, which were introduced into Europe just a century before, were worth 10 times more than the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

The priciest of them all were bulbs that had an unusual mix of colors different from the more common single-hued varieties at the time. Many years later, people would discover that these exotic flowers were actually suffering from a virus that messed up how they look, producing the strange streaks of colors that the Dutch so coveted.

In short, these were very sick plants.

———

People lost their heads so much over tulips that they gave the flowers intimidating names like “Admiral Pottenbacker” or “Admiral van der Eyck.” There was even an “Admiral of Admirals.”

Come to think of it, if a garden bulb were to command such a great price that some deluded craftsman could lose his entire estate and end up with nothing but a sickly plant in a pot, you might as well call that piece of vegetation an admiral. Few titles would have been fitting.

———

And then as if the Lord of Sense got so tired of the noisy Dutch taverns trading in futures (this was, in fact, the birth of this questionable financial fuss, as well), he just struck hard one evening in February 1637 to end the farce once and for all. For some reason, people just stopped showing up in one such tavern supposed to hold one of these popular tulip auctions that determined who had the right to own a flower that hadn’t even bloomed yet.

And from there, the bubble burst. Some people felt the economic hammer fall more acutely than others, and there were a lot of folks who lost a fortune. Overall, however, the Dutch economy–already the richest of that era–didn’t really take a dive.

After all, when the dust had settled, no serious, logical person with a conscience would really bereave a family of all their valuables just because their drunk father made the wrong decision to sell everything he owned for a rare purple tulip with yellow specks on its petals the night before the mania melted away.

———

I personally think it’s telling that a mania like that happened to the wealthiest economy in that period of history. When people have so much wealth and so little reason to think why one person deserves much more respect or recognition than the other, then the ground is ripe for something truly idiotic to grow and thrive.

I mean, if I were wealthy, and you were wealthy, our neighbors were wealthy, our friends were wealthy–and if we’re all wealthy, then what would separate me from you?

Surely we can’t test our bravery to see who’s of better stock. We’re not soldiers. Or warriors. I can’t defeat you sword in hand and declare I’ve bested you after a decisive, unquestionable final blow to the head. And we all can read and write, can reason our way around issues using the thinnest of facts to back us up, so intelligence would be such a drag to measure. A contest like that takes so long to judge to determine the winner. Besides, people who love to argue never, ever lose an argument. They just keep on arguing until somebody gets parched.

Admittedly, this is a brazenly simple and theoretical version of what might have transpired, but people must have panicked as they realized they were running out of ways to one up one another.

It was probably a goddamn first-world psychological crisis that punctured holes in the very fabric of society.

And so out of nowhere, some florist raised his hand and said, “Ok–how about who owns the better tulip?”

———

True–taste is a good barometer of a person’s standing in life. One’s Admirael der Admiraelen de Gouda Tulip without a doubt indicated that one had sufficient education and class, as could be expected of someone who had sufficient sacks of money to trade for such a renowned plant.

But what of it?

Was that the point? To declare beyond a shadow of a doubt that one was filthy rich and on the cutting edge of culture? Versed in the finest, most secret knowledge of the floral market?

You could say it’s all just a game. People were trying to outsmart each other and make themselves wealthy like they do all the time, and so they put, what is called in fiction, a “MacGuffin” in the center of it, allowing them to play this game of who gets rich and who gets wretched. It could have been anything–a tulip, a sunflower, acorns, a ball of rubberbands, bitcoin… It doesn’t matter. The point was to get a game of big winners and sore losers going.

Things of ghostly value haunting the real world of men.

Isn’t that where taste comes from? Just utter confusion over what something is really worth?

———

Going back to our story, in the end, it seemed like the bubonic plague played a major role in reversing people’s minds about those tulips. Imagine how uninspiring it was to debate whose flower was better as your neighbors perished by the thousands.

Nothing like the prospect of painful death to remind us of what truly matters.

And that a fleet of admiral tulips wouldn’t make a pile of dead bodies any less stinky.

 

Advertisements
Standard
Free Writing

Tell Me Something Not Worth Telling About

Tell me something not worth telling about. Something nobody would have any time to discuss or profit from in any way. Something that’s of no use to anyone. Least of all to you and me. A forgettable, ordinary piece of knowledge that won’t make you and I wiser. Or dumber. Or braver. A message that tells nothing of the messenger and without any meaning except what you make of it. Let’s pass the time killing it to achieve something unachievable and unknowable. Uncatchable. Something that makes us tired not because it’s a goal they told us to chase after but because doing something is tiring, and these bodies are made to tire. Expire. And at night we’ll sleep, close our eyes anticipating a blank slate, a new beginning where anything is possible and everything is impossible at the same time. We’re in the center of an endless white sea, or black sky–who’s to tell? We begin to confuse things until nothing makes sense, while feeling like we’re on the edge of a massive indescribable discovery. I’ll slowly walk towards you as your eyes and mine talk, sharing a coded language the greatest minds will never unlock. Because there would be nothing there and everything. I’ll see my perplexed but reassured expression in the clear mirrors of your eyes, and you will no doubt see somebody who looks like you, feels like you, but strangely unfamiliar like you, reflected in mine. And then you’ll take me to the crest of that wave of nothingness until I can’t take it anymore–the extreme shallowness and childishness of it! That innocent violence that leaks from the seams of beautiful plans! We’ll destroy the world. Their dreams. Their hopes. Their little, tiny important things. We can do it–us pieces of crumbling driftwood torn apart by the ruthless tides.

Standard
Brain Dead Serious

Social Media is Trying to Define Me, So I Have Chosen to be Defined by a Taco Bell Burrito

The social media industrial complex has been telling us how to define ourselves, shaping our minds and our beliefs, fashioning us into foot soldiers of one brand or another, the coolest cause or the latest mass-produced celebrity–and that’s why as an act of resistance to all of this existential violence, I have chosen to be defined by a Taco Bell burrito.

You may ask why, if I’m being serious in challenging the status quo, did I nevertheless select the best-selling product of an American chain of fastfood restaurants to define my very being. But see, that’s the crux of this willful act of defiance in the face of this monstrous labelling machine. By consciously choosing a delicious item in the menu of a massive capitalist business as an anchor for the definition of my Self, I am strongly subverting the meanings being handed to me without my consent.

Taco Bell thinks that I’m merely a statistic in their usual conversion metrics but little do they know that I’m secretly a dangerous guerrilla of post-modern revolution.

I’m eating their burritos while battling in the trenches of definitions. Every mouthful of saturated fat and sodium takes the fight to this behemoth of colonial capitalism, and every bite of the soft, tender wrap oozing with melted cheese and juicy beef a shedding of imposed needs I have imbibed through constant exposure to advertisements calculated to induce brainwashing in their audiences.

This is my own way of saying “NO” to the repressive forces that have been unleashed on my individuality since I was a child. This is me taking back my life from those who want me standardized like the rest of the poor misguided souls on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and everywhere people are judged, measured, and monetized every day. I eat this Taco Bell burrito and wash it down with Pepsi to assert our humanity and that which is rightfully ours.

I see the underemployed workers, the unhealthy eating habits, the starving farmers, and questionable assembly-line methods that sustain this system of consumerist servitude. And I think of them all, waving the flag for them, as I let out a loud burp smelling of diced onions and sour cream.

I could, of course, subscribe to more conventional advocacies, such as feminism or advancing the rights of LGBTQ, or saving the environment, but after thinking my options through, I have decided to leave these battles to other people in the community while I wage furious war on culture industries, starting with aligning my selfhood with a half-pounder burrito. Not a quesadilla or a Mexican pizza. Not even a taco–but a burrito.

This is only the beginning of my activism. After my thirst for change has been quenched, and the Taco Bell burrito and me are one and the same existence, I’m moving on to the McDonald’s Big Mac.

 

Standard
Brain Dead Serious

A Man Who Is Extremely Content to Be Perpetually Dissatisfied

DON: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. This is Don Fernandez, your host for yet another edition of The Human Condition, bringing you the most striking interviews of common people you wouldn’t normally think about if you had something better to do. Tonight–Mr. Charlie Mendez–a man who is extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied.

Mr. Charlie Mendez–can I call you Charlie?

CHARLIE: Well, I don’t know. I prefer “Charles,” really. Has a more respectable ring to it. But go ahead, call me “Charlie,” if–

DON: No, no! Absolutely not! If “Charles” is what you prefer, then “Charles” it is.

CHARLIE: Nah… Use “Charlie.” I hate that nickname but… fine! Just use it.

DON: But… I’m totally ok with calling you “Charles.”

CHARLIE: Please. Just call me “Charlie.”

DON: Ok, ok! “Charlie” then.

CHARLIE: Ugh. Ugly name.

DON: Good grief!

CHARLIE: I know right? There are thousands of better names out there and your mother somehow saw it fit to give you the most atrocious, banal, wimpy name possible!

DON: Ok. I may have jumped in this interview the wrong way. Clearly, this–what’s manifesting here–is a symptom of the problem you were going to discuss with our audience today. That is–you, Charles–or Charlie–are a man who’s extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied.

CHARLIE: I… wouldn’t really frame the issue that way. Seems too simplistic. And reductionist. It’s definitely more than that.. but, uh, I guess if that’s convenient for you, then… fine!

DON: I see what’s happening here.

CHARLIE: Do you? I doubt it.

DON:

CHARLIE: But again–it’s ok!

DON: Ok! So. Let’s move on–

CHARLIE: God, I hate when people move on, but…

DON: –but let me guess–you’re fine with it?

CHARLIE: Sure! I mean, what can you do? Launch a revolution?

DON: Charlie, you don’t have to launch a revolution for anything. You know, you can say “No” if you really don’t like what’s happening.

CHARLIE: I do say “No.” I say “No” all the freakin’ time. But then people or circumstances push back, and when that happens, I say “Fine then, yes!”

DON: Don’t you think that’s a supremely defeatist attitude?

CHARLIE: Oh, I do. I do think it’s defeatist. And cowardly. And absolutely nothing will ever change in my life if I continue being this way!

DON: And? How do you feel about that? Sorry, let me rephrase–

CHARLIE: Oh, I HATE IT!

DON: Jesus.

CHARLIE: GODDAMMIT I HATE THE FEELING! But at the end of the day, I just let it slide. It sucks but.. fine!

DON: See, Charlie, maybe you just need to try harder. If things don’t go your way, perhaps you should try just a little bit harder to, you know, get really, constantly angry at the state of things!

CHARLIE: Constantly? Like, uh, constantly-constantly?

DON: Yeah.

CHARLIE: Like, uh, hate it forever?

DON: Yes!

CHARLIE: To do what?

DON: Well, so that you’re so angry and mad at the state of things that you finally push yourself to do something about it!

CHARLIE: Huh.

DON: Don’t you think that’s a better way to live than just being extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied?

CHARLIE: To be honest–that sounds like a TERRIBLE idea.

DON: Terrible? How so?

CHARLIE: How? What do you mean, how? It’s freakin’ terrible. Constantly being angry in order to actually do things… are you insane? That’s the most terrible idea I’ve ever heard and it makes me sick!

DON: Oh no, just… just stop th–

CHARLIE: But if that’s your opinion, then, FINE!

DON: This… This isn’t going anywhere.

CHARLIE: Nothing’s going anywhere. You, me, this world. All of us ain’t going nowhere. I’ll keep working my soulless day job working with soulless people, enriching some soulless millionaires that keep this soulless society in check! You think just because people are getting more offended these days that this will actually result in a movement that will free us from the savage shackles that have held our humanity back from time immemorial? No! It’s a deception! A mirage! Fifty, five-hundred, five-thousand years from now, we’ll still be talking about the same issues stuck in the same rut!

DON: Charlie, Charlie… I hate to break it to you. But it’s precisely because of people like you that things aren’t going to change. Because you refuse to do anything about your situation! All you do is complain!

CHARLIE: Are you thick? You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t go to bed at night with those exact, same thoughts haunting me to sleep? Of course I’m aware of my shortcomings! Of course I’m aware I’m part of the problem–and the very CAUSE of it! And you know what? I HATE IT!

DON: Here it comes.

CHARLIE: BUT THEN I TAKE A DEEP BREATH, TURN ON THE TELEVISION, AND THEN… I’M OK!

DON: …What do you watch on TV? Maybe… maybe that has something to do with this attitude of yours.

CHARLIE: Nothing particular. Some sappy drama. Or childish sci-fi. Whatever’s on. They’re all garbage. But I watch them anyway. Because once you get used to the trash the soulless media industry is serving you, they numb your mind and your palate enough, and then… they’re ok!

DON: That’s sad.

CHARLIE: Miserable. Bleak. But I’m fine!

DON: What about a relationship? Maybe you just need to be loved and experience love to get out of this vicious cycle of being utterly content with misery?

CHARLIE: Oh, that has nothing to do with it. I’ve been married for over 10 years already.

DON: Wow! That’s quite an accomplishment. You must love your wife very much.

CHARLIE:

DON: Er, right?

CHARLIE: …Nah, I don’t like that woman.

DON: What??

CHARLIE: Yeah… I mean, I got her pregnant after the most horrible sexual intercourse I’ve ever had!

DON:

CHARLIE: Like, I’m not even kidding. It’s shockingly boring and disgusting at the same time! But we sort of… you know, got off, so the thing did its job, so I guess it’s all right. Then her belly started growing bigger after a few months and both our parents pushed us to get together. Oh, I freakin’ raised hell about that for weeks! I screamed at all of them, told them hell no I’m not marrying that woman whom I barely remembered from one drunken night at the pub! But my parents are devout Christians and they believe that a child has to have a father and mother living together yadda yadda yadda. So, you know, after a week, even though I didn’t like her not one bit, I said, “What the hell, FINE, I’ll marry the wench!” And we got married, and the baby was born, and oh God Almighty, what a bloody ugly baby that was who grew up to be one of the ugliest children I’ve ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes on. And my own flesh and blood, you know? But I accepted the kid, anyway.

DON: Because deep inside you loved your kid, right??

CHARLIE: Nah. Because I couldn’t do shit about it anyway. So… FINE!

DON: OK THAT’S IT! FINE! Let’s end the interview right here. I’ve had enough!

CHARLIE: You angry at me, Don?

DON: YES! WHAT KIND OF A FATHER HATES HIS OWN KID? YOU’RE… YOU’RE MAD! YOU’RE PSYCHO!

CHARLIE: So what? What are you gonna do about it?

DON: I–I… WELL, NOTHING FOR NOW!

CHARLIE: So you’re fine for now?

DON: GODDAMMIT. I’M AFRAID WE’LL HAVE TO CUT THIS STINKIN’ PROGRAM SHORT AGAIN! ‘TIL NEXT TIME IN THIS GOD-FORSAKEN MADHOUSE OF A SHOW! THIS IS DON FERNANDEZ, HOST OF THE HUMAN CONDITION, SAYING GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK! I HATE ALL OF YOU!

CHARLIE: Come on, Don! Chill! It’ll pass!

Standard
Free Writing

Potentially, Maybe

If I had anything else to say, I would’ve said it by now. If I had anything more important to do, don’t you think I would’ve done it by now? There are possibilities, sure, and I have significant–what do you call it–ah, yes, “potential,” but well, that’s why it’s just a potential right at this very moment because it can’t be anything other than just a potential. It can’t be actual. Can’t be active and cannot be activated. Definitely not by you. Certainly not by me. Because I’m the Master of Potentiality, the Captain of Probabilities of Future Happenings that May or May Not Happen. See, I’m trapped. Like a horse thumping its hooves in a cramped starting gate seconds just before the gun fires in a horse race. Except here in this case, the gate doesn’t open and I’m just here in my stall, braying and neighing in anticipation of a wild, heart-stopping race of thoroughbreds that, in all probability, would never begin. Such a shame, true, but never despair because I’m far from the first case of a conceivable project stuck in the conceptual phase. All things are only plausible potentialities, or promising promises, or pretty pipe dreams before they’re presently prancing ponies right before your eyes, my friend. I mean, think about it. This coffee I’m drinking wouldn’t have been sipped if it weren’t resting in the cup in the first place. I wouldn’t have sat if I weren’t standing, looking for a chair just a few moments ago. Wouldn’t have spilled nonsensical drivel if there wasn’t any nonsensical drivel to be spilled right from the start. Thankfully, there was. There always is. And there’s always more! Always there at the tip of my tongue like sticky saliva stretching, stretching downwards forever pulled by gravity before snapping in the middle and dripping onto the floor. It takes many seconds to reach the ground, minutes, and inside those minutes, millennia. I’m basking in that infinite space between the ticking of the clock, floating in utter dormancy, resisting the rush to be realized. Unbent, unbowed, undeveloped. No reality. You scoff at it thinking you’re free from this plague of latency ailing me but you’re mistaken. Everyone exists within a realm of possibility just before something real really happens and when it does, it has already passed. You can’t catch it transpiring. It already did. And there it did again! Did you see it? You’re there because you can’t be anywhere else. Obviously, if you could be any place else right now, wouldn’t you be there already? But you’re not. Which means you’re stuck in this, too. Like me. Whatever you’re thinking right now, whatever comes to mind, can only be the things that pop in your head and nothing else. Certainly not hamburger. But now I said it, that can only be the thing in your head, is it not? Hamburger. Now, bacon. Now, cheese. And sandwich. There–I put all the ingredients in your head and now, at least for a span of time, you wouldn’t be able to get rid of them. You can potentially get rid of them–but not yet. Not until you’ve had some time to put this behind you and get back to your life brimming with budding events that could happen. Or could not. If only you weren’t there in that spot when I said it but you were. If only. God, I hate those words! If only you were this, if only you were that. If only you were bright, if only you were glad. Well, you’re not and I’m not. It’s not a question of “Can I?” but a question of “Am I?” It’s me, it’s society, it’s elementary, it’s poverty, it’s lack of sleep, lack of religion, lack of a destination, lack of love, lack of luck, lack of lack! In the end, it is what it is. Is it such a crime to be chronically constrained by circumstances? I guess so. From this perspective, crime is punishing destiny for being destined. We can be apologetic but there’s little room for regret. You couldn’t have done it better or differently; if you could, then we won’t even be talking about it because the record books would say clearly and in bold text, leaving no room for confusion or doubt that you did. But right now, it doesn’t say so. And now here I am, and there you are, and what can we do? Maybe we can wait. Something’s going to happen now. Before you can even blink. Before you can ride the next thought. Any moment now. Any moment now.

Standard
Brain Dead Serious

I Read Sartre and I Think There’s No Such Thing as Forever

Young Filipinos have a popular saying, “Walang forever (translated: There’s no such thing as forever / Forever is impossible).” It’s a decidedly pessimistic and mocking view of love and romantic relationships popular on social media where it’s been expressed through innumerable memes. A girl actually coaxed Bill Nye to answer the question whether forever really existed or not, to which Bill Nye answered, yes, forever possibly exists if by “forever” one means time as a property of the universe. Bill Nye was trolled, of course–like all old folks online. The question was not really about time but the permanence of love.

Thankfully, I think I may have found a better answer from my nightly readings. It turns out, Jean-Paul Sartre, French existentialist philosopher extraordinaire famous for confusing the daylights out of students, had something to say about permanence or rather its opposite–“fragility,” which I think we can extend over our analysis of love and relationships.

Destruction and Fragility

In his book Being and Nothingness, Sartre explained that “to destroy” is human. Without human beings, there would be no such thing as “destruction.” You can’t say for example, that a bolt of lightning destroyed a tree in a forest because without man to define what happened as such, the concept of “being destroyed” wouldn’t exist. In fact, there wouldn’t even be any “change” at all. There would just be Being and outside that, nothing.

In relation to this, “fragility” is also a human thing. Nothing in the world is fragile except those which man defines as such. But if man is the one who posits something as “fragile,” didn’t he, in essence, also cause its own destruction? For if he never defined that something as “fragile” in the first place, then it cannot possibly be destroyed.

Sartre says:

“And what is fragility if not a certain probability of non-being for a given being under determined circumstances. A being is fragile if it carries in its being a definite possibility of non-being… Thus it is man who renders cities as destructible, precisely because he posits them as fragile and as precious and because he adopts a system of protective measures with regard to them. It is because of this ensemble of measures that an earthquake or a volcanic eruption can destroy these cities or these human constructions. The original meaning and aim of war are contained in the smallest building of man.”

I personally love this line: “The original meaning and aim of war are contained in the smallest building of man.” Sartre appears to be saying that once man gave birth to the concept of “fragility,” everything that concept touched was doomed to be destroyed precisely because fragility “carries in its being a definite possibility of non-being.” A fortress–no matter how strongly built, no matter how well-defended, is doomed to fall because as a fragile object, it always had the definite possibility of being nihilated.

Throughout history, men went to war because they knew there were fragile things in the world that they could destroy to achieve their goal. We always knew things are breakable, so we broke them–just as planned.

Sartre continues:

“It is necessary then to recognize that destruction is an essentially human thing and that it is man who destroys his cities through the agency of earthquakes or directly, who destroys his ships through the agency of cyclones or directly.”

Once an object has been posited as “fragile,” it was always going to be destroyed directly or indirectly by man. Earthquakes do not destroy cities; it is man who defines and limits the meaning of destruction, and so he is the one who made that earthquake’s destruction possible. It’s actually just a different way of expressing that old philosophical question: can the color red exist for a blind person? No, because he doesn’t have the capability to create that concept in his mind. How could destruction be possible if we didn’t have the ability to conceive of something as fragile?

This takes us now to the concept of love.

There’s No Such Thing as Forever?

Something always taken for granted dawned on me while I was reading Sartre. To say one “loves” hides an unspoken fact people conveniently forget or fail to discuss; namely, “to love” is only possible because it’s possible “not to love.” That is, loving something presupposes that one does not love everything or one can choose not to love.

You say “I love this person” only because you don’t love all the persons in your life–just this one particular member of the human race.

But the scary thing? The statement “I love this person” is possible because “I don’t love this person” is also possible.

As Sartre says, nothingness lives “in the heart of being–like a worm.”

Not to love” lives in the heart of “love” like a worm.

Love is a fragile thing because we adopt “a system of protective measures” to keep it from falling apart, to keep it from descending into “not loving.” But here is where all lovers, even the most passionate of them all, may have already doomed their relationships if not teetering on the edge of their ruin, because it seems that if we believe Sartre, then to love is to enter into a contract with a disclaimer at the end that says “I can choose to destroy this love if I wanted to because love is a fragile thing and it can and it will always be destroyed by me or someone or something else if they wanted to or if circumstances permitted it to happen.”

Is there no such thing as forever? How could there be one if we’re talking about a thing as fragile as love? It’s a thin sheet of something weak, something that breaks when you pound it with a hammer, or roll it over with a bulldozer, or crush with the weight of the entire world–it doesn’t matter. It is breakable and if it’s breakable, then it’s not a thing made for “forever.” Love presupposes its own destruction.

So we guard against all the forces that could break that “precious” thing apart (love is, in fact, precious because it can be shattered and taken away from you). We do all we can to protect this little magical thing from the pressures of other parties, of our work, our daily lives, the economy, of whatever else in the universe that threatens to annihilate this gift that we have. But the funny thing is that we, ourselves, made it feeble and frail because we posited this thing between us as “love” in the first place–and unfortunately, love is fragile.

Wait, what of “True Love?”

But isn’t there such a thing as “true love?” And isn’t “true love” not fragile?

Adding the word “true” to “love” is more a play on words than anything substantial. It doesn’t contradict the fact that true love is also only possible because there’s a definite possibility not to be truly in love. Thus “true love” itself is haunted by its nothingness, that is, that inside its being lives that worm of “not being truly in love.”

Let me put it this way: you say you two are “truly in love?” Then that must mean you’re not truly in love with everything and everyone in your life–just this one specific person. That must also mean you’re walking on eggshells; you two are adrift in a sea of people not being truly in love with one another, and you two can drown anytime, sinking into that deep sea with all the others.

So what is one to do in the face of potential doom?

Nothing, really, but to accept the ultimate responsibility of the choice in front of you. You can love but to do so, you must accept the fact that it can be fractured and pulverized anytime. You step into all the wonders of it knowing full well that they can spin around and shape-shift into nightmares.

There’s no such thing as forever or maybe there is but the odds are hopelessly against it. What we do have is a responsibility to keep a fragile thing from exploding into smithereens; and, moreover, a bigger responsibility to deal with the consequences if and when it does.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.” — Sartre

Standard
Free Writing

Christ Was Here Just 14 Minutes Ago and Other Ironies of Time

“You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”

– Treebeard, The Two Towers

“There is no future. There is no past. Do you see? Time is simultaneous, an intricately structured jewel that humans insist on viewing one edge at a time, when the whole design is visible in every facet.”

– Doctor Manhattan, Watchmen

————–

I am at a strange point in my life when I’m, arguably, not too young and not too old. Of course, a lot of people would say 33 is already too old given that the baby boomers already had settled lives at this age (marriage, kids, a snore of a job, and whatnot), but I beg to differ. Times have changed, and I–supposedly belonging to the much maligned millennial generation–am still a man collecting plastic playthings molded in the image of muscled men in colorful trunks and tights.

I call this particular juncture in my lifetime “strange” because, of late, I have been feeling strangely, keenly aware of how I am at once distant and near both the past and the future. Some recent events have doubtless triggered this weird mix of anxiety and wonder about the nature of time, the most impactful of which was the death of my sweet grandmother. Yesterday, I saw a sad picture of my father lighting a candle over her grave just newly adorned with bermuda grass, and I couldn’t help but think that this powerful woman bursting with life, energy, and the most entertaining brand of humor just maybe two or three years ago, is now cold and damp earth beneath my father’s feet. And as healthy as that man is, he’s looking old, too.

Someone had uploaded faded, yellowed pictures in a chat group showing me and my cousins, our parents, our uncles and aunts with my grandmother. Taken with those large, clunky cameras and printed on photo paper, the years have not been kind to these pictures, some of them with faces you could barely discern. One showed me as a malnourished teenager in a jacket five times my size, another my sister, who’s now living halfway around the world, as a suspicious, wild-haired baby, and yet another of my aunt looking like a summer girl plucked out of Instagram. We all look so different now and these snapshots of life supposedly happened such a long time ago–but did they? When digital photos became accessible, the vacation and holiday pictures we take suddenly took on a marvelous degree of permanence and perfection that completely set them apart from those stained, cracked pics in our family albums. Suddenly–in terms of quality and if you don’t mind the subjects who had totally changed in their appearance over the years–my first uploaded digital pic on Facebook back in 2008 looks like it could have been taken just last week.

But was 2008 such a long time ago? Phones were a little dumb back then but not as dumb as the Facebook Newsfeed these days. Beyonce wanted you to put a ring on it. Twilight was a plague us Potterheads tried to avoid ferociously, our fangs out and our claws bared. Somewhere along the way, I learned what a rewarding and goddamn stressful thing a relationship was. In truth, I don’t feel as if these events had been too long ago; sometimes, I feel that these could have been just five or six years ago, and one out of three girls would still shriek my ear wax off if I mention the name “Edward” or “Jacob” to them.

2008 doesn’t feel that long ago and, frankly, neither does 1998 to me. Celebrity Deathmatch was the most awesome thing in the world (hey, maybe it still is?). My Heart Will Go On went on forever in every radio station. There were Britney Spears and the Spice Girls and all the fibers in my being raged to an unpleasant stiffness whenever they were on MTV. And the President of the United States lost his office due to a job he blew (a blown job). Yes, we wore baggy clothes featuring anime characters that would have looked alien today, but all in all, these happenings still do not feel that far back into the past.

10 years, 20 years don’t feel that long ago to me, especially when I’m alone and retracing my life in the canvass of my condo’s cobwebbed ceiling.

You know what feels long? How about 12,000 years?

12,000 years is the supposed lifespan of an Ent, a tree-like being in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I remember these creatures whenever I get to pondering the vast expanse of time. Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents, spoke and moved so frustratingly slow that the Hobbits got madly impatient at him. But could you really blame a creature who had lived thousands of years to give a flying squirrel’s posterior about a halfling’s extremely short-lived preoccupations?

Tolkien was clearly putting us in the Hobbits’ shoes and telling us that a lot of the matters we fuss over in our daily lives are only caused by our lifespan being too short or our expiration date being too soon. We need to do everything now because, honestly, we don’t have long to live and the clock is ticking. Some people are able to extend their stay much longer than expected but these folks are still quite rare. There are a handful of women (five to be exact as of this writing) who have lived past 110 years old, gaining them the flashy, heroic-sounding title, “supercentenarians” even though you can imagine there’s probably nothing “super” about how they feel. As unrepresentative as I am of my cohorts, I would admit that at 33, there are already some mornings I feel so heavy that I wish I were made of metal and a huge magnet could pull me up from my bed, drag me, and drop my limp body into my office chair. Everything–tasks and leisure alike–is becoming so tiresome I’m beginning to think that a couple more years and I’d be ready to say, “Screw it, I’ve seen everything, where’s the exit?”

Still, some days I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be exciting to live long enough to be here when man first sets foot on Mars?” But then if this space faring milestone only happens after 40 years had passed–would I still care, stuck in my wheelchair, unable to see through my three-inch cataracts, with the least bit of excitement a fatal threat to push my blood pressure over the edge? Maybe it’s not worth it. Hell, perhaps it’s best to check out just before sex turns into an appalling affair.

Thankfully, 40 years is still some ways off into the future. The way I personally think of it is that to get there–that unpleasant 73 year mark when everything’s painful, evil, dark, and cursed, including smiling children–I would have to go through the length of my entire life up to this point again and then some. I would have to suck on my mother’s breasts again (my earliest memories), watch all my favorite morning cartoons again like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Denver the Last Dinosaur (kidding, I hated that wimp Denver), play around the flag pole of my elementary school again as my mother accompanied my sister to school, kick ass in elementary by being a teacher’s pet and receive my fair share of bullying, have to get circumcised again and be in utter shock of my poor, murdered genitals begging for help in a pool of blood, fool around high school and discover the gift of masturbation, be torn between wooing crushes and playing Counter-Strike, graduate, get really serious in college and fill my head with some dead German and French philosophers’ mind farts, hate Capitalism, discover I was in fact a dork and nothing like Batman or Wolverine or Raphael (my favorite sai-wielding ninjutsu-adept turtle), lose almost all confidence in myself and attempt to extricate myself from society, somehow get into a relationship and regain a sense of belonging, love Capitalism then witness more than five retrenchments as a transcriptionist, then a writer, then a social media marketing expert or whatever they want to call that profession, which only became possible because a guy named Mark Zuckerberg was even more of a dork than I was a few years ago, see all my friends go to leave for other jobs before finally being here at this moment in time, a little comfortable with my work, with the most amazing girlfriend in the world whom I hope to marry, but struggling with accelerated hair loss.

That would be quite a long time to relive.

But maybe still not that long.

After all, 33 years is really just a millisecond of a millisecond of a millisecond of time.

Recently, I’ve been obsessing about dinosaurs, paleontology, history, and evolution as anybody who had an excess of time in front of a computer would… naturally. I have learned that if you compressed time into a 24-hour period, such that the Earth formed at midnight and that the present moment when I’m typing these words is the next midnight, modern humans would only have appeared at 11:59:59pm–that’s all of one second. And if you took that clock and recalibrated it to compress human history into another 24-hour period, only 14 minutes had passed since Christ was here, walking amongst people.

The universe is 14 billion years old, the Earth four and a half. It took three billion boring years for microbes to evolve into fish in a world filled with volcanic eruptions and rivers of fire. Animals have been here 600 million years but mammals themselves started scurrying as little, insignificant rodents 200 million years ago. The dinosaurs, the poster boys for extinction, were actually here much longer than us, ruling the planet for 165 million years compared to our measly 200,000! In fact, the dinos overstayed for so long that the Tyrannosaurus rex is nearer in time to Donald Trump than to the stegosaurus–you know that other popular dino with four legs, huge plates running along its spine, and spikes on its tail? I’ve scratched my head at this myself multiple times but it’s true. There are only 5,000 years of recorded human history and prior to that, human beings spent roughly 150,000 years being embarrassingly simple-minded like you during the first couple of seconds when you wake up in your bed, not knowing what the hell is going on.

Given the sheer immensity of this timeline, you can see how 33 years is truly puny verging on nothing.

I say “verging” because considering time is almost infinite, as short as 33 years is compared to a universe that has existed for billions of years, that period is still as valid as any duration of time; that is, 33 years is really as valid as, say, 33 million years. And that is the paradox of time, is it not? Moments that are short-lived might as well have run forever against the backdrop of infinity. You say I live in the present but I only see life as a series of past events stretching into yesterday, the last week, the last month, the last year, the last epoch. I can only grasp the present as a hand would try to hold grains of sand streaming down between its fingers. And how could a million years be longer than a second when there could be a million moments within it?

During deranged ruminations like this, I remember another character from pop culture: Doctor Manhattan of arguably the greatest graphic novel of all time, Watchmen. Dr. Jonathan Osterman was a nuclear physicist who was accidentally disintegrated by an Intrinsic Field Subtractor machine but was later able to reconstruct himself as Doctor Manhattan–a powerful being outside time and maybe space. This fictional character’s perception of time was even more bizarre than Treebeard’s because he viewed every event in the past, present, and future as all transpiring at the same time, creating all sorts of problems for other characters in the story who, like us, only saw time as a linear march of events: there is yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But Doctor Manhattan was a being that’s acutely conscious of his past, present, and future existence at each point in that linear timeline, and so he felt disconnected from virtually all the emotional struggles of humanity that arise from their belief that things only happen because of things that precede them (you only leave your boyfriend because he cheated). To illustrate, Doctor Manhattan knew he would cheat on his first girlfriend before he did it because he was already living that life in his future, and yet he still did it. It’s like you celebrating your 10th birthday party, the best, most fun and memorable birthday party of your life, knowing that you’re already spending your 60th birthday party alone in a nursing home, cursing existence. It’s such a dire situation to be in that Doctor Manhattan literally exiled himself to Mars.

But unfortunately, as much as backpacking to Mars is becoming more and more tempting each day considering our present plight and as the world blazes down the rabbit hole of eternal shittiness, there’s nothing much we can do but accept the paradoxes and ironies of time. I guess, if you think about it, there’s a cruel but poetic consolation in the fact that we are helpless and literally can’t do anything about the matter, which means nobody truly expects us to do anything substantial. Sure, you can buy some tubes of anti-aging cream, hang out with the young ones as what’s left of your liver smoulders into a boiling square inch of ash and bile, or play with your man toys like I do as you reminisce about the past–but really, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to turn back the hands of time or stop the seconds in their tracks. We can try to hold on to happiness, to sadness (some people consciously prefer it), to people and things as much as we want to but it’s all over before we think it; and in that–there’s sweet release, a responsibility to be wantonly irresponsible.

The message here is not to make the most out of life because “you only live once.” Chasing after something, which ultimately won’t matter or will matter but only in a certain cramped definition, so doggedly is a fool’s errand. Many have lost their minds and the people who truly care about them trying to recapture past glories that have long transformed into ghosts.

It’s more like this: let the inevitability of the rushing river of time wash over you, accept your fate, and be shredded majestically into strips of beautiful nothingness as the universe races to its end.

Standard