I was told a story of a 13 year old boy who is struggling now between a Bible-based view and a secular, if not atheistic, world view. And about where he is now seems to be wondering what the point of life is, especially if the Bible isn’t objectively true. Though young, he sees the alternative society offers up as consumer-driven and ultimately empty.
My first instinct was to feel a little sorry for him that he has to go through this trying time of determining what he believes in while people around him try to convince him to their way of thinking. But I suppose I should also grant that he is smart enough to realize an acquisitive life is fairly meaningless and promises no satisfaction. I’ve known too many people who’ve reached middle age and still haven’t figured that out.
The question of why we exist is one that philosophers, religious thinkers, and other intellectuals have struggled with for centuries. And maybe that’s where I don’t measure up as an intellectual…because I don’t really care very much about the question. Is it to give glory to God? Is it to be free? Is it to serve each other? Or is it all one big colossal accident and there is no reason? *shrug* I dunno.
In Christianity there is the concept that humans cannot know the mind of God. Whatever His plan is, it IS, and we cannot fathom it. All we can do is have faith that it will take care of us, probably in some way we cannot understand.
That’s around where I start. I don’t know if the plan is really detailed to every single life and material object and quark of dark matter or whatever. Or maybe all of reality IS the plan. The study of physics and chemistry, etc, is the corner of reality that we’ve been able to shed light on and get a feel for “well at least we understand that XX works like YY and effects us like ZZ under AA conditions.” And while that allows me to believe that we’ve worked out a tiny section of the plan, I also feel like we’ve had to simplify what we found in order to make it fit into our language and thereby our mental capacity. This is very much akin to the simplification teachers have to give to Einstein’s theory of relativity just so us regular people can begin to grasp it.
And I recognize that the question isn’t meant to invoke the physics that got any particular person here, but I bring it up to explain that’s where my mind goes. There is a vastness to any plane on which this question is tackled, to such a degree that I would never feel like I had enough solid information to go on. The Bible does specifically say that God created us to glorify him, but what does that mean, really? *shrug* I dunno.
I hope no one came here actually hoping for some direction. I don’t know that 13 year old kid above, I hope he’s okay and grows up solid in his critical thinking, and open to life and the world around him.
It’s just that I probably get the best instruction from the Absurdists (who had a strong tendency to atheists). The idea that there is no meaning to life, that we’re here by accident is comfortable to me. It’s freeing as I then feel that my choices to try to move myself and my society to somewhere better, somewhere more loving and more accepting, are truly my choices. I don’t have to worry about trying to make myself be happy by checking boxes of acquiring any material possessions or even a particular social status – the pursuit of happiness being a completely separate endeavor from trying to live the way I’m supposed to.
The reason people ask the question Why always seems to have another component. Why questions don’t settle matters by themselves, they elucidate information that might answer a more basic question that can be difficult to articulate. And the asking of Why questions tends to reveal more about the questioner and the situation than questions of Who or What. “Who ate the last doughnut?” is a very different circumstance than “Why did you eat the last doughnut?” Even though there is a narrow difference between “What did you say?” and “Why did you say that?” there is still a difference.
Asking why we are here requests an answer that would satisfy a hundred Who/What/How questions. If it’s to glorify God, we have now have a game plan for what to believe. If it’s to be free, now we have an objective. If it’s to serve each other now we have a methodology.
Without asking Why we may end up just wandering around, serving our basic needs, and having no idea what to do with the greater capacity we know we have. We didn’t build cities, establish complex traditions, study our own histories, pursue scientific discovery, create epic poetry and end various diseases on accident – humans have always seen possibilities greater than themselves and sought them.
But the answer to Why questions sometimes feels too conclusive, even predestined. That is, if the reason we are here is to serve God then all other options are not only sub-optimal, but perhaps morally wrong. And if the Why of our existence is truly inevitable then there is no way NOT to serve God. All actions, thoughts and words would be in line with service to Him. This, of course, does not follow. Not when the Bible gives a pretty firm code of conduct in terms that let us know it’s possible to break with, at the cost of breaking with fellowship with God. Eg Anyone who ever took a cookie before dinner and then lied about it knows perfectly well that “Thou Shalt Not Lie” is pretty easy to break. The Commandments, then, can only be expected to instill in us the scruples to behave in an honorable way. They do not literally control us.
So then Why we are here ought to tell us a “preferred” way to live, or a philosophy to aspire to. In other words, the answer satisfies the question, “Now that we find ourselves alive on Earth, what are we to do?” Enough people over the millennia of human existence have found themselves lost in the wake of this query that I have no doubt as to the great value of a satisfactory answer. I don’t look down on people who ask it. I just wonder why I’m not one of them.
I believe in God, but as for what God is, I don’t know. I believe my human mind cannot fathom God in the same way it cannot fathom the vastness and intricate workings of the universe. But neither God nor the universe need my mind to grasp them in order to exist.
I don’t have any solution to Why, just an axiomatic idea. The meaning of life is to live.
Oh Facebook, I wish I could quit you.
I have to write this over here, trying to do anything on Facebook is destroying my calm faster and faster every day. I’ll try to keep it short because I’m just reacting, I don’t have anything real to say for myself – or rather, I don’t really have the time. This is just a few thoughts I need to purge myself of.
I’ve gotten enough benefit from using Facebook that I find it worth the bother. It is a lot of bother though. I hate most of its infrastructure and if I could redesign it I would probably tear it all apart and start from the ground up. It’s honestly a terrible tool, but the only one with a critical mass of users, and as far as modern agoras go, that’s all that matters.
So it has let me keep in touch with a few people and it has connected me with people connected to career and creative interests. So all that is very valuable and I’d be loathe to give it up. I have to balance that good against the crap design whenever I get so frustrated I think of quitting Facebook.
The thing pushing me to walk away from Facebook now is politics. It doesn’t have to do with how Facebook is designed, and everything to do with how people are acting and what they’re writing on FB that’s trying every last bit of my patience.
I hate scrolling past awful, attack-oriented macros while I’m barely getting to work on my first cup of coffee. I hate reading what otherwise lovely and delightful friends and family are saying about people who disagree with them politically. I hate the joy people are taking at watching the opposition tear itself apart (NB, the opposition of *both* parties). I hate seeing the sincere comments people leave about wishing for actual violence and real bloodshed among Americans.
And I HATE that people aren’t taking ownership of their words and implications. When liberals take specific glee at the violence at Trump rallies and openly hope the Right’s love the 2nd Amendment comes to violent riots and EXPLICITLY wish for murder to “thin the herd,” I am sick to my stomach. When I listen to conservatives offering apologia for Donald Trump’s blustering misogyny and racism because “whatever it takes to beat Hillary” I am beyond disgusted.
Politics is all compromise. It requires working with the other side, that’s the whole damn point. Trust me, as a dedicated Green-party member and someone who very resentfully lives a capitalist lifestyle, I can tell you with certainty pure idealism leaves no room to actually do anything. I don’t care if you have to “hold your nose” to get somewhere with someone, the point is you’re getting somewhere, not digging deeper the same shithole we’ve been festering in for years. Compromise is necessary to civilization. How am I the only person who caught that in Government class?
What the hell are people thinking? Is that supposed to fix something? Is letting people know your disdain for them really going to set you up better after the election? Is venting your thoughts really going to make you a better person? Is it going to encourage anyone to “shape up?”
Or is it going to ingrain the meme of “liberals are X, and conservatives are Y?” Is it going to encourage more repugnant rhetoric that doesn’t always stay verbal? Is venting really about something you have on your mind or is it going along with what friends are already chanting? Is it going to inspire and give solace to people with short fuses and ready armaments?
I’m fucking frustrated. Americans, I know you’re better than that, I’ve seen it for myself. Generous and funny, creative and decent… I can’t believe that you’re going along with it. Is forgetting all about “by the people for the people” in favor of “us vs them” really what we need right now? You know that “they” are really us, right?
What the fuck are you people doing??
Do you remember how you first got online, when you first “hung out” on the Internet?
Not just sent an email or double checked a piece of info via text message. When you actually parked it in front of a computer and had whole conversations with someone who you likely had never met in the flesh. Was it over IRC? AOL chat room? Telnet? Or… did you MUD? Did you MOO?
If You Can Get to Buffalo, now playing at Son of Semele Ensemble, takes a wild and fun look back into those days of invented reality and the sweetness, as well as the danger, of a space with no rules.
Assuming you’re not one of those millennials who reached puberty around the same time that Myspace or Facebook came online, and you remember sending pings, checking whois, and developing the ability to read a rapidly scrolling screen as half a dozen people “talked” at the same time, then you really know what made the virtual world…”real.” Even though we had text _only_, no images whatsoever, we connected over what people had to say for themselves, strange, hilarious, kind, self-serving, depressive, excitable, sly, cruel, sweet or some combination of all these, it was all we had to go on. They could claim to be a 20 year old female college student, or they could be 35 year old male programmer etc… a. you could only take their word for it (and their server location…but that could be spoofed too) and b. asking a/s/l (age/sex/location) was nigh boring when the conversation was formatted around given subjects – a band, a political position or, in the case of MUDs and MOOs, a shared reality created whole cloth from the consensus of the people participating on the given channel.
Forgive me if this sounds curmudgeonly, but back then we could name ourselves anything that struck our fancy and create a backstory and reality that not only ignored facts but disregarded rules of biology and laws of physics. These days social networking sites (read: Facebook) demand real names and even punish people with names that sound fictional. The social networks of this day are built around the idea that you will only share your real self and your real experiences – with everyone, not merely with a self-selected group of strangers who share a variation of your brand of weird.
When did we lose the chance to create the world we wanted, no matter how mad or self-serving or frivolous? Who took it away? Was it when business people decided to build a platform they could monetize? Was it when the jerks showed up and exploited holes in the consensus for their own jollies? Was it fussbuckets who made fun of nerds who were enjoying themselves in a way that didn’t make sense?
Is there anything virtual left in the Internet as we know it today? Is freedom only a byproduct of naivete? Come party with us, we’ll explore LambdaMOO together.
If You Can Get to Buffalo closes April 12, 2015.
At Son of Semele Ensemble we’ve just put the play CIVILIZATION by Jason Grote into production. The thing it’s pretty much entirely about is my life and yours too. (Also, I was the dramaturg.)
Through the last few entries I’ve been leading to a point of trying to explain the sensation of balancing my life on the toes of one foot. My safe ground has fallen away until now there’s just a patch under me where I can be without feeling like I’m imposing on other people. I feel hemmed in, compromised and stressed out.
And there’s nothing really special about me. All around me, every where I go, people are getting squeezed in much the same way. I don’t have to work hard to find people stressed out by bills, unable to get ahead in their careers, unable to find full time work, unable to get to a point where they can take a full, unencumbered breath and stand on two feet like a fully realized human being.
Even as a society we look around and easily people who have it worse than we do. We’re not in a war zone, we’re not living in the midst of toxic material (actually, we created that toxic material, most of the time), our strife is nothing like slavery or institutionalized sexual exploitation or a lack of access to education or mass censorship. We can learn whatever we want, say whatever we want, say yes or say no to sex whenever we want and in theory merit is the only thing that lands or limits employment – not race or creed or gender….
And yet. And yet… and yet it’s so fucking hard. how? Why? What the hell happened that got all this chaos going, and not in the ordered way of society that we were told we’d get back when we were in school?
We ask those questions and self-appointed authorities try to step in and explain it all. They promise pathways out. They claim they’ll teach us how to anticipate things that could go wrong. Or tell us who or what is to blame. (We really like that last one.)
But in actuality the questions are rhetorical. It doesn’t matter how we got here, or it doesn’t matter that much. Because asking that question betrays the longing for things to “go back to normal.” And that is never going to happen.
What the thing is, the thing IS. More importantly, the course of events aren’t going to slow down and wishing they would go in reverse is so ridiculous it’s almost insane.
KAREN: Do you ever feel like you’re made for something different than everyone else.
DAVID: Everyone feels that way. That’s why life is so disappointing.
But when we’re upset – okay, when I’m upset – childish reactions are to be expected. I pout and blame others and ask unhelpful questions like “WHYYYY??” and complain about life being unfair.
Our civilization seems to be made of supposed adults running around not at all sure how things got to be like this and holding on to the deep seated feeling that it’s not supposed to be this hard.
CIVILIZATION is a terrific look at life this very minute, on the last patch of ground we feel we can own. We’re all losing our balance in real time. Our civilization is falling apart and the only good thing about it is that we’re now allowed to make up whatever the heck we want about what is next.
I was trying to stop crying. But that just made it all worse. God, trying to cry quietly just sucks.
Even when I’m doing things I like (theatre, voice acting), there’s still biding shadows in the back of my mind. I can rather forget that they’re there. I can even get so that I forget what it’s like and end up criticizing other anxiety-ridden depressives like a normal, non-messed up person. The thing I can’t forget, ever, is that stress really brings on the bad brain.
When I’m okay it just pisses me off because it kills so much of my time and energy. On an okay bout like this one, I lose maybe a day. But I’ve lost months if not years barely able to get out of bed.
I’ve got *so much* that I want and need to get done that laying about, staring off into space ends up feeling like a cosmic insult I’m giving myself, after all the other abuse I’ve already laid on me.
Everything I’m good at, everything I want more of, is totally crippled – I can’t think creatively, I can’t tune into good art or other people’s feelings. Every effort feels hobbled; productivity slows way down, assuming I can get anything done at all. And I feel like every single thought has a giant boulder that it has to go around in order to come together in the real world.
There’s no real reason to tread all this ground – Allie Brosh already did the job spot on. I mean, the line “No, see, I don’t necessarily want to KILL myself…I just want to become dead somehow” is perfect (and in context, hugely funny). But maybe only folks who know what depression is like can get that, and everyone who doesn’t know it should count their damned blessings.
What’s on my mind is two things: The difficulty of trying to build a life at the same time that stress triggers anxiety and depression. As well as the frustration and pain that comes when a bad episode gets written off as angst, to say nothing of being accused of attention whoring while getting slapped around by self-hatred.
Whatever I do with my life, no matter where I go or what company I keep, this disorder hangs around. If I’ve got an episode going then all of my measurements for situations between people are completely distorted. Clear thoughts are almost impossible, and even when I think I’ve got one, I rarely actually do.
After decades of measuring myself and whatever I create, all I can say is… I dunno. Am I good at anything? I dunno. Am I smart? I dunno. Am I talented? I dunno. Is what I made any good? I don’t know. I can only go by what other people say because when I rely on my native judgment, folks and I regularly part ways.
Can there be more frustrating conditions for trying to make a go at creating art for a living?
But like I said, that’s all a part of my life. I make art because I have to. I’m to the theatre like the ocean is to water. And I’ve found voice acting spurs everything I like bringing into the world. It’s stressful making these happen as my body of work. And of course all the rest of life – sharing living space and getting dinner on the table and finding the time to be alone and paying bills and dodging debt and just trying to keep even more things from breaking… All of it piles on the stress until something finally breaks my last resolve to push on and all I can do is choke and gulp and wipe my face before anyone notices I’ve been crying.
I’m not sure what the hell else I’m supposed to say for myself when these are the circumstances through which I view the world. But… I think… I think, I’m a pretty good actor. Maybe.
Title was taken from one of the poems in Birthday Letters, written by Ted Hughes, better known as Mr Sylvia Plath (to whom the poem was addressed).
“Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,
Looking for something to give.”
Rough to read, but you know who really doesn’t want that “strange glitter?” The person who’s too fucking depressed to swim to shore.
The terrible things we do to animals, the terrible things we do to ourselves and each other. ROADKILL CONFIDENTIAL is the second play at Son of Semele Ensemble with a central theme of dead animals that I’ve worked on. Of course, years before I heard of SOSE, they put on the mother of all animal metaphors – ANIMAL FARM.
Unlike in Sheila Callaghan’s ROADKILL where animals are (at least at first) killed on accident, in SLAUGHTER CITY (by Naomi Wallace) the animal would be put to death intentionally. But each time humans are the agents of death. Where in ROADKILL the destruction flows out of the need to go faster, reach greater glory, in SLAUGHTER CITY death was the last stop of exploitation and degradation that flowed down from management to senior workers to junior employees to the animals.
But each time animals suffer because we need to get from point A to point B. Whether it’s moving in a fast, heavy vehicle which could cause an even bigger mess if a poorly calculated swerve was taken at the wrong moment, or because our common and most socially accepted diet calls for steady consumption of meat. I suppose our society immediately tries to find the ethics of it – is it necessary, that is, what is reasonable when it comes to the consideration of other creatures while pursuing our own interests? But it doesn’t matter – animals still receive the end of our agency, whether it is dismemberment or mercy.
The way that things are, though, is what these plays see. In a rural area, especially where the roads are dark and windy, we tend to assume there’s little to be done but accept that people will have to run down small critters as they go into town. Just like we tend to assume there is little we can do about the poor people in disaster areas and war zones who must live chaotic and short lives. And we figure our hamburgers and hot dogs have to come from somewhere but we’ve been told not to look too closely into it because the process is really pretty gnarly. Just like we avoid looking into the realities of factory working conditions and present day labor exploitation.
We may ask ourselves how much we should really invest in caring about our fellow man – after all if getting broken up by women mass raped in the Congo doesn’t help them one bit is there a real point to empathy? Quitting eating meat won’t slow the thousands of animals that are slaughtered every year and it definitely won’t engender safer and better paying working conditions for slaughterhouse employees; realistically, it’ll just weird out everyone around you.
It’s the divide over the extent of our agency. We can drive slowly enough so Thumper can make it across the road safely. And we can find sources of iron and protein elsewhere. But we can’t make such a direct impact to people suffering due to the institutionalized methods of preserving the status quo. Conflicts in foreign lands will develop to protect financial interests of those who live much closer to us, and power plays will develop in the workplace that push people in every direction (physical, sexual, financial). The pursuit of one goal will have all of these unintended consequences. But solving the consequences (while trying to avoid creating more negative fallout) requires a huge battery of tasks by an enormous number of people armed with such comprehensive knowledge that can’t practically exist.
It almost makes a person want to dedicate herself to never leaving the house and switching to an all grass diet. But then how will the earthworms hide from the birds?! And we go around again.
The only thing more annoying and insulting than being lied to is watching someone believe in their own false witness. It’s hurtful when it’s a personal matter and induces cynicism when it’s done in a broader arena such as the political or artistic fields.
It’s a subject that’s been kicking around in my head for a couple months, ironically spurred by watching Mike Daisey talk about the Stop Kony project on the MSNBC show Up With Chris – less than a week before he was outed for his own project’s dishonest shortcomings. (I had actually never heard of Daisey before, having somehow missed the now-infamous This American Life episode.) Both “Stop Kony” and Daisey’s “Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” have been shown to play fast and loose with the facts, and in “Jobs” many facts were manufactured wholesale. But my issue is with emotional honesty (and manipulation) over hard facts.
It’s a little hard to articulate how we know when an artist is lying to him/herself. But we do know it, even if we can’t point to hard facts the deceiver is denying. There is something of the matter of gut feeling – knowing deep inside when someone is being dishonest and vice versa when someone is sincere. We listen for emotional honesty as much as factual accuracy, but the acuity for detecting former cannot be accessed through a rational process. It’s the difference between being honest and telling the truth. One can be dishonest and still not perjure oneself.
When dishonesty is in straightforward speech we can sort of hear it as negative honesty – the inversion of truth. We hear it because of what isn’t said, what was danced around. Sometimes we notice the scaffolding of an ad hoc narrative that’s being constructed to support this version of events. Maybe we take note of certain points in the testimony that appear to make the speaker uncomfortable and discern that the discomfort stems from avoiding the truth of the matter. But again, how do we know? Uh… we just know. Practice maybe? Cultivating skepticism? Being burned before?
Like with learning to tell when someone is misrepresenting facts, figuring out when it’s happening requires being versed in the subject at hand, having been around the block once or twice and, perhaps, having a grasp on what it means to pass along falsehoods. Maybe we know when kids are lying because we remember being 8 and desperate to get out of trouble. Maybe we know when a politician is skirting an issue because taking sides on tendentious subjects is not a move that wins more votes than it costs. Maybe we dismiss artistic endeavors as precious or maudlin because deep inside we know when an artist is pulling his punches.
Jason Russell, creator of the Kony2012 video, isn’t exactly an artist but an activist employing art to cultivate support for his cause. But Mike Daisey is an artist whose last project had a bit of an activist agenda to it. There is nothing wrong with either, so long as due respect is paid to the audience and we aren’t insulted with exaggerations and fabrications.
It’s important to note this matter of truth in the realm of artistry, because even we who create and invent as a matter of expression have to do so honestly. Otherwise we are no better than the boy who cried wolf. Not only will we fail to get attention when we get our message right, we will have insulted our potential audience thoroughly. And frankly, at base, we will have failed to do right by our chosen art.
Daisey could have had a powerful presentation simply based on the true facts. Likewise, Russell could have plucked many a heartstring without inducing indigestion had he not conflated certain circumstances and obfuscated others.
The point of doing right by our art, creative integrity, is as profound as it is intangible. No one but the artist is really going to know where she dodged a difficult moment by softening the blow of her own expression. On the inverse, when an artist creates narrative shortcuts because the “real” story is complicated and telling it would be a belabored process the audience may understand the necessary affect is still in place, however they are likely to feel alienated and unwilling to trust their own emotions.
I think it’s why sometimes genre art, especially in literature, gets a blanket bad rap. All the trappings of genre are supposed to expose further insight to the human condition, give or take, but they can also trap and occlude it with dressing and tropes that prioritize unreality. Rayguns and spaceships can turn a perfectly decent study of isolation and paranoia into a chest thumping, tall man fantasy. Lace bodices and antiquated property laws both open the chance for a story about the difficulty of trusting love in an era of conflicting interests or it can become an overwrought tale where the cad gives up his roguish ways for the virtuous maid. The second versions tend to yield more gut pleasure but anyone looking for the truth knows – in that same “gut” place – that it’s just not so.
In activist art as with genre stories, the emotional truth of a piece can get lost when human complexity is ignored. This is not to say the audience won’t feel anything. Even emotional falsehoods can be told with great affect, driving immense interest on the part of the audience. But, as with the story of the Boy who Cried Wolf, altogether too soon the audience will learn not to trust their emotions when they know a deeper story is afoot and that there is an agent purposefully keeping it from them. And altogether too often distrust of one episode breeds distrust of any ensuing efforts both by the same artist and other artists working in the same genre.
Some other time I’ll have to write an entry on Art and Untruth. Because it’s not like it doesn’t sell.