Saturday, December 1, 2012

I Want To Be An American Idiot

I have many times considered legally changing my last name. To what name would I change it? Why, to Berkov of course, the name of the Russian side of my family. (Those in my family who automatically inherited the name owing to well-established Western patriarchal tradition spell it "Berkoff." But because I want to be a little more accurate and closer to the original Cyrllic, I spell it "Berkov." And, fun fact, when my great grandparents first arrived at Ellis Island from St. Petersburg they spelled it "Berkow" - a very typical Russian faux-pas owing to language barriers). However, I've never been able to bring myself to actually change my name. One reason is that my father, the man who gave me the surname Hopkins, is dead, and because of this I feel a certain sense of honor and loyalty to his memory. Therefore I cannot just banish the name Hopkins (not to mention I'm no closer to my Russian side than to any other side of my family, so I do not wish to infer favoritism where there is none). I do however now incorporate, and will be doing so legally, the name Berkov into my given name. I want my Russianness expressed in my name as it appears. A name - the one thing that invariably labels us, and will continue to do so long after we die. Why? Because I want people before they even meet me to think: "Russian." I'll explain more as to why that is a bit later.

I've never felt any particular affinity to the name Hopkins (beyond the wonderful people who share it with me, that is). Berkov, on the other hand, represents for me a culture and a history to which I feel strongly attached. What about Hopkins? Is there a cultural lineage therein to which I feel truly akin? Well, to tell you the truth I've had to weave a bit of a tale in order to find the pride and meaning behind that all-too Anglo name (I've had to philosophically justify it to myself, that is. I don't mean I paid some ridiculous fee for an internet service to track down my family, although I'm a sucker so I probably will someday).

So just what is there to this Hopkins business? Well, as anyone who's read this blog probably knows, Russian is the culture to which I relate most. But in my blood I've also a great deal of English, and lesser amounts of Welsh, Irish, Dutch, German, and Cherokee (in other words, a very typical white-American mutt. All told, this North and Western European mix takes up far more of my blood than does Russian, actually). Hopkins comes from Britain (and it's certainly no secret that I'm a huge fan of British culture all around, as the Shakespearean title of this blog might have hinted to you. But really, come on - the British are just like Americans except they do everything better, with the notable exceptions of their self-defense laws, dentistry, and that most wretched and evil of transportation ideas: the roundabout). But here's the fun part: As British as the name is, many Hopkins have been on this side of the Atlantic for 400 years (as has another side of my family, the Rockwoods - and I've got the birth and death records of this line to prove it!) Not only that, but a Hopkins (Stephen) signed the Declaration of Independence! Some of my bloodlines goes back into the very embryonic stage of American history. We were American before there was an America. How's that for seniority!

Now, I make no secret of my contempt for what some people call "American culture." In fact, when people act and speak as though there is an American culture, and sometimes even speak of it as if it is a kind of ethnicity, I want to laugh maniacally in their faces. American culture? Please. Let me tell you something about the United States of America: it is the culture of no culture. And that is precisely what I love so much about it. Being American means having the freedom to be whatever I want, however I want. This above all is what makes me proud to be an American.

To be "ethnically" American is practically the same as being "ethnically" homo sapien: it implies next to nothing. What little it does imply, however, is a certain spirit (that very cliched but very true spirit) of liberty, and a very personal liberty. I am able to be as Russian as I want to be because our American government allows me to be. Sure, our current government is pretty horribly corrupt, but it still effectively protects most of my personal liberties pretty damn well. Luckily, it's not quite reached again the level of our historically worst, i.e. the fear and paranoia of McCarthyism (the tail-end of our ridiculous "nuclear family" phase when we tried to establish an American pseudo-ethnicity through assimilation of immigrants and WASP-oriented propaganda campaigns). Luckily as a country on the whole we've moved quite beyond that. However, the geographic and demographic regions who embraced and continue to embrace that sort of ideology are welcome to - that's what's great about America! And as much as I love my Father Russia, for as long as that paranoid ex-KGB usurper and wanna-be-Stalin Vladimir Putin is occupying the presidential seat, I'm not too keen on going over there to visit, let alone staying awhile. Russians, you understand, have a certain tendency toward the dramatic (you might have noticed this from the way I write about things mundane) and sadly this usually shows itself in our leadership in the worst way. So in America I'll stay. (And while I'm here, I might as well not shy away from my extreme appreciation thereof).

But however much the "culture" of America as I see it disgusts me, I need not run from my Americanness. America is in fact a perfect representative of what it is to be human: we are instinctively selfish primates and we seek only to please ourselves and those who please us, preferably while getting more than we give. However, we are also pack animals, so despite our inherent selfishness if a threat comes from outside the troop we will unite fervently and ferociously until that threat is gone and then quickly go back to our blissful internal squabbling. (Yes, American flags were flown everywhere and a spirit of extreme patriotism reigned briefly after 9/11, but it wasn't long before our then-president started making decisions that put us right back into our usual camps of disparate sociopolitical positions). As it has been said many times before: Divided we stand! And that's the way I like it. I truly do love this country (or rather, in true American fashion, what this country is and does for me).

To bear the name of Hopkins is then to stake my claim on this country in which I live and will likely live for the rest of my life (although I have not totally ruled out a future as a composer or English teacher in Russia. I'll spend my winters in Krasnodar and summers in St. Petersburg. It'll be brilliant). The point is, I'm really as American as they come. I'm a Hopkins, a Rockwood, a Smith, a Roosevelt (yes, I am related to the presidents), and a Cherokee. I'm also the great-grandson of Russian immigrants who five years before the Revolution came to these shores to give their children (and by extension, me) a better life. It's the all-too-typical, all-too romantic American story.

Therefore, I shall proudly bear the name of Hopkins and all that it represents, American and otherwise. So too shall I add the name of Berkov, for as I've delved deeper and deeper into Russian culture I found something that I'd been looking for my whole life: an identity. I finally began to feel like I belonged to something - a feeling I'd been looking for and missing my whole life (and I mean from the time I was a very young child). It is adolescent, even infantile, but much like any social group, subculture, religion, clan, club, gang, or any other form of pack that a person joins or is born into, my Russian heritage has provided me with a lot of answers (both convenient and true) to a lot of my questions. Why have I been so moody my whole life? Because I'm Russian! Why am I so distrustful of everything? Because I'm Russian! Why do I have such a ridiculous sense of humor? Because I'm Russian! Why am I so cartoonishly passionate when I'm silly enough to fall for someone? Because I'm Russian! Oh sure, there's better answers to some of those questions (and don't you think for a second that I haven't explored them!) but my favorite answer is the one given above.

Afterthought: 

"But Daniel!" you may be thinking to yourself after reading the herein above, "Isn't labeling yourself and identifying with one culture over and against others isolating you from a more global perspective and understanding? Isn't that taking a step backward?" My answer to that is simple: Oh, shut up. I'm not interested in being progressive or enlightened. I'm only interested in what makes me happy. And if you were more interested in what makes you happy, you wouldn't feel at all threatened by what makes me happy. Humans, as I've said again and again, are pack animals by nature, and for once in my life I've decided to stop trying to deny my instinctive longings. I've found a pack that makes sense to me (ideologically that is. I'm sure that upon going to Russia itself I'll find that I like and dislike just as many of the people there as I do anywhere else I've been. Luckily, part of what's so great about being Russian is that self-loathing is part of the bag. And it's my bag, damnit! So I can even dislike Russians all I want and still be incredibly Russian. How awesome is that!) Besides, I don't think Russians are in any way a superior people - good God are we not a superior people - we just make more sense to me (and not much in this world does make sense to me). And in much the same way that I do not need or desire other people to have the same religious or philosophical views that I do, I don't need anyone to understand or even like Russia or Russian culture. For once in my life I've decided to consciously set about something with totally self-centered intentions. It's mine, and I'm going to keep it, own it, wrap up in it, and adore it. As for those of you who are true individualists, who think you've got no need of a pack, group, or some kind of communal identity - good for you. You managed to reconcile yourself to something that I and most other people cannot. Kudos! Perhaps you are the next stage in the evolution of humankind. But it doesn't make me happy to feel like an ape wandering alone in the forest. I'd rather have a troop that I can stay with and someone to groom me once in awhile. And, at least for the time being, that will just have to do for Daniel Berkov Hopkins.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Have Not Art To Reckon My Groans

Art isn't as special as some artists would have you believe. Art, like religion, came about in early humans as a means of communication, a way of keeping the group together. Telling stories, painting on cave walls, ritual dances and music, communal prayer, etc., all provided a means through which a society stayed tightly knit, and it helped them to survive. Art is just one form of communication among many others. And that which unites is also that which divides. Whatever keeps a group of people together also pits them against everyone else. This is not only natural but was at one time a necessity and thus good (and still is in many societies, despite what utopian idealists might like to believe). We still see controversy surrounding art and groups of people slamming each other in print over their various interpretations of art. Art, again like religion, is an astoundingly subjective phenomenon and one that has the miraculous power to unite, and the astounding power to bitterly divide.

Why, then, am I an artist? What need have I to create? Why bother contribute to this orgy of good and evil when in the end it's all so very superfluous? I'll tell you why I create. I create because I don't know how to be otherwise. But I don't just create because I have some inborn inclinations that when bottled up may cause me to blow my top. I also, and perhaps mainly, create because I am a boring, lonely, and phenomenally moody person who wants to be loved. (Luckily alongside these pitiable inclinations God and Nature threw a few gifts into my gene pool as well, including an ear for music and words). 

I have two fundamental problems which contribute to, or aggravate, my need to create: a nearly total lack of intimacy since adolescence, and an overflowing excess of self-loathing. As per the former problem, I create art in an attempt to communicate with people and give myself a delusional sense of love and acceptance. Addressing the latter problem, creating art both reminds me that I'm not completely worthless as a person and, since my self-loathing is a loathing of not just the personal self but of the species to which I belong, helps me to beautify the world around me and provides for me a useful tool in uncovering some of the angelic qualities innate in my fellow humans. I struggle to find the divinity in humanity (and the humanity in divinity, for that matter).

The yearning for physical intimacy is as natural inclination as the instinct to eat and drink. All animals have the drive to mate. If humans did not have this drive then we'd die out as a species, and our extremely specific (at times seemingly ridiculous) social codes regulating reproduction would not have made it into our religious systems. But what is more important to me is not just the drive to mate itself, but also the emotions to which it has become attached as humans have changed over the last few million years. All this grey matter between our base instincts and our consciousness has complicated matters and led us to desire not just sex but also what we've come to call "love." However, love and the drive to mate are not synonymous. My throat tightens and my eyes tear up at the thought of my friends and family because I love them so much. My heart beats harder and my breath grows deeper at the thought of a woman's naked body. Yet these two sensations, passionate love and passionate lust, have remained almost always completely separate for me. And this concerns me. I know platonic love, and I thank God every day for the over abundance of it that I've been given, but I do not know romantic love. To find that beauty, that purity of body and soul, which arouses both my physical desires and my tearful affections is virtually unknown to me. I admittedly beg and plead with the Fates that I may someday feel the passion that all people seek, and certainly by my age most people have felt, but I've been deprived. Whether by my own subconscious fears shielding me from the pains which may accompany the pleasures, or by the designs of Nature herself, I do not know the touch or taste of romantic love. (I say touch or taste because I've officiated enough weddings to know the sights and sounds of it. Let me also amend this by noting that I have been in emotional-physical relationships, but I question my intentions and true feelings regarding all of them. The fact that I question whether or not I've been in love says to me that I've certainly not been in love). It is mere faith that keeps me believing in love. But the longer I go without it the more I feel comfortable in its absence, and this above all disturbs me right to my core. Nevertheless, I was born a romantic and, for better or worse, a romantic I have remained, from times of miserable desperation to times of cynical complacency.

This is one reason I enjoy ballet. Ballet is not at all an overtly sexual art form and the dancers are hardly making sexual movements like in many other forms of dance (especially if you're unlucky enough to walk into a contemporary club or bar and see what people call "dancing"). Yet there in ballet I see before me the physical human form very clearly, and it is moving with such precision and grace that I often find it both very sensually intriguing and very emotionally moving. All at once it is sexual and it is spiritual. (Do understand that although I often speak of physical things, intellectual things, and emotional things as though they are somehow separate, I am merely doing so for clarification and specificity rather than accuracy. Since emotions and thoughts are both the result of physical processes in the brain and other hormonal centers of the body, it is absurd to say that something is physical but not emotional, or emotional but not intellectual, or intellectual but not physical. They are all one in the same and part of one unit and process). This interplay of passion on so many levels strikes a cord deep within my soul. It's also why I love Shakespeare. For instance, a lot of people who know his plays well come to a plateau whereupon they no longer see Romeo and Juliet as a great romance, but as merely a tale of two horny and stupid teenagers who selfishly indulge themselves and end up hurting everyone around them. I look at Romeo and Juliet and I say, "Hey, they may have been selfish, immature, and moronic, but at least they had passion in their short lives." We don't have to allow ourselves to become adolescents again to appreciate the reckless purity of their desires.

But what good does it do me to create art? My reasons, as stated before, are inherently and unashamedly selfish. I do it for love. I do it because I'm sick in my heart and desperate to be loved. When I create a piece of music it's not because I'm some post-60s idealist who thinks "rock n' roll can save the world"; it's because I'm hoping that someone somewhere will hear that music, relate to it, and in some form or another love me for it (Mind you, I don't mean that I intend to write some miraculous love song that will make fan girls fall into obsession with me. I gave up that folly when I was 19. What I mean to say is that by writing music I am putting my heart into melodies and harmonies and in an indirect way the listener, if moved, thus allows me into her or his heart. It's sort of a form of compensation for my own nonexistent love life). I crave passion, and sometimes I have to simply make it up. The reverse is also true. I don't just do it because I'm an attention whore pathetically scrambling for affection. I also create because I love people. I'm an extreme empath and I want people to feel good. But 95% of the time, humans prove themselves so wretched and stupid that I can't help but hate them (Mind you, my misanthropy stems mainly from the fact that people are so horrible to each other. In other words, I hate them because I love them). So, by creating art in which I celebrate the beauty of humankind I pacify my own derision, thus making it easier to love them. I create a mask of divinity and place it upon my fellow people. This is also what makes the figure of Christ so special to me. Whether or not he is a divinity incarnate or merely a 1st century apocalyptic preacher is irrelevant. Because of what he became in the eyes of the early Church he consequently became for me, raised as I was in a predominantly Western Christian society, the perfect representation of the center of the universe - where human and god meet, where sacred and profane meet, where pure and vulgar meet.

Art is meaningful, but ultimately it's just a form of communication, no more special than spoken language. Although I sometimes get swept up in the ideology of art, knowing well that music, dance, and visual arts are all in their own ways universal languages which can speak to all peoples in all times, I'm not delusional. Music and dance began to evolve before spoken word, and the apes who eventually evolved into human beings used both of these practices to create harmony, unity, and order within their troops. Before government, there was dance. Before religion, there was music. These things are ingrained within us, and we can hardly deny them without denying ourselves in the worst way. But humans also used these things as unifying forces in very small societies. Once the Agricultural Revolution swept across the world we could no longer rely on simple organizational practices and egalitarian ideals (which were not ideals per se, but rather just the way things worked) to keep order. Hierarchies became necessary, and have remained so. Humans can only keep track of so many people at once, 100-150 people on average according to researchers, and this is about the size of a healthy hunter-gatherer group. Beyond that number, human comprehension fails and we need other people to do the work for us. This delegation of responsibility necessitates hierarchy, as there consequently needs to be someone "higher up" to oversee the work of others, regulating and unifying all the separate spheres of service without actually knowing every little detail. This is how we've ordered ourselves for thousands of years, and - don't let the hippies fool you - without mass plague, famine, or nuclear winter there is little chance of humankind ever going back to small egalitarian societies, and Communism has proved time and time again that egalitarian ideals do not work on a grand scale. 

When I look at humans in their little social groups, or larger religious, ethnic, or national identities, a most prevalent thought in my mind is, "Dance, you stupid monkeys, dance!" How despicable and boring the human race becomes when their behavior is so repetitive and predictable that the only reasonable conclusion one can draw is that we are naught but hapless puppets of the gods, marionettes on cosmic strings, monkeys with fezzes trained to do stupid tricks for scraps. (The audacity we have to call ourselves "evolved"!)  But when I look at humans as individuals, a most prevalent thought in my mind is, "Dance you beautiful angels, dance." How vibrant and wondrous the human being becomes when one can see just how infinitely special and unique each individual is. These two thoughts co-exist in fair balance in my mind, and they're ever ready to launch me into a stream of consciousness whereupon I declare my utter hatred of my species or my undying love and devotion to my brethren.  Living with this tension, this love and hate of the world around me, is one thing that drives me to create. Art pacifies the tension and allows me to live with it in a rather ironic peace.

Art is essentially, for me, therapy. I don't create art because I want to. I create it because I have to (what a dreadfully cliche thing to say, but it's God's honest truth). Now, because I've laid down some fairly horrible reasons for being an artist, allow me to be just a trifle more horrible before you walk away from this completely disgusted. I say I create art for lack of intimacy. That is an emptiness I would like to think someday will be partly, if not wholly, filled by a real human female (rather than the ones I make up in stories or songs). Don't let New Age philosophers fool you, humans are not complete on their own, nor are we capable of being complete on our own. We are social animals and need socialization of varying kinds to be healthy and happy. Do we need one single spouse or lover for an entire lifetime? Not at all (in fact it's somewhat unnatural for humans to have only one mate during their lives). But we do need other people. (Yes, yes, we in the West are obsessed with individuality and self-reliance, and these are virtues, but ultimately as ideals they are ridiculous and silly. No matter how "self-reliant" you are, if you live in a developed Western society such as the US, you are entirely dependent upon it). And we, as animals, need physical intimacy. We're wired by Nature that way. I've survived 95% of my life since adolescence without physical intimacy (and before that it was of course merely the hugs and kisses of family), and I'm living proof that we don't need sexuality or sensuality to survive. But there is a world of difference between merely surviving and thriving.

The other reason I create art (my at times consuming misanthropy), is not likely to ever go away, because humans are not likely to evolve quickly enough to suit my high and totally unrealistic standards for them. Now here's the truly horrible and disgusting part: I don't think that at my core I really want them to. If humans were better to each other and acted more like the angels on their shoulders told them to, I think I'd be dreadfully bored. I think I would have no motivation to do anything beyond take care of the basic necessities of survival (my thoughts on how everything we do is in fact a basic necessity convoluted by millenniums of evolution and our overgrown brains is a subject for another essay). I think that because I'm a white middle class male living in a Western society, my basic needs are so well taken care of that without other forms of conflict, mainly philosophical and behavioral in my case, I'd get so bored that the animal in me would leap out and strangle the rest of me to death. This inner conflict, this tension with luxury, this resistance to peace, is also why I think Western societies have such strong predispositions toward violence in movies, video games, and other recreational activities. We don't actually have to fight that hard to survive and it throws our natural inclinations to kill and dominate way out of whack. So I owe you a debt of gratitude, humankind, for being the stinkers you are. It's given me something to do.

But despite that underlying cynicism (and not pessimism), I really do love people, passionately so. And I love making people feel better. This is why I hate religious conflict so much. Religions are near-miraculous methods people utilize to make sense of the chaos of life and feel better about the world around them. And people who go around attempting to stamp our other peoples' beliefs by force or by psychological coercion, when they themselves don't have a clue about how the universe actually works (because none, I'll say it again, NONE of us do); those people represent to me the true scum, the true shit-flinging ape, in humankind. But even that behavior is part of a natural inclination (to keep one's society in tact and oust the dissidents). Ah well, what can ya do? Thanks to the Stoic philosophers and Lao-Tzu, I've come to a place whereupon I've concluded that it's better to accept things as they are and just do what I'm able to do, attaching no significance to the outcome of my actions. Success will thus feel less egocentric and failure will thus lose its sting. And thanks to Jesus I can still love all these stupid apes passionately, whilst fully acknowledging that the vast majority of them are going to reject me and everything I represent.

It takes a true idiot to do so, and I'm just the man for the job.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween Is Coming (Poem)

Halloween is coming
the pumpkin's getting fat.
Please watch your step,
beware the old black cat.
If you haven't got a soul, well,
your blood and bones will do,
if you haven't got a body,
the Devil take you!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Relevance in Irrelevance

When I was younger, one of things that nagged constantly at my soul, assuming I have one, was that I just never could seem to fit in with anything or anyone. I tried, but it seemed my destiny to be the perpetual outcast. Even within my immediate family it often seemed like it was three to one (In all fairness, this was more perception than anything. But my sister wasn't an obnoxiously rebellious youth and I was, so there were some very real differences between how I related to the family and how they related to each other). In elementary school I would either be a leader or a loner. In middle school, where social hierarchies were suddenly structured around physical strength and bravado and book smarts were no longer relevant, I was immediately thrown to the bottom of the social ladder. From that point on my life was a constant struggle for acceptance, an acceptance that I would never find.

The human being is designed to live in a group, just like our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. My yearning for a group that shares my values, desires, even appearance, is not a weakness. It is an instinct. And, like most instincts, human societies have found one way or another to villainize it, turning it into a scapegoat in place of the Devil we just can't seem to find (Hint: you haven't found the Devil because he's inside you).

Since the invention of spoken language, religions have oft been the greatest of evolutionary tools for social cohesion. They kept primitive groups of humans together as they competed for resources with other groups. The groups with the strongest socio-political-religious cohesion were the ones that survived, thus giving us a world today wherein religion is still a driving force behind so much of how we go about things. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it's a very good and inevitable thing. Religions provided a structured morality that helped us get through disasters, diseases, and wars left and right. However, as with all things human, it has been very easy for us to take a good tool and turn it into a horrific weapon. Other groups became not just competitors for resources, but enemies of one's local god. Sexual codes became cartoonishly exaggerated and oppressive by most religious groups across the span of history. All had the same purpose: keep the group together and hold everyone in it to the same standard. These are the things that quite effectively helped us survive and to a fair degree still help us survive today.

Recently, however, there has been a turn in developed societies. We don't need or use religion exactly the same way that we used to. Even the Dalai Lama, the head of a worldwide religious hierarchy, has stated on numerous occasions that his primary goal is not to promote Buddhism, but to promote humanist values. Yet he remains a staunch Buddhist. I think that this speaks volumes. We can all keep our respective beliefs and create value systems and governmental codes that enable us to live according to shared standards of ethics and morality without abandoning our beliefs about the gods, or forcing our gods down each others' throats. Yes, it is possible. (There's this one country that's actually done pretty well in this arena. You may have heard of it, it's called the United States of America).

However, the Western abandonment of religion as one of our main social binders has been both a blessing and a curse. It's been a blessing because of the unprecedented amount of inter-religious and intra-religious peace we see before us on a daily basis (oh sure, some whack jobs in the OC tried to stop a mosque from getting built, but no one bombed the Islamic Center of Orange County over it. Take a look at Egypt and we'll have to tell and very different and much sadder story). We've found a way to potentially live within this tension, a tension that is quite inevitable to the human condition. And never before has it been abided so well.

The Enlightenment brought us a new kind of humanism, a way of viewing the person as precious regardless of which god may or may not have created it. Unfortunately, alongside this philosophy came the radicalization of the individual. It became each man and woman for themselves. To this day post-Enlightenment philosophies are touted by individualists who've felt shackled by the social standards into which they were raised or thrust into as youths. For the modern West, it is inarguable that many universal religious codes become absurd upon second glance because they don't answer the question of just how exactly the gods deal with the complexities of the human experience. Is there no specificity to these supposedly omnipotent and omniscient beings? Questions like these challenge the absolute claims of religious doctrine. So many people abandon the group, encouraged by intellectuals or New Age spiritualists who greatly exaggerate the worth of their intelligence and individuality to think for themselves. (Does anyone really think for themselves? I wonder).

Strangely, even with the abandonment of archaic moral codes, the instincts that come so naturally to us all are still under attack, except now it's from a different front. One example I used earlier to represent some of the problems with religious absolutes is the type of religious code governing our sex lives. Sex is an instinct. Not only that, but apart from the instinct to eat, it's basically the most important one. Within the new paradigm (if it's new, that is) a different kind of instinct is being portrayed as a great evil: the instinct to congregate. Philosophers complain and lament the human sheep, the masses, seemingly oblivious to the fact that human beings have always lived and thrived in groups since before we started walking upright. The group survives, the individual dies. That's Nature.

But there's no such thing as an individual, really. Everyone exists only in relation to everyone else. And the ones who rebel against one group are merely, and probably unwittingly, conforming to another group. You see it all the time. Kids (like myself 15 years ago or so) become disgusted with the "norm" (which is an illusion of course, but we didn't know that at the time), so we start dressing differently and acting differently, fully confident in the fact that we are rebelling. But we're not rebelling, we're just joining a different rank and file of sheep. It didn't take me very long among the goth subculture to notice that it was just like every other subculture - it had standards, it had codes, it had expectations, and you were shunned if you didn't live up them. So much for nonconformity. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. It is simply reality. And the irony of ironies is that people like me who seemingly fit nowhere are merely just another necessary part of the equation. If the world were a giant statistic I would be the outlier, and that's as necessary a component to the greater whole as any other. This may sound like I'm trying to make myself out to be truly unique, like I actually am the individual the post-Enlightenment nimrods want us all to be. Quite the contrary. I'm just one of many more like me. History is replete with us, and we all say the same damn asinine thing, "Why am I so alone?" A more appropriate question would be the ironical, "Why are we so alone?" People like me are incredibly adept at convincing ourselves that we are alone, however preposterous the notion.

Can anyone ever truly be a nonconformist? Over the years, my closest friends and I formed a very cohesive group. We didn't dress the same, we didn't do the same things, we didn't even share the same passions necessarily. But we had one very important thing in common- we loved each other (and still do). And of course we hold our group to a standard and code. That standard and code is, "Don't try to force your standards or codes on me." If someone else were to come into our group who insisted on a certain way and was not open to the constant rotation of doing things one way and then another depending on whose house we're at, then that person who be shunned or would more likely want nothing to do with us. So in a sense, I did indeed find my group.

So what am I complaining about, you ask? Why then is there still this existential nagging for conformity? Why do I lament that there is a distinct absence of the monochromatic in my life? Well, my standard answer is that I've never been in love nor ever felt loved by a woman, so there is a rather poignant lack of intimacy and experience in my life, and that could definitely have led me to seek strong interpersonal connections elsewhere. (And God only knows how being in love or in a healthy relationship with a woman would or would not change my other social yearnings). I make no secret of the fact that part of why I'm so obsessed with my Russian heritage is that it's one of the only things that makes me feel grounded and linked-in with a group of people, intellectually, emotionally, genetically, physically, even spiritually. The first time I read Dostoyevsky's "Notes From The Underground," I was reading my own thoughts. When I listen to Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, I can hear my sorrow, my joy, my moments of calm, my moments of manic passion, and all frantically swinging back and forth from one to the other. In Russian culture I see something that reflects my self that I've never found in a church, or a subculture, or a theatre company, or even in my group of best friends. (And lest I should seem ungrateful - I've never loved anyone like I love those friends, and I truly owe my life to them. Nothing can be compared to what they've been to me and what they've been for me. I only mean to say that they cannot placate every woe in my heart, and nor is it their job to).

"Isn't that sad?" you may be thinking to yourself. "Shouldn't the love he experiences with his friends be enough to give him a true sense of community?" Well, maybe you're right. Perhaps I'm just damaged beyond repair and my studies in religion, philosophy, evolution, and anthropology have simply given me excuses to intellectually justify my brokenness.

From the time I was a child even, I never really felt quite human. My struggle to find some kind of a socio-cultural group to connect to has been a struggle to find my own humanity. Those people who try so hard to be enigmas confound me because I've tried so hard my whole life not to be one. Radical philosophical individualism is just irksome to me. It celebrates the individual in such a way as to inevitably, though perhaps unintentionally, promote isolationism, which is absurd and inhuman. No one is an island, so the saying goes. The fact that we are all individuals is blatantly obvious, no one need elaborate on it. If I cut my finger, no one else is likely going to feel it. If I have a thought that I don't vocalize, no one else is likely going to hear it. I am an individual and no one has ever been or ever will be exactly like me in every way. And yet I'm still just one face of the millions that came before me. Even the seemingly lone voices crying for sanity amongst the charging masses of polarized idiots are not really unique. Every war has its neutral parties. That's just my lot. And sometimes I mistake my place as an outlier for being irrelevant to the greater whole, because most people who can relate to more easily identifiable groups can quickly dismiss me. But that's exactly what makes me part of the cosmic play. By not fitting in, I fit in. By feeling inhuman, I experience humanity. By my very irrelevance, I am relevant.

In the end though, I know that this search for conformity is not going to be fulfilled, and I wouldn't really want it to be. That's the beautiful paradox. By my very nature I despise conformity as a rule. So the real key to my psychological well-being is to simply accept and even appreciate the tension as proof that I am indeed human, and never for a second fail to appreciate the people in my life who are crazy enough to love me. As for the rest of humankind, you work it out.





Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Little Boy With The Glass Heart

I would wax poetic and say that there's a little boy running around inside me waiting to burst free, but even as a metaphor that sounds a little awkward and fairly disturbing. However, the image itself does fairly accurately portray my regular state of being. My inner child doesn't have as many chances as he'd like to get out these days, and I'm trying to make sure he gets his fair share of attention, lest he should grow up (few things on this earth terrify me more than the idea of my inner child growing up). The trouble with having an inner child with so much innocence and excitement ready to explode at any given moment and take over my entire being is that, well, sometimes at any given moment he explodes and takes over my entire being.

The thing I've realized as I grow older is that, rather ironically, I'm looking for a playmate. You can build a sandcastle by yourself over and over again and it can be satisfying, it can be fun, it can be just dandy, but the waves will always come and wash it away. A playmate doesn't stop the waves, but a playmate helps you rebuild your castle quicker. And, if you're really lucky, the playmate will help you make the most of the ocean's phlegmatic destruction of your castle and start obnoxiously splashing water in your face till an imaginary and epic beach battle of Normandy-esque proportions breaks out!! (I apologize if any of you needed a dictionary for that last sentence. But I just learned myself that "phlegmatic" is a word and was dying for an excuse to use it. Having said that though, I'm still not going to define it for you).

This is not meant to discount the important values we learn as adults regarding our relationships with one another. We have to make sacrifices to keep people in our lives, we have to be responsible, we have to show up, we have to be strong when we may not feel so strong, and we have, above all, to be loyal. I'm not speaking about marriage, family, and eternity per se, but I am speaking of love. Love isn't always strong enough to make those things last. Sometimes it fades, sometimes it changes shape, sometimes it grows. It's a fickle thing, love is.

I've been officiating weddings for awhile now, and when I was writing the sermon to one of the more recent weddings, a profound and disturbing thought occurred to me: I'm a fraud. A complete and total phony. I've never been in love. So what right have I to get up there and talk about love? Who the hell does this clown think he is, anyway? Thing is, and please forgive me my vanity here, I'm really good at writing it. People have come up to me after each of the ceremonies and complimented me on how I took the unique personalities of the couple and blended them into a succinct sermon on the virtues of love and loyalty (and when they're religious ceremonies, how I also blended in relevant scriptures and beliefs without sounding preachy or boring). More often than not I'm complimented merely on the fact that I delivered a sincere wedding ceremony which took everything very seriously whilst managing to make them laugh at the same time. (Thank God none of them knew at the time that I don't have a clue what I'm talking about, eh?) 

My ceremonies and sermons come from pure faith. Faith that love is real. In the same way that I don't actually know that God exists, I certainly cannot say that I know love exists. I've just never had the privilege to experience it. (I've had relationships, but in the end I think people who've been in love know damn well that they've been in love. Those of us left questioning it - probably not). After officiating a few weddings though, I would've been been made a believer even if I hadn't been before (and I had been before. I can't deny that I'm a sickeningly bleeding-heart romantic to my core). At the second wedding I officiated I saw a look in a man's eye the like of which I'd never seen before in anyone's eye. Call it what you want, but at that moment I saw love, I saw life, I saw beauty, I saw purity, I saw God. But the most beautiful thing about it was that I saw God in the eyes of an atheist. Everything on his face told me that every ounce of him belonged to the woman standing before him. And I believed in him. And I believed in them. And I believed in love.

Doesn't say much for me, however. I can believe in love with extreme conviction, but that doesn't mean I believe it will come to me (Now, now, don't roll your eyes, I only mean that I prefer to make no assumptions as to whether it will or not). When I talk of a playmate I mean that both literally and figuratively. I like to climb trees, I like to walk silly, I like to make weird sounds, I like to hop up onto benches instead of walking on sidewalks. I do things adults are not supposed to do, and I need people in my life that are okay with that. But for a lover, she'd need to be more than okay with that. I'm not saying I expect her to jump into the trees with me, but I would at least like to look back on a smile when I do something excessively silly for no reason other than to amuse myself. But if I should want to dance in the street, or sing a silly song, or start reciting Shakespeare in the middle of Union Station, now that's where I'd like a little participation. It's not like I do these things at weddings or funerals, but walking down the street I'd like to think that deep down I have a little more abandon than your average and exceedingly boring "grown-up." I shudder at the thought. 

There is, of course, the rare occasion that I meet a woman who makes that little boy in me leap right out of my throat, punch the adult me in the face, and tell him to go sit in the corner. Sometimes I meet women like this who seem like they might just appreciate that little boy. Sometimes they start goofing off with him and he can barely contain his excitement. The trouble is, the real trouble is, that this boy has a glass heart. His heart is clear and absorbs the colors around it. Whatever is in his heart can be readily seen by anyone. And, worst of all, this heart breaks easily. So he'll hear the call of some silly woman who sounds like she just might want to play, he'll leap out, run full force, and then SMASH! Sorry kid, wrong playground.

I've tried to teach him to walk before he runs. But that's been an uphill battle. Overall I've never been a fella to let his passions run free. In part I have anxiety and timidity to thank for that one. But even so, because I am in fact an extremely passionate person, I have to hold back a lot of emotion, namely a lot of sadness and a hefty surplus of anger, a good amount of the time simply so that I don't make anyone around me experience the unpleasantness. So when my more positive and potentially productive passions do get sparked and that fire in me starts to burn, it is extraordinarily difficult to control it. I meet a woman who lights that fire and I just want to immediately share everything with her, from the philosophical thoughts in my head to the horrible puns I enjoy, the ridiculous gifts I like to hand make to the wining and dining including of course a ballet or symphony. (Ya know, stupid shit like that, bro). This has always caused me problems because that excitement is often quite unattractive to the fairer sex, and then the boy gets his heart cracked if not shattered. Conversely there have been a handful of occasions where my passions were sparked by the wrong person and by the time I realized it, I had someone who was very attached to me. And, God help me, If there's anything I hate more than getting my own feelings hurt, it's hurting someone else's feelings.

I try very hard to learn, but how do you teach your emotions anything? Emotions react how they're going to react to any given stimulus and there's just nothing you can do about it. It is your subsequent actions that you may be lucky enough to have some measure of control over. As for myself, because I'm prone to depression, it's never an easy thing to have those giddy boyish feelings sparked only to have to immediately pull the reins and hold them back. Children don't know patience. How many of us stayed up late into the night anticipating what we were going to get on Christmas morning? The adult in me usually knows when a situation is plausible and when it's not, when it's appropriate to act and when it's not, and if I'm thinking especially clearly, whether a female in question is actually a potential match or if she's simply another lovely person with a good sense of humor who sees me as just that and nothing more. Well, it's never an easy guessing game with them lady folk. Especially when you've got this pesky boy in you screaming, "Oooh! Ooh! Someone to play with!" right alongside a horny teenager shouting, "Finally, someone to get naked with it!" not to mention the adult saying, "I'll bet she'd make the hard days easier," and at last the grumpy old man sighing, "She'll still be beautiful when we're tired and gray."

Ah well. Good thing about having a glass heart is that if you know how to blow glass you can repair it fairly easily. But that doesn't make the cracks any easier or the breaks any smoother. And in case you're wondering to yourself why I wrote this, no I've not fallen for anyone, and no I've not been dating anyone. But I have met a few women fairly recently who have to a degree made that little boy in me jump like an idiot. Unfortunately the adult in me has had to hold him back, killjoy that he is, for now. Of course, by posting this I'm circumventing my own better judgment, because hey, somebody could see this who shouldn't. Not to mention the fact that bleeding hearts don't tend to attract strong intelligent women (the kind what make this heart bleed a little more profusely). But hey, one of the reasons I write this blog is for the very sake of confessing the intimacies of my idiocy. Remember, I am an idiot, after all. And right now, thanks to the fairer sex and my ridiculous reactions to them, this idiot is indeed full of sound and fury.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Right Where I Belong

Look, don't lump me in with you people by posting memes, erecting billboards, nailing up posters, and handing out pamphlets that say "We are the 99%." What is this "we" shit, anyway? I don't know who this "we" is of whom you speak, but please stop trying to make me a part of it.

Even if I were to lose it all and become a homeless beggar, I'd wander to Hollywood and take up residence with my shopping cart full of faux-fur coats, my guitar, trumpet, and accordion, my pet spider Selene (even when you're homeless, it's easy enough to find free food for a tarantula), and of course my top hat and cane. I'd wear my Imperial crest and all the other hobos would know me only as "The Tsar," that weird guy who makes indiscernible prophecies about the inevitable fate of peoples' left shoes or their children's second favorite toys in broken English, Russian, French, Latin, and Hebrew. Yes, even then I would know I was too high-born to be associated with this rabble that calls itself the "99%."

I've also far too guilty a conscience to take part in this "1%" rubbish as well. If I were to become super rich I'd undoubtedly give most of it away to charities, minus the funds it would take to maintain my collection of faux-fur coats, my instruments, my pet arachnids, and of course my top hat and cane. So, as I'm neither the 99 nor the 1, I guess that makes me the 0. And as the 0 card in the Tarot deck is The Fool, I'd say that puts me right where I belong. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

O Man

Don't let my scraggly beard and penetrating Russian gaze fool you. I am in no way a manly man. I have the emotional range of the average female and the sensitivity of a child. I'm nonconfrontational and have always had to use brains before brawn to get out of sticky situations. Yet for some extraordinarily bizarre reason, the simple task (well within the range of a trained monkey) of changing out the headlight on my truck and afterward looking down upon greasy and blackened hands somehow gives me a delusional sense of masculine accomplishment.

Luckily the second it was done I started pondering the absurdity of my fickle human mind as I scrubbed furiously with dishwasher soap to get the black off my skin and out from under my finger nails, and life went back to normal. Perhaps I'll never be able to fully comprehend the bizarre things that set off my normally withdrawn testosterone, but the mystery of such silly behavior is just one of those things that makes human existence tolerable.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Idiodyssey

I am an idiot.

Now, now, I know what you're thinking. Well, actually I'm sure the responses vary from, "Never!" to "Yeah... yeah, ya are." So when I say, "I know what you're thinking," what I really mean to say is, "I don't have a clue what you're thinking." Why do I call myself an idiot? Well, the first and most obvious response to that question is because I am one. No, no, it's true. I admittedly have a long and sad history of self-loathing, but the above statement regarding my own idiocy is in no way motivated by the aforementioned self-loathing. In fact, over the last couple of years I've come to see myself as a rather good friend. I wouldn't go so far as to say I love myself, I'm just not ready to make such a committment, but I'm getting along with me okay these days. The point is, however, that the objective fact of the matter is that I am an idiot, and this life is my Idiodyssey.

Now, I know most people see the term "idiot" and think of it as a derogatory term for someone of low intelligence. Not so, dear reader! You see, the older I get the more and more I begin to understand that there's nothing so great about intelligence. Let me rephrase - there's nothing so great about intelligence for its own sake. True, it often annoys me that most people I see or hear in the media or even in real life possess what seem to be at best the IQs of very smart gorillas, but on the other hand I haven't seen much recent evidence to warrant idolizing the average intellectual either. In fact, most intellectuals, or rather those who see themselves as intellectuals, are actually just arrogant pricks with college degrees, which in my mind accounts for very little. (Yes, I too have a college degree. But I am, as you now know, an idiot. So clearly that piece of paper doesn't mean all that much).

One thing you learn in college, if you actually pay attention, is that academia is full of people who like to use pretty words to make themselves sound smart, while in actuality they are simply wasting thousands of letters on something that could likely have been said in a few hundred. Some things need to be expressed in great detail, there's no denying that, and when relevant data is compiled it is often a great challenge for the scholar to boil that information down to something that can be made into a succinct argument for a particular point of view, and it is an admirable task. However, a thought-provoking argument, and a Bible-length diatribe of redundancy and stylish repetition, are two very different things. In a way, this is a tool by which intellectuals can pat themselves on the back and assure themselves of their position on another level far removed from the average person.

Now, I'll agree, not all people were created equal. Some people are very intelligent. Some people are remarkably stupid. Most people are somewhere in between. But what really matters in my book is not how smart someone is, but how kind they are or at least how kind they try to be. It's always been a gut-feeling of mine that if someone is an asshole, then they're probably not nearly as smart as their IQ tests might lead one to initially believe. You may be able to recite Moby Dick from memory, but are you polite to waiters and clerks? You may be able to list every stage of human development from Australopithecus africanus to Homo sapiens sapiens, but do you say "thank you" when it's appreciated but not necessary? Those things may be worlds apart in your mind and you'd be right. They have not one thing to do with one another. But that is precisely my point. So what if you're intelligent? You can read a few books an argue a case, congratulations. Social intelligence is much more important to me than whether you're a high school dropout or a PhD.

Now, enter the idiot. I am not socially intelligent. In fact, I'm a social retard (and I use that word quite seriously). My social anxiety and extreme insecurities have often left me completely stiff and silent like a statue in the presence of people with whom I would otherwise like to converse. I like being sociable, and people who've worked with me and become friends with me know that I'm usually very easy to get along with, weird and awkwardly unfunny as I can be. But if I'm under one of my spells of anxiety, I'm not likely to do anything other than sit or stand there with a sour expression on my face. (My mother has told me numerous times, and there is photographic and video evidence to this effect, that the default expression of my face is a grumpy one and has been since I was able to make facial expressions denoting something other than hunger or a smelly diaper. In other words, I've been a curmudgeon since infancy). I've always wanted to be able to walk up to strangers and ask them sincere questions. Whenever I see a Sikh, I want to greet her or him with "Waheguru ji ka khalsa," the formal greeting of the faith, simply to let them know that not all gringos in America are ignorant xenophobes. Sometimes I'll see a woman whose beauty hits me like a punch in the chest from God, and without any thought of consequence or romantic inclination I simply want to tell her so. But I've not been able to bring myself to do any of these things without some kind of dramatic external initiator. So, owing to anxiety and my history of low self-esteem, I often come off as anti-social or rude when really I'm just fighting an internal war with my own anxieties. I bring this up merely to point out that some people, like me, don't intend to be rude but sometimes come off that way. So I suspend judgment as a general rule and attempt to treat each person on a case-by-case basis. Doing so, however, still leads one to the inevitable conclusion that some people are just jerks.

As one can quickly learn on websites like Facebook and OKCupid, a fair percentage of the people who seem to have pretty good intellects also tend to be more intolerant, and thus intolerable, than people who have simpler ways of viewing the world. The L.A. goth scene, to give you a shining example, is full of some of the most brilliant minds I've ever witnessed in one single subculture, and thus it is also party to some of the most elitist crybabies I've ever had the displeasure to meet. It's fair to the extent that when you have the ability to not only question established wisdom, but then re-question it, and then even question the question itself, and so on until the complexities of life have splayed themselves before you like a sun gone supernova, you may have a harder time enjoying life, and this makes it harder to be pleasant all the time (and studies have shown that people with higher IQs tend to suffer from more depression and higher drug-usage than others).

Well, no one can be pleasant all the time. Even Jesus was pretty curt with his friends on occasion, and he's generally regarded as one of the nicer fellas in history. But when one has taken up the task of presenting oneself as honestly and charismatically as possible so that potential mates (via dating sites) or "friends" (via networking sites) may become intrigued and still one has no hesitation in presenting oneself as a bitchy, arrogant, self-stylized intellectual with a bone to pick with God and Nature for endowing the human race with various levels of intelligence, most of which you believe to be beneath your own... well, it just makes me a little sad for humankind.

Here's the kicker though. Here's the gut-wrenchingly painful truth of it all. Inasmuch as a human born with a low IQ cannot in actuality do much to improve it, a human born with the personality of a jackass also cannot do much to improve it. Even if one is adopted and raised by a family of geniuses, if one's chromosomes come from a family of nimrods, one is more than likely going to grow up a nimrod. Geneticists are finding that both personality and IQ are basically inherited traits and that we are either blessed or cursed from conception by the genes of our parents. So why am I sitting here bemoaning the lack of nice people in this world the way an intellectual bemoans the lack of smart people in this world? Well, didn't I tell you I was an idiot?

In Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the character Slatibarfast tells the protagonist Arthur Dent that he'd much rather be happy than right any day (of course, he tells him afterwards, he is neither). It's a sentiment I think a lot of can relate to. In the movie "Harvey" based on the Mary Chase play of the same name, Elwood P. Dowd explains that, "Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood...you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." And I certainly have quoted him. And I will again, and again, and perhaps once more over again, because even when I was the angry teenager who simply played the cab driver in his high school's adaptation of the play, that speech touched me in a way that few other things had at that age. Of course, my misery still rules me a good deal of the time, but I see no reason to try to bring down people who are happier than me simply because I resent the fact that they are happier than me. I was cursed by chromosomes that have destined me to fight depression perhaps all my life. But, as much as I may not be able to change my chromosomes, I can at least take a fair amount of my actions into my own hands and try my best to avoid taking my misery out on others (unless neuroscientist and famously outspoken atheist Sam Harris is correct and even my decision to attempt bettering myself is not actually a decision but merely one step in an infinite and inevitable chain or web of cause and effect. See: determinism).

Make no mistake. My self-proclaimed idiocy is not a case of "ignorance is bliss." Ignorance is certainly not bliss to people like myself who are cursed with the overwhelming desire to keep in the know even if we're more miserable for it. After all, ignorance is what makes conversation dull. Ignorance is what leads to teen, and heaven forbid preteen, pregnancies. So no, I'm not talking about ignorance. What I'm talking about is idiocy. What I'm talking about is pure, unadulterated, and stubborn foolhardiness. What I'm talking about is knowing better and doing it anyway. That, my friends, is true idiocy!

What would the world be without idiocy? What would the world be without the souls who were willing to play the fool for the sake of beauty? The first and only authentic relationship I've shared with a woman was quite simply a bad idea from the git-go. I started dating a woman who was recently separated, had even yet to file her divorce papers, who had a 4-year old son, and who liked going to clubs and drinking, neither of which I did at all. What an idiot. Yet here I am, years after the fact looking back on it and shaking my head at what a nincompoop I had been but not for one second regretting it. And to a fair degree, I sometimes wish that the present me had the gumption to perhaps make another stupid move like that. Later I might look back on the next stupid move with even less regret! But it's not just bold moves and fleeting romantic fancies that lead me to laud idiocy, for even intelligent people understand that risks must be taken to obtain that which we desire, however calculated some of those risks may be to the intellectual (and the more common pseudo-intellectual). No, those bold and foolhardy moves alone wouldn't be true idiocy to the fullest extent either.

My foolhardiness extends across this whole plane of reality and out into the realm of the gods. Literally. After having studied religion in one way or another for around two-thirds of my life, I've come to the intellectual conclusion that there is no correct religion, philosophy, or system of belief at all. However, there are no incorrect ones either. Such a conclusion is borderline cliche for a middle class American of European ancestry born and raised in a blue state near a major metropolitan area in the late 20th century. I'm truly an idiot of my time. However, there must, in my idiotic opinion, be an Absolute in existence, or perhaps existence itself is the Absolute (like the Hindus' sat-chit-ananda), but humans will never be able to comprehend it. They will not comprehend it through philosophical discourse, they will not comprehend it through religious revelation, and they will certainly not comprehend it through scientific empiricism. Even the greatest of mystics who have experienced that great ineffability that Eliade called mysterium tremendum et fascinans almost inevitably and invariably frame their experiences within the confines of the established worldview into which they were raised or came to belong i.e. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. Either way, whatever this thing may be, which I call "God," is beyond the comprehension of the intellect, and therefore is certainly not something worthy of intellectual debate. Don't get me wrong, God is most certainly worth all the time and energy with which He's graced me, but trying to intellectually, logically, or rationally convince a nonbeliever that "God" exists is about as useful as trying to convince a plant that I exist (the plant knows in a sense that I exist because I sustain it by giving it water, but it is of course incapable of consciously comprehending anything of the kind). All of this arguing, fighting, and proselytizing between belief systems and individuals just gives me a frightful headache and leads me to the conclusion that humans must truly be the most horrifically bored animals on Earth.

Nevertheless, despite what I might mistakenly call the knowledge that the Absolute is certainly not the "God of my ancestors," so to speak, the God of the Tanakh, the New Testament, the Qur'an, the Vedas, or the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, I myself yet choose to relate to God as if He (or She, or It) did indeed fall into one of those caricatures we humans have created for Him (or She, or It, or... you get the point). Why? Why, you ask, would I do something so silly? Isn't it better to be open-minded and allow God to be all possibilities, you ask? Doesn't that free your mind? Actually, I reply, yes. Yes, it does. Too much, as a matter of fact. You see, I'm a person who needs definition. I crave boundaries, because without them I go a little crazy (you can probably tell this from the excessive amount of time I've clearly spent pondering the nature of God). Without definitions, without boundaries, I feel ungrounded and quite frankly unsafe. It is with my own sanity, morality, and functionality in mind that I restrict myself in certain ways. You see, it is perfectly sound for me to intellectualize God as the great impersonal, unknowable Absolute. But when I feel the urge to emotionally connect with something greater than myself, a something that gives me a sense of safety in an infinitely unsafe world... well, a great impersonal Absolute is pretty useless. It's like writing in a diary as opposed to talking to a friend of flesh and blood. Both the diary and the friend have their respective places, but if my only companion was a pen and paper, I think I should truly go mad. And I'm rather quite mad enough as it is. Now, of course there are those who can take comfort in the idea of an impersonal Absolute such as the Dao, the Logos, or Brahman, and to an extent I do as well. But the point remains that regardless of whether one personalizes the Absolute or not, to theorize about it at all requires a certain degree of faith, so it's not at its core all that different from the childish needs of an emotional cripple like myself.

I need a God with a face. The face of God that I grew up with was the face Jesus, so it is only natural that that very same face is the one to bring me the most comfort now. And being that I wasn't raised with wrist-slapping nuns, misogynistic communes, or ideologically oppressive parents, I was left with good feelings toward religion. Do I think that all the doctrine and dogma of one or more of the various forms of Christianity across the globe contain the fullness of truth? Of course not. (And I'm certainly not about to enter into the fray and join asinine inter-denominational arguments such as how many fingers one should use whilst making the sign of the cross. God spare me. In my imagination such arguments over minute details of Church policy or even larger ones regarding officially sanctioned theology make Jesus perform the most cosmic of "face-palms," or "head-desks," as it were). Yet I take comfort in the music, the rituals, the art, and, well, the sheer beauty of many of the forms of worship. They give me something that nothing and no one else can. And if I ever have children, I'd like to give them a framework in which to be raised without of course regimenting their beliefs as such. I don't want my children growing up thinking anyone is a bloody heathen. But an organized religion (that great and wicked taboo in the minds of so many Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment individualists) is a wonderful tool to help provide some kind of a framework with which to work, if one is careful not to idolize the faith instead of the God with whom it is attempting to connect us.

But why? Why would I chose to take part in such silliness? Religious organizations who bicker and moan and criticize each other to the point of ridicule, isn't it all just so archaic and idiotic? Indeed it is. And it's no secret that I've always been sickened by the in-figthing and hypocrisy so common amongst the various sects of any given faith. Fortunately though, I'm an idiot, and I can endure a lot of things that a man who thinks himself wise cannot. Whatever the IQ of my intellect, the IQ of my heart is that of a child, and although my brain will keep a close watch for signs of danger to myself or those I love, my heart is going to go dreamily where it will and I'm perfectly content with that. The Fool steps willingly and willfully off of the cliff, regardless of what may be beneath him. It's not that he doesn't know there's danger. It's just that he has the faith it takes to roll those dice. 

So there you are. It takes a true idiot to be such an unapologetic hypocrite as myself. It's one of the great things about being an idiot. And then there are the famous idiots. There's Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot," and the idiot who tells Shakespeare's tale "full of sound and fury" for which this blog is named. This is not really a good reason to be proud of being an idiot of course, it's just one way I justify to myself that being an idiot is somehow rooted in greatness, however aware I am that the very idea is completely absurd. But lastly, and perhaps more importantly, knowing that I am an idiot is my equalizer. It brings down the self-acclaimed giants to my level, and it throttles me against the rocks if I start getting too cocky. Every time I get to feeling too high and mighty because of how barbaric my fellow humans behave, I remember that circumstance and chromosomes were heavily involved in what has led me to be who I am, and that I often hypocritically make exceptions to my own rules when I feel the urge to do something stupid and refuse to be thwarted.

But, as I said before, quite often some of those remarkably stupid things I've done inevitably created memories which I look back on with a sigh of contentment, even if a subtle hint of shame lingers. I wouldn't change that for the world. Well, I might, but that all depends on which world we're talking about here. I don't break my rules for just anyone. And lest there should reamin a shadow of doubt in anyone's mind about just how big of an idiot I am, think on this: I posted this publicly. Anyone can read it. I confess things that could lead friends to lose respect and enemies to gain weapons. But that's what I do. That's the life and work of an idiot. That is The Idiodyssey.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Idiots

Nearest as I can tell, some idiot conservative from some other state said something idiotic, some idiot liberal from an entirely different state decided to use that to bolster his campaign by stereotyping all conservatives as idiots, some idiot celebrity is screwing some other idiot celebrity behind yet another idiot celebrity's back, and the rest of us are using e-cards to express our idiotic opinions. I myself, idiot that I am, have chosen to take the time to express my own idiocy by wasting letters on this post before I go back to enjoying my day off by reading a book about centuries-dead idiots in a far off land who are far more interesting to me than the idiots who currently waste the Earth's oxygen.

Glad to know life in America continues on much as our forebears dreamed.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm Not Bi-Polar, I'm Russian

Recently, I had a bizarrely spiritual experience while I was having a conversation with the kind of person with whom I positively dread having a conversation. That is to say, a female. Actually, I don't dread talking to them at all, I'm just not very good at it. Actually, allow me to specify even a bit further. I'm not good at it when said female is neither a close friend, relative, or lesbian (I do just fine when they fall into one of those three categories). The spiritual experience of which I speak occurred when one voice in my head was busy scrambling to find a way out of the hole I'd just dug for myself within the conversation, while another voice was trying its best to dig that hole deeper and deeper until I could make out the glow of Hell's gates. (And being that I quit smoking just over two months ago, my social awkwardness has been reaching for new heights as I adjust to living day by day without the one thing left that calmed my nerves). Anyway, at one point in the conversation a mysterious third, far more sensible, voice entered into the fray and said, "St. Michael, Archangel, I beseech you, throweth down thy mighty sword of flame, picketh up a rather large baseball bat, and striketh me in the face with it, please! Anything to stop me from talking!" Of course Michael didn't come, and I was left alone to deal with the mess of a conversation I'd made. (Okay, so it wasn't actually a spiritual experience, and none of the voices in my head resembled anything but my own inner monologue, which is fairly relieving, but c'mon, I wouldn't expect you to read this if I didn't at least try to make it interesting). I'm surely making this out to be far worse than it probably seemed on the other end of the conversation. But nevertheless, the worse I think it is, the milder any subsequent reactions will seem to me. A deceptive but handy defense mechanism if there ever was one!

Some people have the audacity to wonder why I have social anxiety. They think that being a performer means I'm somehow courageous. What they don't understand is that a large crowd of people is no threat to me, my ego, or my heart. Crowds of people are just one gigantic impersonal consciousness to me. An individual female, on the other hand, is a real person (as much as I sometimes try unsuccessfully to be like some other men and conveniently forget this fact). But back to the social anxiety. In truth, thoughts like the above prayer to St. Michael are a symptom and not a cause of social anxiety. Of the three greatest internal challenges I've faced in my life, severe anxiety was the one to hit me at the youngest age, sometime around seven or eight years old. It didn't become refined into the splendidly acute social anxiety I now have until around eleven or twelve. My two other constant companions, depression and mood swings, hit me of course at puberty. Except unlike many other lucky teens, adulthood did not dispel the little bastards, and I've been living with all three for around fifteen years now. However, I'm mainly writing this today not to talk about anxiety or depression, but about the roller coaster ride that is being a swinger (and not the kind who attends key parties).

Whereas it's no secret that I'm a mood swinger, I've done my best over the last few months avoid swinging in obnoxiously public ways. It's taken me a lot of growing up to admit that sometimes I just need to shut the hell up and that I will feel much better for it. I am, after all, myself rather tired of seeing people on sites such as Facebook update their status every two hours with a new mood from any of a million points within the vast range of the emotional spectrum. It can seem rather manic at times. I was once, not all that long ago, regularly guilty of this myself. And very few of my friends had the courtesy to tell me that I was being so horrendously self-defeating in my behavior. It's not, of course, that people are any moodier than they once were. It's just that the only evidence we have of the moods of our predecessors is in written documents passed down through history, and correspondence took a lot longer before the internet cursed the West and then the rest of the world with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Actually, we don't have any more disorders than we used to either, we just have more names for them and quicker means by which to judge them. And I'm not, thank God, bi-polar. I don't need prescription medication, I'm seldom so depressed that I can't function, and I don't generally take my moods out on innocent bystanders. But I am prone to quick changes in the wind without always knowing the cause. After a lot of soul-searching, I at last stumbled onto something that seems to help explain why I'm like this. It's been quite literally staring at me from the mirror my whole life and I just didn't see it! In fact, while I was driving across the country last month, with nothing but my iPod and my thoughts to keep me company, I came up with a new phrase to describe my regular state of being, my condition, as it were. This is my new catch-phrase. My slogan, if you will:

"I'm not bi-polar, I'm Russian."

Now, of course there are several problems with this phrase, chief amongst them being that any woman potentially interested in me who reads my published words could be rather turned off and taken aback by the blatant honesty regarding my moods and their fairly pendulum-like behavior. Men in the West are expected to be a little more stable than I'm making myself out to be. Well, remember, in the first place, I'm generally not one to take my moods out on others. In the second place, I'm an artist, so I always end up living fairly inside out even when I try to conceal my feelings. And in the third place, one mustn't be too concered about the impressions that others get from internet, print, or other similar forms of media. We are, after all, a culture of perfectly self-obsessed individuals, and the internet has only made us more arrogant by providing a forum in which we've given ourselves the delusional glory of faux-celebrity. So, to Hell with the opinions of the masses. And really, any woman who doesn't appreciate honesty and the ironical humor with which I deliver it would never be able to tolerate a genuine relationship with me anyway. Besides, I'm not using a blog like this, full of pseudo-philosophical ramblings, to try to meet women. It's not my best side (although it's certainly one of my personal favorites).

Another problem with the above statement is that it may be seen to stereotype the Russian people as over-dramatic, moody, and downright unstable. Well, that's not my fault. Thank Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky for that. The juxtapositions in the psyches of the former's characters and the wildly manic but beautiful music of that latter speak volumes about just what it means to be Russian. Russians have lived for a thousand years in this bizarre, almost static, tension between misery and glory. I've lived there my whole life, but it was not until I really started delving into my cultural heritage that I understood it on such a profound level. (I'm also English, which could theoretically explain my love of subtlety and etiquette in interpersonal communications. Let us be faire and pretty and lovely and dignified and upright and even somewhat slightly pompous, shall we? Even if none of those things are true). But knowing just how very Russian I am at my core has given me great relief. In much the same way that religion often provides for people certain explanations and answers, my cultural heritage does a fair amount of that service for me. Knowing that I'm Russian helps me to feel, even if this isn't so, that my whole existence is not at its core just one cruel and ironic joke of the gods.

"But Daniel!" You're thinking to yourself, "If you're so bloody miserable all the time, why don't you do something about it!" Well, first of all, good job on your use of the word "bloody." I thought I was the only American who said that! Secondly, the sweetest and most ironically beautiful thing of all is that after years and years of fighting my moods and times of depression, doing everything in my power to stabilize myself, I learned that the thing which gives me the most stability is to stop trying to force myself into stability. Allowing moods to come and go as they please without struggle gives them less power. I'd like to personally thank the Stoics and Daoists for that bit of wisdom. But in reality, it doesn't matter a lick how much I read or hear from the Stoics and Daoists- learning to let my control go was a lesson that only Father Time, fickle jackass that he is, could teach me. And he did teach me, at last.

But I've only just learned this. I'm still going through withdrawals, so to speak, during which I see or hear people doing or saying things that enrage me and make me want to put my fist through their empty heads or at the very least through a wall. I know now that the best thing to do is sit back, let the rage hit me, absorb me, release me, and avoid as best as I can expressing it to anyone who rightfully should be on the receiving end of my righteous indignity (or unrighteous indignity, for that matter). Their reactions to my reactions will only increase my stress level. In the past I would engage in the futile act of debate, which would often escalate into verbal or written feuds full of personal attacks. Futile. Now I've come to realize that I ought just let people be as they are, even if they are exceedingly stupid. After all, nothing would please me more than for everyone else to leave me and my beliefs the hell alone, however naive I may be at times. My urge to engage in pointless circular arguments with people on a regular basis is now usually followed up with yet another new voice in my head, "Let it go. They're not going to change, and you don't need to die young of a heart attack." I still want to shake my fists at the masses, slap some sense into them, and speak my mind every minute of the day. I've had myself in such a twist for so many years that it almost feels unnatural to remain silent about anything. You can tell this by the fact that I'm writing and publishing an essay about it. Ah, but I relish the irony. Remember, I'm Russian, I can live relatively comfortably with different parts of my personality completely at odds with one another.

But I'm tired of being so tightly wound that I feel like a wire on a suspension bridge. I'm literally tired. Exhausted. All my life I've been waiting to exhale. Admittedly, at some points in my life I'd sought external means to force this to happen via substances, exercises, or practices. None of them worked in the long run of course because, number one, I'm an addict by nature so anything I introduce into my system, be it chemical, behavioral, or emotional, which gives me temporary relief will eventually become an addiction and thus an even greater problem if I'm not extremely careful. Number two, none of those things actually change the core problem - that I am in a state of tension with my environment and within myself. The paradoxical solution was to stop being in so much tension with my own tension (In hindsight, one of the most irritatingly obvious things I've ever come to realize). Now, of course it'll take me years to integrate this revelation fully, but I came to it on my own which means it should theoretically have some lasting effect on me. I've at last, for the first time in my life, had this vague sensation of a natural release, of exhaling, and, addict that I am, I'm looking forward to more. (Although, I am Russian of course, so I wouldn't want things to get too relaxed, now).