Law of Attraction

“You can do or be anything you want so long as you want it enough and work hard enough.”

This is a nice thought. Unfortunately, it is total bullshit. Quadriplegics do not get to be firefighters. Stupid people do not get to be brain surgeons. These are facts of life.

You may be thinking, “duh, that goes without saying.” But, does it? People are constantly saying that we can do anything if we just want it enough. However, this assumes a shit-tonne of privilege and opportunity that most people on this Earth simply don’t have. People who chuck that kind of platitude about are spitting in the face of the unfortunate many in order to motivate the privileged few.

“Kids, you can do anything you want. Except Billy here with the Cystic Fibrosis. Fuck you, Billy!”

I have a real problem with this kind of thinking when dipshit zooms start telling us that we are the source of all the misfortune in our life. Whatever they call their little spin on the philosophy, “Law of Attraction,” “karma,” or whatnot, it all boils down to the same thing. If there’s bad shit in our life, we brought it on ourselves. That this is often true for most people doesn’t make it any less fucked up when you try to universalize the principle into some kind of metaphysical phenomenon.

Sorry, lady, I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but did you know that you attracted the drunk driver that crushed your spine and paralyzed you? Yeah! You did! With all of your negative thoughts and energy! It’s true. Oh, what’s that, child sex slave? I know it seems like you really got fucked over through no fault of your own. But when you were born in a sex-tourism country to a gambling addict father who sold you to a pimp at the age of four, that all happened because of you. You attracted all of that. Come on! Apply some principles of positive thinking and you’ll be running your own nail salon in no time! Of course this conversely means that I attracted all my health, wealth, and privilege just because I’m so awesome. Come to my seminar to learn more! Don’t forget to buy my book or the daily calendar of inspirational wisdom! If you’re really, really lucky I’ll even deign to pump a load of my semen into your ass!

All the people starving to death around the world simply don’t want food quite enough. They aren’t visualizing it correctly.

This is not to say that these kinds of ideas can’t be helpful in achieving what we want. The only things we can control in this world are our own thoughts and behavior. So it is very useful, when the shit hits the fan, to analyze things and ask ourselves what we did wrong to make that happen. Don’t blame others or your circumstances, focus your energy on figuring out how you can avoid that kind of problem in the future. On how you could have handled it better. That’s a good way to be. But it doesn’t take a book or a seminar to figure that out. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling those.

I’m not saying there’s causation in my next point, but I’m sure there’s some correlation:

Has is struck anyone as interesting that the craze around “The Secret” really peaked just a couple of years before the whole mortgage crises that tanked the economy? We had all these idiots buying into a program that told them all they had to do was think about being rich in the right way, and riches would come. And lo and behold! Who comes knocking at the door but a sub-prime mortgage salesman! You too can own a $500,000 house with zero down! What could possibly go wrong?

Whoops.

There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to achieve a PHD in history. To this end, I entered the Honors BA program with a full steam ahead attitude and worked like a bitch. Unfortunately, the program required a full course load, I kept working 30 hours a week so as to avoid crippling myself with debt, and the 1,000 pages of assigned reading a week was completely impossible with my piss-poor reading speed.

The honors program at my university was specifically designed as prep for those students who will move on to a masters degree. That’s why it’s so tough: to weed out those who can’t hack it. I knew that going in. And I wanted to do well more than I had wanted anything before. And I visualized the end result even as I focused on the work. And what I achieved, instead of success, was a mental collapse requiring a total scholastic reboot that got me a basic BA in six years.

I failed. And I was fucking gutted when I did.

I relate this not in an attempt to gain sympathy (“Oh, poor white boy couldn’t be a history professor. What a tragedy!”), but to illustrate a point.

It wasn’t for me. And not because of some expression of preference on my part. That life I envisioned for myself was not for me to have. It did not matter how badly I wanted it; it was impossible given my circumstances. To put it another way: I had my head up my ass thinking I could achieve that dream. The reading requirements alone made it impossible.

Now I know I could have white knuckled into a “never give up! Never Surrender!” attitude. Quit my job to rack up dept. Jump through the hoops required to label whatever learning disability I slipped through the cracks on getting identified with in elementary school. Taken that “disability” to do my part to devalue the degree I was not giving up on.

I could have done all that. But I’m so glad I didn’t.

Now that the age of 40 is in the rearview, I can look around at friends and acquaintances who did not give up on that very same dream. Some of them only just finishing their PHD. Others are grinding it out as sessional teachers, grading mountains of shitty papers, for a lot less money than people with a good trade. Now I realize: that life really wasn’t for me, in terms of preference. I don’t want it, and I wouldn’t be happy if I had achieved it. I thank my lucky stars for that early failure in my life.

This brings me back around to a concept that so many people fuck themselves up with:

Destiny.

I don’t remember where I picked my notions about this concept, but they aren’t original. Wherever it was, it has served me well.

Destiny is not your most fervent adolescent wishes come true. Neither is it something that happens to you regardless of what you do. Analyze the word: “destiny” relates to “destination.” There is nothing in the concept of “destination” that promises you will arrive there. You can fuck it up.

I regard one’s destiny as their ideal path through life, given their circumstances. Everyone is dealt a hand, and you can only control how you play it. As with a destination, if you take a wrong turn, or choose an impossible one to begin with, you aren’t going to get there. But that does not have to mean the end of the world.

Do you know the difference between lucky and unlucky people? Unlucky people get in a car accident and declare how unlucky they were. Lucky people get in a car accident and declare how lucky they were that no one was killed. It’s a perception. The “positive attraction” shills do have one thing right: positive thinking is critical in life, for both happiness and success.

By focusing on the positive, whenever possible, we can condition our mind to notice opportunities. We can generate results and create new situations for ourselves. That is not to say we should be mindlessly positive about everything that crosses our path. (“Why, yes, I would like that free Book of Mormon! Come on in!”) A positive attitude and a regular self evaluation of how we ourselves create many of the troubles in our lives is very good sense. With those things we can achieve a lot.

But we will not achieve the impossible. And very few people in this world are destined to be very successful. And why is that? Because very few people are equipped with the necessary tools and opportunities to reach that destination. Thems the breaks.

So, youngsters, you can scream that certain results must happen because you want it so bad until you’re blue in the face. That only goes so far. If you think that argument carries any weight in the real world, then I’m happy to tell you that your parents and education system have failed you dismally.

In the car that is your life, wanting something is just the ignition switch. You have to figure out the rest of it as you go. Have fun and try not to crash!

(And try not to be a douchebag to those you manage to pass by.)

Ikea Ball Pit

Like so many, when I was a kid I really, really loved the ball room at Ikea. It was a special, magical world; so tactile, lurid, and fuckin fun!

I believe I was four years old the last time I went into one. It was a formative experience for me.

Now, the time before my last was special too. It was during this visit that I finally worked up the courage to go face-first down the slide into the ball pit. I’d been watching other kids do it for a while and really wanted to myself. But I lacked the guts. It was not until the very end of this visit, with my dad hollering at me from the parents’ area to, “come on!” that I finally did it.

I went down head-first into all those marvelous plastic balls and it was everything I had dreamed. Then my dad poked his head through into the ball room to yell at me directly and I really had to go.

I became completely obsessed about getting back to that ball pit to do the slide again. I could not stop thinking about it, and would not stop pestering my father to take me back. After about a week of this, he obliged me.

Everything about that visit is etched so clearly in my memory. Rushing in the entrance. Seeing all those balls through the play room window. The glorious slide standing so majestic above it all. Me struggling to take my shoes off as quickly as possible. And, finally, climbing to the top of that slide, getting down on my belly, and going face-first down into the beautiful colors.

All exactly like I had been imagining.

Except, it wasn’t just like I had imagined. These balls were wet. All wet. And the wetness is on my hands. And face, And some is in my mouth. It was at this point that I realized the wetness was piss. Some kid had pissed in the ball pit at Ikea, and not just a little bit.

And I had just slid face first into it.

Joy turned into claustrophobic, disgusted horror inside of a second. I remember my visceral reaction so well: the rage that something so pure and so fun should be ruined so completely by someone else’s ignorance.

But I realize now that I was looking at it all wrong back then. This experience was really a chance to get a head start on understanding how our world is. I should have been thankful! Thank you so much, fellow humans! Thank you for preparing me so well for life, in such a succinct, easily understood physical metaphor.

Oh boy, little me! I bet you can’t wait to go to school! It’s going to be so much fun! (Face first slide down into a pit of piss.)

Hey, a girl actually likes me! I get to have a girlfriend now! (Face first slide down into a pit of piss.)

At last, I’m going to university, where I can interact with intelligent and motivated people and be judged for the quality of my ideas instead of people’s fucked up preconceptions! (Face first slide down into a pit of piss.)

Hey, I’m getting engaged!

…well, you know the drill.

 

Dislocated

I’ve never fit.

I never had a sense that I was going to be anything other than wasted potential in the eyes of anyone that matters in this world. That I would ever have a chance to become anything. That there would ever be a place for me.

It was always made abundantly clear to me that I will never belong anywhere.

This is why I prefer living in Asia. Already an other here, I can be more myself.

Here there are clear ethnic, cultural, and linguistic reasons for my lack of belonging. Here my dislocation from everything around me can be camouflaged in practicalities, and I feel altogether less alien than I do in my parent culture. It’s not any less lonely, but it is a lot less alienating. Since belonging isn’t an option, I don’t have to worry about why I don’t.

Not a fix for everyone, sure, but it works for me. And am I supposed to be selling road maps here?