Listening For Our Voice

When thinking of our personal growth, it is important to realize that no one ever really changes who they are. At best, we simply learn to mitigate our extremes and soften the rougher edges. If anything, as we age and learn more about ourselves, by concentrating on healing and living a life that is right for us, we can become more who we are. Self discovery, not self improvement, should be the ultimate goal; for with it, the improvements come all by themselves.

My late teens and early twenties were particularly difficult for me in terms of identity and social anxiety. At that age there is a strong internal drive to declare definitively to the world: “I am here! This is who I am!” But at the same time, we are not yet sure who we are. We have been living an identity that has mostly been constructed for us by others: stuck with all the labels and perceptions of the people who have known us for our whole lives. In getting out in the world, we make new friends, who form their own notions of who we are, and this often clashes with the notions of folks who have known us longer. Often the people themselves then clash, leaving us stuck in the middle of conflicts that also represent an internal conflict of personal identity.

It is tempting to embrace these new people’s version of you, because they are usually responding to what you consciously presented as a new identity. At this stage of life it is useful and fun to try on different personas; to experiment with your identity. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it is important to remember that none of this is really, truly who you are. Your inner core, your true being, is still buried, trapped in all the layers of culture, upbringing, social convention, and trauma that you carry within you like sedimentary layers.

You will find people and groups that feel so right, so you, and then, suddenly it will all turn to shit as you realize everything was an illusion; that you were all play-acting a fantasy together. Don’t take this personally, it is all part of the process.

Then there’s the closeted gay boys at your new job who befriend you with creepy intensity before behaving like a clingy, fifteen-year-old girlfriend and getting in our face with vague condemnations like: “you aren’t being a good friend because I feel like you’re holding things back from me, even though I can’t say what things those are.” (It’s cock.) But we internalize this and search for those deficiencies in ourselves.

Oh, wait, that last bit’s not a universal experience? Sorry. However, you will be meeting people who get ignorant because they want to fuck you, don’t have the courage to come out and say it, disguise their needs and hopes as friendship, and then start blaming you for not reading their mind and making their dreams come true.

This is all relevant because as we age, we hopefully learn that the perceptions of others need not be our truth. People will develop notions of you based on your utility to them, and will more often than not resist any change in your behavior that doesn’t reinforce their own choices. Even when these notions are positive, they can be problematic for our personal growth. They may be flattering, certainly, but to build our identity out of them is an inherently dangerous enterprise. We then are stuck seeking out more and more validation from others and can get sucked into traps like consumerism, religion, and the false community of shared drug taking.

This all amplifies the noise that interferes with hearing the voice of our true selves, deep within us. There are times in our lives, especially when we are young, where it is of vital importance to unplug. Take a break from everything and everyone that has become normal to you and do your best to isolate yourself for a while. And when that anxiety takes over that makes you want to rush out to a club or put on a dumb movie or post pictures of yourself to social media so you can track the reactions for six hours, fight through it. You are anxious because you are leaving your comfort zone, and it is fighting through that anxiety that can take you to a place where you can start filling some of those holes within yourself.

There can be very real consequences to not taking this time to examine ourselves.

In my case, I spent most of my twenties in a kind of emotionally catatonic fugue state. I just drifted, relying on a defense of humor, cynicism, and, at the extreme, explosive rage to keep people at bay. And in this state I did a lot of ignorant, hurtful shit.

I’m sorry for it.

The lesson is that I am not the coping strategies I adopted to manage life. I am not my rage. I am not what was done to me. I am not the music I like, the games I played, the cigarettes I smoked, or the booze I tried to kill myself with. Who I am has been altered by all these things, for how could I not have been? But I am not these things.

As I discard these crutches and identities I can shed the layers of sediment and, more and more all the time, become closer to myself.

That is the gift of aging and of (sometimes) taking our time doing it.

Viral

Just twenty years have totally changed the implication of the sentence:

“My anus went viral.”

Which implication is worse, the old or the new, is hard to say. I suppose it depends on what virus your asshole has sprouted, in the one case, and whether you’re some kind of anal exhibiting sex professional in the other.

Now, a combination of the two would just be the worst. Like: “I caught a terrible ass virus, and some asshole doctor (in both senses) tweeted a picture of it, which went viral. #fml”

Tis a funny old world, isn’t it?

Guilt Free Diamonds At Last!

We here at Congo Genocide Diamond Company know that it is important for you to pretend that ethics and morality matter, so we are proud to announce that we are now selling Blood Free Diamonds.™

Our Blood Free Diamonds™ are guaranteed conflict free and are available in most shops right next to our fine assortment of regularly priced diamonds: because we know that you are just that fucking stupid that you will pay a premium for the illusion that you are someone who does the right thing.

In related news, our subsidiary, Genocidal Chic, will soon be offering a stunning line of African-toddler-leather furniture. Of course, for those customers who do not wish to be on the cutting edge of fashion, we will also be offering the same line in the less premium calfskin package.

Congo Genocide Diamond Company cares. And we listen. Because how could we continue to blow smoke up your ass in exactly the way you want if we didn’t?

Reading List

I normally shy away from recommendations, since I feel I have no right to tell anyone what to do with themselves, even to the extent of how to entertain and/or enrich themselves. But since I’m generally so liberal with my notions of what sucks, I thought I should expend a little more effort in rendering my notions of what doesn’t.

For this exposition, I’m limiting myself to books. If you haven’t figured out that these are the best form of entertainment, then there’s no helping you. Be on your way, and have fun arguing with each other about the best kind of telephone or video game console. If you keep at it, ya’ll are sure to find the best arrangement for all those deck chairs!

This is by no means an exhaustive list either; it’s simply those works that have profoundly entertained and enlightened me.

Keep in mind too, that I read very slowly. I can’t bundle words, and have a hard time recognizing words by sight, so I have to read read things word by word. (I also spell very badly.) If I had gone to school just a little later, I no doubt would have been pegged with some learning disability or another. As it was, I think they just took my learning difficulties and profound boredom as mild retardation and left me to my own devices; so I have to say it all worked out rather well for me anyways.

The byproduct of my slow reading is that I have not read as widely as I should have. But, on the plus side, what I do read, I retain. I have time to think about what I’m reading, as I read it, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, as to my recommendations:

For light reading, you really can’t go wrong with Terry Pratchett. Any Diskworld novel is fine, in whatever order, but anything with his name on it is sound stuff.

His collaboration with Neil Gaiman in Good Omens is a must read.

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, is as well.

Anything and everything by Douglas Adams. Reading all of his works are not an option for native speakers of the English language. Required.

I would love to recommend Tolkien on this list, since The Lord of the Rings did blast open my mind at a very impressionable age, but I have never been able to reread it. It’s an immersive world that shaped me, no doubt, but it’s also not a very well told story. Lots of walking. And elvish poetry. Then more walking.

When I was about eight years old, my grandfather read my sister and me Watership Down, by Richard Adams. It may have fucked us up, sure, but it also changed me in so many other good ways. This is one I have to return to every few years. In fact, I think I’m just about due for giving it another read.

Charles Dickens is always well worth picking up, if you have a month or two to really dig in, but if you were to limit yourself to David Copperfield, I would call you well sorted. If you haven’t read David Copperfield, then I would say you have done yourself a profound disservice.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Not light. Not easy. But this work changed how I think about the world. Not what I think; how I think.

If we’re going “not light or easy” but that which fucked my mind into an exciting new shape, dig into Socrates, if you can. This shit aint easy, and I required plenty of guided interpretation with it, but when I got there with it, it changed my life.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. Don’t expect cohesion or any kind of sense and just hold on for dear life. Oh dear lord, is it ever worth it, though.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. If you have even half a heart, this one will fuck your shit up. You can sense it coming too, laid down in such a deceptively simple way. The prose is stark and unpretentious; accessible even. Yet the whole time you feel this tectonic weight moving underneath it, and when it delivers it is crushing. Just brilliant.

To get back into slightly lighter fare, Ian M. Banks is an all time great for me. Either Player of Games or Use of Weapons are a good place to start. Dynamite stuff.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This may be the one and only time this work has been included on a list with Naked Lunch, but so the fuck what? I can’t enjoy a charming, post-Victorian tale of a precocious orphan girl who charms her way into a quaint Canadian village’s life? This shit is funny too, in a way that has been lost to us. G rated, kids book, as vanilla as Disney, but funny, funny stuff. And she’s a lesbian, so that’s a bit hot.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. An extremely entertaining mystery that is composed with breathtaking proficiency and skill. If you want to talk about the craft of writing, you can’t get any better than this.

Back to some pulpy fun: The Stand by Stephen King. Goddamn, this is a fun book. And if you’re in the United States these days, you’re basically living it!

There are plenty more I’m forgetting, no doubt, but this is a pretty good start. If I feel up to it, I’ll add more to this list, and may do a list of my favorite movies and TV.

Turd Tornado

This morning, in her truncated press scolding, Sarah Huckabee Sanders read the following statement:

“I can assure the American people that, fake news to the contrary, there are no velociraptors roaming free within the halls of the White House or the Capitol.

“I might add, that even if there were such dinosaurs roaming free and consuming members of government at their leisure, this in no way should be regarded as anything but a failure of the Democrats.”

Following this, the White House Press Secretary exited the briefing room with more than her usual haste and could be overheard muttering something about how, “it’s always the wrong ones that done get et.”