Vignette No. 162

At the mirror, looking into his own eyes, he sees the glossiness that precedes an overflow of tears. “What have I done to be punished so harshly?”, he wonders softly to himself. “I’ve been convicted of no crime, provided no sentence, but apparently I’ve received the maximum penalty of the law!” – he speaks aloud in a frustrated tone. “What law even is this!? What justice is served?!” – he speaks even louder, angrier.

“For justice to be justice, a man must consent to the laws that bind him. I’ve made no agreement with this world nor its arbiter. Therefore, I reject any and all imposed fines! To hell with this world!” – he proclaims furiously.

Now quieter, almost a whisper, he says: “It may have my body, but it shan’t have my spirit. Nay, such a cruel world does not deserve an unrelenting opportunity to mock me. I am in this world, but I will not be party to its malevolence.”

As a declaration to existence itself, he continues at full volume: “In every scene and circumstance you present me, I shall laugh. No tear will ever drip from mine eyes, for I shall never invest myself in your nefarious narratives. You may have this body, doing with it what you will – but I, its consciousness will simply serve as witness to your wicked ways. For if justice truly exists in this universe, judgement awaits you.”

A knock on the bathroom door, followed by the words: “Rich! It’s breakfast, what are you doing in there? Who are you talking to? The sausages are getting cold!” He replies: “Sausages!? The good ones? I’m on my way!”

Sleep To Dream

I don’t sleep well. I’ve never slept well. Although, when I was younger I remember being able to sleep for 5 hours straight and oftentimes going back to sleep for a couple more hours. That 5 hours was a hard limit that was timed pretty perfectly. Nowadays it’s more like 2 or 3 hours until I wake up. Getting back to sleep is very hit or miss and mostly miss. Oftentimes I remain in a sleepy state that isn’t really sleep.

I tried various sleep aids and remedies of course, but nothing fixed the problem. I finally resorted to supplementing with caffeine during the day – which has helped the most. Oh, but what about naps during the day you say!? Well, I actually have plenty of opportunity to nap during the day… BUT, I can’t nap. It’s forbidden apparently. If I attempt to nap, something ALWAYS wakes me up very soon after I drift off.

For example, I can sit in a room in which no one enters EXCEPT when I fall asleep. I briefly fell asleep in the afternoon the other day but the power randomly blipped on and off (which rarely happens) and people came looking for me. I was woken up, and that was the end of that. If I fall asleep, some external circumstance tends to wake me up. And if it doesn’t, I just wake up after a few minutes with a burst of energy. So no, I can’t nap.

I wonder if it’s some sort of “Harrison Bergeron” style handicap (the short-story by Kurt Vonnegut, 1961)? Being in a perpetual state of low-energy induced by a lack-of-sleep certainly has a suppressing effect. It seems strange how well-enforced it is: time-limits, disturbances, and a no-nap policy. The strangest part is the well-coordinated external interruptions. I used to live in a place where I regularly woke up to the sound of an old howling cat. I thought that was the problem, but even after I moved I just woke up anyway.

Why doesn’t this world want me well-rested? I don’t enjoy being in a drowsy state. I suppose it’s just one of the many types of limitations placed on people, like low self-esteem or imposter syndrome. Life can’t just be easy apparently.

Floundering Finish

Think of it this way: life isn’t supposed to be a straight line. The screw-ups are part of the path. If you’ve ever sat on the bowl with the sun beaming in, a brownie slithering out while you catch a whiff and retch from the stench – you know life isn’t a serious place. It’s a joke and your mortal frame is the punchline. Making it from point A to B isn’t the point – point B doesn’t matter, it’s simply an excuse for the slapstick in-between.

Think of what Captain Picard said to Data: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.” In other words, failure is part of the deal. Why? If you’ve ever seen any movie or TV show, you’d see flawed characters stumbling through life, fools attempting tasks beyond their reach. Yet from time to time these goofballs actually achieve something – an absurdity that proves humorous. Off-kilter narratives are the threads with which existence is woven together.

Like those characters on screen, your life is a not-so-serious narrative in which a dummy wanders amongst other dummies, all attempting absurd activities in which nothing of note is accomplished. It’s a joke: laugh. To witness life pass by and never smile is a heinous act. It’d be a setup that goes unappreciated. Silence lingering long after the punchline is delivered, just waiting for your laugh – but you sit stone-faced, unmoved by the attempt.

But that’s not how it should be, you should be grinning and giggling the entire time, ready to roll on the floor in complete appreciation of the ongoing hilarity. Remember: getting from one point to another doesn’t matter – it’s the laughter along the way that counts. Who cares how the movie ends, when it’s over it’s over – you should be focusing on the gags in the current scene, those are the parts that incite delight. In other words: keep your attention on the flick in front of you, stop wandering around the lobby, cease thinking about other things. And keep this in mind: the most entertaining adventures are those in which the protagonist flounders to the finish.

Introductory Statement

An excerpt from the fictional tales of An Alien on Earth:

People of Earth, my planet has for a long time watched your continued development. Please do not interpret this clandestine monitoring as nefarious, but merely as intense curiosity. As you might watch a bird in its natural habitat, we watched without want of disturbing your ways. By our communication, we realize your attention will turn to us.

Why now do we break our silence and seek your attention? Why does anyone travel to exotic locales and interact with the locals? It is simply an interesting facet of existence. And as there is no perfect time for one people to introduce themselves to another, this time seems as good as any. Those of our planet value an ever broadening path into the wider universe.

Obviously in terms of interplanetary travel, our technology is more advanced than your own. But as a people, I think you will find us relatable. I also believe that many among you would be interested in learning about our world. Of course we’ve studied your world from afar but we would like to engage in a more interactive approach.

We recognize the risks involved with such proximity and we accept them. Again, as we are sufficiently advanced and far reaching, we expect nothing of you – simply the wonders of interaction with an alien species. We are not a warlike people – we do not crave domination, but exploration. Nor do we seek to influence your world – uniqueness is what makes traveling to different lands so fascinating.

People of Earth, we come in peace – in the spirit of friendship and goodwill. Let us therefore celebrate together as inhabitants of a shared universe. Let us rejoice in an exchange of culture and begin a dialogue that will expand our perspectives, feed our fascination, and increase our joy. We welcome you to travel upon our ships and to experience our world as well. With great admiration and affection we offer you fellowship and we look forward to our new interactive discourse.

Bragging Rights

To me, it feels like I’m on a reality gameshow in which I’m thrown into an unreasonable situation and must persist to the end despite the constant challenges. But what’s the prize? It’s certainly not the process itself right? As I find this game difficult to appreciate. And like those gameshows, I feel like any structure I create will only get torn-down by the producers when I leave. Therefore, I don’t have a desire to invest my time into anything significant – I’m fine with a temporary structure that simply gets me through the day.

I stay close to my small structure. I do little projects to stave off boredom. I talk to myself, trying to find the motivation to make it one more day. I wrestle with whatever challenge comes up that day. I celebrate minor victories, lament the losses. And like all other contestants, for whatever reason, I feel like I have to see this through – quitting isn’t an option. If it was, I’d have quit many times by now. Where’s my radio!? “Hey guys!? Yeah I’m done. Get me outta here!”

To me, there’s nothing in-game that provides a sense of satisfaction. It’s like a bootcamp where you’re relentlessly drilled and pushed until you break – a torture-chamber making you scream “I can’t take anymore! Please stop!” But apparently I can take more, and I do, running up the obstacle course again and again – day after day. “Please, may I have another!” Sicko. I might just be a masochist, using pain as a means to feel alive.

I used to lift heavy weights as a hobby, I know what it’s like to consciously push myself to failure. Who’s to say I don’t do it unconsciously too? Is this some other-worldly training facility? But am I any stronger because of it? Is my spirit actually improving? Is my soul some buff dude flexing amongst his peers? Or am I merely a pitiful weakling in this world, barely scraping by?

Or perhaps I’ll be sitting at a bar with other-worldly pals one day, bragging about the time I spent on Earth. Their eyes looking on in astonishment as I retell the hardships I experienced as an Earthbound being. “Believe me boys, it was rough stuff, the kinda thing that puts you into a higher tier of toughness. Why the things I did and the things I saw would melt your socks off.” They’ll be buying my drinks for eons to come. “Another round for Rich! The toughest S.O.B. in here!”

Corporeal Lament

I’ve watched captivating movies, lost myself in enthralling shows, and journeyed alongside characters in great books. While engaged with these stories, I’m undistracted and enjoy myself. In other words, I’m an effective audience member. But when I leave these stories and return to my own story of everyday life, I’m often distracted and frequently fail to enjoy myself. What gives!?

Obviously it’s because my story SUCKS. And it’s true, I don’t like it. If I had to devise a dumber plot or a more unlikable character I’m not sure that I could. As I implied earlier, good storylines are effortless to consume, but bad narratives are boring and a chore to get through. I know good stories exist, I’ve seen them, yet my life is not one of them – why?

Nothing short of a bonafide Christmas Miracle would make the preceding years balance out. Maybe aliens introducing advanced technology such as teleportation, perfect health, mechanized avatars, and recreational virtual worlds. Well whatever it is, there needs to be a deus-ex-machina alteration to this narrative for it to become a worthwhile story.

Am I unappreciative of the miracle of life? YES, it needs to be interesting and engaging or else who cares. Ooh look at me walk around. How fun. Ooh trees! Neato. Ooh all those stars in the sky! So bright! I don’t care. Physical pain, the awkwardness of personal interactions, digestion difficulties, sleep and energy issues, the tediousness of transportation, finding purpose — who needs that crap!? If this world is simply a lesson to teach me that bodies are terrible things to have, then mission accomplished.

Ennui On We

It’s my belief that greatest threat to humanity is ennui. In other words, existential boredom. In an attempt to alleviate this boredom, mankind invents all sorts of problems to contend with. In my life for instance, I’ve been trying to balance intensity and stillness. There’s either too much or too little — things are too serious or too frivolous. Like Goldilocks, I’m ever searching for “just right”. For most of life I’m either scared or bored.

Even after a few decades, I’m STILL trying to get it right. I’m trying to find low-intensity forms of entertainment, things that don’t rely on fear, frustration, anger, sadness, etc. to stimulate and hold my attention. I tried computer programming for example, but found it much too frustrating. I’m also trying to quit the classic game of “worrying about money” — I really think I’m getting close on that one. On the other end, I’m trying to get into woodworking as a hobby, but it takes effort to keep from getting bored. I tried playing a musical instrument for instance, but there just wasn’t enough excitement to sustain it.

Whereas I’ll light up like a Christmas tree when I hear some monkey-business going on. I’m trying to quit that though. Like junk-food, it leaves me with too much of a tummy-ache nowadays and I want no part of it. Maybe my tastes are maturing… or perhaps I’ve been beaten into submission, not sure. I was so good at pessimism and criticism, and they kept me endlessly entertained. Now optimism and appreciation are the arts I’m trying to master — I feel like such an amateur though. It’s so easy to tear something apart and so foreign to build it up.

Well dear diary, that’s where I’m at right now: mid-life and finally trying to put an end to my immature approach to existence. I’m attempting to go from scared and bored to appreciative and enthusiastically engrossed. The greatest hardship I’ve ever faced is reconciling with life, just trying to get a grasp on what’s going on here — and on top of that, finding the right balance of engagement. Some day soon I hope to taste that perfectly warmed porridge and sleep in that comfortable bed.

English Class

It was the early 90s and Mr. Haviland seemed straight out of a different era. While many of us wore baseball caps with t-shirts and jeans, this guy had an actual suit on — with posture and diction to match. He’d often refer to us as Mister or Miss so-and-so — always proper and always polite. Although he wasn’t physically intimidating, his demeanor demanded respect.

A teacher from a bygone age acting his part. We students acted our part too, a listless bunch that didn’t care. We weren’t unique in our disposition of course, we simply expressed it in a manner appropriate to the times we were in. Skateboards, metal-bands, and ridiculing “try-hards” (people that actually cared and tried to do well). Think Beavis and Butt-Head.

While Mr. Haviland proceeded on his anachronistic course, we proceeded on ours — a civil exchange nonetheless. At this point, you’re probably waiting to hear a poignant anecdote. Unfortunately, I don’t have one. I’m not a storyteller. I mention all this simply to remember an interesting character I once knew. I’ve always been in awe at how well he performed his role.

He seemed to enjoy who he was and never varied, a polished professional. I was a freshman when he was my teacher but our paths last crossed in study-hall when he was the teacher-in-charge — taking attendance and doing whatever teachers did (grading papers I’d assume). I never saw him after that. I heard he retired not too many years later, having worked there for a few decades.

In life, there are those that relish their well-defined roles and there are those that avoid being pinned-down by labels. But are those living as nonconformists simply acting out the role of “contrarian” in their wholesale rejection of the status quo? Instead of some “square” that sold his soul to the system, perhaps Mr. Haviland was the most Zen-like of us all.

Mechanical Man

Is man mechanical? A mechanical man is subject to defects, wear & tear, environmental conditions, and requires regular maintenance. Is it true though? Fortunately, it’s false. The mechanical-man myth is just another story we tell ourselves to inflict fear through the concept of solidity. By believing ourselves mechanical, we can worry ourselves into an exhilarating tizzy. But really, it’s just another form of masochism.

“Oh no, I’m getting older and the environment is so harsh! Things don’t run as well as they used to! I better perform regular maintenance or my body will never last!” The obvious falseness lies in the fact that not everyone adheres to the mechanical-man theory — yet miraculously, they live long full lives. Mechanical-man believers simply chalk it up to “good genetics” or “luck”, but they’re full of crap.

I know all about the mechanical-man theory because I used to be a believer. My body existed on borrowed time, it was decaying since the day I was born, the sun damaged my skin any chance it could while toxins snuck in from impurities in my food and water. Everything was poisonous! And germs! Don’t forget about the germs that lied in wait until my immune system entered into a weakened state.

But all of my vigilance was for naught. It was delusion, a fantasy of mechanization. To think that my meager efforts at maintenance were actually effective is laughable. I would pick and choose which parts required service and perform strange rituals of repair in hopes that they’d be beneficial.

And these rituals-of-repair regularly change with the fashion of the day. I had to eat a certain way, exert effort in a certain way, and deflect illness in a certain way — but every few years the current methods become out-dated and new methods take their place. Even location matters, as different regions practice different regimens.

As you can see, the mechanical-man myth effectively puts perfection out of reach. And if you do manage to fix one problem, there’s sure to be another following along. What a clever game to keep our attention so captivated by an endless stream of preventative-maintenance and repair. “Another ache! I’m so concerned! What could it be!? I better take action!”

Personally, I’ve chosen not to participate in that game anymore. There are better ways to entertain myself. And would you believe it? I’m still alive! My cunning and vigilance weren’t really keeping me safe. I’m not mechanical after-all! And without the threat of constant mechanical failure, I’m no longer plagued by worry and I’m much happier.

Xmas Msg

To me, the true meaning of Christmas is a lighthearted celebration of life. During a time of darkness and confusion, I believe Jesus came down to Earth to brighten things up. He turned water into wine, hung out with whoever, argued with austere authorities, and healed those in need. From the heavens, God saw the pain and misery that man put himself through and sent His only begotten son as a means to lighten the mood.

But of course man rejected Jesus’s message and sent his ass home the hard way. Jesus himself complained of man’s hardened heart and man’s inability to understand the message of peace and joy. But thankfully, God doesn’t give up so easily and we’re reminded of this message every year with a lighted tree pointing towards the heavens, encircled by gifts below — because that’s what life is, a gift from God.

It’s no coincidence that Santa looks like a fictionalized representation of God in heaven, an old man sitting atop a throne listening to Christmas wishes and fulfilling them with the help of his angelic elves and flying sleigh. Every year God provides a new opportunity for us to accept the simple premise that life is an experience that should evoke enjoyment in the living.

The world was never intended to be dark and dreary, only man’s negativity makes it so. Therefore, the true Christmas Miracle begins within, it comes from the acceptance and adoption of merriment wherever we go. With a “Merry Christmas!” and a “Happy Holidays!” we remind ourselves and each other that life is a party in which we’re all invited guests. And as guests, it is our sacred duty to participate and enjoy the festivities.