Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Brain Trust #13: Cutting the Crap (i.e., Stop Listening to your Mind)...

So I know I'm a day late (and a dollar short, as my dad would have said) on this one. Well, really, two weeks and a day late, if you want to get technical, but I thought I'd post something anyway, even if it ends up being short. Okay, so you who have read these in the past probably know "short" is rarely in my repertoire, but we'll see how it goes...

First of all though, I wanted to mention I'm going to go a bit more sporadic on these posts (and possibly the Tales from Seertown ones) for the next few months...in fact, probably until next year, to be totally honest. The reality is, I'm going to be traveling a ton starting in October, and from now until December I really need to focus on the fiction writing and publishing.

That being said, I'm considering consolidating and publishing the Tales from Seertown (and earlier India and pre-India posts) into something reasonably coherent and readable in the next few months too, just picking out the highlights and more interesting bits and leaving aside the parts that I'm assuming are a lot less interesting for a myriad of reasons. I might do something similar with The Brain Trust, too, but it likely wouldn't be called that (more a collection of essays), and maybe throwing in some of the ones I did for other venues (like the "War and Fantasy" post, the ones on character creation and world-building, etc.).

So, yeah.

That's where I'm at with that, at least at the moment.

And here is what I've been thinking about for the past week or so, and just haven't gotten around to writing much on until now...

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At some point in life, I'm pretty sure you have to cut the crap with yourself.

I could be wrong about this. I mean, no one puts a gun to your head.

No one says, "Grow up, damn it!" and stands there and makes sure you do it...much less ensures that you do it on schedule, whatever that means. In fact, really, you can make a lot of decisions about whether or not you grow up...including choosing the people with whom you surround yourself, and who you tend to go to for advice or validation or input of whatever kind.

I should clarify right here that by "grow up," I don't mean it in the way that cynical, angry people often mean in, meaning "get a job at a corporation" or "buy and house" and "take any amount of shit from your boss" and whatever other "conform! conform! conform!" messages some people like to shout out and proclaim they are representatives of "reality" and "welcome to real life." Usually their "real life" sucks, so I'm not in any way advocating that you believe that your own life needs to be that grim. It doesn't. It really doesn't. Personally, I think a fair number of people make those decisions somewhat mindlessly, in the sense that they often do it mostly because it's what everyone around them is doing, and all of us want to belong, fit in, etc. I think as a species, we generally tend to do what other people are doing unless we aren't able to for some reason, or life somehow compels us not to (or sometimes, some nagging voice in the back of our heads compels us not to, depending on the person and the kind of nagging voices you carry around with you).

The problem is, a lot of people don't listen to their little voices, and feel cheated when they "play by the rules" and do what they're told and it doesn't work out for them. They want everyone else to conform too, because they really want to believe that they had no choice but to do what they did, that it was the only option available to them. So if someone succeeds by going their own way and listening to those voices that tell them "don't buy the million dollar McMansion in suburbia on the paycheck of the job you hate...move to Guam and open a hair salon instead." Worse still is when those same people who listened to those voices succeed in this supposedly crazy thing of the hair salon in Guam...it's like a slap to the face to those other people who might have preferred Guam to their three hour commute, the sadistic boss and the mind-numbingly dull job that they can't quit because they're underwater on the million dollar home they barely even see. I find it somewhat sad that there is a certain percentage of people who feel totally incapable of pursuing their own happiness in a real way and who are far more comfortable striving to make everyone else as miserable as they are, instead.

So yeah, I don't consider that to be "growing up." Not anymore, anyway.

That being said, I imagine your life probably gets a lot easier and less-complicated when and if you finally drop the crap and start being truly honest with yourself. By that, I mean when you start facing your emotional and mental decisions square-on, and not just going through the motions with them out of habit, which again, I think is the norm for most of us, on most days anyway.

I say "I imagine," by the way, because I'm not all that convinced I've come close to accomplishing this myself. But I am starting to notice more, how often I go into "habit" mode with my emotional reactions to things. I think maybe i'm noticing this more right now because as of recently, and for the first time in a very long time, I'm in a relationship again, after (ahem) a number of years' hiatus, where I didn't even date really, apart from the occasional fiasco that I won't detail here. Maybe the gap gave me more perspective on how I've handled certain scenarios in the past...a gap that allows me to pause a little maybe, before I actually voice whatever nonsense whips through my head in a knee-jerk reaction based on stuff I probably should have outgrown a decade ago. Or maybe I've changed in other aspects of my emotional life. Dare I say it, perhaps I've even grown up a bit in those other areas somewhat, so I notice those darker spots where my mind is still steeped in some form of high school politics, power games and manipulations of whatever kind to get the answers and reactions I want from other people.

Let me be clear...most of this is unconscious, at least when it arises. I have an insecurity twinge of some kind, and instead of figuring out what my deal is, I externalize it in some way, and look for some means of "fixing" it from the outside world...in this case, my partner, or perhaps a friend. In my case, I find I am having to remind myself, sometimes with an internal eye-roll, that I can make a different choice here. That I don't have to let that first emotional reaction go hog-wild, or indulge it to the point where I have a lot more trouble pulling it back, or even seeing why it might be a good reason to do so. That gap is long enough to remember, a lot of the time anyway, that all of this is my problem...not my partner's, and not anyone else's. It wasn't created by the outside world. It's not a result of my getting older and less attractive, or the fact that younger women wear fewer and fewer clothes all the time, or the fact that other people just don't understand me, or whatever else.

It's me. It's my mind. It's only my mind. Really.

I don't always believe that, until I remind myself that I had the same reactions when I was 22 as I am now that I'm 42. The truth is, there has never been and will never be a time where I'm not surrounded by women who are prettier than I am, with better figures, more interesting things to say, better hair, more fascinating lives, more money, more class, or simply women who are different in ways I feel I can't compete, if my partner happened to prefer that difference over (what has always seemed to me, anyway) a far less exotic and interesting me.

So yeah, the body maybe changed, and the face, and the hair...but the mind is still running on the same hamster wheel, which tells me that my problem wouldn't be solved by turning the clock back fifteen or twenty years, or maybe working out six hours a day to better fit the cultural norms for beauty.

Am I saying that age makes no difference in attractiveness, according to the culture? No, of course not. There are cultural standards of beauty, sure, and youth is a big part of that. But when I was young, it was that my legs weren't long enough, my breasts weren't big enough or whatever else. My point is more...there's always something. You can't protect yourself from the people who will judge you based on superficial criteria. You just can't. You also can't prevent someone from doing what they're going to do, if they're already predisposed to doing it...whether it's cheat, stare at other women, fantasize, or whatever else. It's just the way of things that we are all endowed with free will, our near-constant attempts to control one another and/or pretend control over our environment to protect ourselves notwithstanding.

Luckily, I'm at a point now where I can see most of this. I still get this odd urge to smack my head against hard surfaces when I come face to face with the fact of how much we are judged by these superficial things, and how it generally hurts people in 90% of cases, whether they are seemingly benefiting from these cultural standards or being scorned by them. Even when I got a lot of attention for my looks, which I have for relatively short, discrete periods in my life, they never once gave me what I wanted...which was an intimate relationship with someone who saw me for myself, and cared about me past those superficial markers. I don't believe that men who will "only date" bastions of beauty usually get what they are looking for, either...at least not from what I've observed. They are often shocked and dismayed when those same women that they bought solely for their looks happily take them to the cleaners, or leave them for the younger, more muscled version. I think when you're trying to play for keeps with status as your criteria for success, your're probably going to be disappointed pretty much every time.

So yeah, I know all of this. Still, there is a strong urge to go there in my mind at times, which brings me back to the point of this little rant, which is that you really just have to, at times (if not often!) just not go there. You have to see where that whiny, or angry, or despondent, or entitled, or vengeful, or manipulative voice in your head wants to go, and just say no. I think it's really that simple as that, in a lot of cases. There often isn't anything to look at there, anything enlightening or educational to learn from that voice. It's usually a track you've walked more times than you'd be willing to count, and you know exactly what it wants, and exactly where it is likely to go. You know, for example, that it wants your partner to say or do something that will magically "fix" you, at least for the next hour or so, and then it will demand that person or thing to "fix" you again. And again. And again.

Because the thing is, those wants are really bottomless, because they're looking for something that the outside world simply can't give you...a stronger version of yourself that doesn't care what the status hierarchy or its self-appointed police tell you you're worth. It has a sense of worth or at least self-knowledge that knows how meaningless it is, having those institutions or individuals approve of you, because it says nothing about what kind of person you are...and it certainly gives you no real love. It gives you a quick fix, like a shot  of tequila or a line of coke...it doesn't actually tell you anything about yourself that will help you.

The problem is, after awhile, the liquid courage thing gets old.

So yeah, that's my thought for this week. It's basically about cutting the crap when I know I'm indulging one of these pulls for that quick fix. It's about admitting that any problem I have is a product of my mind, not of my environment, not of the people around me, not of my parents, not of the mass media, not of the men who judge me because of my looks, not of the women who seem to enjoy the (very temporary) social power they are currently enjoying from their looks...not of the people who get jealous of and angry at me because I stand higher on that b.s. pyramid than they do.

We're all in the same pickle, really. We create these statuses to convince ourselves we're not, or that the basic human condition can be escaped, side-stepped or avoided entirely, but we really are all in the same place, more or less, and want the same basic things. Sure, some of us seem to be getting a lot more of those things than others, and some of us are surely happier and better fed and in more physical comfort than others, but I would be willing to bet it doesn't tie to the status pyramid or any of the so-called "grown up" markers of success as much as the media and a lot of people would have us believe.

But for me, it really comes down to honesty with myself. If I'm throwing a mental temper tantrum because I don't look like Angelina Jolie, or because some part of me wants to play at being sad to get more attention from the outside world, I just need to roll my eyes, notice it, and move on. At some point, you just have to stop catering to your own neuroses.

At some point, you just have to stop being your mind's bitch.