Between Paranoia and Perception

Between Paranoia and Perception

Say what you wanna say, any time of day, 
but don’t justify my truths and I,
It’s time for me to change, time for hope 
to bleed, time for love to sacrifice

– Stabilo, Beautiful Madness

A big part of anxiety – a big part of my anxiety, at least – is distrusting other people.  I have trouble believing people’s motivations and intentions are good and true, I have trouble taking the things they say at face value.  When people are nice to me I assume it’s either because they pity me or because they want something.  Probably not the best mentality to have in life, but there you go.

I’m sure part of this inherent distrust for others is a result of the fact that I have trouble trusting even myself: once I realised what I was capable of, it was only a matter of time before I came to the conclusion that everyone else was also capable of such thoughts, acts, feelings.  I know all the dark little motivations people have because I have them myself.  There’s also the matter of my low self-esteem to consider.  When you don’t even like yourself it’s hard to imagine anyone else liking you.  Compliments, companionship, acts of kindness are all met with bitter suspicion – not only do they fall on deaf ears, but they leave me wondering if it isn’t all some malicious joke.

The worst part of all this isn’t even my uncanny ability to rationalise these things – it’s the fact that half the time I don’t even have to try.  Admittedly that’s sort of the point of rationalising: when you’re really good at it you hardly know you’re doing it at all.  But I’d be naive to suggest that that’s all it ever is: my mind, grasping for straws and looking for shadows where they don’t exist.  As much as I’m loathe to admit it, as terrifying as it is to fathom, sometimes the paranoia is nothing more than perception.

No one is perfect.  Most of us try to at least achieve some semblance of goodwill, but at our core we are chaotic beings, prone to contradictions and faults.  Most of us have a decent enough grasp on our actions, but few can claim dominion over our thoughts, over the whispers and the intentions behind our deeds.  What’s worse is it’s rarely even that simple: sometimes we do what we think is right, even if we don’t feel like doing it.  We want to befriend the loner, not because we actually want to be his friend, but because it’s “the right thing to do”.  Our intentions are good, even if they’re not true.

Trying to puzzle out everyone’s intentions will drive you mad.  It’s an exercise in futility because no matter what you’ll never actually know if you’re right or not.  You could go on guessing and calculating till the end of your days, but sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you’ll never know.  Even confronting them on the issue is ineffective, because unless they openly confess to having ulterior motives (which, let’s be honest, would probably never happen) no amount of reassurances on their part will quell your paranoia.

You can’t go through life living like that, always second-guessing other people’s words and actions.  In the end all you can do is focus on yourself.  Unless given an express reason not to, you need to learn to trust people.  You need to learn to judge them on their actions, and not on any imagined intentions.  It can be hard, exposing yourself to the possibility of betrayal and pain, breaking down your walls and showing them your vulnerability.  But the only thing worse than being betrayed by a handful of people is living under the assumption that you’re being betrayed by all.

As the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice and you’ve shattered what little faith in humanity I had left, leaving me to roam the Earth in a permanent state of paranoia, incapable of ever trusting another human being again.”

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All the Way Up

All the Way Up

When you go up a bit, you gain.  When you go down a bit, you feel disappointed, gloomy, lost.  You can go all the way down to death, yet somehow there seems to be a difficulty in getting all the way up.

– Alan Watts

Life doesn’t end when you’re happy.  It’s not some game where the goal is to reach happiness, and when you do it ends.  I keep expecting this moment at which I realise “okay, yeah, I’m better now.  I’m happy.”  But that’s not how it works.  It’s just… life.  It’s existence.  You exist, and you continue to exist until you don’t.  It’s as simple as that.  No matter how bad or how good things get, there will always be a tomorrow, until there isn’t.

There are ups and downs, there are points where you’re not sure which you are and you’re left scrabbling in the dirt trying to find something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t need to exist.  One of the greatest struggles in life is not feeling sad, it’s not knowing whether or not you’re happy.  In today’s society happiness is synonymous with not only well-being but success.  “If you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right”.  The pressure of being able to answer “are you happy?” with a resounding “yes!” is quite possibly the source of more unhappiness than any other non-material reason.

People think that if you’re not resolutely, definitively happy, you’re doing something wrong.  They get so hung up on trying to achieve said happiness that they completely miss the point.  The beauty of happiness lies in its impermanence, and in the fact that it cannot be bought.  Searching for happiness is a paradox in that it defeats the very concept of the emotion.  You cannot find happiness: happiness finds you.

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you.  But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

– Henry Thoreau

Happiness is not a thing in itself: it is a reaction to things.  And sure, you can try to surround yourself with the right stimuli, but it goes a lot further than that.  A big part of what makes happiness so appealing is the pleasant surprise it offers us, in that we never really know when it will strike.  Because while it’s true that certain stimuli can encourage happiness, it’s not because there is intrinsic happiness to be found within them.  The pleasure we find in certain actions, experiences, and objects is within us – and yet remains inexplicably (and often frustratingly) outside of our own control.

Trying to have a positive outlook on life, refusing to dwell on the negative, surrounding yourself with the right stimuli – these are all reasonably effective ways to increase your happiness, but only so long as you accept that no matter what you do it will never last forever.  If you allow your life to be controlled by an endless pursuit of contentment the strain of such an impossible goal will nullify any successes you have.

Life is not a path towards pure, lasting happiness.  It’s just life.  The majority of our time on this Earth isn’t spent oscillating between varying degrees of emotion- it’s spent simply existing.  Happiness is just an occasional (and often brief) respite from the otherwise uncategorised day-to-day living.

The pressure to be happy, fully-functioning members of society is nothing more than a pipe dream: an unachievable goal meant to keep people on their feet.  It’s a false promise of gold at the end of a rainbow of lifelong servitude and struggle.  We’re raised to believe that if you work hard, pay your dues and act the way you’re supposed to act then eventually you’ll achieve a state of comfortable happiness.  Without this goal in mind people would have one less reason to slip into society’s mould of the perfect citizen, the perfect person.

The truth is this: there are no perfect people.  No one is happy all the time, and no one should expect or be expected to feel that way.  You can’t go through life constantly trying to put a gauge on your happiness, constantly asking yourself “Am I happy?  Am I happy?” because chances are you’re not- and that’s okay.  A big part of life is simply living, whether you feel happy or not, whether you feel any definitive emotion or not.  You could be the happiest in your life right now and you’d still wake up tomorrow, almost assuredly back at square one.  Life doesn’t end when you’re happy.

So don’t stress yourself out trying to determine if you’re happy, or figuring out why you’re not.  Take each moment in stride, appreciate it for what it is.  Find solace in knowing that times of struggle won’t last, and learn to appreciate happiness while you have it for the very same reason: it will not last, so enjoy it while you have it.

Meaningless Everything

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The world does not work in positives and negatives.  Nothing can be said to have any intrinsic value of “good” or “bad”.  Our society and the people within it dictate norms and designate alignments of actions, objects and occurrences, generally based upon whether or not the thing in question serves to benefit our goals at any given point.  To extend said alignments beyond that is to delude oneself into believing in some higher cosmic power dictating the rights and wrongs of the universe.

It can be difficult to accept that a school bus full of children crashing into a lake is not inherently bad, but such things – and worse – happen every day and the universe is none the worse.  As the age-old saying states, “life goes on”.  Nothing we do and nothing that happens to us will ever “matter” outside the scope of our own self-interest.  A school bus of children crashing into a lake is only “bad” insofar as society views it as such.  Compassion for our fellow homo sapiens sapiens is an evolutionary trait developed to ensure and further our survival as a species, nothing more.

The same goes for emotions.  Certain triggers will illicit emotional responses to either encourage or discourage behaviours in life, a system that once again arose to help ensure our survival but which now struggles to keep up with humanity’s rapid production of newer and trickier triggers.  Happiness is no more the mascot for “good” than sadness or anger are for “bad”.  Indeed one can be said to be healthier than the others, but this only goes so far before we run into the same problem: health is not synonymous with “good” either.  Health and happiness are certainly ideals in this society, and in this sense and this sense alone they are synonymous with “good”, but make no mistake: to confuse the ideals of human civilisation with those of some higher universal power is to damn yourself.

When we begin weighing our experiences on this earth against some existential concept of “good” and “bad”, of “right” and “wrong”, our primitive consciousness is overwhelmed with feelings of failure.  Happiness, sadness, anger, ecstasy, guilt, love, insecurity, these are all entirely natural feelings.  Sure, some may make you feel better than others, but that does not make them inherently “good” anymore than it makes the others “bad”.  They are simply two sides of the same coin, tumbling down the stream of consciousness that is life.  They are a natural part of existence, and to harp over them, to consider some a failure and others a success, is to not only deny yourself all that existence has to offer, but to deny what it is to be human.

Things only “matter” in the sense that they matter to us.  Our feelings are what set the parameters for our existence; we assign and prescribe definitions such as good and bad to occurrences that are, in every sense of the word, inconsequential.  In this way we are the masters of our own lives.  We give this world meaning, give ourselves purpose.  We are the ones who will live and die for the sake of an idea, the ones who mourn the dead and celebrate the living.  And when you’re feeling down on your luck and the walls are closing in, when all you seem to do is screw things up, know this: there is no wrong way to live, anymore than there is a right one.  Sadness, happiness, love, hatred, these are all masks worn by the one true state of being: existence.  No matter what you are, no matter how you feel, it all boils down to existence.

You exist.  Anything beyond that is over-complicated bullshit imposed upon us by society and our own egos.  You exist.  Do with that what you will.

BoJack Horseman is My Spirit Animal

BoJack Horseman is My Spirit Animal

“I don’t understand how people live. It’s amazing to me that people wake up every morning and say ‘Yeah, another day, let’s do it!’ How do people do it? I don’t know how.”

– BoJack Horseman

Well season 4 of my favourite show in the world has just been released, so I figured it warranted a repost of this old gem.  If you want to watch the trailer (featuring this fantastic song by Saint Motel) you can do so here.

If you have yet to acquaint yourself with Netflix’s first original animated series for adults, then what the hell are you still doing sitting here reading this?  But seriously, if you haven’t seen the show, it comes highly recommended from this stranger on the internet, and if for some unthinkable reason that doesn’t immediately convince you to watch it, I suppose I could offer a quick summary.

BoJack Horseman is a dark comedy/drama set in a world with anthropomorphic animals- but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the show’s plot… like at all (so just accept it & move on).  The star (and source of the show’s name) is none other than BoJack Horseman, a (yep, you guessed it) horse/man actor and washed up star of the old-but-gold ’90s sitcom Horsin’ Around.

But that plot summary doesn’t even begin to do the show justice.  The series encompasses so much (a satirical analysis of celebrity culture and the film industry,  social commentary on key issues in today’s society, and a powerful analysis into the darkest recesses of the human – or animal – soul, just to name a few) that you’d be hard-pressed not to find something you like.  The show brings together a slew of colourful and diverse characters, each dealing with their own struggles to cope with and understand the chaotic nature of life in their own way, each finding support and opposition as they cross paths.

Fair warning: season 1 starts off more fartsy than artsy, so if you find yourself thinking back to this high praise and wondering why you keep letting yourself get talked into doing things by strangers on the internet, just remember that it does get better.  People on the internet are never wrong.

Horseman

The series finds BoJack struggling with a lack of purpose, a dangerous amount of self-loathing, and a seemingly unquenchable desire to launch himself back into the spotlight.  Despite his apparent enthusiasm for said task, somehow BoJack always ends up second-guessing himself – will this accomplishment actually make him happy?  Is he just grasping at straws?  Does he even deserve happiness? – and be it intentional or otherwise, more often than not his efforts fall victim to self-sabotage.  His existential crises escalate as the series progresses, and before long he’s an absolute fucking mess.

Just like me, in other words.

While BoJack and I aren’t perfect matches – in matters of money, fame and sexual partners BoJack seems to have me beat by quite a bit – I still can’t help but feel a certain connection to the severely flawed protagonist.

The fact that the television character I relate to most is a bitterly cynical anthropomorphic horse with self-destructive tendencies, a highly addictive personality and a severe case of depression probably says a lot about my current state of affairs- none of it good.

But that’s what makes the show so fantastic.  For all its eccentric animal characters, BoJack Horseman is a series that perfectly exemplifies what it is to be human.

We are flawed.  We’re vulnerable, and we’re selfish, insecure, self-destructive, and weak.  But we still try.  We fuck things up and we make a huge mess and we wonder if there’s even a way back- and then we try again.  We hurt the ones we love, and we hurt the ones who love us, but there’s something to be said for having been loved in the first place, and maybe the world’s not so bad after all, if even after all the things you’ve said and done people still root for you to come out on top.

And it’s not just you.  It’s all of us.  BoJack Horseman shows us that no one is safe from the dreaded existential crisis, and no one is alone in it, either.  Everyone has those days, when they can’t seem to find a reason to keep going, a purpose to define their existence, a key to unlock the door to happiness.  We’re all struggling to figure it out.

But the most important aspect of this beautiful show is also its arguably most subtle message: that you need to forgive yourself.

If I can still hope that BoJack makes it out okay even after all the shitty things he’s done, then maybe redemption isn’t out of the question for me.  That’s the show’s message: that sure, people fuck up all the time, but if you can find it in yourself to forgive this horse, then you can learn to forgive yourself too.

Sure, the way back is long and hard, and sometimes -hell, a lot of the time- we slip and we lose our footing and we fall back to the bottom of the pit again, but we get back up again, and we dust off our knees and we get back to it.

After all, as a wise baboon once said: “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”

Business or Pleasure?

I’ve been feeling rather disenchanted with blogging recently, which is part of why I haven’t checked in for some time.  I think the problem is that most WordPress users are here as writers, first and foremost – our role as readers is secondary.  Which isn’t a problem in itself, obviously: there’s nothing wrong with honing your craft and sharing your work.  The problem is that most of us came to this site with certain expectations, expectations that just so happen to hinder their own realisation.  If everyone is here first and foremost to promote their own brand, and one of the only ways (or perhaps the best way) to promote said brand is through mutual reciprocation, then every time someone likes a post or follows a blog it’s with self-interest in mind.

Obviously I’m both generalising and oversimplifying, and I don’t want to be accused of wining about my own wounded pride or anything, because that’s not what this is (well, at least not entirely).  I’d like to believe that most of this is just paranoia and insecurity, and that it’s just a coincidence that the only people who read my posts on a regular basis are the ones whose blogs I read on a regular basis, despite the fact that I have over 60 other followers whose blogs I do not follow, but I’m not stupid: I know a correlation when I see one.

I accept the system for what it is, and I accept that this is just how things work most of the time – I just didn’t have this in mind when I signed up.  I don’t have the ambition or the business sense (a mean part of me wants to say two-facedness, and we’ll allow it simply for the sake of documentation) to put in that kind of effort.  The problem is I have yet to reconcile this fact with my own bruised ego.

I’d be a liar if I said there wasn’t some part of me that secretly hoped, expected even, that my writing’s popularity would soar once it hit the worldwide web.  I think it sort of comes with the territory – writers are nefarious for their uncanny ability to balance self-loathing and pride.  But when I realised that achieving that kind of popularity would take a lot more than simply writing your best, I decided I didn’t want to go to such lengths.  After all I’d come into it for the writing, and I could still write regardless of how many followers I had.  Even so, some part of me still expected the fireworks and the parade.

Not to mention there are certain problems with resigning yourself to casual writing when you’ve also decided “hey, why not make a living off of this?”  Because that’s when things get tricky.  Once you decide you have to do something it takes half the fun out of it.  They say if you do something you love you’ll never work a day in your life, but the flipside of that is turning what you love into work.  Pretty soon the thing you once turned to for pleasure and comfort becomes riddled with anxiety and pressure.  I’ve been staying away from the blog purely because I feel like I should be putting more effort into it: into writing more posts, into reading other people’s posts, into reaching out to more bloggers in the hopes they’ll follow me back.

The point being I’m sort of caught at a crossroads.  On the one hand I want to take my writing to new levels, to take it to a point where I can make a living off of it.  On the other hand I don’t want to feel like I have to do it for any reason other than I want to: I don’t want to taint this beautiful thing with the stresses and the expectations that come with work.  I know there’s a balance between the two: I just have to find it.


Apologies to anyone I may have offended in this post: just as a reminder, this blog serves as my own personal venting platform, where I can address all the nagging little voices at the back of my head, dragging them out into the light where they can be thoroughly scrutinised, followed by dismissal or confirmation.  There are a lot of insecurities back there, and a favourite pastime of many insecure people is to look for faults in others so they needn’t be alone- after all, misery loves company.  All that being said, I hope you won’t take too much heed in the ramblings of my darker half (or majority).

Perverse Satisfaction

“Shut down the gospel singers and
Turn up the old heartbreakers
I’m dying to tell you that I’m dying here.
Throw up the sickly joy and I’ll
Swallow the sweet self-loathing
I’m just dying to be unhappy again”

– Frightened Rabbit, Nitrous Gas

There was a time when I would have forsaken my own happiness for the sake of some misguided sense of self.  Life had dealt me a shitty hand, and goddamnit the world was going to know.  I took pride in holding that grudge, and a perverse satisfaction in spitefully clinging to the sadness.  The world wanted me to be a tragedy?  Fine.  I could play that part, and I could play it well.

Somewhere alone the way I decided that if the world was going to knock me down I wouldn’t get back up.  Even as it offered me hand after hand of opportunity and possibility, I stayed down.  I refused to accept its apology.  So I held on tight to the darkness it had thrown me into, refusing to look at the light.  I wanted people to know that there aren’t always happy endings, that sometimes life just sucks.  I wanted to teach people the lesson I had learnt all too early, and I would do it even if it was the last thing I did.  Even if it meant sacrificing my own life, my own shot at happiness.

I took satisfaction in being the tragedy, in being the cautionary tale.  In the sadness I knew who I was.

But I don’t want to be that person anymore.  Sure, the lesson still stands, but the world doesn’t need my help to make it any shittier- it does a fantastic job of that on its own.  If life is going to drag me through the mud then it’ll do it regardless of my own efforts, and I’d rather spend the time between sadness feeling happy.  I’ll take as much as I can get, because before long it’ll be gone again.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still scared.  I’m scared of trying and I’m scared of failing.  I’m scared of the not-knowing, of the uncertainty that comes with foreign territory.  I’m scared of putting myself out there and getting hurt, because it’s easier to live with the hurt you know than it is to risk the one you don’t.  I’m terrified of that.

But I’m also thrilled by it.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

It’s not supposed to be easy
That’s why it feels so fucking good.”

– AWOLNATION, Jump on My Shoulders

Writing’s a bitch.

She really is. Sometimes you can make her your bitch, sometimes you find this perfect harmony that transcends space and time, entwining your consciousness with those of people who died centuries before or who don’t even exist in the strictest sense of the word, but most of the time she’s just a bitch. You sit yourself down in that spot (you know the one), that spot akin to the bed where you lie together, and either you make sweet, tender, beautiful love, giving birth to a child of intellect and creativity, a child who if all goes well will live on long after you have passed and longer still, or you lie there in a cold, tense silence, backs to one another, the severity of your solitude and isolation more abundantly clear than it’s ever been before. Either you get it on or you can’t get it up.

She’s a fickle one, that Writing. Sometimes it works out between you two, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you feel that connection between you, the keyboard/pencil and paper, and the entire world. Sometimes you simply stare into that mirror that is your computer screen, and nothing but your own emptiness stares back at you.

Your fulfillment is at her whim, and she’s prone to inconsistencies to the point where you can’t help but feel she’s punishing you for something, making you beg for it. She pushes you to the point where you reconsider your entire life, reconsider your identity as a writer. You begin to wonder if you have it at all, if your successes to-date were nothing more than flukes, accidental miracles, or perhaps the echoes of a life you had, could have had, but which has slipped through your fingers like grains of sand, each possibility for the reason mirrored in the infinite grains.

And then you hit a nerve, you strike gold, and suddenly you’re hammering out a page or so on this very conflict, drawing inspiration from the struggle. And suddenly your fears are gone, and you know you were born to do this. You know you are, and always will be, a writer.

Yes, Writing is a bitch. But you still love her. And you always will.