Halloween, I guess

 

Ringing and ringing
Dust drops slowly like a spider
Clocks pound out the time
The house moans with anticipation
Air holds its breath
The bedroom door eases open
The gap widens
Light cuts through the safety
Opening me up

A flurry of movement and sound
Breaking the frozen room
Panic
Eyes wide
ConfusionMy last thoughts are a mess

Who is it?
Who is killing me?

Why?

Who is it?
Who is killing me?

Why?

 

 

guess this fits with a Halloween theme even though I wrote it weeks ago.

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Halloween, I guess

Story Songs

Who loves a good story song? I know I do.

When I was younger I didn’t like story songs all that much. I liked lyrics that were more like vague poetry. A vague song could fit any narrative. And I probably wanted the songs to have more depth than they did. Being obscure is an easy way to appear deep.

There’s something very appealing about them now. Some of the songs are so straight forward and simple, but I love them.

I was listening to this song with a friend of mine earlier today. I went on about how I couldn’t explain why I liked the song so much. There aren’t many good “reasons” to like this band. The singer sounds super weird. The instrumentation in most songs is simple. The melodies aren’t much to talk about because most songs barely have anything you can call a vocal melody. The lyrics are typically as blatant as a Craver story.

You can read the lyrics to this song like its a short story, actually. A paragraph summarizing a trip. Nothing too nuanced about it. The language is mostly plain. There are little moments that speak to me in some way, though, like with Carver. It’s refreshing to do away with the frivolous. Complexity doesn’t always mean bad at all, but it is sometimes a good indication of not truly having a point of view. And it’s hard to do straight forward without being obvious or cliche. Turn on Top 40 to hear a lot of simple songs with most lyrics embarrassingly uninspired.

There’s something intriguing about this song, for me. It sort of makes me tear up. The death is sad, and there’s something nostalgic about it. It feels like I’ve been listening to this song for years. That it’s part of my life. It’s been injected into my memories. That I heard it on my road trips. It’s so specific but somehow it captures more than just his life.

I really enjoy this record and I couldn’t tell you why, but that’s okay.

 

“My three best friends and I planned a weeklong trip
for our spring break during our senior year of high school

We were untethered and free and grown

In the morning, we ventured out into the world
and wandered around until late at night
like spectators or ghosts
as artificial lights burned brighter than daylight
The boardwalk was teeming with youth
brashly claiming adulthood like it was the last day on earth

We retreated back to our hotel, exhausted

The phone in our room rang out at an ungodly hour
(when only bad things are on the other end)

I answered and gave it to Danny
so he could hear his brother passed away

He dropped the phone and bolted out into the hall,
blind with grief

We ran out after him, unsure of what to do

He threw off our embrace and escaped down the stairs to the beach

and haunted the shore of the Atlantic for hours and hours

I waited and watched from a nearby park bench

When he came back, we got into the car and drove the twelve hours back home
and made it just in time for the funeral”

Story Songs

Not Sure Where This Came From

image(Is it me?)

I can’t help but feel I matter in some way. I can tell myself it’s not true, because, frankly, it’s not, but I don’t seem to listen. How many billions of people have lived and died? How many of their names does anyone know? You can argue that we all matter in some way, just by being alive. But that rather sounds like a nice runner up trophy. A pat on the back for giving it a good try. I, of course, mean something bigger. I don’t care much about fame or recognition in general. I don’t need every household to know my name. What I want is for a random kid in a university to dig through journals and find an article I wrote and read it. Even if the kid scoffs at it and says, “This old weirdo really thought this would work?” (Although I would love a more positive response.)

I can’t be alone in this desire to be immortal. I know I’m not, but in conversation a lot of people will deny it. I think it sound sort of megalomaniacal to say out loud. Almost as if it automatically means you want to be world famous forever which is even more crazy than wanting to simply be world famous for right now. (To be fair, some people do want that sort of immortality, and it is crazy!) When I say I want to be a semi-known scientist people tend to think of a Stephen Hawking. If they read any popular science they might drop it down a level to an Oliver Sacks or a Maynard Smith, but even that is far beyond my expectations. I don’t believe I’ll be anything exceptional. Maynard Smith contributed a whole lot to science. I would love to write a single good paper. Of course, I wouldn’t decline more, I’m just trying to be somewhat realistic.

I think it’s fairly obvious that most everyone is trying to leave his or her mark on the world. It can be through popular art forms, less popular art forms, or it can be through humanitarian work. But it’s hard to imagine doing anything if you didn’t think someone would notice.

If a plague eliminated all people from earth besides you, what would you do with your time? (Let’s assume you don’t need to spend all your time growing food and stuff.) I’m not sure how motivated I would be. I suppose I would still read and appreciate the information and the stories. But it does feel a bit pointless with no discussions. Trying to unravel morality all alone on the planet would lose it’s appeal.

Not Sure Where This Came From

Loved Ones

I wonder what it must have been like for my parents.

I was a sad kid. I was a sad kid as far back as I can remember. I was quiet. I didn’t like being around many people at a time, whether a family event or a mall. I wouldn’t interact with other people if I could help it. I’d often play alone. I did have a handful of friends as a kid so it wasn’t exceptionally odd or worrying. There was little indication of any serious issues. I could be happy and was sometimes. But the personality signs were always there.

I think my parents could have lived with that early level of sociability. I had a couple friends at school. I ran around and had all kinds of fun. I was a little too quiet in the majority of situations, but oh well, I could be social enough.

It wasn’t until around 6th grade that things got bad. My group of friends was breaking up because the size of that school was much larger than my elementary school. Something like 4 elementary schools fed that middle school. And while they were making new friends, I was becoming more and more isolated. It wouldn’t be accurate to describe it so simply. My group of friends did eventually break apart but it was slow. Things were simply changing and I wasn’t equipped to cope. Every single day terrified me, which isn’t the best mindset to be in when trying to meet new people even if you’re good at it. And I wasn’t. It was getting sad. By 8th grade, I would go to school and not say a single word the entire day. I sat alone near a group of people I would occasionally talk to. It at least gave me the illusion of company, which was more for other people. I was worried that if I was too obviously alone, I would be targeted and beat up regularly. (While I was in 8th grade the Columbine massacre happened and people started looking at me differently. It was a very strange thing because I was and am the opposite of violent, but I remember hearing “be aware of the quiet kids” frequently around then. And I was the very definition of the quiet kid.)

It was difficult for me, but it must have been equally trying for my parents. There was nothing they could have done to make me feel better. It was a mixture of a whole lot of stuff that I probably can’t identify anymore. I can only clearly remember the feeling. The “why?”
of it all is lost somewhere. Somewhere in the natural loner tendencies and sadness and the building isolation and overwhelming sense of not belonging anywhere. I was 12 years old and wanted to kill myself. That’s a very troubling thing to think about. I don’t mean because I’m involved. That people so young want to die is upsetting. Now imagine it was your kid. I don’t know how much my parents were aware of. They aren’t stupid, or as clueless as I liked to think when I was younger, so they probably had a good idea of how miserable I was. The problem for them: I wouldn’t allow them to help. I don’t know if it’s because they trusted me to work through it on my own or because they knew it was fruitless to try too hard, but they didn’t butt in often.

I remember one time specifically. My dad asked me if anything was wrong, and I shook my head. He paused for a moment and looked at me, and asked if I was sure. I said yes and the moment slowly passed. He had to have known. But he also had to have known I wouldn’t say anything no matter how many times he asked. He could have tried to force it, but I would have retreated further. It was simply how I was at that age.

It had to have been almost as bad for them as it was for me, possibly worse. I, at least, knew what was going on. (In that I knew I had no idea what was going on.) My parents were left mostly to speculate. We aren’t an open or emotional family, but I know they loved me. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to watch me struggle so completely. Some people may criticize my parents for not stepping in and taking some sort of action. I can tell you with (near) absolute certainty that that would have been the worst thing they could have done. I can’t predict the outcome, but I know it would have been bad. You can argue, that in the long run, it would have benefited me, and I would have come to appreciate it. That’s likely true, if I didn’t end up turning to something absolutely destructive first.

Now I feel like mental anguish is, in some ways, desirable. Spending unwanted hours inside my head helped me in many ways. Life is hard more often than not, and being secure and comfortable in that uncertainty and pain that defines much of life is something I highly value. I feel as though life isn’t much up against my own thoughts. I can survive failure. I can enjoy the process of failing. I can be unsure and try anyway. When things go wrong, I’m ready for it. I still have bad periods of time and I doubt anything will prevent them. But I’m okay with that, too.

I probably had to go through most of that to think how I think now. And I quite like how I think now. But given the choice, I’m not sure I’d choose to relive any of it. I made it out, so far, but I can’t say exactly how it worked. How I lived while 6 kids in my various schools killed themselves.

There’s the dilemma. I (more or less) like who I am now (at least compared to some of the alternatives), but I can’t justify the means. They bullying. The self hatred. The suicidal ideation. And all the worry and debilitating anxiety. The depression. The fear. Everything was pulling me in all sorts of directions. One was death. Another was figuring out, to an impressive degree, who I am. I’m now on track to the latter, but I think the former runs right next to it. It would be easy to jump tracks, still. There’s no real chance to leave that behind. In fact, sometimes the tracks overlap.

I’ve watched friends go through something similar and it was almost as bad as being in it myself. I’m not sure how I’d get through if it was my son or daughter. Even if it makes them stronger, better in some way, I cannot wish those experiences on the people I love. But then again, if he or she is, then I have to let them. (If help was wanted, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it, but it’s not always wanted and it doesn’t always help.) I don’t get to control how the world works.

I feel bad for my parents. Sorry about that.

Loved Ones

Definitions

Most days drift
Fill empty containers with air
There’s meaning in the smallness
Surprising depth in the quiet
Listen to curious voices

Sounds like pain
Sounds like crying
Sounds like failing

But there’s more and more
Life piled on life
Stretching to reach the surface
To break through the noise
The background is moving

There is no definition to look up
The steps have worn through
With only the ground lurking far below
The distance is a threat
Or a challenge

It could be the end
Or whatever else you want it to be

It sounds undefined

Definitions

Problems with Positive Thinking

*I had some issues posting this earlier. I’m sorry if you already saw this on your page. After I posted it, I couldn’t view the post, so I deleted it and tried again. Hopefully it won’t happen again.*

“Yet the ineffectiveness of modern strategies for happiness is really just a small part of the problem. There are good reasons to believe that the whole notion of ‘seeking happiness’ is flawed to begin with. For one thing, who says happiness is a valid goal in the first place?
… philosophers have certainly not been unanimous in endorsing it, either. And any evolutionary psychologist will tell you that evolution has little interest in your being happy, beyond trying to make sure that you’re not so listless or miserable that you lose the will to reproduce.”

This is a question I’ve been asking anyone who will listen to me. I’ve been getting into this positive psychology thing over the last few months when I noticed a trend in people I met. I noticed that the people who talk the most about being happy seem to be the least happy people I know (and found this was also typical in bloggers). It’s a very nuanced question, as most are when dealing with humans. What happiness means exactly is fluid. And even the most unhappy people you know are happy some of the time.

Here’s a quick overview of a few of the studies I’ve been looking into.

“… happiness involves paradoxes”

Exactly.
I see the pursuit of happiness as irrelevant. As a goal, it’s an elusive, shapeless one. Happiness comes and goes, and I’m not certain any philosophy, but pure delusion, will prevent that. But mostly, when I think about it, how does happiness help me do what I want to do in any way? Of course if I’m listless and completely miserable I won’t do much work, but that’s not how feelings work. If I’m not happy it doesn’t mean I’m lying supine in bed 23 hours a day. I know that frustration and failure motivate me, and anecdotally many other people. I enjoy learning something new but it’s the disappointment in not knowing that makes me look for the answers and gives me a sense of meaning.

(Conjecture break: Feeling happy serves an evolutionary function. It’s a reward. The pleasure centers in our brain give us shots of chemical reward when we do something that helps us survive and reproduce. Sex feels good. A filling meal feels good. But hunger drives us to obtain those things, not feeling good. I don’t go rummaging around in the pantry because I can’t wait to feel contented after a sandwich. I get up and look because I’m hungry.)

“The startling conclusion at which they had all arrived, in different ways, was this: that the effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is our constant effort to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.”

This finding is related to ironic processing theory. We end up thinking about what we try to ignore. Pursuing happiness results, frequently, in the achieving of the exact opposite because it becomes all we focus on. We attempt to ignore the bad possibilities, but that just makes us think about them all the more and feel bad for thinking about them because it means we failed to be positive. The search for meaning in our life is lost and replaced by a search for happiness, disconnected from anything concrete. Happiness cannot be the goal.

(All the quotes above are from The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman)

More issues I have with positive thinking is the lack of substantial evidence beyond anecdotes, usually told by someone selling a product. A lot of studies simply don’t back up the claims.

Affirmations. Those nice little phrases you say to yourself to feel better about aspect of yourself that you don’t like. Or simply to motivate yourself. Some people think they work, some think they’re harmless. The evidence shows they may actually make things worse for people with low self esteem. In the article Positive Self-Statements, the participants who repeated a positive self-statement felt worse about themselves. A possible explanation for this involves essentially lying to ourselves. We have low self esteem but tell ourselves we are good or happy or smart or etc and there’s a conflict. It’s called the self comparison theory. Our feelings about ourselves should be consistent (at least at any one time). If part of me feels terrible and another part is saying I feel good, these both can’t be true simultaneously. I may be thinking “I hate myself” while saying “I love myself” and that’s simply not going to go smoothly.

The last issue I’ll write about here is the conflict between being aware and being happy. This is an idea I’ve written about before but a new paper has revealed some extraordinary data. The paper, Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life, appears to demonstrate that very often meaning and happiness are in conflict. Not all the time, but it’s worth noting.
Many of the things I personally value relate to meaningfulness but not happiness.

“Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness. Concerns with personal identity and expressing the self contributed to meaning but not to happiness.”

Some results in the paper make it appear that challenging yourself – your ideas, comfort, or contentment – disturbs happiness. Finding things that give your life meaning doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness and makes it hard to pursue both. Perhaps because we tend to value things that are difficult. Things like long term relationships, that will have ups and downs and require work to maintain. More often than not, they fail. But most people will agree that long term relationships are more meaningful than easy flings. A one night stand may give you a brief moment of happiness (though sometimes we end up full of regret), but does it provide your life with any meaning? Probably not (although if it does, that’s great. Enjoy it).

 

And lastly, I’ve often heard that feeling good makes people want to help more and I never could see that. It would seem to me that being deeply hurt by suffering in some way, motivates action. This study suggests that happiness is somewhat selfish.

” Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker”

“If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.”

 

Apologies for being disorganized. My notes were all over the place. I tried to order it so it made sense, but I was primarily concerned with getting all the thoughts down in some form. Thanks for putting up with it.

Problems with Positive Thinking

Life and a question

I’m listening to a podcast saying to write a diary of all mundane stuff in your life. The boring, uninteresting parts that make up about 99% of actual life. The random “deeper” thoughts are fine too, but the details are what you’ll forget as you age. So write your daily activities. The stuff you’ll look back on and laugh.
The big stuff will always be there nipping at your heels, but the milieu drifts off. When you’re fifty or eighty or two hundred, you can sit down with a spouse, life partner, best friend, son, daughter, niece, nephew, or maybe even your mom and dad, and relive the small events that escape recollection.

I’m a fan of this idea. I want to be able to look back and laugh at the terrible writing and the poetry and my thoughts on free will, determinism, deontology, utilitarianism, and religion. But I also want to be able to read a random post and think, “Goodness, I don’t even remember being that mad at you for refusing to do the dishes during my finals week.” Or “remember when the water heater broke and we didn’t shower for two days?”

Which brings me to my preemptive apology.

I might need to apologize for inundating you all with posts about babies. I hope to keep the posts vague enough to apply to more than just me (in relation to kids), but I will be unsuccessful at times. I hope you don’t have to suffer through too many “babies sure do change things don’t they?” posts. I know you can just scroll on by, but I like to be considerate when I decide to post something. And I’m well aware of how torturous baby posts can be. But I’m nothing if not a hypocrite.

Something you won’t have to worry about but an idea I had was to start writing a sort of diary for my niece. I was curious to know if they were a common thing to do, or if anyone had thoughts about the idea in general.
There will be a million pictures and videos, half of which are uploaded to Facebook already, but I think it’d be nice to have some stuff down in writing for her. I’ve written a couple of letters already about how crazy it is that she exists. I’d like to add more little details. I don’t live in the same city as she does so I don’t see her as often as I’d like, but I still see her frequently and want to write down the experiences for when she’s an old lady.
She’ll have plenty of pictures and videos, so I’m not sure if this would be excessive and unnecessary. I wonder if she’ll find the mundane life of her infancy interesting written down. It’ll be filtered through my eyes, of course, and I’m not sure how that’ll shade things. I might add annoying musings. It’ll be easy to make the entries boring and/or melodramatic. I guess it could come down to execution, but I worry that writing too much about a baby is intrinsically embarrassing.
There’s a demanding impulse to remember every tiny, innocuous moment even though it isn’t possible. The time she laughed a lot. The time she kept spitting her pacifier at me. The time she slept through lunch at the Chinese place down the street. The time she grabbed my finger and wouldn’t let go and though I read about how strong babies are, I marveled at the fact staring me in the face. And the general feeling of seeing her.

I won’t post those type of entries here, but I was wondering if anyone had input on the idea.

Thanks.

Life and a question