I sit on my bed and look at the mess I have made. Pushed by the wind, the blinds rise and fall against the window with a constant disharmonious banging.The floor is covered: dirty wrinkled clothes, sheets and blankets claimed by the cat, the soil of a dead orchid smashed under a towel at the edge of a pile of dirty towels. A paper cup in the window sill has begun to decay as the last inch of liquid seeps through leaving a ring in its place. The mattress has been pissed on by the cat. I tried scrubbing it with bleach. There is still a mark. Mugs of molding tea and coffee everywhere. Books are piled on magazines piled on junk mail piled on books. Paper plates and important documents are stacked one on the other. You can never be sure of your footing. Things have to be moved and stepped over. You are never stepping on level ground. This makes it a hassle to get up and do things. It makes it easy to lie down in my dirty bed. When I look up, I can see the walls with my neatly hung posters. If I look just right, it looks like everything under eye level could be clean, neat and organized. With ambitious dreams in my head, sitting alone on my bed, “Tomorrow,” I say.
How does one make time?
What must one sacrifice?
I don’t have any time for that.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
[Author’s note: I didn’t have any time to write a post this week.]
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I have long struggled with cynicism, a debilitating condition that saps the color from life, creating a black hole that sucks the joy from everything around you and crushes it in the vacuum inside. Long-term effects include: hardened heart, chronic downerism, apathy, loss of friends, and irreversible loneliness. Knowing that there is no cure for cynicism, I have worked hard to manage my cynicism, through this blog and other mediums including a newfound interest in creating jewelry.
I worked hard. A lot of the time it felt like pretending. Most of the time it felt like pretending. Looking on the bright side is a conscious decision to ignore the dark side, and ignoring things doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means they go unguarded and unchecked. They have time to grow. I was never quite able to convince myself that it’s a wonderful world full of gossamer wings and cigarette trees. But one must do what one can. If life is to be a show, a play on a stage where one must pretend to be happy to keep the peace then so it must be. Pretending not to suffer from cynicism is almost as good as being happy, except without all the easy satisfied sleep.
And so I have lived: a cynic with an optimist mask. Naturally, being a cynic beneath the mask meant that I would most likely live my life alone, having only a small group of sympathizers, that I will hopefully call friends, as allies. Love as it is depicted in popular culture, movies, TV, books, video games, or online media and even historically, seemed to me to be a myth, an ideal that could not exist in the real world, like an honest politician. Scenes where a handsome couple shares a passionate first kiss under the moonlight while crickets serenade them on a warm summer night always ignored the ashtray taste of his mouth or her overwhelming need to fart.
The cynic never feels like an outsider. The cynic is convinced that everyone else is being insincere, pretending to know what they’re talking about, pretending to fall in love, pretending to be normal, pretending to like kombucha. The cynic is the only one who will tell the truth even if it means creating awkwardness. That smugness is chicken soup for the cynical soul. It makes the loneliness palatable.
I went to party at Matt‘s house. It was just another party full of the awkward one upmanship and stratification that accompanies social interaction: bad jokes, bad ideas and bad decisions. I ended up in a corner, sipping grappa and watching the uneasiness of life unfold. It was quite some time before I noticed that there was someone sitting at the other end of the couch. It was a not unattractive man.¹
“You live around here?” he said when he noticed me studying him.
“I live upstairs,” he volunteered. “Matt and I came to an arrangement that he can have as many parties as he wants as long as I get to come to them.”
“Do you party a lot?”
“No more than the national average for my age and gender.”
“Probably a lot less, I would guess.” I turned to my grappa and watched the room move with people.
“Salomé.” We shook hands.
“I guess you’re parents weren’t huge fans of John the Baptist.”
I couldn’t help but smile. We fell into an easy banter and a half hour had passed before I knew it. Paul was pulled away by another partygoer. I kept him in the corner of my eye for the rest of the night. When Tiffany, who was my ride, was ready to go, he stopped me as I started toward the exit.
“Could I call you sometime?”
I gave him my number. It was weird. I had an immense feeling of elation. He was cute and funny and knowledgable. For a week my phone was glued to my palm. I checked for missed calls and texts more times than I will admit. I was beginning to get angry that this bum had awakened this strange unfathomable hope inside me, just to pull it away and crow, “Psych!” I was sullenly watching TV when the text alert sounded on my phone. It was Paul. Did I want to go for pizza on Sunday? Hope cried out excitedly inside me.
It was an eternity before Sunday came. We met for hipster pizza followed by rude hipster ice cream cones consumed on a walk through the park. The food was delicious. The moon was full. The summer night was warm. The crickets were playing their symphony. The conversation was charged with chemistry. He interrogated me like it was a job interview. I parried with feminine deftness, turning the questions on the questioner. We sat on the bench in the park. He slipped his arm around me with casual masculinity. There were long pauses where we stared into each other’s eyes, each of us trying to figure out what was happening. He walked me to my car. The city seemed to blur around us as we kissed for the first time. The moon was a smiling spotlight on our love. I drove home in a happy daze. The cynic could not be heard above my joyful trains of thought. There was a text waiting for me when I got home. We arranged a second date. By the end of the month, we were spending every waking moment together, desperately, hopelessly, and unbelievably in love.
That was over seven months ago. While I agree that it might be too early to say whether the relationship will last forever or not, I feel confident that it will. The cynic inside me has been largely silenced. My cynic’s main claim to authority was her infallibility. But she was wrong about love, so completely wrong that it makes me question all her other claims. Maybe the world isn’t a horrible place with no hope of redemption. Maybe you can still meet the dark side but you can live in the light. Maybe there is a cure for cynicism.
¹ A cynic’s description.
Hello, friends. It has been too long. Life has a way of sneaking past you. You look away for a moment and when you look back you find several months have passed. I have always called this blog my “secret garden”, a safe place to be with my thoughts where I can ruminate on the doings of the world. I am still trying to find my place in it. My “secret garden” has become disheveled and lifeless with neglect. My only excuse is that life has a way of making you reexamine your priorities. Something can be as precious as gold one day and the next you wonder what you ever saw in it.
In the coming months, I plan on putting my garden in order: pruning the wayward thought, tending the fruit-bearing ideas and bringing life back to my blog, my “secret garden”.
One of the reasons that I have been away for so long is that I have been expending my creative energy elsewhere. I have recently discovered that I have a knack for creating jewelry and other odd artistic tidbits. I have been making pieces and giving them to my friends. I have been frequenting gem shops and craft stores and swap meets and etsy.com. It has become a new obsession. Like writing, I am not naïve to think I could make a living off of making jewelry, but I have decided that I am going to try and sell some pieces, if only so that I can continue to make more. I would love it if you could visit my shop∗ and see what I’ve made.
I promise this blog will not become a propaganda wing of my etsy shop and for those of you that enjoy my writing (all two of you), I have not given up on writing. There will be more in the coming months so watch this space. I still have a lot to say.
∗ I was at the peak of my creative powers when I named it “By Salomé”: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BySalome
Coming this fall from the NSA, the creators of “PRISM”, is a new reality series that’s over two hundred years in the making: “Reel America”. Follow the lives of real Americans as the NSA tracks them through their daily lives. Using sophisticated surveillance technology, legal loopholes and corporate cooperation the NSA offers the most unguarded look into the lives of actual people. From illegal immigrants to senators, from CEOs to six-pack joes, and everyone in between, the spotlight knows no bounds. Viewers will get a glimpse into the most intimate moments of real American citizens, unfiltered and unedited. It has been called “a mirror that shows America her soul” by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and lauded by President Obama as bringing “transparency to the whole nation”. Critical reception is already split, with some calling it “necessary” and “eye opening” and others calling it “a gross violation” and “boring”. Premiering in September across all networks, “Reel America” promises to challenge and inspire.
I read recently about psychological pricing, the strategy of pricing things with 99 or 98 cent price points in order to trick the brain of the consumer into thinking they are spending less than they actually are, rounding down to the nearest dollar instead of up. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Fucking sheep. You’re not going to fool me with that crap.’
Tonight, I was drinking grappa with some friends. I told them “It’s only sixteen dollars a bottle,” even though I knew it was sixteen dollars and ninety-nine cents.
It is the time of year when politics rises to the surface, emerging from the fetid swamps of D.C. demanding the attention of the collective consciousness. It is election time.
It is a difficult time of year for me. I am a recovering political junkie. I’ve never been involved in politics other than casting my vote, but I am fascinated with it to the point of obsession. I read books about it. I read articles about it. I watch documentaries. I argue endlessly with friends, family and co-workers. There is something about politics, the way it reduces all of life to a game. It is appealing and repellent all at the same time. It is easy to become absorbed by the endless machinations and sorties and lose sight of the larger war being fought, of which politics plays a small but important role. Which is why I have been trying to step back and reassess.
Our government, and the professional politicians that people it, is a reflection of our national identity. In theory, these are the people we have chosen to represent us. This is the system of laws we would like to live under. While there are many checks and balances in place to prohibit any one interest from seizing power, the people will always have the ability to amend and change laws as well as the people that make them. Of course, by summing it up in a single sentence, I have it made it sound like simple procedure. Change can be made but it is never made quickly. By design, changes in legislation and personnel are sluggish, allowing time for deliberation and compromise, and ensuring, in theory, mutual satisfaction for most if not all parties involved.
One of the drawbacks of this slow-moving system is that once a path has been chosen, it is very difficult to change course without the aid of some national catastrophe or awakening. The savvy politician understands this and the true believer knows that change in the American system is a long-term investment. You must recognize when opportunity arrives and you must seize it before anyone else knows it’s there. You must plan. You have to plant seeds for the following generation to harvest. Nothing in politics at any level, from class elections to the national level, nothing is instantaneous. Because politics is a reflection of life. You may ascend to the presidency in record time, but you still have to be born first.
The current state of our government should not be a surprise to anyone. It is merely the result of what preceded it. You can trace today’s gridlocked insanities back several decades and find the roots appearing as tiny seeds in the past. It follows the evolution of the American character as our nation approaches middle age and settles into the cynicism of adulthood. The ideals of our forefathers seem quaint and naïve, an innocent picture of our younger self. They spoke of high-minded notions like liberty and self-determination. They championed equality and respect. But growing up forces you to realize that the world doesn’t care what you expect from it. It’s a dog-eat-dog world and you’d better take what you can. To hell with what happens to anyone else. Protect you and yours. Never mind what you have to do in order to keep them safe and comfortable. The ideals of honor and human dignity do not supercede the need for safety and comfort.
Somewhere along the line, we agreed as a nation, dating perhaps all the way back to Monroe, that we would sacrifice honor for comfort and compromise morals for safety. As long as the blood and responsibility was kept away from the doorstep and stained as few hands as possible, the American people would tacitly accept that innocent foreign lives would be sacrificed to preserve our own.
It is an unsustainable philosophy and that has begun to become very clear over the last ten years or so. The cynicism and detachment required to sustain such a disregard for human life has infected our national identity. We have become a people that glories in war. Just look at any random sampling of movies or video games. And we are a nation that values guns over lives. Our sympathy extends only as far as our borders. But, of course, once a person accepts that the sacrifice of some people is an acceptable price of self-preservation, it becomes easier to accept that anyone is acceptable collateral damage, even your fellow countrymen and now the border only extends as far as the edges of your yard. While one may not be willing to openly advocate for the loss of a life, there is no obligation to take an interest in quality of life. If they die penniless in a gutter, so much the better. One less person sponging off the system. You are beholden to no one but yourself.
While I would like to dismiss this approach as utter stupidity, I can’t do so without acknowledging that this is the defining characteristic of the American identity. Morality comes second to safety. Comfort comes before empathy. God comes second to greed. While this way of thinking may have rewards in the short-term, it is completely pig-headed and utterly ridiculous. Government is comprised of people working together. If they all pursue their own interests, the system collapses. People need people. It is why we have families. It is why we are compelled to make friends. It is why we form communities. We need each other to survive. Sure a person might be able to eke out survival alone, but surviving and living are two different things. Our existence as a species requires that we get along, that we try to forge relationships that are more than just making enemies. Anyone that has ever been in a relationship with anyone else, whether it’s being someone’s child or lover or co-worker or boss or whatever, anyone who has been in a relationship knows that one of the main components is trust. In a world without trust, the bonds that hold society together crumble away and chaos reigns.
But the problem with trust is that it is scary. It requires openness. It demands honesty. And it leaves you vulnerable. But without trust, without faith in the inherent capability for good in humanity, you have no choice but to become inhuman. Everyone becomes a potential enemy and therefore not worthy of empathy or respect. The absence of trust is fear. Fear is the ultimate hallucinogen, clouding your judgment and obscuring the truth. It alters your perception. It tears families apart. It breaks up friends. It destroys careers and it takes away lives. Fear eats away trust and leaves a cold heart.
We are a nation (among many) that has been manipulated by fear for decades if not centuries. If it is not the government propagandizing, it is yellow journalism. If not them, it is special interest groups with deep pockets or political parties acting in their stead. Like it or not, fear has become a huge part of our national identity. It is what has motivated the actions of our government for many years. Fear of terrorism. Fear of immigrants. Fear of communism. Fear of liberals. Fear of conservatives. Fear of weapons of mass destruction. Fear of change. Fear of fear.
For most of our short history the fear that moves us has mostly manifested as a sort of economic imperialism with the government sending our military throughout the globe to protect our interests and maintain our safety. The fear has now metastasized. We are eating away at ourselves now. The ferocity that masks our fear has turned inward. The sniping and obstinacy has weakened us, like a person eating their own body to satisfy the tongue. We have become a house divided by fear. There is no longer anyone willing to step from the shadows of fear into the bright light of trust. No one is willing to make himself or herself vulnerable in order to help someone else.
It is a particularly galling state of affairs for a nation that never stops claiming to be guided by Judeo/Christian principles. The behavior of most politicians that cite Jesus as a major influence is at odds with the tenets of their faith. The New Testament is littered with commands to forgive and to empathize. Jesus himself said the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. In Luke 6 verses 27 to 42, he goes on at length about forgiveness and mercy exhorting the faithful to “be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” He states clearly that if someone strikes you, you should offer up your other cheek.
Can a nation that constantly claims to be guided and blessed by the God of the Bible be telling the truth about their influences when they in fact spend much of their time killing and spying on innocents abroad and accusing each other of destroying the nation God has supposedly blessed? Where is the forgiveness? Where is the mercy that God has commanded? Where is the love for your enemies?
In the end the two American political parties want the same thing. They want peace, comfort and security. One side says the government plays no role in this, and that people left to their own devices quite capable of taking care of themselves. The other side says people should be able to take care of themselves, but recognizes that this isn’t always possible and that makes government necessary to the happiness and well being of the nation. On paper, both sides are well intentioned, both claiming to be champions of the forgotten little person. In practice, they are both slow-moving behemoths dragged down by the weight of their own hubris and obstinacy. They have become so absorbed in the tactics and gamesmanship that they have forgotten their role as public servants choosing instead to believe in their own exceptionalism and dismissing the suffering caused by their own arrogance as acceptable collateral damage. Never mind who you have to hobble, maim or kill as you struggle to do the right thing.
It is unsustainable, illogical and sooner or later what has been sown in blood will one day be harvested. Until our actions reflect our words, I’m afraid America will find that being subjected to our own methods will be quite unpleasant. And while once we had the strength and cohesion to take on the entire world, our disregard for the other person has weakened us irrevocably.