Tag Archives: Values

Labor’s Love Lost

Labor Day has come and gone.  Summer ends, and school starts for the kids, marking the end of freedom and the start of a fresh new year.  And, for the adults, the day off is an appreciated but insignificantly short lull in the droning sameness of workaday life.  There’s no real appreciation of labor or the workforce, no reflection on the condition of workers, or even on the condition of work itself.

I tried to write something more profound here.  Something about how hard it is to find work that affords even a simple life.  How the full-time job with reasonable pay and benefits is no longer basic, no longer standard, but a promotion.   How so many of us are temps, or “independent contractors” – frequently in name only – that we can only hope to be real employees at all.  How many of us have to work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet to any degree.  How we’re saddled with student loan debt, because everyone all our lives told us that we’d need a good education to make it in the real world — so we sought one, paying more than we might ever earn back, even if we were still responsible enough to go to a public school in-state.   How we still get accused of being irresponsible spenders, even though an increasing number of us are choosing to rent homes rather than buy them, avoid owning a car, and even delay marriage and children — some might say out of a prolonged childhood, but arguably because independence is yet another luxury we can’t afford.

But it’s hard to try to speak so broadly.  I’m no expert in socioeconomics; I can’t sum up the changing function and fears of the American workforce.

All I can do is speak to my own experience, as one of those “gifted and talented” kids who grew up to be apparently useless to the world.

I won’t go through my own sordid work history; suffice it to say that it’s consisted mostly of temporary positions, rarely offered any kind of benefits, occasionally resulted in injury, frequently was riddled with miscommunication at the least and outright scandal at the worst, and had no bearing on anything I actually wanted to do when I grew up.

Because I never wanted to be something useful.  I never wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a mechanic or a teacher.  I kind of wanted to be an FBI agent until I learned all the rigors of training, which I knew my crapsack legs would not allow.  I kind of wanted to be an entomologist, until I realized that field work would require endurance and stamina as well.

No, what I always wanted to do, since the first time I pushed a key on my mother’s electric typewriter, was to be a writer.

Of all the things to be good at in the world, I was good at writing — at least, if you asked the adults around me.  They were always sharing the little poems I’d write as a kid, or the little short stories, or saying how good my essays were.  It was like that well into high school, when my teachers would say my papers were already graduate-level — and into college, when professors would say THEY had learned something from reading my essays.  (I’d stopped writing fiction and poetry shortly after I learned the word “doggerel.”)

And yet there was one constant refrain:  You Can’t Make A Living At That.

The one thing I was naturally good at, the one thing I enjoyed doing above all others, the one thing that anyone gave me any positive feedback about — the one thing I most loved to do — and the first thing out of anyone’s mouth was You Can’t Make A Living At That.

Nevermind that time and experience have shown that I can’t apparently make a living at anything else, either.

There’s never been anything I’ve loved so much as creating.  Writing most of all, but also music and drawing.  I’ve never been quite as good at anything as I was at writing, but the arts, in general, were my few islands of patience.  I’d get frustrated, as a child, with my lack of coordination in every other sphere of life, but something about Art of any kind was self-soothing.  There has never been anything in my life as wonderful as finding just the right word, playing just the right chord, watching that stirring scene in a play or a film.  Feeling the goosebumps rise, the tiny hairs stand up on the back of my neck, the wave of energy as if my body’s every cell was overflowing with life.   There is nothing like that aesthetic overload.  And if I could do anything, I’d spend my life trying to do things that wreak that same sensation in other people.  (Though it’s insufferable hubris to think I even could.)

I love to create things, but it’s so hard, at the same time.  Because there’s no point if you don’t share them, and yet sharing them is always an abject terror — calling on other people, sometimes even strangers, to judge the thing you’ve poured your time and effort into. Even if you wouldn’t go so far as to call it your “talent,” it’s damning enough to know that you spent time and ATP on it.  It could have been spent on work that makes you money.  It could have been spent on applying for jobs.  It could have been spent on reworking a resume for the tenth time, or tweaking another cover letter.  It could have been spent on something that was really worth something.  And I know that it should be.  Especially during these times that I’m unemployed, and everyone tells me that “your full-time job is finding a full-time job,” as if there are even enough jobs out there for which I’m qualified enough to apply.  All my ostensible “talent” just boils down to a fast typing speed and firm grasp of grammar and spelling — but every job I find is heavy labor or skilled professional or some kind of high-powered executive.  Jobs that I’m not qualified for, and in many cases physically can’t do.  But  America doesn’t believe in the word “can’t,” we just forgive different reasons for “won’t.”

But every once in a while, something just breaks, and I fritter away an entire afternoon writing something, or working on some sort of graphic design thing, or otherwise doing something creative. It hardly feels like any time at all – I’m just in the moment, doing what needs to be done for that task at hand, letting the inspiration guide me, and it’s all deeply appealing on so many different levels.   I’m focused, alert, productive, and yet I’m calm, steady, and persistent, even if I end up having to start over.  For those few timeless hours, I’m not scared or stressed or sad.  And then it’s done, and I have my draft of a post, or my short story, or some kind of photoshopped something, and I have a few moments of relative contentment (you know, where you realize the work is still totally Wrong but that it’s the best kind of Wrong you can make it.)  And while I might not be beaming or boasting, there may be a faint pearlescence of pride.

At least, before I look at the clock and see just how much time I’ve squandered — time which could have been money, had I been working on something valuable.

And yet,  one part of my brain/psyche/ego/whatever is always yelling at me that I can’t afford not to do these creative projects, because with every day that passes, I might be losing inspiration, losing the moment, losing the window of opportunity. I know that if I don’t start writing when I’m inspired, the idea and the mood will be gone and I may never get it back.  And that maybe, maybe, this is the idea that DOES matter.

This is a selfish part of brain, really. It says to me, “YOU are the one with this idea right now. YOU are the one who can do this. YOU should do it, because nobody else is going to do it unless YOU do it. You’ve spent all your life hiding and making yourself feel bad, internalizing every paradoxical insult ever hurled at you, convincing yourself that you weren’t worthy of anything. But after all these years, you convinced yourself that you are worthy of being alive, you are worthy of having a sense of self, you are worthy of having a unique identity, you are worthy of having a will to achieve and incorporate new things into yourself, you are worthy of developing a sense of agency in your life. There is a reason you feel peace with yourself when you’re creating, or contributing to artistic creation. There is a reason that it feels like it’s what you should be doing. There is a reason something at the core of you twists itself up in a knot at the idea of working in an office again. There is a reason the bile rises in your throat at words like ‘proactive’ and ‘webinar.’ You know this, no matter how complicated you may try to make things for yourself.

“All your life, you’ve been hiding your lamp under a bushel, and forcing yourself to see it as a faint little glow under the Chernobyl sarcophagus — and equally as treacherous if freed.  But there are people who want to hear what you have to say, to see what you have to make. Some are known to you, and some unknown — waiting for some mutual creative experience to, however loosely, however briefly, tie your minds together. And you know that, even if there were nobody left on the planet, you’d still be writing. You’d still be trying to make something of it all. This is what you do. This is your nature. And if you’re going to feel guilty about anything in your life, feel guilty about denying these most fundamental truths of yourself. No matter what has happened, you never fully let them go. You never let anyone take them from you. Not even yourself. You think you’ve changed so much in these past few years, but you know the secret – know it and have known: the only change has been in self-perception. You’ve always had this same potential, but only now are you allowing yourself to see it.

“But now is no time to blind yourself for blindness, guilt yourself for guilt or shame your shame; if you think that any time was squandered, then allow it to squander no more. Don’t seek permission or justification to pursue a life where you are what you know you could be: by being and by knowing, you have earned this. Earned this, and earned things that will be beyond your knowing until, reaching upward – however weakly, however slowly, however blindly, with hands however numb, you find them in your grasp. Some you may have already – have but not yet feel. And no matter what anyone has told you, or you have told yourself, it is a goodness to feel. So – for the love of any and all ye gods and a thousand glimmering shoals of little fishes – just let yourself CREATE.”

Meanwhile, the rational part of my brain/psyche/ego/whatever is telling me, “Will you shut your idiot piehole and talk sense? Look, if you don’t work every possible moment your job lets you work, you can’t afford to pay rent and eat food. It’s not that complicated. Not that you exactly need to eat so damn much, and not that you deserve to live where you are, but you have a responsibility to yourself and the people who let you live with them to keep yourself alive and pay your fair goddamn share.  Remember THAT word, Dostoyevsky?  RE-SPON-SIB-IL-ITY?

“I don’t care how burnt out you feel, I don’t care how incompetent you feel, I don’t care how dissatisfied you feel. I don’t care how peaceful or happy or accomplished you think you should feel, and I don’t care what you aspire to, because your feelings don’t matter, and your idea of a future doesn’t matter.  Because the future is just like today with a different date slapped on the tin. I don’t care if you feel bad about yourself, because you should feel bad about yourself.  Because, idealism aside, you ARE the money you make. You ARE what you can afford. You ARE what everyone else sees you as. You are a human in a society, and you need food, shelter, and a certain base level of acceptable appearance in order to stay alive and engage in in remotely successful interactions. These things cost money.

“You like to think you see yourself as better now, but you don’t, because you’re still at least a little awkward about going out in public, and — yet again —  you should be. You’re pining away like you think you’re a Romantic hero, some melancholy soul rejected by society to its own disservice, but you’re just a dumpy unemployed ugmo with bad skin and bad teeth and bad legs and bad hair.  You don’t even deserve to THINK about beauty, much less believe you can craft it. If you wanted to help the people around you, you’d stop believing you could make things that people want, and you would sell all your art and craft supplies for actual money. Nobody will ever pay even five bucks for anything you’ve ever done, because they know and you know that there’s more value in the printer ink or paint than in the “work” you’ve subjected it to.

“And whose fault is all of this? Yours. You could have chosen differently all along, and you didn’t, and now you think you can THINK yourself into the right to a better life than you’ve earned. You are not a bohemian, you are not insightful, you are not important, you are not a thing that matters, and the more you delude yourself into thinking you are, the more you are going to be discontent with the normal responsibilities of adulthood. Nobody gives even a sixteenth of a shit about your life but you, and you don’t even deserve to care about it as much as you’re trying to. Even if I let you do the artsy-fartsy bullshit you think you want to do, you KNOW you’d only be upset with how it turns out, and you KNOW you’d whine about how it could be better and how you’re just not good enough. And guess what — you’re right.

“I’m saving you a lot of trouble and embarrassment. You think you’re at peace with yourself when you’re creating, and you think you’re finally freeing yourself, but you’re actually hiding from the reality of the world you chose for yourself. You could have majored in anything in college – English, or arts, or psychology, or some kind of science. And whatever you majored in, you could have chosen to spend less time and money on that asshole you were with at the time. But no, you majored in Philosophy because you thought the critical thinking skills were more practical, and you still wasted your time, energy, money, GPA, and sanity on an ungrateful alcoholic jerk. Thinking that you could help him, even though you clearly couldn’t even handle your own life well enough to pick a major that’s not a cultural joke. You regret that time now, regret how everything happened, but you know you deserved just as good as you got, and still deserve to be suffering the consequences. Everything matters, every choice matters, and all the choices you have ever made up until this point have put you where you are. And it’s not even that bad, you ingrate. You’re just poor and unhappy, and both of those are logical consequences of those previous choices – or have you completely forgotten the Philosophy major you wasted your family’s money on?

“Listen. Your responsibility to yourself is not to be happy. Happiness is what you can pursue when you are DONE with all your responsibilities, and even then you can pursue it ONLY if it doesn’t come at the unhappiness, botherment, or even mild inconvenience of anyone else. If you manage to climb out of this hole you’ve put yourself into – and good goddamn luck with that, gimpy – then maybe you can start thinking about whether you have needs as a person or not. Until then, shut up, be a broken-toothed little cog, get a job, and do it.  Be grateful when someone chooses to pay you money to perform one of those few services your useless ass is capable of performing. All you ever do is let everybody down – and that’s when you’re NOT trying to do things beyond your limits. I have been telling you these same kinds of things every single day since you were in the third grade, and just because you decide to stop listening to me doesn’t mean I’m wrong. So sit down, shut up, and go back to work.”

Clearly, that part of my psyche is rather a lot more emphatic. And louder. And tends to go on at length. And has more objective evidence behind it. All the hippie-dippie encouraging attitude has behind it is your usual hope/faith/optimism stuff, which is painfully cyclical. If you want to be an optimist, you have to be optimistic that optimism will help you. It’s like most religion, magic, and other forms of faith that way – though, while that paradox of optimism is straightforward, actual systems of faith tend to be convoluted and circuitous enough that you ultimately manage to believe in yourself without your own ego interfering. It’s pretty damn wonderful and heroic when it all works out, but there’s the reason why that’s the kind of thing you read about in fiction. There’s a reason why, when that happens in the real world, it’s news.

And so here I am, on my first day of my latest bout of unemployment, an indefinite Labor Day weekend.  Telling myself that I’ll write things, I’ll create things, I’ll do useful things for people, until I get some kind of job that gives me dollars again. Trying not to be so stressed out and sad that I give up and hide from the world.  Trying not to delude myself with optimism, nor fall too deep in the mire of pessimism, no matter how much that pessimism looks like objective and rational truth.  Trying to make peace with my lack of social value while still believing it possible to redeem myself.

Nobody ever gets what they want in life.  Nobody ever gets to be happy — the hedonic treadmill sees to that, if nothing else.  And so, perhaps nothing has changed in all this time.  Perhaps none of it matters.  I’ll take the next job I’m capable of that opens up, I’ll work it until they arbitrarily get rid of me, or the company goes under, or the work runs dry, or they replace me with someone, or I have to quit before I have a nervous breakdown over the incompetence and impossibility of it all.  I’ll try to do the creative and calming things I can do in what free time I have, if just for myself, if never to be seen by anyone else.  And in every other hour of my life, I’ll feel myself age, feel myself grow stupid, feel myself grow even more slow, and regret more and more all the things that hindsight fools me into thinking I could have done with this time.

Because this is what it is to be an adult.

This is what it is to be a worker.

This is how we make a living.

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Other People’s Words: Sam Biddle Hates Everything

(Fair warning: this is not just a rant, but one of those high-powered caffeinated 3:00am-and-onward rants that I may not even remember clearly in the morning in the mid-afternoon.)

Gizmodo contributor Sam Biddle has the following insights to share in his article, “It’s OK To Be A Hater Because Everything Is Bad.”

The opening salvo:

Almost everything is bad. Usually, really bad, and not even bad in an interesting way. Tech is no exception—if anything, tech might be the worst of the bad. The Internet? Gross. The people who use it? Ugh. And it’s fine to hate it all.

The final blow:

It’ll go on like this forever, because people will never change, but technology will only get faster. Well, we might change, in that technology is turning us into ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics with a thirst for nothing but meme gristle and Internet lists. Before we implode from the psychological strain strains of saying, doing, making, buying, sharing, and generally slathering about the worst ideas and products in the history of humanity, let’s all agree that it’s OK to whine. It’s OK to say that things are terrible, because they are. It’s OK. It’s true and it’s OK. Try it with me. Try it with me and then go to hell, because you’ll probably share a Scumbag Steve pic later today.

In between, he rails against various material goods and kinds of people who buy such material goods and such peoples’ focus on popularity and, somehow, on Internet culture.  The Internet is gross and ugh and bad?  And how, Sam Biddle, staff writer at gizmodo.com!  And how.

But I can’t say it’s an unfamiliar sentiment.

I remember being a kid and seeing how my parents never seemed to enjoy anything, or have fun with anything. And how I wasn’t supposed to enjoy things either, because none of the fun stuff was necessary. They got by without it. So I could, too — whether I liked it or not. (And no sir, I didn’t like it, and grew to cope with being a perpetual alien to my own peers  – not by embracing my own unique qualities, but by resigning myself to the futility and giving up on social acceptance. But that’s another story.)

I remember being a disaffected and misanthropic “tween” and teen, who wanted to believe everyone else was stupid or inferior somehow.  All those normals with their Abercrombie shirts and their iPods and camera phones and their low-cut flares.  What sellouts, what dupes. Despite my virtually nonexistent self-esteem, I still at least wished I were better than them.  In times of more clarity, I just wished that the preponderance of people valued the same kinds of things I did – things like “preponderance” and other cool vocabulary words, for instance – and would value me as a human being to some degree as a result.

All throughout childhood and high school, I remember telling myself that I wouldn’t be like that when I grew up. I’d know how to have fun, and wouldn’t hate myself for doing, wearing, or buying something unnecessary sometimes, if it were still a useful thing that I thought I could enjoy for a long time.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be content with being bored and dismissive of the world around me. That I wouldn’t have a knee-jerk contempt for novelty. That I would know how to separate “squandering” from  “frivolity” from “mostly practical, but also fun,” instead of lumping them all into the same category and turning my back on it all.  I thought there was always something of value, something to think about, something to learn, from everything in our culture.  Maybe I only started to think that because I was seeing it all from the outside, or because I had to maximize the value of whatever pop-cultural fragments I had access to.

But I knew this much: I didn’t want to grow up to hate everything all the time. I hated everything and everyone already. How could I let that same miserabilism, that same stoicism, that same ennui run my life when I was finally an adult, free from the peer-pressure pressure cooker of school life, and finally free and independent enough to make my own choices?

Why would I want to?

Who would want to live with this much bitterness and contempt in them?

I don’t know what the author’s damage is, but it must be something. There could have been a whole article here that said something meaningful about critical thinking skills, about arguments from popularity and arguments from authority, about the apotheosis of the ignorant and the cultural concept of idiocy as freedom.

Instead it sounds like a sad old man shaking his cane at these young whippersnappers and their headphones, and all these newfangled iPads. Back in his day, ain’t nobody needed any iPads. They used a desktop PC and didn’t move their bodies for ten hours a day or walk on the grass but twice. and, by gum, they liked it. It’s not making any argument for why these things, or more accurately these people, or far more accurately these thought processes are bad/faulty/lacking — it’s just I Hate This. Codgery, curmudgeonly I Hate This, with a not-so-subtle subtext of You Should Too And If You Don’t, You’re What’s Wrong With The World.

I Hate This As If Hating This Will Make It Better For Me Or For Anyone.

It occurs to me that this is why people don’t listen to such arguments. Because griping about young people and new technology and other new stuff is Just What Old People Do.  That’s why the young have a knee-jerk contempt for authority: they see them as speaking only about Things or about People These Days, the outward manifestations of which can hardly be expected to stay static, but completely unable to draw parallels between their pasts and the young peoples’ presents.  They’re too distracted by the material differences to recognize the cultural and emotional touchstones.

There are always trendy and useless products.  There are always trendy and ridiculous-looking clothes.  There are always idiots.  There are always cheats.  There are always TV shows that seem to herald the end of all civilization.

There are also always people who overreact to the “threat” posed by these specific products/bands/media or their consumers/fans.

But products are products.  Stuff is not a statement.  If someone buys stuff to make a personal statement about themselves, that’s probably a little absurd. If someone buys stuff because they think it will make them More Like The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, yes, that’s absurd and a little sad.  But if someone makes a moral and intellectual judgment about someone else based on the stuff they own, presuming that the purchase means they bought it because – and only because – they’re trying to be The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, that’s significantly worse.  You are buying into the stuff-as-statement pretense, too.  You’re believing they’re either That Kind Of Person, or that they aspire to be That Kind Of Person, instead of acknowledging that, of the various but still limited options, someone decided to purchase that particular piece of stuff for some reason or other.  Maybe it’s a logically sound reason.  Maybe it isn’t.  But you don’t know what it is just by looking at the person.  If you think you do – positively or negatively – you are just as duped. You are not better for owning different stuff.  You are not better for not owning any such stuff.  You are not worse for not owning stuff.

Stuff, stuff-buying, and even stuff-as-statement, is not the point Biddle is even trying to make, I don’t think.  I think he does have a point in all that ramble, but he’s dancing around it.  Rather, he chooses to rail against these specific currently-trendy products (and the people who own them) and means of communication (and the people who use them,) instead of talking about the timeless but preventable characteristics of shoddy thinking, where the lessons actually are.

Why would he do this?

Perhaps because people don’t want to admit that they once liked or coveted popular and frivolous things, too. Or that they once wanted to be “cool,” and have had to content themselves with the fact that they can now be no more than “pretty cool, for an adult.” If you can look at how ridiculous youth culture is now, you can feel advanced and wise, and can also feel pleased for yourself that you didn’t fall into the trap of looking as trendy-foolish back when you actually had the chance. But for some reason, it’s easier to not only detach from popular culture, but rage at it as you do. It makes the dividing line clearer, for the sake of everyone who cares… which is mainly only you. It makes it a lot more clear to others that you aren’t one of Them. You aren’t one of those people who define themselves by certain things they buy – you define yourself as one of the people who HATES people like them, and who buys certain other things instead!  It’s easier to hate. Easier to hold things in contempt, to waste time and thought and energy on loathing what you can’t change.

That’s why 60-year-old-men and 16-year-old Goths sound surprisingly similar – and similarly wearying – when they talk about mainstream culture.

Biddle is correct when he vaguely, loosely, tangentially alleges that youth culture lacks self-awareness or the ability or willingness to use critical thinking or reason (as implied by his very loose allusions to the arguments from authority and popularity, and the fact that the Monster cables he derides are indeed the homeopathy of the electronics world.)  But it’s not just the youth, and it’s not just the Internet. It’s everywhere.  Hell, by this very emotion-driven and material-goods-focused screed that makes sweeping generalizations, appeals to ridicule and to spite, he’s doing this, too.

He’s not helping.

He is, in short, part of the Bad.

Even if he’d approached his actual complaints directly, the author would have had a hard road ahead of him. Primarily because the youth culture and Internet culture that Biddle so derides has a little phrase of its own:

Haters Gonna Hate.

A “hater” is, in its original usage, someone who, for whatever reason, won’t allow another person their own happiness or success, and instead must cut that person down. Someone for whom nothing is ever enough. An irrational grudge, generally. But although it started out specific, as a way of brushing off hostility and unwarranted criticism, “Haters Gonna Hate” has developed into a brushing-off of not only hostility but also virtually any kind of reaction other than agreement and encouragement. It’s an automatic and unthinking dismissal of virtually any unpleasant response. Yes, it also gets applied to people making well-reasoned arguments. But it goes further than the similar “Everyone’s a critic,” in a way that is symptomatic of the greater critical-thinking problem Biddle so very tangentially attempts to sort of allude to (I think.)

“Haters Gonna Hate” recontextualizes any criticism, critique, correction, or even any comment into an emotionally-driven argument. Its persistent use evinces the fact that people, especially young people, are not equipped to diferrentiate a rational argument from an emotionally-driven attack. Moreover, it implies a difficulty in rationalizing other points of view.  It presumes that the criticizer must feel jealousy or actual hate – that nobody would possibly have any other reason to give anything but praise.  Therefore, “Haters Gonna Hate” speaks to a deep-seated sense of self-entitlement. A strain of “I’m okay just the way I am” that’s somehow been bred for aggression, becoming “Fuck you, I do what I want.”

To such people he describes – presuming, for a moment, his sweeping generalizations of selfishness and immorality and inhumanity were actually founded – Biddle would be seen and dismissed as a hater. He seems to embrace the idea of this – or at least he would embrace it, if his joints weren’t acting up and if he weren’t fresh out of liniment. (No, he isn’t even old, but he speaks as if he wants a head start.) He welcomes hating.  In more than one way, he invites contempt. Because, intentionally or not, Biddle IS making only an emotional argument. He’s not actually calling for discourse. He’s not calling for reason. He’s not calling for anything but whining and hate, not realizing that his semi-strawman targets are already well-prepared to dismiss it.

Another related concept among that so-despised youth culture and Internet culture, “drama” generally consists of somebody doing something emotional and irrational, then refusing to acknowledge the consequences, the irrationality itself, or the legitimacy of any complaint. It’s sometimes a result of the inability to contextualize or to plan, of an underdeveloped sense of empathy, or of difficulty accepting and recovering from unexpected hardships.  Sometimes it’s intentional attention-seeking.  Regardless, the “drama queen” seems to thrive on such conflict in lieu of almost any other kind of interpersonal interaction.

Biddle’s screed is no bold dramatic monologue, addressing conflict, reasoning through problems, making difficult choices, reaching a conclusion, and taking a stand.

It’s just drama.

(And possibly even trolling.)

Drama is also not exactly a new phenomenon, and its spread has only been easier as communication has grown more pervasive.  There are scores of avenues to spread gossip, rumors, and general unsubstantiated crap, most of them with ever-lowering barriers to entry.

However, it might be argued that the self-entitlement mentality and lack of critical thinking skills that spur drama (and therefore spur the “Haters Gonna Hate” defense mechanism) seem to be more pervasive and more shameless now than in the past.  Which is also not a new sentiment.

But is it any wonder that it seems true now more than ever?

Advertisements don’t just talk up their own claims and run the viewer through a gamut of fallacies and appeals to emotion – they also bash the competition by name. No more “Brand X,” no more “the leading brand,” no more slightly-different spoofs.

In the 80s and 90s, talk shows featured histrionic freakshows of namecalling and chairthrowing; from the 2000s to the present, it’s “reality TV.” Both purport to demonstrate how people respond to criticism or to conflict. Both tend to rely on subjects with a disproportionate sense of self-worth who cannot acknowledge their own shortcomings, no matter what.

And then there’s the 24/7 cable news quandary, where a lack of verifiable information is no longer an impediment to continuing coverage. Where user comments are reported with the same authority as journalists’ observations, because  opinion, speculation, and hard data are rendered virtually indistinguishable – it’s the attention that matters.

Anyone can write anything on the Internet, and one can easily pick and choose one’s own news sources to get only the information with which they’re already inclined to agree.

It’s not just the media, either.  Good sweet unmerciful crap, don’t get me started on political “discourse.”

Or on parents who simply don’t know how to teach their children, give them guidance, set an example, or otherwise help a child learn any sort of structure, self-discipline, empathy, or understanding.  Possibly because they don’t have those skills, either.

It’s all added up to teach people to value attention for its own sake.  The more undeserved the attention, the more it becomes a grotesque point of fascination.

We have more sources of information than ever before.  More choices, and more freedom to remix, satirize, recontextualize, and otherwise augment that information.  Short of some revolution that annihilates the Internet (and with it most of our economy and social structure,) that’s not going to change.  It does not have to turn us into, as Biddle says, “ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics.”  It will require – already does require – nuance and the ability to parse multivalent statements.

Information can’t all be taken at face value – that makes you one of the literally unbelievable people who can’t distinguish an Onion article from a non-satirical article.

Information can’t all be dismissed out of hand – that makes you one of those people who thinks they’re always right in the face of all evidence.

Contrary to Biddle’s insults, regular Internet users are probably more likely to navigate this information successfully, out of familiarity and necessity.  Learning how to identify trolls, detect sarcasm without intonation or gestural cues, recognize reliable sources of information, and identify common hoaxes requires a certain kind of information literacy.  Moreover, it’s been among the Internet culture – which is rather more broad than Biddle acknowledges – that I’ve personally found the strongest reactions to mainstream media culture.  Before denouncing memes entirely, Biddle would have done well to observe what kinds of content are given the “I Don’t Want To Live On This Planet Anymore” reaction.  Intolerance, vapid pop music, idiotic statements, poor grammar, Twilight, and other offenses are all given this summary rejection of not only the post itself but of the mainstream culture which created it.

So, the problem is not “information overload.” It’s not the Internet. It’s not technlogy. It’s not the media; it’s not consumerism; it’s not capitalism.  It’s not the kids or the adults, the democrats or the republicans, left or right, high culture or low culture, elitists or idiots.  The problem starts and ends in the three pounds of matter within every individual skull, which processes that information, processes other information around it, figures out how to perceive the world, and figures out how to act upon it.  The problem is – always has been, and always will be – a lack of or willful suspension of critical thinking especially when such thought would create cognitive dissonance with one’s sense of self-entitlement.

There have always been those who thrive on conflict, outrage, attention, and fear, in lieu of empathy, acceptance, humility, and wisdom. No matter how much you whine, no matter how much you hate, your contempt and your loathing will not challenge or change them.   It will not change you, either, except to make you more of the kind of person who can’t stop thinking and talking about how much you hate everyone and everything and how everything’s gone downhill.

Yes, this will make you sound more like an adult.

No, It does not make you sound more mature.

It certainly does not make you sound more wise.

It might make you feel better though.  And that’s okay, though I question the mechanics.

Refusing to acknowledge large swaths of unpleasant or inconvenient reality might also make you just as detached as the people you vituperate.  And that’s okay, too – if you’re going to make rude and sweeping generalizations, maybe you’ll be happier keeping to yourself?  But I suspect that, if you feel this angry, it’s not because a bunch of young dumb brats have somehow displaced you, but because you’ve let yourself grow so estranged from what you value, and maintain such a tenuous hold on it yourself, that you’re able to perceive a total stranger wearing expensive headphones as a threat.

Maybe what you really want is for your intellectual values to be shared and reaffirmed.

The funny thing is… these strangers don’t have to share any of your intellectual or moral values.  They really don’t.  They’re okay with making what we might see as mistakes all the time.  They’re okay with looking stupid.  Or being stupid.  Or not even being able to acknowledge their own stupidity.  And they’re probably happier than us.  Remember, they probably don’t even care what other people think, as long as they’re happy.  And there’s not much we or anyone else can do to change that.  Even if we – individually or culturally – did a better job of equipping them with the intellectual tools, and the knowledge of how to use those tools, and even a social structure that better rewarded people who used those tools and used their intellects, it would still be up to the individual to actually use them.  Do they owe it to themselves to think well and wisely, spend well and wisely, live well and wisely?  Sure.

But they do not owe it to you.

If you acknowledge this, and you’re ranting anyway, maybe you’re really trying to reach out to other people who are already like you. Smart, angry others.  Frustrated, disaffected others.  Others who are tired of feeling all the shame and humiliation that these materialistic simpletons refuse to feel.  Others with whom you might commiserate, here in this dystopian world-gone-mad of Monster cables and Honey Boo Boo Child and swag, here at the end of all days.

I don’t speak for anyone for myself, but I’m tired of misery, private or shared.  I’m tired of whining.  I’m tired of hate, hating, and haters.  I’m tired of drudgery and deception and excuses and shallowness and injustice.   I’m tired of nihilism and tired of those who only enjoy things ironically. I’m tired of antiheroes and impossible ideals.  I want to see sincere, self-aware pursuit of individual goals.  Even if those goals are ridiculous.  Maybe especially if those goals are ridiculous, so long as they’re also positive or at least mostly harmless.  Whether it’s a thesis paper on ancient Greek philosophy or a Viking longboat made out of cereal boxes, I want to see people who know what they want to do, even if they don’t know why they want to do it, and DO THE HELL OUT OF IT, and feel accomplished of the thing that they did as a result.  I don’t want to see people stop being proud – I want them to stop being proud of STUFF and stop being proud of MONEY and stop being proud of ATTENTION and start being proud of what they’ve done and earned and made and meant.  I don’t want to see people being bleak and apathetic and backsliding into sarcastic 90s nihilism as some pendulum-swing response to “swag.”  I don’t want to see hipsters playing games with authenticity and clinging to irony as plausible deniability.  Admit that what you like may or may not be popular, and may or may not be popular among some other subgroups as a direct result of the original popularity value, but that you like it anyway.  Just like what you like anyway.  If it’s not hateful or harmful, like what you like, do what you do, and do what you’re like (if you’re lucky.)

I’m as tired of stupidity as anybody else, but I’m also tired of tedious self-important misanthropes wrapped in a threadbare cloak of intelligence and a homemade crown of moral superiority, who – instead of offering even the most condescending advice on independent thought to these lost little iPad lugging lambs – spend their time flogging those who have fun the wrong way or who have the wrong stuff. You who would do this, you have the Curse of Greyface upon you.

Fun is not the opposite of work.  Happiness is not the opposite of honesty.   Hope is not the opposite of truth.

And hate is not the cure for selfishness, for stupidity, for arrogance, for irrationality, or for anything but serenity.  Your hate changes no one.  Your whining means nothing.  It is not a clarion call for reason and discourse.  It will not crumble the halls of the media.  It will not humble the unjustly proud.  It will not even clearly or thoroughly express your own discontent.  It will only make you another loud, angry talking head, spouting into the cacophony – a willing part of the Fear And Outrage Machine.

So I see Biddle’s challenge in the final lines, and I raise it.

Let’s do more than whine. Let’s do more than hate. Let’s say something meaningful instead.  Let’s make arguments without anger and hypotheses without hyperbole, and politely tell people off if they won’t do the same.  Let’s learn logical fallacies and teach them to young people – as part of government/econ classes, at least, and ideally as early as elementary school. And also teach self-esteem that doesn’t assume everyone’s awesome all the time, but also teaches how to give and receive constructive criticism.  Let’s stop teaching kids that “stupid” is a bad word – and teach them what things really are stupid, and why.  Let’s regain our tolerance for thoughtful pauses and change the channel on shouting matches.  Turn off the TV, don’t feed the trolls, and do things for the sake of genuine personal satisfaction – not attention.  Let’s presume everyone else is as civil, moral, and intelligent as we are, until they prove otherwise – even if they’re carrying an iPad or wearing something we think is funny-looking.   Let’s not confuse censorship for civility, or vice versa.

It’s okay to say that things are terrible.  Believe me, I do.  And I’m no optimist. But it’s even better to recognize exactly what is terrible, why it’s terrible, and to do your part to not be terrible yourself, and to figure out ways to be awesome instead.

The media may take away the lives of children and of the vulnerable inside and out; it may behave irrationally, distort the world, deceive you, tempt you, try to define your dreams, ask you to fear, and reward you with only more reasons to cower – but, like Jareth, it has no power over you, and it’s mostly made of our own imagination.

Maybe we can imagine ourselves something else.  (*ahem*Internet culture*ahem*)  But something more… well, real-world.  Maybe we can.  Maybe we can’t.  But hating, whining, drama, and perpetual conflict – and our cultural fascination with them – are why things are where they are.

I don’t believe they are how we get back out.

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Overthinking Overnalyzing

After the last post, and the general ages-long analysis-paralysis delay in posting anything, I was digging around and trying to determine more about Why That Happens.  I enjoy analyzing things just because it’s intensely satisfying to find patterns and to make things make sense — even, hell, especially when it’s pareidolia.  Whether it’s an optical illusion, a mashup, a metaphor, or a joke, I love implausible juxtaposition that calls on the brain to make some synapse between utterly unrelated neurons.  I don’t think I could still Be Me if I didn’t enjoy that – which means that my tendencies to analyze things and try to seek patterns aren’t, in themselves, problematic.

What IS problematic is how I react – or don’t – during the process.

For all my fondness of weird, juxtaposed, implausible, chaotic things and the strange kinds of harmony they can produce… in most of my behaviors, I’m painfully rulebound.   It might be due to upbringing, to a large degree – one parent thought anything not planned was not worth doing; the other was more spontaneous, but much more fretful about change.  Throw in the fact that the only thing I’ve ever excelled at was school, where everything is Right or Wrong, clearly defined, and any mistake you make carries through your entire school year to affect your final grade or GPA, and I quickly internalized a mindset of If You Can’t Plan It, Predict It, Or Perfect It, DON’T DO IT.  Not doing things was always better than doing them wrong.  And as for “learning from your mistakes,” well, learning didn’t matter.  Grades weren’t based on how much you improved over the course of a year, after all. They were just the aggregate of how many mistakes you made.  Start with a perfect A+, and subtract all the fuckups you made over the course of 9 months.

So, a miserable stasis was always more preferable to making a mistake in the name of ‘progress’ or ‘hope’ or ‘learning’ or whathaveyou.  Trying my best was only adequate if it correlated to an actual objective reward.  Getting a C was as good as an F, a B was a C, an A was a B, and an A+ was “Expected,” not “Exceptional.”

And yet, for all of that, I’ve never been too much of a control freak.  I want to understand things, sure, and plan things when I can — but my crap self-esteem has ensured that I rarely think I have adequate control over anything.  I’ve always been far more inclined to just go with the DON’T DO IT answer by default – knowing that I’ll plan wrong, make bad predictions, and generally fail, which gives the less-practical, more-emotional corollary of YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE TO DO IT.  And, at times, the doubling-down of YOU DON’T EVEN DESERVE TO WANT TO DO IT.

I’m more than willing to concede the fact that the world works as it works, there’s not necessarily order or structure, our perceptions of such are largely illusory, and “control” is another term for the delusion of confidence and competence. It’s also not an illusion of control, because I never feel remotely in control of anything. Including and especially those things I should feel most in command of. It’s like there’s some sort of psychic maintenance involved – every artificial thing I’ve tried to impose on myself, I have to try to keep functional, all on my own, while being besieged by all manner of external forces that only even feel like a siege at all because I tried to fortify myself against them in the first place.

No, all this analysis and reticence and paralysis isn’t for a sense of control. Just a sense of justification. Just a sense that, in some respect, whatever I’m thinking, planning, doing, not doing, or doing-by-not-doing (to get all wu-wei on things) is Okay.

Even though it never works out like that, and I know it.

The closest I ever get is: “You’re making a constant series of mistakes, and you’ll never be able to fix them. You may or may not have done your best, and even if you did, that may or may not have been good enough, and it may or may not even matter. So… it is what it is. Do stuff. Or don’t. Or something. You may or may not find out, in the end, whether or not it was right, wrong, acceptable, or immaterial. So it’s all on your head, Sparky, and so is figuring it all out.”

I think I just need to make myself a little more aware of when I’m obfuscating myself. When I’m holding myself back. When I’m telling myself that something – whatever it is – just needs A Few More Things or Just A Bit Of Refinement before I call it Done. When I’m caught up in worrying about what other people might think, or how well it might work, or whether what I want to do is acceptable to do or even acceptable to want.

Because I suspect that what I’m really saying to myself is, “This thing is probably actually ready. I feel like I’m not. I will not do anything until I feel like I’m ready. This thing, and everything and everybody else, therefore has to wait for me to stop feeling like a failure before it can be done / shown / shared. The very fact that I don’t feel ready yet makes me feel more like a failure, which makes me feel more unready, which makes me feel more like a failure.  Therefore, this should never be shared.”

And by the time I do feel ready to share something, time and growth have made me just a slightly different person than the person who made the thing.  Which makes it a little too distant to be be relevant to me.  A little too much a relic.  A little too much an anchor. And if I’m ready, in principle, to share, but the thing itself is no longer representative or meaningful or relevant, then how can I claim it should be of worth to anyone else?

So I don’t share things.  Or even make things.  Or try much.  Or challenge myself, since feeling like something is a challenge is, to me, a sign that you are inadequate or inadequately prepared for it. But, because I don’t challenge myself, I don’t allow myself to make mistakes – which leads to poor coping skills when I do make mistakes. Therefore, my parameters for what is a surmountable challenge tend to stay the same – not only because I haven’t made the mistakes to learn what not to do, but I haven’t learned enough coping skills to make the very act of mistake-making feel like anything short of utter unacceptable doom.

When I’ve made a thing, when I’ve gotten myself to the point where I feel it’s done, it still never really feels good or right.  I just feel like there’s nothing left I can do with it, and that this is my own fault. Maybe I’ve made the thing for its own sake, or for others, or even if it is for myself, all I end up seeing is how it’s still not right, still flawed, in ways I can’t fully articulate or fix.  It’s an overwhelming feeling that this would be better if only it were somebody else doing it.

And yet, the more I try, the more I feel like I’m irresponsible.  There’s only so much time and energy, you know, and there I am pushing myself against some essay or poem or story or whatever as if I could EVER be good enough to make it what it deserves to be.  As if there’s not something else in the world I could be doing, something practical and purposeful, that would directly help me or someone else.  So I get torn right  in pieces between feeling energized by the idea and desperate to realize it in some way or other before the inspiration’s gone forever, feeling completely incompetent at this idea that’s burning in my brain, and feeling selfish and pompous for spending time on it at all.

And all of that combined means that even when it’s as Done as I can get it, I still feel like I can’t share it.  Because it won’t live up to the idea, or it will have too much ME in it.  It’s too raw and ill-defined, while at the same time being so dense, so solid, so untouchable.  But I can’t generate my own justification or validation, and I feel instinctively that neither the thing, nor I, deserve it from anyone else.  And yet, if I don’t want others to enjoy it, or even approve of its existence, or even grudgingly accept it, and if I can’t generate those things myself, and if I’m unsure whether or not it really speaks for itself or not, is it really done?  Should I even have made it? Why did I bother? What’s the point?

I guess that’s the appealing thing about faith. It cuts all those issues short. Whatever you do, you’re not doing for the thing itself, or for yourself, or for others; you’re doing it for Insert Metaphysical Entity Here.  Maybe not even a capital-G God.  Maybe just a muse. Maybe anything outside of yourself that you believe in. You don’t have to explain why you’re doing it. Insert Metaphysical Entity Here inspired you!  Regardless of how you feel about it, and regardless of how anybody else reacts to it, you can assume that Insert Metaphysical Entity Here is pleased! And you don’t have to worry about how things seem in hindsight, or all the infinite possible spiraling potentialities. Insert Metaphysical Entity Here decides what happens, so any results – good or bad – are its will. As long as you can justify yourself to Insert Metaphysical Entity Here — a process which, from my viewpoint, appears alarmingly similar to the self-reflection echo chamber — you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to doubt. You don’t have to be afraid. Well, unless you have one of those Insert Metaphysical Entities Here which like you to be worried and doubtful and afraid, and like to be judgmental. But you know what you’re in for with that, too.

It just sounds so trite to say that I should have faith in myself.  Besides, I’ve lived with myself all my life; I know better than that.  And my thoughts on faith of any kind is another heap of blather entirely, though it boils down to an idea that faith is a learned behavior that operates independently of evidence, which can be used as anything from a temporary psychological stopgap to a sort of outboard ego through which one routes some, or all, perceptions, judgments, and thoughts.  One can have faith in a deity, or oneself, or another person, or any other ideological thing.  But, all too often, the thing you have faith in isn’t what you think or believe it is.  And you end up having to have faith that the object of your faith even functions as an object of your faith.  You have to have faith about your faith about your faith, giving up bits of your ego with each iteration until there’s almost nothing left.  Faith is what you have when you are too unaware of yourself, the world around you, your abilities, or your limitations, to have a rational understanding of cause and effect.

At the same time… cause and effect aren’t always so clear-cut.  That’s chaos theory for you – even the most minute changes in initial conditions can lead to vastly different results in later conditions, and it takes superhuman abilities to even guess what swath of possible results might be more likely.

It’s a fact that I love.  And have loved forever, since before I even knew there was a term for it.  And then I discovered Discordianism back in high school, which – for being rather tongue-in-cheek – was still an encouraging and ennobling target of at least some sort of faith.  Even if the faith was just that, yes, there are other Weird People in the world; yes, trying to make things more orderly often fails; yes, it is a Good Thing to be creative; yes, the world is silly, and it’s okay to be silly yourself.

Also, I guess that’s why faith in an external metaphysical entity — even one almost completely fabricated — seems less stupid than faith in myself:  I know enough about myself to know that having faith in myself is only writing myself a check that I can’t cash.  I rationally KNOW I’m not a viable target of faith.  Something that doesn’t exist can’t be such a failure.

But for so long since, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between ruts of destructive order and destructive chaos, forgetting that they’re not really as opposing as I make them out to be.  I’m quite possibly the world’s only lapsed Discordian.  But I’d do well to remember some of these formative things, the things I thought I’d hold to as an adult.  The more I feel I’ve failed as an adult, as a person, as an anything, the more I try to seek order and stability and things that are predictable and known.

But perhaps this is me just trying to retreat into some “safe” and ever-besieged world of known failures,  regularly scheduled crises, and rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.  Perhaps I should be reaching toward those things I’ve always been most drawn to, when I dare draw or be drawn.  To art-ish things, and writing, and storytelling, and gods help us all maybe even poetry.  The things that I try to tell myself are frivolous, pointless, impossible, that require too much of me, that are more than I could handle, that are for Other People, Better People, Funnier People.   The things I bribe myself with — “Okay, just do the things you have to do, and then you can do the creative things you want to do – never mind that the moment will be long lost by then.”  I keep telling myself somehow that, if I get a good stable job, or otherwise earn worth or wealth, then I’ll be allowed to be creative again.  Nevermind that the times when I have jobs like this are also the times when I’m most stressed and sapped and unable to summon the energy or effort or inspiration to create.

All I know is, it sucks to feel simultaneously that you have no purpose in all the world but to Create Something — while knowing that you have to make a living, and you have to earn the right to be alive, and that even fulfilling your purpose of Creating Something isn’t enough.  If you’re particularly low on marketable skills other than Creating Something, there is almost nothing you can do to make you deserve things like food or shelter, or the money to afford such things.  The time you spend doing whatever scraps of things someone will pay you to do, is time you spend not doing what you feel made to do — and, in fact, time you spend dessicating and burning away everything in you that makes you capable of Creating Something at all.

I guess all we can do is choose creativity.  Even as we’re growing old and slowing down and drying up, even as we’re inching further into the gutter, all we can do is keep thinking, keep making connections, keep creating new ideas from the patterns we see (or create) in the chaos all around us.  Accept that it doesn’t matter, and we’re going to die alone and broke and ugly and from something probably depressingly preventable, and nothing but a burden on everyone we’ve ever cared about but maybe, before we’re shoveled under and forgotten, we’ll Create Something that lasts.  It won’t make up for anything – nothing can – but it will be Something.

“To choose order over disorder, or disorder over order, is to accept a trip composed of both the creative and the destructive. But to choose the creative over the destructive is an all-creative trip composed of both order and disorder. To accomplish this, one need only accept creative disorder along with, and equal to, creative order, and also willing to reject destructive order as an undesirable equal to destructive disorder.” ~ Malaclypse the Younger, KSC

And that, if nothing else, is something to stop and think about.

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Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant

Thomas Kinkade, self-stylized “painter of light,” died suddenly on the 6th.  Since then, his fans have turned up in droves to purchase his prints – though their reasoning is more than a little questionable.

“Many customers bought art as a tribute while others said it was a smart investment: They feel his work will now be worth more down the road, Wells said.” (via Yahoo)

It’s not surprising that people who like Kinkade don’t “get” art, or that they don’t “get” how mass-produced reproductions will not appreciate in value.  But it’s still depressing.  I had a dorm room full of posters of famous artworks like anyone else, but I didn’t think any of them WAS “a Picasso” or WAS “a Warhol.” But, to his fans’ uncertain credit, these prints basically ARE what Kinkade does. Maybe the actual oils are a little more awesome in person somehow. But, for all intents and purposes, “a Kinkade” is a xerox copy you buy in a mall.

Uniqueness and rarity aren’t required for something to be art; if they were, no widely-published literature or music could be considered art, either.  And I hold that there’s art in almost anything, if you look at it right.  However, Kinkade’s work is like a Hallmark card – a mass-produced thing that is created to have mass appeal and to not really say anything — even though the whole point is, supposedly, the expression of some deep personal sentiment.

But not for him. For whatever reason, Kinkade was content to prove to us, over and over again, that cottages are cute, that candlelight is warm and comforting, and that sunrises are pleasant.

I’ll admit, I did like the way he was able to paint dappled light. Blame my relative lack of culture, but I hadn’t seen that done by other artists before, and the technique was appealing to me. But instead of chintzy little painfully-perfect scenes that always looked like they’d be more at home on a collectable porcelain plate, I always wanted to see him do something equally mundane, equally light-focused, but more engaging. Neon lights in a rainy alleyway, reflecting in the eyes of the homeless teenager who’s squatting there. The way the snow melts and shimmers in the light of a burning house. The alien chartreuse of a sky after a tornado, the choking black clouds only letting light in from the north, setting the shadows askew. I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say “Either show me something I’ve never seen before, or show me the beauty in something I wouldn’t otherwise see.”

Or at least to see him paint some actual fantasy things, like teetering elven spires or unicorn-infested fields.

Or, if NOTHING at all else, to see him paint a regular landscape. No cottages, no barns, no lighthouses, no garden gates, nothing that showed any human presence. Just trees and plants and sunlight in the forest primeval.

Instead of challenging ideas of beauty, or even of depicting impossible fantasy worlds, Kinkade just wanted to show us our most generic fantasies – that the world is as pleasant as it appears, that “the good life” is lived by simple people in simple rural towns, and that the beauty of the world is made more beautiful by the presence of such people.

If he were a “painter of light” as he claimed, he’d paint that stunning and welcoming interplay of light and texture anywhere it fell. Gleaming in oil slicks and sparkling in broken glass and filtered through basement windows onto cold and sooty stone.

Instead, with a metaphor bearing all the stealth and subtlety of a freight train (yet still more deft than anything in his art,) he was referring not to real light, but to a guiding light of inspiration.

Since there’s so little technical value in the art, since it’s so keenly cultivated to present this specific set of impressions, it only makes the work more unrelateable and divisive. They perpetuate skewed and unattainable standards of beauty, of goodness, and of values that are as galling as any airbrushed bimbo in a beer ad. It’s not just that the images are made so perfect that we then struggle to accept the flaws in our reality — it’s that they’re creating such a false idol for our aspirations in the first place. THIS is what we’re being given as “inspirational” and “affirming.” THIS is a positive and pleasant image.

If your home doesn’t look like these homes, your home is NOT an inspirational and affirming place. It is NOT positive or pleasant. It is NOT full of warmth and light and love and grace and godliness. Your city apartment, your suburban tract house, your mobile home, these are all inferior places. The sunlight may fall on your home just as evenly as on as one of these little cottages — but you won’t see Kinkade deign to depict its beauty.

All you can do is fantasize about living in a home like that, in a little town like that. You can just see it now – someday, when you retire from the factory, or when you finally get that big promotion, you’ll be able to live somewhere with that same “serene simplicity.”

Someday.

Somewhere.

But surely not here or now, because light and beauty are external to you.

Keep the fantasy alive. Let yourself burn with longing, burn with a light that others might call avarice. Go to the mall that was built where the farms used to be, that were built where the meadows used to grow. Spend half a week’s pay on a framed copy of a sun-dappled home, and put it on the wall of your own living room. Right over the sofa, across from the big screen TV, so you can see it reflected backwards in the glass during those brief spans of dark between commercials. When work makes you weary and the news makes you scared, and you’ve praised or mocked the day’s proper celebrities, the home you believe you should have will be there, just over your head, like Tantalus’s low-hanging fruit.

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