Much Old and Wiser

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I got to the shore and I said, “Ocean!”
I flung sand and I said, “Ocean!”
“My path will not cease here;
I will not bow to your tides of power –
So either you make me Jesus
And I walk to England,
Or you drown me with all you have.”
The waves crashed.
A dirty seagull stood staring far to my right.

I walked into the surf – into the warm July water,
And when the water got to my knees
A sharp, burning pain coursed up my leg.
I leapt back and fell with a splash.
I scrambled until I found dry sand.
There I sat, clutching my leg, the pain true,
And while rocking back and forth,
I gasped, “Ocean.”
I gasped, “Ocean.”

Defense Filter for Your Wallet and Mind

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Poverty is a wormhole that can be impossible to crawl out from; its walls are tinted with anxiety and its days can bleed you dry, leaving nothing left at the end but a question of worthiness. I’ve been thinking about precisely that these past few weeks, but what got me there, and thinking about my own economic situation, was an unlikely source: the book The Millionaire Next Door. This economics book (not a self-help book) tracks the patterns of millionaires in America and tries to find what makes them so financially successful. My goal was to take those patterns (of a sub-group called PAW, or prodigious accumulators of wealth) and see what could be applicable for those below the poverty line.

And honestly, I had a lengthy article written for this, but the more I read about what some people go through and how the system is almost collectively designed to make poor people spiral further down the economic ladder, I just got the sense that anything I could say would be reductionist and might even be insulting. Way down into that wormhole called poverty, one can see a lack of empathy at almost every turn, prejudices and frustration abound, and the phrase “It’s expensive to be poor” is encoded into the perception of reality itself.

So I can’t offer much – I can’t change the world, I can barely change my clothes – but I can offer a list I’ve been creating for the past few years to tackle the economic drains of mindless consumption. I come at it from a variety of angles: behavioral economics, propaganda studies, philosophy, and probably a good bit of the everyday skepticism that drives my family nuts. I call this “a filter for your wallet and mind,” and the point is to create a framework of thinking instead of looking for single instances of where you can save money. The main takeaways are: 1) Seemingly insignificant financial choices are always significant in the long run, and 2) If you don’t keep track of where all of your money goes, you’ll end up wondering where it went.

Defense Filter for Your Wallet and Mind

1) Start a budget. Make a spreadsheet or get out the pen and paper and start tracking where ALL of your money goes, e.g. housing, utilities, gas, food, entertainment, child expenses, car repairs, medical bills, student loans from that ventriloquism degree, etc.. How much would you save if you did things differently? This is one of those activities you can undertake that’ll give you the benefit of doing so, but as you’re doing so you’ll also improve the behavior of why you were doing so in the first place.

a) You might say, “I don’t have time for that!” Recognize that saying this about budgeting is a consistent predecessor to saying “I don’t have money for that!” So what do you do then? You spend more time trying to generate money, of course. Small sacrifices now lead to benefits later.

b) I have to add this point because of the sad state of the world – maybe you know the world I’m talking about. From TV preachers to seminar leaders, there are those out there who prey on the vulnerable who simply want hope, and those people in positions of power will exploit this idea of “sacrifices now lead to benefits later” by saying if you give money to ME, then some OTHER force will reward you. These other forces are often mystical or the deeply abstract and mistaken for concrete. Life is not a karma-fueled vending machine.

2) Find out why you’re broke by a thousand cuts. I tried to research the psychology of why subscription-based models work so well, but all I got was subscription offers. To boil down this concept, this rampant $10 per month subscription model of life, the universe, and everything is extremely successful at getting people to pay for services they’d hardly ever agree to if phrased as a yearly model. Here’s a sample package of what some “cord cutters” use:

a) Basic home internet and TV – $90 per month, or $1,080 per year. (But you know it’ll increase bit by bit as the year goes on. Another tactic exploiting perceived insignificance.)
b) Netflix – $11 per month, or $132 per year.
c) Amazon Prime – $11 per month, or $132 per year. (Plus you get the added benefit of spending more money on impulse buys every month. “I have Prime, and so I might as well. If I don’t buy something I’m basically wasting my Prime membership!”)
d) HBO Now – $15 per month, or $180 per year.
e) Spotify – $10 per month, or $100 per year.

Total yearly cost = $1,624. Five-year cost = $8,120.

3) “Free” is hardly ever free. For $132, I’ll ship this to your door for free in two days.

4) Don’t pay others for services you can do yourself. Make your own damn coffee. Do simple maintenance and car repairs with the power of YouTube. The same goes for your home. The tenants before me at my old apartment left the washer because it didn’t work anymore. I fixed it with YouTube and $2 plastic clips that went into the… turny thing.

5) Center your diet on cheap and healthy foods. There are a ton of websites discussing this very bullet point. You might find that being frugal has an unintended consequence of becoming healthier. Healthier is cheaper over the long run.

a) Fast food, pizza places, most restaurants – these are places of temptation. Why do most of them exist directly on the side of the highway? Because they’ll fail on back roads. People don’t truly care for them like they do for grandma. The restaurants have to constantly be shoving themselves into people’s minds to stay afloat.
b) Now is a good time to emphasize that this isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor. Whether saving money or trying to lose weight, it’s important to realize that eating or sharing your favorite foods every once in a while is one of the joys in life – and that has real value that can’t be measured by your wallet.

6) Find the redundancies of modern living. See my articles about the benefits of getting rid of home internet and cable. This is a huge cost that gets absorbed as a borderline necessity. If you can, get on the internet once a week at the library or wherever else it’s already offered. If your job necessitates home internet, start factoring that cost into prospective salaries. Write it off on taxes if you can.

The library is a place that keeps on giving. A couple books, free library movies, and going home to homemade soup can last for days and cost only a few dollars for ingredients and transportation, but in one night, even someone who considers their self cheap can spend $20 at the cinema, $30 at a restaurant, $5 for gas money, and $20 for a few drinks at the bar – because the night is still young. Once a month doesn’t seem too bad. Everyone deserves to get out once in a while, right? Twelve months later, those $75 nights you totally deserved have turned into $900. Or maybe it’s that once per week trip for less than twenty dollars? (Ever wonder why the TV commercials say something like “For less than (this amount) per day you can adopt a child you’ll never see after we take out our overhead fees”?) Five years later, you need a new used car and you’re wishing you had $4,500. Maybe if you paired it with your five-year cost of internet and saved it before you spent it, you’d have over $12,600! In a savings account, you’d probably have around $13,000. But instead, you just have worry because you don’t know how you’re going to get to work or pick up your kids. Maybe you take out a car loan or start using credit cards. The interest adds up the other way – that is, not in your favor and at a far greater rate, which is how the world feels when you’re poor – not in your favor.

7) Fight Club has this quote: “The things you own end up owning you.” That fancy suit is dry cleaned only. That smart TV needs a constant connection to utilize all the features. The size of your house and your heating bill are intertwined. And on and on…

8) Try to find others who have the same frugal-based values as you. In The Millionaire Next Door, the authors explain how the clash of money values between couples doesn’t bode well, and if you’re saving money, the consumption-based lifestyle will usually find a need for it. But it doesn’t even have to be in your home life; your friends can also have a drastic influence on the type of lifestyle you develop and stick with.

9) Focus on efficiency.

a) Find ways to reduce your energy bill (but don’t spend money to save a lesser amount of money). This includes wasting more money in gas driving across town than what the amount saved is worth.
b) Find ways to better utilize your time.
c) Don’t take shortcuts – do stuff better! That has value in the long run.

10) Be honest about your addictions. If you smoke, drink, gamble, etc., your expenses sheet isn’t going to judge you for it, but it might help show you the true cost of continuing on your current path. If you’re trying to save money so you have more to spend on your addictions, or if you find the money you do save ends us going to an addiction, as an ordinary fellow human, I recommend help.

11) If you have student loans, use your saved money to pay off the highest interest loans first. If you’re on IBR, find out how much interest accumulates per year and try to at least beat that pace. Budgeting primer:

a) (Your loan amount * your interest rate = interest per year). For example, $4,210 * .068 = $286.28.
b) Now do that with all of your loans and add together.
c) Realize that sum will accumulate every year and then come to terms with the fact that it will not vanish. The more you pay in excess of that base interest rate, the less interest you will ultimately have to pay, likely thousands of dollars, and the sooner you can start putting it all behind you… If you’re in college now or thinking about going to college, save this article. Come back to it. I thought I was OK at math, too, but even I was shocked when I poured money into student loans the first year after graduation and ended up in the same place as I started.
d) Realize that if you buy a new computer with student loan money under the header “school supplies,” that computer is going to cost you money probably long after you no longer have it.
e) Realize degrees that pay less in the job market often end up costing a lot more because of the longevity of accumulating interest.
f) Yes, people who have their education paid for beforehand will end up getting the same education for thousands of dollars less, but the consequence of having student loans for a decade of more will then lead into a spiral of missed opportunities.

Putting up a defense for specific consumption-based decisions:

1) Do you have a functional one already? People say, “But I want a red toaster. It looks better than my old toaster.” “That car suits my personality better.” “But the newer one has a 1” bigger screen.” “But the newer one has a smaller screen.” A billion different reasons.

2) Is the purchase imperative to ongoing life? Hey, maybe you will end up deciding to buy that stripper pole for your living room. That’s all right – we live in a glorious society where if you really want a stripper pole, you could probably get one by the end of the afternoon. But think about it for at least a few days and see the effect this has on what you actually end up buying. Let the decision sit for two weeks and you might find you’ve moved on.

3) Is your quality of life and experience significantly affected? I wanted a ladle. Used a spoon instead. I wanted a better example. Got this instead. Good enough.

4) Is it a “what if” item. “I might need this. What if…” Guess what’s still going to be at the store if you actually need it? …However, buying food and supplies before a hurricane might be a worthy exception. Just thought I’d throw that in there so no one dies.

5) Will a more expensive version be cheaper over the long run? Items designed for planned obsolescence are everywhere, but within it all still exists examples where longevity and durability is a designed factor. You’ll have to find out what the peak efficiency of the item is you’re buying. This point particularly is where I notice many people get hung up on the idea of “frugal.” They save on one item, but then end up losing sight of where that saved money goes.

a) This is a tough topic for the poor, I know firsthand, because the main concern always looming is what to do about vehicles. If one loses their vehicle, life has the potential to fall apart in a hurry; it’s the scotch tape holding all the pieces together. We buy what we can afford to hold our life together now, but in a few years the car ends up costing more than that other, nicer vehicle we could have bought, if we could have gotten to the next price point. Consider how much stress this brings, and then consider all the other areas in this article.

b) A specific example: If you don’t care about color print, I highly suggest getting a laser printer. I’ve seen them as low as $60. They’ll print 1,200 to 1,800 pages per ink roll, and you can buy generic ink for about $15, whereas ink jet printers – I’m sure you already know about those demon spawn.

c) Always look at the cost per unit of measurement when at the grocery store. Come to understand that those minor price differences between sizes and brands are working the same way on your psyche as anything else that doesn’t seem so significant right now. It all adds up to be very significant, and you end up living the consequences in a big way down the line. You’re making dozens of these decisions every time you go grocery shopping.

d) Even after eating generic brand food most of my life, I still tend to think, “It’s not as good as the name brand, though.” But what does this usually amount to? We often associate perceived quality with a particular taste and not with any objective standard. For example, in the TV show Roseanne, the mom would always empty the generic brand cereal into the same name brand cereal box and her kids never knew. They thought they were living the name brand cereal lifestyle for years.

6) Is it intellectual consumerism? You might be saying, “I didn’t know intellectual consumerism was a thing.” I had to make it a thing – it’s an appeal to the intellectual ego, like a growing book collection far outpacing your reading pace, or even knowledge that goes unused.

Some students bring a the-customer-is-always-right mentality to education, and this started happening more when universities shifted to operating with the values of large corporations instead of with the values of education for the sake of education. In a way, the university is becoming lost in its own symbol as it gets subverted by the consumption-based zeitgeist – a cultured child of American in its own right. Tied to that, many people are going through the motions of learning. Technology has enabled droves of students to become proficient at Google while sacrificing independent thought and creativity. Students have become the symbols of students, paying with the symbols of wealth, to earn a symbol of education, in hopes they can graduate and obtain all the symbols of a well-adjusted life. Maybe you don’t see it that way. That’s all right.

7) Is it trying to placate negative emotions? This is a big one. Buying to fill a void that’ll never be filled with stuff. Going to the store because you’re bored, lonely, depressed, upset, etc.. Let it go long enough and you’ll find yourself in a George Carlin segment – you’ll need to get a new house to fit all of that new stuff, but then that new house will seem spacey…

“It was mostly junk,” a child of a UAW said in The Millionaire Next Door, remembering all that his father bought and filled the house with before he passed away.

8) Are you trying to tie a purchase to an unrelated narrative? “I deserve this because…” I remember seeing a young woman on the news who said this as she rationalized the purchase of a $150+ belt. Did she have enough money in her wallet for the belt? Yes. Could she afford it? No. Two different things.

Edward Bernays, as talked about in the documentary The Century of the Self, was largely responsible for recognizing that consumers’ irrational behaviors could be manipulated by presenting a narrative that had nothing to do with the product being sold. Cigarettes were called “Torches of freedom,” clothes and cars were tied not to functionality or quality but to the modern individual – a marketing concept for “who you really are deep inside and how you want to be represented,” and just about everything else under the sun and moon was tied to sex so they could steal your sexuality and sell it back to you. Sexy car.

9) Are you buying more because you’re being fooled into using more?

a) Toothpaste started selling more when the commercials showed an excess amount on the brush.

b) Alka-Seltzer started selling twice as much when the commercials showed two pills dropping into the glass instead of the dosage of one.

c) People eat less when they have less before them. People eat and drink more when they have bigger plates or bowls or cups, because not only do they want to make the meal appear complete – often on a level they’re not aware of – but also simply because that’s what’s within their reach. It’s like we’re all still programmed to take down wild animals in the forest. The next meal is uncertain, and so we better eat it while we have it.

10) Are you going purposeless into stores?

a) As soon as you’re in there, the social obligation to buy something arises. “Going shopping” with no greater purpose than the shopping itself must be somewhere in the consumption handbook for indoctrinating children to repeat the patterns of their parents.

b) “Because I’m hungry” is a surefire way to assault your budget at the grocery store. Make a list. Check it twice. Find out the cost-per-ounce and final price.

This may sound like an end-of-an-entry ploy, but if anyone else has tips on what they can do to take control of and be more mindful of their own consumption behaviors, I would truly like to hear them. I’d like to use them for my own life.

When this whole topic is brought together, it forms the basis for understanding personal momentum, because one thing that was abundantly clear in The Millionaire Next Door was the PAW’s constant awareness for how momentum could work for them. Unfortunately though, when you’re poor it’s the momentum that often works against you, and it’s tough, and decades can go by without an end in sight. But hopefully a list such as this one can help, if even a little bit.

~Matthew

Into the Mountain

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My father said and sat and hand on knee,
“When you grow up and become the author
I know you to be never write passages where
The rain is symbolic of your feelings.”

It was a Thursday in 1993.
I was almost ten.
And despite everything, it was raining outside,
And the passage of time was taking us
-that is, him and me.

My father said and sat and hand on knee,
“You may not believe this, but we have the dragon gene –
No, listen, the dragon gene in our family;
We become old and fiery and fly away.

Then into the mountains we go,
Burdened by the modern world,
Mythical in our disappearance,
Afraid the cliché of rain will extinguish our power
-forever.”

It continued to rain.
The sky poured like it never had before,
And between him and me and all to see,
His hand trembled, and for the first time, I knew why.

[2015]

Tumble

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The hand springs open;
The fingers sign “here.”
From the palm, the rocks
Tumble forth and patter –
Bounce and collide:
Chaos, love, and war.

The fringe rocks say,
“I am an outsider;
See life outside, I implore.”
The center, collected rocks say,
“Being close-nit is needed
Ever-the-more.”

We Did All We Could

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A man swiped a little girl from her mother’s arms
And ran with her down the sidewalk.
The girl reached out behind the man
While the mother chased and screamed
And tripped and cried for help.
Bystanders looked on and hoped for the best.
Some even prayed.

The man cut off both of the little girl’s arms
With butchering swings from a machete,
Then placed her down and ran again.
Blood spurted out over the cement
And boiled immediately in the summer heat.
The man yelled back,
“This is the only way she’ll ever pick up God!”

The little girl was too hurt to utter a sound,
And while she survived that day,
God didn’t;
God couldn’t take it anymore.
The man went into his big stone house,
Put on his white collar,
And passed around the donation plate.

the-book

The Society

The Society of Counselors and Comedians will henceforth meet the first and third Friday of every month at 6:30 PM. The location may vary based on the current topics and goals. If you would like to become a member of The Society, your membership will have to be approved by a unanimous vote from the current members. So far, the current members are as follows:

1) Matthew R Moore

Built in the combined spirit of creative and therapeutic groups, The Society of Counselors and Comedians is dedicated to seeking the betterment of all members by building a small community of support based on collective knowledge and perspective. The objective is to find a way to help move each member closer to personal goals and to stay away from “worst possible timelines.”

The Society is also seeking guests to come to the meetings.

Voting Chart and Upcoming Topics:

    On March 3rd 2017 – The meeting will be held at Matthew R Moore’s apartment. The current member of The Society of Counselors and Comedians will vote on whether to keep the current member as a member or exile him into the wasteland.

    • Reasons for keeping him as a member
      • He is generally an intelligent individual.
      • He is fond of pizza, and everyone knows pizza helps lessen the awkwardness of any meeting.
    • Reasons for exiling him to the wasteland
      • He doesn’t get along with the members, even though he is the only member.
      • He creates a ton of unnecessary bullet points.

The Society will also be discussing the world-building stages of the only member’s next story and the direction of his meta-band, all the while giving credence to the possibility that he might be better off as a cantaloupe. Also to be discussed is the idea of a society existing without any members, which, vote-pending, is a possibility. Discussing the ramifications of not having any members will be left to the members should that situation arise.

Side by Side: “The Lonely City” Reflection

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Loneliness wears a disingenuous disguise when translated for others. The very act of bringing loneliness forth, of sharing it, changes its shape and threat. Herein lays the fortune and misfortune. One has the power to bring about that change if one is lucky enough to have the opportunity, through art, through music, through writing, through a simple one-on-one conversation, but the power behind the art remains untouched, too abstract to be molded, and sometimes too powerful to escape from in one lifetime.

Another thing we do in our lonely voyages is read about it:

“If you’re lonely, this one’s for you,” read the first page of Olivia Laing’s nonfiction book The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone. Olivia Laing weaves her own experiences of moving to New York City with well-known individuals who came before her only to find loneliness while surrounded by millions. The pages are full of struggle, but also of the grand creations that can come from that struggle. It is full of many lonely nights walking under the street lights, but there is also great appreciation for love and friendship when it happens.

If “this one’s for you,” you find the familiar walls that trap you in but at the same time provide relief. You find how in Dennis Hopper’s Nighthawks diner painting there’s no outside door, and then you feel something familiar about that. You find the muffled voices of people you’ll never talk to. You find the real-life motif of cats. (Seriously, Andy Warhol had twenty-one cats. Twenty of them were named Sam.) You find the modern implications and limitations of online life – you might be here right now.

I read in another book recently, Be Here Now, how finding pieces of yourself in everything you read is a pathway of the Western mind. It’s kind of like that idea of if you walk around the whole earth with shoes, all you’ll feel on your feet the whole way is your shoes. I found a piece of myself in that, and after I found pieces of myself all throughout The Lonely City, I came to a stop for reflection when Olivia Laing switched the chapter about Andy Warhol around to talk about the woman who shot Andy Warhol. Bang.

“I never thought I would find myself relating to a radical feminist who shot someone,” I told my therapist. But I did. Andy Warhol grew to love the manufactured sameness of America as a way of eliminating the kind of differences which made him lonely and awkward, and then it was an ex-friend of his who grew frustrated that the voice of her own struggles was going forever unheard – and that dug deep inside me. After years of college, years of learning on my own, years of reading other people’s work, years of writing through my struggles, years of how listening to how other people say they support “mental health awareness,” there’s nothing but silence when I try to reach out to an agent or publisher. One day this ex-friend of Warhol’s paced back and forth at his office and kept getting in and out of the elevator until he finally arrived to make it seem like happenstance they should run into each other. She went with him and his assistant up to the office. She pulled out a gun and opened fire. “Not that I would shoot someone,” I told my therapist. I don’t know if my therapist believed me, but she probably took solace in the fact that Andy Warhol is no longer around to be shot again. All this woman wanted was for someone to read and accept the manifesto she spent many years writing. She identified with that work. When the news reported that “an actress” shot Warhol, she became even more upset, insisting they get it right. She’s a writer, she said.

When I was much younger, I thought that all the times I heard about an artist’s work selling only after his or her death was mere irony, but with this age of mine, now one of the oldest people on the planet, I see that it’s much more than irony. It’s the definition of sadness.

“What I am trying to say is that the vicious circle by which loneliness proceeds does not happen in isolation, but rather as an interplay between the individual and the society in which they are embedded, a process perhaps worsened if they are already a sharp critic of that society’s inequities” (p.90). The contrived reflection of life resembled online I think best captures this vicious circle. I wrote this poem as I read the book:

These Decades

Under the guise of coming together,
We smash our loneliness
Side by side
Until there is nothing to hide.

Yet, we’re still lonely,
And the loneliness grows,
So we step outside
Thinking we want nothing to hide.

We want to be known.
We want experience that can be grown,
But in the face of the neon lights
And the manufactured sights,

We step back inside.
Under the guise of coming together
We smash our loneliness
…Side by side.

But something hit me hard toward the end of the book and I haven’t been able to shake it. In his later years, after he did so much in life, Andy Warhol said, “I feel as though life has passed me by.” I understand that 100%. Because it’s like the air or trying to convey depression, I tried to explain to my therapist. You try to grasp it. You provide it with metaphor. You make art. Even great art. But in the end, what lies beneath remains untouchable: The way the lonely person feels after decades – unable to be touched, but with a lifetime of dreams built from the very idea.

Falling Forward: Post-Net Reflections

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“No internet. What the fuck did you do?”

That was my first response after getting home from the Comcast* office. Comcast’s first response, after I handed over all of my equipment in a plastic bag, was a confused, “…What?” I sat down on my kitchen couch, because every good kitchen should have a couch, and I looked at the cluttered surrealist artwork on the walls, the dust and lint on the floor, the pile of dirty dishes, and I thought, “Who lives here?” To my far left, my TV area no longer danced with its usual comforting LED glow from the router. My fifty feet of coax and Ethernet cords lining the walls looked like dead snakes, succumbed to starvation after only hours.

But I live here. I write this from that forsaken place of pervasive internet technology. In the lower right corner of my monitor, a small red x covers the Wi-Fi symbol. If I misspell a word, my software says to connect to use the dictionary. The dictionary! But I didn’t go in blind: just since a person is mad doesn’t mean they can’t be methodical. I utilized Half.com for cheap reference books last year when I first gave serious thought to disconnecting. I made sure all of my important emails weren’t tied to my internet provider. I downloaded the open-source sound editing program Audacity. And I threw myself into the void. People kept saying, “Oh, you can’t get rid of the internet! There’s so much we need it for.” But here’s what I think… If you are unhappy. If you are truly unhappy but think of yourself as a rational, intelligent person, then maybe it’s time you start making some irrational decisions.

Within the first week I found out that I don’t have ADD. Imagine that. Also within that first week I started pulling together this morning ritual I now cherish. Instead of waking up, getting coffee, and going through the cycle of online distraction and worry, I get my coffee and sit on my kitchen couch with a book and I just read. I don’t get up to look up some obscure fact, or see what the weather is going to be, or check how many validation points I’ve acquired, or put myself into the political worry chamber. I just read. Those facts, I’ve found, turn out to be not so important after all, the weather still weathers, fuck cheap psychological validation, and if the President is going to send the world down a dark alley or up a bright one, we’re all along for the ride at this point anyway. If I think of something that truly needs the internet, I write it down with the date and I leave room for a checkmark once it’s completed. I mean, I had to look up the correlation between DMT use and aliens, but that’s just me.

So I wanted to write more. I have this grand story playing out in my head and now that universe is filtering in through notes and story boards. (See entry: Make the Room Dark to See the Creative Spark). I’ve said for years now I want to do something with music, and here I find myself a little more than a month later making a concept album about a man who loses his mind and journeys through Hell. It’s not entirely a music album, and it’s not entirely a band. I call it a meta-band, because it’s a group that exists only in the realm of my creative ecosystem, yet they create real music. It was born only when I killed the obstacles of my attention.

Path May Vary

Path May Vary

And I would like to stress how important that is: the obstacles of your attention. The world claws at your mind, taking all that it can get, and if you let it, you’ll feed a scrap to every hungry source until you have none left for yourself. I also heard of someone explain it like this: pretend every text message, email notification, or program update sound is a tiny electric shock that stops the thought flow in the brain. When you consider the modern day with dozens or even hundreds of notifications as a base response to this tech, the mind is in a near-constant state of interruption – and the notifications are only the beginning. To use the internet deliberately is to reclaim that attention and to stop the digital highway robbery of modern living.

But it’s not all good, I admit. My intent is in no way to create the idea that I’m living in a utopia.** Loneliness was amplified in that first week. Some might be clinging to the net for that very reason – “I don’t have a life outside. The internet is what little I have.” But a strange thing, a mighty strange thing is occurring. I find myself becoming more interested in those around me. I’m even working on an essay about a rather abstract concept, and I’ve been calling people I know and having lengthy conversations, even during periods of physical or mental illness. Before, I know, I would have looked up information about the subject online – if that. Usually when I didn’t feel well I would binge watch Netflix and convince myself that was all I was able to do. Now, during periods when I’m unwell (I get this toxic feeling in my brain the doctors are clueless about), I sit in the dark and listen to podcasts I downloaded with the free Wi-Fi at the gym. If even that is too much, bear with me here, I sit in the dark and do… nothing. The horror! I found out I like this enough to do it before bed. The quiet of the mind is paraded as nothing only in the modern way of living.

So as my thoughts on this subject develop, I would like to add a new concept to help those thinking about cutting back on internet usage or finding a way to live more deliberately: Find out how you can fall forward.

What I mean by falling forward is that with simplifying your environment to suit your goals, that simplification becomes your new nature. It might be the same concept as moving your kids out of a high-violence neighborhood so that they’re surrounded by better influences and opportunities for their future. If all you have around you are ways to further your goals, that’s what you’re likely going to do. To demonstrate the resistance to you: Even after I disconnected, I found myself clicking mindlessly on the Chrome icon until I finally had to delete it. Sitting down and opening the internet browser was the habit I cultivated over many years. I had a short break a few weeks ago as I stayed at my parents’ house, and I saw that habit come back full-force. But now, little more than a month later, the urge is there like a constant dullness in the back of my mind, but it’s not strong like it once was. Meanwhile, people are still saying, “But how do you survive? What do you do?”

When I quit constant access, I left wondering if something more insidious is at play in this world of captivation. I didn’t quite know what it was at the time, and I still feel like I haven’t completely grasped the implications of what’s happening, but I think it’s safe to say that technology plays against our evolutionary desires. They found out as much about the TV screen years ago. While the makers of any screen may not have set out during the modern technology boom to ensnare as much attention as they have, it’s obvious now that they know they can and so they continue to do so. They continue to refine and embed themselves into the concept of “what’s necessary.”

But the greatest illusion of it all, the big joke of the modern world, is that you’ve had what’s necessary all along. You only had to pay attention.

*The Comcast office for my area was once a backroad building with a small waiting room. This turned into a highway showcase Best Buy type of setup. People now take a number and wait far longer while surrounded by a room of the latest tech (back to the environment argument). Since the podiums are out in the open, you can hear how much everyone is paying – and it’s passed off as the norm. Person after person asked, “And why did my bill go up ten dollars this month?” The salesperson could only say, “Oh, that happened to everyone’s bill.”

When I think about if being off the net at home is truly worth it, I rephrase the situation: What if I told you I would pay you $1,740 per year to not use home internet? ($90 basic bill + $10 Netflix + $15 HBO Now + $30 Amazon just-because-it’s-there items) x 12 = $1,740. That sounds good to me. From the stuff I heard at the office, the average person is paying far more per year. I wonder if they think about that while they’re watching commercials.

**Mythologist Joseph Campbell, in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, wrote of the concept of willed introversion: “Willed introversion, in fact, is one of the classic implements of creative genius and can be employed as a deliberate device. It drives the psychic energies into depth and activates the lost continent of unconscious infantile and archetypal images. The result, of course, may be a disintegration of consciousness more or less complete (neurosis, psychosis: the plight of the spellbound Daphne); but on the other hand, if the personality is able to absorb and integrate the new forces, there will be experienced an almost super-human degree of self-consciousness and masterful control. This is the basic principle of the Indian disciplines of yoga. It has been the way, also, of many creative spirits of the West. It cannot be described, quite, as an answer to any specific call. Rather, a deliberate, terrific refusal to answer to anything but the deepest, highest, richest answer to the as-yet-unknown demand of some waiting void within: a kind of total strike, or rejection of the terms of life, as a result of which some power of transformation carries the problem to a plane of new magnitudes, where it is suddenly and finally resolved” (53-54).

Give and Take

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I am an invisible person
Standing beside my ghost.
We play a game of give-and-take;
When I inhale, I consume the ghost –
When I exhale, the ghost inhales –
When the ghost inhales, I am consumed –
We become each other, in this way.

Today, my ghost stopped, much to my surprise
And held up a ghost finger for me to pause.
“Ghost,” the apparition said to me,
“Why do we do this?”

[2014]