Last week, I wanted to prepare for the next societal calamity or psychological crisis. A lot of that prep is making a distinct reminder on my apartment wall.
This was the most meticulous laser-cutter project I've made in a long time. But so many of my recent (anime) laser projects have felt too familiar and safe. It felt good to push my boundaries by adding in some paint and elaborate designs. But I don't know if I'll try a Greek border like this again. Taking apart, painting, and reassembling something that precise is impossible. At least not without a few bits breaking.
Why the "you are doing okay" message? I've found a lot of my inner monsters are from extreme pressures or expectations. So it's a good reminder that, underneath all those, I'm doing okay. I don't need to be doing amazing or terrible. All I need to is be okay as I put another foot forward.
Here is a list of things. They are things of no particular theme and in no particular order.
- The feeling of both the warm sun and a cooling breeze, which leaves a gentle tickle across the skin.
- A sudden void without thought, so no words or ideas could obscure any pure emotion.
- The contrast between a pleasant buzz, and the fact that your body removing alcohol creates a cancer-causing carcinogen.
- Barbeque chicken that is neither tough nor charred. If also not authentic by most peoples' standards.
- A screaming fire in one's bones and skin. The fire that makes you feel alive through internal devastation and reform.
- Something that's both a paradox and makes perfect sense. That is rational because of irrational we accept it to be.
- A small dog that gives you a curious look and walks closer, but not close enough to pet.
- Alienation with society, knowing our "normal" has caused extreme past, present, and future suffering. Yet we have no true escape.
- Showers at the right temperature, but somehow feel hotter the longer you're in them. This is weird since it's usually the other way around.
Thank you, please continue with your day.
Some life problems are quite simple. Sometimes they're problems of boredom, frustration, loneliness, existential dread, lucid attacks by imagined butterfly monsters, or some combination of the above. These feelings have a simple cause, like wanting more company or fun distractions. There's no need to analyze my activities for the last month or overturn my life goals to figure them out.
I'm realizing I hate simple problems more than complex ones. The complex ones feel further away and at least give me room to breathe. The simple ones come right up to the door and hammer at my mental and emotional health. No amount of lists, plans, or psycho-analysis will quiet them down.
Simple problems do have simple solutions, right? That's correct, oh hypothetical person from nowhere. But simple doesn't mean easy. It's not easy to go up to that door and throw it open. to confront the simple, unyielding, ever-present problem right in front of you.
The simpler the problem is, the fewer places you have to hide from it. The more chances they have to knock you down before you figure out what to do about them.
Even after I wrote about the dangers of excess cynicism, there are days I can't help it. I keep seeing news stories or anecdotes that show how America's institutions only look out for people that:
- Are working to exploit others through lies or lack of choice
- Are getting exploited to some degree instead of getting help
Part of my mind knows this is overly-reductive, black and white thinking again. But the other part of my mind runs with this and takes time and energy to calm down. The longer that takes, the more damage gets done. But after living through so many economic collapses, I can't dismiss it all.
It can't be healthy to always ask "how much of my societal paranoia is justified, and how much is exaggerated?" America offers no easy answers.
Things are getting better. Things are getting better. Things are getting better.
Things are still bad, especially outside my own state and the United States in general. But with increasing vaccinations, better ventilation and outdoor seating practices, and my own full vaccination, I can't deny things are getting better. Even if I don't know to what complete extent.
But after 14 months of pandemic trauma, it'll take some time and repetitive reminders to accept it.
So...things are getting better.
Things are getting better.
Every now and then, it's worth it to remind yourself you have limited time alive. That you've already spent a big chunk of it, and may not have much left with your own money or health.
I've accepted I can't do lots of things I want. My strategy is to know everything I can do, and pick the ones that give me the most satisfaction. So no matter what paths or potentials hit my life, I'll have minimal regrets.
This approach has two key requirements: cut out excessive or superfluous wants, and enjoy the little things. Both get much easier by cutting down on television, social media, gentlemans' clubs, and kale. THC and CBD are optional in small (or micro) doses.
I've got a handful of good years ahead of me. After that, some kinds of major responsibilities or burdens will likely start to tie me down. Pandemic or not, we should all do what we can to wring the most meaning from them.
I want to love New Pokemon Snap, I do. But all the game's grinding and repetition turns its huge scope against itself. I can only play the game in small doses. Otherwise, the joy turns into not being able to hit a Pokemon just right after a five-minute setup. Then I need to repeat it all three times.
The upside is I've already finished my main goal. That goal is, of course, photographing all the Eevee evolutions. This was 80% of my reason for playing at all.
So even if I stop playing sooner than expected, I have no regrets. Other than goading a Pigeot to soar off with a Magikarp, and presumably devour it, several times. I still see its ghost in my dreams. Flopping. Gaping. Gasping. Screaming a silent scream for mercy.
Anyway...I photographed all the Eevee evolutions!
Quarantine has shown me that part of strong thinking is knowing when to think less. Thinking is like any kind of food or drug: no matter how much it helps, it can hurt in too large doses.
Side effects of excess thinking include:
- Full-body paralysis of any action when you aren't certain it's the best possible one to take.
- Short-term memory loss of needed decisions, even after taking a walk to "figure out what's next."
- Sudden onset judgment and anxiety about past actions that create doubt about future ones.
- Disrupted sleep patterns and restless dreams, often focused around getting lost in your old high school.
- Gambling and compulsive sexual behavior. Especially if you're within driving distance of Vegas.
If you experience any of these, ask your therapist about lowering your daily thinking dosage. Patients are not recommended to avoid thinking altogether. Unless what you're doing in Vegas isn't staying in Vegas. Then you should quit cold turkey, settle your debts, and get some non-COVID tests.
Risk looks different for many folks. For some people, risk is trying an unfamiliar dinner recipe to impress a first date. Or buying a book without first checking the reviews. Or investing their retirement fund in a speculative joke currency, hoping to sell if prices boom.
Risk is different for everyone, ranging from mild, to severe, to stupid. No matter where you are on the spectrum, remember to take some every now and then. No one can live a full life without the occasional careful, or even careless, risk.
If you're the type to risk on cryptocurrencies, I won't stop you. I'm all for things that make me feel better about my lower
idiocy risk tolerance.
Here's a no-win thought experiment to run by someone claiming to be the only "objective" thinker in the area.
Let's assume the average American makes around $1.5 million in their lifetime. This person sees someone walking by, and sees there's a $2 million reward if they kill them. As far as anyone can know, they're a normal person and will never have any criminal record. So killing this person creates a net positive effect of $0.5 million. Would they kill this person?
If they say yes, they're admitting they'd kill someone in the name of their objectivity. If they say no, they're admitting they're not all that objective by putting morality first. Either way, their credibility and argument are undercut.
So for anyone pulling the "I'm the only objective thinker" card, I ask, do you want to be that kind of person?
One cognitive bias we don't pay enough attention to is "polarized thinking." It drives us to think of things in all-or-nothing terms. It can affect our thoughts in more ways than I've realized.
- Seeing the pandemic as all-encompassing or completely over.
- If folks of the opposite sex aren't drooling over us, they find us repulsive.
- Family and friends either love us or are out to destroy our lives.
- We exercise ourselves to death or don't bother leaving the couch.
"There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking."
~ Alfred Korzybski pic.twitter.com/y2Vuq4EWLC— Anime Quote Image Bot (@AnimeQuoteImage) May 6, 2021
Accepting things in the middle area is tougher. It's less dramatic and more drawn out. It's less exciting and more complicated. But more often than not, and statistically speaking, the truth is in the in-between.
The hard part is those rare cases when the truth is extreme. It's rare, but it happens. If I meet someone claiming that, I'm asking for plenty of solid evidence. Either that or a pair of headphones.
As I try to finally finish "Last Night I Sang to the Monster," one quote jumped out at me.
“I have a new theory", he said, "and the theory is this: if I develop a great capacity for feeling pain, then I am also developing a great capacity for feeling happiness.”
If this is true, then someone without little capacity for pain also has little capacity for happiness.
This doesn't mean we have to seek out pain if we're not happy. We all already have pain somewhere in us. It's a matter of finding ways to feel our pain that won't tear us apart but hollows us out. Once it's gone, we have more room for joy.
So I ask, what pain do you have for that? That hollows you out without breaking you apart and letting the joy leak out?
The pandemic has taught me many things, most of them infuriating or depressing. But with all the extra time inside my apartment, and my own head, I've picked up two good lessons.
- Reflecting on the past is a great way to learn lessons and not repeat mistakes.
- Wallowing in the past is a great way to forget lessons and regret mistakes.
At some point, I need to pull myself out from the past and take some steps forward. Even if that's as simple as exhausting my body until I have no energy left to think about the past.
My boxing workouts and outdoor runs are the main reason I haven't yet collapsed into myself like a quarantined neutron star.
A favorite theory of mine is how dreams are a glimpse into our collective unconsciousness. But another one I like is that dreams let us get glimpses of some of the infinite multiverses out there. I don't know how credible the multiverse theory is, but I love this idea of it.
Let's say someone dreamt about giant Five Nights at Freddy's robots destroying civilization. Then the wizarding and human worlds came together to stop them and rebuild. That story doesn't end after someone wakes up. Somewhere in the vast cosmos, it's still happening and could be their "normal."
Dreams would let us experience every possible "what if" scenario. We'd wake up and know they're more than hypotheticals or random imaginings. They'd be real stories shared across impossible boundaries. Someone out there could have even dreamt of our universe and our own lives. One can only guess what they thought after they woke up.
I hope my future dreams let me revisit some of these universes. I'll sleep and see wizards and mechanics dissecting a massive Freddy Fazbear animatronic. As they do, small Bidybabs stalk them from the darkness and waiting to strike. If I'm lucky, I won't wake up until I see what happens next.
Even after we declare this pandemic "over," I plan to wear a mask for the foreseeable future. I have many reasons for this:
- Ending a pandemic takes concentrated, collective action. I don't trust America to ever fully deliver on this.
- It calms my paranoid side. This includes COVID paranoia, judgmental paranoia, facial recognition paranoia, and indirect mind-reading paranoia.
- Does my continued mask-wearing annoy you? You're likely one of the folks who refused to wear masks from the start for petty political reasons. Pissing you off is a pleasant bonus.
- It's made my seasonal allergies more bearable.
- I can mutter to myself or lip-sync music without worry.
- I accept that, at one point, it's a disconnected behavior that only makes me feel safer. But it's a better choice than binge-drinking or pot smoking.
- Even after all this, they still make me feel kinda cool and mysterious. I want to savor that as long as possible.