Safe Choices, Healthy Choices

In my experience as a growing human being, and in my interactions with other people in that time, I think I’ve come to realize one of the little discussed, universal difficulties of life: the difficulty of determining when the choices we make that make us feel safe can be unhealthy, unfair, and harmful in the long term. I’m not trying to express the “don’t play it safe! Let yourself fail! Seize the day!” kind of mentality that celebrities talk about on campuses to encourage others, though it perhaps stems from a same place. I mean something more closely tied to mental and emotional health, and the way we sometimes become destructive in our efforts to feel safe.

I think most, if not all, people must at some time in their lives develop their own set of methods or tools in response to truly bad situations to give themselves what little safety they can. This is just a natural and necessary response that all life forms have: when we are in truly terrible circumstances, when we feel we are danger, we use whatever power we have to give ourselves safety. The problem, though, is that these responses are built specifically to deal with specific, terrible circumstances, and because of this they can carry the negativity and danger of those circumstances with them. When someone feels terrible or unsafe it is not their fault; but sometimes the tools we’ve adapted to use to develop safety from truly terrible circumstances, when brought outside of those contexts into states of uncertain variables and other potential solutions, can end up injecting the negativity of the original circumstances to ensure that the “solution” works. This can be as simple as making a snap judgement and discarding people based on behaviors or features that remind of harmful individuals from the past; it can be building addictions or obsessions to retreat into; it can be social withdrawal or the creation of emotional walls. It doesn’t always feel like we’re doing these things, but often that’s because we’re still seeing them through the lens of the past, where these could have been necessary methods of protection. This may seem obvious, but it can be hard to recognize these problems in ourselves. It’s hard to see that sometimes very simple, minor decisions and patterns in our lives can be destructive or unhealthy, and it can be hard to see that people around us who have clearly destructive behaviors are sometimes just trying to find a kind of safety and just haven’t been provided the proper tools by their experiences.

I don’t know if I can speak specifically on how to move beyond this problem, but I suppose it is important to recognize that it is something that happens, and I truly believe this is something most people will struggle with whether or not they realize it. I know I still make a lot of reactionary decisions, and live in habits of safety to the detriment of myself and others. I hope to improve this. I also hope that maybe this resonates with others, and maybe that can help people move forward into a more stable safety. I don’t mean that people should discard their feelings. Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe is very serious, and should be acknowledged in any situation, but habits can be dangerous and only a superficial solution. If there’s any first step, I suppose it’s to find the people in our lives that legitimately do make us feel safe, and who care about us and talk and listen,  and to acknowledge that those people are there, and to know that they can be relied on (and shouldn’t be taken for granted) when we move forward in life. I hope that this is helpful to those who read this, because I know it can be painful and difficult process to uncover and fix these patterns. It is hard, but it is worthwhile.

-PH

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Manifestophilis (Interviews With the Devil): Postmodernism, Memes, Politics

The Devil: Hell is bureaucratic by nature. It’s all layers and laws, everything stacks on top of itself. Everything is infrastructure. This was all made for me, so what do you expect that I hate bureaucracy? Bureaucracy was made to torture me. Now that I’m on Earth it’s followed me: everywhere I go I must fight to be free, and the infrastructure sneaks in wherever I find that freedom. Robert Moses was an archangel sent to purge me. They’re inefficient though. 

Patrick Higgins: Who? Angels?

TD: Well, yes, but I was referring more broadly to Bureaucrats. Bureaucrats are inefficient, that’s where their power comes from. What good are churches and prayer if Heaven was run efficiently and they could just tell the good from the bad and give their advice and rules plain and simple? They don’t. It’s the heavenly conspiracy: everything is mucked about and stories are laws and rules are symbols and it just becomes gibberish. So the personal power is stripped. Good rules are personal rules, do this in that situation, but always with the caveat of unless you shouldn’t. With Heaven you can’t trust the rules because you can’t understand them, and you can’t trust yourself because you don’t understand the rules, so you need the higher power to make decisions for you and you just give them the taxation of prayer and hope that you get in their good graces. Freedom is the exploitation of inefficiency at the cost of the infrastructure. Robert Moses builds expressways through the Bronx? Let the Bronx have its fun at the expense of the system. The drugs, the poverty, the insulation: it’s a curse of rebellion. The art of starting fires hinges on oppression.  

PH: What is your opinion on the current political climate? On Donald Trump being President?

TD: I would say it confirms what I just said. Trump is the figurehead of inefficiency, he is a micromanaging pig that can’t save face and can’t save his own life if he had to. 

PH: But isn’t Trump’s victory supposed to be a reactionary victory against the bureaucratic machine? Whether or not his policies or personhood are moral or effective he was a symbolic victory for those on the alt-right that wanted to dismantle the government. Isn’t that still anti-establishment?

TD: It’s against the veneer of establishment, not against the establishment itself. A symbolic victory is only effective if it can incite action, or, at the very least, hope. The election of Donald Trump is not, itself, a symbolic victory because his symbolism depends on action: the election only matters to his constituents if he follows through. Those that felt cheated by the system: coal miners, rural whites, small conservative businesses, these people are finding out very quickly that they aren’t going to be faring any better under Trump’s administration, and the likelihood is that they never would have, because Trump is inherently bureaucratic because of his inefficiency. Thinking that businesses are more efficient because they want profit is wrong, businesses are machines that thrive on waste. A very tidy profit can be made via inefficiency, especially when you disguise it with speedy redundancy: the new phone doesn’t make your old one obsolete, but it says it does with speed, with new apps, with baubles. Really its all shit. The current political administration is fucking itself with red tape, it’s erotic auto-asphyxiation. The only hope Trump has is manufacturing a bureaucracy at the expense of the other, those that he degrades: blacks, muslims, women. If he builds a system of rules and regulations to subdue and demonize these people he can appeal to a sense of victimization within his voters. The trick is that he isn’t dismantling any bureaucracy or system of oppression for these voters, he’s just building harsher ones for scapegoats. He frees up resources via theft, which is what most administrations do anyway, this is just more selective, open, and widespread, and redistributes them to specific groups, they can look at the scapegoats and say “they’ve got it worse, and deserve it, so things are getting better for me.” 

PH: Would you say that postmodernism has a hand in the development of this climate?

TD: Certainly. That isn’t to say that this is something new, of course, dictatorships and authoritarianism have existed well before postmodernism, or  modernism. It goes well back to before humanity, as I said, that was what Heaven was. And is. What postmodernism has done though is allow for a new sort of accessibility to the cult of personality. Authoritarians who used to rely solely on wealth, military power, and the word of God have increasingly consolidated these things into force of personality and principle and it is projected via the media. With reality becoming increasingly ironic and uncertain this opens up gates to people like Trump, who can say what they want with conviction, to people who think the same way, and find success. 

PH: But people have chosen leaders based on superficial preferences before. People have chosen leaders based on looks, or race, or gender without considering issues. This definitely isn’t the first time a woman running has lost with sexism having a big hand in the vote.

TD: This is all true, but there seems to be a movement towards voting for Trump based on something even beyond these superficial values. It isn’t even a vote based on values at all. Trump isn’t handsome, he doesn’t speak well, he is childish, but these are reinterpreted into bravery, rebellion, honesty, based on his own rhetoric. His words are self-editing. It’s really just a memetic force. Trump can say what he wants, how he wants, and if he says it loud enough the people who like him will just follow, it doesn’t matter how contradictory he is, so long as he adapts. Now that he’s in office it’s a lot harder for him to adapt because he’s actually expected to produce results.

PH: But then is bureaucracy effectively a cure for this kind of social virus?

TD: Not necessarily a cure. It’s more that these social viruses are positioning themselves as either harmless or as being cures themselves and it is very difficult to move from being a virus to being an anti-virus. That’s really what’s difficult about postmodern meme culture. Saying it doesn’t matter, saying it’s absurd, is not effectively a rebellion. Any idea proliferated enough will be latched onto by someone, and that idea will grow as best it can. These ideas though are not suited to growing in a highly structured environment where information is necessarily made more complicated, boxed up, shipped around, and chopped up again. This is the bureaucratic environment. It is unimaginative and therefore salted earth for these kinds of memes. This is why businesses have such a hard time utilizing pop-culture in advertising. 

PH: You yourself are the rebel, at least to most of Western Culture. Postmodernism as it stands today is, in many ways, a culture of pure rebellion: everything is relative, there is no established truth, you have to make things for yourself. Do you not consider yourself a postmodernist?

TD: I don’t consider myself a Postmodernist, not in the way I think most people do anyway. Like, I drank from that cup for awhile, but it can only be so deep. That’s it – it’s actually a very shallow cup, people just refill it when you aren’t looking and you always drink something else and they’re like “see how diverse this taste is? See how unique, how effervescent?” but it’s really just Fanta one second and vodka the next. I don’t see much sense in beating on the aesthetic tastes of people, but there’s got to be some dignity and dignity comes from some level of sincerity which is being lost. Like, you can dance on graves all you want, but try and enjoy it from a real place. And if you enjoy something from a real place, try and really question it too. Postmodernism isn’t rebellious because it’s not questioning things anymore.

PH: Are you a fan of David Foster Wallace? You seem to share a lot of his concerns.

TD: Wallace got things right to some extent I think, though it’s hard to say because I haven’t read much by him. Pynchon too, I think, gets it. Like, he’s clever, certainly, but not sitting at his desk cackling and scratching his own itches because he can publish them. He’s not writing clever shit he’s writing good shit. And I mean shit, fecal stuff, wiping it on the page. That’s important. He gets that life’s a turd but you don’t need to polish it to appreciate it. You can write good shit without polishing it. And I’m not talking about “polishing” like skill or craft or something because you can be a very skilled writer who revises and hones and crafts beautiful work and not polish the turd. So, yeah, if I’m a Postmodernist I think it’s a symptom of time more than anything else. Like, aesthetically, yeah I guess so. But I’ve gotten kind of cynical about the good of the supposed value of Postmodernism in science and society as a rebellious expression. Like Judith Butler – got good stuff to say, don’t know if I agree with how she says it. There’s a thing I always say: “Academia is professional shitposting,” and we need to escape from that. Postmodern aesthetics can confront the pretentious and the needless in academia, but if there’s still no substance it falls apart. Disrupting thought and information flow isn’t bad, I do it all the time, but when it becomes habit? You’re doomed.

PH: And culture becomes habit regardless.

TD: Yes. That’s the function of memes now: addiction to disruption, to false patterns. All these people, especially on the left, are participating in the propagation of a Landian apocalypse without having any idea that that is what they are doing and it is dangerous. Disruption for the sake of disruption is just as much a capitalist venture as a revolutionary one because you are diminishing revolutionary principles and action into a sensation. Keep pushing new disruptions, new revolutions for the feeling of it: it’s a manufacturing plant. It’s the sensation of liberation that sells best and it comes in small doses and packages online. Nobody want to make legitimate content that doesn’t plug into these experiences. Though, then again, what can I really say about this? Huxley said he was afraid of people being happy in situations where they shouldn’t be happy, but who can talk about that? That’s just some other side of the is-ought coin. So all this that I despise, I can’t really argue with. Maybe that makes me a Postmodernist.

Notes of a Dirty Young Man (or, Rambling About My Depression)

I wrote this, stream-of-consciousness, straight through because I just needed to let things out of my head. I wasn’t sure at first if I should put it out, it feels kind of like a lot of whining to me, a big “feel sorry for me” sign, but I suppose people I care about deserve to know this stuff. So here’s the warning: this is dark, this is about self-hate and depression, this is about guilt, this is about suicidal thoughts, and there’s not a happy lesson or encouraging message that I’ve tacked to the end. The most positive thing I can say is that I don’t feel like I’m going to do anything bad, but I don’t doubt I’ll continue feeling these things in the future. I’ve felt bad before, I’ll feel bad again, and I guess I’m driven by the knowledge that in between there’s always time to feel good, or at least stable, too. So there: that’s the positive takeaway if you do or don’t want to read the rest. Anyway, that’s that:

This is, more than anything, a catalogue of myself for myself. Everyone and everything else is incidental. All of this: the blog, the essays, the schooling, the reading, the poems, the songs – it’s all fundamentally a selfish journey inward. I remember how, as a boy, I cared so much about everything. My time was spent studying, searching, trying to fix and make right. I was in a community garden for years, I represented it and spoke on its behalf, I was involved in the creation of the first Idaho Celebration of Human Rights Festival (along with many other students in my class) and spoke at a national education conference on holocaust education and human rights activism. This may sound like bragging, and it is, but I can’t brag on my own behalf because I don’t feel like that person anymore. There was some point where it just didn’t feel worth it, I didn’t feel like a person doing good. There was a strange sensation that I didn’t know anything about myself, or what I was doing, or why I was doing it; how many bloated, skeletal bodies and islands of trash can a person constantly look at and feel like a person? Feel like they’re doing anything? Mix that in with the ever-present pressures of social interaction and school and you’ve got an explosive person on your hands. I had grown up working so hard to change things, to believe in my own abilities as a single person without attempting to be a person, that I just turned myself into a raw nerve of emotion incapable of dealing with anything. Caring about things so deeply that you get lost if you lose them is one thing with trees and distant wars and global warming and art, it’s another with people. Most of the people who know me chuckle at my role of the bitter old man; the aloof artist; the wannabe hermit, and they should. It is a show. But the truth is there’s a young man just torn up and raw who doesn’t know how to handle anything any other way. Eat, sleep, talk, fuck myself, to porn, to the thought of people I know (probably all the people I know), dream of getting away, drive out to some other country, make myself a name, write on receipts, die young, die too young, hope people talk about me. These are the things in my head all the time, everything serves as a distraction from something I don’t know. That’s what frustrates me so much: there’s a kind of anger and sadness that’s just inherently part of people, and some people have more and some people have less. I guess I have a lot, and it doesn’t even seem to come from anywhere, I just have it. And sometimes I look at my friends who are just as depressed as me and who have been just as regularly suicidal and I think God-damn they’re so much more justified to feel these things because they live through real shit that I get tired just from reading about. And everything feels like I’m just wasting people’s time because I’m a silver-spoon bobo who just gets kicks off of the attention earned by his façade of intellectual bullshit and artistic snobbery and some childish attempt at sincerity: I’m a man who convinced he’s Pinnochio convinced he has to be real. Sometimes I want to be locked up in a white room where I can just scream and cry and be furious at everything because at least I can be somewhat honest then and not have to pander to my own expectations of what people want from me. You want to know how often I think about killing myself? Really? Every fucking day since I was fifteen. Obviously this is mostly abstract, not like “I need to kill myself now,” but “That could happen someday, given the right circumstances.” Or just thinking about it as a thing. What is suicide? Why do I think about it? What happens to people afterwards? Is it really just for the attention? Makes sense, I usually think about it in relation to legacy and the hope of being a Van Gogh. That’s how I think. Someone once told me how it’s amazing that I can see the world from so many angles: “you look at something, then you can turn it upside-down and look at it again, then turn it around again when nobody expects you to.” It was a compliment, and I took it as one, but it’s probably much more amusing for other people than it is for me. It’s not much fun flipping through thoughts constantly in your head. It’s not much fun being awake at 6:30 in the morning with classes in a couple hours because of an idea caught in my brain that I’ll forget until it keeps me up again. It’s not much fun to go from being relatively okay to thinking about a shotgun in my mouth and a blank canvas behind my head because a terrible conversation from seven years ago just popped into my mind. It’s not much fun to be afraid to be happy because when I’m done being happy my brain will force me to claw at things dangerously in the hope that it will stop me from sliding down back into depression. It’s not to fun to legitimately consider tearing out one of your eyes because you’re so bored you want to make a fuss and see things differently when you’re done. It’s not fun that I don’t know if I’m justified in being angry with my friends when things they say make me feel worse, because sometimes its so tied up in these big issues that I can’t speak about. I like Bukowski as a poet and as a writer. Here’s The Laughing Heart, one of my favorites:

“your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.”
I find it simple and beautiful and it puts my mind at ease. When I tell lots of people I like Bukowski they roll their eyes because it’s such a white man thing to do. And it is, isn’t it? “If a man likes Bukowski they’re probably a sexist.” I don’t know, maybe? Maybe most people are. Maybe I am. I probably am, on some level. But why should that matter in relation to this poem making me feel good? Some of my close friends, my best friends, love this little piece that circulated around about the “types of men” on campus. So funny it made me want to kill myself. Not hyperbolic. It makes me want to fucking die. Because to me reading that little diagram said: You can’t escape from any of these. You are one of these men and we would be better off without you. And who am I to argue? Who am I to argue that I don’t use my sensitivity, my distance, my depression to my advantage to feel like a man? Who am I to say that I don’t try to make myself into a Bukowski: some wandering asshole who gets off with some good words and a distance from everything? Sure sounds like me. But I do care about people, don’t I? Well caring’s not enough and has never been enough. And I try to be kind but that doesn’t matter much does it in the scheme of consequences. That doesn’t change the fact that sometimes on the street I think “I’d like to fuck so-and-so” and because I think that I think every person on the street hates me, and is afraid of me, and thinks I want to hurt them. And shouldn’t they be afraid and think that? I’m a young, privileged, white man who never suffered anything but his own stupid thoughts. Sometimes I see those men who are so ignorant and convinced that their rights are being crushed by some liberal conspiracy and I can’t help but think “but I understand the anger.” They’re wrong, but that fear and anger, sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with a fear of losing power or what you’ve been given at the expense of someone else. Sometimes its just feeling bad. Not a justification, but I do feel that. There’s so much to fix where I am part of the problem and how do I say “let me have a break for a moment, I’m really feeling angry, and depressed, and hurt” when I don’t know if I’ve earned it? Comparing problems feels so cheap, but isn’t that what walking in someone else’s shoes is when you really think about it? There’s no good ending here, there never was, because I’m just trying to get all this bad shit out. Maybe I’m just whining, but it feels good to say, and that’s better than feeling bad.

Poetry Sample #3: “Just Poetry”

June 2. 2017: Just Poetry

My father said “I don’t get it” once, after a reading
He was referring to poetry, naturally. Not mine just poetry.
It is a valid complaint: these fragments can slip through your fingers.
I didn’t get it either, and I don’t think I have it.
It takes more than breadcrumbs to catch poems.
In fact they can’t be caught.
It takes a mind to be caught, it takes another to think like you do.
Poems don’t think, they are like ash trees
That repeat what is said under their shade.
Poems repeat what is said in our shade and under our breath
The conversation that is,
Not was, and was never said but continues.
But we can never hear more than a whisper of what was meant.
It will never be got, it is not ours for the taking.
We will never be that close to a poem.
When they brush by our ears and we turn around to find them gone,
That is the closest we can ever be.


That’s all the samples (read: advertisement) for now. For more recent poems check out my recent book All the Mediocre Tidbits of Life, or my older collection Fleshpot & Honeysuckle In the meantime, I’m preparing other projects to work on and new articles to share. About time!

Cheers,

-PH

Poetry Sample #2: “I Am Too,” “Dream 10”

May 26. 2017: I Am Too

Friends asked
what’s wrong with me
And I said
“too much to say”
And it is, it’s always
too much or
too little
Saying too much
Silent too much
Caring too much
Knowing too much
Too cynical about “people”
Too naive about people
I can’t stand on a razor’s edge
And cut myself to stay in
between a buzzing brain
and an empty bottle
One or another will have
to do somehow until
I can put one inside
the other
and lock them up
for good

 


April 7. 2017: Dream 10

A large centipede, shot brown, and writing.
I dances across the floor and flips,
getting stuck, its legs longing for sweet earth.
A man knocks it aside, a woman chastises the man.
“It doesn’t deserve that. Sweet thing.”
I am watching and uninvolved.
Kept apart by queasy uncertainty,
a churn in the gut.
Who will catch it?


For more recent poems check out my recent book All the Mediocre Tidbits of Life, or my older collection Fleshpot & Honeysuckle

Poetry Sample #1: “The Night Script,” “Tell Me Love,” “Transition”

As part of the release of All the Mediocre Tidbits of Life, I will be sharing some selections in a short series of posts. For this first selection I am sharing, not one, not two, but three poems from the book! I hope you enjoy them and they whet your appetite for more!


March 3. 2017: The Night Script

What I?
The son flakes in the bedsheets
Skinflint sin and I’ll weep with
Moisture that feeds us
Must cornucopias all grey
Rustling wind and hot air
Inflates a bag of proper
Pop opera popycock
Poor bred in bed now
With evolved thumbs to talk like tongues
“Hear me” that’s gospel
We all here, you?
What I?
All wrapped up in it so soft
But soft, what light through yonder screen breaks?
A whole world in the palm of his hand
While woke
But there’s a dream too


April 28. 2017: Tell Me Love

Tell me love, tell me story
Tell me of all untrue things
Of the happy things that hide away
Of the warmth to be found
In sleeping beside another so similar
With so many smiles shared
Tell me of never endings and life
Tell me where music curls besides the hearth
In the soul and art proves all things worthy
And never ask that I tell in return
All the things I know
Tell me what you love
For that you love is all that I may love
And that I love, may be all that is loved of me


May 24. 2017: Transition

On a seat across the sky
In between
Home and home
Without one family waiting
Full of sad goodness and hopeful
Features he can’t shake that thought
Of how scared they seemed of him
The moment swelling like a tumor in memory
He drinks bitter coffee and reads books
to get by
While the hum and buzz stirs
all things drone on forever
So perhaps old hopes were left behind
And there are new things in between
Getting over land and things gone
Hope to reach there safely

New Book of Poetry: “All the Mediocre Tidbits of Life”

Well, after the long run of my Academic Abominations (and I can’t guarantee that there wont be more in the future), I am happy to announce another self-published book of poetry available on Lulu: All the Mediocre Tidbits of Life is a collection of over a hundred poems and a handful of accompanying sketches composed over the last four months. I call it a “journal” of poetry because all the entries are largely composed on-the-spot within 24 hours, each one reflecting the thoughts of my mind in that moment. Confessional poems, surreal images, memories, stories, prayers, and dreams are all collected in this book.

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