29 April 2009

Decaffeination, Day 3

As I said, I'm making this post to chronicle the effects of cutting off my normally high caffeine intake. So far, the results of the experiment are ... unpleasant at best. The headaches come and go, but the key annoyance today has been an excrutiatingly painful bout of muscle tension in my legs. It feels like I went on a five-mile uphill run or something; it's off-and-on throughout the day, but stretching and other such things seem not to help at all. Going for my daily walk made it worse. Such are the pains of ignoring one's addictions, I suppose.

I'll have a much lengthier and more thought-provoking post Friday. For now, a quick update on where the experiment has landed me. Enjoy my misery for the time being.


27 April 2009

(Experi)Mental Divergence

For those of you who don't know me, I'm an avid coffee drinker. Tea, too. I used to drink lots of sodas, energy drinks, and other sugar-caffeine concoctions, but at this point, I'm mostly down to the two main vices: straight black coffee (4-6 cups per day) and iced tea with a hint of lemon, no sugar (2-4 20oz. glasses per day). On a whim, though, today I've decided to launch an experiment. A test of my willpower, and a measurement of my ability to function without the benefits (and drawbacks) of caffeine in my system at all times, with more along the way as the day goes on.

Today is day one. I promised some folks that I'd try to post the results of my first day; so, without further ado ...

I notice first and foremost that I make more typoes that I have to correct as I go along. My fingers are slower to react, my brain just a little bit more behind itself, making it more difficult to get everything down the way I'd like it. Not too impairing, really, but a little annoying. I also feel pretty tired, but I suppose that's how you're supposed to feel after 10 hours at the office. On the whole, my body feels pretty good; to replace my normal coffee-and-tea regimen, I've been drinking water all day, and I expect this is going to help clean me out a bit, get my body more "in tune" with the way that it's supposed to be according to nature and/or hippies, whichever is more correct. While my mind is a bit dulled, it's also pretty focused; I'm finding it easier to focus on a single task, though more difficult to process that task efficiently. Overall effect on my efficiency in regards to work is minimal to nonpresent. More on that as the week drags on.

So, why would I put this up here, post about how I'm cutting some certain beverages from my life for a short period? Because I use this digital soapbox as a means to chronicle my endeavors, as discussed before, and to push myself to do it. I don't care if anyone's reading this, the fact is that the chance that there are people who might be means that I've got some obligation, self-invented though it may be, to stick to my game plan, if only so that I can accurately and truthfully report the results to whoever might be interested. Most people who know me haven't seen me after I've gone a week -- or, in many cases, even a day -- without caffeine. It's an exploration of myself in a way that is generally unseen and unknowable even to me.

The other reason is that because this record of my thoughts and journies is, in fact, another similar test. I've historically been a pretty closed-down person, keeping most things to myself and sharing only when I felt it was truly necessary. Now, though, it seems that more and more people expect, or desire, me to share more, to put thoughts into words, to put words into blogs, to put blogs into cyberspace, and so on. It's not just me, either; it's a whole global cultural revolution. Watching the page-view analysis of these few pages over the course of the last several months has been an interesting look into just how that works. The way that I "advertise" my blog is purely social; I don't pay for endorsements or advertisements, I just spread the word to my family, my friends, my coworkers, and urge them to do the same. The more I push that, the more I see an increased number of viewers; I know I've gone well above the relatively small number that I first informed about my encroaching endeavor to write.

So, experiments in mind, we travel into a new week. I will chronicle the progress of my decaffeination as they arise, probably two more posts this week to analyze and finally form some conclusions before diving back into the energetic (and delicious) pool of caffeinated beverages.

I'm thirsty already.


23 April 2009

Expiration and Inspiration

Sometimes, the most cathartic events can be the most unassuming everyday occurences.

I use this blog as a means to forge some silent legacy of myself, I think, and yet deny such accusations when pressed, because it seems to me an act of vanity; that said, I think it's time I admit to myself than even vanity is not, within its own confines, an evil thing -- my most recent recurrent revelation was the ageless bit of wisdom, "All things in moderation". This does not apply only to vices based in tangible things, nor in indulgences of those things which are supposed to be good, but it is meant to be truly all-encompassing. A bit of vanity, after all, merely manifests as an unshakable self-confidence without the requisite venomous pride so often attributed to those who truly see an inflated version of themselves infused with a greatness not truly their own.

And so, this purification of the concept of vanity as a deserved self-assurance brings me to a new pathway, one by which I can approach my corner of internet pseudofame with a renewed -- or perhaps wholly new -- sense of purpose and a dedication to the words that I choose and the people to whom I expose them. Whether I ever intend it or not, people will read the things that I write, and they will take from them lessons that are partially of my contrivance and largely of their own interpretation and manifest these subliminal lessons into their lives; I may as well admit that to myself, and to those who allow my attempts at self-expression to imprint a view upon their minds, that I may truly understand myself in the (likely misguided) hope that in so doing, I can agree to do my part in the mutual production that is our world, whatever kind of bit part it may be. Perhaps I'll cameo in the afterlife as well.

What gets me, then, is that I feel as if I have more concrete responsibility to write things that may be meaningful; that I must explore the boundaries of my own psyche to encourage thought and action in my readers -- wherein lies the pitfall of playing to one's audience, selecting a specific group, subgroup, or individual and attempting to tailor my voice to suit their needs, which I certainly wish to avoid. That said, the most important thing that I can offer to any man (or, for you equality-preaching types, woman) is the capacity to drive thought and through that thought drive action and through that action drive growth; personal development, revelation, the hunger to be something greater -- or to realize the greatness of what one has already become, to explore the limits of the human experience and drink from the well of shared-mind life.

Everyone has problems, has issues, has barriers which prevent their further evolution along their own mental landscape. This is the force which drives our struggles, and struggle is the only means by which we can seek to better ourselves. So, to best serve the greatest number of persons with my words (and/or supposed wisdom), the only thing I can hope to do is to analyse my own struggles and, from the lessons and growth I achieve, spread seeds of insight that can, on their own and in due time, find places to root and thereby drive a greater global consciousness.

Too often of late it seems to me that the primary reaction to tragedy, to struggle, is escapism; to avoid those issues which make us uncomfortable. This is the most toxic attitude present in humans today -- that we feel that if we shirk our problems for a long enough expanse, they will dissolve or self-correct, and we will have been able to achieve some sense of satisfactory growth through the simple act of having seen the troubles, rather than having faced them. We feel that by turning to things which alleviate our pains, we solve the things that harm us; too often, though, we turn to things even more harming to our minds and bodies to achieve these things, and we grab onto habits which, in their own time, will become the demons we must face if we expect to experience any sense of growth or personal revelation, or they become that which robs us of our life -- metaphorically at best, but often literally. The struggle, then, comes full circle; that all things must be in moderation. If you push too hard against all troubles, you will be broken; nobody is capable of taking on the world in a single battle. At the same time, to avoid the conflict altogether prevents the ability of one to ever achieve a greater self. And so we go on, escaping some battles, fighting others, and generally swinging blind on the battlefield of our existence.

What is most important to remember in this is that a battle need not be won in order for it to have been well-fought. Even the greatest among humans has had moments of defeat; it is what we do with that defeat which defines our legacy.


15 April 2009

Conformist Nonconformity

"Well, why do you go out of your way to look like a bum?

Wouldn't it be more of an act of rebellion if you didn't spend so much time buying blue hair dye and going out to get punky clothes? It seems so petty. You wanna be an individual, right? You look like you're wearing a uniform. You look like a punk."
 -- "Brandy", SLC Punk!

The above quote, I think, defines the very reason I've failed to ever truly identify with any subsect of society; there are so many subcultures, each concerned only with their capacity to differentiate between themselves and "those people" (whoever "they" may be) that we forget that to seek individualism requires an effort of the mind, of a free-thinking self embodied not within a certain fashion, a certain musical taste, a certain communal passtime. We become so very caught up with making sure that we're not something we wouldn't want to be that we forget what it is we do want to be; we cast aside the true flavor of ourselves, replacing it with shock-value driven adherence to something that marks us as being something else -- forgoing any sense of satisfaction that should be gained from that same self-expression. We engage ourselves in efforts to identify with a group of people that we feel are, on some level, like us, either physically, emotionally, mentally, or through whatever shared trait we can cling onto in the hopes that we're not alone in the world, in the universe, that we have this connection with people as forged through the chains that bind each of us to our own personal indulgences.

The most famous expression of this desperate irony comes in the phrase, "I want to be different, just like everyone else" -- something I first encountered in the 1990s when the cynical mood of the grunge era took hold. This became a motif amongst those disenfranchised youths who sought to leave their mark not on the world, but on themselves; they recognized the futility of the other subcultures around them adopting their own uniform, and they developed a uniform of their own based on noncompliance with the existing templates; in so doing, though, they found themselves trapped by the same lack of identity-crisis as all the rest, and this seemingly-inescapable truth brought with it the ennui that has afflicted the formative years of each subsequent class of fresh young faces waiting to find their place in the not-so-hallowed halls of our education system, spurring the resurgence in more recent days of the shock-heavy, overdone uniforms of the new social strata -- the neo-punk, the emo, the nerdcore, etc -- now reliant upon not a sense of individualism, but an intense dedication to the masses, to the culture with which one finds oneself identifying.

Each generation of humans (okay, I'll admit it, I'm mostly talking Americans here) seems to identify itself most strongly by adopting something which defines itself as separate from the generation before it; that is, rather than adopting a unique culture to themselves, they attempt to focus on forming a counter-culture, a contrast to the existing structure meant to stand stark against that structure so as to grasp at a lack of structure entirely; this is evidenced in the Mods of the late 1950s-1960s, the Hippies of the 60s and 70s, the punks of the 80s, and so on; each seeking to find a self-expression through being an entity wholly separate from that which came before it. Even so, these subcultures often find themselves fight for -- or against -- the same ideals as their predecessors, in some grand attempt to overthrow the same system that seemed to oppress the younger years of their forefathers who sought to rebel against their parents, and so on.

Thus, we become an entire culture devoted to nothing more than embracing the taboos of our forebears, eventually assimilating those taboos into the same corporate structure so that we can have the capacity to build a legacy of this "new ideal", bringing about an oppressive structure which will, of course, be the bane of our own progeny as they grow into a world where the system keeps them from expressing themselves as individuals by clinging to outdated mores and archaic customs built on the refusal to succumb to the wisdom of our fathers.

But what else is there? Our only method of distinguishing ourselves is to reject the identities which came before us; we find ourselves becoming that same thing we fought to reject, all the while failing to recognize that at the very core, this system can be nothing but self-replicating. The entire culture of counterculture relies on the principle of breaking new ground when comapred against existent models. We attempt to hash out new ideas by breaking apart ideas that were present before any of us, before any of our progenitors, before any of their parents even knew what ideas could come to be in any given direction, but we can only find frame of reference in the systems that we seek to overthrow; is this cycle the only way we have of experiencing any form of individuality and uniqueness in the world? If the advent of any new era is only capable of rising from the ashes of the prior era, then how could we ever hope to become something other than the same socioeconomic phoenix rebirthed through our own desire to self-terminate, rebuild, and then preserve? We, today, are the suicide of the hippies; not the death of them, but the voluntary compliance of their ideals to the realities of our culturo-economic significance, adherence to which constitutes our only known means of survival.

How long before we can truly find a new way to exist, to survive, to thrive?


10 April 2009

Caged By Freedom

I've been thinking a lot lately about the apparent oppressive nature of the professional and educational systems here in the U.S. -- namely, the seemingly cyclical nature of the beast as a whole. In order to get a good job, you need a good education; a good education costs exponentially greater amounts of money than a basic one, so you need a good job in order to pay off the loans you'll inevitably incur while pursuing the degree necessary to get the job you want, so that when you've got that "dream job" of yours, you eventually find yourself slave-bound in service to it so as to ensure your capacity to keep paying off those debts for which you toiled to ensure that you'd be able to get the job you wanted.

Whirlwind much?

Point is, I thought for a while now that I was frustrated by the system; namely, by the fact that my present work schedule (and freely-available cash) pretty much prohibit my returning to school to pursue my major of choice and thereby use a degree in said major to attain my dream job. Duly angered by this fact, I railed against the unfairness and imbalance inherent to the system itself, and struggled against the rather constricting bonds that keep me where I am now, doing what I am now for the company presently paying me to do it.  In the last few days, though, I've had a revelation -- and it seems that it's the more widespread toxin reaching its tendrils into the daily lives of more people around me than I realized; it's less about the fact that we cannot freely pursue whatever it is that is our heart's desire, it's that the daily grind of our existence, working to pay the bills to keep the house that's close to work to save on gas for the car we're still paying off with the money earned from the job we wish we could leave for something else, that we've forgotten how to have those dreams, those ideals to which we might attempt to aspire, the majors for which we'd vie in the ivied halls of our university of choice had we the time and money to pursue them.

It's a special kind of ennui that slowly strangles the life out of our former aspirations as we are faced with ever-present reality, a volatile economy, a backlash of time wasted in youth which, in retrospect, made for a great party but isn't anything to scrapbook about for the grandkids. We lose ourselves in keeping up with the present so much so that we forget to consider the future beyond a financial singularity and a hope that we'll be able to retire comfortably after the soulsuckers presently enslaving our listless spirits have drained us to the point that there's nothing left to take; that's not to say that one can't enjoy being in such a job -- hell, I'm pretty fond of the company I work for, but it's certainly not where I, as a child, envisioned myself being at this point.

And that's the real core of it all; we've resigned ourselves to what must be done rather than what should be done, what could be done, what we'd like to have done -- we allow our dreams to fall dormant as we strive to make sure that someday we can hope to have "more realistic dreams" and set "achievable goals" for ourselves.

Well, you know what? F**k "achievable goals".

I want to see a people willing to reach for the stars and fail. I want to see the world ready to leap for the unattainable, full of youthful vigor and that starry-eyed wonder that made us want to be astronauts, or firemen, or NFL superstars, or glam-rock megahits, or whatever it was we once dared to believe we could be. I want to see people who know and understand the consequences for making stupid mistakes, but who make them anyhow. I want to see optimism return to a world at a time where being optimistic is just plain crazy, because that's exactly the kind of world that needs it the most.

I may not be a beacon in the night, a light to guide souls to their destiny, but I can sure as hell climb up on a roof and set myself ablaze, becoming a beacon to someone, if only for that brief moment before the searing flames consume my flesh and my ashes spread to the wind. And isn't that enough?

It damn well should be.


02 April 2009

An Open Letter to My Audience

So much for complaining about only posting here once per month; seems I've gone and missed March entirely. For those loyal few who rely on my wit and wisdom to get them through the dull repetition of month after month turning into year -- either I'm sorry, or you really need a new hobby. I'm not that great an entertainer.

I have, at various points in my life, been told I should write a book. I've even toyed with the idea, thought about some concepts, and drew up a basic plot for a novel when I was in High School; of course, it was the kind of cardboard plot a high schooler came up with, so the idea died quickly even in my own mind, but that's really a diversion from the point. I've only ever seriously considered a nonfiction book, a treatise of sorts on life, the universe, and trite repetitions of phrases from better authors than myself (oh, and everything) -- that is, a philosophical examination of my own worldview, and an exposition from that launching point that would, in essence, seek to capture the depths of my own unique perspective, that which makes my worldview my own.

"So," you might find yourself wondering if you're the sort of person that reads the kinds of things that I write (and I know you are!), "Why haven't you written this book?" Well, dear readers, the answer to that one is simple -- it'd be self-defeating.

See, the most crucial element to my philosophy -- if you can call it that -- is one of personal reflection and revelation; that is, that each person should be permitted the opportunity to realize their own wordlview based on a series of experiences they have on their own time. Now, while the world at large seeks to manipulate the worldview of all those within it through religion, cults, political doctrines, social engineering, all of that can still collide into a very interesting and unique personal experience that is free of the limitations of each of those influences, capable of existing in a way that others who share common traits to any given slice of the pie of one's mind would find wholly incongruous and incapable of being (see the case of Ann Holmes Redding, my newest hero). So, the pull of these multitude of forces finds itself limited by the ingenuity of mankind, and we find new ways to adapt even the most ancient of credoes, further exploring and embracing a singularity that exists within each individual mind -- reflected, though it may be, through the lens of the experience and ideas of others.

So, then, I take this optimism, and it leads me here, to my small corner of the internet; to a place where I can leave my imprint, spread my message, provoke thoughts that I feel are worth thinking. This, though, treads close to breaching my own professed tenet; that I should permit those around me to think for themselves -- and that's why I don't write a book. Here, in cyberspace, I can talk about things abstractly; I can frame my phrases in the form of a question, and I can encourage exactly the kind of thought that I'm wishing would be more prevalent in our society. Within the context of a book, though, the ideas become something concrete, some evidence that carries beyond the text itself -- and it solidifies, it becomes something not fluid or changing, and it is in this loss of adaptability that something can transform; the ideas are no longer mine, as they are outside of my own control, and at this point the shift from "loyal readers" to "obsessive fans" can take control of something, twist it, turn it into something that would destroy the purpose of my writing a book in the first place; after all, there is always a point at which "provoking thought" can turn to "replacing thought" and the last thing I need to see in this world is a large group of people who think like I do.

So, in short, I don't write a book because I'm afraid it would get popular -- or, even worse, that its popularity would not strike until after my death, when I am sure to have no recourse for preventing the perversion of its texts. It's probably insanely pretentious to think that the eventuality of such is even possible, but if there's anything that I've learned through my time in fancying myself a freelance philosopher, it's that people will buy into anything if they're given the proper opportunity, and we can never predict the potency of large groups of stupid people being easily manipulated or fed manufactured lines devised from a source that never intended to bestow such gravity on the minds of its participants. I can't, for even a moment, think that my own view of the world is so pure and wonderful that any other should hold it -- rather the opposite, in fact! -- but the simplest way to consider it is that whether or not it should be considered such, it could be.

So, then, why this rambling rant on why I don't pen my philosophy? Because I'm resolved. I'm resolved to write more here, more than once a month (or, uh, none-ce?), and that means I'm going to have to get into subject matter that's normally reserved for my own innermind, the place where I consider with depth the things that I observe in the world around me, my interpretations thereof -- it is where I melt the sand that becomes the glass to forge the lens through which everything I see is distorted. And so this post is a warning, a promise, a request; I will do what I can to continue to provide content which makes people think. What I ask in return is simply that you do me the honour of thinking.

On that note, one last bit of advice: If ever you find yourself agreeing with everything I say, then please, change your mind.