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If this is the only thing I am good at I will keep mining the words. I will hack at them with what mental strength I have that my arms do not share.

Everywhere is ugly. The ocean turns ugly, the palm trees turn ugly, the most beautiful old cathedral turns into yet another building you have to walk around to get to where you want to go.

Picture the male university professor. I have him stuck in my mind. He is tall, bearded always, shabby but neat, well spoken. He leans against the front table in the room, always, he sits there listening, nodding, looking for more people to tell him what they think morality is and is it real or did we just make it up and is there a god and what do you think about what this German philosopher had to say 500 years ago please give me 12,000 words double-spaced by Friday at midnight to my email.

I miss him, this authority figure who had all the answers and so many more questions. Your brain would never travel that far down a path otherwise.

I was 17 when he announced to the class full of college freshman, “There are two very strong writers in this room.” I don’t particularly know why he needed to say it — doesn’t that make the other 50 people feel bad? — and of course he went on to point us out — doesn’t that make us feel bad? — me and another girl, both of us quiet little mental philosophers who enjoyed listening and reading more than anything else.

Something Sylvia Plath wrote in her journal made me stop and think, I am listening to her, reading is listening. Writing is speaking. Hello, hello.

I want to write a book. I want to make a movie. I want to learn guitar and make music. These things are beautiful to me, like old cathedrals.

He tells me I don’t need to be so hard on myself. (Trust me, I’m not.) But what if that effort, that little mental push, is what draws the line between the successful author and the professor?

I see two women walking together on the side of the road as I drive past, and I wonder if the woman waving her hands is talking and talking and talking too much, and if the other woman is regretting inviting her friend to exercise with her on this chilly late summer afternoon, since that’s what she really wanted to do, exercise, not walk slower than she normally would and listen to all of her friend’s  updated life struggles. “My cat just won’t stop staring out the window,” I imagine her saying, waving her arms as she walks, pretending that she wants to exercise, too.

And now the women are in my rearview mirror, I can look back and see them, and see the leaves turning orange or brown on the trees they walk under.

People are already complaining about the cold, about how it’s almost fall and the weather is colder than it was a month ago, and I think about how this always happens, every year, everything. Hot in the summer, cool in the fall, cold in the winter, with snow, and the same fetching of the dusty snow shovel from the basement.

I look in my rearview mirror at the beautiful orange leaves and I think about how I’ve seen this all before, seen those women before, or women like them, had those same experiences, talked about that same cat, seen those same leaves change from green to orange to brown, raked them into piles and jumped in them, or left the piles to rot. Again and again, year after year.

“It’s so cold!” she says, another faceless woman in my mind, pulling on the sweater she hasn’t worn in nine months.

Winter will come. Snow will fall. Salt trucks will melt it away, or try, or make ice patches that are worse than the snow was.

Again, again, of course. And of course the people will go on, dealing with seeing their breath in the air on cold winter mornings, plowing through snow drifts and piles of paperwork and gallons of hot coffee. What else can they do?

Epiphany. A sudden realization of great truth. My little brother learned this word when he was like ten and went around for the next six years of his life (he’s currently sixteen) saying, “Epiphany. A sudden realization of great truth.”

I’m not saying that is what happened to me, a sudden realization of great truth, but, the truth snuck up on me, at least.  Or I was ignoring it, as it approached, attempting to wish it away, the fact that I’m missing something. You can tell yourself that you’re happy and whole, and do everything possible to keep up the ploy, but eventually, if you’re honest with yourself at least part of the time, you’ll find the truth for yourself, or someone else will accidentally shove it in your face, and, bam. Epiphany. Maybe.

This is about friendship. This is about people. This is about life.

This is about me, and relationships and reciprocation and a lack of both. Something missing, or everything.

This is also a little about heart-break, or -ache, feeling a little of the magic of other people disappearing, feeling that that will never come back.

This is about love, and not understanding what love is, and loving someone who loves someone else, and loving a few people who don’t love back. Missing all of that.

This is about place, location. Wondering if I’d find this somewhere else, with a different city and a different group of people. Wondering if this is just another aspect of life, that this happens everywhere to everyone, wondering if I should feel wise instead of foolish.

This is about choices, about choosing people. Choosing to hang out with those who make you feel happy with yourself, or at least feel something, not like something’s missing; not empty. This is about choosing the right people, about letting go those who make you lose your people magic, even though you don’t want to, even though you wish you could keep them.

This is also about personhood. Being a person, being independent. But missing something. Being a person but not feeling like a person, not being treated like a person.

This is about life, of course, because everything is. This is about learning. And this is about truth, if it even exists.

Nothing like an epiphany, not quite. But, at least, understanding.

 

 

 

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You wake up and you feel it almost immediately. You try to shake it off, brush your teeth, eat breakfast; it’s still there. Maybe it’s in your house, along with all the good and terrible memories. You get in your car, drive away toward somewhere. Where can you go? Shopping? Maybe that’s how people become shopaholics. Addicts. Maybe they’re all the same. Maybe we could all easily become like them; we were just born into different circumstances — found ourselves in a better place when we popped out into the world, and now we all struggle to stay upright where our mothers left us.

You pull into the mall parking lot. You turn off your car, but you know you’re not going in, so you roll down your window and sit still for a few minutes. It feels a little better. But running away doesn’t solve anything. What you’re looking for can’t be purchased at any store. Time is the only thing that helps. Time passes you by out the car window; people march in and out of the store, lugging out bags full of things they may or may not need. You put your seatbelt back on; you’ve sat there long enough, let enough time go by, and it’s still the same and it still will be the same for quite some time.

You could call someone. A friend. But it seems that these days all of your old friends are busy living their own completely different lives. It just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe you need to meet new people. Maybe you need to move. Anything to avoid staying here and falling slightly down, becoming something else. What were you born to be? This? Maybe new friends can’t help you. Maybe a new city can’t help you, either. Maybe nothing can. Maybe everything is just a cover-up, just a distraction. Just like sleep. That’s why you feel it the most in the early mornings, when you can still hear the birds chirping in the dying trees across the street, before the motors start and don’t stop until well after nightfall. That’s why some days, when you don’t have a calendar full of tasks to complete before you head back to bed, when you wake up and look at the clock and realize how many hours are going to stretch out in front of you, you feel it. Life. Just living. What the birds and the squirrels would feel if they had brains like we do. Emptiness. Or, rather, not emptiness. A lack of something that is full of something else. An empty fullness we try to cover up with the society we’ve created. With the laws, the stop signs, the uniforms of employees and school children. With religion. With purpose; an easy purpose, one-size-fits-all, that can be found in several different very old books. And, of course, with shopping.

“I hate this fucking game!” (a guy in the library, obviously not doing school work!)

“… the first lady – Michelle Obama – …” (like we didn’t know)

“He bit it. He died. He slit his own throat.” (the things Philosophy majors talk about… scary.)

“…she looks younger now that she’s fat.” (the things girls talk about…)

“He has big dreams, but reality is going to come crashing in.” (a woman talking about her son.)

So, here’s the sitch. (I’ve always wanted to say that in real life but the proper moment just never comes up.)

Recently (about six minutes ago), I was walking down the hall. Well, OK, the hall was actually a sky-walk (one of those tube-y things on college campuses that connect buildings so no one actually has to set foot outside). Anyway, there I was, walking down the hall/sky-walk.

I’ll admit that at that moment I was being one of those people who walk and text on their cell phones at the same time. I was trying to, anyway. I don’t really text that much, let alone walk and text at the same time. We are talking high-level functioning human stuff, here.

Even better that I was texting this guy from Saudi Arabia who doesn’t really speak English. He’s in the English language program at my University. Basically, we hang out sometimes and, er, talk. (We are “conversation partners”. It’s all rather fancy.) So, when I text him, I can’t be all: “lets meet 2morrow 4 food-age, bro!”, or, “wassup homie?!” — you know, my typical text language. Yeah. I can just imagine the confused stares that would bring about.

OK, so there I was, doing all this multitasking, when suddenly, a wild college student appeared! AKA, a thirty year old lady in fancy pants (dress pants, you might call them). I was gaping (I’m sure looking all intelligent) down at my phone when I heard,

“Do you have a pen? – I could have?”

Me: uhhh… wait what just happened? “Um, I don’t know….”

So then I dig immediately into my (rather tiny) purse and spot the four pens that are hanging out in the bottom underneath my keys and my magic gum (I’ll tell you about that another time).

I have a brief mental moment of consideration. These are like good pens. Not those little BIC ones that are found on every floor of every room in every building on campus. These are my Pilot G2 babies. I have a red and a black and a green and a blue (for every occasion!). Should I give one of these to this random person – fully knowing that not only have I never seen her before, but I will certainly never see her again, AKA, this is me giving away my pen. I mean, she didn’t even say that lame thing that people say when they’re all like, ‘hey, can I borrow a piece of paper?!’ You are not going to be giving it back, though, and both parties know this.

So, I did my little purse-digging, briefly (hopefully not too long) stared at my little pens, and looked back up at her with a sad face, saying, “No. I’m sorry!” And then she walked away and I clutched my pen-containing-purse to my chest and ran quickly away in the opposite direction. The End.

 
Does this make me a horrible person? I don’t think so. The only reason I ask this is because just before I was walking down that sky-walk/hallway I had been in a Philosophy class. Dang you, Philosophy.

I feel like this is sort of similar to those situations when homeless people/others ask you for change while you’re walking down the street, and you don’t want to give them any – for whatever reason – so you go and pat your back pocket, shake your head like you’re surprised to find nothing there and go, “Sorry, I don’t have anything. Must have left my two rolls of quarters at home today. Sorry!” (I’ve even done the back-pocket maneuver. You think I’ve ever kept a wallet back there? Nope.)

What really gets me is that I messed up my text message because of it! I’m supposed to be helping this guy with his language skills, and I go and send him the following: “So how about we meet tomorrow after your class tomorrow and then maybe go to the farmer’s market?” Tomorrow. Did you get that? Well, then again, maybe that helped him.

Maybe this a life lesson: Don’t attempt to walk and text at the same time, Jenni. It’s just not going to work out for you.

Whatever. You still can’t have my pen.

 

 

What does an ideal day consist of for you? I’m talking anything. If you could spend your days any way you’d like, what would you do? How would you spend them? What would bring you the most joy, the most satisfaction, the most happiness?

I want an answer. A solid, real answer. No wishy-washy stuff: “Oh, I’d like to have some money, and just, you know, do… stuff.”

Where would you work? Who would you be friends with? How would you spend your time?

You know they say that “you can be anything”, you can do anything, yatta yatta. And you really can. It all depends on you.

I believe that 100%. That’s what makes life so scary – you only have one of them (Not going to say YOLO right here, don’t worry!), and you can do whatever you want with it (it’s all up to you!), and the choices that you make in your life cannot be reversed.

That’s scary, right? They don’t make video games like that – you have an endless supply of lives! You have a “mission” or “goal” to achieve to beat the game. You can go back to an old save if you accidentally kill someone and/or buy something you can’t afford (a giant house, maybe? A car? A kid?)!

What are you going to do with your life? Or, what are you doing with your life?

I can’t really answer any of these questions that I’ve been bombarding you with. I don’t really have a life plan. Sure, I know what I don’t want to do, I know who I don’t want to be friends with, I know how I don’t want to spend my time. I have a lot of those vague wishy-washy dreams – and they seem to be working out pretty well for me so far.

Ok, here’s one more question: If you know where you want to be, and who you want to be, and I told you that I could make you into that person right now – would you accept my offer? Would you become your “dream self” right now?

Or, do you want to spend your time – however long it takes – struggling to become that person?

Maybe I can’t answer this question fairly because I don’t really know where it is my life is heading – I am sort of automatically taking the latter option.

Does it matter if you have the ability to be anything you want to be if you don’t know what it is that you want to be?

It’s about to happen again. Brace yourself. I’m about to quote… me.

I was flipping through an old notebook when I found it: a page in-between notes about philosophy. Wandering thoughts after classes and late at night – I have them a lot. Here’s one from 4-17-12 at 2AM. (Yes, I dated it and time-stamped it, too. It’s another thing I do – in addition to quoting myself.)

No one is ever happy with where they are. Americans want to live in England, Canadians dream of Ireland; all while the English pine for the USA and the Irish gaze longingly across the sea. Beauty is all around us. Happiness can be found anywhere. We all just want control over our own lives – any control at all, whatever we can get. We believe with all our hearts that our lives will be better spent elsewhere, so we spend all our lives looking for that better place. Those who claim to be content with their lives aren’t, really. They’re fooling themselves – lying outright and believing every word. You’re not content – you’re stupid. You’re pretending. You’re stuck. You’ve convinced yourself that changing your life in any way would cause you harm. And that might be so – but not changing is far worse. Living a life unhappy – what was that for? What do you get out of that? Can anyone really be content, living that way? If so, I feel sorry for you. Yet, someone has got to do it. The world needs McDonald’s workers, dog groomers, cashiers. Someone has got to do it. Not me – so, you? Or, move to Ireland. Which sounds better?

Oooh, harsh. I think there’s truth in this, though. What do you think? Throw some quotes at me!