Curse My Sudden but Inevitable Catastrophe

Remember those games where you put a marble in a maze and you tilt the surface back and forth, up and down, moving the marble around the board in a series of increasingly frantic corrections, using body English to try to keep it going while still avoiding the holes, and you were on the edge of calamity and ruin every second?

I am the only one who feels like that pretty much all the time?


marble maze
Fine motor control not included.

Cruel game. (Life, I mean.) No matter where you go or how carefully you move, you’re constantly on the edge of failure. No resting. No safe spots. Every action a risk. Inaction a risk. The constant sensation of unavoidable peril.

Not sure why I can’t relax…

The correctives to that sensation are all different varieties of grounding yourself, recognizing that you’re actually okay and in no real danger. Nothing beyond your ability to deal with.

sweet dog
Let go and let dog…

Breath deeply. Repeat calming phrases. Practice mindfulness. Count and name and touch objects nearby.

Brain thinks you’re in trouble. It’s tricked, somehow. Un-trick it.

All good advice. But I would just like to get out of the marble maze, please. Can we do that?

Yeah. Like that. Just like that.

I will try to fix you

“Lemme tell you what you need.”

Wait wait wait. I gotta get ready. (Deep breath.) Alright, go ahead. Hit me with it. What you got?

“There’s a whole world out there! You can be or do anything you want! Everything serves a purpose! You just gotta cheer up! Take a vacation/smoke a joint/learn to see the bright side/lighten up/buy Amway!”

I suspect that last was a trick.

I feel better. Thanks. Thanks so much.

I dunno, maybe I’m alone in this, but–I HATE being told what to do, anyway. By ANYBODY. At ANY time. Or told HOW to do something, for that matter. Hate. Hatehatehatehatehate.

Even at work, where you kinda have to endure it. Grrrrrr. Some folks take getting bossed around a lot better than me. I do not understand these people.

I should change all that I am and all that I believe and all that I’ve ever done to make you happy? Perfect! I’m yours! Mold me!

Okay, fine, you’ve gotta take it from your bosses, because they’re the ones holding the money, but at the same time you can at least flip them off in your head.

I’ll totally do that. Right away. Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention.


But you feel like you shouldn’t have to take bossy advice from friends or family. Still, this is tricky–what they wanna tell you is probably crap, but you don’t want to be offensive toward them. Theoretically. So you gotta listen, at least at first.

But too often, the advice you’re getting comes rolled in additional shittiness–being both insulting and controlling. (Degree of difficulty–douchebag/Mean girl.)

Play along at home! Which bits of  condescending helpfulness have you encountered?

“You’re a vegetarian? Hmm. Weird. Maybe you’re just bloated…”

On weight loss: Hey–it’s easy! Just move more, and eat less!

(Oh!! It must be super easy, because there are almost no fat people in the whole world!!!)

On alcoholism: Wanna solve this once and for all? Just don’t drink so much alcohol.

(You may want to write some of this down.)

You’re not getting enough sleep? Go to sleep sooner!

And my favorite: Suffering from anxiety? Don’t worry so much!

pleased with myself
This is great! I’m solving problems right and left!

Now, these bits of advice, as useless as they are, have the virtue at least of being technically correct. If you could do these things, it would be better for you. Sure, they beg the question regarding the actual problem, but they’re focused like a laser on the proximate cause.

If you bend the universe to your will, you’ll get what you want!

Usually, it’s not even that close. (How, you ask? Read on, dear friend!)

Clearly, folks often just want to help. They want you to be happier. They mean well. So even though the advice is simplistic and condescending and has no chance of working, you try not to be a dick about it.

not smiling
Yeah. Hmm. Maybe. I’ll have to give that a try. Thanks so much.

You listen, if you can bear it.

Here’s a sampling of helpful “don’t be depressed” advice for beginners that I have heard:

Idea #1: All you need is… music!

You see this one a lot. Apparently, music is magic.


I like music. I listen to music a lot. Many kinds. And of course it *helps*. Sure. Everybody feels better listening to music.


But if music is a ladder, depression is a g*dd*mn canyon. (<Redacted.)


No–that’s a bad example.

Better: music is a fly-swatter. And depression is one of these guys.

Hit me with that swatter one more time.

Idea #2: All you need is a good night out.

Now, here’s some real magical thinking. (This is actual advice from actual people, remember.)

Date night. See the joy? YMMV.

You are in a bone-deep sadness; it feels like it will not end; the future is bleak; you are struggling moment to moment; how about happy hour?!

Dinner and drinks will fix everything.

File this idea under “I brainstormed for about 3 seconds, and this is what I got.”

Idea #3: Count your blessings!

my bad
Oh, no, you didn’t…

Bite me. Seriously.

You think people are depressed because they haven’t taken inventory? They’re not noticing the positives?

I could go on a red-faced rant here, but you either already get it or you aren’t going to.

Moving on.

Idea #4: You just need a change of pace.

Why are you still talking to me?

(Okay, that was unkind. Those were supposed to just be inside words, and they got away from me.)

But when you’ve gotten all of this advice from well-meaning people, you start to realize that they aren’t really telling you how to feel better. They’re telling you that you don’t really feel that bad. They are saying that you are mistaken, that you are seeing things the wrong way, and you’re making a big deal out of nothing.

Sometimes that’s true. And sometimes people you know are not mistaken. It is a real thing, like a broken bone or ebola or a fricking gunshot. They are in reality painfully, deeply depressed. Whatever advice you’ve got will probably not be helpful.

Tell the guy with the bullet wound to count his blessings. Tell the guy with a fever of 105 that he should listen to music or go on a date.

Your support, however, is crucial. That’s a million times better than advice.

Someone you know.

Snap out of it, people want to say. It’s all in your head, they’d like you to know.

That, at least, IS true.

You know what else is in your head? Stupid. That’s where the stupid lives.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you


Everything’s alright, yes…

It’s 2:30 in the morning. You roll over and wake yourself up. Should you A) go back to sleep? or B) grab hold of that teeth-rattling worry-train that was dragging you around the day before and go for another ride?

I’m asking for a friend.

hang on
I choose A! Is it too late to choose A?

Everybody’s got worries. Even JC had worries. I recall that Mary Magdalene told him:

Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you, oh.
Don’t you know
Everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine.
And we want you to sleep well tonight.
Let the world turn without you tonight.
If we try, we’ll get by, so forget all about us tonight…

She’s sweet. Unfortunately, “don’t worry” is crap advice.

Anxiety is a clever opponent. It uses brain-jitsu against you. Here’s how:

You know that certain topics get your brain in turmoil, destroying your serenity, and naturally you want to avoid that. So, if you’re like me (I always assume everyone is like me, just for convenience) you have a helpful voice in your head reminding you what not to think about.

No elephants, obviously. At all. Because that’s what I’m not thinking about. Elephants.

So you make a list of thoughts to avoid. For safety’s sake, you will keep the list handy, on the tip of your brain. And you refer to it often. Especially in the middle of the night. That’s the best time for running through the list of things to avoid.

Dwomf_int2_Dwomf interior
Okay, don’t think about bills… or the work sitting on my desk… or the repairs I put off… or that stupid, stupid thing I did… or my own inevitable, inexorable, slow decline and ultimate demise…

Well, shit.

Shit, shit, shit, shit.

But there is hope, in the form of actual good advice. Practical advice. And it comes from the world of mountain biking, just like you would expect.

bike 2
A favorite: If you love your bike, let it go. If it comes back to you…

Too often, beginner mountain bikers see an obstacle on the trail, like a big buried rock, and they hit it. (Pro tip: you want to NOT hit it. [We’re not to the advice yet. That’s good stuff, though.])

No, here’s the real point: if you look at the thing that you don’t want to hit, you will hit it. That’s just where you bike will go, and you will make a whomp-crunch sound when you superman over the bars and then come to rest in a tidy heap along the side of the trail.

Whomp-crunch: T-minus 1 second. It’s funny, because it hurts.

What to do, then? (This is the advice. Get ready.) Look at the bit of the trail where you want to go instead, and your bike will naturally follow that path around the obstacle.

Brandon may have not noticed the rock on the trail ahead of time. Come on, Brandon! Keep your eyes open!

In other words, look to the solution; don’t watch the problem.

That’s such beautiful advice, I want you to re-read it in the voice of Dr. Phil:

Look to the solution; don’t watch the problem. See how that works out for ya.

Thank you, Dr. Phil. You make everything better.

So, to sum up: if you wake up in the middle of the night, remember to think about nice things. Go straight there. Like bright flowers. And maybe fluffy sheep. Think on it like you mean it. Give your fluffy sheep something fun to do.

You want I should cavort? Or maybe gambol? Look, I can frolic, but I can’t lark. Union rules.

That’s it. That’s all.

Be well. Aim for the pretty stuff. Keep your eyes on the happy things. Look to the solution; don’t watch the problem. And, most of all…

be happy
No irony. Just pretty colors. Now go back to sleep.

Stiff upper lip


I feel happy. It’s a happy day. Everybody’s feeling happy. Are you happy, too? Don’t let me down, bro. I really need this.

“How are you doing?”

There are two ways to answer that question.

A. You say, “Good. And you?” OR

B. You tell the tr…

I’ll save you the trouble of finishing that thought. The answer is A. Everybody knows the answer is A.

If anybody wanted to know the real truth about your current level of happy-joyousness– –exactly how little sleep you got last night, or how hard this new diet is, or how hung over you are, or how those stilettos are killing you, or how that rash you were telling him about yesterday is starting to freak you out– –they wouldn’t have waited until a random three-second passing in the hallway or at Target to ask.

They would have called. Or texted. Or visited.

Did they call? Or text? Or visit? Hmm?

lined up
Hey, you guys. Listen up! Kevin’s just ahead. He’s asking how everybody is. Get ready! It’s almost your turn. Pass it back!

Anything more than “Good–and you?” is uncalled for detail. Give a guy a break. Kevin has got 500 other people to greet this morning before he can get his coffee. Keep the line moving. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Man, you’re bringing us down!

But what if you feel really bad, and you want somebody to know? And you’ve got their ear, and feel like, come on, you’re both human, and maybe they should know you better so you can be a little more human with each other.

Well, I’ll tell you what– –even if you do tell them what’s up with you, there is nothing they can do with that information. Not really.

Do you want commiseration? Is that it? Sympathy. Support, maybe.

Sure, right? Sometimes. Everybody wants that sometimes. Except maybe the silent hero type.

So, I’ve got this huge blister on my heel. Size of like a silver dollar, at least. Maybe bigger. It’s okay when I don’t have to walk on it, but when I do, my sock slides down and my boot just rubs it raw. Hurts like a son of a bitch. I was thinking of breaking it, you know, popping it, but I heard that’s a bad idea. Infection, I guess. Something like that. And to top it off, this cold has totally settled in my chest. When I wake up, I feel all phlegmy, and cough until my throat hurts. Oh, sorry, I’ll have a shot of whiskey.

When you’re with a friend and blurt, “Oh, I’ve got such a headache,” what do you think is going to happen? Nothing, right? Nothing was ever going to happen. They say, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” That’s it. You just want someone to know, and maybe, magically, take an ounce of your pain– –but it doesn’t really work that way. Your head still hurts.

But there we are, saying it anyway, thinking something might be different this time.

If you were walking around outside, and the sky looked bright red to you, and the grass was purple, and cats were talking and gerbils were driving cars and and pandas were playing chess in the park, and you knew that nobody else was seeing it, you’d want to mention it to somebody. Otherwise, it’s like you’re alone in that world with the red sky and purple grass and mammals savant.

starry night
No, Vincent. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Seriously. It doesn’t look like that to me. No, I’m not messing with you! No swirls. No luminous tracks. None. I’m sorry. I can’t see it. I don’t know why it looks like that to you.

But they’re not going to get it. If you are feeling depressed, or anxious, and try to explain it to someone, it just sounds foolish. Unless you’re weeping. Then it’s foolish and awkward.


Here’s why: it sounds like bitching, no matter how you play it. And it’s lame. You might as well be saying, “I have a real bad problem with gas. I know it doesn’t look like it. I try to hide it. But every day, all the time, every time you see me, the truth is that I really, really want to fart. It’s everything I can do to hold it in.”

Oh. Charming. Thanks for stopping by.

weirded out
What? TMI?

They might try to understand. Some people do. They make an effort. But they’ll have questions.

“You’re saying you’re on fire. But I don’t see any flames. How could it hurt if I don’t see any flames?

OK, they’ll probably say something more like, “But I don’t get it. You don’t look like you’re depressed. You do normal stuff and sound like everybody else. I heard you laughing a little bit ago.”

Or, “What are you worried about? Everything is fine. And you seem okay. Just learn to let it go! You’re making too big a deal about stuff.”

Okay, go. One word. Two syllables. Um… freak out? No, that’s two words. Um… worried? N0? Frightened? Do something else! I don’t get it. No! Time’s up. What was that? Anxious? I don’t get anxious from that. You suck.

Well, you can’t walk around sobbing just to demonstrate your emotional situation, right? Or jump at every sound to try to mime “anxious.” You can, but then the whole “bring-them-into-your-world” motivation has been discarded in favor of drama and deception, in favor of self-serving pity. I think there was probably a very special episode of Facts of Life where Tootie discovered this bit of wisdom. It certainly feels like the sort of thing Cindy Brady would learn after a series of hijinks on a Friday night circa 1970.

I learned my lesson, daddy. I’ll never try to dramatize my tragic inner life through kabuki and shadow puppets again, even if Alice does ask me how I’m feeling. [Audience laughs.]
So, you do you best to act normal. Put on your normal face and normal skin and wear them around, and train your voice to sound normal, and practice including your eyes when you smile so you don’t spook people. And if anybody asks how you’re doing, for the love of all that’s holy, just say,

“Good. And you?”

I’m so happy.

Keep clicking your heels, Dorothy. Maybe you’ll get there.

My inner hunter-gatherer

I am wishing for more time. There’s too little of the right kind. And way, way too much of the wrong kind.

My natural habitat. Mmmm. Smell that carbon monoxide!

I gotta get where I’m going, do what I’ve gotta do, and then I’ve gotta get back to home base. To the person on the freeway in rush hour in front of me–I’m already on the fence about you, just on principle. It’s nothing against you personally; I’m sure you’re lovely. But if we are to coexist, you need to keep it moving.

And if you’re protecting extra space in front of you, please be aware that I’m arming photon torpedoes in my head.

Artist’s rendition. No actual drivers were erased from existence in a 20 isoton blast caused by the mutual annihilation of 1.5 kilograms of matter and antimatter.

And back to the loving place…

What were we talking about?

Days are already long for most of us. Between work and commute, picking up a few groceries, trying to exercise, dinner, dishes, and homework, you can maybe watch a TV show before you go to bed, get up, and do it again.

It’s killing me. I swear it’s killing me. Isn’t it killing you?

I see people totally chill with this type of schedule, or having even less free time than that, and I don’t understand them. It’s like their brains are made of different stuff.

And that could be literally true.

Is it quitting time? I’m not getting paid to hunt all day…

You see, we are creating our own evolution. Not only are we learning how to live in cities (and not kill each other) we are learning how to work all day. Humans didn’t always have a go go go go idle-hands-are-the-devil’s-worshop Puritan work ethic.

Depending on whose version you accept, hunter-gatherers either work less than the rest of us—-or they work a LOT less than the rest of us. And that’s who we all were, not too many generations ago. Imagine that now… working a few hours a day gathering and hunting, hunting and gathering, then hanging out together for the every-single-day community barbecue. Sitting around the fire, telling stories. Chilling.

It sounds like camp. But, you know, with lions and hyenas visiting every so often.

“So, we’re just gonna just pop in and say hi to the new humans. Don’t take your coat off, cuz we’re not staying.”

Some anthropologists call this time in our history–the first 99% of our history–the “original affluent society.” Our ancestors had what they needed, which includes the same things we need: enough to meet their physical needs, a society to belong to, and time to enjoy life.

In some parts of the world, people must go to work every day, commuting for hours, just to get by. You can do something about this First World problem. Please give generously.

Freaking farmers went and messed it up for us. Their new way had some advantages, but they had to work all day to make their system work. They had to organize into communities, communities into cities, and civilize us. No more hunting and gathering in the morning, hanging out the rest of the day.

Now we gotta work all day. Thanks, Obama!

This is when humans were told that life stinks, and then you die. These are not my words. According to Moses, that’s [almost exactly] what YHWH said: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.”

Seriously–the farmers got us kicked out of paradise.

“Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.” Thus saith Coldplay

My current theory is that some people have evolved to be okay with the new regime. They evolved more completely into modern “Work all day” humans, while some of us are still largely “Work a bit and then chill” humans. I know I’m definitely in this camp.

I mean, it’s not that I’m lazy.

Wait. No. It’s exactly that. That’s exactly what it is.

Let’s call this work.

Accepting the Status Quote

There’s a lot going on in the world that can make us want to hide, or run, or fight, or freeze, or faint. Every day there’s a new story on your Facebook newsfeed in the actual news that you just don’t want to hear. What to do? How to deal?

What we need is a philosophy of life that steers us through the bad times.

Those strangers look an awful lot like actual people in a bad situation. I gotta do something. Imma look away.

Instead of such a philosophy, it seems that the disappointments of life drive us to find comfort and absolution in meaningless cliches. When, you ask?

When it is what it is.


When you find thought inconvenient, please try this phrase.

What does that even mean? Shut up? Give up? Don’t talk about it anymore? Or is it just the sound we make when our brains are shifting into neutral?

Desk is what desk is. Is hard is desk. Head is bam.

We have actual problems that are looking for solutions. The world keeps spinning, and bunches of us keep flying off into space. Earthquakes strike in Oklahoma; tornadoes hit Bangladesh; water levels rise in Florida; the middle class declines; homelessness rises; rain stops falling in California; pesticides show up in mothers’ milk; little kids cry when their school goes on lockdown.

Bite me, old man. Show me a badge or I’m not coming out.

Our joint response to events beyond, or apparently beyond, our control, is to turn to this philosophy of futility.

Remember, you can’t spell futility without f you!

Helpfully, we have a hundred other ways to express the same blithe impotence. Here are some of my favorites, placed in elucidating context:

Flat tire?

Shit happens! [Shrug shoulders.]

Wife bailed?

Oh, well! [Shrug shoulders.]

Your job description is now whatever the hell they say it is, and includes a demeaning pile of crap?

Suck it up, buttercup! [Shrug shoulders.]

Can’t make the house payment?

Don’t sweat the small stuff! [Shrug shoulders.]

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are threatening the nation and our way of life?

Whatevs! [Shrug shoulders.]

Your water supply is now polluted?

Whaddaya gonna do? [Shrug shoulders.]

Insane clown muppet won the election?

Cowboy up! [Shrug shoulders.]

The winner?

A thermonuclear device is descending on your location?

It is what it is!  [Shrug brain.]

Is resignation in the face of life’s trials really the pinnacle of personal ethical development? Is that the best we can do?

Ahem. This is where you accept the inevitability of your current situation, and resign yourself to it. Excuse me, young lady! You’re doing it wrong!

Albert Schweitzer once said that shit happens, but oh, well, whatever, whaddaya gonna do? Except he said it this way:

True resignation is this: that man, feeling his subordination to the course of world events, makes his way toward inward freedom from the fate that shapes his external existence. Inward freedom gives him the strength to triumph over the difficulties of everyday life and to become a deeper and more inward person, calm and peaceful. Resignation, therefore, is the spiritual and ethical affirmation of one’s own existence. Only he who has gone through the trial of resignation is capable of accepting the world.

What it is is inward freedom, mofos! (Seriously, it sounds more elevated in the original German.)

I can’t argue with that mustache. You win, Albert. I’ll totally affirm my own existence by accepting my subordination to the matrix world that shapes my external existence. That sounds liberating…

Of course, this is more progressive than some philosophies. Doris Day used to sing to us, “Que sera sera”: whatever will be, will be. Grammarians are quick to recognize the future tense. This is an unusually proactive form of submission and capitulation in which our doughty heroine is surrendering to stuff that hasn’t even attacked her yet. Not for beginners. Degree of difficulty: religion.

Portrait Of doris Day
A TV show will be will be.

I’m gonna stick to the present, and I know just how to go about it. Famed ironist* and deep-voiced skinny guy Steve Taylor gave his take on this almost 30 years ago:

While the world winds down to a final prayer
Nothing soothes quicker than complete despair
I predict by dinner I won’t even care
Since I gave up hope I feel a lot better

Lose hope now! Ask me how!

Or maybe…. we can ditch the whole “It is what it is” thing. How about replacing it with, I dunno, “It is bullshit, and I will fight it tooth and nail.

These guys know what I’m talking about.

Better, right?

You’re welcome.


*How ironic? As a Christian artist, he got in trouble for his song “I blew up the clinic real good.” Irony about 6 inches off the ground flew over the heads of many seriously religious people.


The Wisdom to Know the Difference

And if you’re in a giving mood, how about a coupla bucks for gas…

Okay, let’s see how this works:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… How do you know you can’t change it?

That’s what the wisdom’s for.

Maybe “wisdom” is just an excuse for giving up too soon. Ever think of that? Ha!

Sometimes, giving up IS wisdom…

Mind. Blown.

Okay, I get it. There are some unchangeable things. Especially stuff in the past.

Present and past is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. That’s just science.

Except for a few Dr. Who-type scenarios, you can’t change the past, and you’ve just gotta learn to accept it. What’s done is done, and all that. It’s all over but the shouting. Katie bar the door. The generous-lunged professional female singer has performed the final aria.

Everything I know about opera. And Vikings. And rabbits, come to that.

Live with the outcome. Accept that you cannot change it. Your team lost? Bummer. Hey, wanna watch Supernatural?

Come on, Al McCoy. Tell us what’s happening. I need a shazam or two.

I remember when I was like that, sort of. Through most of the 90s, I lived and breathed Phoenix Suns. The best possible thing available on TV was a Suns game. Watching it live, as it happened, commercial breaks and all. Charles Barkley. Dan Majerle. KJ. And since they were good back then, they usually ended the night on a good note. Suns win. Suns win. The next morning, my whole reason for opening the newspaper was to read the recap and enjoy the win again.

But even if it was a loss, I would read the paper to find like-minded souls to commiserate with. It didn’t wipe me out if they lost. I knew they’d bounce back, and I was like all chill and stuff.

No worries, dude! They’ll win the next one. Or two or three.

Until that got harder and harder. A loss would put me in a funk. I took it badly, and it got worse all the time.

My solution? Stop watching the NBA. And then all sports, completely. (And Grey’s Anatomy, and other shows that deal too much in tragedy. Yes, I know it’s all fake. Shut up. I still can’t watch it.)

Ignorance is bliss. Avoid seeing it. I can’t feel bad about a game I am paying no attention to.

Go, squadron.

I couldn’t/still can’t bear the tension involved in watching the back-and-forth of basketball, football, baseball. Unless I don’t care who wins. And why would I watch if I don’t care?

(I envy those fans who care but don’t really really care. Know what I mean?)

But maybe that’s cheating–trying to find serenity that way. Avoiding the issue. Not by actually accepting difficult things, but instead by putting my fingers in my ears and chanting, “La la la la la!!! I can’t hear you!!!” I suspect I’m not the only one using this strategy, however. (I’m looking at you, climate change deniers.)

“La la la… snow means there’s no climate change… la la la…”

But what about things that haven’t happened yet? Stuff waiting to happen? Anxiety is mostly about things on the horizon, things yet to be, pain waiting to hurt. How much of that do we have to accept as inevitable?

The future. Coming at ya.

Like in politics–a vile, reprehensible, crude bigot won a very important election. And now he wants to do horrible things that hurt a lot of people. Wisdom, whaddaya say? Isn’t accepting this what sheep do? Isn’t this how they control us? Teach us to go to our happy place while men without conscience steal and corrupt and destroy?

Same thing in our individual lives–how much of the shit coming down the track do we have to accept?

The courage to change the things I can…

If the door is closed, and wisdom says it’s probably locked, doesn’t courage say, “Try it anyway”? Give it a rattle. Maybe it’ll open.

Could be Narnia back there. You don’t know.

I’m up for trying a few doors, seeing what opens. What did Janis Joplin say? “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” So is courage, I think. And at my age, courage also looks a lot like doing something stupid.

I’m okay with that. What have I got to lose?

Nobody answer. Seriously.

The Coming Apocalypse. (Or, for Carolyn on her birthday…) ;)

With it being almost time to vote, and me having mentioned the apocalypse, one would be forgiven for thinking I was gonna talk about Donald Trump.

But nah…

Instead, today’s lesson comes from the Book of Shelly, the prophet who tells us of the fate of Ozymandias, with his colossal statue lying broken in a wasteland.

Sic semper tyrannis, bitch! (art credit: witchofwest on Deviantart)

With a frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command….

Where are the trunkless legs? I was promised trunkless legs!
Here’s the end of the sonnet:
 And on the pedestal, these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias, with his frown and sneer. (Too on-the-nose?)

Solomon of Jerusalem  penned the following lyrics (found on his classic album Ecclesiastes):
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
All things are full of weariness;
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
There is no remembrance of former things,
   nor will there be any remembrance
   of later things yet to be
   among those who come after.

King Solomon, ca. 970 BCE. In his “Cowboy phase.”

(TL:DNR? Okay, pick up the thread again here…)
So, the point, Ozymandias and King Solomon? You’ll be forgotten, no matter who you are.
Good lesson, in any case, even if numerous modern-day prophets have made the same point:
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see…
Dust in the wind… All we are is dust in the wind…”
(Livgren, as found in the Prophecies of Kansas.)

Lessons learned at prom last a lifetime…

For all of these men–and they’re all men, fwiw–I must pose a question:

Why do you care? About your “legacy,” I mean. Being “remembered” by people not even alive yet.

And why are so many of us kinda like that?

Achilles, here’s the deal–if you sacrifice yourself in a pointless war, we’ll totally name an injury after you. A groin pull, maybe, or very sore lower back…

What makes us want to spread our image and our name across the land, like a lightning bug smeared across the inside wall of a church-camp quonset hut on a mosquito-infested night? (That’s an oddly specific image…) What makes us want to carve our names into history, leaving a reputation-shaped scar to last all time? What good does that do us when the sands will still come and cover us up?

In their defense, none of these guys specifically asked for this treatment.

What good does it do? There is an answer: No good. none at all. None good.

Life has its own scale, and it isn’t monumental. It is human-sized–if you’re living right.

This is my motto. Since about 5 minutes ago.

It’s today. And when tomorrow comes, it’s that day. And if you’re lucky, you’ll share it with the right people. And when you’re gone, and when they’re gone, and the sands come, it won’t matter, because you have already had your days, and you knew it when it was happening, and it was enough. More than enough.

Between love today and future glory, I’ll take love. Speaking for me is the prophet Nesmith in the book of Monkees:

I have no more than I did before
But now I’ve got all that I need
For I love you and I know you love me

(Note to my beloved wife–I’m talking about you.) 🙂

Be the Paperclip

Living inside anxiety, I can’t help but think I may actually be the worst person to explain it. I’m certain that it looks entirely different from the inside, and would be unrecognizable to people on the outside.

I feel this is best expressed through a peyote-inspired scene from “I dream of Jeannie”:

Me: “Okay, it’s a round room, about twenty feet across, with jewels on the wall, and cushions that fit together, and pillows all around. And kinda pink and purple. Mostly purple. Weird ceiling. Do you see it?”

All pretty girls should have pillowy rooms with fabric on the walls.

Some human: “Dude… you’re high. All I see a shiny bottle about as long as my arm.”

Me: “Open it!”

SFX: Poof!

Anxious person emerges, blinking.

And….. scene!

Okay, anxiety is not usually this shiny. Or purple. Probably a bad example, to be honest. Seriously, it’s too late for this kind of feedback.

From this side, it feels like anxiety is connected to time somehow–like everything is coming in too fast, and nothing I do can slow it down. It feels like stress, but in more dimensions than emotions are supposed to have. (Apparently, that feeling is a real thing and much discussed at one time, in certain circles.)

1970? Surely not. Did the author impress it on a wet clay tablet with a pointy stick?

Alvin Toffler definition of future shock: “Too much change in too short a period of time.” Published 1970.

Part of my brain keeps saying, “Hurry up! You’re not making it. If you fall behind…!!” (Not sure what happens if I fall behind. Something bad.)

Without meaning to, I’m aware of every responsibility, every job I’ve got to do in the next ten minutes, hour, rest of the morning, day, week, semester, year, all at once… as well as the time crunch I have trying to accomplish each one while doing all of the others, facing the scrutiny and scorn of the (imagined?) authorities looming over my shoulder.

Did I have an appointment at 13:30? Shit shit shit….

And all the time, all the time, all the time, I keep thinking about the years–how many I’ve passed, how many since this movie came out or that album was released, how many years I’ve taught, how many I still need to work, how many years since Mom and Dad passed away, and how many more I can hope to see, like an old man counting down to zero.

So it’s simultaneously time by the fraction of a second, and time by the year and decade, with me trapped between.

And with the thinking is the feeling of anxiety–a true, physical feeling–like a fever that gives you chills all over; or like razor-blade poison traveling through your veins; or like frost on your skin, a quarter inch deep; or like molten lead in your gut, sending its metallic tendrils every direction.

It makes me grit my teeth until I have a headache. And jiggle my knees. And crack my knuckles over and over.

Even when I’m not making this face, my brain is making this face.

See? I can’t describe it properly. Maybe that’s close enough.

But I know what I want instead.

I crave slow time. Maybe no time. Sitting on the porch, reading books by natural sunlight, hearing the sound of the wind and the flutter of the curtains, with the dogs puttering around and the leaves rustling. Nothing much happening. Nothing needing to be done. No critic at my shoulder. No deadline. No existential angst.


The deepest calm I feel is when a scent, like cut grass, or a combination of clouds and sun, or some chance word, or crickets outside at night, or some other perfect accident of life conjures up not just the memory of my youth but an actual moment, a time when I didn’t inhabit this strange space, this bizarro version of my inner life. Then, for a blissful instant, I step out of the bottle, out of time, out of the fever-poison-frost, and feel…


But only for, like, you know, a second. A good second.

That’s not how I feel at work. I don’t know many people who do. But sometimes, once in a while, there’s a tiny spark of it.

This big.

Normally (though it shouldn’t be normal) work is where everything is coming in so fast–for real, for everybody, not just in my imagination–that an actual happy, healthy human can barely keep up. Teaching is like managing a party for eight-year-olds at McDonald’s, except it’s with 30 or more kids at a time, all day, every day, and they’ve all been eating bowls full of red frosting for the last 24 hours, and your party games are super stupid, like essays and multiple choice quizzes.

“Do you want to throw up here or in the car, Samantha?”

Teaching is a job for masochists and martyrs and people who didn’t read the job description very well, though it is sometimes kinda fun. Not very peaceful, though. Unless you’re a paperclip.

“Is that a metaphor?”

Not a metaphor. An actual paperclip.

About a year ago, when I entered work feeling feverish-poisoned-frozen every day, I started to notice a paperclip on the sidewalk a few doors down from my classroom. A simple aluminum paperclip, dropped by a passerby, and probably never missed. Unassuming little tool. Modestly useful. Fragile, typically–even a child can destroy it, if it comes into their hands.

What do you make of this?

“I can make a brooch… I can make a hat…”

It was there every day. Day after day. In perfect condition. The students would walk on it, and the leaf blower would blow around it, and the rain would wash over it, and nothing troubled it. It wasn’t worth picking up, and it wasn’t worth worrying about, and it wasn’t important enough to bother destroying in a fit of “Take that!” And for months that paperclip lay there. Tenacious. Resilient. An outrageously unlikely survivor. I noticed it, and left it there, silently rooting for it to outlast the school, the way crocodiles out-survived the dinosaurs.


Okay: picture one of those Notting Hill-type season montages, where it’s fall then winter then spring–and watch the paperclip, still there, unchanged, through it all.

Every day when I saw it, I felt a little lift. Though conditions shifted every minute at school, the paperclip stayed the same. It went unnoticed, unmoved, untroubled. Just enduring, an unlikely hero to me in my anxiety-drenched days. I would show up–another day–and it would be there–another day–and I would remind myself:

Be the paperclip. Just be the fucking paperclip.

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