Absurdity has been poisoned. Slow death, the frog in the pot. And absurdity, the ridiculous extremes of what we do and say to each other, has been my source of humor for so long, the thing that fortifies me. Absurdity saved my life once, for real. Stopped me from killing myself, because I zapped out of my body and realized how weird everything was, because a Spuds McKenzie commercial was playing on the television while I was attempting to fatally hurt myself. Take a look at that video and then imagine that shit playing while someone is cornered into the absolute illogic of tipping over the precipice, of actually attempting to wipe himself out. It was just too much, too freaking weird. I saw myself, there in front of the television, Spuds partying it up while reality collapsed, and my desperate actions were just as silly as that partying mascot. A dose of plastic reality, of a world that wasn’t as dark as I thought it was because the world was composed of elevated triviality. Still is.
I am proud to say that Spuds McKenzie saved my life.
Lately, though, I don’t have a solid grasp on the absurd. People do things that are shockingly thoughtless or, worse, deliberately hurtful or disrespectful (not a lack of respect, but deliberate disrespect). But the shock is muted, imprecise. I’ve been drinking poison, drop by drop, acclimating my body to it, and it doesn’t even taste bitter any more. It’s like being slapped while numb-drunk. You sort of feel it, but then have to work through your brain to compute what just happened, what might constitute a typical reaction. Contemplating, but not able to properly react.
Without that proper and somewhat immediate, deliberate reaction, you take this affront into yourself. Somewhere on a gut level, you know that something was wrong, something bad just happened. So you keep it, draw it inside, stay with it. It isn’t absurd. It isn’t anything, just a malformed blob, a featureless golem. You chew on it. You digest it into your system. It no longer references things outside of yourself. From deep within, this affront become a reflection of you, could only have been caused by you. There is no other logical explanation. You were treated like shit because you must have deserved it.
I went through this last week. And several weeks before that, from a different angle. I’ll go through it again, I know, because I am bound to the people who cause it. In that manner it becomes a game of abuse. Power. A jerk exercises power over you, and your reaction is constrained to interior destruction, or a channeling of energy toward people who aren’t really involved. You need to react. You must react. But you cannot react properly, to the fuckwit who assaulted you, without either losing your job or opening a box of endless shit-storms.
Here is something I haven’t said for a couple years now:
Remember 2011 and 2012? Everyone was whipping that out. The affronts were flying in from all angles, from jerky jerks to downsizing to paranoia-driven paradigms. The absurdity was clear, and “really?!” was an expression of exasperation, a reality-check, a moment of stepping back and admitting that the current situation was no longer playing by the tacit rules of sanity.
But it was also a moment of pissing in the wind. You blurt out your “really?!” and then carry on, accepting the shit you were just told to eat. Again and again. And soon enough the “really?!” becomes a tacit rule in itself, replaced by an eye-roll, then a sigh, then nothing at all, then the constant clenched fist of soul-consuming tension.
Because the unspoken answer was: “Yes, really. Shut up.”
The barometer twists and bends and becomes detached from the truth. It is no longer a measure of any true environmental variable. It is, at best, an expression of confusion. At worst, it is mistaken for some sort of honest internal judgment.
My barometer has traditionally been calibrated by other people. This is normal, to a degree. Feedback helps us understand our impact, to juxtapose intent with result. At some point, probably a very long time ago, my notion of impact was not just calibrated by others, it was defined. I let other people tell me who I am, I listened to such an extent that I could not disambiguate my own self-definition from the Sartre mirror-reflection of other’s eyes.
And this is the point in the blog when I usually wind my way around to some epiphany. I can feel it coming, that moment when I uncover a truth or some other shit.
So I’ve been sitting here for a few days. Stuck.
I know that I was able to move past the impact of serialized disrespect. It wasn’t keeping me awake through the night. But I couldn’t figure out how I did that.
I wrote. I worked on art, on creating, prioritized my output. Finding a positive distraction helps, a way to shift the energy into creation instead of negation. But… it was a distraction, not a solution. Bringing it all back within this blog seemed like an easy deal, some ubiquitous life experience that rings true for everyone through individual facets.
But trauma has a way of spreading slowly, manifesting unexpectedly. In this case, I was my own trigger, marching through public self-reflection with the hubris of considering myself beyond it, problem solved.
So why did it come back?
Well, digging deeper, I think a better question is: What is the problem?
Disrespect? Trouble with people?
Nope. I had a window into clarity last night. Really, an actual window. I walked by a Starbucks and saw someone cleaning up, winding down the night, going through rote closing actions. I felt nostalgic camaraderie, those many nights I had scooted about, green-aproned, reeking of roast. Those past years. Past years that don’t seem so far away.
I worked at Starbucks throughout much of the 1990s. Moved up and around and down, wasted time, met amazing people, made lifelong connections, watched those people move on while I wasted more time. Experience shapes us, shifts us, challenges us, so I don’t live in a state of regret. At some point I decided to flee that life, then I fled again, returned with nothing, no job, my life a pile of boxes in my parents’ garage, little idea of what could be next. I crawled out of that, found a place and a home, and eventually built something, a career.
My fear is that I built upon a foundation of sand. Just follow my CV, and there it is. The time when I was at zero, and the time before that, years at Starbucks, when I was cultivating excuses.
A friend told me recently that the voice that he hears, sometimes, is this: “Impostor”
Man, that is the truth. When I’m shaken, disrespected, I wonder if these people will just carry forward and dissect my career in front of me, get to the sand. Send me right back to Starbucks, back to a life adrift.
Last week I attended a wake, briefly. I have a very difficult time interfacing with family, and it comes back to the same root. They have known me for too long, and I fear that they define me by the little boy I once was, or other awkward aspects of my past, all of that foundational sand. And, again, I’m using everyone around me to define who I am, incorporating judgment over praise. It seems easier to be judged than to be proud, and to default-assume that this is what they think of me. So it gets added to the stack, incorporated. Another ingredient in a Shit Stew of the Soul.
So I’ve been worried that Spuds McKenzie will no longer save me. Even Spuds isn’t absurd enough for this rapid boil. It’s probably going to have to be me. Find my own definition and reason, generate the absurdity from within. Be fucking ridiculous. Be my own Spuds McKenzie.