Blue and Orange, Aliens and Spatulas
It’s not the kind of chronic, inexplicable pall of sadness
that drapes over and suffocates its victim, the image we associate with major depression. I’m not a pessimist, nor do I feel an insurmountable inability to do things, take simple baby steps toward everyday goals. I’m actually a very proactive person. When I think of doing something, I just go and do it. It’s pretty simple for me. However, I was also born and raised to develop a colossal, sometimes debilitating, empathy for human beings around me.
Despite my proactivity and “optimism”
regarding the relationship between my intentions, then decisions, then actions and an observable effect in the world around me, I also understand that the world as we see and know it, whether from a scientifically deductive or emotionally apparent perspective, simply is a mean of all sentient participants’ biases and intuitions — facts and opinions that we each consider to be equally objective and rational and subjective and irrational respectively, but are actually completely interchangeable when related to the life experiences, worldview, and morality of other people around us. I think anyone who has thought seriously about the world understands that relativity and uncertainty are permanent parts of it. They’re not going anywhere, and together they are the ether from which new ideas, new understandings, and progress can be pulled and then formed before us.
However, uncertainty is what we’re all afraid of.
As soon as someone realizes even their basest assumptions can be called into question, they freak out. A violent, visceral reaction that says blue absolutely has to be blue, and orange orange, and the person next to me as well as their distant relative on the other side of the world both agree as much, or else I’m screwed. I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and realize that I’m flipping my spatula with an egg, and my kids are eating their breakfast with their butts while sounding words out to me through their eye holes.
In today’s world, where many (but not all) of us are immediately connected to so many previously inaccessible degrees
through technology and the communicative revolution it’s enabled, most people are still obsessed with the simple but continually entertaining notion that we can form a thought, put it out into the world, and have it seen and reflected on by a lot of people who then can give us feedback just as quickly. The transmission of our thoughts is so fast that we forget it’s the creation of our thoughts from emotional associations with our lived experiences and the people most important to us that has always been the foundation for our understandings and civilization. It’s the reason we create infrastructures and social organization for objective tasks and agreed-upon goals to work on together. We communicate precisely because there are differences in how I see something and how you see something, so of course the only way to work together is to open our mouths and figure out exactly where we agree and disagree. Blue is sky, and orange is orange. But blue also is the color of my mother’s favorite summer dress when I was running naked through the sprinklers at four years old, and somehow simultaneously also the color of the car that hit your shepherd puppy Tasha and split apart your world before screeching to a stop.
I’ll say it again.
We communicate precisely because human beings are not a single collective mind, and we share our thoughts in order to get things done. We may violently disagree about whether or to what extent early education for girls is important, whether or to what extent socialism and capitalism are compatible, and whether or to what extent our son should wear the color pink or attend computer-science classes instead of Pop Warner practices — but when extraterrestrials arrive to drill into our planet and suck Earth dry, those violent disagreements suddenly snap together into a general consensus about what it means to be human. All the pithy, sometimes silly-sounding wisdoms we’re told from childhood about living each day like it’s your last, accepting and preparing for the worst-case scenario before it happens, giving others the benefit of the doubt, etc… the adages and rules of thumb that appear on inspirational posters to push us forward and on people’s epitaphs as proof of their having lived sound lives… these things have timeless value if you always believe an apocalypse is coming, wrought by colorblind aliens with enormous blue pincers and a million glowing orange mouth-eyes that consume the steel from spatulas and drill deep into our crust to deplete our mineral resources so they can continue feeding before destabilizing our core and leaving us all to die in volcanic ash.
The reason I wake up each day
to the sounds of birds chirping and loud New York neighbors screaming at each other to keep the damn noise down, feeling like there’s simply no way to take more steps forward than backward in society and life and wanting to shoot myself in the head but instead choosing to get up, is this. I know that my Dominican and Jewish neighbors care enough about each other to yell and express their empty concerns for years on end while their kids grow up and stare awkwardly at each other in the same elementary schoolyard before learning to walk home together. I know that the birds I hear chirping pure marcatos and occasionally see fluttering together outside my window are actually screaming and brawling to sit on the same branch. Which is funny. So I get up, listen to my coffee brew while I sit on the toilet, go to the gym, and muster the effort to continue working on the never-ending project that is my very personal screenplay.
The interpersonal, intercultural, and interpolitical differences
you and I see plaguing the world today are not so dramatic and apocalyptic. Being discriminated against as a woman, a person of color, or a hardworking parent who struggles through multiple uncertain jobs to pay for an education for children who may not even be able to sufficiently learn and compete to eventually live comfortably and happily for themselves. It’s difficult. It’s very difficult. It hurts more than we feel someone else with more income, less melanin, more degrees, fewer dependents, more connections, less oversight, more love, and less misfortune can realistically understand of our own circumstances. We try to connect with those we feel can understand. They may have a more stable job than I do, but at least they cheer for the same team. Their skin’s a different color, but at least they support the same candidate. They practice a different religion, but at least they work hard and have kids mine get along with. We look for tribes. We tribe. Tribe up. There’s value in solidarity, so we dig for it with abandon in times when it seems we’re all on our own. The media doesn’t represent us. The government doesn’t represent us. I don’t even see a single person on TV who lives a life anything like mine. What kind of bullshit is this? What kind of propaganda am I being fed? Was I just put here with the people I care about to benefit other people? When do I gain? When can I rest? When can I just be myself and feel capable and happy? I hear all about other people’s dreams that are marketed and promoted. Where did mine go?
We all feel this way.
As unlikely as it may seem, we do. Social systems are created by people with big ideas in the beginning, but they continue to exist even as people come, go, and disappear. If people continue believing in them. There’s that movie where Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and other guardians of our imagination exist because all the children in the world believe in them, enough to keep them alive. They are painfully aware of the fact that children everywhere are continually forgetting them as they get older and lose their innocence, but they still plow about dropping gifts, collecting teeth, and doing whatever bunny things because they know there’s no one else to do the job. They know that new children are coming to believe in them as others lose their belief. They’re nothing but a mean of others’ biases and intuitions. And so are we. We’re adults reading long adult pieces like this, so we know that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. So let’s stop believing in Santa Claus. But without Santa Claus, children still need gifts. As Santa and Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny disappear, the parents have to be there to provide the love and attention that children demand to grow. In return, they believe in us. Without that belief, we disappear just like Santa.
It doesn’t matter if Santa is Assad or an Earth-centered solar system or the current Democratic/Republican party.
If you no longer believe in a system that no longer serves you, that’s fine. And let’s pick up the pieces from there. If you no longer want to work for an economy and social structure that doesn’t properly represent anyone, then stop — but let’s pick up the pieces from there. The reason why negative systems and cultures are so resilient is because the mode of thinking that something is wrong, everything is wrong, and wrongness can be purged becomes increasingly prevalent and spreads more and more quickly between people.
Wrongness cannot be purged.
It can’t, unfortunately, be brought out from any person or any group of people in an exorcism and then nailed to the wall. Wrongness comes from the belief that there is wrongness in someone else, and none in us. Rightness, not to be confused with righteousness as can be conflated with self-righteousness, comes from a place of humility. If we want things to change, to be right, to continue as is right, we can only start with ourselves.
have an angrier and sadder view of the world than I would ever wish upon my children and their children. Therefore, I do all I can to find and share with others who also want less anger and sadness for their children. They may not look or smell or talk like me, but at least they have that in common with me. We may not understand each other in anything but smiles and nods and shakes and frowns, but at least they have that in common with me. We may not see the same blue and the same orange, but at least we have that in common. We have something in common.
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