Category: Feelings


Why does hope make me cry?

Why does the feeling that things will be okay

Make me shrivel up and die?

Is it that I know the world will still be dying

No matter how much my heart is flying,

No matter how my dreams proceed without delay?

Is it that I believe myself to lack the worth,

No matter the lives I lighten with mirth,

No matter how many fears I allay?

Is it that I want what is not yet real,

No matter how strong a desire I feel,

No matter how far my hope leads me astray?

Why does hope make me cry?

It is because I know that to me, it might be real,

But to the world, it is a lie.

I often unexpectedly get upset when I’m around my nieces. I’ll be sitting there with 2 and 1/2 year old Maren and 1 year old Jane, who will be doing normal things for toddlers or babies, respectively, and suddenly, a feeling of intense sadness will rise through me. Sometimes they will be crying about something, or trying to walk or do some other task that is beyond their abilities, or just looking around at the big world in front of them.

My mother and sister have both inquired as to the cause of these incidents of sadness. Their first guess is usually that I’m just a big emotional guy who is unable to handle how strongly I feel certain things. This is certainly true in some respects. Another good guess is that, when Maren or Jane is crying, I empathize with them and feel their sense of discomfort, fear, or unhappiness. Far from wanting to shush them, I want to join them. There might be truth to this too.

The third guess has been that I miss my own early childhood, when things were simple, when I played with toys (many of which my nieces play with now), when my family was still all alive and together. A bunch of years ago, this might have been the reason, but I don’t think it really is now.

At different points, I’ve realized what it is, and only this Thanksgiving have I been able to put it into words. I cry because I’m afraid for them, for the world they’ve been born into, for all the fears and miseries and losses of life that they have yet to experience. All I want is a safe world for everyone, where there is no suffering or exploitation, where alienation and self-sacrifice aren’t necessary, where dreams can be fulfilled instead of deferred, where there is no violence against women, or racism, or imperialist war.

Instead, the world they’re being brought up in is rife with all of these things in every direction, sad and angry people with no outlets, no true representatives, no hopes based on anything material, just on some vague quasi-nationalist American exceptionalism that we are all fed from the cradle to the grave, that America is somehow where the good guys win, where justice prevails, that “it can’t happen here” despite our horrific past of imperialist and racist violence and while a literal Nazi party (the “alt-right”) gains prominence. There is no truth to any of these lies.

Every good that has ever been achieved was done in spite of American society and systems of governance, not because of them. And all of them were accomplished by people, striving to making a difference. Not by hope.

That’s what runs through my head and heart when I see Maren and Jane just being little kids without a care in the world. On Thanksgiving, I suppose the feelings were extra prominent seeing as it’s the most hypocritical American holiday. Most holidays feel that way for me, to be honest, but Thanksgiving’s own hypocrisy appeared especially stark this year in light of what’s happening at Standing Rock, North Dakota. America is repeating history in a small but extremely significant way. The Native peoples “we” supposedly joined hands with at a long table a few hundred years ago have been fucked over in the most vile ways imaginable from then until now and that fuckery is continuing to this day.

Someday, someone is going to have to explain to those two young girls what America is, what it has done in the past and what it continues to do. Then, they will be told that there is a plague of unhappiness in this country caused by our inability to choose, on an absolute level, what we do with our lives. Instead of playing like we do as children, learning and discovering, we have to choose one thing to do for 10 hours a day, 5 or more days a week, for the next 45 years. We have to grow emotionally and physically crumpled and overburdened by the insane level of obligations placed on us, to meet expectations, to make other people happy, to appear a certain way to others. We have to watch our friendships end, our loved ones die, our true hopes and dreams pass us by, replaced by other people’s or society’s, as there is just never enough time to choose and act.

And throughout all of this, in our sick society there is the constant threat of violence. Our very way of life is dependent on destroying other nations and oppressing groups of people. For folks who look similar to me, well, we’ll probably be fine unless we join law enforcement or enlist in the military, where we have the guns. For everyone else—women, people of color, LGBT community members—violence is always a possibility. As long as one group of people cannot live freely, no one can. Moral obliviousness, willful or imposed, is a form of human bondage.

And at the end of our bonded lives, no matter what we do, no matter how much we stress about it, what exercise routines we take on, pills we swallow, or vices from which we abstain, we grow old and infirm, bitter and regretful, and die alone. The rest of the world goes on without us, having never really known us, never really needing us.

Of course I would never unload these feelings onto my nieces, pretty much at any age. I am going to tell them, however, that the world depends on them, to do something other than what everyone before them did, to fight for something greater, to change the face of reality rather than bowing before it like everyone else does, and as I sometimes see myself doing, not because “everyone else” are bad people but because no one told them to, and they didn’t realize the need until it was too late.

Maybe it is impossible to get a young person to avoid certain mistakes by being warned about them; maybe children need to learn on their own. At least that’s what people say. Maybe that’s what they tell themselves to justify not telling their children the truth about certain things. I really don’t know. But what I do know is that I must try. That is a lesson I learned early enough in life. The more things you try, the fewer regrets in life you will have.

At least I will be warning them about the dangers of NOT acting, of NOT doing something that’s important to them, rather than trying to keep them from doing things. I only hope it is enough to get them to see the truth: it is not that they, as human children, are inherently special, nor is it that America or humanity is somehow special either. It is not one or the other. It is neither or both. Either special human beings who want a special world, a world worth saving, will take action to change it, or they won’t. They will remain ordinary people who want an ordinary world, and everything will remain as it is: unjust, unremarkable, and unfulfilled.

I cry because I want my nieces to be special, but also safe and happy. Perhaps they will help create a world in which they, or their children if they have them, don’t have to choose. That is my hope.

I’m having trouble processing the political situation in this world today, and, coupled with the difficulties, uncertainties, and fears of my own life, I’m losing hope.

New video footage of law enforcement killing a Black person surfaces so regularly, it’s as though the police’s strategy is to just keep ramping up the murder until the public becomes numb to it. Are the acquittals intended to send the message that the people will never win? How much absence of justice will the people accept until they “accept” the fact that there is no justice?

There are only two possible responses to this absence: giving up, or resistance. The system wants us to give up. The families and friends of the victims of police violence want us to resist.

Of course I would like things to get better, to calm down, to carry through to some kind of justice. But I know they aren’t going to, not without a fight, a mass struggle. Black people, simply by existing, by living peaceful lives, by struggling and surviving and doing what needs to be done, threaten the narrative of white supremacy in America. And so, more are being killed. This is to say nothing of those African-American voices that speak up clearly and unequivocally against this narrative, those African-American bodies who actively put themselves between the oppressor and the oppressed.

As more resistance rises, more people will die. It is the way of resistance, and it is hard to hear our consciences whispering it into our inner ear. “Things will get worse before they get better” is only one way of looking at it. It is not so much that conditions in society must get much worse before “society starts to care” about racist violence. The bulk of American society doesn’t care and generally isn’t going to. Those who say they care aren’t going to do anything about it, while the rest of American society is openly racist. We mustn’t wait for this society to start to care.

A clearer picture would be, “a thousand good guys must die in order to take down one bad guy. And then the fight has only just begun.”

This inescapable, dialectical fact scares me. As much as I want the revolution to happen, this type of continued destruction and death scares me into wishing it wasn’t necessary, wishing there was a safe way out for all of us. I just don’t know if there is. I don’t want anyone to die.

But I don’t see anything changing anytime soon. Body cameras will “malfunction.” Training will be flawed. Community policing will prove to be the idealistic liberal fantasy we already know it is.

People will advocate for these reforms, and while they are being tested on the flesh of Black bodies and proven ignominious failures at addressing the core problem, more lives will be lost on the road to real change, the road to revolution.

My sadness comes from knowing I will probably not be there to see it. But my hope is that humans of the future will be readier than we are, more knowledgeable, and more aware that the destruction of the current social order and financial system is a worthwhile goal if it means the creation of a world in which a person gets shot for being a racist, and not for being a race.

 

I don’t believe nature owes me anything, but I believe society does. Nature does not act with purpose; it just is. We perceive purpose in its actions, but it doesn’t. If the world ended tomorrow, nature wouldn’t care. It would just go on in a different form.

Nature is merely the means by which I am conceived and born. But society, in its various manifestations (parents, family, community, country, culture) is the cause, and society acts very much with purpose. No one asks to be born into this sniveling, pathetic excuse for a world filled with war, murder, racism, oppression, lifelong exploitation, childhood trauma, loss, sadness, disillusionment, confusion, and ultimately inevitable terrifying death. Rather, society asks that we be born, whether “society” means our parents who want to populate their lives with meaning, or whether it refers to culture, which tells our parents where meaning originates, or to our political system, which wants to prolong its “life” with a steady source of consumers and workers who all buy into that meaning. Society creates each individual person for these purposes which are alien to him or her; meanwhile, it creates or is complicit in all of its injustices and horrors.

In this way, while society brings us into existence, it presents us with very little besides the myriad reasons why we should regard that existence as a curse. The absolute and essential need for full-time employment makes alienated puppets of us all, contorting ourselves into our desk chairs or lifting and swinging hammers into concrete, turning our bodies into twisted, broken prisons consisting of one or another pain or preventable disease, and our minds into clenched fists of chronic stress that beat us into submission with refrains of “never enough time/money/status/possessions.”

“That’s life,” they tell us, as they were told.

Society wants to punish you for being born. It is completely ill-equipped to do anything else. Perhaps childhoods can be idyllic for some, but when “real life” takes hold, each person realizes what life has to offer, and uses what means are at his or her disposal to ignore this fact. Among the most common means for achieving this are drugs, alcohol, television, religion, unhealthy food, and expensive consumer goods at best; racism, xenophobia, patriotism, sexism, and imperialism at worst.

In essence, society brings us into this world and then gives us the means to kill ourselves, our hopes and dreams and aspirations for a better world. Rather than hand us a gun and have us blow our lives away, it prefers that we consume as much as possible before doing so, not because it eases any actual pain but because it enriches the people who benefit from society as it is. Mass infirmity, just like mass ignorance, makes those elements of society richer.

If we want to see any changes, however, we must not simply expect society to start giving us what it owes us. We must alter it as a whole. We must change its mechanism and purpose, from one that takes as much as it can from each citizen, to one that gives each citizen as much to live for—as much freedom, as much expression, as much value and worth, as much warmth and love and happiness, as much ethical fulfillment and consistency, as much support and solidarity, as much understanding—as possible.

That must be our goal. When we have accomplished it for everyone, we will have started to pay back the children of the world, and they will thank us, and then we can sleep peacefully, knowing they are safe.

There is an epidemic of mental illness splashed across my generation like a heart-shaped bloodstain. Why is that? Is it that doctors are too prescription-happy and get kickbacks from drug companies? Is it that all humans are, in some way or another, intrinsically damaged simply by existence? Is it that young people are insecure and simply grasp at any convenient sign of their own identity, and any pill to go with it, anything to make them feel more entitled to the benefits of being “normal”?

We like to forget that society produces the mentally ill people upon whom it imposes the many designations of mental illness it also produced. It created these designations to seemingly address the problem of mental illness. But before mental illness was categorized, it certainly existed, and now that it is categorized with as much gradient variation as geology, meteorology or any other science, it still exists. It even thrives, such that every deviation from the norm—overt anxiety, overt sensitivity, overt awareness, overt fear, overt particularity—can now be categorized, diagnosed, catalogued, and panoptically scrutinized by a chorus of licensed professionals.

Notice my use of the word “overt.” If these traits are not overt, if they are kept inside, they are not visible to other people and hence the need to categorize them diminishes until such times when the subject commits murder or pedophilia, to the extreme surprise of his or her familiars to whom he or she was “such a nice quiet person. I never would have thought…Sometimes you just never know.”

How could you “know,” how could you “have a thought” about something you ignore? Of course we are told to ignore the hateful and embrace the lovely, and of course we are taught to espouse it as well.  Even while we over-diagnose, over-medicate, over-scrutinize, we ignore and remain silent on the hateful aforementioned truth: that society creates its many segments, including the murderers, rapists, and corrupt politicians, because it thrives as it is through them. We are not taught to understand why a person commits murder or other crimes, except that they are aberrations, anomalies, and outliers, statistically insignificant, not signifying any greater message besides humanity’s ineluctable “dark side.”

Society puts dark ideas into our heads, ideas like “what is different is bad, what is the same is good,” or, “to dominate is to be right,” or “life sucks, get over it.” In the manicheistic pursuit of happiness, positivity, and self-interest, most of us tuck these lessons away to fall back on in the event of indecision. When we are not sure what to do with our lives, we can always rely on imitating the herd, the will to dominate (or, more likely, to be dominated, assuming its inherent virtue), and excusing the inequities and failures of life to steer us in the right and safe direction. This is what is considered “good mental health.”

But for the mentally ill, there are two other reactions to these adages. The first is total commitment i.e. taking it too far. These are murderers, rapists, pedophiles, the senselessly violent, hurting the innocent or defenseless, attacking minorities, preying on those they perceive as weak or different, and resolving any moral qualms with some variation of “life sucks, they’ll get over it. Life has winners and life has losers.”

The second reaction is emotional resistance. This puts the young woman or man in a state of anxiety while taking a test comprised of arbitrary criteria, depression when life appears worthless, anger upon learning about the state of the world, and (antisocial) alienation while struggling in that harsh “real world.” Pundits would have us perceive ourselves as “soft” and “weak.” “Sometimes life is sad, get over it.” “Sometimes life is anxious, get over it.” “Angry? You should be grateful!” “If you act like a weirdo, you get what you deserve.” Notice the similarity to the refrains of the killers.

For the emotionally resistant, the body is willing, though only under duress, and the mind is not. The mind is unwilling to accept the terms of engagement that have been thrust upon it, coercively, not as a request but as a requirement, if she should hope to succeed, to live safely and well, and to remain safe from the social stigmas of “failure,” having “never quite made it,” “never quite fitting in,” being “uncooperative,” “immature,” “ungrateful,” “underachieving,” having had “all the chances in the world to get ahead and missing or messing up all of them.”

Perhaps there is some compassion, some understanding that one aspect or another of society failed, not the emotionally resistant individual. This sense of shame and of self-disgust, of non-acceptance of the self, is laid at her feet for her to voluntarily take unto herself—as though she was being told to climb into her own grave—in the form of social stigma and mediocrity, to exculpate the society as the ultimate robber of this person’s “success” (a hopelessly twisted and obscure concept) to whom it never gave a chance, and place the blame right where it belongs: on the shoulders of the prisoner who hates her prison, her prison-guards, her prison-owners, no matter how beautiful a cell is promised or delivered, no matter how wonderful a meal is reserved for those who really “work hard” at deserving it, at fitting in.

She remains diagnosed as “her own worst enemy,” unsafe alone, unsafe with others, generally too sick to be around. Keep her alone, and silenced, and unloved, because her anger, her revulsion, her rejection of what is baldly wrong and unjust, of what completely fails to live up to the potential she sees in her daydreams—where hope is unneeded and fears are acted upon, where nature thrives and justice prevails, where the eye looks where it will and not where it is directed, where people are free—might rub off onto you.

And then you would be to blame.

Do not betray your dreams or your goals, for to do so is to betray yourself, to deny the value of your own life. It is true that “you only live once,” but that is not the whole story. Not only do you only live your life once, but you also only live each moment once, and then it is gone. Each moment not spent in the pursuit of something more should be a moment used to recharge from all of the other moments spent in this manner. Make every moment count, and let every feeling be tied to a dream.

No matter how crazy your dreams may seem, never let their craziness stand in their own way. Don’t let anything or anyone stand in their way, especially you. No matter how possible or impossible…if it is possible, do it. If it is impossible, fight to make it possible, not just for you but for everyone.

It may take time, it may take failure, it may take heartache, it may take risk, but your parents took a risk by bringing you into this world. For whatever reason, they took the risk of creating a human life, someone who can hurt, and suffer, but who can accomplish things that might give the suffering a purpose.

Never believe that it is too late, but remember that your time is limited. You might have to refine your dreams as you go along, or pause on them as you take care of other things. You might make mistakes that can seem to take the dream away from you. This is why you must be careful, to guard your freedom, your avenues, your alliances, your friendships, the ones that cheer you on and believe in you, and not give in to the voices of doubt and infirmity that so many other people listen to and that are screamed at them from every turret.

You can stand above those voices, as a yes-voice, a voice that can say to others, “I believed in myself, in my dream, and I made it happen. I didn’t listen to the sad, the beaten, the destroyed, the cynical, even though I felt this way sometimes. I listened to my faith in my dream, to my confidence in my own desires, to my heart and my head working in perfect harmony towards what I knew had a chance of making me happy. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t short, perhaps it didn’t even turn out exactly the way I thought it would. And I’ll never be truly happy, never be truly content, or finished. But I didn’t use that as an excuse. I didn’t fall back on the safe and secure, on what was provided for me. I struggled for what I believe in, and saw it through, from one part of my life to the next: from a dream to a reality.”

Reality is beautiful, but it is in the minority. It is rare, endangered, and sought-after, not to be distributed far and wide, or beheld in all its beauty, but to be hoarded away by misers or crushed by misanthropes. If you want reality, you’re going to have to fight for it. But whatever it is, keep this in the back of your mind: your dream, much like your life, much like the world we live in, is always worth saving, improving, and fighting for. Feel pity for anyone who says otherwise, and rage at the voices that convinced them.

My Room

I’ve always been a big fan of my bedroom. It’s got everything I need to be productive, to relax, to study, to sleep, to be myself. Everything is up very high to accommodate my height. I have my desk with its computer and printer, and I have my bookshelves with the thousand books that used to be a million, but which I’ve pared down and now comprise only the most meaningful, the most trusty. I have my bureau, which is very tall, with a mirror on top of it. I have my bed where I sleep well.

My floor has its little mat that I put my feet on when I get out of bed in the morning. I bought that mat over ten years ago. I have my small tables and one or two chairs in my room; I do many different things in here. In addition to what I mention above, I can make sound recordings in here. I can make video recordings in here too. I can write up a storm about whatever is on my mind. I could even lie down on the floor and exercise in here, if I wanted to.

There are pictures of my family above my desk. There’s a drawing an artist friend of mine did for my 25th birthday on the wall next to it. I have my Greek flag, my human muscular system chart, my academic and professional diplomas. A little ways over is my record collection and record player. It is fairly extensive, beautiful, and heavy.

My room is my little world in which I am at the center, creating and building everything that seemingly exists. It is organized for me, by me, for the benefit of me. I wish everyone had a room like this one.

I haven’t smoked weed in eight years. That’s eight April 20ths, countless walks in the park or the woods, fifty or so new movies and TV shows, a few dozen parties, some rock concerts, a good many romantic encounters, and nearly infinite moments of just hanging out. And I’m still a recovering marijuana addict. I can never smoke weed again.

Why does it have to be this way? I’m not asking you why, because 99% of my friends (nearly all of whom smoke) will tell me, “well, maybe it doesn’t. You’re a lot older now, more in control. Maybe you could do it and it wouldn’t affect you as much.” The problem is, if it affected me 1/100th as much as it did before, that would already be too much. I’m going to tell you why.

The first time I bought weed, when I was a junior in high school, I got arrested. I was on school grounds, hugging my girlfriend near a bus stop, when two huge guys in blue cop sweatshirts grabbed me by the arms and lead me into the school building, shouting “DO NOT RESIST SIR” into my ears. Although the legal outcome was favorable, my relationship with my parents (who later divorced) was strained, and my girlfriend and I broke up not too long afterward. She was the first love of my life.

I hadn’t even been high yet, and I’d lost something because of drugs. The first time I actually got high, I was fucked up for a straight five-day period. I had to hide it from my family for what seemed like FOREVER. And then, after that, whenever I was in a darkened room, high or not, I felt a little baked. This continued more or less indefinitely; it still happens once in a while to me now, though it is no longer jarring. Weed permanently changed my brain; I’d never be normal again, so it seemed.

Right before leaving for Marlboro College, my best friend died at age 18 of a heart attack brought on by an unforeseen congenital heart defect. Needless to say, being isolated in a remote Vermont college where weed was plentiful was the absolute last thing I should have been doing while I was in mourning. Though I had many wonderful and formative experiences at Marlboro (some actually academic, imagine that), my addiction took hold completely. I was asked to leave to avoid being permanently expelled within three semesters. I felt like Lord Jim; it was only six years later that I forgave myself for what seemed like such a disproportionally colossal failure in such a short life.

While at home, my addiction reached its height: an eighth of weed every day, generally all by myself. I bought it with money I obtained through lifting my parents’ debit card in the middle of the night and walking to the ATM. I would do this one night, and then the next day would mark the beginning of another “bender.” I had innumerable benders. Entire days worth of time, gone. Never leaving the house or seeing a sibling or parent. Eating insane amounts of food (my best example: three bowls of cereal—one Corn Flakes, one Wheaties, and one Special K—at the same time, in three separate bowls with three separate spoons and one huge glass of milk on the side), inducing terrible asthmatic symptoms, being up until 6 or 7 in the morning each night before passing out on my bed, not in it, smoking between 20 and 30 times per day.

I described it to a friend years later who had had his own struggles with weed addiction, and he said, “it sounds rough.” I had never even realized how rough it was at the time. In general, I was completely unaware of its roughness. It was just what I did. I had no control over the objective of smoking; that was always a given. At first, though, I could at least control the conditions surrounding it. By that, I mean I could control the scene in which I did drugs to optimize the drug experience. Let me describe it a little bit for you.

A large bedroom with pictures and posters on the wall of things like Syd Barrett, Vincent van Gogh, and my own abstract art. Bookshelves filled with books, like Ginsberg, Burroughs, Wilde, deQuincie, Cocteau, and Joris-Karl Huysman. A tripped-out Persian rug, decorated with swirling flowers and leaves. Gentle incandescent light, coupled with Christmas lights and red lightbulbs here and there for warm, inspiring ambience. A desk with notebooks and a typewriter, inkwell, and mathematical instruments. A beanbag chair, small cushions, and a little table on the floor, for guests with similar interests to really settle in and absorb an opium den-like drug experience, provided in one of my many handmade intake devices, with names like The Rumbler, or The Teapot Dome Scandal. And of course music: Pink Floyd (“Piper” through “Wish,” no “Wall”), King Crimson, Miles Davis, Velvet Underground, druggy classics. It was great.

There was a time when I could sit in my little drug den—on the floor, on the rug—and imbibe my poison with the air of sublimity, the hope of inspiration, the cure of avoidance, the safety of oblivion, and produce little gems of creativity whose value was in their own existence. That was the reason behind smoking. But even this level of control, this semblance of reason, went away.

My room grew disastrous, overtaken with stacks of books and unfinished projects. Ultimately, my setting was inconsequential. After getting caught smoking by my father a few times, the only thing that mattered was *not* getting caught, while being able to smoke as much as possible with impunity, in order to maintain that “whatever, it’s all good” feeling. I would hold my hits in for as long as I could, producing virtually no leftover smoke at all. Very economical; doing so gets you really fucked up. The less oxygen to the brain, the better. Through open windows, under blankets, in the bathroom with the shower and fan running, outside during the day. And then, late at night, it was safe to smoke freely in my room, because everyone was asleep. You see, I lived on the first floor, and everyone else in the house slept upstairs. I was isolated.

The “guests” I referenced earlier were eventually rendered fictitious. Nearly all friendships based on drug use degrade over time, on top of the general spreading-out of your old buddies when everyone but you is (still) in college. So I was alone. I’d never been averse to smoking alone; I’m an alone type of guy. Every decision is your own, no one can limit your fancy.

But that’s actually what drugs do. They limit your decision-making; they take away your ambition and inspiration. That’s what happened to me; after only three or so years of smoking, I was completely lost to it.

When there was weed in the house (and rarely did a week pass before I got some more), there was no decision. No matter what other things I’d gotten into in that brief weed-free meantime—novel-writing, community college, seeing my mother, playing music, recovering from asthma—weed was always the end result. It was always coming back into my life, no matter how crumbled and disheveled my life was when it left. And whatever I’d been involved in took a backseat, or left the metaphorical vehicle entirely. When I had weed, I planned to smoke it at the first chance I could get. And then, when that chance came, I smoked up whether I actually wanted to or not.

Days, lost. Hours and hours. Soon, I don’t think I was even producing any little gems of creativity anymore. All I was doing was trying to disappear from this earth, hoping that I’d smoke up, put on my headphones with a long, drugged-out song on, close my eyes, and open them to another reality where I didn’t have to be aware of my own slow death. Unlike this one. I realized at one point or another that, were I to succeed, I’d be insane: a useless, deranged shell of my former self back on earth, a burden to my family, dead in every practical sense, but not in the ground. That would be irresponsible and unfair, and would hurt them all.

I decided that I needed to cut back or quit. I would purchase some weed with the explicit plan to only smoke “some” of it. Laughable, a non-strategy. Or, I would just “stop buying,” and then suddenly, miraculously, my friends would appear with their own weed, to repay me for the countless times I smoked them up (which I always did just to fend off being alone yet again. I hated when they would leave). And then, being “off the wagon” yet again, I would just buy some of my own, to prolong the illusion after they left, the illusion that I was not alone, that I enjoyed this particular activity, that I was not sad and will-less. I wrote and signed abstinence contracts to myself—with wording like, “I, Mark Ludas, will not smoke for one week,” and other such “decisions”—that were all violated. Nothing worked. Abstract reasoning—the feeling that “I need to cut back or quit because I just do”—was not holding up. I needed something concrete.

There was one thing in my life that I knew I cared about other than weed, and that was writing. I was in the midst of writing a novel, which I never worked on while high. Each bender took a week away from me. Soon, I noticed it became harder and harder to get back into the flow of the narrative. Part of the trick of writing a novel is remembering all of the dynamics that you have in place, the processes you have going, the meanings of this and that symbol or action. If you lose those threads, which happens easily if you stay away too long, the writing can become obsolete; you’ve become a different person in the meantime, even if it’s only a week, or a month.

I realized I was being faced with a choice: life, or weed. Life meant writing; weed meant slow and terrible destruction and the loss of everything I loved, wanted, cared about in life. Essentially, I was choosing between life and death.

I decided I would not smoke again until the novel was finished. I was about 300 pages into it. There were over 600 when I was done. When I wrote the words “The End” onto that final sheet of paper, it was unlike any high I’d ever experienced. I fell to my knees in my backyard where I’d been writing, and looked all about me, at the sky, the sun, the grass, the trees. I listened to the engines of cars driving past my suburban house. It felt absolutely amazing, an otherworldly sense of joyous and teary-eyed incredulity, as though I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Would it be the next “Great Gatsby”? Who cares? I’d finished it. Who else did I know who had finished a 600-page semi-autobiographical novel of literary fiction? No one.

I never smoked again after that. Nor did I ever finish another novel. Lots of stories, essays, and other short works, but nothing of the same magnitude, the same ambition. Suffice it to say, when my father died a few years later, I was again deprived of all clarity, direction, aim, but the drug was not weed; it was loss. And that’s the drug I’m still struggling with now. Imagine if I’d been smoking throughout this time. There would be no self-awareness. Only denial and oblivion. No hope, only darkness, fear, escape. I’d probably be dead.

To be honest, I’m often mired in these things—darkness, fear, etc—in my weed-free life. I’m often hesitant, fearful, insecure; it feels like I have no direction. This is simply a condition of life, I suppose. What is the hopeful, inspirational message to be derived from my story? Be one with your own destruction; create it, make it, and aim it through your own reticle. Ruin your life and alienate your family with your decisions, not your indecision; with your principles, not your self-indulgences. That’s far superior. Take responsibility; know that your failings matter, your faults exist, your fears hold you back from reaching your true potential. Don’t pretend they don’t. But at least it is a fear holding you back; not a drug, making you feel like fear is superfluous because “everything is cool” and nothing really matters. Unfortunately, in this life, fear and insecurity are necessary. Fear is the only instinct that tells what you need to overcome.

That’s all drugs do, ultimately; they allow you to feel like nothing matters. They make a chaos of your life, to imitate your inner state. At least when you’re sober, you’re free, whether to succeed or fail. It’s better than being a slave to a false reality. Get out of your privileged little world and face the truth: this world sucks, and only you can change it. Only you can fight the injustices that create such a boring, shitty world that compels people to do drugs and commit crimes; you can improve it, whether for everyone or at least just for yourself. Drug addiction and alcoholism exist for a reason: to disengage the passionate, and to blunt the ambitions of unconventional thinkers. They provide a way for humans to self-dehumanize, and prolong our implied consent for a bullshit society.

Imagine a world in which life is fair, in which ambitions are unnecessary, in which everything is taken care of, everything just works out for the best and people get what’s coming to them, and people are content with that. That’s what the world should be. Instead, it is a drug-induced fantasy. More specifically, it is the fantasy of consumerism in general. Every company that produces anything wants you to believe that buying their product will bring your world into better alignment with this fantasy. You have to be “the best you possible,” and only buying more crap can accomplish it. Nothing is ever enough. When it comes to drug abuse, only buying more drugs will prolong the fantasy that “everything is cool.” That kind of contentment is a sad refuge of the underachiever. If it was up to me, there would be no drugs, and everything would be cool and just in real life.

I’m aware this is an extreme viewpoint. I intend it more as a line of thinking worth investigating. Maybe some drug use is not that big a deal, and I certainly don’t endorse the illegality of drugs. Drug users need prevention and treatment, not imprisonment and having their lives ruined even further. Additionally, if I was hard-line against weed—if I discriminated against it—I’d probably gravitate back towards it or other drugs just because it was forbidden. Deny yourself something because of a practical purpose—such as, “I’ve lost control and it’s ruining my life”—and you’ll be fine. But apply that practical purpose to a universal truth, and be prepared for a harder time. Just ask a Catholic priest.

Nowadays, I use humor to sublimate and express my former relationship with weed. Not all the time; just sometimes. It would get old really quick if, when my roommates and I are getting ready to go somewhere, I was *always* saying things like, “No one wants to smoke a bowl before we go?” for the easy chuckle. But it helps me to joke about it.

I can also say that, contrary to the “gateway drug” theory, my experiences with weed actually kept me from ever trying certain hard drugs. Though I had multiple opportunities to try cocaine and heroin, I never did. I knew that if I could develop a life-threatening addiction to weed—a physical addiction in nearly every sense—I could easily do the same with the harder stuff. And any level of decision-making I still possessed would be even more eroded, my identity even more detached. It just was never worth it.

My years as a druggie were not well-spent, but I don’t really regret them. They helped make me the person that I am today. Being rootless and lost is not a result of doing drugs; it’s the response of my generally easygoing temperament to losing a best friend and a father. And, to that father’s domineering personality. I felt oppressed and hurt as a young person, and weed was a relief, an escape, a validation of my own thoughts to their most extreme and maximum expression. I think it serves that purpose for a lot of people, and I wish there was a way I could say to them, as adults, “you’ve made it, you’re free,” and have it be true. But to too many of them, it isn’t. Too many of them believe they simply aren’t meant to strive, to envision great things for themselves or from themselves, to overcome adversity, to feel safe and stable. Weed continues to take away their desire for these things, and that’s what they use it for.

If only all things that have this effect—of taking away our own choice, whether to replace it with someone else’s or nothing at all—could be overcome and purged from this earth, not by authoritarians who would banish it on our behalf, but by becoming obsolete and forgotten amidst the bustling future of our own making, the promise of faith in ourselves.

Note: the names of specific groups have been changed to prevent unnecessary drama. Not that anyone reads this blog but still…


Recently, in my political group, Group A, we discussed the tactics of the United Front and its slightly deranged cousin, the Popular Front. A United Front is defined as an alliance of similarly-thinking groups, which excludes capitalist or non-working class groups and parties, to obtain a common goal. Groups who may disagree on a host of other issues are then able to work together. A central advantage of this tactic for smaller groups is that they gain greater access to the masses by allying with the larger groups.

A Popular Front, by contrast, is a such a group which includes those capitalist and non-working class groups in an attempt (seemingly) to widen the struggle and obtain greater success. Anticapitalists working alongside capitalist political parties like Democrats or Libertarians (which often comprise the largest group) have repeatedly, throughout history, led to the undermining of the revolutionary movement either because, a) the non-working class capitalist parties weren’t willing to go beyond the original common goal and seek the destruction of their own social system upon which their comfortable existence is dependent, or, according to Group A and most every other Trotskyist group, b) Stalinism brought about the dilution of the revolutionary fervor by coercion, co-optation, or basically selling out to pro-capitalist forces.

The three most common examples of a United Front gone Popular—and leading to the subsequent undermining of the otherwise imminent revolution—is Germany in the 1920s and France and Spain in the 1930s. In all of these cases, reactionary behavior on the part of the capitalists or Stalinism (or both) is to blame. In the case of Spain, the anarchists embraced the Popular Front put forth by the USSR under Stalin, in order to continue receiving Soviet weapons in exchange for Spanish gold. So there is an example in which the USSR’s military superiority allowed it to degrade the revolutionary potential of another country in order to maintain that country within its sphere of influence, rather than allowing it grow and develop as its own socialist country.

Obviously, this account depicts the USSR in a very negative light, an imperialistic light. I know of several folks who would defend the USSR and counter that Trotsky and his various supporters have done more to undermine the cause of communism/socialism throughout the world simply by facilitating the vilification of the USSR and communism in general through obstreperous critique. They see such rhetoric as counterrevolutionary. I’m not here to contribute my “take” on this issue, and frankly I’m not even sure how relevant it is to the revolution today.

What I would like to ask is, why is United Front seemingly held up as a main tactic by the organized radical Left today, when it has failed so many times in history to succeed? It has created the conditions BY WHICH “Stalinists” or whatever class enemies exist to co-opt and undermine any revolutionary potential. The United Front is corrupted and replaced with the Popular Front. It has happened again and again. Maybe there are great examples that I am missing but it sure seems like every time it’s the same old story: “We had a great United Front going and then, ALL OF A SUDDEN, it was corrupted and turned into a Popular Front! WHAT THE HELL MAN?!”

The whole idea of creating a “Front” is to widen the struggle, increase the number of people involved, and strengthen resolve around one or two main issues or goals, which is important because socialist groups tend to be fixated only on the goal of “socialism,” which in their estimation is the answer to everything and whose lack is the cause of all of society’s ills (which I actually largely agree with). Being against everything in society (as I also am, basically) sometimes makes their struggle seem and feel unfocused in terms of its material objectives. So a United Front, organized around one issue like war, racism, labor difficulties, or police brutality is undoubtedly useful.

But what happens when we join hands with people with whom we ideologically disagree? The best example I can think of is Group A working with the (much larger) Group B on issues like antiwar. Group B has endorsed Democrats. It has supported figures in Asia and the Middle East that Group A would never support. It is essentially an ideological adversary of Group A. When the theoretical “revolution comes,” Group A and Group B will be fighting each other for dominance of their ideology, and guess which side will win? The currently 65-member Group A, or 700+ member Group B? And what will happen to the great, wonderful United Front that brought us to this highly theoretical point? It will (from Group A’s perspective) be “corrupted,” because Group B is bigger, has more resources, and has more international allies (like some of those Asian and Middle Eastern figures).

Even now, the larger demonstrations that Group B organizes, and which Group A endorses as part of the United Front, often produce friction between the two groups. Group B folks hold up pictures of Bashar al Assad, while Group A and plenty of other groups would never endorse such a divisive figure. It is my opinion that Group B is so much larger partly because it provides black-or-white, for-or-against (“you’re pro-Assad or you’re pro-imperialism, you’re pro-North Korea/China/Iran/etc, or you’re pro-imperialism”) positions for people to take, which are more appealing to your “average” revolutionary than “middle of the road” approaches such as Group A’s, largely because such positions are more actionable. To be fair, from this perspective, Group B is more effective—“gets more shit done,” in its own words—because of these less idealistic positions.

I’m not saying there is no validity to supporting Syria, China, et cetera to some degree, nor should popular hyperbolic anti-Stalin or anti-USSR rhetoric be accepted without question. Indeed, Group A is a big fan of Lenin, as is Group B. Again, my goal is not to critique Group A or Group B in particular. It is draw attention to the intrinsic flaw of the United Front as a tactic, one for which it needn’t necessarily be abandoned but for which it must be critiqued: it creates the material conditions by which it completely fucks itself over. We can’t expect groups who only agree on abstractions (“Socialism yes! Capitalism no!”) to work effectively or sustainably together when they disagree on so many particulars. Can we?

So what is the answer? To not work together? Small groups like Group A risk complete irrelevance if they eschew the types of large-scale demonstrations and actions that Group B puts together. On the other hand, Group B is irrelevant compared to the Democratic Party or similar reformist (read: massive) groups like Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. So how does Group B maintain any relevance or appeal, except by working with pro-capitalist groups and espousing harsh for-or-against binaries?

The radical Left has been asking the same question for some time: by what means do we maintain relevance? Is it the labor movement? The Black Lives Matter movement? The antiwar movement? The student struggle? But “relevance” is the wrong question. The question should be, how do we help people? Whom are we helping, and do they WANT our help? Is our “help” based on an understanding of the class dynamics in place, the material conditions? What good is an understanding of dialectics if we continue to work against other “socialists”?

On a deeper level, though we would accuse another group of fighting to preserve the current system, does our fight depend on preserving a system of perceived resistance that is flawed, oppressive, and counterrevolutionary (I’m talking about unions now)? Is it, again, a situation in which we feel we must defend whatever nominally or symbolically socialist groups and structures that are in place, no matter how flawed they are, because “they’re the best we’ve got”?

To be honest, I don’t know. But a new paradigm is needed. The consumeristic march forward continues unabated. Anti-union and austerity measures are on the rise. Voter turnout is low: 40 to 50% of Americans either do not care enough about the outcome of elections, or don’t feel any candidate sufficiently represents their interests, to take part in them. Ignorance and apathy are two sides of the same coin, much like Democrats and Republicans. And as long as people can get a new iPhone, car, or huge-screen TV, there is just not enough hardship for them to rise up against; no amount of talking about the oppression of Palestinians, the murder of young Black men, or oil wars in the Middle East will change that. They are hardened, they are calcified, they are determined. It’s a cynical viewpoint but there is some realism to it.

But I’ll admit, maybe it’s just me. I’m feeling a little lost these days.

Maybe there is no need for an entirely new paradigm. Maybe the current one just needs to be reimagined. I guess I’ll talk to a few people and get to work on that.

My Life is a First Draft

“Someday I will do something noble, to give value to my life. My strength in ideas will crystallize to equal great action. I will be free from fear or lack of confidence. I will overcome the adversity of not having anticipated and dreaded it. I will stand for what I am and what I know, which I will know with conviction.”

I wrote these words a few weeks ago, on the train to work. They struck me as significant; what are they saying? That I will only accomplish what is in my heart when I am older, and that my fear will be with me until then. Only then will my actions not be hampered by fear and incredulity. The struggling chaos of my everyday life will be replaced with clarity, calm, and efficiency. Until then, grandiose plans of artistic expression and world-changing action will remain just that: plans, a soul without a body.

Why? There are few things I value more than my freedom of thought. I acceptingly witness the oppressive structures of society, its economically exploitative nature, the various contradictions and conflicts that make it the neurosis-inducing thing that it is. I read and absorb as many of its resistors as possible, and become familiar with the tactics of its preservers. I see each phenomenon around me as being for freedom or against it, and most are against.

And yet I participate in it. I have not found a way to break free, in act or in spirit enough to lead to the act. My dreams of artistic grandeur were based on images in the media and in popular culture: genius, coolness, popularity, acceptance, immortality, “freedom” as the reward for success. I thought I could enter it and maintain my character, perhaps even being a force for positive change within it. But the freedom comes in the form of money and prestige, both of which are dependent upon not changing anything, and neither of which demand high character.

In the same way that I saw myself as unique back then, I see my character as very high now. I would fight for anyone, give to anyone, see anyone else’s point of view, defend the undefended and attack the comfortable….I would kill a king to save a subject, and kill myself if it would empower that subject. I refrain from many things: meat, marijuana, recently pornography. These are vices that deplete my spirit, that hurt my vision and my sense of self.

So I imagine great self-sacrifice, yet engage in very little of it besides sacrificing that which I am against: eating dead animals, brain pollution, and the commodification of sex in our manipulative, Master/Slave-obsessed society. I sacrifice nothing that makes me comfortable, and actively, positively *do* almost nothing that meets my own expectations of my character. I am detached, disrupted, distraught…

Castrated
Debauched
Disinherited
Because of this (emphasis added)

Right now, rather than as a novelist, drummer, activist, artist, I work as a personal trainer at a corporate-owned gym in the most affluent county in New Jersey. I train good-looking people in ways to become better-looking. And it allows me to justify being preoccupied with my own appearance. It occurs to me to wonder, in a common way, “what sense does that make?” I’m not the only one apparently who wonders, even among those at my workplace…

Woflson comment

…In addition to the people who know me as a person of principle and great disdain for society, not just colleagues but comrades…

Woflson comment contd

But will I? Will I ever work for the greater good? In politics or art? I see now that there is value within both, although artists and creative people generally have to accept a dehumanizing machine controlling their every word and action. Activists often choose to compromise too, by working with Democrats or ideological adversaries. Unless one can embrace extremism or avant-gardism (which I sometimes think/thought I could), compromise is the nature of everything, I guess. Failure. Downgrading. Losing. Ideals that die like extinct animals. Such is the nature of the dialectic. Why should I be any different?

And what do the opinions of others really matter? They matter when they reflect an opinion of oneself. Where do the dreams go, the purity once thought to exist? There is a question I must ask:

Appearances, Nature

“Is it that certain things just did not work out, or is that they were never worked?”

Ideals are the enemy of action, perhaps. Fear of failure derives from the desire for “success,” when success is such a specific and exclusive thing as to not truly relate to reality. That is the type of “success” the dehumanizing machine wants us to seek. The need to create “revolution, and nothing less” can lead a person to do nothing, thinking herself a failure, when she didn’t really try because she knew she could not succeed fully in her lifetime, and be recognized for it. Perhaps it is bourgeois to seek perfection, based on an indecisiveness that replaces urgency because one is in a position of privilege, not of urgent oppression or even danger.

Yes, personal trainers are exploited, just like anyone else. A session with me will cost you 100 dollars, of which I will receive 30. So what am I doing about it? Organizing, Agitating, Occupying? Not quite. I’m doing a good job, a damn good job, working hard for the client and for the company, because of my “high character.” Am I waiting for the time to become perfect before I act? Am I trying to secure the self-confidence first? What is the answer? I watched a Bergman movie last night, “The Magician,” so it is quite apropos that an answer derives from him:

ingenting

I know I am probably being too hard on myself; my bipolar nature is having a field day with finding more reasons to be pessimistic, to give up, to do exactly what the machine wants me to do, to admit that I won’t make a positive impact in my lifetime, for the only sufficient positive impact is the kind that results in fame and fortune and immortality. So many fighters who died for freedom will never be honored with a memorial, or even on Facebook by those whose lives they touched. I still believe, even if I can’t do all I want right now in full, that I may still do great things before I die, or at least a piece of them, or at least try them. Great, meaning lasting.

I must simply maintain my self-awareness until then, and hold on, and not view the minimal as trivial, or the imperfect as bad. How will I achieve the maximal if I don’t achieve the minimal first? How will I get perfection done if imperfection is never addressed? How will I love what I do, and the people for whom I do it, if I never love myself?