Tag Archives: existentialism

Terrible Reviews: Everything is F*cked

I picked up Mark Manson’s latest offering, Everything is F*cked, at my local library on the New Releases rack. Readers of the blarg will know that I love profanity, especially when it pops up in places it doesn’t belong (like a book title!). So I was intrigued. Of course, I also quickly realized that this is the same Mark Manson who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, a book whose title also pleased me mightily but which I never bothered reading because I figured — I’ve kinda got that covered. I’m notorious — and it drives my wife nuts — for not caring about what other people think, for giving the metaphorical finger to social niceties, for just putting my head down and minding my own business. But after reading Everything is F*cked, I’m rethinking my decision not to read The Subtle Art, if for no other reason than that I want to hear more of what Mark Manson has to say, on virtually any topic.

Anyway, I got the book and immediately began my campaign of defacement of public property, i.e. dog-earing the hell out of this book. Almost every page featured a passage or two that made me sit bolt-upright, the gremlin in my brain shouting “YES” at the top of its lungs, so this book took a beating. A loving, well-meaning beating (Dog-earing books shows them you care!), but a beating nonetheless.

Because I loved this book. I loved it so much that I had to read it slowly, digesting its insights and offerings over time, like the Sarlacc devouring its victims over thousands of years.

The thrust of the book is that Life is Pain, and the better we can understand and embrace that fact, the better off we will be.

Image result for life is pain gif

While this isn’t particularly surprising news for an atheist at least passingly acquainted with cosmology and the physics of the universe, it does rather put things into perspective.

Rather than try to review the entire book, I’m just going to provide some quotes from its pages, for your own edification and mine.

The Feeling Brain drives our Consciousness Car because, ultimately, we are moved to action only by emotion. That’s because action is emotion. (33)

Much of the first part of the book is given over to the dichotomy of Thinking Brain / Feeling Brain, and how we think that we live our lives with the Thinking Brain behind the wheel, but we really don’t — the Feeling Brain is always driving. Anyway — this quote in particular is relevant to me because this is a concept I’ve attempted to communicate to my Acting students, if never in such succinct language. So I’m gonna be assimilating this quote for future use.

… silencing the Thinking Brain will feel extremely good for a short period. And people are always mistaking what feels good for what is good. (37)

I don’t have a whole lot to add here, except to say that this phenomenon is probably responsible for a lot of the tribal behavior we see these days. You know. Politically. And so on. Ahem.

The pain may get better, it may change shape, it may be less catastrophic each time. But it will always be there. It’s part of us.

It is us. (106)

If the first half of the book is an examination of how our brain deceives us, the second half of the book is an exploration of the thing that drives us — which is pain, and more to the point, an avoidance of pain. We’ve sort of become slaves to the idea that we’re supposed to be happy all the time, that pain is this thing that crops up from time to time, but with the right outlooks and attitudes, we can avoid it or fend it off completely. Nonsense. We are defined and created by our pain, in the same way that the application of fire and heavy blows from a steel hammer create a sword.

Children are the kings and queens of antifragility, the masters of pain. It is we who are afraid. (230)

Antifragility is this concept Manson deals with a bunch in the final quarter of the book: in a nutshell, stress makes an antifragile thing (person, structure, idea) stronger. And because most of us try to hide from pain, our bodies and minds lose this quality. But kids, who haven’t yet been beaten down by the world, don’t know enough to hide from pain, so they run towards it — and this has the paradoxical effect of making them stronger.

The book is a fascinating read, and for a guy who has been sort of wracked by anxiety over the past year or so, it was an empowering and enlightening read.

It also gave me the best summation of my feelings as a writer that I have ever read:

A Lament

A student at my school died last night.

To be specific, she was a student of mine.

I can’t say I knew her particularly well, but I knew her well enough for the tragedy of a young person’s death to be bigger than that; this was the death of somebody who I taught, whose presence in my class I enjoyed and appreciated, who lifted up the students around her with her energy and enthusiasm.

This was a girl who had plans for college, who worked two jobs in addition to attending school, who found a way to be a positive influence in a setting where it is so much easier and commoner to be negative.

Since I teach her, there was a parade of teachers through my classroom today offering sympathy and prayers. (And I won’t begrudge people their prayers in a time like this.) But one of them said something that gave me pause.

She said, “the world just doesn’t make sense sometimes.”

And I found myself unable to agree with that. Quite the contrary, the world makes perfect sense. It just doesn’t always operate in a way that we approve of or enjoy.

The loss of any life is tragic to somebody. The loss of a child is tragic to a community. Tragic or not, these things happen all around us, all across the country, all over the world. It is the absence of these tragedies from our immediate lives that blinds us to them. The world carries on in much the same way every day, but because we don’t endure a tragedy this day, we feel like the world makes sense (of a sort).

But when it strikes close to home, suddenly the world ceases to make sense?

No. The world operates as it always has, but on this day, my community, my school, my classroom, has been visited by a tragedy. But it is still normal. It is still commonplace. Death, even the death of somebody young and undeserving, is a part of life.

It’s sad. It’s a shame. The loss of potential is devastating. Who knows what she might have been?

One of the novels I teach is Night, by Elie Wiesel. And no matter what we do, no matter how many videos or pictures we show the students, I never really feel that they get it. It’s impossible to describe the loss of life on such a scale to somebody so young. Six million deaths is too much to process, like the size of the universe, or even the fact that light takes eight minutes to reach our tiny blue sphere from the sun.

But a single life, plucked from their very ranks and extinguished? Taking with it all her hopes and dreams? All her happiness and vitality and struggles and pain?

I fear they will understand that all too well.

I sat in the room with them today, while grief counselors filed through and while students walked the halls with tissues pressed to their faces to the sound of the shuffling of feet and the snuffling of noses. And I saw them looking for answers. Looking for meaning. And while I’ve always had a healthy dose of self-doubt as a teacher, I felt for the first time completely inadequate. And yet, we must find a way to offer these students guidance. We must find ways to encourage them to seek meaning, to pursue their potential, to affect the world in whatever way they are able.

It’s times like these that I understand why people turn to God for answers. But the truth is, the answers that we want to think come from God, really only come from within ourselves.

The world is what it is. Whether it makes sense to us or not, whether we like what we see in it or not.

Today the world is poorer by one, and maybe that’s not a big deal. But the world of my community is poorer by one, and that’s a big deal indeed.


Not for Naught

This has all been said before.

My book, my blarg, my parenting foibles, my running follies… none of it is particularly unusual or original. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to attempt any of these things on their own or, even, in combination. So what the heck am I bothering to write about all of it for?

Originality is a big deal. Being “the first” to do a thing matters. First man on the moon. First woman to become a doctor. First guy to pedal backwards on a unicycle for five hundred yards while juggling machetes and whistling the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Originality equals notoriety. But ours is a big world, and let’s face it… you have to go pretty far down the list of possible things before you find one that hasn’t been done already. And documented. And repeated under scientific conditions. And then tweeted about.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows sums this concept up nicely with the word, “Vemodalen”.

There’s something in us that drives us to attempt things that stretch our limits, even though they have been done (and probably been done better) before. The futility of that knowledge is a futility that can seep into the bones, grind the hard oak of gumption into sawdust, and rot away the steel supports of sticktoitiveness like so much battery acid. What matter is my voice, or yours, or anybody’s, in a swelling sea of millions of voices? No, scratch that, an ever-blossoming infinitude of voices?

It’s all for naught.

Or, at least, it can seem that way. But I think, ultimately, it’s foolish to think in terms of the big picture in that way; the way of adding one more voice to the howling snarling mass of the internet. In the scope of human communication, human achievement, human history, even the gods and giants among men are grains of sand in a kiddie pail. So you have two million followers on twitter? In a few years, the next big thing will be here. So you sold two million dollars’ worth of books? In ten years, your book will be on the bargain rack, if people are still talking about it at all. So you ran ten marathons in a year? Well, so did that guy… and that girl… and this other guy, except he did it wearing a tuxedo.

If you set out to have a universal effect, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The universe — even the earth, or even your country, your city — is too big to be moved by the likes of one person’s achievement. Nothing I can ever hope to write or teach my kids or accomplish in any other area of my life will push the planet from its orbit.

What I can do, though, is enrich a few lives around me. Maybe I can teach the kid on my soccer team to keep his cool when the other guy is cheating and let his talent speak for itself. Maybe I can teach my kid that it’s wrong to throw cars at dogs, or to smear peanut butter on the curtains, or to take off his pants and dance in circles. Or maybe I could teach him that those things are okay if they make him feel good. Whatever. Maybe I can do the dishes without making my wife ask me to do it, and make her day a little brighter by removing a smidgen of darkness from it. Maybe I can pick myself up a little bit for going on a run, or maybe I can forgive myself for not squeezing in that run this morning. Maybe by writing about all of it I can clear my own head and hammer some understanding out of the soft metal, maybe by getting the minutiae of the day down in this blarg I can get some perspective, like climbing to the top of a mountain just to see what my backyard looks like from a mile up.

Who cares if my voice isn’t unique, or original, or if some days I don’t know what to write, or if I take a few weeks off from the project because I’m staggered? As long as I keep coming back to it, as long as I’m moving forward instead of stagnating, the journey has value. Even if it’s just for me.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

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