Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Now that I've enacted Social Security, can I play? Well, not exactly, but maybe I won't have to beg either. I'm surrounded by folks who pound their minds on the question of when to do this. Funny, the math for time of enactment is almost bizarrely straight forward, and so there's no particular magic to it. In my case, I had no real choice. I am thankful to be relieved of the agonizing my friends put themselves through. 

There are no fancy statistics, apart from actuarial tables. No fancy math. Work backwards from your time of death and the only thing that changes anything, really, is your time of death versus the actuarial norm. Well, don't take it from me - I'm too lazy to do the actual math beyond a quick calculation, but in any case, if you're white and middle class, you're set. Especially if you don't have to make complex calculations based on high-earner/low-earner ratios between or among spouses.

Anyhow, maybe I don't want to play. For sure, life in SoCal or in the Columbia Gorge was inherently better than life here in Buffalo. There were so many places to hike in hills which promised both exercise and vistas. In winter, there was skiing. And overall the weather hardly ever made a substantial negative difference. Recreation was something you could do each and every day. I mean, but for dehumanizing work, if you're stuck with that.

Which now I'm not.

So I might as well write, right? It's not like I have any choice. I can't read anymore, since upon each completed paragraph I seem to feel compelled to comment, and I have to write the comments down somewhere, since they are so fleeting.

I told you already that I'm finished here. This being my practice yellow pad. Now, at least I don't have to pad the feet of some electric typewriter to avoid annoying the people living below me who paid my heat by extravagance with our mutual landlord paying their heat by rules of public assistance. I benefitted by proxy. I was just as poor by far, but I was a grad student at Yale on a stipend staying up late with classical Chinese. Could there possibly be a more privileged choice?

But that's where I got my conviction that you really shouldn't write - anymore - if you think that words just float about in the ether of the mind. They have to noodle you, and spring from the earth, or else what you have to write will have been written that many times before. No matter how many esoteric and seldom encountered words you might malinger. The twisted convolutions of Chinese script have a more clear provenance. Despite the atrocities committed upon them by those darned Commies.

A strange kid, I refused to read. Somehow I knew that a fix was on. That my own initiative, which was directed out of doors and in transgressions under the highway and into the forbidden waters of Lake Erie, would be undermined. Once we moved away from the life I loved, they brought in the friendly PhD teacher of English who was so good with promising kids and that just made it more apparent. Like turning my nose up at mashed potatoes until Granddaddy tricked me. "Open your mouth and close your eyes, and I'll give you a big surprise." Wasn't gonna do it.

I trusted him because he would say that he would eat the chandelier if I ate those mashed potatoes, and he was an engineer who demonstrated magnetism right from the filing of the iron shavings to putting a magnet on one side of the french door glass and tossing the filings on the other to mock a butterfly. So this time I opened my mouth and thought I was tasting applesauce, which was about the only thing I would eat. I had to join the laughter. I'd been had.

So later on, after Grandaddy was gone and my grieving moderated, Dr. Eggleston was brought in. And I only relented when I couldn't sleep at night after watching black and white films on our black and white TV, like Some Like it Hot, which was sexy as hell. I relented in secret. I had my pride. 

I pulled out Plato's Republic from the Britannica Great Books library, whose shelves I still use (I don't know where the books have gone) and read it through in one sitting. I was thrilled to know that I actually could read. Eggleston got no pleasure from me.

Buffalo is mostly flatland, and if there is hiking up hills (or down gorges) there aren't all that many vistas. Letchworth State Park - don’t call it the Eastern Grand Canyon - costs too much gas. Plus the grey damp and cold mushes out much of the year's pleasantness. Fun here is mostly in the bars or at the tailgates. Neither of which I much care to do. Well, I would of I had that kind of friends.

For me, it's hard to tell which part is aging out of play and which part is moving to the wrong place. Follow the money, and you'll find out where the good life is. But by the time you might enjoy it, you're too old or too poor, if you're normal at all.

I'm hardly normal. My accomplishments were always whiffed. Engineering was leached out from my soul, ultimately by desperation at Lake Erie's demise. I was a young inventor, but now why bother? Some woman or other - it might as well be your mother, though it was never mine - will lay claim to your birthright and never consider what she stole from you. Reaching up into her vagina at the urging of the doctor who would perform the abortion. Celebrating freedom. Feeling the fetus. It brings you low in the end. All the might-have-beens. I was far far too young. Roe v. Wade now stillborn. Bellow knew what he was writing about.

In my most recent working life, much of it in a college or university setting, I endured the workplace as modulated by the email inbox. I remember the desperate dull pain of the periodic ritual of cleaning and ordering the messages, to be sure that they had all been properly dealt with. It seemed that it could never end, but even if it did, the relief was nothing like the relief of having actual work to do. Like preparing for a meeting, or presenting curricula, or vetting new hires, or composing a talk.

Now suddenly I realize the very same agony in keeping up with the news. It flows into a sort of inbox, and each time you think you might be back on top you dread the Sisyphean eternity of it all. It starts to feel like work. Every once in a while, I get to ignore it by going off-grid. I never miss much.

As with the work email, so much of it is worth the read and the response. There are so many truly excellent writers, and the things you learn are often composed much as film scripts are, or novels. Though my patience for either runs thin. How infinite is my ignorance, and how silly to think that all that I learn can add up!

These journalistic writers might do it out of desperation for pay, and like me, might have long since given up on composing anything of literary value that will last more than a day. But they do get to indulge in a kind of autofiction these days, so often injecting their own story - their reason for writing - into the story they tell, true though the story must still be, by norms. 

Sometimes I look for the contours of mythology, and it's almost always there. Especially in my own life, ho ho! And so it must dawn on me how Trump has been our god. How perfect an avatar he is for America as seen by China, just for an instance. No wonder half of us identify with him. He's a player for sure, seeming always to enjoy his life, and not let duty get him down. Even giving himself license to bemoan the lifestyle deficits of responsibility.

You know, some very good books and most of the very good movies are created by collective industry. The thank-yous at the front or back of books can be astonishing. I don't even know that many people in toto. 

But you can, supposedly, if you have the skill and determination, shoot and produce a high-quality film right on your tiny Apple device. Maybe that would make up for all the frantic squandering of money on impermanent stage settings which mock how all of us live now in actual fact. In which direction is the projection? Making a movie is like the emergency exception now invoked nearly all the time because we live in perpetual emergency. It would be very uncool to note the unsustainability of disposable gowns and syringe packaging. Very uncool indeed. But you can burn up whole film sets or whole neighborhoods of blacks, and nobody will say no never mind.

As you know, dear Reader, I am spending much emotive and intellectual energy with Homo Ludens, whose thesis I find utterly convincing, at least for now. And I also feel the slacker in me even about play, since I did once for a brief hot minute have title to and for a position directing a media program which had shades of gaming in it. And now I learn that computer gamers might consider this book a sort of Bible, and I had it innocently on my shelves all the while without ever reading it. 

I suppose gamers are all conversant with the concept of a "magic circle," a term coined by this author, Johan Huizinga. But few seem to have extended the usage to life as we live it now, and I am enraptured. 

I'm not sure why I can't draw a little magic circle around my meager collection of technology, and write a book entirely on my own. I only fight my own laziness, justified by age now. At least I won't bother a soul. I live alone and no-one to mind when I get up or if I don't.

Yes of course Trump apes the role of playful god from almost any mythic tradition you may wish. What Huizinga does is to rid the readers' thinking of any legitimate condescension toward culture in its infancy. As if those original mythmakers didn't know that they were playing, and as if they actually thought that the realm of the gods was reality. As if his supporters don't know who Trump is.

No, it is we who are deluded. Along with calculations, if we have the privilege, about when to trigger social security for our personal best, most people I know spend silly amounts of time agonizing about how people could be so stupid to believe Trump. To believe in Trump. As if everyone else had the choices that we agonize about.

Anyhow, what possible good is my agonizing going to do? My only choice is to defuse the rancor, except that the rancor is inside me too. I am surrounded by people who need me to know how overprivileged I am, even as they frolic with their playthings, niver considering that there could be any higher aspirations. I have to quit.

Should we credit computer gaming? With its outrageous riffing on who and what we actually are? How about religion when it extends its magic circle out beyond the temple to intrude on real real life? We are only human, which is to say that we must play when and if we get the chance. As often as possible.

No wonder, really, that so many of the Trumpers are also believers in a cartoon Jesus and a recitation of history which is pretty much sillier than anything we used to watch on the Saturday morning cartoons. Most of which were written for adults in my day. Adults who took their only adult break most Saturday mornings. A cabal for sure against the children. No wonder the Church is bankrupt! I know, let's blame it on Hillary and those evil dumbocrats. They must be eating the children!

So we will not agonize ourselves out from the end of the world. We must return play with play, play by play. Play, Benjamin, play. There is no amount of earnest terraforming which will transform our world to remain livable. You have to be a player to win, as they say about the lottery. And we wonder why all the winners are players, and why the priests are pedophiles. The play is indeed the thing, and no-one has ever played the presidency the way that the Donald did. You've got to give him that. 

But just as honest Abe had to destroy the Constitution in order to renew it, so must we re-invent ourselves in the face of our daily disaster. 

Go India! (Walton for mayor of Buffalo) Go Indi.ca! Oh dear, too little, too late.

You know, I drove to the mall the other day. I remember in my youth when I would explore malls as alien places where others were adept. My ears would buzz and my vision blacken, and I would be disoriented. I would feel the same way inside a computer game, I know. Although I've never really been drawn in by that sort of thing. Having kids, thanks gods, moderated all my responses, and even allowed me to enter into a McDonald's once in a long while. In my youth, I avoided them like the plague just as I thought plastic money was evil.

Ah, the silliness of youth!

Just a voyeur now from time to time, though. They had a fellow dressed like security inside the Apple store. He accosted me and told me to get in line. That there would be no-one to help me otherwise. I told him I only wanted to gawk and felt I didn't need any help. He didn't seem to know what to do. I suppose that they are understaffed the way we all are.

Best Buy has become a warehouse for all sizes and types of flatscreen. Everything else was in the shadow of those stocks. I see our future and it is inert before a screen. Adverts now of weirdly dressed priestess types waging war through VR goggles. Our actual bodies pulsing with RoundUp and energy challenged thereby. Desperate for sale of screens before those too are supplanted by VR goggles through which our furnishings will look fine. A VR screen and a resting spot and nourishment by way of tubes. We're almost there, Wall-E, we're almost there.

There must be some very precise calculation about how many people in and around Buffalo are due a new screen this holiday season. And how to make the price seem irresistibly low. Low enough to be fitted into the food and rent budgets which feel so oppressive now to more than half of us. Here and now.

But looking around at the cars, and at the extremely diminished shelves of goods, I was filled with a kind of resignation. I had wanted only to witness actual things and move away from the Amazon search and wait with something like 'bated breath. But our oil-powered flight is not going to end. Well. 

The driving had a kind of desperation; mine and that I projected onto everyone else. The embodied economy on its way out. Careening toward disaster. It can't last, but we also can't change it. Not in time. Driving ourselves over a cliff.

It's so very hard to let go of this life which has been so very good. Consider all that we have accomplished, collectively, toward better living. Why must it end, oh Lord, why must it end?

Most of all what I saw was that the embodied economy embodies racism and classism both. A kind of disregard for those without choices, as though it were their own fault somehow. Like it's my fault I don't live where the living is better. Looking ahead, I'm only concerned with what makes my life better. And while I don't have nearly as much as I'm supposed to have according to the soothsayers of retirement prep, the little nest egg that I've accumulated grace TIAA has been growing lately such that it generates more income than my spendable retirement income makes. WTF, right? How can I possibly deserve this?

And so I too must root for the stock market, even though its gains are on the backs of those without choice. Actual labor is hardly compensated at all anymore. And never mind the priests, Catholic Health in this town has had to join the ranks of the hyper-capitalist healthcare industrial complex and screw the front line workers. Who are putting up a valiant strike. Catholic my ass! The workers got some satisfaction in the end. They were outplayed.

When the total national boost to climate change mitigation equals the net worth of any one among our wealthiest citizens (if they even remain citizens anymore, by virtue of escaping taxes), I think it's fair to say that our economy is already bankrupt. We've gone too far - we've entered into the realm of abuse - with our exploitation of the gift of oil. The fundament of our economy. The dark dark soil.

Reading Saul Bellow is bizarrely helpful here. I was alerted by Jonathan Franzen, denigrated as he now might be. Already, by the time the better call, Saul, was writing The Adventures of Augie March, it was clear to him how things might end. Near the time that I was born, he wrote. 

I swear that I would never say to anyone else, what my friends feel free to say to me. But this is where we are now, angry at each other because we're not woke enough to use the pronouns right. Go Boomer as an epithet. What's the other guy? Go Brandon? Go Beau? So low. Hunter's Hope. So this is how it will end? It won't be the global warming or the species die-off, and it won't be that we can't cobble a living anymore. 

It will be that we are at each others' throats for being dissed and not recognized. We all seem to want our claim to authentic goodness and merit, and get really pissed off when someone doesn't grant it. 

Well, for me, there's hope that it won't be something that we can't do anything about that does us in. It won't be driving over the edge that kills us. It will be the bumper car we play along the way. And I won't be any match for those playfully massive pickup trucks sporting offensive flags. But I also won't be able to ride my e-bike in traffic. 

Now I'm back to a fever pitch. Whatever. Don't worry, be happy. Things are still OK. And we're way better than we used to be before we mostly squandered the gift of oil. Who knows, maybe what we've actually learned will save us yet. 

Let's Go Boomer!

So yeah, I watched Fletch - no it was Fitch - yet another post apocalyptic movie where robots stand in for blacks, except that the white survivors are nicer to them. And there's a dog. No woman to feed to the dog, though, so there's that. But can This is the End actually be the better film? It's hard for me to accept that.

So so very many films for the love of robots anymore. I think I could fill a page with a catalog, starting with Cherry 2000. No matter what else they are, they're all riffs on Scientology, just like Tom Cruise's once upon a time wifey fell for it, and now she's made a robot of herself, right? I mean Scientology is just method acting on steroids, right? Until you internalize the act and become it. L. Ron no different from Joseph Smith, no different than Jesus, these days.

You don't feel love, and so you crawl right into its sim. And this is how we die. This is the end, my only friend, the end.

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