On Surviving Life After

In the past week, I’ve been thinking about my late father-in-law. In the days after his passing, my mother-in-law asked if I would give his eulogy; I showed her that I had already started writing it. This is an excerpt from that eulogy, on dealing with grief.


As we go through our days without him, the smallest things will remind us of him; indeed, they already have. As you grieve, remember there is no guilt in surviving this loss however comes naturally to you. Laugh when you need to laugh, cry when you need to cry, but do not forget or forsake the strength of our family and our love. The grief we feel now will not shrink, but as the days go on and the time between the present day and his passing grows, this tragedy will be surrounded by the everyday joys and busyness of life. There will come a day when we wake up, go about our business, and then as we’re going to bed, we’ll realize we haven’t thought about our father, grandfather, husband, friend. You may feel a pang of guilt at this realization. It isn’t a bad thing; you haven’t forgotten him. This is life; this is how we survive. He will never be forgotten or far from our hearts.

You Just Lost

The Game.

Let’s discuss this bit of 90’s nostalgia, mostly because by reading this, you’ve already lost the Game, but also because I think it says a lot about my generation. For those of you unfamiliar with the Game, here are the rules.

  1. Everyone is playing the Game, always. Whether you know it, know about it, acknowledge it, or even if you don’t want to play, you’re in.
  2. If you think about the Game, you lose.
  3. If you lose the Game, you must announce that you’ve lost the Game

No one is exactly sure of the Game’s origins, but if you ask someone from a predominantly English speaking country who went to middle school in the 1990s about the Game, they will stare at you confused for a moment, then (in all likelihood) slap a palm to their forehead and groan, “Ugh, I can’t believe I just lost the Game! I’ve been winning for years!”

But that’s not exactly true, is it? Review the rules of the Game. There is no win condition. Some will say that you can win by never learning about the Game before you die, but that is only further indicative of my generation. A game everyone plays and no one can win, where the closest thing you can get to a win is to never learn you’re playing? Is this a mind-game or a myth on the origin of evil?

What the hell does it say about my generation’s outlook on life that we created (or at least, popularized) a game you’re forced to play just by being born and can’t win except by dying ignorant? The Game generation grew up under the massive failure of Reaganomics, the cult of Exceptionalism, and the dawning realization that those scientists in the 50’s claiming humanity was capable of destroying the biosphere might not have been crackpots. Are we really being cynical when we point out that the world seems to be burning if we can point to literal wildfires on unprecedented scales?

Broad View of History

Humanity always seems to fall into a race between enlightenment and self-destruction. So far, a significant portion of our species has survived that conflict, but the fact of it probably gives rise to every other generation decrying the endangerment of the world by humans. Survivor bias explains why these prophets of our own demise are so often pushed to the fringe, but we are foolish if we think that just because we’ve never yet wiped out our species or the entire biosphere that it was never a very real possibility. The race is always on.

Power Lines

Lines across clouds transmit power and influence

Words across page admit my own self-interest

Beautiful scenes are spread out to be seen, be me

too obscene to prevent creating, to enjoy

my environment. Sit here in silence. / /

Meditating on our violence laid on ourselves

to control our surroundings and toot our own horn.

Out trumpet is sounding; our forest is burning;

our home is on fire; and, I am perverting

with some words on a page to contain all my rage,

but tragically written on trees we should save.

Carry On (trigger warning)

The majority of all humans are dead. Actually, the majority of all humans decomposed so long ago that it’s somewhat likely that the particular matter that made most of them up has already been cycled back through the cycle of decomposition and re-absorption several times. Some of that matter has made its way to you; some of it has made it back to the last meal you ate, and yes, that includes vegans.

For any two humans alive today, it is overwhelmingly likely that they share an earliest common ancestor within the past 6 generations. Even assuming the greatest difference, that being that you both have the same number of ancestors between you and your earliest common ancestor, you will probably marry your 4th cousin (you can trace a common lineage back 4 generations); the likelihood that you will marry someone outside of your 6th cousin is statistically insignificant, and yes, that includes if you marry someone from another ethnicity.

Despite these demonstrable facts, that you have eaten what was at one point part of a human body and that you will or have already married someone with whom you share a significant genealogical similarity, you are neither a cannibal nor in an incestuous marriage. I’m using “you” in the likeliest of all possible antecedents; you, the person reading this right now may actually be the inspiration for the movie Deliverance, but most people are not guilty of these two near universally-accepted aberrations.

None of this will have any impact on your daily life, nor should it. Carry on as you were, unless you want to change something, then do it. The pursuit of happiness is a modernist pipedream; if it had any bearing on reality, I might call it a myth, but since really just an excuse to do whatever they want, I’ll instead call it a lie. Your fabricated right to pursue happiness have two hard boundaries: the brutality of real life, and the people around you who also want to pursue whatever they consider to be happiness.

So carry on, I say, if that is what keeps you going. Pursue your damned happiness, even though it will kill you. Memento mori; remember you will die. Empires rise and fall because someone wants to be happy; there’s a different way. Happy are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for justice. When someone comes along telling you that these are the ones who are happy and blessed, do what all the other incestuous cannibals did: kill him. Memento mori; did he die happy? Or did he die with a better understanding of the world than we can hope for?

Eventually, you will die, too, and be eaten by the things that will be eaten by the things that another human will eat. Eventually, your offsprings’ offsprings’ offspring will marry and produce more offspring that will also die. If the reality of your own past shouldn’t be an atrocious affront to decency and shouldn’t affect your daily life, why should the same reality flung into the future? Carry on.

Sideways to Reality

The sun went out north and came back home south.
I spoke from my ears and heard with my mouth.
I woke up sideways and walked on the world.
The winds pushed and pulled; my brain came unfurled.

You’ll be glad to hear the world came aright.
I slept through the day and woke up at night,
With the sun in the west, next day away.
Smooth sailing ahead, while parked in the bay.

Holding On

There’s a difference between holding it together and just holding on as best one can.

On my best days, there’s not even a storm, all the lines are stayed, and the deck is steady.

These past few weeks, though, my best days have been spent holding the lines as the sails try to whip out of control. Holding it all together.

Then, there are days like today. The lines fly wild in the storm, the sail is ragged in the winds, the deck is sideways. Holding on as best I can.

I hurt in places I can’t point at, in pain like artwork done in colors not of the rainbow. Trying to describe it is like moving from the Cartesian to the Complex plane: the axes are tilted 90 degrees in a different dimension. It’s like proving the present exists: I can see it, feel it, hear it, taste it, but it already happened and who else saw it go past?

The 5 Questions of Development

Human development can be distilled into the pursuit of answering these 5 questions, in this order, from the moment we are pushed screaming and naked into this world:

  1. What am I? – when a human baby shoves their toes into their mouth to the delight of any older humans about, the baby is asking, “Are these edible?” and discovering “These are part of me?!”
  2. Who am I? – when a human child holds their hand over the thing Mother has said not to touch and watches for her reaction, the child is asking, “Am I an asshole who gets away with pushing buttons?”
  3. Where am I? – when a human adolescent is experimenting with substances of variable mindsets, they often ask this question the following morning; more developmentally interesting is their response to when their parents ask them the same question about the night before, “Where were you?”
  4. When am I? – when human adults begin wearing wristwatches and concerning themselves with schedules, they are asking, “When am I?” often followed by the rhetorical question, “Dear God, is it really then?”
  5. Why am I? – while this question drives entire fields of philosophy and science, it is more frequently asked in conjunction with a significant amount of substances of variable mindsets and asked in a transaction with a complete stranger, “What am I doing with myself?”

And yet, the most common question we ask of each other is “How are you?”


The unfortunate and perhaps disqualifying aspect of this understanding of human development is that so few make it far on this track, and modern inquiry is raising questions about even those which we have so often thought we had down pat. In reverse order:

5. Why am I? – The number of humans throughout our species’s history which has bothered to ask this question has been growing exponentially in recent centuries; the number who have bothered to ask this question in a meaningful way is statistically insignificant. Most humans will die never considering this question, or at best, confusing it with number 3.

4. When am I? – That we so often repeat the mistakes of history show that the vast majority of people never bother to ask this question, or at least that not enough of us bother to pay attention to the answer.

3. Where am I? – In recent decades, humanity has plotted the Cosmic Microwave Background  and continue to make developments in placing the planet Earth in relation to the rest of the universe. Humans have launched hundreds of artificial satellites into orbit in such patterns as to find an increasingly exact longitude and latitude of any device which can triangulate to those satellites. Humans have scanned down to such a small resolution to create an image of the shape of an atom. And yet humans have also discovered that the majority of what we think of as matter is vast space between atoms, which are themselves mostly vast space between particles. Most of the space the thing you call “yourself” constitutes is just space. So where are you exactly?

2. 50% of the biomass in that thing you call “yourself” does not share genetic material with you. It is bacterial or fungal in nature, but it is not an infection; it is part of your body, without which you would die, and there is now evidence that it directly affects your moods, desires, appetites, and decisions. So who are you again?

1. What am I? I’m the puddle of confusion curled in the fetal position in some dark corner of what I have learned to call “my mind,” though now I’m not even so sure that’s accurate anymore. Did Rene Descartes resolve this problem with his famous philosophy, cogito ergo sum? I think not.

 

Word Therapy

When I’m feeling particularly mopey in a public place, I like to come up with pithy sayings that express my discontent, but in an ancient language, usually Latin which I have never formally studied. This can lead to some interestingly poor conjugations and inflections, which leads me into researching Latin grammar, but it’s still probably wrong.

Today’s moping led to this phrase: ecce homo carcere in sui ingenii. It’s meant to portray the gap between the proverbial rock and hard place in which I feel lodged right now. I’m sure it will get better and already see the way out, but that will take time and right now I am stuck, so I mope with some eloquence I must to stave off the brain goblins.

In other news, I submitted the first chapter of a novel to the Craft First Chapters contest. I feel much better about the first half of that chapter than I do about the second half, so hopefully it at least makes the short list. I should know if it’s a finalist by October.