Posted by: cavemanwithmartini | December 5, 2009

Relentlessly Middle.

For most of my life, I can’t say I was happy, or very interested in being happy. A childhood characterized by despair and anxiety, led predictably to an upswing in shallow adolescent self-confidence, more arrogance than anything else. Like millions of others, there I was.

I could have stayed there forever, half-comfortable in the half-crouch, defensiveness-with-a-smile

most people know and do well, and which is currently everywhere in our culture. Call it the human default mood. Snarky, concerned with being right and staying above criticism. Very, very lonely.

It’s suspect to aim for anything better, lazy to demonstrate anything worse. Even if it would be infinitely more authentic, showing up too perky for work is exactly as off-putting to people as showing up endlessly upset about yourself and the world around you.

Whenever the circumstances of life felt overwhelming to me, I focused on survival. When they weren’t, life seemed to come in pre-determined states; one day would be “vaguely alienated day”, another might be “aggravated and castrated”, and of course there was always “day as catalog of depressive states”.

Slipping into an easy and jovial suspicion of happiness-as-goal unto itself, it was the easiest thing to do to harshly judge a happy life from a safe and comfortable distance from it. Doing exactly that seemed to be something I was good at, that I noticed many other people were also pretty good at. The message I seemed to have absorbed from my community, in the just-try-to-survive path I set out for myself was, “Don’t ever be too happy. Or too sad”.

This was the get-ahead path, the popular way with the people and authority figures around me. From them, I sensed either a palpable apathy or a mild-though-invisible fear. I heard one resounding directive -in a thousand different ways, and that was: “Aim for the middle” and get comfortable there.

Or, if not exactly the middle, some point not too far north of it.

I don’t mean the financial middle, or the social status middle, those ladders are easy enough to scurry up and down, and at least doing so is a fairly straightforward process, if you make an outright goal of it. And many people do, and still end up in the middle. By which I mean the mood-middle.

Not terribly happy, not suicidally depressed yet either.

Real happiness, like real success, like real hope, like real satisfaction, glimmered in the tantalizing distance, and stayed there–a condition of other conditions. A result of many other things which were themselves mysterious, intangible, constantly changing in their requirements, and always, always pending. What was most painful about real happiness, was how pending it always seemed. Happiness; like a friend lost in a maze that I could hear in the distance, but who was always not just in another room, but on another floor.

It couldn’t be happiness if it was a now and forever thing. Oh sure one might catch hold of something sublime for a second, (that wasn’t special either but could happen to anyone, the very definition of dumb-luck). What I was to understand from such occasions above all, was that I shouldn’t expect much from these moments of transcendence. They were dreams. And I knew what the world made of dreams, confetti. Still I kept a bright bit of it and waited.

If I did have some “dumb” luck befall me, the event was characterized by myself and others as almost accidental, literally the oddly-chaotic grace of God. Like a free ice-cream cone, better enjoy it while it lasted, because we’re talking about a matter of minutes. Equivalent to the duration of a song, a cigarette, an orgasm. I call it “ the smile from the King”, it’s exactly that fleeting, exactly that rare. The amount of time a kind comment from someone you liked still wafted in the air. Just as fast and it’s over. And then you’re to be back at it: the other ninety percent of life, which was meant to be misery or toil. Pray not both.

And from this mindset, so gray, so limited, we collectively create the world.

It was at these times, when I was being asked to relinquish a happy moment, that I seemed to surrender it unwillingly, and as it went out of my grasp, my so smart-self would do what we all have done and do, which is to idealize and construct and build shrines to our someday-happiness. Out of terror or fear, in dreamy-boredom, with a vague gnawing -we all think the same thing, in what amounts to one of the biggest lies a majority of humans still commonly believe and hold true: that our someday happiness would one day arrive, like a comet in the sky, dazzling in its effects, but just an obvious side-effect of all the other great things that our future lives will of course include. It turns out the sum total of our logic surrounding happiness can largely be described as, “We will be happy in the future, because we will be happy in the future”.

And though I can understand why I invested so deeply, so frequently and intensely in someday-happiness, I no longer agree it was very smart to do so.

And so on to my someday-life, and every thing it contained! If there was an outward representation of it, it would depict everything anyone would expect, you would see all the usual things, and not one unusual thing, the very picture of what a wildly successful life looks like to most people. Except of course all with my own amazing twist of personal uniqueness. Though I had no idea what that even meant specifically.

Here is the pact I made with the Universe, it might sound familiar: If I could hold onto a disciplined frame of mind, If I did all the work, and was careful about it, took all the steps, and made my way toward my goals in a direct and orderly fashion, if I thought positively, (positive thinking was of course key) if I did all of this, as often as possible, well then, my life, if not the world, would of course soon become an enviable paradise. Why? Because it was logical. Because getting ahead is what you’re supposed to want to do. And it was never confusing what “getting ahead” was, or meant. And being successful would make me happy. A happy satisfied life is of course about achievement and material things. Right?

It was all going to be so great. Oh, it was going to be quite the party, my life. When I graduated, when I finally traveled, when my kids were born, when they would grow up and love me, when they left and appreciated me more, when I had a romantic partner, when my romantic partner finally changed every one of their many annoying habits, when my parents would come visit, when they finally left, when I got that raise, when I didn’t have a job, when I had better toys, a new phone, a new car, when all my possessions were organized, when I didn’t have so much stuff, when I lost weight, and gained muscle.

To do lists, after to do lists, after to do lists. I get exhausted just thinking about them now. But I was clear: after I got everything on every to-do list done, and took a vacation and then bought myself a fun, new and expensive toy, then I would consent to be —at last happy. I’d climb up a ladder into the sky never to be seen again. It was all so achievable, just work endlessly hard, and get the results, that it couldn’t help but happen.

Unless it wasn’t going to.

What then?

Doubts? Doubts are one of the main features of pending happiness and someday-happiness.

The very things I needed to do to get ahead, were all directly at odds with what was actually going on around me. Seeing violence, the willful destruction of an innocent persons psyche, and extreme abuse at an early age, again and again meant that for me organizing myself, disciplining myself, positive thinking, staying focused, were all the last things I wanted to do- which was to be violent, cry, or give up completely. It is not said enough though, that whether or not one has had a traumatic beginning to life on Earth, there are many people who would be perfectly justified in having a vividly angry reaction to waking up having to face another day.

Like a lot of other people I didn’t grow up or live in a vacuum or lab. I couldn’t just turn on my uplifting thoughts with the pleasant absence of the many other factors that might inspire just the opposite.

This situation of my early life was searingly painful and only getting worse as I got older. How do you think positively when life is asking everything of you all the time, but not living up to its own few, basic guarantees? When is that ever going to feel authentic? How could I feel all my feelings which I wanted to do so badly, and still make a bridge to a new world, where I didn’t have to feel those harsh feelings anymore, and be authentic about it? When you adjust your expectations lower and lower and are still disappointed and heartbroken that your good thoughts and hard efforts have come to nothing, what do you think you could reasonably expect of life anymore? And of your own solid efforts to make progress and be happy?

And how is a car or a job or a new love ever, ever going to make up for it?

by Troy Ygnacio Soriano

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