#37: In Ohio, part one

I would imagine my reaction mirrored those of numerous Democrat voters: sitting somewhere, television blaring with updates, while staring at my phone and sending out texts asking if anything happening was real. I would have expected everything to feel heavy, but, instead, I floated, the world light and odd, filled with the belief that if I went to bed, none of this would be there in the morning. Pillows and blankets would make things easier, make things simpler. Instead, this: I suppose I can’t be surprised, can I, or I mean, I can be surprised that a dude who hosted a reality tv show is going to be president, shit, Gillian is pregnant, we are going to have a kid who will be born with a President Trump, an orange man who doesn’t bother to hide his racism, we are never going to have health insurance again, am I overreacting, is it possible to overreact to this, how bad could it be, shit, it’s going to be horrible, the man is a moron who can’t complete a sentence when speaking, there’s no way this won’t be a disaster, wait, maybe our day to day lives won’t change, but, shit, the GOP will win its war on women and the poor and healthcare and we are going to fucking burn the planet, that has to be an overreaction, right, well, that does appear to be their policy goals, why do people vote against their interests, why am I still awake, how do I explain to my future kid that lying is wrong when you can become president while blatantly doing it, fuck, I mean, Jesus Christ the dude is on tape admitting to groping women and this is somehow okay because tax cuts, he called an entire group of people rapists and he fucking assaults women and brags about it, and it’s okay because providing healthcare is antithetical to patriotism or some bullshit, and my kid will be four before this will end and I’m going to explain that this isn’t okay but millions of people thought other wise?, fuck, tomorrow at work is going to be the worst.

This went on loop, for hours, days?, forever? The exaggeration can never end. Since the election there is no space to breathe as Trump and his administration lurch from one mistake to another, while his most ardent supporters batten down the hatches, knowing the attacks from those like me will never stop. A breath, a moment of reflection is a moment where something could be missed. This presidency demands two choices: apathy or constant vigilance; we are all Mad-Eye Moodys, eyes rotating in our heads as we look from tweet to headline to newscaster to Facebook post. It’s as though the political day-to-day has elected to become status updates personified, constantly posting so as not to lose followers even though none of us can actually follow the deluge. And, if you can’t follow, if you can’t stay up to date, if there are no pics to see, did it happen?

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I live in a small college town with an entrenched division between “townies” and “liberal academics.” I attended, in an effort to be open-minded, a Tea Party gathering at a local restaurant a few years ago where a middle-aged woman kindly told my wife, an employee at the college, that she feared the school because it was evil and had turned away from the Lord. Drive around town and you will see numerous Stars and Bars flags hanging from porches and as vehicle decals and on shirts and, once, if you’re lucky, you can see the truck that planted both the American and Confederate flags in its truck bed, apparently unaware that such dueling flags did not imply patriotism, but, instead, were flags that symbolized groups that fought each other. We are nowhere near the South, the Mason-Dixon Line, or any other type of Southern heritage locale. We are, I suppose, on the southern end of what is known as Northeast Ohio, so maybe I’m just missing the particular semantics necessary to understand the Southern pride coursing through the area.

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The day after the election, I sent my wife and her co-workers flowers with a note that was based on Hamilton lyrics. The flower shop screwed up the note.

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My co-worker and I sat in stunned silence for most of the morning, neither one wanting to ask what happened but grateful that the other wasn’t a Trump voter. Our boss showed up later in the morning and laughed at us, told us the office felt like a funeral. We ended up eating so much fast food that we felt sick; we tried to laugh about eating ourselves stupid, laugh about how American this response to defeat was, but the laughter was short lived, shriveled by the reality of what happened and the people who came to the office celebrating the election of a man whose most praised qualification for being president was his lack of qualifications.

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My son was born March 22. My wife and I had been married for over five years before we decided to have a child. It had not been something we were going to do. I don’t know if there were specific reasons, although whenever people asked us when we were going to have kids, I felt compelled to tell them I didn’t have time in my ISIS recruiting schedule or that I believed it was my duty to depopulate the Earth. The latter worked better than I would have imagined as a number of people in my orbit had already declared me a serial killer, which, obviously, made me a hit in the office. I should probably remember this better, but I don’t even know what changed for us. I know we talked about it; each time it became a little more serious and at some point we decided we wanted to have a kid.

Gillian ended up having to take fertility drugs. I became convinced we would end up with a minimum of triplets because two people who weren’t sure they wanted to have kids and then change their mind would end up with triplets. I pictured a large conversion van, hopefully painted with flames and dragons, and some kind of triple bunk bed contraption in the bedroom where dangerous games of Top Bunk Ruler were played.

After the allotted time with the drugs, Gillian still wasn’t pregnant. We discussed next steps. We wondered what was the best decision. I stopped painting our future conversion van. I was working out in the morning, lifting the weights an Israeli man, butchering the English language, told me to lift. Gillian called out for me in a way that made me think one of the dogs died. Instead, she came bounding down the stairs with a pregnancy test and handed me the pee stick. It showed positive. Gillian proceeded to piss on a pregnancy stick for days after, worried it wasn’t real.

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It makes no sense to me, the dedication people in my area have to the Stars and Bars. I wonder about raising a child in such a conservative area, even if I don’t include the racism. I wonder about how to answer his questions regarding why people driving through campus yell at students. I wonder about explaining why someone would sit in campus in a Donald Trump shirt and tell international students it’s time for them to go back where they’re from. I wonder how to allow him to develop his own ideas when I so strongly oppose almost the entire GOP agenda. I wonder if he will be ostracized from other kids his age whose parents vote opposite of me. I wonder if it’s appropriate to run away somewhere blue or at least bluer, or if that deprives him of real world experience. I wonder how much “real world” is actually part of the conservative experience, where science is political, news is fake, and facts aren’t as important as being told what you want to hear. I wonder if such exposure helps him grow; I wonder how I explain to him that the place his mom works is not some vile den of evil as many people in town believe, but is a place of higher education where diversity gives people a chance to explore something outside of themselves. Is it wrong to say that? Is it wrong to demand he believe that? I wonder what it will mean to tell him those flags have nothing to do with heritage and exist because people want to proclaim their superiority to people who don’t look like him. I wonder what happens when someone drops the N-bomb in front of him for the first time. I’m equipped to fire hostility at such people, not how to break down the world of racism and how he, no matter how he views it, benefits from being white and male. I wonder how to make him better than me.

In the time between the election and Ronan’s birth, Gillian and I discussed leaving the country approximately 932 times. I have longed harbored the desire to leave the U.S., primarily driven by a wanderlust and fascination with other places. We wondered how to pay for anything if health care collapsed or if our child had a life-threatening condition; what if he has a life-long health concern and lifetime caps are reinstated? Isn’t staying detrimental to his existence? It’s an impossible quandary: guessing at how events will occur and attempting to preemptively avoid them, all the while knowing your decision process is heavily shaded by panic—panic over what may or may not come to be. It’s much easier to tell yourself the decision to leave is based on “seeing the world” or “providing new experiences” or “new age hippie parents seek semblance of diversity,” than it is to admit you have no idea how to address the possibility that you cannot control any of these external forces and just up and going works best if you have no actual attachments or concern for money, work, or things like a non-leaking roof over your head.

It’s a cliché, the despondent liberals looking to run away to some socialist utopia, one I’m keenly aware of anytime we have this discussion. People ask us why we wouldn’t stay and fight for change. People say there’s nothing good about running away. Allow me please, dear Reader, a bit of a mental breakdown re: this standard accusation about people like me who consider the notion of leaving:

I don’t feel I owe much explanation to anyone regarding this other than I get to determine the importance of what type of culture my son is exposed to as he grows up; however, that being said, in what way am I running away; in what way can I change anything; in what way is fearing the very likely dismantling of health care so rich people can be richer and thus my child could potentially die running away; in what way does me looking around and realizing that it doesn’t matter what party I vote for, I’m voting for people who believe rich people are better mean I am avoiding the fight for change; what is the appropriate approach to the apathy set in by a work pathos that means I get paid as little as possible so that someone else gets the rewards in their IRA; how shall I look my son in the eye and tell him women matter when a significant portion of our population does not believe that to be true; who should I turn to when he looks at me at 4 years old and wants to know why the President bragged about grabbing women; in what way does staying make his life better, safer, less of a permanent existential crisis born out of a wholly competitive cultural ethos between what his parents believe and what his country actually does; in what way do I owe a goddamn thing to this country that supersedes what I owe him as a parent; this isn’t anti-vaxxer, parents should get to make decisions, fake science bullshit; this is, frankly, a scientific and objective look at the United States current culture and realizing it does not support education, arts, science, creative thinking, diversity, or support for those with less and not wanting my son to grow up believing such behavior is normal; to move isn’t running away, it isn’t a failure to stay and fight and yell for change; to move is to change, to move is fighting; it’s fighting for my son to reach a more complete self-actualization that this country will inevitably fail to give him and if after time away he can come back more aware, that means it will be that much easier to recognize the fallacies of our American culture that need changed; this isn’t fear, this is fucking protection and opportunity

We probably aren’t moving. Moving is complicated enough; going international feels impossible and isolating. I’m going to have to face my fears and attempt to raise my son here. At least until California becomes its own country.

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When I moved to Ohio in my mid-twenties, I heard a lot about how important it is to presidential races. A swing state that every successful candidate must win. What people don’t say about swing states is, a state is only a swing state if it’s city population and rural population balance each other out. Ohio is Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton (maybe Toledo) versus everyone else. Whoever gets enough turnout swings the state. Wooster is this on a micro level: the college versus the town, and the college faction almost never wins. We are a red town in a red county, and yet, the winners are always the victims of the scheming liberal elites on campus. I don’t understand the constant feeling of victimization, the notion that as the world changes that means their own world shrinks instead of expands. I cannot grasp the mindset of the dude who drove by my wife and I as we walked our dogs and screamed, “I’m a real man who wouldn’t make you walk the dogs;” I don’t know how to respond to retired people who tell me I’m a fool for voting Democrat because they’re heathens who want communism while they themselves collect Social Security and have their insurance covered by Medicare.

What I fear is my son watching me as I grow more and more frustrated and angry and learning to view anger as an appropriate response. What I fear is living in a small town where I heard a woman tell the other woman she was eating lunch with, “I earned my disability checks. But those people on welfare are cheaters. And I know the world is ending. There are signs.” How does one even have a rational discussion when the other person believes the apocalypse is about to occur; how do you teach your child to investigate opposing view points when those views are often based on nothing but wish and shit? How unfair is it for me to so easily dismiss her opinion of the end of the world? It is possible, to whatever degree, a meteor hits us or North Korea and Trump decide to nuke each other or the permafrost thaws and the Plague comes back or aliens show up with the decision to reset civilization or, you know, earthquakes could sink the West Coast and super volcanoes could explode, blanketing the sky and ending life as we know. I mean, it could happen. Maybe I should believe her. Or maybe she’s using her fatalism as an excuse to hate the Other.

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The very idea that Donald Trump, professional fire-er, is my president feels incomprehensible, a kind of non-real reality wherein I discover this has been a strange dream as I wake up on November 9 to discover all is right with the world as Republicans scream BENGHAZIMAILS until they’re voiceless and our son has yet to be born and my wife and I complain that Hilary is too damn centrist. The idea that the county we live is specifically being targeted for KKK recruitment makes all of this too real—flyers for the East Coast Knights of the Invisible Empire have been showered around town in sandwich baggies filled with candy because if you’re going to recruit, you should recruit as young as possible; Donald Trump, reality tv personality, is President, he’s given voice to white supremacists, and those voices are fixated on the county I am raising my son because they know it is, in general, sympathetic to their cause. I have nothing to wake up from; I have only this reality to wake up to, and I have to decide how to confront it.

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Ronan was born via emergency C-section. Gillian and I had made multiple trips to the hospital because his movement pattern had greatly decreased. As they monitored him and her, I was told to try to sleep on the couch in the room. At some point in the morning, around 7am I think, I was awoken by a lot of people moving around our room, handed one of those hospital gown/biohazard suits, told to get in it and follow the nurse. I had no idea what the hell was happening; I wasn’t sure if Gillian was okay; for about 5 minutes I didn’t even know where I was and why the suit wouldn’t go over my shoes. I was clearly prepared to become a father.

I was told often that life would never be the same after having a child, that becoming a parent acts as a forced transition into a different level of adulthood as you become responsible for the life of a tiny human. What nobody will or can tell you is how you will respond to this transition, if you will embrace it, shrink from it, both depending on the moment; nobody can provide a blueprint for how to respond to paralyzingly fear that something terrible will happen and it will be your fault. This is not a failure of other people to prepare me; it is an impossibility for others to know how you will react in any given situation, and heighten that situation with the concerns of a new parent, and all and any reactions to any situation feel plausible. Will I yell torturously at a batteries for dying at an inconvenient time in the white noise machine? Will I laugh at being shit on? Will I stare despondently at the number of baby clothes that need washed? Most likely; and people will tell you that is normal, but what if you don’t laugh at being shit on and instead get angry? What if you laugh at the laundry and pretend it doesn’t exist? What if your kid hates white noise? What if you always fail to react appropriately and your kid is scarred by your inability to respond the correct way to any situation? What if your 5 month old who you assume doesn’t really understand your words actually does and comprehends you loudly professing pure hatred for people who voted for Trump? What if he wonders about making the “wrong” choice because he fears his father will be angry about it and as such, I have already stunted his ability to develop fully as a human being?

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Hate is an easy word to sling around, but a hard word to truly mean. I may say I hate bananas, but I have no emotional weight behind that statement and nor do I wish to eradicate them from existence. I don’t think I hate all Trump voters, not in the way that white supremacists hate minorities. I tried for a few months after the election to understand: upper middle class people wanting tax cuts; business people wanting tax cuts; religious people wanting Roe v. Wade overturned; unemployed wanting to believe jobs could come back. Yet, to me, none of those things outweigh overt racism in importance, and Trump has dogwhistled himself into the KKK’s favor, and that isn’t a new development post-election. If you cared about one of those issues and ignored Trump’s actual language, then you chose those things over goodwill to your fellow humans. You believed a tax cut was more important than treating people with respect and you did so with clear vision because Trump was, and is, never subtle. I will never respect a racist, but they knew what they wanted and they didn’t hide behind policy ideals.

I don’t want to teach my son hate. And hating a person based on who they voted for is an absurd stance to take. But I struggle with delineating between the voter and the vote. I am friends with people who voted for Trump, and some of them have attempted to have an actual dialogue with me about politics. They mostly end with some version of, “we are never going to agree, are we?” But, the struggle for me, I realize, is saying I have Trump voters as friends is basically like the white nationalist saying he has a black friend. I know a few and like them as people, but as a voting bloc, they congeal into a stereotype of Angry White Nationalist against whom I feel compelled to rail about their lack of awareness and stupidity in voting against their own interests. And I can only fathom this bloc in its entirety as one who voted because of racism. And anyone who says they they weren’t motivated by racism had to ignore the racism to get to their voting choice. And it is a circle of thought that I work around and around as I try to separate individual choice with voting bloc stereotype with foolish / blatant plausible deniability by people who I believe should have known better.

Am I then complicit in the proliferation of hate and am I incapable of teaching my son how to handle a variety of opposing view points? What would it mean to hand this down? Or what if I end up in a Family Ties situation, with my son going full Alex P. Keaton, Ronald Reagan worshipper as a rebellion against his hippie parents? Will I be capable of understanding him? Why is this essay 50% questions? And what is the definition of success in all of this?

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Being a new parent and being a citizen during the reign of Trump have startling similarities: I am at all times unsure of what is going to happen next; I am apprehensive and anxious about the future, wanting it to arrive soon yet fearful about what it means to have the days unfold—is he healthy? Is he happy? Will he learn to undo his diaper and smear shit on the wall? Will he nuke North Korea? Will he nuke the Middle East? It’s impossible to predict reactions. I don’t know what sounds / eventual words/ emotions will be emitted from one moment to the next. They both feel placated by immediate gratification of their desires; they both throw tantrums when said desires go unfulfilled. I am, but I am not, calling Trump a baby; I am, instead, sitting in wonder at how these stresses build on top of each other, growing into a cohesive monster of questions and fears and wonder, in its most primal sense. I expected to be stressed out about how my son sleeps; I did not expect to be stressed out about whether or not World War 3 will commence because the president is a poor sleeper addicted to Twitter. Least of all, I did not expect to be stressed about how to raise a child in an environment that will both support him for being white and male, while expose him to the bigotry that has now been given a presidential platform. While, in generality, we all know we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, that feeling heightens dramatically as a new parent and as a US citizen under Trump and as an angry person trying to develop better ways to express that emotion. Trump leads to anger leads to concerns about expression leads to questions about being a father leads to frustration with blame placed entirely on Trump / GOP and around we go, and the thought process makes me question what I should consider important enough to care about: Trump? Racism? Health care? Moving? Work? Being a dad? Opposing view points? Paul Ryan’s evilness? Newt Gingrich being given a prominent platform to spew bullshit?

In its simplest form, my feelings are this: I believe the people who live around me and who have turned the county and the state red are fools. But being called a fool does not build bridges. And I don’t know how my to teach my son construction. So I worry. And I watch. And I spend as much time as I can making him laugh now because I know we don’t fit in here, even though this is home. And having a home is the reason this fight exists in the first place: who gets to call this country home and who gets to decide that answer. And it doesn’t matter if we leave—this town, this state, this country—we as parents will always confront these issues in some form; I just never imagined them compounding in such a way, with enlightenment more a war than a state of mind; I never imagined all of these things happening at once; and, mostly, I never imagined bringing home a new born baby and realizing that all we can build is a foundation and hope each day that it stays supportive.

#36: a brief sentence

Here’s the crux: the anti-Trumpers expect the pro-Trumpers to realize their folly, either now or later, to admit they were wrong, but the pro-Trumpers either don’t believe they are wrong or cannot actually admit they’re wrong because to do so is too humbling, just like pro-Bernie people cannot admit that Bernie would not have won the Presidency, and, thus, they must still yell about the DNC; admitting wrong-ness, or fault, would indicate a breach of responsibility, and, thus, we have elected a man (and his minions) who will do everything he can, with the backing of an entire political party, to dismantle government as we know it and to accelerate the destruction of our climate, because it is easier to make a traditional dollar now than it is to make the world better for a future generation; people don’t have to realize their folly because they will be dead before it truly matters, and, so, we are too scared to admit we’re wrong and we’re too selfish to care beyond right now.

#35: on clouds

[a brief explanation, which acts as throat clearing for me: my youngest sister has requested I write more. In turn, I told her to give me topics. She suggested the previous post. Then this conversation happened:
me: What’s the next topic?
her: Clouds.
me: what the hell kind of topic is that?
And, thus: scene]

You could, of course, attempt something dramatic and Romantic, in the ‘Keats and Byron and Wordsworth’ version of the word, with sweeping gestures to dreams.

You could, instead, look at it as a giant research project, looking into types of clouds and making links to your own life.

Or, you could never reference clouds at all. Make people believe you are, in some wildly subtle way, using the very idea of clouds to underwrite a personal story.

Really, and most obviously, what you want is to basically do all of the above, something lovely and researched that connects dots and lives and random cultural references, but to do so in a way that doesn’t feel forced or I Am Writing Something Epic Here. And you realize, right at that moment, that this is what you always want to do, and it is why you don’t write often.

Instead, you remember the time you sat on the steps of the school down the street from your grandparents’ house, the one you stood in front of waiting for the bus to your own school, and you realized how much you enjoyed removing small rocks from the soles of your shoes.

Because that makes sense.


According the the UCAR Center for Science Education website, there are 8 types of clouds, based on shape and altitude height: cirrocumulus, cirrus, cumulonimbus, altocumulus, altostatus, stratocumulus, cumulus, and stratus. The notion that we have 8 versions of the word ‘cloud’ probably means the bureaucracy has grown too large.

The most popular, or at least most recognizable, are cumulus clouds–they of the puffy white dollop against blue in which we see shapes and where Peter Pan sits.

Is it weird for there to be a ‘most popular’ cloud? It is weird for there to be a most popular cloud. Is it weird to enjoy removing small stones from the soles of your shoes? It is weird to enjoy removing small stones from the soles of your shoes.


For a significant part of my life, I have had a Westerner’s inappropriate obsession with ‘Zen,’ as though it is a thing and not a belief. I have read about it; I have pretended to understand it on a superficial level; I have, most of all, believed that understanding it would mean I’d be a happier person. I have looked at miniature ‘zen gardens’ online, told myself I should order one, and then, after much debate, finally admitted to myself I would never be able to actually handle maintaining one. Which, out of all of this, probably indicates that I could use true study of zen.

It’s easy, then, for the rocks-in-soles and cloud-staring to be adapted into this revelatory moment of Zen. Behold how I focus on this simple task and derive enjoyment of it! I am at one with myself! But here’s the real question, and it is, I think, the most important question of all: who the fuck is ‘myself’?

Here’s the rub: you will never answer that question. The idea of ‘self’ evolves daily; you are not, in any fashion, the same as 10 years ago, 3 months ago, or yesterday. The idea of being ‘one with yourself’ would mean waking up every day with a complete understanding of yourself, having the same thing happen at lunch, at dinner, and then before bed. Forever.

Maybe that’s a possibility. Maybe you need to believe it’s possible. Maybe you need to admit it’s possible to have an understanding of yourself without ever fully understanding yourself. The ‘of’ matters.

Let’s say you start a list. This list will be without much thought, rhyme, or reason. You call this list, ‘An Unabridged and Unthought List of Things I Like.’ It goes something like this:

Sunshine
The smell of cooking onions
Free Energy’s albums
Cassette tapes
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert
Vineyard Vines clothes

What would this list look like five years ago, without adding things?
Sunshine
The smell of cooking onions
Cassette tapes
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert (in abstraction)

What would this list look like 15 years ago, without adding things?
Sunshine
College football
Hot dogs
Peanut butter milkshakes
The desert (in abstraction)

Imagine you could write a complete list for yourself today. And then write a complete list from 5 years ago, from 15 years ago. And imagine how you would fail to recognize yourself if you were confronted with your younger self. Most of all, imagine your younger self would be capable of knowing how s/he would change to become you. Would it still be possible to be you?


So, what matters to me? What understanding do I have of myself? Based on that short list, it would appear my ideal situation would be tailgating at an Arizona State home football game.

But, is that who the fuck I am? Obviously not. It’s a short list, made shorter; its inherent flawed design means it’s merely a snapshot of myself; it’s not even possible to produce an ‘Unabridged and Unthought List of Things I like’ because the list would never end.

Therefore, I make decisions; I elect to frame myself according to some internal picture, and champion certain things I like at specific times. This is why the self is so goddamn frustrating: we are a millions of different selves with overlapping likes and dislikes; wants and wishes; attitudes and beliefs, etc., etc., etc. Your projection of self is entirely based on an internal compass of what’s necessary to project. You can’t be one with a million selves. You can only accept that your self adjusts.


When I was little, I used to think I could sit on clouds. They did so on cartoons; angels supposedly lived there. I relished fog because I thought if it got thick enough, I could sit on top of it. I couldn’t comprehend that planes could fly through one; I thought they had to avoid all clouds. When you start driving, you realize how much fog can disrupt your life. It’s a weird factor of adulthood, like discovering that snow days aren’t fun or that your basement getting water in it after a thunderstorm isn’t ‘an indoor pool.’

I started taking pictures of clouds once cell phones started having decent cameras. I would (and will), dangerously, attempt to snap photos from my car as I’m driving. I know this is stupid. I berate myself as I do this. But I am always a happier person later when I get to see the pictures I took. I have said to my wife, ‘This is a good cloud day.’ I used to think, like a young child would, that only I truly appreciated clouds in this way. Then I stumbled across ‘clouds’ on Pintrest. Turns out my snowflakeness is an incredibly popular internet / photo hobby.

I sometimes think about taking my camera and driving around for a while on a good cloud day, snapping photos as I go. But to do so would mean taking time away from other things and chores and dogs. I may bask in clouds, but life does not.

It’s hard, in a way, to be alive. I don’t mean that in some depressive way. I just mean, being alive means having a self, whatever or whoever that self may be. And having a self means having to make decisions, both simple and complex. Being alive means dealing with life. That sounds like one of those desperate attempts at being profound; what I really mean is, the only way to know you are dealing with something is to know that you are alive. It’s actually a way of simplifying all of your decisions: the decision process, as obvious as it is, demands you to be alive.

Understanding yourself, then, is actually meaningless. Understanding that you’re alive, however, is essential. Clouds, as far as I can tell, just float.

#34: in which I am tasked with defining ‘happy’

I’ve started this roughly 10 times. Typically, as I’m falling asleep, I figure out how I would like to approach this. Then I fall asleep. And by the morning, I remember none of it. The key stipulation here, as dictated by my youngest sister, is that I cannot reference family or friends.

I am, either by nature or by creation or, perhaps, by both, a cynic. However, it is, to coin a phrase, a dynamic cynicism, in that, I represent the following dichotomy: I excel at righteous anger, and righteous anger needs negative things to even exist; and, yet, I am a dreamer, a fount of ideas and aspirations that have no grounding whatsoever in reality. This means happiness, in any form, must overcome two fronts: the search for negativity to fulfill my daily quote of indignation, as well as my failure to live up to the dreams concocted in my head.

Happiness is a complex emotion; to find happiness is to celebrate something without regard for how others view it. It is impossible to examine happiness without, to some capacity, examining lack of self-awareness, which is an inherent oxymoron. This means, at its core, happiness is an expression of unsolicited self-ignorance created entirely by a true and real feeling about something. Which, granted, sounds somewhat terrible and definitely sounds like nonsense. But perhaps that is because the idea of any unsolicited emotion runs counter to a cynic’s belief. As a cynic, you are reacting to the world around you by questioning it; happiness, while a reaction to something, does not question  what prompted it.

I have often ignored the idea of happiness in exchange for the pursuit of contentment; it seems like a much more attainable goal. The difference exists in its lack of upward mobility: I am content, therefore this is okay. As a sentence it seems dismal; as a life goal, it feels shockingly simple, a way to say to oneself that while not everything is going well–a job, a relationship, a whatever–it is still possible to say things are all right.

Contentment, you see, is denial–a denial of self in order to satisfy the cynic’s belief that things could, and probably should, and most definitely will, be worse.

Ignore for the moment the impossibility of attaining contentment when you feel the world always on the precipice of disappointing you, and consider: in what way is John Lennon’s “Imagine” a good song?

“Imagine” exists solely as the last gasp breath of the hippies. You may want to believe in the possibility of the song, but no one actually does without being made fun of by other people. The idea of imagining a supposedly better world where everyone gets along is incomprehensible because dissonance between people is natural. The idea that happiness or world peace or brotherly love or whatever can exist simply if we imagine it, if we try hard enough to stay positive, does not match the civilization that humanity has created for itself. It’s not that it’s wrong or that it’s right; it’s that such belief imagines a humanity that has never existed.

The question that “Imagine” then forces is: Are we fools for not believing in it or are we idiots for doing so?

And no matter how you approach that question, it is impossible for “Imagine” to be anything other than overwrought dynamic cynicism. It is not a good song. It’s a big dream that Lennon had no intention of attaining; it is Lennon in his Working Class Hero t-shirt–a model of want, not will or real.

This does not mean it’s impossible to make the world a better place; it means that making the world a better place isn’t a dream or a pop song; it is, instead, a fight against both cynicism and contentment, which means, making the world a better place is the fight for happiness–a better world is a world in which people have unguarded celebratory reactions to the world around them.


As Donald Trump spoke last night in what people continue to call “presidential” tones, I sat on my couch screaming rather incoherently at the television while my wife probably debated if a dog muzzle would fit on me.

1) There is nothing presidential about not sounding unhinged for once.
2) Trump still managed to be racist as ever (like, VOICE. Because only immigrants commit crimes).
3) Trump still has no idea about any actual policy plan, and that appears to be his governing plan.
4) Trump is proof that contentment has a ceiling.

Rage / Anger is by far the easiest expressed emotion. It requires no actual thought. To be controlled by anger is to be controlled by nothing; you are hampered by anger only after the fact, if at all, if you bother with self-reflection. Anger is the base human emotion, and it drives most of civilization.

Trump’s ascendance to the White House has been exhaustively covered by the media. Everyone wants to talk about the forgotten white people in forgotten industrial towns. It’s a chance for the media to celebrate whiteness without having to justify it; it allows the angry white man to be celebrated for his determination to challenge the status quo or whatever other bullshit drivel the media keeps pumping out. Black Lives Matter, a group fighting for the mere recognition that an entire population of people, based on genetics which determine skin tone, have been forgotten, are labeled as terrorists; white people whose class status has changed because, in large part, of policies crafted by the very people they keep voting for, are part of a ‘revolution,’ according to our president.

But what all of this really is a group of enraged people wailed enough to get what they think they want, and, in turn, we get a seismic shift in the international order.

It’s easy to be angry because it’s easy to feel like all that emotional rush amounts to change. But, in reality, anger soothes only for the moment, and after the moment, the consequences must be reckoned with. And, far too often, we have no idea how to deal with the consequences because to do so requires we actually stop and think. And anger requires no thought. Thought requires time; it requires patience; it requires self-awareness; it requires an awareness of the world around you; it, most of all, requires you recognize the impact decisions you make have on multiple levels: yourself, those around you, and those who you will never meet.

The hard part is this: screaming incoherently at Trump made me feel better about myself in that moment. But it did nothing to improve the world for my soon-to-be-born child. And if I do want an improved world for my child, then I cannot believe in contentment; I must believe in happiness.


If I exclude family and friends as drivers of my happiness, as I’m supposed to for this piece, then I think the happiest I have ever been was sitting on a ledge at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona, AZ. I had never been to Arizona before, but I had long believed for whatever reason that it was a place I belonged. I struggle with the Winter Blues (immensely) and the idea of place filled with sunshine seemed like a logical landing point for me.

However, I did not expect to be overwhelmed to such a degree. As I sat on that ledge with G., I stared at the red rocks and green shrubbery and insane blue sky and realized that for the first time in my life, I understood the phrase, ‘this is home.’ It was an immense feeling, matched only by marrying G. (sorry, Hannah, I’m going to cheat a little here). And I realized that happiness, for me, is the creation of ‘home,’ by way of finding the pieces of the world that fit accordingly with myself: the desert sky; a day spent golfing; a Saturday filled with college football; a really good hamburger; a Coca-Cola after swearing I would stop drinking it.


The strength of anger is that no matter how destructive, you can always justify it by saying it’s ‘how you feel.’ You ‘feel’ that immigrants are stealing jobs–even though the large percentage of them accept jobs no American actually wants–so you’re justified in feeling angry about them and demand a wall be built and demand they be deported. You ignore the economic ramifications; you ignore the increased cost of goods caused by your anger; you ignore the way you have been fooled into blaming The Others for choices made by the wealthy to continue to enrich themselves. But it’s cathartic to yell and to blame; it’s a release because to look at ourselves would be too revealing.

I screamed at Donald Trump, but when I woke up this morning, he was still President. The only way to change that is to stop screaming and to start making a difference. Dynamic cynicism here means only that I dream of a better United States and expect the worst for Trump’s presidency. Tell me, what exactly does that accomplish?

#33: a Dystopian Conspiracy Theory

  1. Russia uses its military in Syria, under the guise of fighting terrorism, to greatly increase refugee movement into Europe and the United States.
  2. Saudi Arabia, in a show of force against Iran, continues to bomb Yemen.
  3. Iran, with Russia’s implicit backing, continues to use Yemen as a proxy against Saudi Arabia, knowing that doing so increases the refugee pressure on the West.
  4. This refugee pressure, combined with the continued economic regression, starts to fray the social contract of the United Nations / NATO / European Union.
  5. Emboldened by the success of discreetly supporting Brexit, Putin moves to affect other elections / decisions.
  6. Using the leverage he has on Donald Trump because of the massive amount of debt Trump owes Russian banks / oligarchs / government combined with the successful false information campaign against the Democrats during the election, Putin secures the United States will look away as he takes over the Ukraine.
  7. The domino elections of right-wing populists in major European countries dooms Eastern Europe to the new Soviet Union.
  8. China, realizing a) there is a giant power vacuum on the world stage and b) suddenly concerned about Russia moving into it, breaks off relations with Russia.
  9. Russia consolidates power with Eastern Europe and Iran-favored Middle Eastern Countries.
  10. China, on the other hand, consolidates power with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and other such-leaning Middle East countries as well as a significant number of African countries.
  11. As England attempts to re-orient itself in the post-Brexit market, its power is further diminished with the collapse of the western Europe trade block.
  12. Dubai becomes the new London, as most financial power brokers relocate out of Europe.
  13. China spends hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects in Africa in exchange for getting to exploit countries’ natural resources. The African Union morphs into a China-esque capitalist communism.
  14. Western European countries are forced to agree to a trade plan with the new Russian Union.
  15. The United States, following an extensive protectionist program, continues to suffer a dramatic recession, with its number one trading partner, Canada, electing to agree to a Pacific Rim trade agreement written by China.
  16. After gutting the EPA, the United States can not keep up with the constant contamination of drinking water, thus creating water wars between states; after multiple oil pipeline leaks destroy drinking water aquifers, the United States is unable to provide sufficient drinking water to its population.
  17. South America, unsure of its economic role in this changing landscape as exports of natural resources to China have been greatly reduced now that China has increased its exports from Africa, starts to compete with south Asian countries (Vietnam, Philippines) for low wage production companies.
  18. The United States, in a desperate attempt to change course, try to put together a trade agreement with Central / South America, Japan, and South Korea.
  19. With no NATO and no United Nations, Putin’s Russia successfully neuters any opposition to the new Russia Union oligarchy, and is able to secure natural gas and oil deals with most of western Europe.
  20. China and Russia begin a new Cold War.
  21. The United States is forced to sign a trade agreement with China because of China’s massive U.S. debt holdings, and, thus, is required to back China in the Cold War against Russia.
  22. With so much infighting between countries, no international cooperation through the U.N. or NATO, and all attempts to create economic success a race to the bottom in regards to taxes, safety and health regulations, and worker rights, climate change accelerates at twice the predicted pace, with a significant portion of the world’s population seeing a steep decline in health and life span.
  23. Nobody apologizes and, instead, puts the blame anywhere they can.
  24. Hate crimes aren’t listed as hate crimes any more because they are too common.
  25. Somebody writes an updated novel called 2084. It’s also sold in the non-fiction section.

#32: A Manifesto, of sorts (part one?)

It seems impossible to believe that the United States has descended into an argument over the meaning of ‘fact’ and ‘lie;’ it seems even more impossible that a man who celebrates his bankruptcies as smart business maneuvering is president because people think he will successfully businessfy the government and somehow make us great again; and, yet, these same people will tell you that America is the greatest country in the world; and yet, to point out this illogical leap is to invite lectures on how our country has nearly descended into the chaos of Venezuelan dictatorship cloaked under the guise of socialism because we don’t seem to understand 1) the definition of ‘socialism;’ 2) logical fallacies; and, probably most damning, 3) how government works. A government is not a business; it does not have shareholders, and its goals should not be to create wealth for itself. Instead, it should maximize its ability to create opportunities for its people to create wealth and to protect those people. Efficiency does not mean small-government. And, most of all, success should never be measured solely on a short-term horizon; that’s called greed.

The hard part of constructive dialogue after Trump’s election is this: hypocrisy. Republicans spent 8 years trying to delegitimize President Obama, by openly or subtly accepting birthirism; openly saying they were going to refuse to work with him or the Democrats in the hope he would not be re-elected; breaking standards of congressional conduct–shutting down the government, refusing to even entertain his Supreme Court nominee, etc. They did this because it was convenient for them; they did this because partisanship keeps them in office, country be damned. But now, they want to complain about protests; they want to say we need to move past the possible outside influence on our election process. 8 states want to ban protesting, including North Dakota who wants to make it okay to run over protestors with your car, and, yet, they howled that the government would dare intervene when a group of people took over government property, with guns, and refused to leave. That’s an okay protest, apparently.

They say they believe in the Constitution, and then ignore it when it suits them–torture, due process, voting rights, these things are only important when it involves the appropriate citizen: white. male. Hypocrisy is saying they defend the working class and then: Right to Work laws; refusal to expand Medicaid; taking away health care; giving more rights to employers than employees; tax cuts for the wealthy; the demonization of government programs that help the poor and needy; the demonization of education and teachers; the demonization of government programs that protect the environment, and, thus, citizens health; the demonization of The Other; the rank hypocrisy of demanding the federal government stay out of state rights, but states having no such problem taking rights away from cities.

The United States does not just suffer from systemic racism; it suffers from systemic classism; we have, purposefully, created an unacknowledged caste system, which is ignored through the proliferation of the idealized ‘American Dream.’ We float the American Dream in the same way we sell lottery tickets: a sucker’s chance that has periodically worked out for someone so we all can point at it and exclaim, ‘that could be me!’ as long as we ignore the growing data that shows it’s increasingly harder to move up in economic class; millennials are significantly behind their parents when it comes to economic opportunity, and, no, this has nothing to do with laziness; and that, essentially, your economic success in life is determined at birth. That’s a caste system. And it’s built into our society because it suits the people who are at the top. Which is how a caste system has to function.

It is also inevitable that machines will overtake a significant number of jobs. This is essential to the caste system, but, yet, ironically, it also means the end of capitalism. Capitalism’s existence depends entirely on a population’s ability to spend money. Technological advancements that remove even more jobs means even less money at the lower tier, which is, coincidentally, the tier upon which capitalism depends the most as it is the tier that churns through money, creating the quick purchase turnover necessary for businesses to succeed.

As such, I believe the following is not just a good idea, but a necessity: universal income. The government should eliminate Social Security, welfare, and Medicaid. In its place should be Medicare-for-all, with an 80/20 split and a guaranteed income for all citizens who have graduated high school. Private insurers can offer Medicare supplement plans to cover the 20%. While this creates a chasm between those who can afford the MSPs and those who can’t, that chasm already exists, and this gives everyone coverage at that 80%. Employers can also offer MSPs as part of a benefits package, and, as the rates will be lower, it will save money for businesses. The guaranteed income will be $2,000/month and $3,000/month for those who have retired, chained to the Republicans favorite tool, CPI to limit increases. This amount has nothing to do with annual income, and will be doled out to everyone who qualifies. In exchange, there will be no minimum wage, and there will be no paid parental leave; however, parental leave will be required to be guaranteed for a set amount of weeks.

Should you elect to waste all of your money and not work, I hope you know some good charities.

This does multiple things:
1) It acts as a defacto union. It presents a buffer that allows employees to negotiate pay and benefits, while at the same time creating the financial room for people to pursue jobs in typically underpaid arenas, like social work. Even without a minimum wage, employers will have to find ways to make their jobs attractive. Also, the $2,000 threshold does not de-incentivize work because it covers necessities, but does not in any way put people into a comfortable middle-class on its own.
2) It gives people who need it cash protection; it gives people who are a step below middle-class a push into middle-class and incentivizes capitalistic spending.
3) It can help better fund 401(k) accounts, so retirement is not just dependent on the G.I., especially as pensions continue to disappear and 401(k) accounts continue to be overwhelmingly underfunded.
4) It allows for more entrepreneurship, as people can better assume the risk of starting a new business knowing that they have guaranteed income. It also allows money to go directly into neighborhoods, gives people spending power, and facilitates growth in underserved areas.
5) Lowering the retirement age to 60 will encourage retirement without the downside of reduced benefits, thus opening up more jobs for recent graduates.

The left gets something they want: a poverty-attacking plan and health care coverage; the right gets some things they want: no minimum wage, no social security, no welfare, and no Medicaid. And it gives money to people to spend on goods and services necessary to maintain capitalism, while working to minimize the inherent caste system.

Efficiency of government, in turn, can come from streamlining the tax process, identifying wasteful spending, and holding government-backed projects accountable. Creating appropriate tax levels that somewhat lower than now could be possible if loopholes and deductions are eliminated. Essentially, working backward from 30% tax on all income, regardless of passive, etc., or something along those lines.

Instead of spending money on military equipment like planes and tanks that end up sitting in the desert rusting just because representatives want that pork for their region, spend the money to send those workers back to school to adapt their skills to infrastructure rebuilding: roads and bridges; outfitting buildings for earthquakes; updating our entire utility system which is woefully unprepared to endure an attack or a solar flare; and expanding renewable energy sources. These are all jobs that can’t be outsourced because they are all things right here. And they are necessary. Sending people back to school to adapt their current skill set is a necessary investment in the future.

We also don’t need the thousands of nuclear warheads that we maintain; the absurdity of having that many warheads is staggering. It is literally impossible to fire them all and expect humanity to exist afterward. We should be updating our military to be more precise, not in some humanity-defeating arms race that basically sets money on fire. The obsession with military size is outdated and narrow; our military should be judged on its effectiveness and precision. Having a million ships in the navy is irrelevant if, again, all that power essentially means the end of the world and if it is not capable of responding in a precise manner. We are so concerned with a show of force to prevent an attack that we don’t spend that time working on actual prevention; escalating arms races means eventual destruction.

Also, contracts accepted for government-funded projects should not be allowed to staggeringly increase in budget. The contracts should be honored, and any increase to the budget should have a thorough explanation and documentation. It is utterly ridiculous that the high speed train project in California has more than doubled in anticipated costs, especially considering its short track mileage. It’s an inexcusable drain on government spending and efficiency, and it limits our ability to improve our infrastructure, expand our mobility options, and create jobs.

Donald Trump and the Republican agenda is an attack–on governing, on poor people, on working people, and on the sick and elderly. They attack for the sake of supporting the rich, corporations, and large donors (which, typically, are some combination of those three). I do not believe Democratic agendas are inherently better; they suffer from the same lobbying foibles of the rich, corporations, and donors. I do not believe we can tax our way to prosperity. But I do believe it is possible to balance taxes with exhaustive investment in our people–on jobs, on education, on health, and, most importantly, on poverty.

What holds us back is threefold: an ingrained belief that government spending is a ‘handout;’ corporate short-sightedness that cares more about quarterly profit reports and duty to shareholders instead of employees and consumers; and an inability to see our nation as a fluid interface in which we all become responsible, in some way, of supporting those around us. We are selfish and greedy, and we have been told that it is only others who are actually like that.We ignore our own shortcomings while pointing out any that we can find in others–Ronald Reagan demonized welfare with the idea of ‘welfare queens,’ started by one woman who ripped off welfare. Our effort goes into discovering the few negative events and ignoring the ways in which our entitlement programs have helped lift up an incredible amount of people in the fight against poverty. We construct enemies because it is easier to blame the poor / the Other than it is to realize our country has failed to help us prepare for the technological changes in the work force and has also allowed corporations to dictate economic policy. You do not matter because there is no reason for you to matter, under these terms. That’s the caste system.

Capitalism needs corporations. But it also needs workers. It needs spenders. And the best way to get people to spend is to put money in their hands.Anything else is shortsighted.

#27: I’m Better Than You: a Narcissistic (non)Defense of My Inability to Try, part 1

[02/17/14]
The sun and blue sky lie about just how damn cold Ohio is right now. We will use this as a metaphor, a symbol, because we might as well. We will use this because such contradictions are apt for Joel. He awaits this interview with something akin to Tourrette’s–constant moving, feet bouncing up and down, an inability to stop touching his beard, to not use his hands when answering questions. He often stops talking during the middle of answers to shake his head. When asked about this particular tic, he says he can’t stop himself from finding ways to criticise his responses, which means he can never give a real response because all of his responses have been vetted through some sort of internal-as-external-voices process. The world, it seems, is always just about to break his words into atoms.
Even by appearances, he’s a bit of a contradiction: he wears v-neck sweaters and ties with Red Wing workboots to his job in insurance; his idea of comfort wear is a collared shirt, tie, and a zip-up hoodie. He swears by his boots. He can’t seem to decide if he wants to own a Ford Focus or F350. He fantasises about moving off the grid in Montana or moving to the beach on the Gulf Coast or moving to the desert in Arizona or moving to the perfect weather of San Diego or moving to Dubai because doing so would be, to him, some sort of defiant rebellion about what he’s not supposed to do. He makes no sense, and he’s all too aware of it. The awareness haunts him; it’s why he can’t answer questions without stopping–a crippling self-consciousness, not about what he does, but about what he says and how it could be construed and how it seems that ideas evolve in the middle of sentences. The world, he knows, never stops.

At one point in your life, all you wanted to do was be a quarterback, yet you never actually played organised football. Do you consider this a rather symbolic explanation of who you are?

I mean, I can’t really say no to that, can I? When I was young, I played football all of the time; when we lived in Pittsburgh, I would use a balled-up sock in the living room and throw passes to myself. When we moved, I would play in the front yard, being both teams, driving up and down the yard, throwing passes to myself, running hand-offs, narrating the action. I loved football. I would make my dad run patterns in the back yard. I wanted to be John Elway. I begged for these football uniform things that came with cheap helmets and cheap shoulder pads; I think they were in the JCPenney’s catalouge. My obsession with cleats and mouthpieces–had to have the same one as Bo Jackson–was a bit ridiculous. I remember one time in winter, I was walking somewhere with my mom and I wore a pair of my football pants; I kept telling her I had to get used to the cold just in case Green Bay drafted me. It was a serious consideration in my head.
Sports was easy when we lived there. I was a superior athlete, and I knew that. Like, the day of Little League tryouts, my dad walked me up to the field and on the way he basically told me not to be arrogant just because, even at 9, I was better at baseball than most of the older kids. I had been participating in Little League practices since I was 7, two years before I would even be allowed to be on the team. I never thought about it, but I still knew it, you know? But, there wasn’t a youth football league there. It was all backyard football. After my parents divorced and we moved back down to the Pittsburgh area, there was a youth football league, but I was no longer a superior athlete–I was a typical athlete, and suddenly football was scary–kids were bigger, I could get hurt, maybe I’m not good enough, etc. And I had no drive to challenge that fear and actually find out for myself. I chose to play youth basketball instead.

In the end, though, you quit on basketball as well. The only sports you never quit on were baseball and golf.

I guess it really depends on your version of quit. I didn’t quit playing baseball until I got too old to participate in proper leagues, but, I mean, I didn’t try to play in college or anything. And golf, I’ve continued to play to this day. I really like golf. But in both cases, I have let myself be content with my inherent abilities. Like, I was awesome at baseball, just awesome. But as I got older, I didn’t continue to be awesome because I never worked at it, I was just enough better than others to be considered ‘good.’ I didn’t do drills, train myself, or try to become better. I just allowed myself to be as good as I was inherently. That’s sad. It’s the same thing for golf–I never pushed my parents for actual lessons, I never tried to be any better than I was the first day I picked up a club. I got better over time just from playing, but that’s more to do with the benefits of just playing more often, not because I pushed myself.
Golf is a game I understand, psychologically, as in, it suits me. It’s a loner sport within the socialisation of competition. There’s power, there’s finesse, there’s mental adjustments to the course, the weather, the distance, etc. It involves walking, which, weirdly, I find to be soothing. But I’ve never wanted to be anything other than ‘decent enough.’ Or, rather, I’ve always wanted to be great, but not enough to actually try at it. I am, to this day, convinced that I could be great at golf, or that I could have been great at golf–that I could have played college, gone second-tier pro or something, with the ‘right training,’ that I should have convinced my parents to spend money on training and travelling and the sports pyschologists or whatever. It’s all rather naive of me, but I still think I could do that if I invested the necessary time and money. It’s like having a ghost follow you around everywhere: there’s this person who could have existed and I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about that ghost.
And the real sad part is, like, I gave up on organised basketball after 8th grade, but I still played all the time. It’s probably been my favourite sport to play. I particpated in intermurals in college every single semester and I loved it. And I was damn good, but I always had excuses for why I had quit in 8th grade–I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t part of the ‘basketball crew,’ I wasn’t going to given a fair shot, blahblahblah. Basically, I was a chickenshit, scared of what it meant to be challenged by other damn good players, and I could not handle the idea that I might fail. It was way easier to make jokes about practice getting in the way of my pot smoking than it was to risk failure. And so the ghosts just keep queuing up behind me. And I can’t stop myself from thinking that my views on my skills in any sport are way over-inflated, that I’m pulling an Al Bundy, creating grandious ghosts as some sort of bizarre excuse for that fear.

We pause. Joel almost looks like he’s smiling, like the only way to respond to himself is to find a way to laugh about it. The twitching continues, the legs move even faster and then suddenly stop. He stares down at his hands and just waits in silence. It’s hard to know how much of this is true; qualifying ‘good’ when it comes to sports is a difficult process. He says he remembers his dad saying he was ‘scary good’ at being a quarterback, but that’s not from an objective observer. He doesn’t have stats or figures or championships to back up any claim, and the way he stares at his hands almost looks like he thinks they, somehow, hold that objective truth.
The real truth is, sports aren’t an objective truth–the only clear truth in any game is winner and loser, and, yet, even that gets argued sometimes. We hear things about who should have won or a team should have lost a game because of mistakes, yet somehow didn’t. It’s as though sports cannot have any defintion, that the act of participating in a game means you have elected to join a fluid universe where subjective views will determine who you are. And that by moving in the fluidity, you will never be able to assess yourself because the only opinions that matter are other people’s.