Ten years ago:

These conversations are hard to have without making a short note about self-identity, so maybe I should start there. By the time I had washed up at my brother's apartment in Holland, I was in the midst of existential despair. The things that I thought I was had been utterly destroyed by the previous six months, and I was left trying to resolve how those beliefs had been so vulnerable. I was starting from scratch again, and the shaky first steps into rediscovering myself were negotiated and painful.

Growing up in one Dutch-American community and moving into another Dutch-American community seems like it should be an easy transition. But there were two factors that prevented this from happening: I had spent the previous few years rejecting large swaths of my upbringing, and this community tended to highlight and celebrate those parts I had done away with. There was no way I was going to be able to get along out there without an overtly cynical perceptive hovering over every interaction. Since this was by far the easiest thing to grasp in my current shape, it was the one thing that I militantly held on to for the remainder of my stay. I'm sure it was annoying as hell for anyone that I tried to interact with, and I'm happy to say that my jingoistic side has mellowed somewhat over the many years since.

The other thing I held for my identity was probably more damaging than the first: I decided to embrace being broken. After all that crap that I went through, I decided that I might as well make de facto aspects of my life more internal and defined. Down this path lies madness obviously, which was something I would end up fighting over and over in the coming months.

But both of these were baby steps I suppose, and I'm having a hard time truly finding fault in them even now. Sometimes all we can do is grab around in the dark.

 


 

My greatest fear in those days was being unable to find a job. First of all, western Michigan wasn't a hotbed of employment opportunities just then, as companies like Herman Miller and Johnson Controls were systematically eliminating positions year after year. To make things worse, I felt that I was largely unemployable at that time: high school diploma, and a job history that included lackey mall work and a string of work study type jobs from college. I had no practical experience in a traditional workplace, and the idea of having a job where I could sit in a chair and use my brain seemed so far away that I didn't even make an attempt at one. Also, my transportation options were limited to Holland's crummy bus service, and bumming rides from people.

I spent about a week handing out resumes and filling out applications at places where I thought I would have a decent shot. I walked up to 8th Street and milled around, chain smoking in the cold, before hopping a bus up to Westshore Mall and trying not to let the idea of living the mall life again depress me too much. At the end of the day I would head back to the house, actually eat a regular dinner for the first time in years, and hope that I would eventually hear back from someone. Looking for a job is inherently a morale-crushing experience, but I told myself that this was part of the price to pay by making the choice to move out here, and that in exchange I knew exactly where I was going to sleep for the next few weeks.

To my surprise, it didn't take all that long. Within the first two days, the Walgreens on 16th and River had called, seemingly desperate to have me in for an interview. Dork that I am, I put on my suit and walked over there, where an overenthusiastic store manager eschewed the interview to instead drone on about "growth opportunities" and "management potential". In the mental state I was in I was happy to just have the work, and accepted a job in the photo lab on the spot. I justified this with the firm belief that I could easily walk right out of the store if another opportunity came up.

 


 

When I found myself with extra time, I was focusing on physical things. When I had left Michigan the first time, I had left a bunch of boxes behind because I couldn't come up with a practical way of moving them back across the country. Going through them that first week was a twisted nostalgic Christmas, full of mostly forgotten things. I imagine that some of those items were repacked in boxes that are now sitting in my basement today, once again lost to the pile of clutter.

There were also things in there that I would have been better off never seeing again: love notes and little trinkets from relationships long dark and cold, ideas that I had in college that had faded into dust, mementos from moments that I would have preferred never happening in the first place. Those things were destroyed mercilessly on discovery, and another layer of revisionist history was placed on my life. That purge was healthy for me at the time, and the causalities piling up beside each newly opened box was a reclamation of my life up to that point.

Even though I was staying with my brother and his wife, and didn't yet have any money of my own just yet, they took me out and bought me some furniture. I bought an actual desk, and just enough parts to get an old computer up and running. As little as this little act might seem, it was the first time in a long time that I went out and bought durable goods, and the action itself was dizzying and full of guilt. After being in survival mode for so long, spending money on things that didn't directly contribute to my day-to-day survival felt incredibly decadent. In the end it took me nearly three years to get to the point where I could buy something for myself without having wave after wave of anxiety wash over me. Assembling that desk in my room later, I cursed myself out for thinking that this was such a good idea.

But later that night, trying to get to sleep while staring at this thing that would certainly ruin me, I discovered that this was probably a good sign after all. This was a part of the progress I was hoping to make by coming out here in the first place. I owed more money by purchasing it, but this was a symbol of the permanence that I was looking to build. I was finally able to sleep after swallowing that idea.

 


 

Despite the panic and the anxiety that I was facing, I actually did a pretty good job of not drinking so damn much those first few weeks. I don't want to hit on this too hard, as my struggle with drinking never reached any sort of critical depth that would normally be associated with a problem like this. I never developed a physical dependence for it, but it was certainly my primary way of dealing with my brain racing out of control.

The idea of tanking myself in that house was embarrassing, so instead I watched my brain play a loop of all of the terrible things I had done in my life: traumatizing moments, faux-pas, miscommunications. This is not only mentally uncomfortable but physically taxing as well, as each idea that popped onto that loop caused me to shudder, sometimes groan with panic and anger and self-loathing. I now know that I am not alone on this trip at all, but at the time I thought that this was only happening in my head. It was a sign of a problem that was unsolvable, and I would let it consume me for hours on end.

It was the first time in a long time that I let this loop run instead of reaching for something to make my brain shut the hell up. Facing it was terrible, and made getting out of bed in the morning staggeringly difficult. But I had a determination not to fuck things up because of my brain, if only because I was living in a place where the people were expecting real things from me. Descending into the madness I had been living in was going to ruin what seemed like that last good chance to get out of that world. So I did try to pull myself together, pleading with my brain to defer the torture until later when I was alone. I wasn't successful all of the time, but when I was able to cut through it I did okay for a while.

I wish I could say that I've taken care of that problem all of these years later. I'm a lot better than I was, but some days see me sinking back into those depths. At this point, I'm just glad it doesn't constantly remove me from reality the way it once did.

 

Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
Previous: November 4, 2009 <|> Next: November 22, 2009

The time is coming
The stress is building
A year is ending
Your friends are leaving

The tension is clear
You're held tense in fear
...Exam time is here

The young man punctuated the end of his speech by slamming a now-empty glass down on the bench beside him. Maybe his head was starting to go screwy on him, he wasn't sure. His mother looked up from the meal she was preparing, and turned a curious eye on him as he followed this up by muttering, "I survived year twelve... just". Looking back at her with a fiery, almost defiant gaze, his lips set in a grim, straight line. As he walked away from the kitchen, hands thrust deep in his pockets, the lady shrugged, clearly having no idea what he was referring to.

The lad retired to his room, and buried his head in a calculus textbook. He mused to himself, if sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll were the world's biggest problems, seeing his best friend graduate from high school should be nothing.

This is not the end, it's just the beginning.

Ask the dealership for an overnight test-drive. Newer black 5-series. They said "okay".
Stop at the Four Seasons; enter the sparsely populated dining room and begin playing the Kawai grand piano. Notice grim faces on large silver-haired men in suits entering the room. They speak to one another on their headsets, although they are no more than ten feet apart. Grim faces soon beget pleasant acceptance and jovial conversation. An older woman draped in a black couture dress and a dense batch of rhinoplasty reaches for her Sasquatched husband for a quick tango towards the exit; his plodding feet just trudge along and out the glass door.
Step out and up the marv white marble staircase with gold anodized handrail fixed-against a beveled mirror which almost obtrusively reflects faux gas lights which beam from the numerous Dynasty chandeliers. It's quite a tasteful array of mauve and teal furniture juxtaposed against gilt lanterns and an atrium condensed with fake orchids. The mood is right for my bat-shit technique. I look-up to smiling faces and receive a quiet round of applause when I leave.
Traverse two floors down into lobby while acquiring vast amounts of stationary inside the antique decor hutches.
Head to this weeks "cool new place." Order an old-fashioned, play third-wheel and bolt.
I can only think of her; my insides twist with loneliness with every woman whose eye I inadvertently catch.
I am simply not there to some people. Others gravitate... oft disconcertingly.
Four in the morning. Empty toll road, no change. Fuck all else.
This baby purrs like a cheetah in heat as I run through the electronic gear box; she runs through the herd like Tony Dorsett coated with fresh Crisco and Astro-Glide.
Tickle the 145 mph mark on the tasteful minimalist red speedometer - notice there's another grand left on the odometer in fifth.
I engage the lamentable and inane puss-out before I even attempt sixth.
I wonder if customers know that jamming the accelerator with the force of a righteously indignant dick-kick actually makes the car reciprocate with corneal vibrating performance.
She's beautiful, and I love her - but she'll never be mine.
Just like always.
Sometimes I just have to touch.
Someday I'll not have to give it all back.
Someday this all might make sense.

The Theory of Selective Consciousness

There is a general assumption that is made by scientists and lay people alike. What is this assumption, well; it is the assumption that a given life form is either conscious or unconscious. Subsequently when testing for consciousness, this assumption causes a few problems. The most widely accepted test for consciousness amongst scientists is the mirror test. Essentially, a dot is placed on the subject and then a mirror is shown to the subject. If the subject starts treating it’s reflection like another subject, so going behind the mirror to look for “it” or even attacking its image, the subject will have failed. If however the subject notices the dot, then the subject has passes. How does it work, well if they are unconscious they are unable to think, so if they see there reflection they automatically respond to the image as they would another of their kind, and fail to notice that there’s something awry. However, if they are conscious, then they can think, so when they see their reflection they may start responding to it like one of their own king but then they’ll think “Hey, this guy’s doing everything I do...Heh, am I seeing my limb double...This is me, how the hell does that happen...Oh I’ve got a weird spot on me.”

It is quite an imaginative experiment, but there are some anomalies. For example, if a chicken looked at themselves in the mirror, judging from other Galliformes, it would probably peck at the mirror until it broke. However, chickens are also capable of solving problems by learning from their mistakes and the mistakes of others. For example, when a mother hen and her chicks are strolling around, and some dog or other predatory animal starts staring at them, the mother hen will call the alarm, the chicks will get into single file behind her and then they will head for safety. One day whilst observing this, I noticed that some of the chicks had gone on ahead of the others. To reach safety they had to get pass a metal gate. One of the chicks tried jumping over a bar of the gate, but failed, then decided to go under the bar like the others, and all of the chicks that came after him went under the bar. Considering that at least some amount of thinking had to be done in order to achieve what happened, why would they then fail a test designed to tell whether you can think or not.

The answer lies with the assumption that life forms are either conscious or unconscious. The answer to this paradox above is my personal theory of selective consciousness. Essentially, most of the time, a chicken would be unconscious, however; if they needed to solve a problem in order to save their life or become free, they will momentarily become conscious in order to figure out how to do it, then become unconscious again once its been done. Another option for how selective consciousness works is that they become conscious when entering a highly repetitive activity then becomes conscious when they have to change activities. If this is the case, then when a chicken looks at itself in the mirror, it would think its another chicken, which is staring at it which is a threatening sign amongst most animals, attack its image, then enter a highly repetitive rhythm of pecking, become unconscious since it’s a repetitive activity then as a result, never figure out that that reflection was them self.

This is simply a hypothesis, to become a theory it would need evidence from experiments. Recently an improved test for consciousness has come about, based around studies of people’s brain activity when awake and asleep. Essentially, when conscious, all the different parts of your brain are activated, with even parts of the Brain becoming active without being touched by the area of activity. When unconscious, the activity remains localised within an area of the brain. This has been observed by placing censors on peoples head, giving them tiny electric shocks in areas of the head, then the censors measure and map out how that electricity travels. As a way of looking for selective consciousness in chickens or other animals, you would do the same experiment, but rather than measuring when asleep or awake, you’d measure whilst going around pecking and similar low maintenance activities and when their doing a problem solving activity.

I am sure that selective consciousness is a valid hypothesis.

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