Soul-Stealing Lenses

It was maybe the summer before 7th grade when I first visited the East Coast. My mother and I, along with her side of the family, stayed at my uncle’s house in Virginia for about a week. Apart from sightseeing and family bonding, the trip was pretty uneventful.

On one particular day, we planned a trip up to some beach in Maryland. It would be like a 2-hour drive, but my cousins and I were pretty excited to be doing something outside of the house. We put on our swim trunks and packed all the necessities expecting to make a whole day out of it. I didn’t care how long and boring the ride up would be because I fucking loved playing in water.

When we got there, the family went immediately for the shops. Of course, nobody was going to buy anything aside from sandals, but still everybody took their time looking through the same stores we had back home expecting to find something different.

I don’t know how much time passed before we actually touched the sand, but my cousins and I were all getting antsy. Our parents had us stop every-so-often to take our pictures along the storefronts to memorialize our time window shopping.

I don’t recall what the beach looked like, but I do know I felt overcome with relief and excitement when it came into view because my cousins all shared the same sentiment. We were pretty fucking pumped to drink sea water and dig aimlessly for trash and treasure.

Before we got the chance, my mother and her sisters had us line up for a couple pictures in front of the water. I was impatient, but I didn’t mind too much. I was just happy to be there.

After a couple clicks of the camera, our parents told us it was getting too late to stay any longer. We picked up our still-packed gear and left for Virginia.

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Ignoring Crying Children

In the summer before my senior year of high school, I worked as a volunteer teacher’s assistant at a local preschool. My school required everyone to do at least 20 hours of community service every year, and I figured I could just knock out the rest of mine in a week. All I had to do was watch and rally the kids throughout the day. The teachers did the real work: changing diapers, breaking up toddler fights, talking to hardened parents about how terrible their kids were. Between having a few teachers close-ish to my age and not being fucked with by regularly rowdy children, I actually enjoyed being there. I enjoyed it so much I spent my entire summer working full daycare hours.

I still don’t know shit about handling children, but I have maybe one significant takeaway from the whole ordeal.

Even though I remember watching it, I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I’m pretty sure this 3-year old girl, Roxy, fell off a bench during playtime. She immediately started bawling, and a teacher and I came to lift her up off the concrete. She held her elbow as we were asking her questions, not communicating much else through her sobs.

We looked her over and found zero scratches.

The teacher I was with wandered off to keep watch over the other kids. Roxy was still crying, so I stuck around to make sure she was ok.

Every minute or so, I’d ask her what was wrong. She’d look at me for a second, crying just as hard as when she started, and let her eyes wander as if I’d never asked the question.

I wasn’t sure what protocol was, so I stayed with her thinking I could figure out some way to just get her to stop.

After a few minutes of this, the teacher came back around, and I shyly asked her what to do.

“Just ignore her.” It sounded bizarre to me in the moment, but she said it with the snarky confidence of a teacher that did actually deal with this minor bullshit all the time.

So, I left Roxy standing in the same spot we helped her up from and took a seat on a bench a couple steps away. I watched the rest of the children crash their toy trucks in the sand and talk preschool shit to each other. She was still crying, but I overcame my overwhelming sense of responsibility for the weak and vulnerable and I ignored that crying child.

It was probably only a minute afterwards when I heard her crying die down, and I turned maybe a half-second later to see a dry-faced Roxy walking towards the other children.

Picky Eater

I remember my older cousin being very vocal about his dislike for mushrooms when we were younger, and I remember following suit. It probably stemmed from the classic childhood distaste for vegetables in general, but we really pulled out every excuse we could to avoid them. Our family had told us that eating burnt food caused cancer, and my cousin and I used this as an excuse to pick out all the mushrooms from our plates. We would just refuse to eat the leftover pile out of principle even after our parents corrected our ignorance.

I remember going over to my cousin’s house one day at some point into this phase and seeing a cheese and mushroom pizza on a table in his family’s kitchen. I remember seeing him and his older brother sitting in front of the television eating their slices, and my uncle offering me some.

I remember that as the moment I stopped giving a fuck about my dislike for mushrooms. I had some pizza that night, and it tasted fine.

I remember my cousin and I sharing a similar aversion towards tomatoes, and my dad was always quick to point out my hypocrisy where it popped up. Whenever we went to In-n-Out, I would never want my burger unless I had fries, I would never touch my fries unless I had ketchup, and I would never eat my burger until I took out the tomato. He often joked that I needed ketchup on everything or else I wouldn’t want it, which wasn’t completely untrue. It was familiar, and fast food is pretty bland until it’s drowned out in sauce.

I remember seeing a movie in elementary school about a young girl-detective that ate mostly tomato and mayo sandwiches, wondering how she could possibly choose to eat that. I saw her scrape the insides and just lay the skins on the sandwich, thinking this can’t be right.

I remember watching an episode of Full House where the family ends up in some tomato countryside. They walked into a police station, and behind the desk was some guy in uniform kickin’ back going in on a tomato, sprinkling on pepper between bites while mocking Bob Saget. To me, it looked like he genuinely enjoyed eating a whole raw tomato.

I remember having feelings of disgust watching other people do it, but I wanted to feel what that actor was pretending to feel. I wanted to enjoy a tomato as much as he faked enjoying it.

I remember asking my dad for a tomato, and watching some glee spark within him as I attempted to overcome this childish aspect of myself that had been fairly defining in my eating habits.

I remember taking the first bite, hesitantly chewing it, and regrettingly swallowing it. I didn’t care much for the taste, but the texture felt like a horrifying slime swishing between my teeth. That was the only bite I took out of that tomato. My dad ended up finishing it, somewhat proud that I at least gave it a shot.

Since then, I’ve gradually come around. I started off by tolerating that one slice in every burger, mostly because I didn’t want to embarrass myself growing up by being too picky. Eventually, I just didn’t mind it being in any dish I had. I often like to pretentiously tell myself that I’ve formed a genuine appreciation for them whenever they happen my way.

Now, whenever I go grocery shopping, I make sure to pick up some cocktail tomatoes because when I eat them, I feel like I can enjoy things.

Casting Lots

The rules of life are unclear.

I don’t understand what they are, and I don’t think anyone else does either, but it’s funny how much we embrace them as integral to our being. We tread conventional paths and occasionally deviate onto stranger, yet still known, ones. We stick ourselves in pre-painted boxes and hope for comfort, only to bask in dissatisfaction as we realize some of our baggage doesn’t quite fit. We insist on upholding these imaginary guidelines in the name of duty and civility, but order operates for the preservation of society, not the good of the soul.

We are vehicles of creation, from every thought conceived to every action manifested. We hesitate to create because we’re conditioned to fear error, but human error is the defining characteristic of our existence. We rectify wrongs to produce more troubles, and pursue these worthy new battles in the name of progress. We sit in judgment, because in all our achievement our understanding still feels limited. Everything we do is beautiful, yet we believe it necessary to distinguish our art from our science.

I just want to be a fucking artist.

I just want to be a god.

Happiness Through Avarice

Those who say money can’t buy happiness are wrong. Although no physical object must illicit specific emotion uniform throughout any population, money can buy literally anything by virtue of being money. If the money’s right, even the priceless find a price. Of course, anyone can feel any way they want about anything, but to exclude anything within the realm of possibility, no matter how good-natured it may be, is still ludicrous. Money is a medium, bridging humanity and the corpus of goods and services available on the market. The insatiable hunger of seeking feelings and experiences can only be fed with the help of money.

Motivation for a greater interconnected world has been historically fueled by economic gain. Accumulation of resources and the desire to obtain them as various cultures became aware of them necessitated monetization to facilitate trade. This process emphasized the importance of money. We’ve placed it at the epicenter of global society. It supersedes the lingua franca, speaking more powerfully than any institution. It transcends culture, drawing attention and forcing it to compromise with promises of preservation and freedom. It dictates action, and only by its grace does it lend permission to do so.

Denouncing money is not anarchy, but rather it is akin to forfeiture. Of course nobody needs money to be happy, much like nobody needs religion or family to find purpose. Theoretically, anyone can feel any way they want about anything, but ignoring the fact that humanity has been habituated to recognize the power of money is delusional. Trying to shake one’s own views on it is futile as long as one includes oneself in modern societal mechanics. Nowadays, money can open up the route to knowledge, the means of pleasure, and the keys to salvation.

Praise Mammon.

Talking Corpses

“The life of the dead is set in the memory of the living.”

Cicero

Religious scripture once held the function of law. Edicts handed down by the divine instructed the way early civilizations lived. Moral were set along with protocol for punishing deviance. These traditions legitimized static societal guidelines, so long as people believed it was what their deity commanded. Man was expected to proclaim the word of god and enforce divine will on Earth.

Now, mankind no longer needs the crutch of religious institutionalism. After thorough debates of the mere existence of a grand creator and heavenly directive, we’ve become more comfortable with ruling over ourselves. No longer do prophets and revelators need to hide behind the visage of the divine to sanction conduct; they can just come into the spotlight and receive praise as thinkers.

Still, it’s odd how modern thought considers religious doctrine as civically outdated, yet we cling to measures mandated by men centuries ago. We hold their words close because we’ve immortalized them in our prideful tellings of history, as we affirm they were only looking out for their fellow man when assembling their doctrine. We interpret and skew and bastardize their words, because the only way to persist as a nation is to honor their memory with respect to their foundations. There is no recall of the original vision, because we still have to debate their intent.

I always forget the dead still have a say.

Passive

“The things I hate most are the things that resemble my own faults. I hate bad manners. I hate people that don’t give common courtesy. Hypocrites and cowards, that’s all we are.”

Richie, Meeting Evil (2012)

The best way to be right is to never admit being wrong.

The best way to deal with any problem is not acknowledging a problem.

The best way to garner respect is by extending contempt.

The best route to dignity is denial.

Who’s to blame for the collective awfulness?

One can blame oneself, but that’s lame af.

One can blame is all else, but no one can just blame all else.

Blame needs an object, a scapegoat for insecurity.

It’s so simple; it’s so ingenious.

Vocality must propagate belief.

Emotion must rouse agreement.

Stress must impress truth.

Perform.

And succeed.

A Tale of Two Caesars

Growing up, everything I had was purple. From black to white to everything in between, I had a shirt in every shade of purple. I even had ones the other kids at lizard school could only wish for. I was the flyest youngin’ to step foot in the country club with my astro-purp kicks and my amethyst-encrusted gigayacht. In kindergarden, I used to love standing on the bow in my royal purple captain’s uniform, ordering my robot crew to ram into the narwhals.

In 2nd grade, some new kid named “Chaddeus” joined our class wearing some kind of purple I’ve never seen before. My first instinct was to knock him over and give him a reverse-wedgie, but since all the other cool kids were busy admiring the luster from his outfit, I decided against it. I asked him what color that was, and he told me “gold”. It was nothing I’d ever heard of, so I just took a quick picture with my bionic contacts and sent it to my dad’s megafirm.

The next day, I rolled through class in my gold-plated limo fleet, draped in giant gold jewelry accentuating the mystic-violet getup I had my AI pick out that day. It was no doubt my most memorable outfit yet. I was definitely getting looks of lust and envy from literally everyone. The hipster crowd even cried at my feet with the realization that I beat them to the next fad.

Chaddeus glared from among them, as he realized he was socializing with zombified sheep. He stood from the crowd in his saintly golden armor, eyes only getting wider and angrier as they looked over every shining aspect standing out from my person. “You look stupid,” he said.

And I was like, “Nah.”

And he was like, “My family’s had our gold limo fleet for millions of generations. We’ve crossed entire continents in them, proudly waving our golden flags. When we came to your quaint little metropolis from across the way, the only thing that kept us rich was lending out our limousine services to you people. Our AI runs on gold, but you wouldn’t know that with your fancy crystal technology, would you? No, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t even begin to understand the social nuances that come with putting on that color. You couldn’t comprehend what that color’s been through, or what my family’s done with it since all else we’ve had to see was purple.”

And I was like, “Sorry, I didn’t know, and I didn’t know you owned this color.”

And he was like, “It’s more than a color. My family’s had gold for even more millions of generations. There’s history behind this gold…a history you’d never truly be able to experience unless you were born into my family. When I wear this gold, I feel the blood, sweat, and tears my great-great grandparents put in when they had to subject themselves to inputting your stupid maps into the help. I won’t let you make a mockery out of all of that with your tacky outfit.”

And I was like, “Word.”

“I am a god.”

“Yuh.”

Why Aren’t the Stars On the Flag Pentagons?

“Rules of taste enforce structures of power.”

Susan Sontag

For as long as the sun and the moon have enjoyed their soirée, the stars have borne witness, gossiping in the background amid the greatest romance ever told by mankind. Unfortunately, the first world tries to make us forget that we’re not alone in this universe. When we look up at the sky, we see it littered with these tiny sparkling dots, but they don’t resemble the iconic five-pointed stars that seem to saturate almost every culture. Even when we squint, the glimmers stretch linearly. The distribution comes from diffraction, yet this still does not account for the image we continue to cultivate.

The number 5 has become significant in our perception of the world: not because of some asinine ex post facto attribution, but for the simple notion of completeness with regards to us. Our hands and feet each have five appendages, a concept so simple even a toddler can comprehend. 10 distinct lines make up the 5-pointed object. I’m really reaching on this one, but I believe this end is reinforced by the nature of the pentacles handed out by grade school teachers for literally nothing. The weight of this number is proliferated by religious, political, and ideological institutions.

At some point in time, humanity chose to promote the glare of the stars over their wholesomeness. Unlike the rounded sun emanating its radiance, the star is only recognized by its luminescence. Maybe it’s because the glimmer is the most visible aspect, but when we are asked to depict it, we often forget it has a body of its own. When it comes to civic representation, we’re content with pushing a secondary quality, even if the guy is the main event. The sharpness of the object becomes the most outstanding quality, and likely the one we’ve been most cognizant about conveying.

Through verbal tones, we can read emotions, albeit the mapping is conditioned and varies across languages. In a comparable relationship, visual objects can engender specific sounds in connate fashion. The configuration of a star, as opposed to a circle or a pentagon, elicits acute notes, often read as aggressive or powerful in speech. In musical scales, half-steps emphasize the whole-steps, and rearranging the order can shift the attitude of the song.

I care about this story less than the sun cares for the moon.

Maybe they’re just starfish.

Insecurities of the Obsolete

“I feel I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that’s your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don’t contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you’re not thinking.”

Malcolm Gladwell

The motif of the young displacing the old is common in mythology. Many civilizations founded themselves on the premise of being successors of divine law. The stories worked to legitimize customs and practices, giving them backing from higher powers and emphasizing the absence of less-savory ways.

The advent of globalization and worldwide interconnectivity has actualized this design beyond the triviality of mortality into the realm of sociability. No longer does modernized humanity need to worry about their mere survival when the preoccupations of lifestyle and reputation triumph our purpose. But, just as the threat of extinction forever looms with each evolutionary iteration, so does the danger of increasingly irrelevant thought. With technology progressing at an exponential rate, our attitudes change accordingly: not directionally, but dynamically. The introduction of each new convenience and critical innovation reshapes our perspective. In this symbiotic relationship between technological development and purposeful advancement, the ever-continuing chain of questions and answers feed into one another, governed by immediate concerns hoping to collectively resolve larger issues.

Problems arise when members of society fail to keep up. Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” was the polished way of saying the weak are more death-prone. Modern social groups are already plagued by stratification along socioeconomic and ideological lines, but the dangers of generational gaps has the potential to passively alienate entire sections of the population by mere virtue of age, and consequentially cultural distancing. The bounds of these groups are thickened by aggressive moral transformations and inner-circle defensiveness. Traditions once held as communal cornerstones stray into the peripherals of progress. The threat of becoming unrelatable closes in on those who refuse to adapt to the new standards. As the fear of progress manifests itself as embracing conservativeness, ceding obstinacy is necessary. Lacking empathy and the refusal to observe opposing thought (regardless of orientation) functions as persistence in stagnancy.

The struggle for power, preservation of dignity, and satisfaction of the most baseline instinctual needs remain constant, but the means by how these ends are met change. The only route for any individual’s continuance is through a constant learning process of the superficial: of rhetoric, of aesthetic, and of character. The road to social salvation is nested in the refinement of methodology.

It doesn’t matter. I don’t really care. I don’t even want to be alive by 35.