[caption id="attachment_170" align="alignnone" width="528"] Lots of pastels in one box, provided the creepy kid didn't eat them.[/caption]
Narcissistic, nihilistic, controversial and crass; a cacophany of cute, quaint, clothing choices and hollow creeds. It’s a fucking disgrace and it’s never been more possible, more enjoyable, or more engrossing than it is today: self-expression. Some abandon form to define their shape while others stick rigidly to the suit and tie in order to inculcate in themselves a sense of worth and in others a sense of attraction. It’s a disgusting display of self-pride, rejection of one cult for another, and construction of our consciousness that has never been more necessary in the era of niche chic.
Consider, for example, my recent trip to the the local mega-mall, as expositionally opportunistic as it is argumentatively convenient. Since re-opening my til-then-long-dormant quest to put together my “dream wardrobe”, I’ve come upon a til-now-undiscovered dimension of my own human experience: taste. I find it in all things: the liquor I drink, the music I ingest, the clothes I wear, and even the television shows I watch.
While all of these make for convenient Facebook likes, the dimension to which I enjoyed these many endeavors/activities/materials was, over time, tinged with the visual wash of my favorite photographers, appearing to the untrained eye to be as much an extension of myself as the sounds I hear and the foods I taste. In short, each was a conversation; a back and forth between my social consciousness, my disposition, my hopes and fears, and the invested intentions of the creating artists.
The vulgarity of my taste is not hidden. When I pull a jacket off the rack and try it on, I’m thinking exclusively about how good I look. Not the starving children in Africa, not the poor shivering coats I overlooked to make my selection, but myself. My actions, thanks to social media (the purist’s four-letter word) and our American culture’s incredible capacity for self-obsession (of which I am not known to mock/abstain from), are a giant fucking gaudy, neon-lighted monument to me and all the me’s that I love.
And the self-love is not entirely public either. Even sitting here listening to Lotus Plaza’s (no, you’ve never heard of them) album, recommended from a website that thrives on elitism, I get the warm-fuzzy-glowy feeling I can only imagine Mormons get when they chastise someone for not wearing the right underwear to the wrong church.
But before I (or honestly, anyone I know) head to the bathroom to wash the sticky nectar of self-indulgence off my hands and keyboard, I must plead that my personal hero-worship is not without external cause. When Lana Del Rey can make a living off of one song and en vogue hipster mystique while I slave away over a hot keyboard trying to convince myself without financial validation that my work is any better, the human ego can’t help but go on the defensive. We need ourselves to like ourselves, otherwise what makes our flying spaghetti monster any less fictitious than anyone else’s?
And in my expertly cultivated and totally unique/cool/desirable opinion, that is exactly why neon bras and three-wolf moon shirts make ego masturbation just as healthy as real masturbation. If you don’t know what you like and you can’t communicate it to others, then how can you approach that part of your life with any confidence? Furthermore, how can you approach that part of anyone else’s life with any confidence? In a world of fragmented niches, globalized reputations, diminishing fishes in ever-largening ponds, it has simply never been more essential to know who you are and accept the same of others.
I recently received a shirt for Christmas from a UK graphic design group called Ugmonk that was featured in the premier web-based men’s magazine Uncrate. To say I felt like the 1990’s middle-schooler with the shiniest Pog slammer would be an outright lie. But beyond confirming what I already knew about my bad self, it was the validation that my taste was dictated, not by others, but by my own sensibilities and identity and these sensibilities extend, now more than ever, into every aspect of my life.
Catharsis, thou comest in a medium.
Context: this particular post was written a couple of weeks ago while the misses was away for a business trip and my work was exceedingly stressful. The commentary is, however, no less universal today than it was then.
Barring a stroke of pure genius, welcome to my ham-fisted introduction, pounded out beligerently on the keyboard well past my bed time on a school night. I'm tired, my head hurts, my eyes are extremely dry, and the cat will, not stop, jumping, into, my lap. At this point, it's hard to appreciate my tea or find the patience for studying Japanese, my physical circumstances simply don't permit my attitude a sliver of optimism or enthusiasm. Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore that my perspective as a self-improvement junkie, aspiring polyglot (knower of many languages) welcomes the reluctant learning as a badge of honor; a moment when my willpower and intellectual curiosity won out over my physical circumstances.
You see, today was a difficult day. Besides the brow-beating a 9-to-5 work environment can regularly lay on unsuspecting victims, the absence of my paramour (business trip) has made maintenance of my usual (pardon the term) "swagger" exceedingly difficult. Physically drained, emotionally exhausted, and mentally taxed beyond my usual burn-the-bitch-at-both-ends work style, normal circumstances simply aren't what they would be in the right lighting. My persistent pesimism born of a physical inability to muster a smile makes crackers bland, tea uninteresting, and conversations labored.
On the flip side, my usual sunny demeanor has its benefits, pardoxically serving as a hindrance to my dispassionate evaluation of the world around me. The same day, viewed with a good night's sleep, a warm hug from mah bebe, and a fresh batch of esoteric albums to listen to would taste the same crackers with delight, sip the same tea with appreciation, and lead to joke after hilariously delivered joke (I'm a God damn delight). Unfortunately, what this means is that regardless of the circumstances, you and I both are bound and determined to have our subjective evaluations swayed more by our physiology than by the flavor of crackers in front of us (I'm really hungry and all we have are crackers).
In Buddhism there's this great concept of near-enemies and far-enemies. Two things are far-enemies if they are polar opposites: the far enemy of compassion is cruelty. But near-enemies are more subtle: they seem very similar at first, but when you look deeper, they're still opposites. The near-enemy of compassion, for example, is pity. They kind of seem like the same thing, because both mean you "feel bad" for someone else, but compassion is dignified and brings you closer together. Pity is condescending. It distances you from the other person.
Far-enemies aren't that interesting to me because they're pretty obvious. Polar opposites. Ho-hum. But I love near-enemies, because there's a lot to talk about in the subtlety.
So let's talk about two of the biggest near-enemies of all: self-consciousness and self-awareness.
Superficially, they seem very similar. Both of them are about paying attention to yourself, your thoughts, words, and actions in the present moment.