Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Banishment Of Angst And Chicken Teeth

So if there is something I can definitely do without in the New Year, (next to reality television, half-hour advertorials on the splendors of blenders and hair removal product commercials) I'd have to say it would be angst.

To imagine what inward angst would sound like, I offer the Wilhelm scream, a sound effect that has been replicated in over 225 movies, television shows and video games since it's creation in 1951:
Angst (literally German, Dutch, Danish and Norwegian for "fear") has been around since before Christ was a cowboy but Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard (1813-1855) put a name to it and French writers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus brought it to the mainstream consciousness in the early Twentieth Century. Then, James Dean demonstrated teen angst brilliantly in the fifties. Since then, with the emergence of individualism and the "me generation" it's been a right of passage for people to look inside themselves for something of worth in relation to the world around them. When they don't find it, it's their right to claim they suffer from angst.

Philosophically speaking, angst is an existential (ie: "why am I here?") condition which can be defined as "the crisis of human existence." It's the individual trying to reconcile their place in relation to society.

If you're an artist it has become quite expected that you suffer from this affliction, lest you and your work be seen as shallow. The idea that being an artist automatically means suffering for your art is so ingrained in our society's norms that if you are a happy, joyous artist it means you must be overcompensating for a deep gash in your psyche... or you're just faking being an artist.

So we do angst. Or most of us do. Some, who are true masters in the angst craft, don't just suffer proper philosophical angst in silence. They take it to the second level, to something called "wangst", which is either "whiny angst" or "wanky angst" (depending on what side of the pond you're from). In order to perform this advanced degree of angst properly it must be as evident as false teeth on a chicken.

Suffering from philosophical angst, need not only be self centered, but it must be a pain in society's collective butt. It must be something that those from my father's generation (who were pretty cut and dried about emotional stuff) would not think twice about a good swift kick in the nether regions and demands to get out and find a real job.

So, in 2012, angst is gone from my repertoire of suffering techniques. It shouldn't be that hard to do because a number of years ago while going through a "Keep It Simple" thing I put the angst thing aside. This year, after being through some sh*t that makes Bambi Meets Godzilla look tame in comparison and not taking angst down from the shelf once, I decided I simply don't need it around anymore. So this coming year it's toast. It just complicates things when I figure I should be concentrating on the things that cause angst in the first place.

To me angst is like fixating over the big hole in the ground after the bomb has gone off.

And I figure on being the bomb.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Almighty Human Struggle

"The more I see the less I know for sure." John Lennon 
Anyone who knows me knows that my mind does not exactly work in a normal way. (It's okay, I planned it that way.) Recently, due to circumstances beyond my control, I've had a lot of time to think. So, you'll forgive me if this post is abnormally long (and rambles on a bit).

I never really sit down to think about things of any real import but sometimes my mind goes where it wants to go. So, today I'd like to leave you with some thoughts based on the heady topics of peace, mankind and the almighty human struggle. Brace yourself:

1) Peace is an empty space.
If you can, think of peace as a space void of discord, pain and unhappiness. Oh, and there's no harmony, relief or joy either. No yin and yang, good or evil, just or unjust. This is the natural state of all things. The baseline. We come from this space before we're born and after we die we return to it. The moment we take over this organic brain of ours, our space is not empty anymore. We belong to this world. And all that comes with it.

2) Life is a wonderful, messy thing. 
At the instant we're born we're all equal. In the next instant, we're not. As much as we may be sheltered, we are subjected to expectations, conditions and prejudices. Our birth, and the education process that instantly follows, begins a process of discord (because we all have our own independent thoughts... and nothing is perfect), pain (because we have these pesky things called emotions and nerves... and nothing is perfect), and unhappiness (because we all suffer indignities and have unfulfillable wants... and nothing is perfect). Our growing up years subject us to things like test scores, competing in sports, and meeting expectations. Things like that. It's all normal. Since human beings roamed this planet we've had to provide food for ourselves, fight the savage beast for survival and compete with others of our kind for creature comforts. It's in our collective nature.

3) We can't beat ourselves up about it.
Fellow Canadian John Ralston Saul once wrote, "Everyone has an equal right to inequality." The mere fact that we have to have a bill of human rights, (and by the way laws to protect the innocent and pleas from aid organizations to feel the hungry, cure illness and help the disadvantaged) underscore the fact that we live with inequality. It surrounds us. It is us.

No matter how tall, good looking and smart we are there is always someone taller, better looking, more intelligent. No matter how proficient we are we live with the possibility there is someone just a bit faster, more exact, better equipped. And mostly that's okay. It's part of this thing called life. You can attempt to lead, choose to follow a passion, fart away your life, be a cheerleader or hide under the guise of mediocrity all you want but sooner or later, if you're a person of conscience like I am, you're going to ask or be asked, "So, what have you done with your life?" This is the final scorecard of a worthwhile life as we take our last physical breath and let it out.

4) Fighting the good fight means sometimes getting angry along the way.
Francesco Petrarca (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374), known in English as Petrarch, an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists once said, "Five great enemies to peace inhabit with us: avarice, ambition, envy, anger and pride. If these enemies were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace." It's a nice thought that sort of hit me like a platitude because where one thing is bad, it cannot exist without it's opposite. We'd also have to banish the other side of the human yin yang coin: charity, satisfaction, happiness and the contentment of achievement on some level. And that's not life.

Stuff like anger is going to exist. Especially with some of the idiots we have out there shooting their mouths off, doing really stupid things and who evidently only want to add to the discord. I don't have to name them. We all know who they are. Any righteous person would want to get angry.

There are those who would preach and those who would lecture. And that's okay if they have something intelligent to say or something positive to add. But if there's one thing I've learned it's that not every mouthpiece who figures they have the answers has answers of value.

Everyone develops their own agenda, system of beliefs and methods of practical morality over time. We're all individuals and our make up is generally composed of life's lessons. Trial and error. In fact, some think the period of our time on this earth is meant to be a time of trial bookended by times of solitude – the times before we're born and after we die. And while we're here, our attitude will help determine whether it is a wholesome, thoughtful, mostly positive experience or a life fraught with negativity, ignorance and discord.

Along the way we can take time to look out a window, notice small things of beauty like the sun rising, or drift away to a favorite piece of music and try to remember that empty space of peace that we all came from and will go back to. But in the meantime, it's my thought that we're all meant to fill up our lives here on earth with some kind of fight.

Hopefully, ours is the good fight.

All the best of the holiday season and a happy New Year to you all.