previous : first : next

Now that I read back over that last bit, I find myself balking from the melodrama of it. Yes, I carved designs on my skin, and yes, I was consumed with the drama of it at the time, the pain and loneliness and etcetera, but even I’m kind of bored with it now: It seems like a ploy for attention more than anything else.

So yes, that’s part of my history. It’s true, like the “irrevocable rage” is true, like that love was true, like all love is true. But it doesn’t need to be belabored any more. I don’t want pity or – what? respect? – because of that, but neither am I ashamed of it. It is past. It is part of what makes me who I am today, just like every broken heart and every scraped and scabbed knee, every learning experience hidden in the guise of embarrassment, or shame, or just plain bad timing. It’s all part of me, but that doesn’t mean I need to spend all my time looking at it.

It’s funny: Zen, it seems to me, is all about the paradoxes: The only way to find peace is to look for it until you stop looking. Or, perhaps, look for it until you become looking. Observe your emotions until they disappear. So I find myself trying to do two different things at once – examine myself and lose myself in the greater whole, or examine my history and focus on the present.

I don’t really know what to do with it, except just take the approach that seems appropriate in the moment. During most of the day I try to keep my thoughts present, try to be present, aware, attentive, notice my breath, notice my body. Before I go to bed at night, I try to really get inside my flesh, start at the toes and feel, feel what is colder or warmer, each little ache and pain, notice the joints and where my muscles are contracted or relaxed. Notice my breath and my pulse. Notice my thoughts.

When you start noticing, really noticing thoughts, labeling them, it becomes almost alarming how many and how loud and how strident they are. All the time, this babble of thinking – speculation, memory, fantasy and worry, mostly. Very little actually constructive in any way, not real planning or strategizing or learning, even. Just babble. Just babble. But it tends to dematerialize if you don’t pay attention to it – if you stay anchored in the now, in this very moment, what’s happening in the world and in your body. Let the thoughts float by. It seems as though they are generated by some separate part of you, something tapped into media and past and future and disconnected from right now. It’s all advertisements for what you’ve done or what you can could should might do. But moving away from these thoughts is less like turning off the TV – I’m not in a place where I can stop the flow of thought and maybe, likely, never will be – more, it’s like muting the commercials: refusing to get caught up in them, just acknowledging, you are trying to sell me something, and turning away. You know they’re on, but you choose what you give your attention to, chose what to watch and what to let pass by.

I am trying to be more deliberate in my actual media consumption, as well as in the metaphor of my thoughts, these days. I don’t really need any more images of violence and hatred shown to me: I get enough of that in the news. So I don’t tend to watch war movies or action flicks where the main attraction is the major gun fight. Likewise, I don’t need to be told – or, at the best, have it insinuated to me – that I am not thin, sexy, pretty, young, rich, whatever enough, and as a result, I find myself boycotting the shitty women’s magazines. Cosmo’s sex tips never told me anything I hadn’t already figured out for myself, anyway.

Here’s the thing: The media is a powerful, powerful force. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t exist; if advertising didn’t work, there would be no advertisements. Period. So I want to acknowledge that power and manage it by actively choosing what I give my attention to, choosing what I watch and read – and buy – and what I won’t.

Because, god, we’ve got all the time so many damn products and images and ideals thrown at us that we don’t even notice. Everything – everything – is branded and labeled and logoed, to the point that even our illustrious president used a logo (the ubiquitous W) and I’m willing to bet that that helped him win his campaign. Product placement is taken for granted; corporate sponsorship even more so. Jokes about companies buying rights to advertise on the moon don’t seem a far-fetched or funny as they ought to.

Here’s what gets me: The whole point of advertising, the whole reason it was invented in the first place, is to create a need that doesn’t exist. People don’t need fancy razors or pineapples or McDonald’s or the new toy or the new car or the new probably anything. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, it was suddenly easy to make lots of things. People were used to having pretty much one of everything – one hat, one pair of work shoes, one pair of dress pants, one set of dishes, one plough pulled by one (or maybe one pair of) oxen or horses, one house with one roof. And then suddenly there were all these factories pouring out hats and shoes and ploughs and cars and god knows what next. And Mr. Common Customer had to be convinced that he needed another hat on top of the hat he already had, otherwise all these new hats being cranked out at unprecedented speeds would have no heads to sit upon. Advertising is born. It did not exist before.

Certainly, people always wanted other people to know about their services, but prior to that time, you used word-of-mouth and your own reputation to ensure business. You were the best hat-maker in town, and everybody knew it, or you weren’t. When somebody needed their hat mended, or even needed a new one, they knew where to go. But mechanization changed that, because a hat no longer took weeks to make and came with a comparable price; suddenly, a hat was cheap, in terms of time and money. And advertising came into being in order to create a need for new, cheap hats where no need had been before.

And ever since then, advertising has been creating in us the need for new, cheap things that we didn’t know we needed before. That’s the object of branding, I think: create a need for the brand, not the product. Advertising rarely focuses on the product any more anyway. Companies – the bigger, more successful companies, at any rate – are advertising a lifestyle, an image that they insist will make you happy, and which they insist only their product, only their brand, will be able to deliver.

I don’t buy it. And I don’t want to buy it. I want to buy products I actually need, and products I actually believe in. I don’t need a pair of Nike sneakers any more than I need hair dye or labiaplasty. The fundamental tenet of advertising is to create a sense of inferiority or deficiency that must then be assuaged by the purchase of whatever it is being advertised. Well, fuck you, commerce. I am neither inferior nor deficient because I did not buy the latest Beck album, nor am I inferior or deficient because I did not buy the latest Gap jeans. You can’t make me feel bad for not following the trends, because I’ve figured out your secret: You create the trends so that people will buy more things. They don’t mean anything. Anything. At all. They go: Miniskirt, calf-length skirt, pants, miniskirt. Black eyeliner, red lipstick, pastel, black eyeliner. And they don’t mean anything anything anything at all.

It’s nice to remove myself from that. It does mean that sometimes I feel silly in my perennial corduroys and tank tops and comfy shoes, but it also means that I far more often feel comfortable in them. And comfortable, I’ve come to decide, is sexier than miniskirts. At least for the kind of guys who’d be likely to be interested in me anyway.

My dad always made cracks about my burping at the table, to the effect of, you’ll be at dinner with some guy some day, and he’ll be just leaning forward to kiss you, and you’ll burp like you do, and that’ll be that. And, after a few years, I realized: yeah. That’ll be that, and if that’s enough to scare him off, it’s a good thing we got that figured out on the first date. Because if he can’t handle a burp, there’s a whole lot of other things about me that he’ll likely be even less able to handle, and it’s better for everyone involved, as far as I can tell, if we just get it over with right there.

The boys (and the girls, though far less often) who I’m attracted to tend to be somewhat out of the ordinary to begin with, and none of them seem to be much phased by my lack of table manners. So there, Dad.

previous : first : next


Post a Comment

<< Home