Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Chains That Bind Us

The room is dark and silent. There is a sense that this has been the case for some time. The air is still; a light cover of dust has settled over everything. 

After a moment, a click echoes through the darkness as a key is placed in the entry door and it swings open.

Steve steps inside, closing the door behind him. Reaching for the dimmer switch beside the door, he nods in satisfaction as the room lights to a dim amber, then purses his lips contemplatively as he considers the space.

Moving to the small kitchenette, he checks the stove to confirm it’s functioning properly, then opens the fridge, blinking against the harsh light. Sliding a bottled water free from the door, he closes the fridge and picks up the telephone, nodding once again, and places it back on the wall. Next, he walks over to the desk and powers up the laptop, giving it a thumb-up.

"Okay then," he says. "Looks like everything here is still in working order. Let’s get to it…"


It seems incredible to me that nearly an entire year has passed since I last posted. I continue to be astonished and dismayed by the speed at which time flies. I have no concrete reason as to why it’s been so long, so I’ll spare us all the embarrassment of apologizing and issuing assurances about how hard I’ll try to write again more promptly. I can make no such assurances. It may well be another year before I post again. I hope not, but I can’t in good conscience deny the possibility. I’ll just let these entries speak for themselves, no matter how long they take. 

Though this significant amount of time has gone by, this blog has never been very far from my thoughts. My lack of attendance to it should not be mistaken for a lack of interest. Just the opposite is the case. It is something deeply personal and meaningful to me, and I find the inclination to “just post something” akin to chewing tin foil. As the months have passed, I have continued to deliberate over what I want to talk about next within its confines, but have not been able to focus in on a particular topic. Part of the problem has been my ongoing struggle with what I deem to be the confessional nature of blogging, over whether what I have to say here matters in the slightest, and even if it does, whether anyone cares enough to bother reading it.

As an individual, I am characterized by a rather reserved demeanor. On most occasions, I’m inclined to be silent rather than speak. Despite my sincere fondness for people in general, I’m difficult to get to know well; I have a very hard time investing enough validity in my feelings to warrant expressing them, and have great difficulty articulating them when I do. I have what I consider to be a fairly rich and robust inner world, but this is very likely not evident to a large percentage of the outside world. One of the reasons I so enjoyed acting, and now writing fiction is the ability to become someone else; to see the world through new and different eyes. These outlets allow me to give voice to things I don’t feel I have the power to express in and of myself.

This blog, however, is a step back in the direction of myself. Perhaps it’s a sort of catharsis-inducing self-help tool to help me find my way in this life. Though carefully crafted, there are no characters to hide behind, no music of narrative and dialogue to dazzle and engage you as I make my feelings known through the filter of story.

Perhaps I over-analyze…

Sue me. It’s my nature.

Our capacity as individuals to assess our own lives is limited. Our inevitable emotional involvement mars the clarity of objectivity. Despite this, I often find myself looking through my own windows in an attempt to evaluate what I see. Unfortunately, my objectivity is further marred by what seems to be a largely endemic proclivity of the Human psyche to dwell on the negative. In light of this, my perspective on myself is unreliable, but it can serve as a jumping off point for today’s post.

As we move through our lives, we face challenges. Some of them are generated by external forces, but I think most are generated from within. Very often, we can clearly see what it is we need to do, where we want to be, and even how to get there. In fact, it’s never just one thing. It’s several, of varying levels of importance: personal goals, responsibilities and obligations, flights & fancies, etc. etc. etc. We make efforts in the direction of achieving some or all of these benchmarks. Sometimes, we expend an enormous amount of time and energy achieving them. Sometimes, it works, and it’s all good.

But very often, something keeps those holy grails floating just beyond our reach. Some variable, real or perceived, arises to obstruct our line of sight, drag us down, immobilize us, or even send us sinking back down the hill of progress to where we began, if not further.

Why does this happen? What are these chains that bind us to who we are, rather than who we want to be? What internal forces persistently conspire to keep us down? Why are we more comfortable with stasis than motion? Why do we perpetuate our own negative behaviors even though we know they’re destructive? Why do we stay in that relationship long after it’s over? Punch in at that job we hate? Light up that cigarette? Wolf down that burger or pint of ice cream, blow off that session at the gym, even though we know it’s all going to catch up to us eventually?

There’s a lot of psychology that goes into it, much of which boils down to the power of behavior, which etches grooves in our minds as surely as a rivers carve them into the landscape. Changing those grooves is almost as hard as altering the course of a river, and even after we do, diligent maintenance is required to keep them shifting back into their old courses. Plus, it becomes ever more difficult as we get older. For one thing, our behaviors have had more time to set in; the grooves are deeper. For another, if like me, you’re suffering from a mid-life crisis, it can be very difficult to put yourself in motion and keep yourself there.

As a brief divergence, I’m going to take a moment to talk about that phrase, ‘mid-life crisis’. Most people don’t give the concept much credence. It’s usually sloughed off as a joke. Images of a 50-something guy driving off into the sunset in his cherry-red Porsche with a blond bimbo at his side come to mind. It’s more than that; a lot more, and it’s not exclusive to men. In fact, I have found it to be an occasionally crippling, existential-scope malaise that makes it very difficult to look across to the horizon rather than down into the chasm. It’s a big deal, and should be taken seriously.

Anyway, my point is, you can teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s a hell of a lot harder.

Further, our intellect is ever the bane of our emotions and vice-versa. They have equal clarity at various times, but rarely at the same time, and they routinely overpower each other. We meticulously analyze a given circumstance and deduce how best to proceed, but our emotions wrap themselves around our legs and keep us from striding forward. We are gripped with passion for a particular path, yet our intellect rationalizes us into paralysis. That’s bad enough, but it gets even more complicated because sometimes the opposing force is correct and sometimes its not.

It’s a miracle anybody accomplishes anything.

So, what do we do about it? How do we get these forces to meet and combine in an effort to move us forward? How do we shake off our insidious and debilitating internal demons, reach for the next handhold, climb the next step? Be more than we are?

Check the toolbox. You’re going to need a healthy dose of Intuition, which Merriam-Webster defines as: “The power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” (an excellent definition!) It can help temper the combat going on between your intellect and emotions. It’s the unclassifiable force within that tells you to take the other route home, and you later discover there was a five-car pile-up that you probably would have been part of. It tells you to make that phone call to the friend you haven’t talked to for a while, only to discover they were at the end of their rope and really needed to hear from you. It tells you to make that decision you’ve been putting off and follow it through, even though you’re terrified (regardless of whether it’s the wrong one or the right one). I believe that pure intuition is 100% accurate. It’s a near-mystical force, perhaps the closest link we have to the divine. The problem is that it’s not easy to hear clearly. Our ability to receive it unfiltered is routinely compromised by the pandemonium going on in our heads. Even if we do get it, there’s no guarantee we’re going to listen. Learning to hone our intuitive powers is a life-long enterprise, one that scant few ever achieve, but it’s a quest worth taking, regardless.

Next, you’re going to need what may well be my favorite word: Audacity, which Merriam-Webster simply defines as: “Intrepidly daring.” It’s the quality that allows you to look in the mirror and say, “I can do this. I don’t care what’s in my way. I am going the distance!” It gives you the power to get out there and do exactly that. Often, we have an inclination to think “Why me? There’s a million other people out there who can do what I want to do a lot better than me, so why bother?” Audacity enables you to take it from the other end. It’s not a question of “Why me?” It’s a question of “Why not me?”

You’re also going to need another –city: Tenacity, which M-W defines as “Persistence in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired.” It takes courage to move outside your box. Fear of failure and fear of success can be equally enervating. You have to fight on regardless, armed with the knowledge that any motion is better than no motion. Tenacity enables you to disentangle yourself from difficulty and/or defeat and move past it. It gives you the grit to appreciate your small victories and see them as essential components of the big picture, use them to keep moving forward; kind of a “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” situation.

Let’s add some –ty to the mix: Proactivity, defined by M-W as, “Acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.” Let’s boil it down a little more: Do it now. For me, the concept is driven home by a scene from the inimitable Rocky III (Yeah, I know. I’m really conveying my vast knowledge of and influence by the classics). In the movie, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is badly beaten by Grade A Badass Clubber Lang (Mr. T). He ends up training with his old opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for the rematch, but Rocky is basically suffering from PTSD; he’s totally lost his mojo. He’s sparring or whatever with Apollo, who’s trying to psych him up, but Rocky gives up and says something like, “Tomorrow. We’ll do it tomorrow,” and abandons the session. Furious and disgusted, Apollo roars after him, “There IS no tomorrow!!” 

He’s absolutely right. There is no tomorrow. Do it now. Procrastination is the antithesis of proactivity. It has wrecked more dreams and lives than I’d care to imagine. I sometimes wonder how much farther   along I’d be in this life if only I had better command of my time. And I’m quite confident I’m far from the only person to feel that way about themselves.

Lastly, we need Positivity, defined by M-W as “The quality or state of being positive”; an accurate, if unimaginative definition. I checked a couple of other online dictionaries, and they were equally vanilla about it, so I’d like to take a moment to elaborate, since this principle is kind of a governing force of the others. If you don’t have positivity, the other tools are likely going to give out sooner rather than later. To illustrate the concept, I’ll share an anecdote about Thomas Edison (one of my favorite such stories, actually), who, upon being questioned about the fact that he failed a thousand times before inventing the light bulb replied something like, “I did no such thing. I discovered a thousand things that didn’t work.” This sentiment typifies positivity. It is a fundamental ideological perspective which dictates that the possible is more inherently likely than the impossible. It is pragmatic and elegant; it opens doors rather than closes them. It does not preclude reality; it enhances it. An absence of positivity ultimately leads to entropy. If you do not have it, virtually all endeavors result in failure.

Well, sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?  Simply abide by my blathering and you’re all set!

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, your toolbox is not enough. Sometimes, the forces working against you are too strong. Sometimes that’s ultimately a good thing and sometimes it isn’t, but you must reconcile that failure will sometimes occur no matter how badly you want something or how right it is for your life. It will be up to you and your circumstances to determine whether that failure is just a setback or whether it signifies a need to reassess what you want and need.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you must not allow the prospect of failure to dissuade you from your course. I realize I’m once again displaying my rather flagrant idealism, but I truly believe that it is the journeys that truly matter, not the destinations.

Breaking the chains that bind us is no easy task, no matter who you want to be, what you want to do, or where you want to go. But it can be done. And you’ll never know whether you can free yourself from them unless you step up to the plate, face down that fastball, and take a swing.

Thanks for reading.