Typing from the cafe where I work. My second home. More comfortable than my home. Better air and coffee, fewer bugs and stains of indeterminate origin. I wish I could sleep here since I have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and start working at 5. So far I’ve been unable to sleep in my new house because I don’t have a bed or an air conditioner. The refinements of civilization have made me weak.
It’s also the lack of weed. When I don’t smoke I stay awake. Watch the insides of my eyelids for hours. Acid trip reruns, fractal patterns playing on the folds of my brain. And then the horror show begins. I imagine bad things happening to me during the day when it’s beautiful, when the birds are singing and the sun is shining. Imagine how bad it gets at night when I can’t sleep in a stuffy shitbox apartment with a flimsy glass door in a poor part of town.
They call them home invasions. Sounds euphemistic, less brutal than the reality. Three masked men break into your house and before you can wake up and defend yourself they’re beating you with a pipe. They tie you to a chair and argue with each other over what they’re going to do with you. It’s only the beginning of the worst night of your life, the last night of your life. All those peaceful years, all that time you wasted worrying about things that would never happen culminating in one night of agony and then darkness forever.
But that doesn’t happen either. It’s just another nightmare, a defensive distraction from the deeper existential horror of aging day after day and never knowing if you’ve made the right choices. Have you wasted your time and is there anything other than wasting time. If there is then how do you know.
When you can’t sleep at 1 in the morning in a bug ridden shanty without an internet connection you realize there’s no such thing as being alone anymore. There’s pervasive loneliness but no solitude. No one goes out into the wilderness without diversions and devices and listens to the plaintive cries of nature and the murmurs of their own soul. We can’t hear the call of conscience over the low roar of netflix.
People often say they like being alone or that they don’t want to be around people. But what they mean is that they don’t want the pressure and discomfort of physical engagement. They’re still going to ensconce themselves in media. They’ll spend a night “alone” listening to podcasts and music, watching tv or movies. A multitude of voices and faces, compressed and digitized, giving them the pleasures of society without the pains.
When people are alone on a friday night they’re consuming human relationships without producing or maintaining them, without a corresponding effort. It’s easier to watch without being watched. It’s easier to judge than be judged. The unfathomable depth of another person generates anxiety while the glimmering surface of a moving image provides relief.
I have no media at home and can only post on my favorite forums and write blog entries when I find time to use the wifi at the cafe where I work. When I’m falling asleep in my chair because I’ve slept 3 hours I try to make a lucid contribution to debates on free speech and reflect on the erosion of personality, self reliance and creativity caused by unrelenting consumption.
Your mind occupies itself when there’s nothing to occupy it. You rouse a dormant ability to imagine, to think and reason for better and worse. Open yourself to concentrated self-torment and disquieting visions but also creative plots and characters, new hopes and possibilities, fresh insights and funny lines.
You have to wrestle with the demons dwelling in your spiritual nether regions rather than stupefying yourself with hours of streaming content crafted by media conglomerates. It can be grueling but there are rewards for percolating in the void.
I broke my toilet. It started running and the sound was driving me crazy so I tried to fix it. A huge mistake. I destroyed the float arm. I didn’t know the name of the part until I broke it. And that’s a lesson in how knowledge and consciousness work. We live as automatons until we encounter a problem and something collapses or threatens us. Then we’re forced to think, learn and make choices.
My dysfunctional toilet reminded me of how little I know about practical matters. I walk around all day contemplating the verities and toying with theories, criticizing, analyzing and speculating in the ether as I take the smooth functioning of our industrial infrastructure for granted. There’s always a simple interface concealing complex innards. We can all push buttons and pull levers, steer wheels and flush toilets but the real stewards of society are those who can take off the screens, lift the hoods and dig into the guts of our machines and keep them running so we can keep our fantasies of competence and brilliance alive.
I’m able to read ancient texts, evaluate arguments and browse message boards because my toilet typically flushes and I don’t have to worry about waste. Cars, buses, trains and planes free me from the burdens of tedious transport, stoves and fridges make cooking and food storage effortless and with all that extra time and brain power I can pretend to be a writer and use electronic devices I could never make or repair to entertain myself and distant readers.
Right now I’d be better off if I were a plumber.