What’s the only thing we have to fear?

thescreamFear is a normal part of a person’s survival instinct but if manipulated that same sense can expand to the detriment of the individual.  It is natural to be afraid.  It is part of the makeup of most organisms.  For any living thing the world is a terrifying place.  Deadly viruses, genetic defects, cancer, car accidents, terrorism, tainted water, wild animals, lightning strikes, serial killers, plane crashes, STD’s, cooking accidents, house fires, sports injuries, drowning, slip-and-falls, snipers, and murder are just a tiny fraction of the maladies that anyone can fall victim to on any given day.  Nothing is out of the question.  There are literally trillions of things that can hurt or kill us, some of which can’t yet even be conceived.  If the full weight of these terrors impacted our daily lives we would be left utterly useless.    For the most part, though, we carry on.

For most species crippling fear of the unknown is stifled by a limited conscious and intellect.  A dog is fairly fearless in the face of the world around them as they cannot as fully grasp the ramifications of tangling with a more powerful force.  They can let a more instinctual form of consciousness take over and completely override the fear factor.  Some of that instinctual force still remains in people but to a far lesser degree.  Humans have been able to conceptualize fear to a far larger extent than any other species.  A highly tuned sense of self and the ability to conceptualize and rationalize an infinite amount of possibilities creates fertile grounds for fears to take root which can have serious consequences.  These fears can manifest themselves in depression, odd phobias, or altered worldviews that are shaped by certain fears cultivated throughout life.  On the other hand though, these fears drive us.  They drive us to create, to innovate and conquer the source of these fears, conceivably to lead to a “better”, less fear filled, life.  Take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and one can see what we are afraid of: not having access to any of these things.

 Maslowe's HierarchyMaslowe's Hierarchy

As the industrialized world has eliminated much of the fears associated with the lower levels of needs pyramid something interesting has happened.  The fear that we have been looking to eliminate through cultural and technological means has remained constant (and maybe even grown).  It is difficult to substantiate this claim but anecdotally it can be seen everywhere.  We are taught by the media to be afraid of everything.  News reports claim the food you eat is poisonous, the toys your children play with are toxic, and the people you live and work with are thieves and murderers.  It makes sense though, fear is a great way to get people to do things and it is used in almost every aspect of life.  The cacophony of advertisers instilling you with the fear that your clothes aren’t good enough, your body is not fit enough and your children aren’t smart enough create an echo chamber of crisis that constantly bombards us.  It may be a good way to move product but it fundamentally damages our psyche.

Since I have moved to Australia it has helped me see some things about America that I thought were “normal” that we were really unique to the US.  One of these things is the pervasive culture of fear and the obsession with making things “safe”.  In American public discourse safety is the opposite of fear and everything must be done, at least in principle, to make things as “safe” as possible.  A quick look at a news site and the top articles include stories about national security (terrorists!), football injuries (concussions!), sex (disease! unwanted pregnancy!).  The authors spend the first few hundred words explaining why people need to be scared, then the last few hundred explaining how spend the the reader can be safer.  However, safety does not exist.  There are always “terrorists” who could hurt you, playing sports can potentially impact your health and fucking that chick you met after work during happy hour at Chili’s may get you a rash but in the end those are calculated risks, as is every decision in life.  We will never get to 0% danger in anything that we do yet people obsess about all the things that contain a perceived danger element.  I am not saying that we should all throw caution to the wind and risk everything, all the time.  I would just rather live in a society that accepts the innate dangers of being alive and let people make decisions on what risks are acceptable or not.

Part of being a human is accepting that we are a small insignificant piece of a largely unknowable, dangerous whole.  Instead of giving away our rights and privacy for the sake of preventing a handful of deaths from terrorism, completely changing a game that people love to watch and play or becoming celebrate to avoid disease we should embrace the risks inherent in life, take appropriate cautions and embrace life without a fearful outlook.  We need to let fear drive us, but not drive us to give up everything in order to attain perceived safety.  The risks of a fearful, safety obsessed life are not worth the reward.

Life in the Age of Grasping

Asian ManEvery day I come back to my apartment there is an old Asian man sitting on the steps leading to an unused door near the alley behind an art college next to my building.  As far as I can see he lives on the stoop.  When I walk by or as I am waiting for the receipt from the cab driver I think about him.  I almost never look at him, but I do think about him.  He is different from the rest of the destitute people that hang out around the homeless shelter in my neighborhood.  I have never talked to him but I can only assume he is wise, or crazy or both.  To live like that you need to be one or the other.  Most people on the street who do not conform to societal norms are there because of substance abuse but a few are there of a clear mind, voluntarily.  The one time I spoke with him to attempt to give him some food he grumbled and shooed me away.  He was not interested in my charity and he did not want what I had. Continue reading Life in the Age of Grasping →

Act now! Time is Running Out…

I am a connoisseur.  Not in the traditional sense though, my expertise is far more commonplace.   Some people can tell the difference between certain vintages of wines or can distinguish the region that a particular oyster came from on taste alone.  My talent is a bit more pedestrian.  I have a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of almost any infomercial.  I can easily burn 26 1/2 minutes watching these “paid for” advertisements.  There is something sickly fascinating about the people involved, the message being sent and the products being sold.  I’ll admit it is weird, but I love infomercials, the are my (now, not so) secret lover.

I don’t subscribe to cable (or as it is known in Australia, FoxTel) so my viewing options are limited.  When I am lounging on the couch I often pass channel 94 and most times I an unable to resist the siren’s song of shitty announcers rabidly hawking some product I have never heard of yet I cannot live without.  I stumbled upon this gem this week: Continue reading Act now! Time is Running Out… →

If Crazy Knocks, Don’t let Her in… (Part 3)

There are times in every man’s life when he stares danger directly in the eye and says, “Fuck you, Danger, you and your meth smoking buddies can KISS.  MY.  ASS.”  This was not one of those scenarios.  By all accounts I was incredibly frightened of a 115 pound half drunk woman at a jewelry party.  In that annals of cowards and pussies that ranks right up there between Frenchman and lady-boy.  The bottom line was that no one else would confront this diminutive she-beast, so someone had to step up.  I did and she was finally leaving.

She kept lagging behind as prodded her to leave.  I doggedly refused to let her linger, standing next to her and giving he some not-so-subtle hints that she needed to get-the-fuck-out-my-house.  After a few more minutes I had her completely extricated and we all stood out near the pool in the middle of the complex to call the hostess of the party to cancel her jewelry order.  The crazy woman demanded that she talk directly to the hostess, so I obliged just to get this whole circus completed as soon as possible.

“Ultraparadoxical is being VERY rude to me and because if his actions I am going to have to cancel my jewelry order.”  she said into the phone while firing a steady stream of daggers at me with her eyes. Continue reading If Crazy Knocks, Don’t let Her in… (Part 3) →

If Crazy Knocks, Don’t let Her in… (Part 2)

When I left you in PART 1, I was a bit freaked out, a little curious and very baked, heading up the stairs into my apartment after some disturbing revelations about an unwelcome guest that managed to get into my apartment.

Upon entering I was greeted with the calming aroma of scented candles and light music gently playing in the background.  I swung around the corner into the TV room and saw a few of Sally’s friends on one end of the sectional couch.  On the other end was the neighbor with her back turned to be having what looked like an intense conversation with a girl who had a look on her face that was somehere on the awkwardness scale between “Talking to a friend about a yeast infection.” and “Having a conversation about and impending abortion.”  As soon as I appeared in the room the girl looked up towards me non-verbally pleading “Save me!”

The neighbor noticed the girl looking over her shoulder and turned around immediately.  She saw me and swung down from the couch onto her knees and started bowing up and down with her hands raised in the air saying “I’m so sorry, Ultraparadoxical.  I’m so sorry, Ultraparadoxical!” like a demented religious fanatic.  From this point on I will be referring to the “neighbor” as the”crazy lady”. Continue reading If Crazy Knocks, Don’t let Her in… (Part 2) →

If Crazy Knocks, Don’t let Her in…

Before I moved to Australia I had an offer to move to Chicago to do a similar job.  This was roughly 4 years ago and I was in San Diego living with a roommate who I will call “Sally” for anonymity’s sake.  All was normal, all was good, then I heard a knock at the door.  Little did I know that shit was about to get weird… really weird, I’m talking hobo-spitting weird.  The following tale is what transpired a few years ago after I heard that knock.

What do you feel when you hear an unexpected knock at the door?  I am a pessimist, so I think it is either a policeman or murderer.  One can tell a lot about a person based on what they feel when they hear something rapping at the door.  This knock was not altogether unexpected though, my girlfriend at the time was coming over after work, but she never knocked, she would usually walk right in.  I opened the door expecting to see her but instead I saw one of my neighbors.  She was a skinny, late 30ish woman who I had chatted with a couple of times near the pool or in passing on the way out of the complex.  I could never remember her name and was too embarrassed to ask. She had her laptop in hand and begged to use my internet as the connection at her place was not working and she desperately needed to email something for one of her classes.  “No problem” I said and let her in.  That was my first mistake. Continue reading If Crazy Knocks, Don’t let Her in… →

Book Report: The Pale King

The Pale King is an unfinished book written by a dead man devoted to the idea that true control and happiness can be attained by being engaged and focused on whatever one happens to be presented.  The author, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide before the book was finished so it is difficult to see where the narrative was headed, however, this does not diminish the quality of the writing nor the poignancy of the themes that the book raises.  The characters are set within the bureaucracy of the US Internal Revenue Service in the mid 80′s trying to make sense of their lot in life.  The author uses this environment to create a backdrop of impenetrable blandness and boredom on which to present the characters.

Wallace has a writing talent and mastery of conveying salient points that reminds me of Oscar Wilde and as I read this book I would pause and think about how he was able to succinctly describe things that I had felt for a long time yet could never convey so clearly.  With that in mind, I selected some quotes that I found particularly interesting to highlight: Continue reading Book Report: The Pale King →

The Monday Rotation: A Life in a Day

My second attempt at driving on the incorrect side of the road yesterday went faiiirrrrrrllllyyy well.  The extra i’s, r’s, l’s and y’s on the “fairly” are there to denote the fact that I grazed a tree and nearly ripped the left-side mirror off (nothing a little superglue couldn’t fix).  The problem with driving on the opposite side of the road is not so much the traffic flow, it has more to do with me being on the other side of the car.  Spatially it just feels wrong.  I have no idea where to put my arms and EVERY time I try to use the turn signal I end up putting on the winshield wipers.  It is amazing how little changes can completely alter your perspective on something.

  

Continue reading The Monday Rotation: A Life in a Day →

Quotes of Note

I read a TON of stuff everyday.  There is always a source of content available and I happily consume all of this media at work, on the train and back at home.  This constant flow of information has a way of destroying my attention span and overflowing my mind with information.  So much so, that I have a running notepad on my phone devoted to things that I find interesting and/or worth remembering.  Here are some of the nuggets that I have picked up the last few months:

“He’s a fanatic, so we can stop him, because a fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.” – George Smiley – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Continue reading Quotes of Note →

That’s Snacktacular!

During my commute on the train to work each morning I have a set roster of podcasts that I listen to while I am wedged between fellow commuters on one of Sydney’s luxurious train cars.  I haven’t added a new one to the lineup in a while but a friend recommended that I listen to “Mike and Tom Eat Snacks“.  It is hilarious.  There have been many times walking down the street or sitting on the train when I have spontaneously burst out laughing as people then try not to make eye contact and assume I am a lunatic.  (Actually, It may have been because I was laughing orrrrrrrr because I had my cock out waving it at them whilst carving a swastika into my bare chest… not exactly sure yet, the jury is still out.)

Anyways, the podcast has Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh hanging out rating snacks, taking it way too seriously and making up a bunch of stories surrounding the food and their friendship.  Michael is constantly making fun of Tom for playing the role of  “The Park Ranger” on the Yogi Bear movie (“Being the Ranger on the Yogi Bear franchise is LITERALLY a license to print money.”) and making up nonsensical words to describe snacking activities (“Janellying” – the act of starting to chew something and chugging a liquid while the food is still in your mouth).  I am about 10 episodes in and needless to say I am enjoying my free entertainments.  I highly recommend downloading this off of Itunes.

In addition to the free internet chuckles the podcast has had me thinking about snacking and the role that snacks have played in various parts of my life.  For example:

Skittles

Freshman year of high school during lunch there was this kid that sat near us who, looking back on it, may have been legitimately mentally handicapped.  He either had a bad speech impediment or was retarded, maybe both?  He always had a shitty lunch and would try to mooch whatever good stuff we had in our meal.  That’s where the Skittles came in.  One of our friends at the time decided it would be a good idea to give the Skittles to the retarded kid only if he could bounce them into his mouth.  To this day, I cannot think of Skittles without thinking of the yellow and green candy morsels careening across the lunch table and bouncing off of that kid’s face; his mouth curled in a grim rictus evoking  those carnival clown games where you squirt water at to blow up a balloon.  It is as true today as it was in ’93 highschoolers are horrible, horrible people.  I’m glad the kid didn’t choke on one of those Skittles as I would be just getting out of Joliet State prison from my manslaughter rap.

I'm ashamed of your racism.

Grapes

As I was writing that last paragraph it triggered another (loosely) snack related incident that happened in high school with the same kid.  We had some sort of fundraiser going on and as a promotion for it a few kids were called down to the main office to participate on a quiz game that was broadcast through the PA system during homeroom.  One of the kids happened to be the “Skittle receiver” with the speech impediment mentioned above.  Everyone had been zoning out and fucking around until this kid’s question came up… “What is the world’s favorite flavor?”  At this point everyone is thinking “Chocolate”… or maybe “Pepper”?  Not this kid.  He paused for a few moments… audibly shifted in his chair grunting a few times then nervously blurted… “GWWWWWAAAAAAAPPPPEEE?”  Excuse me?  Motherfucking grape?  Huh?  On what planet is grape the world’s favorite flavor?  And, no, I already know what you are thinking… the kid was NOT black.  You are soooo racist.

Arby’s Sandwich

I don’t even know if this would count as a snack but fuck it.  In college, my roommate and I were milling about our fraternity house during welcome weekend while everyone was moving in.  As you could imagine 25+ college guys moving into one house is about as organized as Afghanistan’s space shuttle program.  I had arrived early and finished moving my stuff so I spent the rest of my time drunk and mocking the people who were still lugging shit up to their rooms. **sidenote** When I say I “moved in” that is a bit of a lie.  I had not planned my move-out the summer before to well and had to pack whatever I could in the back of a friend’s Pontiac Sunfire in the 15 minutes before they left.  A Sunfire is not exactly the prime vehicle when you are looking to move house; I had to leave most of my stuff back in a unoccupied room and asked a friend who was staying the summer to keep an eye on it for me.  Smashcut to move-in day and pretty much all of my shit was ransacked during the summer and left strewn about the filthy hallway.  I learned 2 things from this experience: 1 – Never leave anything of value alone with my dickhead friends for 3 months and 2 – Never trust a guy nicknamed “Stinky” to be responsible for ANYTHING.  Lessons learned.

Drug Den

Sometime during that day my roomate and I were offered a case of beer to help one of the guys put his loft together.  After negotiating we agreed to do it – for a case of beer and an all-we-could eat session at Arby’s (that’s what I call negotiation – eat your heart out David Stern).  As anyone knows there is one thing that MUST be done before any Arby’s visits visit… so we headed to my buddy’s van to get baked.  We sat in his peice of shit van sitting on the actual lumber we were to help him assemble and proceeded to get “Dock Ellis” levels of fucked up.  Which we did, oh yes, we did.  I was so fried that I barely remember the trip to the land of the “Big Montana“.  The only thing I can recall about the meal was slathering a filthy amount of “horsey sauce” on the sandwich as that was the only thing I felt I could taste at the time (say no to drugs, kids).  We convinced our friend to buy us our case of beer on the way home and when we got back we promptly finished it off, passing out moments before any work was done.  That’s why socialism doesn’t work.  USA!  USA!  USA!

Do you have any snack related stories to report?