An Abyss in Motion

[1] I am both anti-social and introverted.

What I am not is shy, and I think this makes for an odd combination that other people find hard to understand. Sometimes I think I’m probably a high-functioning sociopath. I have very little brain-to-mouth filter in social situations, and although I can be charming when I have to be, I’m usually the first one to make a lewd joke or to say something completely off-the-wall.

It’s not disingenuous. I’m not faking a persona. I take very few things seriously, and irreverence makes life interesting sometimes. It’s just that if you want superficial, I’ll give you superficial.

One of the reasons why I have a hard time with social interaction is because I very rarely experience it as genuine. People are rarely interested in who you are.

You see people, you size them up, you judge them, you categorize them, you determine what you want from them and whether or not you think you can get it.

That’s just how people are. It’s what we do. It’s what I do. Most of the time we use people as means, and that’s okay. I’ve grown accustomed to my students staring blankly at me waiting for me to convey information. To cashiers trying to hurry me along and looking right through me. To being seen as nothing but a gender. To being leered at and objectified.

All of these interactions are the same.

It’s all a performance.

It’s all surface.

And you could argue with me that it takes time to get to know people. That you deal with the surface first, and then you get to know what someone is really like underneath, but it doesn’t usually work that way for me.

All of my close friends, all of the people I love most in this world, I didn’t have to work for it. There was some kind of immediate connection where I just knew or felt that I could comfortably not perform around them. I’ve lost some of these people over the years – to time, to circumstances, to surface, because that’s also what people do. We walk in between form and formless, ego and non-ego, the individual self and the whole of everything that binds us all in existence, and most people end up on the side of form, seeking self-worth and validation by any means necessary.

We all believe in this lie of personal identity, even though when it comes down to it, I really am nothing but a series of events and the product of my situatedness. Of history and culture and language. There’s nothing underlying that set of relations. I don’t have an individual soul.[2]

Of course, I am a unique product in some ways; no one has experienced my experiences from my particular perspective. No one else inhabits my body. A lot more goes on inside my head than I will ever project to the surface. I live in my head almost exclusively. I rather like it that way.

In fact, I like being alone.

I’ve gone at least a week without speaking a word aloud or writing a word to another human being before.

It’s not because I don’t like people, it’s just that I’m not interested in the surface, and that’s how much most people are willing (or even able) to show. In a lot of cases it’s a defense mechanism. In some cases there’s just nothing else there. Either way, I find skimming the surface exhausting.

What makes it even harder is that I don’t think personal identity is important at all. Most of us want to feel like we are unique and special, and it’s hard for people to hear me say that I don’t think I am and that I don’t think I should be. I think the interesting things happen on the level of the whole, of everyone, on the shared level of existence that happens underneath, on the big picture. I’m interested in concepts, not egos. In ideas, not people. In the human condition, not humans.

A lot of people find that offensive. Or they find me aloof and cold and depressing, and I am. But that’s not who I am.

If I could pinpoint the source of all the angst of my 20s, it’s being forced to live in a world where I have to be an ego competing with other egos. I need a profession and an income and a spouse and children and personal tastes and political opinions and to buy a new car every few years.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. People keep asking me what I’m going to do now that I’m going to be over-educated and jobless and maybe a homeless vagabond.

But rarely does anyone ask me what I really want. Maybe they’re afraid of the answer.

I want to not have to explain myself and to get lost in fictional worlds and to listen to Wilco albums and to smell lilac wafting in the air and to be able to stand very still and drink it in and to appreciate the taste of bergamot in my tea and to see the stars at night and to feel connected not to individuals but to everything.

I want to be a part of the disgusting mess humanity has made of this planet. I don’t want to fix it. Or make money in it. Or theorize and complain about how “society has gone to hell in a handbasket.” I don’t want to squander my life the way most people want to squander theirs (and it is all squandering). I don’t want fame or notoriety. I don’t want wealth or excess. I don’t want children or a significant other.

If I could do anything in the world, you know what I’d do? I’d live in London. I’d live in London, and I’d ride the tube all day, and I’d watch the people getting on and off the trains with destinations in their feet. I’d watch them reading and talking on their phones and thinking that their life is important.

I’d be a part of it all, but as an observer and not a participant. I’d watch them, and I’d fill in their stories inside my head. And maybe I’d write them down, and maybe I wouldn’t. And maybe you’d hear from me again, and maybe you wouldn’t.

But that’s all I want.


[1] Title comes from the song “Theologians,” off Wilco’s A Ghost is Born.
[2] By Jove, Aristotle was right!

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One thought on “An Abyss in Motion

  1. Yes. At DePauw, I had basically no friends. I never saw beneath the surface of partying, frats, and sororities… and I’m not sure there was even anything under the surface, in most cases. But in the three years I spent working at Alco, I made lasting friendships without even trying, with people that I didn’t really have anything in common with, some of them a lot older than me. We were all in an environment that forced us to get to know each other beneath the surface in the process of doing our jobs. We weren’t trying to become friends with each other… and maybe that’s when the best friendships are born.

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