Journal Entry from 11/7/08 – Edited

I’ve always been excited thinking about long-term prospects.  In some sense, I care about nothing more intensely than the big picture—the problems of the world, the flaws of society at large and how they all might be remedied “some day.”  But on another level, my day-to-day motivation comes from life’s ups-and-downs, the fluctuations in and deviations from routine. In fact, I’ve been struggling with a contradiction in my feelings that disturbs me intensely: on the one hand, the usual overwhelming yearning for something bigger, something greater (than the inevitable inanity of the single human life-space I occupy), and on the other hand, a relative lack of motivation to do things that might relate to/propel me toward some bigger, greater realm.  In a way, maybe I just don’t really care about the larger ills of the world in the same deep, personal, invested way I care about my own stupid life.

One problem is, the bigger picture can’t quite excite me like it once did.  Maybe that’s because, with each passing year, I’m less able to cloak myself in the airy comfort that I’m not really supposed to know where I’m going or what I’m doing yet, not supposed to have answers yet.  Or maybe it’s because I knew less when I was younger.  Less, that is, of what I didn’t know.  What I know now is that the problems I want to tackle are so massive and entrenched and tangled together that it would take lifetimes of studying merely to understand a fraction of the various systems that underpin these problems.  Take the economy, the key such “system.”  Even the experts can only hypothesize, theorize, argue about this system that both controls and reflects every facet of our lives and beings.  So every problem, every reality, is created by a web of forces the entirety of which we cannot physically wrap our human heads around and by the very mindsets, philosophies—paradigms—that in turn govern our behavior and our relationship with said forces…. What does that leave me to do?  From where does that leave me to seek inspiration?

Thus far I’ve found inspiration in a commitment to changing the paradigms.  But I keep running into two key problems.  First, faced with the seemingly irreconcilable deficit of proper knowledge, I can’t know what to prescribe.  Second, and more disturbing: as I sit trying to educate myself and striving to attain the ability to communicate or expose the paradigmatic ills I see, the world continues going to shit.  I, by default, accept the parameters of the [highly privileged, wildly unsustainable] lifestyle I, by virtue of the culture and location I’ve been born into, live; I “do little things” where I can but adopt (having imbibed, and constantly imbibing) the basic standards of our society.  I have to conform.  We all do.  I have to hold down a job, even if it means contributing my cog to the inexplicable economic wheel that churns out our lives and our world; I have to make “little sacrifices,” “justifiable trade-offs” on my “principles” (as if principles are separate from pragmatic action).  I have to constantly and subconsciously affect the separation between principle and pragmatism and mediate between the two.  All the while, I am living within (and so with) the constraints of my environment.

And so I have to tell myself that all I can do—the best I can do—is to follow the Lupine Lady: concentrate on leaving the world a more beautiful place.  This way of looking at things is, I’ve come to believe, the best way to look at things—but only in the face of all the obstacles to looking at them any differently.  Every little (or big, or even humongous) positive action I can ever take will be accompanied by countless equally little and big actions that work against me.  The carbon footprint I leave merely by being alive in the developed world is—I honestly, seriously suspect/fear—enough to cancel out even the best I could ever do for nature and for the world at large.  There is, then, no real satisfaction to be attained in striving to “be the change,” even as there remains still less satisfaction in the prospect of tacit acceptance of my place in the world.  I wish I could try to find total peace in living and wanting simply, in building my life out of what is available to me and doing the best I can by/for the relatively few people I can reach.  In fact, I admire many people for their unique ways of believing and manifesting just such a philosophy.  But I can’t internalize it myself.  Because no matter my choices, meanwhile to the course of my life, the rainforest continues to disappear, the holes in the ozone widen, the polar bears die, and my counterparts in [insert third-world country here] grovel in a garbage dump, freezing, hungry and utterly fucked.  The sheer scale, force and complexity of the quagmires corners me into apathy while the (I can only assume, human) tendency toward absorption in the immediate emotions of mice & men, love and life, thoroughly distract my head and heart.  The distractions (be they for better or for worse in supporting productivity by preserving some measure of personal sanity) further immobilize my already objective paralysis.

I know I will continue to strive for large-scale change.  I know I will continue to feel motivated and purposeful and inspired by the prospect of working to attain my dreams, contradiction-mired as they might inescapably be.  I can’t help it.  But a friend of mine hit on something that struck a chord with me when he said: “one day, you wake up—old—and realize it’s too late, you’re just not going to make it to those dreams.”  He’s 28.  And I feel this potential—the potential for failure—hovering increasingly acutely, ever persistently about me as I surge into the real world and realize anew each day how far I have yet to go, how long it takes to get anywhere and how very little idea I have of “where” to go anyway.  It’s a realization, not just or so much of how little chance I have to “be the change I want to see,” but of how little chance I have to see the change I want to be.  And if it’s not in my lifetime, it’s not in time.  Tellement future day of awakening—whether it be alone in my bed still desperately yearning for “the great wide out there” (and wondering where that is), or whether it be in the arms of the love of my life (who, as an emotionally immediate aspect of existence, has eclipsed all bigger cares and concerns I once had)—is perhaps my greatest fear.


Filed under Opinion & Essay

3 responses to “Journal Entry from 11/7/08 – Edited

  1. Kathleen

    I read somewhere that the secret to a happy life is accepting that it’s all a routine and learning to find joy in that routine. For me, I decided that loving the work I do was the way to ensure that I found pleasure in the every day.

    When I’m feeling glum about the world as it is, I like to think about the world as it was. Poverty isn’t what it used to be. As crazy as it may sound to argue that conditions in the third world represent improvement, to a certain extent they do. It is arguably better to be a worker in China today than a peasant in medieval France. And, every period has its great anxieties about the world going to hell in a hand basket. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong in the 21st century, but generally, I’ve come to believe that all change is actually fairly gradual. If the world is ending, I think it’ll be a process that takes quite a bit of time.

    This isn’t to say that we should accept all that is wrong. But we might feel better that we can only make improvements at the margins, and over the scope of human history, those marginal improvements really add up.

    In other words, the big picture is really just the aggregate of all the little pictures. Keep chipping away at the everyday and eventually it will add up to a lifetime of achievement.

    • Kathleen

      Whoops, I left out a couple of words :(

      *But we might feel better if we accept that we can only make improvements at the margins, and over the scope of human history, those marginal improvements really add up.

      • clarapy

        Thank you Kathleen!
        Your response represents, as ever, your lovely practical, optimistic way of looking at things! I love that.

        I think I struggle because, as much as it is indeed probably a better quality of life to be a worker in China today than a peasant in the Middle Ages, quality of life for the individual is just one of many lenses we might use for the purposes of qualitative comparison. Another lens–for example, disturbance to the natural world–might show a very different picture. It all depends what lens is prioritized; our (Western? American? developed world?) paradigms definitely prioritize individual utility but perhaps not rightly so.

        What would be the optimal balance of priorities? I wish I knew! What, in the long shot of the evolution of a planet, or of a species even, does any of it matter? Just about nothing. And that, I think, is the latest & greatest solace for me, even as my greatest fear remains the coming of the ordinary and onset of complacency. “Life is a tragedy close up and a comedy in the long shot.” (Charlie Chaplan) (And of course my all-time favorite of 3 years, the Eugene O’Neill that’s too long to be quoted here in its entirety but can be basically summed up by the last line: “The individual life is made significant just by the struggle.”)

        Anyway, I should also note that the “heat of the moment” feeling expressed in the original journal entry passed pretty quickly. I still experience the frustration of the constant struggle between the grand and the mundane (those stupid daydreams butting in on my reading time every day on the train!), and I am still conscious of a sort of 1-step-forward-3-steps-back reality, but what I said at the end holds true: I still feel inspired, I still feel excited to make some kind of impact. And, you’re right; if it’s not in my lifetime, it still might be in time.

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