Interview With Randall Sokoloff (A Brief Excerpt) (Post #421)

The writer Marty Fletcher interviews the writer, blogger, artist and psychotherapist Randall Sokoloff. This interview will be published in our upcoming summer issue of WEDONTEXIST Magazine, which will be about the art of blogging.

Randall: Hello?

Interviewer: Hi Randall. Should we continue the interview now for thirty more minutes or so?

Randall: Sure. What was it you were saying last time we talked?

Interviewer: I’ve been reading your blog and other published writings for a long time now. I can’t seem to figure out what exactly you are doing but this interview is an attempt to make some sense of your writing. Is it one big lie you are constructing or are you actually telling this continuous, never-ending story with each piece that you write, like an open ended novel? I think of your writing as merging somewhere in between these two points, but I wanted to ask you, what are you doing?

Randall: With my writing?

Interviewer: Yes.

Randall: I like a quote from Stevenson about fiction: “The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material, as a shoe must consist of leather, but by its immeasurable difference from life, which is both designed and significant, and is both the method and the meaning of the work.” So for me the meaning has nothing to do with what I write, the meaning of what I write is entirely in the distance from what is being written about.

Interviewer: So you are merging both method and meaning?

Randall: I suppose. Each story that I write is really just setting up the need for another story, so yes your statement about my writing as a kind of continuous and unfinished novel or literary project is correct.

Interviewer: The meaning of what you write is to be found in its distance from reality?

Randall: I think that fiction is realistic when it reminds readers that what they are reading is a complete lie. Getting readers to a point where they can accept the pleasure and excitement of the text they are reading as being just that and not a reflection of something else. In fiction meaning only exists in the experience of reading. Outside of the book or blog entry the story does not exist. The meaning is temporary, transitory, like all forms of meaning. It is the same when watching a film or listening to music. The meaning is transitory. The problem is when people try to extend the meaning of art into reality (the world).

Interviewer: What I like about certain stories or pieces of music is that they are not trying to offer up some kind of conclusion that you can take home with you. There is an infinite bundle of possibilities within the piece but ultimately it does not mean anything beyond the experience of reading or listening. Even though I feel like sometimes you are offering solutions in your work, I don’t feel like there are any conclusions. Just infinite possibilities.

Randall: I like that reading of my work. Thank you. For me, fiction is the only authentic terrain where anarchy is still possibility within a society that has become completely militarized and regulated. Within the context of fiction the writer has limitless possibilities. They can shape realities in whatever way they want. This is the exciting thing about blogging. There are no rules online. Do whatever you want! There is the freedom to create whatever meaning you want to create. Where else in life can a person do this?

Interviewer: This is why it so important to not accept any conclusion, even though it may look good.

Randall: Absolutely. In our current society, if you accept a conclusion, chances are you have accepted propaganda- not straight talk.

Interviewer: I feel like your work has something to do with a kind of resistance. Resistance to the status quo, to the society you find yourself living in. It seems like there is a kind of heroic struggle in your writing.

Randall: I don’t know about that. Sure there is a lot of resistance in my writing. Writing for me is an act of resistance against status quo. Ultimately, I’m trying to work through the problem of sincerity. I am attempting a kind of sincerity between what the story is about and what is being said. This is the interesting problem for me to try and work out in my writing.

Interviewer: Yes. The pleasure of reading your work, for me at least, is going on this journey as you try and work through the interesting problem you just spoke of. You are a terrific narrator and you make things happen on the page that I identify deeply with. Even if you are not understanding what may be going on there is still the pleasure of discovery when reading what you write. I feel like I get to join you on the path of discovery, that reaching into what you do not know yet.

Randall: Thank you. I like that and would like to say more about it. Do you mind if I go get a cup of coffee quickly and then you could call me back in say twenty minutes?

Interviewer: Sure. No problem. I could use some coffee myself.

Read more of this interview with Randall Sokoloff in the upcoming summer issue of WEDONTEXIST Magazine!

Why I Am Breaking Up With Facebook (Again). (Post #420)

My writing is a mixture of quasi-autobiography and fiction. I pull from my life but then run it through my imagination. Some people go to sports events, bars, sex shows or movies to have fun. I have fun by combining my real life with my imagination and then blending it all together through writing.

Several years ago I wrote a mini-story called Confessions Of A Facebook Addict. It was ten percent autobiography, the rest was fiction. This is why I distinctively remember having a lot of fun writing the story in my small writing studio in Davis, California. I sent the story out to several publications but no one was interested. I posted the story on my blog and no one read it. Confessions Of A Facebook Addict, like most online stories, hung there suspended and unread in digital space. After a few weeks I forgot all about it.

But then I began receiving emails. The New York Times, The Huntington Post, Money Magazine and many other on and offline publications I had never heard of wanted to interview me about my Facebook addiction. I thought about whether or not I should tell the truth and let them know I am not really addicted to Facebook and it was just a story I made up. But I have always been interested in the intersection between life and art. I love it when art gets away with imitating life. Doesn’t happen often that art can be victorious over the forces of banality and conformity that are continually trying to destroy it. But sometimes art sneaks in and no one knows it’s happening. Blending art with the banality of real life is something I never had the opportunity to do outside of my blog and other writings. This was my moment, my one shot to make my small contribution. So I played the part and pretended to be the character that I wrote about in Confessions Of A Facebook Addict. I was interviewed and confessed to being a Facebook addict and before I knew it the fictional character was being made real in many on and offline publications such as The Huntington Post. This just goes to show that A LOT of what you read online is not true.

I did leave Facebook not long after. I broke up with Facebook because I already had enough anxiety in my own life and felt like Facebook was adding an extra level of anxiety that I really did not need. Like most people, my relationship with social media is complicated and not having this added complication present in a life that already felt complicated, was really nice. Facebook keeps a person in touch with people who in a world without Facebook would remain in the past. I think it is healthy for most people you have known to remain apart of your past. The past heals. We know each other for a period of time and then we don’t. This is natural. But holding on to a past that should be long gone creates all kinds of unnecessary difficulties. It is something that is not supposed to be happening and we suffer the consequences for holding on to something that really should no longer be there.

As it is with a lot of complicated relationships that have a blend of love/hate feelings, after a three year absence I returned to Facebook not really knowing why. It was good to be back because Facebook is a realm in which time stands still. In a world where time ravages everyone I know and knew, it was nice to find a warm place seemingly immune from the ravages of time. Sure the interface and various Facebook accessories changed, but more or less everyone was still doing the same thing; posting about fun times, feelings, people they love, opinions, songs and bands they love, things they have accomplished, political and spiritual perspectives and on and on. As a man who is not entirely comfortable with the rapid passing of time, Facebook provided me with a kind of SAFE SPACE in which to hide from storm. A space where whether people are aware of it or not, everyone is taking collective shelter from the ravages of time. This is what creates that underlying sense of community on Facebook. It is a community of people all connecting up together and pushing back against the forces of entropy.

Like most communities that provide people with a safe space, it is easy to get too involved, too quick. Of course I involved myself too much, too quick. I got in over my head as I often tend to do with most things. I shared and said too much. Without Facebook, a person is much more alone in the outside world. Fewer people listen to things you have to say. You get to be less yourself. At times being alone in the outside world can feel isolating. You might even question if you really matter anymore especially when you know that to be relevant in this tech driven world, you must join the gathering going on inside. I already have a tendency to share too much in my day to day life. Give me a microphone and I become that quiet guy who has so much more to say than you ever thought possible. Like most people, I keep a lot in, but when given any opportunity to express myself, it will be a gushing forth.

This time around on Facebook, I deleted more status updates than I shared. The status updates I did share, I felt apprehensive about. Did I say too much? Maybe I should not have said that? This was my common thought process every time I posted something. I did not want to post banal status updates about say my new puppy or the plate of food I was eating but I was also aware that Facebook is a pretty conservative place where people are overly concerned about what others might think of them. Most people on Facebook just elect to play it safe. Personally, I find this boring but maybe that is my downfall. Like Icarus, despite your warnings, if you give me wings to fly I will definitely get too close to the sun. And besides, do most of my “friends” on Facebook really need to know this stuff about me? Maybe they need for me to be just as a part of their past as I need them to be apart of mine. This is not a bad thing.

So in a sense, maybe Karma has bit me in the ass. The character in Confessions Of A Facebook Addict is a neurotic man overly concerned with all the different nuances involved in the Facebook world. He is continually wondering about what others think of him, angry about the vast degree of passive aggressive behaviors and judgement of others that is an epidemic on Facebook. He is annoyed with his own narcissism, human folly and frustrated that he allows Facebook to turn him into what he feels like he has become. In a lesser way, maybe this is what is starting to happen to me now.

Some people, like my wife, can be very responsible with their Facebook usage. They check in every few weeks or so and that is it. Some people have no need to share at all. They play the role of the voyeuristic troll going on Facebook to see what certain people are up to. But then there are those of us who go on Facebook several times a day. When given an opportunity for self-expression, we indulge. As an artist, writer or any creative person this is a great asset. The artist or writer who has a lot of self-restraint when it comes to self-expression makes mostly boring art. All surface no depth. But Facebook is not the place for most kinds of self-indulgent, self-expression and if someone does not take the mike away from me I will keep expressing myself when maybe what I really need to do is shut up and sit down. This is why I am breaking up with Facebook (again). It feels like the right thing to do before karma really sneaks up on me and turns me into that character in Confessions Of A Facebook Addict.

It is always a beneficial human ability to know when it is the right time to jump ship and then to be brave enough to actually jump. Without this ability, we just live our lives stuck on the edge.

I’m jumping (again).

Conversation With A Record Store Clerk (#Post 419)

*This will be my final post for a week or so. I will be finishing a short novel, which I hope to self-publish in full on this site. Thank you.

 

UnknownI am not a conversationalist. At least this is what I tell myself. When I do engage in interesting conversations with certain people, I often find it a relief to get out of my own head for a bit. I then wonder to myself, what would I be like if I was more of a conversationalist? What would I be like if I actually struck up conversations with random strangers? But I don’t. Normally I keep to myself and pretend not to see other people.

Maybe if I took a small dosage of a certain psychiatric drug I would be more of a conversationalist? Or, maybe if I drank beer or consumed marijuana on a regular basis I would be more interested in talking with other people? What would it take? In my normal state of sobriety I don’t really want to talk to anyone. This is why I was so surprised when I walked into the record store yesterday and started up a conversation with the record store clerk.

I startled even myself when I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” Startled, because when I said this I was actually interested in hearing his response. Normally I am not. I use this question in the same way I use soap, it’s a habit. Do I really care about the response? I’m not certain. I am often asking the question before I know I am asking the question. Hey, How Are You Doing? It’s a question in a can that I have been trained to pull from without thinking about it.

Hey, How Are You Doing?

Hey, How Are You Doing?

I feel bad about how often I have disingenuously utilized this question. I try not to do that anymore but like all bad habits, it sneaks in. For whatever reason, I meant it this time. Maybe it was because I have a deep respect for anyone who works in a record store.

Walking into a record store (for me) is always a feeling of walking into a happier place. A record store is a place filled with endless possibilities, endless new discoveries. Very rarely am I more excited about life than when I walk into a record store. What new discovery will I make today? I am no different from a child walking into a toy store or a religious person walking into their holy space. My mood is instantly lifted every time I walk into a record store.

“Oh, I don’t know. I am existing I guess,” the record store clerk replied in a defeated kind of way. Shoulders hunched, back bent from carrying too much psychic weight as Sade played on the sound system. I don’t know why or what this says about me but immediately I could relate. I stopped at the counter and he moved towards the counter. I wanted to hear more of what he had to say.

“Other people just really suck, you know? The mass human beings just fill me with such disdain and disgust. I really don’t like other people at all. Such a selfish and ugly species, destroying everything we touch. Like cattle or something. Just a really stupid people. You should see the crap I have to sell everyday. I don’t know man, I just don’t like other people one bit,” he said while looking me straight in the eyes.

He looked like a nice guy. A guy that was once a cute kid deeply loved by his parents. He had wide brown eyes and a boyish smile. His hair was short, black and parted to the side but his style (Guided By Voices t-shirt and black jeans) indicated that maybe he stopped caring about fashion after the nineties ended.

“I understand man, I really do.” I meant what I said rather than saying something I did not mean just to be nice. I have found myself thinking similar things about other people from time to time.

“Other people can be really troubling, I know. I get it. We are in a really difficult period in human history. I get it man,” I said.

“You do?” he said with a smile breaking through what I assumed was a permanent grin on his face.

“I do, I really do.”

“You know, I think my day just got a lot better. I am so happy to know that I am not insane for feeling the way I do,” he said.

“No, you are not insane at all. I get it and don’t disagree with you but the question is what are you going to do with the set of circumstances you have found yourself in? You live in this society surrounded by people you have immense disdain for. What do you do?” I asked. I was hopeful that maybe he would provide me with an answer.

“Suicide?”

“Didn’t Albert Camus write that the only real question is whether or not we should kill ourselves?” I asked not thinking that he would know.

“Yeah, but Camus advocated against suicide in favor of making life as meaningful as possible within the meaninglessness of life. In his book The Myth Of Sisyphus, Camus wrote about how we, like Sisyphus, are doomed to have to roll the boulder up and down the hill every fucking day for a lifetime and that we should learn to make the best of it even though none of it means anything and it all sucks,” he replied. I was impressed.

“I thought Camus thought that suicide was the only reasonable answer given the situation human beings have found themselves in?” I asked.

“No, he argued for making the best out of a life that would always be filled with suffering and ultimately has no meaning. That is existentialism,” the record store clerk replied.

“I see, I guess I had that one backwards.” I was slightly embarrassed by my ignorance but glad to finally get it straight.

“So then what do we do?” I asked him again.

“Roll the boulder with a smile? I don’t know man, I just spend most of my time reading and listening to records. Outside of work that is all I do. I am a consumer of culture. A culture whore. I consume but do not produce. I don’t produce anything. All consumption with no production. I just read and listen to records. It’s pathetic, I know.”

“I dont think its pathetic at all. How old are you?” I thought he might say 32 or 33.

“I am 40 man,” he said as if it was something to be ashamed of. As if he should have all of this figured out by now.

“40, that is tough. It definitely gets harder at 40, I know,” I replied sympathetically.

Again his eyes opened wide and his back straightened. “Really. Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate that. Everyone is always telling me that No Everything Will Be Fine, Everything Is Ok, Don’t Get So Down but no one seems to acknowledge how much harder it actually gets. I am glad you do.”

“Yeah, it does get harder,” I said. I wanted to say: Yeah it does get harder especially if you have a lot of self-judgement, are working retail and have a strong dislike of other people.

He kept looking around the store trying to see if his manager was looking at him and getting frustrated that he was taking up so much time having a conversation with a customer. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, so I started moving the conversation towards an ending point.

“Reading and listening to records all the time is not a bad thing. Someone has to do it in order for there to be writers and musicians,” I said. “Some of the greatest artists, musicians and writers were obsessive consumers of culture.”

“Yeah I know but I am not producing anything, just consuming.”

“So what? That is great that you have something you love to do!”

“Yeah but I am not consuming stuff that the mass of people consume. I can’t stand all that crap. I consume obscure books and records that no one reads or listens to so it can feel really alienating and isolating,” he said while looking around the store.

“I know man. I like all of that stuff as well. It does make you an outsider,” I replied.

“Thank you, an outsider. That is exactly what I am. A doomed outsider.”

“Oh common, you are fortunate to have discovered and cultivated an interest for music and books that the mass of people have no idea exists. Don’t look at it as a bad thing. By working at a record store you are just buying time. Buying time so that you can spend the rest of your time reading and listening to records. It’s a very noble pursuit in a time where most people’s interests are shaped by massive advertising and entertainment companies making a fortune from figuring out how to feed the mass of people a steady diet of mind numbing crap filled with propaganda,” I said.

I really wanted him to know that he was not alone. That we were floating along in the same boat.

“Maybe so, but I’m not producing anything. A person should produce something.”

“You just need to stop judging yourself for that one. That is your real problem. You got to just let yourself enjoy what you love doing. Stop beating yourself up about it. Listening to obscure records and being a reader is a perfectly productive way to spend a life.”

It seemed like he was becoming a bit lighter. Like his mind was backing off from the beating it was always giving him. He told me about his two divorces and his recent break up with his girlfriend. I asked if the decline of these relationships had anything to do with his misery. He said no, then yes, then definitely his first two marriages but not the recent break up with the girlfriend. I asked him his name.

“Anthony,” he said.

“I’m Randall,” I said reaching out my hand to shake his. I felt like I was meeting someone who I could be good friends with but probably never will be. We seemed to be similar in many different ways except that he was still spending much of his time beating himself up. I like to think that I finished with that long ago.

He looked around the store again, this time he looked worried about being reprimanded by his manager who was walking around the store pushing a cart filled with records and then filing them away into their correct resting place.

“Well, I am going to go buy a record. It was really nice talking with you,” I said.

“Really nice talking with you as well,” he replied.

I walked further into the record store, ready to make a new discovery.

Sleeping Upside Down (Post #418)

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It is difficult. It requires commitment and a will to succeed. It is not something that you just do, like watching television or driving a car. No, sleeping upside down requires a discipline and willpower that most humans would rather not engage in. But anyone who succeeds at anything must push through immense resistance and be persistent even though all they want to do is quit. Persistence is not easy and it requires moving against the forces of gravity. But persistence is the only way that human beings can achieve anything that is impossible for most people to do, especially when it comes to hair growth.

I was always the one with a full, curly head of hair. In a crowd of people my head of hair would be the first thing noticed. I had (and still have to an extent) the kind of hair that can only be bestowed upon a person through the inheritance of certain genetic predisposition. I won the cosmic hair lottery. But I suppose all good genes suffer the same fate- there must come a time for their rapid decline. A decade or so ago, as I was at work on my first novel entitled The Absurdist, I noticed strands of hair collecting on the paper as I wrote. I remember thinking, Oh no, the time has come. I felt like I was still too young to really start losing hair, but I also was well aware of the destiny that awaited me.

My father, my four uncles and both of my grandfathers all had large bald spots on the back of their head. As a young man I remember thinking that they all looked like they had encountered angry Native Americans seeking revenge on Jewish white men. (I did not realize then that being scalped involved taking out a chunk of the scalp along with the hair. I just thought it was the absence of hair.) I grew into adulthood assuming that one day I would look like I had been scalped as well. The site of my father’s bald spot would induce a depression in me so deep that I would refuse to get out of bed. What was the point of growing older if this was my fate? I thought. (This was before I knew that having a completely bald head had some sex appeal.) But like most things that horrify us, I put balding out of mind, stopped looking at the back of my family members heads and forget about it until years later strands of hair started falling from my head like a winter’s snow.

A decade later and now the bald spot is just about to break through the thinning hairs on the back of my head and declare itself for what it is, a bald spot. I still have enough hair to hide the spot but it is kind of like a girl wearing a thin, white t-shirt without a bra. If you look hard enough you can see her breasts just underneath. I am now at this point, what my barber calls the balding line. There is little time left before a spot of bald scalp will appear on my head. I needed to take radical action. I tried all the Thai, Swiss, Arabic, Australian and Russian massage techniques and a plethora of nutritional remedies but nothing seemed to work. Online I found a community of almost balding or bald men who wanted their hair back so bad that they were willing to sleep upside down. The site claimed that sleeping upside down is the best way to generate new hair growth but they also claim that it is no quick fix. In the About Sleeping Upside Down section of the website it reads: Sleeping upside down can be brutal. It is not for those who are not desperate and it is filled with obstacles. You can no longer sleep next to your partner and this might create intimacy issues. You can no longer read or watch television in order to fall asleep due to nausea and headache issues. If you have to wake in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, it is at least a thirty minute process. Sleeping upside down is a radical lifestyle change but it will give you your hair back.

Using the instructions in the Sleeping Upside Down How To section of the website, I created my own sleeping upside down contraption. The contraption is not unlike an inversion table. The difference is that with the contraption I made, I am using a long piece of the strongest kind of silk material that exists. It is so strong that it is used by various inversion and ariel artists. I attached this piece of material to a bar and hooks that hang from my ceiling and can hold my body weight. When it comes time for bed I sit inside the material (kind of like a hammock) and then with a strong push of my body weight I swing myself upside down. I rest my legs and feet up against the wall and support my head with a pillow that I keep inside the silk material. This took getting used to (the continual pulsations in my head and ears were the hardest part) but over the past ten days I have become more and more accustomed to sleeping upside down.

My wife is frustrated that we no longer fall asleep holding one another, but she is fifteen years younger than I and the last thing she wants is a husband with a bald spot. As a result she has been supportive. I have yet to see any proof that sleeping upside down is working. The testimonies and information on the Sleeping Upside Down website claim that it takes at least two months before a person sees any significant new hair growth. Over time, immersing the scalp in at least eight hours of blood flow directly to the scalp will generate new hair growth (so they say). If a person wants to achieve what most ordinary mortals consider impossible, then they must be willing to take great risks. It is the only way. All I want to do is quit and return to my comfortable bed and hold my wife tightly as we fall off to sleep together. This is all I want to do but if I do it I know I will end up with a bald spot. So I must persist. Persistence is the only way anything impossible become possible. This much I know for certain.

I refuse to go bald just yet. I have a wife that fell in love with me because of my full head of curly hair. The way that I rebel against the forces of normalcy (that run rampant in our American society) is by letting my hair grow longer than I should. If I had a bald spot in the back of my head, I would loose all cultural legitimacy. It is at this point that I presume I would begin to hunch over, go limp and grow old (unless of course I made the radical decision to shave my entire head). A bald spot in the back of my head would be the ultimate defeat, which I realize is inevitable with age. But I am not ready for this yet, since I believe I have many potent years still to go. Every night I will sleep upside down for as long as need be. I will tell my wife I love her and kiss her goodnight from a distance. I will persist and hopefully in the end, all this sleeping upside down will allow me to prevail over the forces of my genetic destiny.

Ten Ways To Escape From The Outside World (Post #417)

Sure, it is good to go out and get in to the outside world. But the opposite is also true, it is just as good (if not better) to escape from the outside world. For those who love peace and calm the outside world can be a very difficult space to navigate. While it may be healthy to go out now and then, here are ten tips (which, I have tested out myself for weeks at a time) for periodically or permanently escaping the outside world:

#1. Procrastinate. Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it, don’t care about it. Just leave it alone. Stay present and let the future work itself out. Just enjoy your time now and don’t worry about what may or may not be coming up ahead.

#2. Really try to stay offline. Turn your phone off as much as possible, don’t check email, don’t go online. Try to live your life as if none of that existed. Do anything else but use the internet.

#3. Be creative. Write a story or write in a journal. Paint something. Make a detailed drawing. Build something. Garden. Make a sculpture out of wood. Think up your own philosophy about something and write it down. Talk to yourself about something interesting. Play a musical instrument. Move the furniture around in your house or apartment. Do anything that feels like you are engaging the more creative parts of your brain.

#4. Listen to music. Find interesting music that engages your creativity, or imagination and listen to it. Currently I am listening to the earlier work of Klaus Schulze, who is a German electronic musician. If you have yet to listen to much Krautrock, I recommend starting there. Give Kraftwerk’s earlier albums a try. Or listen to classical music. Listen to records. Listen to cassetes. Listen to the radio. Spend quality time really immersing yourself in musical sounds.

#5. Don’t worry about stuff. This is so important since the outside world really gets its hooks in you through worry. This is how the outside world holds you hostage. So do whatever you can to stop worrying. Meditate, play music, listen to music, go for a walk, drink a glass of wine, do deep breathing, make art, write in a journal- anything to get control of your worry.

#6. Watch cats, birds or dogs. Notice what they do, how they spend their day and try to learn from them. Eat, play, go to the bathroom, rest, listen, observe, sleep.

#7. Just sit there. Pascal, the French writer, mathematician, inventor and philosopher (he made good use of his time while escaping the outside world) said that most of what ails human beings would be avoided if we could just learn how to be content sitting in a chair, alone in a room. So just stay where you are. Hang out. Control yourself. Stay put. Relax. Chill. You really do not need to be running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off.

#8. Don’t drive anywhere. For the most part, once you are driving a car you are immersed in the outside world. Driving a car involves you in the affairs of the world. You are subject to the legal system, stress and other driver’s personality disorders. There is no way to escape the outside world when in a car. Walk wherever you need to go. Stay on foot. You can walk all around in the outside world but still be free from it.

#9. Stay Home. I know this will be difficult for many, but and ideal way to escape the outside world is to not go into it. Stay home. Many of the above recommendations are things to keep you occupied while home. If you are really involved in your creative work you will have no need to leave your home (other than possibly for food). Find a space in your home where you like to be and just stay there. Don’t go online. Don’t talk on the phone. Don’t text. Read, write, meditate, listen to music, clean, sleep, watch films, cook- just be home.

#10. Read. This is the number one way to escape the outside world. Have you ever met a prolific reader who feels like they are all there? Probably not because the reader exists mostly in their head, not the outside world. If you are not a reader, chances are that you are completely swallowed up by the outside world. Reading prevents this from happening. Read novels, read non-fiction, read magazines. Read. I recommend reading really obscure, independent fiction. There is so much good stuff out there. Start with independent presses like Penny-Ante Press, Coffee House Press, Akashic Books or Two Dollar Radio. Engage your intellect and imagination. READ. If you become an engaged reader, this will guarantee your escape from the outside world.

Confessions Of A Worn Out Superhero (The Man In Black) (Post #416)

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I have a confession to make. What better place to make it than here? It is a little embarrassing to be telling you this. Maybe it is a lot embarrassing since no one knows about this, not even my wife. I don’t know why I feel the need to come clean now, but it is time. I must. My hope is that my readers will not judge me too much. I realize that this is much different from anything you have read from me before. I also understand that what I am about to tell you may sound crazy to many. It may seem even mentally insane, but for me it is something so normal that I am not bothered by it. What does bother me is what I am about to confess to you.

Let me tell you the more typical part first. You ever see a spider trapped in its own web? Well, this is how I feel. We all play a part, a role in our social lives. In our day-to-day social lives everyone is acting. The role that I play is that of a psychotherapist. I am a very well-respected psychotherapist who is good at the job that I do. I care about the people I work with, probably too much. Everyday I come to work, conservatively dressed and ready to help others in need. Not far from my office I have a nice two bedroom home, on a quiet suburban street. I live there with my wife and three dogs. My wife is also a psychotherapist and we share the same office. Since I was married five years ago, my wife and I have built a very comfortable, safe, secure and meaningful life for ourselves. I suppose that you would be correct if you were to say that we live in domestic bliss. But underneath domestic bliss, there is always someone who feels stuck.

Unlike city living, suburban living demands a certain degree of conformity. One must play a particular part if they want to not deviate from the norm. If a person deviates too much from the norm in the suburbs, they could lose all of their cultural legitimacy. In the city, the norm is not as narrow and rigidified as it is in the suburbs. This is why many people who live in the suburbs live very different lives behind closed doors than the lives they live while working. If we really knew one another, we would be shocked by how different they are from the person we thought they were. Maybe this is why the suburbs breed a quiet life of desperation. You would not be wrong if you said that I was living a quiet life of desperation. I have done exactly what I am not supposed to do if I really wanted to be the person that I am. I am not supposed to find domestic bliss just yet.

So I guess I will just come right out and tell you. I apologize for taking so long but I needed to preface my confession with some important supporting details. In the back of my bedroom closet I have what I guess you could call a uniform. It has been hanging there for years, unworn by me. The uniform consists of a black suit, with a black belt and black button down collared shirt (which, I wore buttoned all the way up). There is also a black face mask and a black rimmed hat. Beneath the suit there is a pair of wingtip  black shoes with a pair of black dress socks stuffed in them. The black face mask I keep hidden, so my wife has not seen it. She has seen everything else though and wonders why I have never worn my “nice outfit.” I tell her it is something I wore a lot before we met but have just not had a chance to put it on since. She has often wanted to go out to a nice club, a place where I could put the black suit on and have some fun, but I always tell her I am not in the mood. She basically thinks of my black suit as an outfit I used to go out and have a stylish, fun night in. She knows nothing about The Man In Black.

Yes, I was once The Man In Black. I was what most people would refer to as a superhero. I never thought of myself as a superhero but I guess I was. In my mind I was just some guy who was inspired by the graphic novel The Watchmen and wanted to do something about all the tricks I saw the police and local government officials playing on the more disenfranchised people in the city where I lived. I bought my black suit and all of its accessories at a Salvation Army store in downtown Oakland for less than forty bucks. From the moment I put the entire outfit on, in my small studio apartment, I felt strong and powerful in a way that I had never felt before. I was in my mid-twenties and living in a poorer neighborhood of Oakland, California. I was confused and angry like most men in their mid-twenties who are yet to figure out what they are going to do with their life but the moment I put the black suit on I found my life’s purpose. I knew I could not change the world, but I could make the city where I lived a better place for those with less power and money. This became my main objective.

I suppose that I was not your typical kind of superhero. I did not get in fights. I did not kill anyone. I did not jump off buildings or scale walls. I had no real superhero powers other than that of my intellect and sense of confidence when I put the black suit on. All I did was talk to people. Go figure. I would walk around the Oakland ghetto (West and East Oakland) dressed in my black suit with hat and face mask on and speak with the prostitutes, the crack addicts, the pimps and the gangsters. I would tell them that they were capable of so much more than what they were doing and that they were falling into the trap that society had created for them. I would tell them that the government wanted them to be doing exactly what they were doing so that they could catch them, charge them, put them in jail and make lots of money off of them. I would help these “social deviants” to see the errors of their own ways and get them off the streets and working towards bettering their lives. I believed that knowledge was ultimate power and because of this, they listened.

I would walk into the middle of a dark street and stop the men who would spend hours and hours driving around the ghetto looking for young prostitutes to pick up. When the men would see me in front of their cars they would be startled. It was always after midnight that I would go out so I imagine that the site of me was quite frightening. I didn’t mean to startle anyone but it was better that they be shocked by me than handcuffed and publicly humiliated by the police once they got caught. There is no greater social disgrace than to get arrested for soliciting a prostitute and I would make these men, some of whom would spend hours in their cars day after day searching for just the right prostitute, realize this. I would walk up to their car window, make them roll their windows down and then tell them who I was and that I realized that they were addicted to pornography and trying to live out sexual fantasies but what they were doing was incredibly dangerous to their social reputation. I told them of the humiliation they would suffer if caught by the police and most of these men would listen and head home when I was done speaking with them. I would go out on these missions at least three or four nights a week and every time I returned home to my apartment I felt incredibly satisfied, like I was doing real good in the world.

I did this for around ten years, until my wife and I moved to the suburbs. There was never any mention of me in the newspapers but over the course of the ten years that I would go out on what I called my midnight missions, violent crime, prostitution and crack abuse declined by 70% in Oakland. There was word on the streets about a crusader who went by the name The Man In Black, but outside of this, I was completely unknown. No one could understand the reason for the massive decline in illegal activities in Oakland. All I knew was that I was happy because now the police, the city and state government where not making nearly as much money off of those who had fallen into less fortunate fates. In fact, Oakland was going broke because they were now making very little money off those who were considered serious offenders. They could not get nearly as much money from parking, speeding and jaywalking tickets as they did by incarcerating prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and gangsters. I was succeeding at the job of setting people straight. The only difficulty was that no one knew about me.

I was just Randall to everyone. No one knew what I was doing after midnight. I was just some poor, struggling artist who worked as a waiter and was confused about what I was going to do with my life. This is what most people thought of me. But I knew I was so much more than this but could not figure out how to make any money off of being The Man In Black. I did not want to sell out (like most superheroes do) by publicly claiming who I was and then getting all kinds of comic book, action figure and film deals. No this would be despicable. I could not live with myself if I sold out, so I kept my secret to myself. When I unexpectedly fell in love with my wife, I knew that I was going to have to give up being The Man In Black and go back to graduate school so I could find a decent career that would provide us with security and a comfortable life. Since I cared about righting the wrongs that had been done to people and since our parents are often the ones who do real wrong by us, I decided to go to school to become a psychotherapist. This way I could help undue the damage done by dysfunctional parents with personality disorders. My wife decided to join me and we became psychotherapists together.

But it has been very hard for me. Being a psychotherapist has been nice. I am grateful that I have been able to be successful helping others undo the trauma from their pasts but being a psychotherapist is not what I really want to do. I am not made to be confined to an office all day long. I need to be out in the world, late in the night, wandering around. Now my job as a psychotherapist causes me to become so exhausted that I can not keep my eyes open after 9pm. I end up falling asleep in front of the tv. I am also a quiet man. It is not my nature to have such deep and emotional conversations with other people for such an extended periods of time. Having to have these conversations over and over again, five days a week leave me feeling flat and with no energy to do anything else. I have gone to various hypnotists and healers to find a way to keep my energy intact, while working with other people, but nothing has been effective thus far. I have tried to only work six hours a day, three days a week, but this is 18 deep interactions with people a week and I am still feeling flattened out after day two.

I have no energy to even think about being The Man In Black anymore, so my uniform is collecting lint, dog hair and dust in my closet. I do not know what to do at this point. I know I am not living my purpose but at the same time I feel fortunate that I can help others as a psychotherapist. But being a psychotherapist is not in line with who I truly am. I feel that in order to live a life that has some cultural legitimacy, where I have a good income and am able to support a comfortable life for my wife and I, I must continue working as a psychotherapist. I have no other choice since I have no idea how to make a living as The Man In Black. I’m stuck. I remember reading in The Watchmen about how if a superhero lives a more conventional and domestic life that this would lead to their rapid decline. I suppose I did not take this into consideration when I built the life I have now with my wife. I did not realize that it would leave me with very little energy to pursue my deeper purpose.

So here I am now, sitting at my desk dressed in sweat pants and a sweat shirt. I am wearing my bedroom slippers. My hair is still the way that it was when I woke up this morning. I have a cup of coffee by my side and after I am done writing this I need to get dressed and ready for work. I live with this deep pain about continually having to pretend to be something that I am not. In truth, deep in my soul I am still the strong and powerful Man In Black that I felt like the first time I put on the black suit in my studio apartment. But now I have to go to work each day and pretend to be someone else. I must pretend to be a conservative, professional and upstanding member of my community. I must spend my entire day sitting in a chair, stuck in a dark office talking with other people about their lives and helping them work out deep emotional traumas. Things could be a lot worse, but it is difficult to pretend to be someone other than who you really feel like you are. Maybe if I came to work dressed as The Man In Black this could help, but I think that I would scare most people away. No longer would my clients see me as the qualified mental health worker that they think I am. Most professionals suffer this fate. They must compromise their personal values, their sense of who they really are in order to create a persona that gets them paid. I try very hard not to fall in to this. I like to think that I am being myself but it gets tough.

So this is my confession. Now you know who I am and what I struggle with. I am a superhero who can not be a superhero anymore. I am The Man In Black but I am seen as being a nicely dressed and conservative professional man who lives a simple life. I have my black superhero uniform hanging in my closet. I struggle to embrace and make peace with the more domestic life that I am living now. This is me and I needed to get it off my chest. Hopefully in time I will figure something out. This hope keeps me going. The hope that things will change, that I will find a way to live a more authentic life that does not compromise my personal values and sense of self as much. To become again who I really am, The Man In Black.

Thank you for reading.

 

Procrastination, The Importance Of Putting Everything Off (Post #415)

“A nice piece of modern contemporary philosophy and contemplation about the way we live our lives in the modern world.” -Tracie Sokoloff

Nothing makes me happier than the complete absence of all obligations. Nothing. To be alone in wide open time and space, free to go and do whatever I want, is the ideal condition for myself to exist within. Free to listen to music, free to write, free to make art, free to fall asleep in my garden, free to go for a long walk, free to drift in whatever direction I get blown in without any concern for time or things that must be done- this is what I consider to be basic human freedom. Human freedom is a basic need that we all share and the more that this basic need goes unmet, the more we experience mental and physical illness. (It is ironic or tragic that in the society we have created, the more this basic need goes unmet the more material and financial gain we often get. This is why in America more people are on psychiatric drugs and suffer various addictions than any other country in the world.)

For close to thirty years now, I have managed to put everything off. As I get older I am becoming more skilled at doing this. Prior to thirty years ago, I still put everything off but I had my parents continually placing in front of me what I was trying to put off. Without anyone forcing my hand, I am able to keep everything away. The difference between myself and most Americans is that I see what is often referred to as procrastination as a very healthy behavior (if done right). In fact, I feel it is necessary to put things off in order to live a life freed from as may obligations as possible. I have always believed that the person who dies with the largest amount of things put off or not taken care off, has lived the fullest life. In a society where a person’s value is in equal measure to the amount of obligations that they have, we must actively engage our ability (which we all have) to put things off, if we want to live free from this often self-made prison.

In order to successfully put things off for as long as possible (in order to live more fully now), it is important to know how to be alone. If an individual is not able to be genuinely alone without anxiety, it will be difficult for he or she (or it) to free themselves from all obligations. Putting things off will be a struggle for the individual who is not able to be alone. By being alone what I mean is the ability to be completely undisturbed by the outside world. To shut the entire outside world out as if it was not even there. When we shut the entire world out, people who want something from us no longer exist. Other people become like trees or clouds in the sky- they are just there, coexisting along with us rather than wanting or demanding something from us or us needing something from them (obligation means to need something from another person or for another person to need something from you). To be free of obligation means to not need anything from others and to not be disturbed or anxious about what others might need from you. This is why being alone is a skill that is crucial for successfully being able to put things off.

The skill of being alone is in great decline in American society. This is one of the most tragic phenomena of our time. The ability to be alone is disappearing in front of our eyes. Individuals can no longer even be alone while sitting on the toilet! Most individuals sit on the toilet with some kind of digital device in their hand. These digital devices (computers, smartphones) serve one fundamental purpose, to prevent people from feeling alone. Most of us can’t handle being alone. We don’t like how it feels. We become uncomfortable and anxious, feel like we are missing out when alone and digital intervention comes to our rescue. This is tragic because the human soul needs to be alone in order to flourish. Less time alone equals less soul and more mechanization (which is what the corporations who sell us these products need and want us to become- mechanized).

The one phenomena that differentiates our period in human history from any other period is that we can now avoid being alone even when we are alone. Our phones and computers are doorways through which the outside world can slip in and fill our aloneness. Most of us voluntarily open up this door for the outside world to come on in when we are alone because we have forgotten how to be alone. Being alone is a skill that requires practice. Once we are constantly interrupting our aloneness by checking our emails, texts, Facebook and Instagram our ability to be alone becomes weaker and weaker until we can not be alone anymore without some sort of distraction present. This is a human tragedy.

If we are not able to shut the outside world out and be fully alone, we will not be successful at freeing ourselves from all obligations. As long as we let the outside world in, even if we manage to put most things off, we will still be tormented by the lingering feeling of all the things we are not getting done. There is no greater waste of time (life) than putting things off while worrying about what we are not getting done. The entire world must be completely shut out, forgotten about or neutralized (meaning everything is just how it should be) in order for a person to successfully put things off. Our day is spent doing exactly what we want to be doing, free of any extraneous concerns or worries, free from the constraints imposed on humans by time. We are fully content and at peace in our aloneness, not worried about what is being left undone or missed out on because we are fulfilled (engaged) in our lives now. This is what it means to be free and the only way to be truly free in our contemporary world is to put everything off.