Not contained within this blog post: thoughts about the CoVID-19 pandemic, Excuses for why this is my first post/update in over a year, or any attempt to document this project in an orderly fashion.
I’m a truly terrible reader these days. Based on how things have been lately, I’m on track to intercept the attention-span X axis in a few years, as predicted by every social mag claiming the millennial/gen-z’ers have no appreciation for in-depth thought. Even when I’m browsing the news, I’ll have to at times force myself – “…No! open that article again!”, to complete a read that would take 2-3 minutes, when I peel away after a 30 second glance at the 1st paragraph and my mind wanders to what’s next.
Books are in even worse shape – and part of that is admittedly a scheduling problem. I can’t read at night; I’ll process a few pages before my eyelids fall, at best. The more likely outcome is me waking up to a creased-open paperback on my neck and no memory of that crease’s contents. Finding time to sit and read for myself has just been out of my schedule – I read things for work while at work, and I read the vanity license plates and billboards on my way to and from it. These are bad habits and I want to work on fixing them, but hey, welcome to the club of Ben’s vices! Take a seat next to Buying Supermarket Sushi and Social Anxiety, but be careful with that one – he’s been pretty on-edge these days.
Sometimes, Podcasts and Audiobooks are my solace – the 21st century’s voices are apparently best processed through the ears, while also doing something else. I bought this one at someone’s suggestion about a year ago – Why Fish Don’t Exist sounded funky and it was written (and narrated!) by an NPR Science writer who I enjoy listening to. Don’t fret over what you read, just go for it! Yes, Indecision About Everything, it’s alright. Just enjoy the free snacks.
And, I did…a year later. After a year of feeling like I’d become stagnant, of staying quiet, of staying home and out of any spotlight. A year which involved walking away from a life I’d previously found love and enjoyment in, to toil at a different job, in a different state, on a different ocean. I was back home when I started it- I took the risk of flying from LA to Boston in December, there was plenty of guest space at the farmhouse my family now lives in to quarantine. I’d remembered the book on my way out of LAX – quickly hitting “download” while walking towards seat 34F (team window for this Geographile 🌎) … only to have it freeze at somewhere around 70% before we lost our cell service.
So I actually started listening the next morning, sitting in a completely empty double-decker car on the MBTA commuter rail, rolling through southern Massachusetts. It was a moment to shake off the stress I’d built up after a few months in a foreign space, with a warm coffee, the rails click-clacking in just the way you’d expect them to, and the snow-tipped tenements passing by the windows, the steam of their early-morning furnace cycles instantly condensing in the 10 degree air. I thought this would feel tremendously cold after 4 months of California, but no, it felt about right. Turns out this is still my room temperature.
The audiobook was a fun, relatable listen! Lulu grew up in this corner of the world, like me (which I hadn’t known), and has gone through similar struggles of loss and indecision – I had fun trying to identify at what stage, if anywhere, I found myself in her life story. The tales of the book’s historical protagonist were colorful, and the later sections of the book did make me turn and give several challenging sides of humanity a closer look. If you sporadically find yourself wondering why we do anything, or are searching for self-acceptance, I’d recommend it.
My mind held on to a particular section – while discussing the writing of this story at possibly a local low point, the author’s friend quotes some German guy and brings up his use of the term Indestructible1:
Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him. One of the ways in which this hiddenness can express itself is through faith in a personal god.Franz Kafka, Aphorisms 50
Humans are inevitably futile in what we create – none of this is permanent, and much of it falls into disarray almost instantly. I’ve found social structures to be somewhat analogous – relationships and friendships are never permanent, and sometimes their path can be changed or split apart in an instant, splattered across time/space like Dr. Jordan’s scientific record was in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But this term describes a minimum, a lower limit to how low an individual can fall. The Indestructible helped push Jordan to rebuild his work and eventually rise to become a leader in his field, the energy to do so coming from both his own conscious goals and from some place lower down. It’s helping all of us to collectively push through the massive pandemic we’ve found ourselves in for the past year. And, I suppose, that subconscious current has helped me get out of bed over the past few months, push back on the fears of living life the “wrong” way and working on all the “wrong” things, and do what the Indestructible tells me I should. As an aside, I only found the full quote much later after reading the book, and the term “personal god” also clicked with some deep down stuff I’ve stewed on for a while now. But that’s not something I’m going to open up here, this is a DIY Home-Improvement post after all!
I imagine it’s below subconscious – The Indestructible is chemical in nature. Psychologists and self-help writers have a similar term called Grit which combines this with a passion for a known long-term goal, and it’s like I can almost see the little particles floating around when I close my eyes really hard. Of course, as we are all a little bit different chemically-speaking, some people’s indestructible levels are higher/lower than others2, but I think collectively it averages out to something positive.
But, is it positive? Kafka wasn’t sure, and this is pointed out in the book as well:
Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it.Franz Kafka, Aphorisms 69
Ultimately, trusting yourself to “bounce back” after a difficult period requires suspending humility, and maybe lying to oneself about whether or not the past successes were worth it. Because objectively, from the viewpoint of the extra-terrestrials looking at Earth through their telescopes, they weren’t – Speck on a speck on a speck, and all that. Collectively, that feeling that “we cannot be stopped” is a positive motivator in those moments of challenge – but if unmanaged, and allowed to completely take over, the indestructible works to boost oneself, at the expense of everything else. This sin is evident in all sorts of things humanity has done – case in point, I now live in a city that’s filled every cubit of livable space with houses, and has 14-lane highways choked with cars, largely because we can do this. Living with the Indestructible as your guide can lead to a collapse in the long term, whether that’s serious depression or runaway human-catalyzed climate change.
All that leaves me with a somewhat simple take-away: No hard feelings should come from taking a step back and seeking refuge in your base instincts to get past a challenging moment. But, when one does get past them, it’s prudent that those instincts don’t take over completely. I’d wager that the net summation of those two forces – a push to rebuild, resurge, overcome, and an understanding of modesty, of being humble about one’s significance and seeing the “Grandeur in this view of life”, are what have made humanity the incredible thing that it is.
- ok, fair, he used the term Unzerstörbarem. Can you pronounce it?
- And that’s why it’s important to check in on friends (or maybe even those people that weren’t really friends, but you talked that one time and it was a positive moment) which you haven’t heard from in a while! uh oh, that set Social Anxiety off again…I’ll go get the blankets.