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I know how you feel.
I have been fortunate to fall in love with the abstract. Not the abstract about people, but the abstractions about science, of science fiction, of metaphysics and philosophy, but most importantly about music. And computing. There have been several events in my life that have brought me to a small sorrowful self in which I have been reduced to the basics. So I directed all of my energies to the four things that I determined that I needed most just to get out of bed in the morning. Money. Sex. Music. Computers.
When I could not get satisfactory injections of the pure forms of those, I made what I could of the abstractions I could find. Sometimes they came in combinations. In 1981 I was on my last boom box and could not afford to buy a single new blank cassette tape. I dare not record another new song from the radio because it would cost me a song I already taped. There was a song I found in my lonely solitude. It was narrated in French about a romantic murder. So I got music about sex in one go. It was a tragedy I survived.
I watched Neil Brennan’s latest comic routine on Netflix. I get him. Deeply, like the way I got Stephen Wright and Dimitri Martin. I am such a person. I am confident in my ability to present the dilemmas of my life. I know what’s wrong with me, so I know what I need. I can sink into my own private Idaho and focus. Focus like a bedraggled crawler in the desert. Water! So what if I’m desperate now? At least I know what I need.
The flip side of insecurity is satisfaction, but it is an obvious satisfaction. It is not joy or elation. It doesn’t make me leap into the air and click my heels with two thumbs up, like the idiot mascot for Lucky Charms. It makes me say OK. When I’m super hungry and I finally wolf down half of my meal without speaking a word, I finally announce OK. I’m a human now. I know my insecurity. I know my satisfaction. I can’t get no satisfaction until I do. Then I’m satisfied, until I get hungry.
I just finished writing a program in Python that does this thing. This is the fourth time I have written this program. The first time was in C, and I never finished it and lost the code. The second time was in Perl and it worked satisfactorily. The third time was in Ruby but I didn’t really need it. This time in Python, I finished it in 3 days and I’m quite happy with it. Except, I really know that I need to rewrite it in Rust. Rust is the most excellent computer language I’ve ever seen. But I still haven’t gotten over its legendary learning curve. So I love it in the abstract. I’m insecure about my Python. It’s a commodity language. It’s good enough. People get it. It’s like an Ecoboost four cylinder engine. It gets you from point A to point B, but don’t pretend you’re racing, or going in style. Rust is super fast and elegant. It’s what I want, but I don’t get it. I’m insecure even though the Python works.
Happiness has nothing to do with it. You want to know why? Because I am a big brother with two younger brothers who died before me. Way before their time. I hated my responsibility as a kid, but I was not given a choice. So I couldn’t wolf down a pint of milk before they started on the half gallon for our meal. All three of them grew taller than I. I protected them until they were. I never had a choice in understanding that I was a survivor and a pioneer. It didn’t make me happy, it made me righteous. It wasn’t until I developed a self-deprecating humor that I could deal with it all. My father was six foot four. When I was a freshman in highschool, I was four foot eight. Of course I expected to be over six feet tall, but I wasn’t. I had it in reserve. I figured it was my destiny. You don’t know anything about insecurity until you go through life as a short man. Yet I was still the eldest. When Pops went out with Moms, I was man of the house until they returned. I wasn’t happy about it. It was my duty. Eventually I figured that would grow tall. I didn’t. Those I protected died off my watch.
Life has no rewards for the broken self. ‘Things’ don’t get better. We adapt. We are insecure until we can get hold of our basic fuels and then we are satisfied. For the moment. We can sleep. The day comes and we rise from bed. We code our pathetic little Python knowing we could do better. We tend our sorry little plants. We scritch our ugly, thankless cat. We stick a pacifier in the piehole of life.
The mistake is to think we will top our pyramid. The error is to think that somewhere other than here is the place to be. No sweetheart, here is where you are. Here is where all of your steps have delivered you. Your destiny is not what it will be, your destination is where you stand. So stand up to whatever your full height is. What do you know to be absolutely true about yourself? Are you meticulous to a fault? Does your left ear have a perfect lobe? Do you have a sixth sense about which hand tool will break first? Today is the last day of all of your lived experience. Tomorrow is not promised. Lead with your true self and have a sense of self-deprecating humor about it. At every moment, tell the fools who manage to have faith in you that this is as good as it gets.
Don’t tell people what you are going to do. Do what you do then tell them what you did. They’ll figure it out. They’re not going to tell you the truth about you anyway. Don’t let their bed of promises be where you sleep, because they haven’t built pillows for your insecurities. Sometimes friends are just being friends out of habit. Maybe you’re just protecting them. Maybe you could drink their milkshake if you wanted to. Whatever you do to protect them, they are going to die. Whatever they do to protect you, you are going to die. You don’t know how. You don’t know when. Life isn’t being cruel. That’s just how it is.
I don’t presume to know you, but I can guess. After all, my own adult children don’t know what Substack is and they’ve been to Europe and Asia. You, my friend, are on the upper quintile of the international Peasantry. Some of your are even certifiably Genius. You are well-informed and you read paragraphs. You are improved from where you started, and with a little bit of luck, you could do it again. You are also perceptive and looking, for some inexplicable reason, for an edge. So you seek. It is a habit, your curiosity, your hunger. You want to top off your pyramid. I might advise you to tell Maslow to fuck off and you might find that amusing. Why? Because we all have moments where we lie awake and stare at the ceiling. And the moments become hours when neither sleep nor rising come of their own accord. There you are, stuck in the empty now with your self and your insecurity. You ask yourself, is this as good as it gets?
The answer, Hamlet, is to be.
Live with your insecurity. Live with your satisfaction. Just live. Your obituary will be guesswork anyway. It doesn’t matter even if you tell people what you really think. They will never be satisfied with you. You will never be satisfied with you. Somebody’s pathetic little Python program will take your best picture and make you look better than you ever did in real life. They’ll even fix your other earlobe. They’ll even make you taller than your tall father. But it’s only an abstraction.
My Stoic warning is that the ideal forms on Plato’s wall are the abstract ideal forms we could fall in love with. They aren’t real people. They are philosophical and metaphysical conceptions. Yes I know you live in the WEIRD and you can feed and clothe your person by juggling conceptual projections and manipulating a mediocre mind or two. Welcome to post-modernity. We already know that’s the problem. Your love of the abstract is a commercial seduction. It’s understandable and it’s forgivable. It’s not like you’re going to outthink or outspend the industries of deception. It’s not as if you could even self-finance and self-insure your house and car, the fundamental basics of what you need to get around and sleep in this society. I’m not Diogenes. I sure as hell don’t aim to live under a bridge. I’m a Substack author! Yoiks and Hazzah! Cut me a break, eh? OK I will. See me shifting from first person to second person? I am you. You’re just another part of me. We have the same kind of physical brains. It’s what we humans evolved to do, but there are feature/bugs in our system. We fall in love with the abstract. Just say you’re fortunate to be human and call it a day. At least you are not your insufferably miserable and thankless cat.
The answer, Hamlet, is to be, and to have a beer.