The Agony of Metamorphosis

"It's all bullshit anyway. What does it matter whether I say "he" or "she" for the genderless one? Do you really think that the words you say make that much of a difference?"
"Do you really think that you don't make much of a difference?"

…The silence of the thought. The panicked flicker of insecurity and fear brushing against a revelation of responsibility, of being-in-the-world. It is easier to forget, most of the time. To think oneself small. All of those inspirational quotes, like the one that got passed around a lot in meme-fashion after "Coach Carter" came out, they hid stark truth behind psychological comfort food. They said one thing, and they meant responsibility. Humanity: a massive weight pressing down around a morbidly obese man, folds and flub descending upon the single skeleton as it sags under its burden, bending but not breaking because the body, though weak, can withstand more than it knows.

This is the way that most of these conversations go. We talk about anything, and with a newfound flippancy, the brilliantly meaningless reflection off of a newly jade-gilded surface, there is the readiness to dismiss. "Everything is meaningless." Nothing is new. The world line of the stationary observer moves upward, ever upward, but there is no deviation, no progress, because [the gender neutral, "es"] can barely propel itself in time much less carry all of humanity in tottering forward steps along the change-in-x axis.

All of it, a covering for fear: I am not enough. I want you to see me as not enough, so neither of us will be disappointed when I fail. Oh, I will be, even if I convince myself that I shouldn't be, that it is only to be expected. But at least that is only one of us, and then too, it will be the compounding of failures, the confirmation of self as failure. When you say, "Enough. You are enough," the salt stings the wound but brings no healing. Where there is no blood, self-exsanguinated by the wounds of cruel words spoken in hate against soft skin, there can be no renewal, no scar to begin the future.

"Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself."*

The only answer is to will within, take in nourishment, revive dead tissue with the means to reproduce lifeblood. The body doesn't change. The fissures remain, the pain is real. But there is always the choice: to remain dead or to be renewed. All is not lost.

*"Song of Myself" 46. Walt Whitman


An Inconvenience Rightly Considered

It is one of those odd little facts about life that how we think about something can sometimes affect what it is. In my epistemology class, we've been discussing theories of knowledge and of justification. What do I mean by justification? Consider something you believe and ask yourself why you believe it. Whatever those reasons are, on a basic level they're your justification. Whether someone else will accept that your belief is a case of knowledge depends on whether they also accept your justification for believing it to be true. They also might make a distinction between what are called "epistemic" reasons and "pragmatic" reasons. Say you are about to run a half marathon. You haven't trained more or differently since your last race, but you still believe that you will beat your last time and do pretty well. Perhaps you've even slacked off in the meantime. Epistemically, you don't really have good reason to believe this. But pragmatically, your belief that you will do well can actually cause you to do better than you otherwise would have. Though the belief is not epistemically justified, it is pragmatically useful and perhaps even self-fulfilling. The point is that how we think about things affects the way they are.

I've been thinking about this recently because I dislike the all-too-human tendency to avoid what I would call privation. Some of my best experiences have involved having to take cold showers (which, in Peru, was actually kind of pleasant), not having any showers at all (there's nothing better than team bonding over your general lack of hygiene), going on international trips with barely a cent in my bank account, or having to throw things out/go without essentials for a time because they just don't fit in a suitcase. Clearly I'm thinking more about trips here, but the same could be said of the time when Katrina and I went sightseeing at a palace complex on an overcast, drizzly day. The peaceful beauty of the Badenburg in the rain is not something I would have missed out on for anything. And really, is rain or cold or relative lack of finances truly a privation when you have the option of shelter, clean water to bathe in, and the opportunity to experience something even if you can't take it back with you? Even if you could get yourself a souvenir, it would be like flowers picked from a beautiful meadow: their charm too becomes a memory rather than a present reality. If one simply leaves them in their right environment, one need never have the experience of their decay, only the memory of their perfection.

This morning before class, I woke up early and caught a train to meet a friend at a coffee shop in a nearby town. I got to the station early, and when a train rolled in, I didn't think to consider that it might not be the one I wanted because I didn't check the time and so climbed aboard. Of course, that train happened to be an express that skipped the station where I wanted to disembark. I ended up getting off at the next stop on the line, but rather than wait 40 minutes for the next train back, I chose to walk the mile and a half, since it would take less time and would certainly keep me warmer than standing outside by the tracks. It was fantastic. The air was just chilly enough to be invigorating. The world was slowly waking up, some houses sleepily blinking their eyes, others not yet having stirred. The quiet streets welcomed my feet without protest as they led me through and by the most marvelous little places and things. We always live, but we are not always alive. My mistake with a train schedule turned into a surprisingly delightful ramble that led me by places I never realized existed, much less expected to see.

Chesterton put it like this: "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered." The way that I think about my past or present experiences affects what I call them. And as the nature of pragmatic reasons suggests, the way that I approach a future event is strongly determined by my expectations and my attitude toward it. Simply by calling it a different name, I open myself to greater possibilities and, more broadly, to the incredible experience of being alive.