The second hand on the clock in the waiting room ticked as time slipped away with mechanical reliability and precision. His mouth was dry with the thirst of vague anxieties. He looked around. Everyone engrossed themselves in a complimentary magazine, flipping desperately through the pages. People. Vogue. Cosmo. Maxim and Popular Mechanics for the men who couldn’t stand the thought of some stranger questioning their sexual orientation. Futile attempts at self-medication through the absorption of content-starved desperation. He noted that the Reader’s Digest went untouched. What the hell is that about? he thought.
Self-conscious meta-humor was his Cosmo. He grew physically ill while thumbing through product catalogs filled with people he was supposed to find pretty modeling things that he was supposed to buy in order to attain a state of numbing contentedness that was supposed to allow him to live in blissful ignorance of every little thing that was wrong around him. Not wrong as in, “this book is out of order on the bookshelf,” or “that picture is crooked on the wall,” or “you put too much salt in the food.” Wrong as in, “This is insane.”
We poison the air, water and soil. Insane.
We pave over the earth and decimate entire ecosystems. Insane.
We grow to population densities in vast excess of Dunbar’s number and sustainable carrying capacity. Insane.
We work jobs doing things we hate for people we don’t know to pay rent and buy food and go to sleep and get up the next day just to do it all over again. Insane.
How many people know that “mortgage” means “death grip” in French? he wondered.
Indoors, outdoors, it didn’t matter. His mind was constantly trained to hone in on the insane minutae and gargantuae that dominate the everyday realities of civilization — life inside the hungry maw of empire.
We self-medicate so we don’t have to think about the nature of the insanity that underlies most of our modern lives. Insane.
Especially the God-damned post-modernists. How do they escape the ironic gravity of their own existence? he mused. Most modernists merely have their heads buried in the sand, or alternatively, shoved far up their own asses. Somehow, post-modernists managed to contort themselves in ways that allowed them to attain both of these states simultaneously: a head shoved far up one’s own ass, while buried in the sand, like a metaphysical holiday turducken. The self-medicated equivalent of enlightenment. He sighed and watched the waves roll in with the rising tide.
The zen of coping. It infuriated him that people could spend so much energy — mental, kinetic, electro-chemical, whatever — finding ways to deny, distract and delay the inevitable and ultimately cyclical onslaught of sanity. His spirit cried for relief: Apathy is so exhausting! Then why do so many people do it? Don’t go there, he thought. It’ll just remind you of how lonely you are. Isolated, alienated, suffocating. Much like the experience that dentist patients share in the waiting room.
The stress of such socially alienated exposure to advertisements took years off his life. As much as he loved to “forest bathe,” he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge how a quick visit beyond the fully-domesticated landscape of sociopathy had been reduced to little more than a passing fad, alongside exercise, meditation and nutrition. He didn’t want to wash off the filth of his civilized savagery in the healing waters of an environment built by phenomena far more advanced than anything humans would ever acheive. He left a bit of himself behind everytime he returned to his normal life.
Fuck forest bathing, he thought. I want to forest breathe.
The assistant propped open the door and called a name. The woman next to him put down her People magazine, grabbed her purse, got up and walked toward the door. Her face beamed with a fake smile and an overly-enthusiastic greeting to show off the teeth she had just brushed that morning in hopes that she could scrub away any cavities appearing from her poor diet and other dental sins. He looked down at the cover of the magazine. He didn’t recognize the celebrity. “Not a celebrity to me,” he thought. Connecting to one thing means disconnecting from something else.
He was getting excited by the cynical direction of his internal monologue. If entering the forest is akin to a baptism, we’re supposed to be breathing underwater, he mused. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that we have gills. As it stands, most of humankind now comprises an uncomfortable motely crue of fish flopping awkwardly in the acrid atmosphere on the jetty, beneath a brilliantly offensive neon sign reading, “Welcome to civilization!”
And here he was, flopping with them. The Girl from Ipanema blared quietly in the background from expensive Bose speakers. He wondered how many others actually understood this uncomfortable fact. How many have succumbed to self-medication? Dosing dying fish with tranquilizers doesn’t lessen the reality of their plight. Iraq was heavily forested. The middle east was heavily forested. The fertile crescent…the dust bowl? Oak savannah.
A fire burned in his gut, kindling a sense of rage that threatened to consume him. Regrow the forest. Restore the top soil. Eliminate the ever-expanding threat of empire. Repair the tattered threads of our social fabric. There’s a tapestry of life and community somewhere in this tangled mess. What can I do about it, though?
As fast as it came, his feeling of hope faded back into the normal state of desparate indignation. He longed for a different time and place. Just like a fish out of water, flopping with futility on the jetty a few feet from its native environment. Polluted, but certainly still serviceable. The torturousness of the predicament at hand was not wrapped up in the deliberately slow and steady decimation of his ancestral habitat, but in the knowledge that its condition would continue to worsen under the increasing onslaught long after his passing, in plain view, and, as always, just out of reach. He felt like a spectator at a state-sanctioned execution.
The assistant opened the door and called his name. He put his thoughts down on the coffee table. His knees cracked as he stood up out of his waiting room chair and followed her back into the exam room.
She asked how he was doing. He said he was doing OK while wondering how long it might take for him to awkwardly flop his way off the jetty.
Wow! If only more of us had your mentality. Makes me so sad, all of this, but hopeful that highly-conscious people like you exist, Ethan. Thank you for sharing.
thank you, as always, for reading, and for the appreciation :) Although, I don’t wish that more people have my mentality — I only wish for them to develop their own mentality, to break free of the social roles and identities imposed upon them by the existing social order, think for themselves, and develop their ability to act as liberated people, to live for themselves, first and foremost rather than as cogs working for the existing social order. I want the same liberation for myself. My faith tells me that supporting everyone’s liberation will lead to a better state of existence, although it won’t necessarily reduce conflict, it will radically change the nature of any conflict, for example, violence will still exist, but it won’t be systemized violence and coercive control in the service of empowered entitlement.
As always, I appreciate the thought-provoking dialogue!