Warning: This is a pretty personally revelatory post. Please read with kindness. Makes me a bit nervous to open up on the web like this.
I got away from home tonight and went to Qdoba Grill. There I had a very large and tasty quesadilla and some chips, and chatted with a friendly assistant manager named Bob, who came from Texas and was in a bit of awe at the cold and snow we have in Michigan. (I guess Texans are outgoing and friendly like that, or something.) When I’d eaten as much as I could eat of the big meal, I sat and wrote for a while, stuff in my very-occasionally-used Moleskine notebook (“hipster PDA”). I wrote quite a lot. I’d been thinking a lot. Lots of things I’d like to write about in detail; may or may not ever do so, about the strange turns my thought has taken over the past few years.
But this is the bit I wanted to talk about. Kinda personal. A couple weeks ago it came up in a conversation within the family that I was extraordinarily optimistic and full of hope. Unusual for me. I’d been thinking a lot about work, and how I don’t really think I want to be working as an employee, for a company, forever, about how I want to find ways to make money in a context where I have no boss, and I’m working for clients, not a boss. I’d seen some posts at StevePavlina.com linked to from Reddit, and had read some of his stuff about money. I’d signed up for Chitika.com and put ads on the site and was amazed to see actual money coming in. I was working on some art for Matt Wilson and he’d just paid me very promptly for a few pieces. My wife and I were a bit worried about money (due to a miscalculation, it turned out) but I was full of hope anyway. I joked that the new antidepressant I was on must be very potent.
Then ka-blam. Things started to go south. I started getting pessimistic and full of self-doubt and self-judgement. Overwhelmed by everything. Dealing with the kids. Dealing with household stuff like laundry and cleaning. Work — oh, yes, dealing with work. Very much with the depression with regards to work. That’s nothing new, but it was extra bad. What happened?
I’ve pinned it down to a moment, and I think I know what that moment meant to me, and it came to me while I was scribbling away at Qdoba inbetween talking about snow to assistant manager Bob.
Remember this post? Where I was questioning whether Chitika was actually a big scam, or at least something strongly resembling one? That was what the hip kids are calling a “tipping point.” It’s not as if I was expecting to make any real money at Chitika specifically. If Chitika never paid me a dollar, it would not make a real difference in my life. The ratio of Chitika earnings to real-job earnings in my life was nigh-astronomically tiny. However, for some reason, thinking “it was too good to be true” about this tiny little cheeseball ad program changed the course of my thoughts and emotions hugely.
The significance of it, as far as I can tell right now, is that I was seeing that Chitika program as evidence of a universe which was kind, supportive, and able to meet people’s needs in unexpected ways. (This is because that’s how Steve Pavlina sees the world and it was through him that I heard about Chitika.) That perception of the world brought hope and optimism and a kind of primitive faith in the goodness of the world and, in a roundabout way, the unconditional love of God. The idea that this ad program might be a scam was unconsciously magnified and mutated into the notion that that whole way of looking at the world might be a scam, might be dangerous. That the world might be hostile after all. That fear, not trust, might be the appropriate response to the universe. None of this conscious, mind you. Though the depth of the emotion that came with it was expressed in an email I wrote to friend Pferdzwackür describing the “creepy” feeling I suddenly had about the whole thing.
That was it — there are these mind-worlds one can live in, on a deep level, mind-worlds of trust or of fear. (Despite the theological slant I mentioned above about unconditional love of God, these don’t always seem to correlate well with actual explicit theological beliefs; I think I have spent a large fraction of my youth living in a worldview of fear while intellectually acknowledging a theology of a benevolent God.)
I had flipped from one of those mental worlds — one which was exhilarating because it was so pleasant and so unaccustomed, the world of optimism and trust — to the other, the world of fear, without knowing it, and had been living for a couple weeks in it. No wonder I’d been depressed.
Realizing this I wondered if I could flip back. I had been writing for pages and pages in that moleskine. I decided to do a little drawing, for some reason. Do a picture that represented a kind and comforting universe. A mandala, I thought! A mandala. I’d never really drawn a mandala but it seemed like the kind of thing one might use to signify a beautiful kind world.
I drew a circle, and some circles inside that, and then some triangles, and —
And I had this horrible monster with evil cat’s eyes around the edges. It was quite disturbing. (I’m not the sort of artist who usually does art on this kind of abstract level, nor has drawings come out this unexpectedly. Not some visionary type whose art “speaks to him” out of the void, at all. I mostly do things that look more like comic book illustrations.)
I thought, “maybe I can fix this,” and started trying to put in more rounded edges and pleasant forms, but seriously, it was not fixable. I disguised the eyes but it looked even nastier. Like some kind of alien lamprey mouth or something.
Oh, great. Can’t even draw a symbol of a kind universe without turning it into a monster.
I turned the page and made a couple more attempts, and they pleased me more.
But what to do with the monster? Tear it out and throw it away? That seemed dishonest. X or scribble it out? That seemed wrong too. I left it there, and as I thought about it later, I realized that I was going to get nowhere as long as I demonized this “fearful universe” worldview. You don’t get anywhere by demonizing people, or demonizing parts of yourself. That way lies the Jungian Shadow, or something. The Fear-World inserting itself into my drawing like that was a pretty good indication that it didn’t want to be dismissed as useless. Better to acknowledge it, to thank it for its benefits and good intentions, listen to it. The part of me that sees the world as dangerous does so for a good reason — it wants to protect me, it wants me to be alert to danger. It thinks that seeing the world as dangerous, uncaring, and unkind will help me survive. I can appreciate that without agreeing to it. And I can leave the alien lamprey in my moleskine as an acknowledgment of its presence, and a talisman, so to speak, of its protection and presence in my life; for who knows, if it is allowed to help me without running the show completely and dominating me, it may actually be quite beneficial.
This post has gotten deeply weird, far more personal and idiosyncratic than I usually dare to share on the blog. If it’s not the sort of thing you want to read from me rest assured there probably won’t be a lot like it. But I wanted to post it because I’ve posted so much goddamn trivia for such a long time, and so little original writing about things that seriously mean something to me.
And with that… it’s 1 AM. Off to bed.