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Friday, November 30, 2012

Response to Mystery Leaves Me With (Surprise!) Even More Mystery

I came across this essay titled Mystery by Beth Orton.  It was a very  good read, but I found myself having so many thoughts afterwards (which probably means it was very, very good read!).  They spiraled into uncertainty...  so rather than invade my friend's blog with confused rambling, I decided to respond here.
Original post:
I will never be a brain surgeon, and I will never play the piano like Glenn Gould.
But what keeps me up late at night, and constantly gives me reason to fret, is this: I don't know what I don't know. There are universes of things out there — ideas, philosophies, songs, subtleties, facts, emotions — that exist but of which I am totally and thoroughly unaware. This makes me very uncomfortable. I find that the only way to find out the fuller extent of what I don't know is for someone to tell me, teach me or show me, and then open my eyes to this bit of information, knowledge, or life experience that I, sadly, never before considered.
Afterward, I find something odd happens. I find what I have just learned is suddenly everywhere: on billboards or in the newspaper or SMACK: Right in front of me, and I can't help but shake my head and speculate how and why I never saw or knew this particular thing before. And I begin to wonder if I could be any different, smarter, or more interesting had I discovered it when everyone else in the world found out about this particular obvious thing. I have been thinking a lot about these first discoveries and also those chance encounters: those elusive happenstances that often lead to defining moments in our lives.
[…]
I once read that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I fundamentally disagree with this idea. I think that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of hope. We might keep making mistakes but the struggle gives us a sense of empathy and connectivity that we would not experience otherwise. I believe this empathy improves our ability to see the unseen and better know the unknown.
Lives are shaped by chance encounters and by discovering things that we don't know that we don't know. The arc of a life is a circuitous one. … In the grand scheme of things, everything we do is an experiment, the outcome of which is unknown.
You never know when a typical life will be anything but, and you won't know if you are rewriting history, or rewriting the future, until the writing is complete.
This, just this, I am comfortable not knowing.


From the minute you wake up to the minute you go to sleep, you are operating on how to make your life the least amount sufferable as possible.  You make money so you can live.  You feed your children so they don't get sick.  There is a lot of suffering going on out there.  People create stigmas against other people that the others have no control over.  There are bar brawls and large-scale wars over power. The ground can spontaneously split open and shake the world into destruction RIGHT NOW!  But let's turn it down a notch...  We will spontaneously lose jobs.  We will not like people and people will fight.  Relationships will fray.  Each one of us will die.  For me, "the struggle that gives us a sense of empathy and connectivity" is something you will get from simply being alive, so my question here is Why make it even harder for yourself?  

In an existential sense, Orton is almost on the nose about hope in this endless cycle of going through the same dynamics again and again.  Sisyphus pushes the rock up, it rolls down, he pushes the rock up....  Or as my pal Krissy just said, "life is hills and valleys. suffering then walking it out. forever."  Although I would argue that this dynamic gives birth to hope, versus defines it.  You need hope for that stuff.  In an active, day to day way, in the experimental way...  the one where everything is "ultimately unknown", it gets trickier. While no two situations, no matter how identically you are replicating them, will ever be the same, if a repeated outcome isn't to your liking, and you are unhappy by it, and you're not changing the variables in the "experiment", it makes no sense to me to not do anything about it.  What is Orton saying here, that you should set yourself up for a learning experience?  This is where I get a little confused.

Without trying to over-think it-  hope is a wonderful, necessary thing, and you need it when you're in sticky situations.  But, there are enough sticky situations already (see opening list above and feel free to use imagination to think of more, but don't get too bogged down), and I think there should be a limit as to how many sticky situations a person should knowingly get themselves into before the habit becomes delusional,  romanticized and/or unwise.  In a way, hope is the device you need so that you can do these things you're supposed to remember to do.  You need hope to hang on, but more importantly you need hope to not do the exact same things over and over, to do the things you've learned through your own, unique life experience to aid chance, instead of recoiling, becoming lazy, giving up...  Exhibit A- moi.  I can apply to one job a day for a week with the same resume and not get hired for a job, or I could revamp the resume on day three and increase the chances.  I can ask one friend daily for job suggestions, or five or ten friends...  Chances are that if I ask five or ten, I will get a fortunate "happenstance" situation where someone knows someone who is magically hiring.  My point is that we can control "happenstance" a little bit.  And perhaps making fortunate happenstances occur more often than not can be influenced by one's ability to learn, to not do something that doesn't work repeatedly, to incorporate new things into the routine.  Then again, some "happenstances" are bigger and more mysterious... Those I won't even begin to get into because I will even less of a clue than I do now about what I'm dealing with.

Re. this elusive happenstance... This is something very important for me to try and figure out, though I probably never will, and I waver back and forth, naturally, between the No Such Thing As Coincidence Hypothesis and its counterarguments.  Most recently, I've leaned toward a slightly more skeptical side, that it's our brain imposing meaning.  It is still a fun feeling though, and I appreciate it and even honor it!  I even have a new "Coincidence Alert" buddy.  Real talk.  There is a man named Mark and I message him every time something strange and uncanny happens!  He gets these wild, ranty messages from me and vice versa... We are ridiculous.  Anyway, "Coincidence Alert" buddy helps me get perspective, examine and explore the meaning in all of this.

It's one of our brain's jobs to create maps to understand, to deal, to learn, or simply to better live.  The level of interconnection between people and events over time is infinite.  I think one mode of brain mapping is actually less of a map and more like a highlighting tool, like the Find or Search features on our Internet browser, telling us what we want to know or what we think we already know or maybe things we already know, but need a little help surfacing to consciousness, maybe just things we need affirmation or support for?  Perhaps that's why some people subconsciously look at the clock every day at 2:22 or why some people make huge life decisions after hearing a song at the right time or piecing together a complex web of meaning out of uncanny circumstances.  The highlighted stuff are triggers.  That, gets very interesting, because if you think about it, this Search function is basically like an adapted, mechanized hope in our brains.

But anyways, I will prob change my mind about all of this next week.  And I'm fine with that.  Because even though my stance may be the same in about two years, and I'm back at playing the skeptic, the details will be different.  And if I go back to the No Such Thing As Coincidence Hypothesis next week, it will be backed up by a denser pack of experience than the No Such Thing As Coincidence Hypothesis I had last month.  While life is cyclical, the ever-changing variables make each experience an entirely new one, but more important than remembering that certain elements change, is that they can also be changed.  We can change them!  Don't forget that!  I think you owe it to yourself or to whatever Higher Power(s) to try, to progress, to modify, and to create as much as you can while you're still alive.  Call it gratitude or making the most out of life, or whatever you want. Perhaps this is why when it comes to big things like the crisis in Gaza or smaller things like maintaining personal integrity, my hope gauge (hope here is defined as the desire for the outcome of living with least amount of suffering), strongly depends on new measures, the changed variables, the learning process being applied.

Orton mentions the arc of life is a circuitous one.  There's something to be said about the role synchronic order plays in this circuit between events-time-people etc. That is exactly the part I want to understand more.  Like Ms. Orton says, there are some things- er, a lot of things, we just won't ever know.  But whatever, it's the thirst to know as many of them as possible, to prolong all quests, that make me more alive.

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I'm an LA transplant now living in Brooklyn. I develop film projects by day, write at night, and have a dangerous predilection for vintage Robinson Golluber scarves- this blog serves as a tiny window to everything else I do when I'm not satisfying those first three passions. I'm trying to blog more and tweet less @annabelleqv. What about you?

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