Monday, April 30, 2018

Sappy Shawn and Studly Steve

Sappy Shawn walks down the street, day-dreaming, as usual, about his childhood poodle, Noodles. Noodles, he firmly believes, watches over him from Puppy Heaven. Noodles cares about him in ways that no one else does. Shawn's loopy grin sometimes discomfits people. His shirt has a poodle print. And on his smartphone, Noodles is his wallpaper image. He glances at it when something upsets him.

Shawn arrives at work, where he's decided that the cubicle village in which he labors was feng-shui arranged to direct grace his way. Whenever the front door opens, a slight breeze filters through the baffles, finally wafting, barely detectably, past his desk. He lives for these moments. They soothe him. The world feels like a sweet place.

Shawn takes Flintstones vitamins, which he imagines give him super strength, and, when necessary, uses Flintstones bandaids, which remind him of the love he received from his dear-departed mother.

Even at age 42, Shawn still doesn't step on sidewalk cracks, not wanting to chance breaking backs. Also, he honestly believes he's Luke Skywalker. At any moment, the Rebels might call him up for a brave new mission. His Flintsones vitamins keep him ready.

Sappy Shawn is, we can all agree, out of his gourd; just barely functional. His sad, flimsy emotional bastions are plainly inadequate for the rigors of adult daily life. One thing seems certain: Shawn's living in a fantasy, not in the real world.

Studly Steve walks down the street, reliving, yet again, the devastating final argument with his first high school girlfriend. She said terrible, awful things, and he's replayed that mental tape thousands of times. It's what he does when his mind's otherwise unoccupied. Striding down a lovely street on a beautiful day, in perfect health, well-fed, and comfortably provided for, Steve's temples throb in anger, and his gait is pugnacious and aggressive. Cortisol rages through his bloodstream from the self-inflicted stress.

This is what Steve does: he manufactures stress by dipping into his treasured collection of painful moments of humiliation or by transporting himself to future imagined outrage and disappointment. None of it is actually happening in any given moment, but he's made this his permanent reality via sheer hypnotic repetition. The world sucks.

Steve arrives at work, where he sees his cubicle as puny and beneath the dignity of a 42 year old with his talent. He settles into his chair, registering once again its cheap uncomfortableness, and submits to the burdensome aggravations of work. He doesn't hate his job - is "just ok" with it - but it's a far cry from his dreams of glory. And that rankles. Steve's seething disappointment - at reality's failure to match fantasized expectation - is diligently fed. Countless daily trivialities funnel into this narrative, even as he makes good money doing non-back-breaking work for a solid company with mostly friendly coworkers; even as he generally enjoys a life utterly free of bona fide problems.

Steve, like Shawn, lives in mental reverie, oblivious to the reality of moment-by-moment circumstances. He distorts his outlook via such a multitude of mental obsessions that he's entirely unhinged from reality - from the "raw feed" of it all. Yet Steve, unlike Shawn, seems absolutely normal. Steve is all of us....while Shawn is a nutty Pollyanna.

As I've written several times (originally in my discussion of the film Marwencol):
Human beings spend their lives in conflict with imaginary people: mentally rearguing old arguments, worrying about faceless attackers and detractors, reliving bygone humiliations, and generally using our imaginations to make our lives a living hell.

That's considered "normal", but using the same faculty in positive ways to help us cope seems, for some bizarre reason, childish and loopy.
Perpetually festering in imaginary pain is completely normal. Same for spending every waking moment obsessed with What's Missing. But we're disgusted and alarmed by those who use the same imaginative faculties to conjure up happier landscapes. There is only one conclusion to draw: we prefer it the other way.

We like the grind, the stress, the festering, the pain. We enjoy the murders and fires and wars and kids dying of cancer (or, at least, we enjoy bitterly gnashing our teeth over those things). The prevalence of such reports on the News is not random. It's played up because we yearn for it (we slow down to peer at accidents, not at art or sunsets or children playing). If we're not generating sufficient poison in our own lives, we look to our entertainments to top us off, so to speak - to ballast our happiness. Whatever it takes to stave off becoming a sappy, deluded Shawn, who strikes us as broken. I explored this more deeply in my "Why God Lets Bad Things Happen" posting. Spoiler: He lets it 'cuz we like it that way.

But there's another level. Studly Steve creates gnarly friction and drama for himself, as we all do. So what's Sappy Shawn doing, exactly? Is he making lemonade from lemons? No. His lemons are delusional in the first place. We conjure them from memory or imagination.

Shawn isn't dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, which are extremely few and far between. He's mostly just recoiling fearfully from his inner Steve; his obsessive inclination to replay memories of pain and loss and to toss every petty disappointment into his lifelong narrative of woe. Shawn has created shielding to block damage from his own Steve-ish instincts. It's a tightly-packed vicious circle.

Shawn assumes the world persecutes him, when, day in and day out, it's just his inner Steve feeding him a salad of unnecessarily harsh interpretations of what's happening, recycled memories of previous harsh interpretations, and anxieties about harsh future happenings. His countermeasure is to cover that salad with a thick, gloppy dressing of sentimental puppy memories, nostalgia, and cinematic projection, hoping to stave off The Monster that is his own obsession.

That's one way of handling it. The other is to just stop Steveing. Drop the whole thing, and immerse in the raw feed. Literally come back to your senses - to what's actually happening right here right now.


Display Name said...

Fantastic. Agree with everything except the video games Jim.

Anonymous coward said...

Hmmm, most of the time I lean towards Shawn. Though Steve gets fed a lot via fear of the future. Automation, outsourcing, religious extremists, populist leaders, poverty, chronic illness, and old age. Fear of old age particularly scares me into petrification. That's when I let some Shawn in.

I spend a good amount of my days just spinning around imagining I am a gigantic sentient being of some sort. Or worlds full of clean running water and abundant peaceful fauna. Seems to help me deal with life's problems.

I also disagree about video games and media. In fact, I often pick games and television that are close to this as I can.

"Do you imagine we'll use it to build lovely realms without violence, pain, or menace?" Leff

This is exactly what I aim for when I can. Even when I have the option to be violent in video games I try to be a pacifist. I play games like bloons tower defense 5. Just look at the beautiful graphics and hear the happy music, even if you don't play the game. Three stooges, Marx bros, Addams Family, singing happy upbeat music like Frosty the Snowman, and walking in the Winter wonderland help me get through rough patches.

My friends can watch movies like Halloween and video games like Resident Evil. I can tolerate them for awhile, but I end up getting sad and afraid quickly and the feelings can linger for days after words. I found I don't really have much of a choice, I must play happy videos games, watch happy television, and listen to happy music at least twice the rate of the unhappy counterparts to function. Otherwise, I won't be able to get up in the morning and I'll be like there is no point, I'll start literally being afraid of my own shadow, and I'll start having nightmares about the horrific media I just watched.

Seriously, you cannot unwatch something once you have. I watch a movie called Jurassic park over a decade ago and I still have nightmares about a t-rex trying to eat me. Also when I go outside in the dark suddenly I occasionally get the fear that a t-rex is going to charge at me and the urge to sprint inside and barricade the door. I don't think my fear of zombies, vampires, werewolves, dinosaurs, aliens, gorillas, hippopotamus, bobcats, lions, bears, nuclear missiles, pathogens, car accidents, and dragons will ever leave me no how little I feed Steve or how much I feed Shawn. Yet, I can choose to feed Steve as little as possible.

About 4-5 days ago I was dreaming about running from a t-rex. I honestly do not understand how some people can tolerate so much negativity.

In conclusion, life has so many horrors I actively aim for happy fantasies and media.

Anonymous coward said...

Another example that people prefer positive to negative is the original Walmart logo. Did Walmart, one of the most successful retailers to ever exist, use a sad face? An angry face? A terrified face? No a happy smiley face.

Anonymous coward said...

One more example. Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote in the Nov 2016 USA presidential election. Overall, I think Hillary had a much more positive strategy. This is proof that human prefer positive over negative.

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