Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Abbey Road

It's been a recurring observation of this Slog that life consists of a series of revisitations to tired cliches, certain with each new pass that we now really understand them. One level up from that [how lithe is your framing?], my life consists of a series of revisitations to this conclusion (about revisiting tired cliches), certain with each new pass that now I really see the cycle.

Prime example: "You can't truly love another person until you love yourself".

At level one, that just sounds gross. "Self-love" associates with vanity and narcissism at best. Then you sort of get it, then, after a critical mass of bad relationships, you begin to develop a better handle on the notion. Then, at the advanced age of 56 (despite having flattered yourself with the idea that you have some insight into human nature), you struggle to explain the awkwardly-phrased recognition that you shouldn't expect damaged people to self-repair to accommodate you [all the links are helpful, but this one's mandatory], and it takes a long four months before you realize you've dumbly reinvented the damned wheel. Again! (I did the same thing here, and, man, so many other times)

Once you reach a deeper comprehension of this surprisingly profound insight, things open up. For one thing, you notice that it works in both directions. At first, it's talking to you, i.e. "what you need to do to be better in romantic relationships" (then, as wisdom takes root, in other sorts of relationships, as well). But it also works the other way, i.e. "why people are not better in romantic relationships", and, in the most advanced interpretation of all, why people aren't better just in general. I.e. you shouldn't expect damaged people to self-repair to accommodate you.

I am happier than I've ever been, though nothing looks bright on paper. And while I could spill a million words explaining how it happened (in fact, I've done exactly that, right here), it boils down to three words of seeming brutal cynicism: I've lowered expectations.
Is there a darker and more alarming utterance that can be made in America? The horrified multitudes pull away from me as if I were infected. "Lowered expectations?" The phrase hardly makes sense. We test it on our tongues, and it comes out like gobbledygook. Lowahxpitations. Lower Expee Cations. Lowspectorcations.

Ohmygod get Leff to a clinic, pronto. He's lost his "High Hopes"; his high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes.

I have not actually departed for Planet Mope. I've just recalculated how I play the hands I'm dealt, accounting for the fact that everyone's stressed and distracted and aggrieved (inevitably self-created, though, Jesus Christ, don't ever tell them that!). Everyone's skewed, everyone's screwed, everyone's neurotic from struggling under a crushing, completely unnecessary burden. Johnny can't come out to play today; he's not feeling well.

For a long time I expected people to be nicer to each other (and to me) than they are to themselves, which is nuts. I was dismayed at girlfriends for their failure to be more than rotely transactional, when, in fact, "transactional" is the high bar; the nearly-unattainable ideal! If you're lucky enough to have a transactional spouse - one who isn't perpetually frozen in an intractable, dug-in posture of sourly unilateral needy imperiousness - you, my friend, have scored!

I had inappropriately high expectations, which created the strong sense that there's an overriding Problem (and it's not due to the zit on your nose, or the color of your skin, or the size of your schnozz, or the scarf on your head, or your slight limp, or your shortness/tallness/skinniness/fatness/stupidity/eggheadedness [another mandatory link]). I always attributed the Problem to failure on the part of others, when it was entirely a product of my own narcissistic expectations.

Sheesh, what did I expect from people? People sleep on uncomfortable pillows. They willingly poison their lives with drama and delusion. They eat crappy pizza rather than drive another block for good pizza. They frame themselves as miserable turds amid paradise. And I expected them to be kind and fair and engaged and, like, fun? Like they should suddenly snap out of their misery - their dazed stupor - to solicitously meet my needs and make it fun for me? Really? Was I out of my mind???

Here's how I absolutely didn't just frame it:
People suck. They're dull sheeple. By recognizing how much they suck, I demonstrate my superiority. Even though I'm just flapping my mouth bitching and judging, I'm atop the mountain, because I see how much it all sucks, and vision is only possible with elevation. It would never occur to me to work to be the change I want, because it's all useless because it all sucks - aside from me, who's clear-headed enough to recognize the suckyness. What do I offer? Why, the pearls of my wisdom, which consist of telling you how much it sucks and how bored I am and how it's not fun enough and no one's nice enough or fair enough, and how I don't get what I deserve. It all sucks except for me, and proof I don't suck is in the fact that I possess the secret knowledge: namely, I know that it sucks.
Yeah, that move is the one you don't need to do. Recognizing stupidity doesn't mean you're smart, it just means you're observant. Opt out of that hideous mind trap via a flick of your attention. And then...you're good. You can enjoy all the exuberance of 1951 Frank Sinatra (ripely flush with booze and broads and dough) with none of those daffily narcissistic high hopes. You're not starring in a movie.

So, to review, the trick is to:

1. Lower expectations, realizing that people can barely get out of bed in the morning - but remembering that we've actually made vast strides, being exceptionally fortunate that very few people bash other people over the head anymore. (Do not undervalue this advancement even though the scattered few remaining bashers disproportionally horrify you in the same way that smaller and smaller peas increasingly vex coddled princesses from beneath their mattresses.)

2. Not depart for Planet Mope just because a zillion TV shows and movies (and zillions of aspiration-stoking advertising dollars) have instilled the notion that lowered expectations are akin to death.

3. Buy an expensive pillow. A really really crazy expensive luxury pillow. Finance this by drinking tap water rather than bottled.

4. Enjoy paradise, and contribute in some small insidious way, ideally like an ant or an earthworm (you need to go small to go big; remember the camels and the needles).

I didn't know what to title this. And I assume the Beatles said the same thing after recording their album.

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