A few years ago she said “You know what your problem is?”
I replied somewhat angrily, that hard Jersey accent momentarily slipping through, “What-“
“You’ve had to fight people your whole life.. you don’t know how to stop. Even when there’s no reason or no one left to fight, you just don’t know how to stop.”
She was right. My surroundings had defined me. Even when I was outside the maze I was only focused on the next one ahead. Even the act of going against those surroundings, pushing them and testing them and breaking them at every unfair turn was an act of definition. Reacting against a stimulus is simply reversing the mould.
People that know me are used to me annoyingly shit talking my home town and surrounding areas. I apologize if you’ve had to put up with that as it only breeds more negativity, and it’s something that I’ve been learning to put behind me. It’s always kind of been my daddy issue. I have an endless wellspring of bitterness and self-doubt inside me from the way I felt there. All these years later and all of that separation between us, deep down significant parts of me still believe everything everyone said. The beat downs, the shamings, even the well intentioned advice and friendly words that in reality were horrible, warped, and damaging to someone like me.
I know it’s not the place. It’s not even the people. It’s simply the tide of humanity. We’re a stupid species. We’re mimics. We’re just birds chirping to sound like other birds and chasing tinfoil off a cliff. Slowly we learn and self-correct. Slowly.
I used to think a lot about the trajectory of capitalism psychology and American decay. It’s hard not to. In some ways I feel that decay is getting worse, while in others it’s getting much better. I really have a lot of faith in the younger generations. They more readily reject the social realities that my generation was born into, and the ways in which it warped us. They more readily reject the counter culture confusion and anti-technology push back that the generation after me embraces. I just hope they can keep their focus and not be diluted by all the buzz and distraction.
Perhaps my hopefulness of late is the result of the bubble I’ve put myself in. My new home is a place that embodies most of the things I’ve ever wanted from a surrounding. I don’t feel a reason to fight for the right to exist as an equal. I don’t feel the weight of disapproving glares or stares. I don’t feel the communal pressure to do things I don’t want to do, or to work in the city, or to have all those fake layers of sociological comfort that much of the world relies on. People here don’t ask you “So what do you do for a living?” on first meeting. They know what you do.. you live your life how it makes sense to you. The only times I was able to answer that question in the past and receive a nod of approval or intrigue is when I’ve worked jobs that were doing horrible things to the world. The past 7 years my outwardly “impressive” professional life has consisted of helping delude people while funneling their money into fake non-profits, and selling digital drugs to kids.
It’s not that I wasn’t living my life how I wanted to before, it’s that I feel like I am finally doing so without having to come up against the snide remarks, sideways glances, and questioning / confusion / straight up aggression of the masses. Instead, I feel embraced. Instead, I feel welcome. That simple base level acceptance allows me to more readily drop my guard. This allows me to grow more quickly, naturally, and reach deeper into myself.
That’s why I sometimes annoyingly rant about how much I love being in New Orleans. It’s not simply the place. It’s the people and the culture. For me, it’s the last refuge from American decay that I can find without having to leave America. After this, I don’t think I could emotionally handle staying in the US. But I do think things are changing overall, little by little. People are opening up and experiencing other ways of life. Re-learning empathy. Re-learning basic kindness.
Most people want to live in a more in-touch, more accepting society. For that to happen, it takes a lot of bravery to go out into the closed up places and be open. And push openness. And protect and foster the minority. And let it spread even as it pushes back in on you. Maybe at some point that will be a role for me. For now, I feel like I’m healing and growing and, in some ways, resting. I feel good. I feel better. And I think I’ll be able to be a more positive force for when life pushes me into those storms again.