Sunday, January 31, 2010

Revisionism in a post couch potato existential framework

Critical reflection is the epitome of human intelligence in its current state. Constant revision, revisiting and reformulation is the most honest form of scholarship or thought that humans have been able to conceive in the history that we created for this universe. Even something as simple as sitting down and thinking about what just happened to you, drawing analytical conclusions and planning future steps, perhaps -- and this is highly theoretical -- even blogging about it can be incredibly enlightening. It can show us more complex routes of analysis, elucidate tertiary points of view, enhance objectivity and provide cyclical reinjection of things learned in hindsight. What it can never do, under any circumstance, is make our problems any simpler.

So what does a tortured soul, up for hours too early to mention after a week of exhilarating emotional confusion, do to simplify his problems? The temptation here is to sit down with a guitar and an internet connection, try to simplify or circumnavigate these problems and learn some tabs for Deb Talan songs. There is nothing that a problem likes better than, upon besetting a hapless and usually unwitting individual, seeing that person sit down and think. The problem knows at that moment that it is winning -- all they have to do, being two-dimensional, is turn sideways while The Thinking Man scans the horizon fruitlessly.

The Thinking Man has a friend, whom he's known since birth, referred to here by the moniker The Running Man. They have been fast friends since before either of them knew it, and they often work together in professional and social capacities. Yet they have distinctly different approaches to problems. Where the Thinking Man pulls up a stool and orders a beverage for brooding over, The Running Man gets up, goes shopping for art supplies with his friends, gets a ristet hotdog from a polser cart and uses his impossible sense of direction to find an ice skating rink from a mental snapshot of Google Maps. The Running Man doesn't stop there, even up since 4 a.m. that morning, he continues running and gets a Steak and Kidney pie with a Guinness for dinner, breaks into the classroom buildings to take a nap before going back out to a Kollegium party being thrown by a hundred Danes that he was invited to by people he's only met twice before.

Yes, it absolutely was the most batshit insane party I've ever been to. Hyperbolic description treads here:

First of all, the setting. Kollegiums are generic post-secondary student housing, not affiliated with any one educational institution. Some kids stay for a semester, while others have been there for upwards of 5 years, heavily subsidized by the Danish government of course. So, you put a hundred Danes and two Americans in a concrete jungle gym for free and at some point, somewhere along the way there will be an absolutely mind-blowing party (I almost said "mental" there. Alastair, you brigand!). This particular one was a progressive party, split up among the 9 floors of the establishment. Each floor had a theme, elaborate decorations, shoddy drunken performances by costumed floor members and it's own special kind of mixed drink. There was the airline-themed floor, filled with pilots and stewardesses, followed immediately by the terrorist floor, full of nerf gun-wielding caricatures and handcuffed airline hostages. There was the circus floor, the murder mystery floor (prominently featuring ketchup smeared all over everything), the "morning after this party" floor, etc. This last mention was my favorite, because it mainly involved pre-emptively littering the already imminently filthy floor with pizza boxes, empty boxed wine and fake barf that they brewed with corn meal and chunky tomatoes. The rancid cherry atop the turd sundae that was this floor's theme was the convincingly unconscious students dressed in the likeness of a street bum littering the floors and tables.

The Danes, normally a very reserved people, use opportunities such as this one to let out all of their inner rambunctiosity, stopped at the neck with such force that it warps inside them until it takes root in their soul and turns them into inexorable machines of liquor, dance and promiscuity. We have costume parties at Grinnell all the time -- we have sketchy people there too, and we also play loud music and yell a lot. But the scales of magnitude on which these Danish parties reside are so incomprehensibly larger than those in our tame Midwestern town that the delineations aren't even in numbers known to this universe.

In that sense, that crucial paradox in which I can't even comprehend parties of this power and veracity, it was hard to get into it. But I watched, I socialized, I picked up scraps of costume and assembled a depressing suit of deflated balloons, and I had a great time. The real treat was getting to settle down after a bit in a smaller group and have a real talk with some Danes and my American hosts. "Have a real talk" in this case is actually a Danish phrase that translates to "Be more or less forcefed bitter licorice liqueur because it's quote 'the essence of Denmark.'" This traumatizing alimentary experience turned out to be a boon, because the system shock induced by this foul bastard of the Anise plant and sentient radioactive waste handily prevented me from being able to think about drinking any more that night and made sure I didn't overstep my abysmally impotent American liquor bounds.

Let's get back to our Friends, Thinking and Running. The Running Man has, rather than spending all his time searching, assumes that his problems lie incorporeally and directly ahead of him. He charges them, turning them to vapor in passing.

Ice skating was an hours-long train ride and 40 minute walk away, remote and uncertain in even its existence. I went out on a whim and a prayer that there would in fact be a rink comprised of ice and rent-able skates where the teardrop on the Google map said it would be. It was the first actually cold day since arriving here, with biting winds that punished us for every brazen step. It was still cold when I put on the shitty rental skates with misaligned blades and pinching insteps. It continued to be freezing when I first tried to crossover, learning that whatever Hindustani had rented me the skates out the back window of a trailer parked next to the rink had no idea how to use a sharpener. I did lap after painful lap for 40 minutes or so, and then the cold stopped mattering and my thoughts became clear as if focused through a monastery's meditative labyrinth.

Something that has never escaped my attention as someone with day dreams about studying religion is the incredible propensity for human beings to ascribe importance to spaces -- physical and metaphysical -- that are essentially empty. I think that this principle extends to Problems, capitalized to denote that this only applies to trivialities. When Problems become People, as addressed in an early post of mine, the situation becomes noticeably more complex. Sure, worrying about Problems passes the time, but all that means is that time is passing when it should be spent. Life has leased us dozens of years to spend as we please, but (pay attention AT&T-Cingular customers) the minutes have no rollover.

I'm not one of those twats who will say live every moment like it's your last, no regrets, no looking back or whatever other bullshit excuses chronically dissatisfied people come up with to justify their corrupt lifestyle. The point of every moment is that in all but one case, it isn't your last. Regrets are a natural consequence of any decision, and are largely imaginary, but nonetheless serve as an excellent reminder of the decisions we did make. And those decisions are what we have to look forward to looking back on, a point that brings me back to the beginning of this pages-long brain fart. If you can't look back, you will never reach the full cognitive capacity of the human mind, which to me is a cardinal sin and a violation of certain fundamental obligations possessed by our species.

Every experience is by human nature an intersection of the real and the illusory at the point of the mind. The difficulty of the matter is that there are times where the real seems entirely fake and the illusory seems all too real. The moral of the story is to get exercise and get the fuck out in the world, it will make you so much more sane on a daily basis that you won't be able to believe it.


  1. How you got through that post without any references to temperatures, either sub or plain Zero, I don't know. Europe has changed you. I'm not sure I like it.

  2. Other strange parallels include:
    My roommate's nickname is Bonesaw, only 3 letters off
    There's a girl who looks remarkably like the female lead
    Unfortunately nobody here straps on litebrites and rides around in a go-kart singing Ave Maria

  3. those danes sound like some serious shenaneganizers.

    a big part of sociological study is the intersection (or lack thereof) of the real and the imagined. i think you hit the nail on the head with this one.

  4. it seems crazy, but since enrolling in a class on "machines and consciousness" (read: what is consciousness/will machines ever be able to attain it) the subject seems to be popping up everywhere. we are such bizarrely complex decision making machines that, sometimes, our own introspection can work against us.