This is Your (Not So Shitty) Life

10 Sep

Surfin'I have a very strange commute. I get on the R train deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, then, instead of just riding it all the way into the city, I transfer at Atlantic/PacificBarclay. I have to climb up a flight of stairs, walk a good city block, climb down some more stairs, walk some more, then climb up another flight to catch the 4/5 into lower Manhattan. It adds about five minutes to my commute, and in the morning – before coffee, before bagels, before anything good has happened to me except that I woke to discover I am still alive – I don’t want an extra five minutes to my commute, and I don’t want to walk, at all, for I am one lazy sonofabitch.

For a year and a half now I’ve made this long way around commute. A couple of years ago we had this thing called Hurricane Sandy that flooded the subway tunnels. So while they are fixing the tunnels my train doesn’t run into the city. Hurricane Sandy happened because global warming or God, depending on who you ask. The subways suck because Washington hates New York and never gives us anything new and shiny until it’s too late.

Add to all of this the fact that the subway is a pure, unadulterated distillation of all that is wrong with humanity, and you got the makings for a miserable commute. I spend my time on the train listening to music, or reading, or crushing candies with the magic of cellular technology. Sometimes someone steps on my foot or sneezes in my general direction. There are the weirdoes who want to talk to me, and those who inform me that the only way to stay out of eternal hellfire is through their favorite Jewish carpenter.

I would say 8% of my commutes are actually good. Someone singing for money, who can actually sing. A pretty woman who gives me a double take that isn’t about the toothpaste on my tie. A…nah, I can’t think of a third one. Everything else sucks. Hurricane Sandy sucked. Washington bureaucrats suck. The Roman Empire-era tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan suck. The odor that has permeated the subway for the past fifty years sucks. The people suck. The conductors suck. The women who giggle at the Crest fallen on my paisley suck.

But I can’t change any of that. 99% of the things I experience on the subway are outside my control. The other 1% is me always running late. That’s on me, job.

I would say that within my experience of life, about 80-90% of things suck. 5% of things are in my control, and about half of that sucks as well. So there’s about 10-18% of things in life that I cannot control and also do not suck.

But enough with the maths, because I suck at math, and most of you probably read past the numbers anyway.

Simply put, most of what sucks is outside my control.

My boss is in a bad mood because the case he is working on is going south, because someone was nasty to him, because his cholesterol is up and he had to switch from ranch to balsamic vinaigrette on the salads he’s been eating for years that have obviously not helped with the fucking cholesterol in the first place, and because he stubbed his toe. He’s in a bad mood and might take it out on me. I cannot control this. (Note, if any of my coworkers are reading this, this boss is a complete work of fiction and not meant to represent any person living or dead. Everyone I work for is an angel of the highest order with shockingly low cholesterol and toes which curbs magically miss.) My boss may act to me like an asshole, and I have no control over this.

I cannot control hurricanes. A hurricane hits my city and I have to live with it. Oh, I could move some place without hurricanes – let’s say Minnesota – but then I’d get blizzards. So I move away from the blizzards for something a bit more temperate – Los Angeles – and I get earthquakes. And so on.

Wherever you live there will be bad weather, nasty people, horrible politicians, unidentifiable aromas of decay, people telling you to believe in their particular deity, people pestering you for money. You will get food poisoning from your favorite taco truck. Some asshole will compliment you with the phrase, “Nice tits, baby!” Your elected officials will disappoint. Gas prices will go up. Wars in far off lands will start, and the online opinions of people you once thought were cool because they liked cats so much will start to grate on you. Your favorite band will break up. Your favorite team will lose. Your favorite actor will die. Your holistic, vegan, non-smoking, non-drinking friend will get cancer of the everything.

Because the world sucks. It does. The world is a horrible, mean, nasty place. It is not actively trying to kill you, but if you happen to die, the world is not going to shed a single tear. Because the world does not care about you. It does not know you. It does not wish to know you. @TheWorld has seven billion Twitter followers, but doesn’t follow any of them back. All it does is tweet, “Er, Asia, I’m gonna kill a quarter million of you with a tsunami #sorryboutthat” a half hour after it kills a quarter million Asians with a tsunami. Not only does the world suck, it is proud of its suckiness and how said suckiness affects you in the worst possible way.

This is not to say that the world is “out to get you.” It’s not. The world itself is as amoral as it comes. Similarly, anyone who claims that the “world owes them something” does not understand how the world works.

***

One of my favorite philosophical drinking games is the whole “Free Will v. Determinism” debate. Do we act on our own accord, or are our lives fated to traverse a certain path? I have always been a free will sorta guy, believing that my life is how it is because of specific choices I have made. But this is not completely true, not even partially true, really.

The world – the one that sucks, the one that doesn’t owe you anything nor is out to get you – is out of our control. That 95% of the stuff that is not of my own choosing is the fatalistic elements of existence. While I don’t believe in fate or destiny or a spaghetti monster pushing the buttons of existence, too often it appears that we live in a world that has been pre-programmed simply because we exercise so little control over it.

I cannot change the fact that my subway commute is going to suck. I have no choice in the matter. Oh, I could get a new job that is within walking distance of my apartment, but that’s a knee jerk reaction to a mild inconvenience.

Determinism is simply all the stuff I cannot control but which affect my life.

While so much of the world is simply dreadful, that 5% that is within our control does not have to be. That’s life. Life – my life, your life, our lives – does not have to be (so) bad because it is within our control.

The world may suck, but life does not. And when I hear people bitch and moan about the shittiness of their own lives, they are only decrying the poor choices they made. (I am totally guilty of this, as every hangover and poor cholesterol check will attest. To the balsamic vinaigrette! And post haste!!)

Our actions, the small bits of free will we actually have in this crazy world, are the only things that keep us sane and keep us alive. I can’t choose what other people say on Facebook, but I can choose whether I read their inane updates and view their cutesy-pie photos of their cats sleeping with their babies. I can choose whether to get up ten minutes earlier and make my commute a little less nerve wracking. I can choose whether to let my awesome, never-done-a-bad-thing-in-his-life boss get a rise out of me.

But let’s play a little game. Let us suppose that there is no free will. Let us pretend that everything that has ever happened was always going to happen. The Calvinists were right, and we are all puppets for some Gargamel-looking master. Me writing this shitty blog post was always going to happen, and you reading it, sadly, can never be stopped.

But even if we live in a deterministic world, we don’t see it that way. I think I have the choice of getting a Reuben with extra death or a salad with extra kale. I think I have the choice to react negatively or positively to my boss or to anyone else who acts dickish to me. In a deterministic world these are mere illusions. But for most of us, illusions are what get us through the day. Some could say that love or hope are illusions, mere social constructs, puny words we use to try to define that which is intangible. God is as real to some as he is imaginary to others. Even in a world without a God, people will believe. And if the world is a deterministic construct, we still have the belief in free will. And that should be good enough.

I mean, except for the fact that free will is only 5% of our lives. The rest is pretty insufferable. Except for cats.

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