Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Inner Peace and the Outside Push to Mediocrity

About three years ago I went to Houston to visit with my parents for a couple of days. It was the usual set of events that played out: I dropped my bags off at their house, and headed to my friends’ places for the evening and never made it home before the following afternoon. The nights were always a buckshot experience of caution-free boozery, sprinkled with almost-fights, late-night spring rolls at Mai’s, and lots and lots of double-parking. I would spend my early afternoons in conversation with my parents, still under the influence of the previous evening, and waiting with anticipation for the coming attractions of the evening. The more damage: the better. And that’s how I liked it. I was 27ish with no direction, lots of energy, and enough smarts to keep me afloat. Coming off of some absolutely mind-blowing mid-twenties, it was MY time to be lazy and blow off steam. I was all about myself, and had no intention of taking in the negative perspective of anyone else who may be looking in on the disaster that was: me. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, right? Right.

So, the Saturday evening of my visit, my parents and I are sitting around the dinner table, after a meat-and-potatoes meal, chatting. I was so hung over from the previous night that I really had no appetite or desire to speak, so the conversation was mainly between my parents. Whatever comments I tried to interject were received in much the same way that an errant cow tooth is received when biting into a taco. A mixture of curiosity and dismay. I have no doubt that I looked rather unimpressive: a grown man with a mid-level professional job who reeked of whiskey at seven o’clock at night, dozing off mid-sentence and practically sleeping in the green beans on his plate. Err… No one’s perfect, right? Yes. So in an effort to try and push me in a direction they thought helpful, my parents decided to discuss what it means to actually achieve SOMETHING in life. What it means to do SOMETHING important with your limited minutes on this planet. They rattled off a bunch of hoo-ha about the importance of finding a life-partner, of maintaining familial ties, and of preserving some sort of family tradition. Or something along those lines anyhow. I was probably still drunk, so I don’t have a real firm grasp on whatever they were babbling about. And that continued on for thirty minutes or so, which did little to keep my drooping eyes from hovering inches above my green beans. Just as I was about to completely zone out of the discussion completely, they turned it on me, specifically.

Here, to the best of memory, is what was said to me by my father while my mother nodded her head in complete agreement.

“The thing is, Craig, is that in life, we don’t always get to do anything great. Some of us, Craig, are simply not meant to achieve anything like that. Some people are lucky to be able to have children, and then maybe the children will be great. But not you. Not the parent. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it is just as noble.”

If you can read that, and not feel any level of disturbance running through your neural pathways, then the comment was meant for you, not me. Nails on a chalkboard over here. While it only makes sense that someone has to occupy the uncontested spaces in the mediocre lot (in fact, by definition, the majority does), I don’t believe resignation to it is the best means to me finding my inner peace. I mean, to “settle” on mediocrity is to compromise one’s self. There’s nothing wrong with mediocrity, true, as long as it is the product of effort to avoid it. At least there was a fight drawn against it. At least there was a notion of possibility, a search, an adventure into brilliance in there somewhere. What the fuck is up with the resignation bullshit? Why MUST I resign myself to it?

I was speechless. And hung over. And angry, sad, disillusioned, disappointed, suddenly alienated. And feeling somewhat deserving of this complete lack of support. I felt almost guilty for it. I took it like an indictment. An indictment of mediocrity. My parents were pushing me into the mediocre department. It felt like they had lost faith in my abilities.

But that got me to thinking, as I felt sure that my parents were not intentionally trying to knock me down. I desperately tried to imagine their point-of-view, searching for some sort of explanation for the cruel tone, since I was convinced that their intentions were kind. The only thing I could come up with was their fear of seeing me fall again. They had watched me wage a war against myself and everyone else for 27 years, and the last 4 of those were the most destructive. They had seen me touch the sky, at almost the peak of performance and success, only to watch everything crash to the ground. They had to watch me clamor back up to my feet, and set off again in a similarly violent fashion, in yet another risky direction, which also ended in utter destruction. I am speaking in riddles here, because these events were very complicated, and would require a great deal of explanation. Suffice to say, my parents had been stressed enough by what probably appeared to them as pointlessly reckless behavior. And it was scary to them. They just wanted me to calm down and stop fighting my position. As if to say, “please, just settle down. You’re fighting for something you were never equipped to have. You are aiming too far beyond your capabilities, and it hurts us to have to watch you fail, over and over again. Just stop it. Stop doing this to yourself, to us.”

If that was indeed the message, then I could stomach it with more ease. It was not an indictment necessarily, but more of distress signal. Even though it still pissed me off, I could accept where they were coming from, and remain satisfied that their intent was never malicious. I labored over and under their comment for quite some time. I could not shake the feeling that they were looking at me the same way a parent would look at a son who ran for class president every year and lost, while the parent knew that their child had a severe learning disability which would preclude them from ever holding the office. Eventually, the parent would cringe instead of support when election time would come around again. Eventually, the parent would be compelled to sit their child down and have “that talk” in order to help shelter them from (yet another) sure-fire failure. And I am sure “that talk” would be loaded with resignation, much as my parents’ discussion with me.

It made me physically ill to consider that my parents might view me the same way. That they might feel the overwhelming urge to step in to offer me protection against my own inability to see how pointless the struggle is for me, specifically. My other siblings never received this talk, or any advice remotely similar. I felt patronized. I felt relegated. I felt compartmentalized as inferior.

I felt like a cheap Mr. Coffee coffee maker, returned to Target because it was “missing pieces from the factory”, and would never function as designed. For the first time in my life, I felt the feeling that no one had any faith in my abilities, and it mattered to me. Before that moment, I really never gave much thought to whether or not I had any support for my endeavors. And that was probably because it was always there, before, so there was no reason to question it. I began to spin in an awful cycle of self-doubt, which lasted at least a year, where I questioned my own abilities, my own judgment. I started to take others’ advice above my own constitution, and deferred to others’ opinions and directions whenever available as a preferred selection to my own. The results were not particularly bad, but they were a rather stark contrast to what I might have done. If I could have kept that up, then it would never have been a problem. If the charade were strong enough to continue, I would never notice my underlying discontent.

But that could never last. I am too difficult a person to follow the lead of others for too long. Especially if the end result is mediocrity for the sake of security. I collapsed under the weight of frustration, and the intense feelings of asphyxiation resulting from the pressure to “keep things safe”. My internal dialog had been more of an argument for quite some time, and was then turning into an all-out revolution. For all my parents’ good intentions, and my well-meaning attempt to “tow the line”, the plan was falling apart in front of me, inside me, in my mind.

Once again, I was at war with myself, and with what was expected of me. Once again, I was forced to pit who I am against who I expect myself to be (which I had not done in a while), along with a new contender: who I am expected (by others) to be. The third contender was quickly disposed of, as he truly is a waste of good character. But more importantly, he was disposed of because there was absolutely no positive tissue match there. My mind and motivations tried, but could not accept that version of self. It was wholly rejected, killed off, and easily disposed of.

So here I am. Back from the fires. Renewing the squabble between who I am and who I expect “me” to be. Even though I know that the results appear self-destructive, and that it can make me more difficult to get along with. I realize that my lack of acceptance of where I am makes me impatient, and my refusal to resign myself to mindless line-towing makes me appear unstable.

But I would take that instability over the resignation to mediocrity any day. Because, for me, it appears, by process of elimination, that my particular inner peace (if I am afforded any at all) is somewhere on the other side of my internal struggle. Somewhere in the dust of the climax. It has to be. Because it sure as hell isn’t buried within the acceptance of life on medium heat. I believe that fact is evident in that everyone wants everyone else to accept mediocrity. No one is honestly championing it for themselves. If you aren’t meant to dwell there, then it feels like a prison sentence instead of the vacation spot you got sold on. Never accept mediocrity. Never tow the line “just because”. And never let your questions be answered with “well, that’s just how things are”, because that is complete and utter rubbish. You deserve more from yourself, and there is nothing unhealthy about self-challenge. Resign yourself to nothing. Fall down, get back up with a grin, and give it another go, slapping off the hands of those who try to hold you back “for your own benefit”. Why not? What have you really got to lose? Mediocrity? Why would you care if that got lost? I would take brief and phenomenal failure over painfully long, soul-wrenching mediocrity any day. Any. Day.

So, to my parents and friends, I apologize before hand for being impetuous at times. For being obnoxious, or difficult, or too “cup is goddamn half-empty”. That’s just how I roll. That’s how I get things done. That’s how I understand things to be. And that’s how I will continue to make my way.

Because one day, I will be class president. Bet.

Motherfuck yeah.


Anonymous said...

One problem that I struggle with is the meaning of mediocrity. To reject mediocrity is fine, but what is it? What seems mediocre to me might not be to another person. Case in point, one person's mediocre might be a middle-class life with a middle-class job and some children in public school in tow. To another person, that could very well be the aspiration, the ideal.

To me personally, in the end, it is not so much a question of mediocrity, but rather a question of design on life. Who are you? Who would you like to be? Those may be different things, but as long as you endeavor for the latter, and not settle for the former, you should be going the right way. Of course, if who you are is already who you want to be, then you've arrived, though I've always been suspicious of people who are not works in progress.

By the way, I agree with what your parents said about not everyone being born into a prospect for greatness. But I think that that view somewhat misses the point. We may not all have the talent, luck, etc. to be rich, famous, accomplished, important, etc., but we are all equally unlimited in our bounds for human goodness. I prefer to think that decency above all is the true measure of man.

Truecraig said...

Ah yes, the meaning of mediocrity. You are correct, anon, that the definition of this term would have to be relative. I would agree that one person’s mediocrity is another person’s brilliant success (vice versa), as another person’s brilliant success could be another’s complete failure. But regardless of the starting point, mediocrity is the middle. It is the easier path, whatever that may be. It is the least creative, and the safest place one could work to. And I believe everyone is aware of their position in relation to it. That is what I wanted to illustrate. Mediocrity is whatever is in the eye of the producer.

That is why I chose not to define exactly what *I* meant by “mediocrity”. I leave it to you to understand that what is mediocre to me is the easy path, for me. The simplest solution to my life’s curiosities.

And I believe I understand what you mean by “design on life”. But answering questions such as “who am I?” and “who would I like to be?” requires experience and certain acknowledgement of achievement. Perhaps better described as the search for “enlightenment”. You’re talking about the tippy-tip of Maslow’s hierarchy. That, by definition, would be beyond the grasp of someone milling about within their personal range of mediocrity (whatever that may be).

I really like your view that “decency above all is the true measure of man.” And on many levels, that is how I believe a man should be measured by outsiders. But a man knows himself better than that, and worse than that. And for one to consider himself, he must be willing to have a much broader set of standards for which to measure and base his own liking of himself. In fact, I would guess that measuring my own decency would next to impossible anyway. So how should I feel about myself? What measuring stick is applied? They need not be material (spendable wealth, fame, political influence <-- and I do still consider politics to be more material than philisophical), but those standards need to be more concrete. One needs to be impressed by themselves. How is this done?

Anonymous said...

In an attempt to answer your last question, I offer the following (controversial) observation:

There is a very real difference between (1) thinking that you are better than other people and (2) wanting to be better than other people.

If you understand why (2) is ok, and why (1) is not, then you might have that more concrete standard.

dungsta said...

Man, fucking disgusting how similar we are c. after reading your post on my own inner turmoil and hearing you say you feel me i have to admit i was skeptical, now i know we share this path together. Now maybe you understand where i was coming from during christmas when i was speaking in tounges/riddles. Now i know that when im up in austin to escape this maladaptive/alleged support group you understand my utter disenchantment with people...its not because im negative but because they are...and like you more eloquently put people tend to lump everyone else but themselves into the homologous neverending pit of mediocrity.

This is what im fucking talking about (to the people who want to know what i mean by substantive, honest, truth laydened, dialogue). This is "being real", with oneself and with reality. fuck pleasantries. life is meant to be lived. get over yourselves and do that which you were meant to do. To not do so is equal in my books to being criminal, rude, self-absorbed, bigoted, sexist. THE LAZY SHALL INHERIT THEMSELVES!!!!

Truecraig said...

Be careful there, anon. That’s a pretty serious accusation to make. And I believe that neither of your “options” answer my question at all. You make the rather rude assumption that I am talking about impressive one’s self AGAINST others. That idea is trite, small-minded, and extremely boring. Impressing yourself is about setting up goals that are impressive TO YOU, and then working your ass off to achieve them.

If your sense of achievement comes from either (1) thinking you are better than other people or (2) wanting to be better than other people, then you are a small person who does not deserve to be impressed by themselves. Because your intent and motives would be wholly unimpressive.

Sean said...

1. don't mistake other people's goals for your own. the only person you should try to outdo is you. as much as I like to think that I'm not envious of the success of others around me, it is more often than not a big motivator for me to get off my ass.

2. maybe mom and pops were trying to empathize by telling you how they've rationalized their own struggle with this issue. think of them as tea leaves or magic 8-balls. you're a grown man and don't have to take them literally any more. read further into what sits behind their words. turn the statement back towards them. what do you see? I see them saying they're the two parents of somebody who has, can, and will again achieve greatness. that's all they wanted, and now they too share that greatness.

3. I like green beans

4. I think anon wasn't accusing anybody of anything, but rather elaborating on a point you hinted at but might have emphasized.

Truecraig said...

1. Yup.

2. I considered that possibility. And I do believe that Pop, particularly, was speaking of himself as he was speaking to me. Without being him, I cannot say who it was all meant for. But it was definitely directed at me. I combined that with other conversations with them which were not as overt, to come to my conclusion. But I was just using that little jab to illustrate the idea that mediocrity gets pushed. That's all.

3) That's nice. So do I. Especially when they're properly steamed!

4) I don’t believe that anon’s comment was an elaboration on any point made by me. Perhaps I am overlooking something, but I certainly never knowingly hinted at anything remotely related to any sort of comparison of one’s self to others, as was the foundation of both of anon’s options. If they revisit, perhaps they will clear that up. I would like it if they did.

Anonymous said...

At least your parents put it in perspective! My folk's still believe that i'm destined to doom. Lack of faith? you betcha buddie. Couple days ago, they questioned why am I in school at my age. Needless to say I was stunned. No reply in sight. Damn-it I was sunk.
Everybody has their own perspective of where they want to be in life. Starting from early childhood, playing that MASH thing, where you write down your occupation what car you want who you want to marry etc..., to the present. people's ideas are always changing with new jobs relationships location blah blah blah...As long as you yourself is satisfied/content it's cool. Nobody can knock you for that. For those that strive for something better give yourself a gold star. Others who wish, you better get you ass off your shoulder and do something. I'm not saying hope and dreams don't come true, i'm just a realist. A realist with that damn dark cloud over me (for those who know me) but I don't let it hinder my progress.
Like you, I was on the clouds at one point until I got pushed off without a parachute. Till this day, four years later, i'm still feeling the effects. But you know what? I tried damn-it! Did I fail? Fuck no! I don't see it as a failure, it just didn't work out the way I wanted. Yep, the end result wasn't what I had in mind. So I brushed it off and tried something new.....Damn you Hong-Kong City Mall!!! I can look back at all the "failed" ventures in the past and laugh my ass off. So they say it's a learning experience, I did learn a lot from it. I also had fun during those years. That is why I can grab my ball and laugh at the "failures" and creditors, Ya'll foo's can't phase me!!! Sheeet negro's i'll be back, when I come back to the game, i'm comming back like the thunder bitches!!!
In no way am I directing these words to anybody. Just typing from personal experience. As long as you try or attempt to go after something whatever it is, it's cool by me you know. Nobody can diss you for trying. And for those who do, FUCK'EM, break them off. Nobody wants to see their loved-ones struggle through life, but it is a part of lifes little shit patties. I have faith that everybody will snuggle into their own "thing" and we can all get together for a beer and just be HAPPY.
brother nick
c-note regardless, you still tops homie

Anonymous said...

Clearly I did not say what you thought I said, but that's ok because I can see how you would come to your conclusion as you did.

I'm not going to explain my three sentences. You'll have to do that work yourself. I really believe that the idea won't be valuable unless you independently take out it what you will, and I'll acknowledge up front that the idea might never mean anything to you. That happens, you know?

Truecraig said...

Dungsta: We do seem to be on similar paths at the moment. Birds of a feather…

Brother Nick: Always good to hear from an old friend. It does suck that you never had the family support group. I was around for all that, so I know you aren’t just blowing it out your ass. I know you’ll keep pressing forward, because you should, and I respect that. Keep on keepin’ on.

Anon: I will concede that my responses may have been a bit harsh or trigger happy. After reading, and re-reading, and re-reading yet again, I can see other possible interpretations of your comments. But even after several re-reads, I cannot agree that “Clearly [you] did not say what [I] thought [you] said.” Perhaps it is my rusty rhetorical analysis skills at fault here (that is to say: my brain), but I am still having trouble connecting your dots. Probably my loss, and that is what it is. You made me think, and that should be enough for my do-nothing blog. Regardless, thanks for dropping by.