Mark White

Consciousness pondering rumination thinking about consciousness pondering rumination.

I'm back in my hometown for the holidays. Last night I met up with an old friend from high school and we went to the bar district — our common annual ritual. After several drinks we were sitting at the bar when someone came up from behind us and put his hands on our shoulders. We both turned around to see Andrew — a face I recognized from my high school class, though I didn't remember his name until much later.

It's always weird to see people from high school after decades have passed. But it was a pleasant surprise! We shared some shallow talk until my old friend asked, “Do you do podcasts?”

Andrew enthused, “Do I do podcasts!”

Here, as their phones emerged and they tried to figure out which podcasts they both listen to, I mentally evacuated the situation.

Now, I get that some people have long commutes, and would rather listen to humans talk at them than to music or the sound of the world while they putter down the highway. Everyone has their own preferences for what they want in their ear holes.

The real problem I have, I suppose, is with people who “listen to podcasts” and think they are somehow imbued with superior intelligence. That by the virtue of listening to people talk through a mechanical speaker they become as knowledgeable as someone who put in the same time reading a book on a subject, experimenting and writing about it, playing with it in the real world, or even making a damn podcast about it.

Also, in general, I'm very uninterested in people who can't stand silence. Anyone who spends their entire day filling their senses with the thoughts of others just doesn't do it for me. Where's the original research? The anecdotal evidence? The personal lived experience? How do you stand out from the herd?

Spending your day listening to podcasts and telling everyone “I listen to a lot of podcasts” doesn't make you an intriguing person anymore than if you say “I watch a lot of TV.” The only difference from watching TV is that podcasts help you ignore your environment wherever you may be, whether driving, walking, riding on the subway, hiking, or hang gliding.

This isn't to say people who listen to podcasts are “bad”. It's just that these confounded things are not for me, and being in the presence of them when I'd rather have non-mechanical sounds fill my ears makes my blood pressure rise.

And if you're someone who enjoys listening to podcasts because of how much trivia you learn, you can safely know that no one cares about what podcasts you listen to. We don't care that you were entertained by Murder Mystery Podcast #521 and we should really listen to it. We care about how your apparently intensive studies affect your actions or your usefulness to the people around you. We care about who it makes you as a person. And if you, too, care about that, maybe try removing the earbuds every once in a while. See what original ideas come to you in the mental abyss of silence, with that brain full of minutiae — what you discover may surprise you.

It's a bit of a dirty term, to want to receive validation from others. It implies codependence, insecurity. But I'd argue that validation is an important and natural human impulse.

We all have our own experience of life, individually unique to each and every one of us. Life has taught us things — some things are bad and some are good. But when these experiences add up to form consistent thoughts, they're still watery ideas that exist only in our heads. We need a thickening agent to make us take ourselves seriously and believe that what we feel in our gut and believe to be true is not just some fantasy.

Validation gets its bad name from wanting it from certain people in particular: certain friends or family; a boss or significant other. We need them specifically to validate our individual experiences, and we go crazy hoping for the sky to turn yellow instead of its natural blue. Our hopes run amok as we place all our expectations into very narrow rules that must be fulfilled to feel good.

instead, we should be seeking validation from the world. When you do, you get that validation. Because it starts with you.

We rely on these feedback loops from the world to make us see ourselves for who we really are. Why would we tie that up in a small segment of the populace? So if life has led you to believe, for example, that walking barefoot is the absolute best way to live — that it makes you feel so good that it should never be infringed upon — you should start walking barefoot. And you'll receive feedback from the world. Some people will kick you out of their stores or give you weird looks. But others will dig it so much that they'll even tell you so. They'll smile at you and want to talk to you because you've provided such a vision for the rest of the world that they can't help but notice.

And thus the loop cycles around. And thus your personal experiences are validated.

You can't expect every single person to understand you — even certain individuals that you already know. Understanding comes from those with the capability and will — and unless you're lucky, you don't already know people who will do so. So you must present yourself so that you can be found, bare feet and unconventional-ness and all. Once you do, all that time you spent unsure of yourself finally becomes as silly as wishing you could breathe water. You understand that your experiences are valid, and the universe agrees, told through the tiny other humans that tell you they like your style or they appreciate you for what you do. With bits of accumulating validation, you start to understand again that you're okay to see the world in your own unique way. You're safe if you're yourself. The loop starts up and soon enough you see you were right all along. You have nothing to fear.

As a youth I did many incredibly stupid things. Rebelling as I saw fit in any manner. Doing outlandish things. Maybe my mind ordained it, maybe fate, who knows. But I was an extremist in my rebellion.

Age has shown me what a mature, smart rebel possesses: nuance. Rebellion is not some grandious act carried out in the most crazy manner possible. Not seeking attention and recognition for an act. It is tiny rebellious actions over and over. Every opportunity for the tiniest rebellion taken. Relished. (Even the smallest slights against the status quo (what many would call passive-aggressive).) The refined rebel understands the weight of these tiny actions, no matter how small they may appear to the world.

Together they make up the rebel that can do something — that actually does something.

Free, free, let me be free, me. Fuck, fight, flee, fly Don't decide, do Don't fucking delay

Mom talks about the— while grandmother whispers how there's— step-dad agrees and placates mom who's still talking all together, simultaneously, in different but the same voices and at some point I'm looped in against my will and I just want to write talk feel peace for a second alone in my mind away from people and their petty drama can I hear myself think no, no never I have to play nice be good keep quiet they wouldn't care if I said a word anyway they speak for me over me against me and I'm better off keeping my mouth shut but then why am I sitting here why even be in the room does anyone question whether or not anyone else is enjoying themselves or are they so wrapped up in their own heads that their pointless trials and tribulations are the most important thing in the world, superseding all else?

For months or years or I-don't-know-how-long I've been afraid to move. My mindset is one of stillness and stagnation; of one person, one place, one pursuit, one life. Maybe it was the first long-time relationship, the first girlfriend I lived with. Maybe I learned to constrain my love and my life.

I used to have many lives I lived, within me and in reality; yet I forgot them for a singular pursuit that was outside of me; my ideas from life as an artist, life as a lover, life as a musician, life as a painter, life as an electrical engineer, all given up for life as The American Dream™.

These multiple lives, these loves, I've always compared in my writing to a woman. Any beauty in the world is “her.” The trees blowing in the wind: her dance. The sun shining on my face: her smiling. The sound of birds or rustling leaves or crashing waves: her song.

I guess if I were to imagine an anthropomorphic god, I'd rather it manifest as all the best parts of all the women I've ever known in my life; some free-spirited, infinitely wise creature of unending love who can create an entire universe without wanting anything in return (better her than a bearded old dude who thinks he knows how I should act).

And in a way I am “her,” in those now-rare moments when I recognize her. It's a one-ness with everything within and without. It's acceptance of the entire world; taking all the good and the bad in and saying this is me — and this is us all.

I need my many lives back. I can't live limited to one love — whether a career or a person or pursuit or place. If I'm ever going to survive I need to be free to love all that I can and all that I'm able to.

Saying sorry doesn't mean the same thing to me that it does to many, I think. I don't wait for someone to apologize for something they did. I don't instantly forgive them as soon as they say “I'm sorry.”

To me, an apology isn't much more than a show of humility. It simply says, I fucked up, and I'm self-aware enough to realize it wasn't a good thing. It's the verbal bowing of the head, making yourself small, backing off of your aggression.

Otherwise when people insult me or do something to me I don't like, I don't view it as some wrong that needs to be “righted” with an act of contrition. I see it simply as a plain, rare moment of raw truth. As social creatures we mostly try not to hurt others around us, so when I or someone does hurt others, it says something very important about who they are as a person — something unobscured by the faces we put on to get along with others; something very blunt and honest.

It's my view that you can't stop people from doing these things (only they can stop them before they happen), and frankly there's nothing to “right” once they've done something I don't like. They're just being honest.

What it comes down to as the receiver of such a slight, is what you're willing to accept. Apology or not, damage is still done (even the apologizer knows this; all they can do is shrink). The real important question that you can ask yourself at any point after the damage has been done is: are you okay with that person being around you, now that they've bluntly shown you who they are? Do the benefits outweigh the negatives of someone like that? If you didn't delude yourself into thinking you could change them, and had to accept them just like this, are you okay with that?

Sitting here working on that novel I've been wanting to write for years now, listening to old Nine Inch Nails that reminds me of no worry, no weight of the world bearing down on me. This realization, in contrast to when I break my concentration, when I mentally look at the normal concerns of my mind, makes me wonder: why do I need to worry about all these things? Will my world collapse if I stopped mentally juggling these anxieties?

I suspect the answer is no. And for now I'll stop juggling.

Until I remove my headphones, walk outside, and the pins and unicycle call for me again.

As you get older and the world grows more complex and nuanced, you face a choice: fight to maintain control over your reality, or lose confidence in your ability to influence the world.

It occurs to me while looking at my past behavior—that of “managing” people, lying to get my way and control a situation—and in that of my mother and father: a strong desire for control over the world around us.

Yet my mother and I share the same quiet behavior: drinking to excess. My theory on this Sunday afternoon is that being drunk gives us sweet contentment: an unspoken awareness that we don't control the world around us, and the plain outward acceptance of that. We strike up conversations we never would've otherwise had, smoke cigarettes we “quit” years ago, and carry on with strangers that we don't see a future with.

Our fight for control is an unconscious one that manifests in very conspicuous behaviors and routines. Perhaps the only way out is realizing what I'm really doing when I go for a drink. Around friends or not, I'm looking to give up my tight illusory grasp on my environment; to forget, for a night, my fantasy of control.

And why can't I just do that sober?

Profound solitude.

Something missing in my life.

Sometimes my tolerance for the chaos of people runs out.

Sometimes I just need peace, stability around me a world reflecting my mind.