Wednesday, June 13, 2018

I'm Not Playing

My senior year in college there was a story going around about a giant water balloon fight that had taken over the campus of one of our neighboring universities. As the story goes, people had become so utterly obsessed with the battle, that nearly the entire student body had picked a side and taken up arms... or balloons as the case may be. For those poor souls who didn't wish to participate, it was necessary to wear a large sign proclaiming "I'm Not Playing!" in order to avoid being mistaken for a member of the opposing team and ambushed by an over zealous balloon lobber on one's way to class.

I have no idea whether there was any truth to this outlandish tale, or whether it was simply a campus myth, but either way, the story struck a chord with me. At the time, I was preparing to graduate with a degree in music - a questionable choice to be sure, but one that I sorta backed into because I found I couldn't tolerate anything else. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, but one thing was clear: just as all of my classmates were preparing to jump into society... to launch careers, or begin graduate school, or get married, or start businesses... all I wanted was to find a way out.

I had been a tremendously successful student. Valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, Suma Cum Laude, the whole 9 yards. Yet with all of that achievement, I didn't feel validated, or important... and I most certainly did NOT feel happy. I just felt like I had wasted my youth chasing an illusion.-And I had come to the conclusion that, in this culture at least, that was all sort of by design. Basically the way our society functions is by making people feel like they don't measure up, which then sets them on a hopeless treadmill of trying to earn, or accomplish, or prove, or buy their way out of their own hopeless inadequacy. It's just a trap.

So I decided that I just wasn't playing.

Thus began my long pursuit of the outsmarting of the system. Thirty years later I'm still at it. But boy... I've gotta tell you, I often feel these days like I need to don that sign again, because I'm frequently beset with the feeling that I'm living in a completely different world from the people around me.

Like the other day I logged onto Nextdoor and discovered that there was a heated argument going on over crab grass. Apparently someone has been going around the neighborhood putting anonymous notes on the doors of people with crummy lawns asking them to please clean up their acts and have some consideration for their neighbors. Oh my.

I guess this is what gentrification looks like, because in the course of a few years my neighborhood has gone from being one of the most economically depressed parts of the city... where there was a tacit understanding that people were working hard just to keep a roof over their heads... to one where the average house is selling for over $350K and people are busy berating their neighbors over things like "curb appeal." So much for slummin' it in the barrio!

I guess you can try to outrun the trappings, but apparently the things grow legs and eventually come running after you. Don't get me wrong, It's sort of nice that my little house is now worth about 5 times what I paid for it, but honestly, I'm not sure I'm prepared to live among young professionals with decidedly middle class values. Plus, what about the poor people who were renters? Where are they supposed to go?

Well anyway, I guess it's giving me further incentive to step up my xeriscape game because I really don't relish the idea of being publicly shamed over bindweed.  But yanno, a tiny little snarky part of me did toy with the idea of  putting anonymous notes on the doors of all the people with perfect lawns asking them to please stop polluting the air with their mowers and poisoning the land with their weed killers. Of course I wouldn't do it, but it was tempting. Sigh.

Then I signed on to FaceBook to see what some old friends have been up to, and I discovered that everyone was all torn up about the suicides of two prominent celebrities… neither of whom I'd ever heard of. Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all making light of suicide, but "famous handbag designer?!?" Seriously? That's a thing? I just don't get it.

Anyhow, people seemed genuinely shocked that anyone who was so successful could possible be depressed and want to take their own life. Sad as it might sound, this does not surprise me in the least. It's not merely that success does not make people happy, I think that feelings of inadequacy predispose a person to try to chase fame and prosperity in a doomed attempt to outrun their own emotions.

I saw this all the time in the music world. Trying to make it as a musician is really hard, and it seemed to me that, aside from a few folks who lucked into their success, the only people who stuck with it were the people who really needed the extraordinary sense of personal validation that one gets when one is on stage performing for an audience. Seriously, in the real world, people don't cheer and applaud every time you go to work... and getting that sort of "you're wonderful" message can be very seductive.

But ultimately, the holes that our society produces in people cannot be filled through cheers or applause any more than they can be with granite countertops or a perfectly manicured lawn.

I don't know where I'm going with all of this, so I should probably just stop blathering and go pull some weeds. (She says without the slightest hint of sarcasm.)

I guess I just wanted to throw a little life line out there to anyone who might be struggling with the game. Seriously folks, if you feel like you just can't win, it's not because there's anything wrong with you, it's because the whole thing is rigged. The only way out is to simply stop playing!