This Too Will Become A Memory

We race through life at a rate of one second per second, constantly picking up momentum as we go. Even if now, this present moment, is the most important time, it often doesn’t feel like it. We are all planning for the future, consulting the manual of experience that is our past, and trying to keep ourselves afloat among the shifting sands of the present.

Memory is unreliable. That song we remember listening to ages ago has inexplicably changed its lyrics, or perhaps even its title. That wonderful date that we remember with perfectly clarity was actually two, perhaps three. And our favorite film as a child has changed its narrative somehow, despite watching it a dozen times. Sometimes it seems all that is left are fragments. Obscure nouns which mark some event in the far-flung past. Blueberry pancakes. Band posters. Picnic baskets. Seagulls on the beach.

Each breath and the moment is gone. This one, stored on a faulty hard drive. The next one, queued up and ready to go.

Furthermore, with age comes wisdom, and wisdom is the result of experience. Experience grows us, but it has a nasty side effect. Each thing we learn lessens the intensity of what precedes it. We’re able to detect patterns and understand consequences to the point where we are eventually just standing beside ourselves, regulating when we can experience recommended doses of joy and sadness. We can no longer live in the moment like we once did because we invariably know approximately where each one will lead.

“Don’t get too excited” is the advice invariably told to us by people older than us, as if they are trying to protect us from the pain that will come with anything, ever. We listen, forgetting that no amount of emotion-guarding will ever save us from heartache, and only blinds us from the overwhelming positivity of life. Or maybe even at a young age we knew we would always be longing for something more.

Always Arriving, Never Arrived

Going to the beach is just what people in Alabama do over spring break. Strike that, it’s what people in half the country do over spring break. That’s why the typically small town of Gulf Shores, Alabama gets overrun by beach dwellers across both Alabama and other states. A colorful cornucopia of license plates trail the cars parked in constant bumper-to-bumper traffic. It comes down to a simple fact. What’s the closest white, sandy, and most importantly warm beach from Birmingham, Alabama? It’s Gulf Shores.

Kentucky?
Ohio?
Minnesota?

Yeah, it’s Gulf Shores, along with the other (even more popular) tourist-trap beach towns across the Florida-Alabama coastline.

No matter where you’re starting from, getting there is really all the same. Find the exit to I-65 South closest to your house, set your cruise control, and highway hypnosis your way all the way to the beach. No matter where you start, be it Montgomery, Alabama or Louisville, Kentucky, it will invariably take one day to get there. Google Maps may say you’ll arrive in three hours. Google Maps is wrong.

Spend a week doing the same things you could do at home, except on vastly overcrowded (and overpriced) beaches. Then come back on Sunday by, you guessed it, finding the closest exit to I-65 North and praying no hungover beach-dweller wrecks the entire interstate. But it doesn’t matter, because even if they did, it would still take a day to get back. It’s inevitable.

As a traveler, there’s always a sense that you’re getting close to your destination but you’re never quite there. And, given enough time to think while driving, you come to the same conclusion in your own life. You’re always arriving, but you’ve never really arrived.

Sure, there are days when you feel so close to who you want to be; to how you envisioned your life being when you were a child in a world with fewer responsibilities and more opportunities for fun and rest. But life always seems to afford precious few opportunities for contentment, and even those moments contain the most sobering reminders that you are, at your core, not completely the person you want to be.

The most deep-rooted of feelings are the ones that nobody cares to talk about. So society boils them down to trite cliches disguised as words of advice.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
“Not all who wander are lost.”
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Different people react to the frustration of never feeling self-actualized in different ways. Some are cruel, some are deeply antisocial, and some forcefully cling to a certain personality trait or skill which they think defines them. Really, what you have here is a case of the “human condition,” which, if you ask me, is yet another trite cliche which is lost it’s meaning long ago.

For lack of a better term, the human condition all comes down to this: between striving for financial success, dealing with frustrating family and friends, and being slightly too busy to fulfill all we’re capable of, we lose the parts of ourselves we’ve always dreamed of being.

This is a problem which may not have a solution. You may not ever be able to “have arrived,” but only ever experience the perpetual sense of “arriving.” However, it seems humanity favors those who actively try. There’s a romanticized notion for the travelers of the world; those who throw themselves into environments they are unfamiliar with in order to grow. And yet, people also admire the mentors, the teachers, and the public servants, who help individuals grow and become somebody important. Many of these people rarely leave their hometown, and yet they seem to have a more fulfilled heart than the ailing wanderer.

I’ve seen Ph.D. professors who are so frazzled and openly discontent with their lives that I feared they may fall apart on the spot at any moment. I’ve also seen custodians in the most humble of occupations who seem so content that I’d want to live in their shoes. And the reverse is true as well. So what gives? What is the common denominator?

What makes each of these people uniquely content? I don’t know. I have no facts to back up my claim, no testimonies to indicate commonality, and no psychological profiles to pull from for comparison. But I do have a sneaking suspicion I may know the answer.

These people know that they will never “have arrived.” They know they will always be “arriving.” They know that if they live on this earth a hundred years, a thousand years, or even a million years, that they will always be learning, aging, and maturing. They know that there is something to learn from everybody, and something everyone has to learn from you. They know they are imperfect, and freely admit that vulnerability to those who criticize them. These people are getting through life without ever taking life personally.

So, based on this new information, the information I obtained on my endless, not so endless drive to the beach and back, I think I’ll start by being humble, accepting what I don’t know, and always setting my mind to learning. I think maybe you, dear reader, should consider the same. After all, legend has it that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Perhaps that expression is not so devoid of meaning after all.

I Make Long Facebook Statuses

A long time ago in an internet far away, Facebook limited the number of characters you could use in your status. Seriously, if you exceeded the arbitrary and astonishingly short length the company thought was necessary to convey a complete thought, you’d receive a dialog box rather coldly stating that your status was too long.

This was much to my chagrin, but like the baby elephant tied to the stump I was trained to keep my Facebook statuses short and sweet long after they removed the restrictions and allowed posts long enough to overrun all known civilization.

Lately, however, I find the length of my posts to be creeping back up there into the stratosphere. Fifty words. A hundred. I believe I recently published my first 200 word post the other day. And, you know what? I’m perfectly okay with that!

Facebook had long been marred down by mindless link-sharing and endless advertisements, a necessary evil due to the fact that everyone’s on it and we’re all waking around with smartphones growing out of our left wrists. I am but one individual, but perhaps I can do my part in attempting to turn the tide. To make Facebook a place of contemplative philosophy, not trite expressions that do nothing for nobody. A place of individual art and photography, not another dreadful meme affixed to a cutting opinion.

We’re all sick with a virus that we keep on catching, unwilling to sanitize the problem for fear we might lose our high technology as a consequence. But our disease is making us bitter, and making us see the world, or rather a digital symbol of it, as an ugly place.

So I will make long Facebook statuses, even if they don’t get any “likes.” (Though strangely, they often do.) I’m done caring about little red numbers at the top of my screen. My hope is that you are at that point too, because if you are, you can be a part of making things better. Post a long Facebook status. Post something original. Post a video of you doing something cool. Whatever you want to do, just post something different that the link-bait fueled mess bludgeoning us with opinions that the lowest-tier social media has become. People are better than that.

So Wait, Does This Mean I’m Cool?

I knew this picture I took of the Shuttlecraft Galileo from Star Trek, currently on
display at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, would come in handy. 

What even is cool, anyway? I think I’m having some kind a hipster identity crisis right now, trying to reconcile the fact that my interests are suddenly considered “cool.”

I’m not so sure I want to be cool. I have certainly never been cool in the past, constantly being picked on and rejected for the media, literature, and hobbies I was interested in. There came a point where I simply accepted the fact that I alone was able to appreciate the things I was into.

Then something happened. The internet became a tool for everyday life, the geeks grew into semi-successful adults, and here in my mid-twenties I find myself up-to-date with the things the world talks about. In short, the world got smarter. Of course, I’m also at the age where being considered “cool” doesn’t even really mean anything anymore.

However, the fact that everything I like is suddenly becoming mainstream kind of bothers me, due to the fact that I’ve always fancied myself a creative nonconformist.

For example…

Oh, you like Star Trek? Let’s make three reboot films with a big, flagship new series coming up!

Big glasses? Sure, let’s bring those back into style!

Nintendo games? All right, how about a multi-billion-dollar app that almost everyone in the world plays?

How about things a little more obscure? You like an obscure 1960’s British show involving marionettes? Let’s make a primetime animated series out of it.

NPR. Doctor Who. Vlogging. Cooking. Electronic music.

Even my field of Communications has seen a massive surge in popularity over the last five years with the critical industries supported by the digital age. PR people seem to suddenly be the go-to occupation for the characters in all the rom-coms, the writers assuming we don’t have any work to do I suppose.

You may all surrender to the fate of conformity, but I know one thing that will never, ever be cool…

Oh. It’s cool now. Greeeeaaaaat.

The Easy Road to Cynicism, and the Perilous Expedition Getting Back

“The adventure begins,” I thought to myself while sitting on the couch after working hard to get my apartment furnished and in order. One would think I was referring to the idea of being an adult, independent, beginning a new life of being self-supportive. However, in this case, my thoughts were of something else entirely. The adventure was of me completely abandoning my pessimistic ways and completing my metamorphosis into a real idealist. I honestly didn’t think it was possible.

There is a running joke between myself and my fiancee where I, in a self-deprecating manner, call out my own 17-year-old identity whenever he bubbles to the surface. This age was peak cynic for me. Matt the Detractor, Matt the Skeptic, Matt the Pessimist, Matt the True Hipster, Matt the Overthinker.

Matt the Confused.

This is not self-loathing. On the contrary, I understand now that this was an important step in my journey towards being the better person that my creator wants of me, but it doesn’t mean I like myself when my brain goes into fact-checking mode. It is a sign of insecurity in yourself when all you can do is try to prove others wrong using facts and statistics, however true they may be. To do so expresses a kind of high arrogance, an assumption that your methodological way of viewing the world is the only correct one. The surface of rationale, argumentation, and dialectic, however, is cold and hard, and the consequences of such paradigm are two-fold.

First, you’ll find yourself without friends, speaking a language unintelligible by common folk. Or, at least, you hope that to be true, but in the recesses of your mind there exists one other alternative: that all you claim to be is just a collection of fancy words and mindless trivia, and that everyone else is just as smart as you. Second, you’ll find yourself adopting a view of the world that significantly darker than those around you. You’ll begin to pedestalize your own intelligence while reducing the value of the opinions of those around you. Soon, nobody’s discussions about anything seem to make any sense, despite them having existed in the world for as long as you have.

Here you are, you can put it on the map. When you assume that everyone else is either uninformed or stupid, you have arrived safely at Cynicism. There are no humans in Cynicism, only lonely individuals pretending to be gods without actually having the power to back it up. They dole out judgments where none are needed nor appreciated.

Getting to Cynicism is an easy drive on a Sunday afternoon with little traffic to get in the way. The journey back from Cynicism, however, is far more dangerous than that. It’s more like a hike through hot swampland with alligators and venomous snakes. My trip took at least five years, and featured a detour through chronic lower-back nerve pain, a case of Meniere’s  Disease, and experiencing a setback in my dream to teach college.

There on the couch I realized, I’m no longer that person. I have his memories, yes, and the skill of skepticism sure comes in handy while doing academic research, but I’ve been transformed somehow. God, with his actual power, has turned me into a better version of myself.

I suppose I made it official when I changed my name on Facebook from Matt to Matthew. Matthew the Idealist, Matthew the Dreamer, Matthew the Pollyanna, Matthew the Sociable, Matthew the Optimist. I’m glad my dangerous journey has ended, and I’m excited to start my new adventure of actually being human.

So, I must ask. Have you made the same journey I have? Have you been wooed by the lights of Cynicism, only to realize that once there, it was a very dark place? How did you escape? Did you escape? Are you still escaping, or are you headed down the road to Cynicism right now?

Time to Start Writing for Me

I miss you all.

That should be said first-thing, as it seems my endeavors to blog through what has become a series of rapid-fire transitions in my life were a bit overzealous. It doesn’t mean I didn’t miss you though. On the contrary, I thought about you almost everyday, as if blogging was an old friend that went away on a dangerous journey and wouldn’t return for about four months. One of the few running themes of my old posts were that time passes and people move on, but I never had any intention of the same fate befalling my blogging career. Blogging was supposed to be my steadfast friend who follows me no matter where life takes me, like Sam from Lord of the Rings, but even I suffered from the affliction that strikes even the most prudent of democratic denizens. I got busy. Like really busy. And I make no promises that it will never happen again.

I think now that I’ve come to the point of acceptance about that, I can quit looking at blogging as my ticket to freedom to one day engage in creative art day in and day out and start looking at it at what it is, an act of passion. And if one day in the far-flung future that passion gets noticed, that’s terrific. But for right now, I simply wish to blog about what I want. No business plan, no daily schedule, no strategic guides, just posts that will be ready when they’re ready. I have no idea if that will take the form of daily short posts, weekly dissections, or month-long epics. I just know that the desire to formulate some kind of blogging get-rich plan prevents me from writing to my full potential, and I’m finally at the point where fulfilled potential is all I really want. I do enough audience planning and strategic evaluation while working in the field of public relations. I really just want a place to write, and for two, twenty, or two million people who are interested to read and comment on my posts.

At this point, it’s about minimizing. When trying to lead a life of emotional and spiritual fulfillment, complexity is your enemy.

Returning Home

It’s certainly a hike, getting from there to here, but well worth it. The crystal-clear flowing water of the nearby stream reflects the purification of the soul brought upon by the journey. Purification, however, doesn’t last forever, as the human spirit constantly craves new challenges; new adventures.

Soon it’s time to come home. To take the lessons learned from your expanded horizons and insert them into your daily life. This in the hope that life ceases to become the daily grind and instead becomes a daily exploration of the little things. A kind word here, an instance of artistic order there, and being surprised by the good nature of a group. These are little things that contribute a net positive to an essentially flawed world.

All of us, however, are not blessed with that home in a traditional sense. The world of chaos does not end once the front door is closed, despite searching high and low for that ever elusive sense of permanence. The adage, “home is wherever you happen to be,” does you no good if you define home as a place. Since relocation is such a prominent theme in so many people’s lives, my only conclusion is that home is not a place but a state of mind.

It may not even be the people you’re with, because people move. On accident. On purpose. It doesn’t matter. The closest we can come to home could, very easily, be the ability to objectively cope with your situation and be at ease with your location, situation, or condition. To make permanent the understanding that even the mightiest of adversities are not permanent, and to know that even 70 years is undefined when compared to existence eternal. A true home lies ahead, not behind.