Moments of Impact: Why We Can't Live Without Illusions

Moments of Impact: Why We Can’t Live Without Illusions

Moments of Impact, Uncategorized

“If there is something comforting—religious, if you want—about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.”

— Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

We can’t live and not believe. Beliefs stem from and  live past our experiences, imprinted in us, carving out our inner lives. Some may not serve us well,  but we have just as many we can’t live without. We can’t sleep without believing we’re safe. We can’t be intimate without believing in trust. It may not be possible to live in a state where nothing is connected—the mind’s ability to make connections is what makes it human. We always believe, whether we know it or not, and regardless of how many times our beliefs change.

What distinguishes the paranoid person that Thomas Pynchon refers to is that they have too many beliefs. This person, the contemporary lunatic shouting imaginary prophecies on the street, belongs in our human history as the shamans or priests of ages passed. Today we say they don’t see, and we have to make them with prescriptions. But in smaller communities, they were a valuable set of eyes into another realm (although in the Middle Ages in Europe, it was a demonic one). Even now with our fixation on treating the mentally ill by numbing them, no one could argue that their beliefs aren’t fascinating. They forge connections we never would.

The American mind has a special inclination to believe in spite of. We love believing for its own sake. In Kurt Anderson’s new book, Fantasyland, he makes a case for why being delusional is synonymous with being American. We came to the continent from Britain in pursuit of gold, searching for thirty years with no proof of its existence other than hearsay from Native Americans trying escape our slaughter. The biblethumpers believed God caused public epileptic fits. We believed Joseph Smith. We created Scientology, the Las Vegas Strip, Disneyland, and pursue illusions above reality simply because it feels better to do so.

In fact, we take our illusions as reality. If given the choice, I’m not sure which one I’d believe. My illusions, that I’m safe, special, and my dreams will come true. Or the reality, which is unknown, constantly changing, perhaps out of my grasp. And I’ve never been one to believe two things at once.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Realityland in Florida Project

Moments of Impact: Realityland in ‘Florida Project’

Moments of Impact

Spoiler alert: If you don’t want the brilliant performances and story line in Florida Project to be ruined, please don’t read. You also don’t have a lot of time—Dafoe-n’tchya  want to catch it in theaters?

Americans breathe in the fumes of Fantasyland, a place where happiness is possessed. It’s tangible for those who can afford it, people who embrace the manicured lawn laid out before them every tomorrow. But Fantasyland has a mirror universe: the harsh and irrefutable Realityland as presented in Sean Baker’s revolutionary new film, Florida Project. Realityland is the place where people don’t buy magic, it’s a place where people live in the present because they must, just like the film’s protagonists, Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her six-year old child Mooney (Brooklynn Prince).

The mother-daughter duo live in a cheap motel just outside of Disneyworld in Kissimmee, Florida, ironically named the Magic Castle. The building is an aggressively cheery purple and stands along a road of pawn shops and other garish sights. Bobby (William Dafoe) owns the property and shepherds the motley crew of low-income strivers and stragglers, guiding them with a fair, but firm, hand. Halley smokes pot while stealing perfumes and peddling them to oblivious tourists to scrape up rent. Meanwhile, Mooney and her friends from the motel, Scooty and Jancey, brew up mayhem with spitting contests in the motel parking lot.

Through her imaginative feats, Mooney’s story undermines one of the most insidious and profitable myths in our country: that a sense of wonder and zest for life can be bought or experienced with material luxury. Behind this veil is Realityland, the here and now, the ever-ignored present that does not deprive, but feeds, an imagination grounded in reality. Realityland is a vicious rebellion against magical tomorrows.

Happiness versus Contentment

Almost everything sold in America will have a “happiness promise,” translated into a tangible rush of endorphins that we experience upon attaining things. Happiness is presented in a “buy and sell” model, the euphoria entangled with external circumstances. The beauty industry, a cult of external validation and appearances, grossed 65 billion in 2019. Lest we forget the seductive casinos, where people may roll away their savings in one Vegas night—in America, we threw out a whopping 73 billion in the gambling industry in 2019. Disneyworld, a place supposedly supposed to encourage the imagination while, in fact, stifling it with over-stimulation, spectacle, and consumerism, is no less a part of the “happiness promise” that has rushed in with the age of advertising in the seventies: a product is no longer just the product. The product is a feeling and a symbol that transcends the thing itself. Beauty is confidence and vitality. Winning the lottery is freedom and the good life.

MRI scans don’t lie: when we get our desires or expectations met, our brains flood with “happy” endorphins. But then, the magic dust of novelty wears off. The stimulus no longer has its effect, yet the cycle continues—we buy the newer, better thing, pushing the boulder up the like Sisyphus, condemned to watch it fall again until we buy again. This is the toil of those living in Fantasyland, a mythic hell of sorts. Just like no one makes a movie about Cinderalla and Prince Charming’s bitter divorce, no one talk about consumerism to the point of obsession: thing after thing after thing. No everlasting happiness.

This isn’t a uniquely American thing, the quest for happiness. When one pursues happiness, one often finds the need for contentment, as the Stoics realized, which represents a disposition rather than an emotional state. It comes from accepting circumstances and embracing life with gratitude. Contentment, in one sentence, comes from a deep acceptance of and appreciation for the reality of one’s life.  It is the fertile ground for the play and mischief that ensues in Mooney’s Realityland in Florida Project.

Conceptions of happiness and contentment collide during Mooney’s exploits around the motel. One night, a Brazillian couple come to the run-down “Magic Castle” expecting they’d be right inside of Disneyworld on an immersive and magical anniversary. The gorgeous and clearly disappointed fiancé drops her jaw upon arrival, disgusted. She lambasts the place as a “trash heap”. In Realityland, dreams dissipate like snow falling on scorching hot asphalt. The so-called “Magic Castle” is home to exploited, working class, disabled, have-nothings.

Mooney has no interest in Disney World. She fully embraces the Magic Castle and all its flaws. She shows her new friend Jancey around the place, describing people who live there: “This guy thinks he’s Jesus,” “This woman snores so loud I can hear her from my room.” Halley, her mother, has no money to spare after rent, basic necessities, and a bag of pot. But, we never hear Mooney whine. Mooney only ever embraces her circumstance, peddling naïve customers outside of the frozen yogurt stand for money, scrounging up enough for a scoop to share with her friends.

The key difference between her and the snobby Brazilian tourist is that Mooney doesn’t place happiness in her purchase. She revels in her deviousness, roping her friends in for the hustle, inventing games on the spot when there’s nothing to do. She leaves the tantrums to the tourists; she’s too busy making magic in Realityland.

The Unhappy Ending  

(**Major spoilers coming up)

Material poverty forces people to be in the moment, for better or worse. Baker doesn’t seem to have a judgement on it: it teaches you to be rooted in finding solutions quickly, in thinking about what needs to be done today. Extreme economic privilege can serve as a rainbow spreading into the far future, letting the imagination run free and wild. But what happens when you’re low-income and there is no solution? What happens when you run into a dead end sign, and there’s no fixing yesterday?

Halley finds out she won’t get a job at her friend’s waffle house. Eventually, she’s kicked out of a resort where she sells perfumes. She sells anything she can. She turns to prostitution; which Bobby immediately shuts down. Halley, with nowhere else to go, asks her friend Ashley for money, and is refused. Out of resentment for their fallen friendship, Halley beats her up, and the next day, the CPS shows up at Halley’s room to collect Mooney.

The contentment that once filled their lives crumbles on that day. The present, forced upon them by circumstance is now too unbearable, especially for Mooney, who never imagined a life without her mother. Mooney runs to the next motel over in tears, and finds her friend Jancey. We don’t know whether this really happens, but Jancey takes Mooney’s hand and they run off to Disneyworld and away from the CPS.

Although Mooney and Halley shared a flawed life, it was magical in and of itself. Yet throughout the film, we see the laws and forces in American culture that actively squeeze the poor out and into desperate circumstances. Maybe, it is not enough to be content, to explore the magic of Realityland. If you’re in America, and you’re not working for a “better” tomorrow, things will likely get worse–and when the facts are too overwhelming, too tragic to tolerate, the imagination transforms from being grounded in reality to breaking from it.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to when experiences, culture, philosophy, and psychology find a meeting point, producing finely-tuned revelations. I hope you have one moment of impact every week. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Being the Monster in Mindhunter

Moments of Impact: Being the Monster in Mindhunter

Moments of Impact

Spoiler alert: If you are planning on watching Mindhunter, do not read this article. It contains spoilers from the season finale. And if you haven’t watched it yet, WTF are you doing?

America loves serial killers. Our culture has gone to great lengths to glamorize them: DexterHannibal, and now, apparently, Mindhunter. But Mindhunter does more than cartoonify or dress up serial killers with campy killing styles: the new hit Netflix show follows an FBI investigation into the killer’s motivations for their crimes, launched by the show’s protagonists, Agent Ford and Agent Tench. They mirror our simultaneous disgust and endless fascination with “killer psychology.”

Mindhunter climaxes in the season one finale with its essential premise: how far do we pursue our curiosity into the mind of a ‘monster’ without discovering a piece of ourselves?

Playing the Part

An actor’s responsibility is to bridge the gap between them and their character. They do this by researching them, knowing what they want, and why they want it–the motivations behind their actions. Agent Ford is really asking himself what many actors do when preparing a role–the “magic if.” What if I lived inside the life and mind of a serial killer? (By the end of the season, he gets his answer.)

To get serial killers to open up, Agent Ford mirrors them and tries to “wear” their psychologies like a new skin, an actor wearing a mask. When talking to Richard Speck, a typical country macho who murdered eight women in one night, Agent Ford starts with this: “I mean, you were really robbing us of eight hot, fresh cunts.” Agent Tench looks on with disdain, noting the recording was paused for Ford’s performance. Everyone grows concerned by how good of an “actor” Ford is turning out to be. What does his rapport with them say about Ford and the way he thinks?

Agent Ford is dangerously curious (and aren’t we for watching?). His desire for knowledge blinds him. Ford can manipulate and charm like a sociopath and disregards society’s expectations of him in his unconventional psychological methods, much as a serial killer has done away with society all together. In Agent Ford’s role play, he has integrated a part of the serial killer in himself.

The Human Condition and Our Desire to Reject Society

We all have destructive impulses. It’s human. As I referred to in other posts, Carl Jung proposed society conditions us to repress aggressive, at times sadistic, impulses that would tear its fabric. Society teaches us to be considerate of others, tolerant, and to sacrifice complete self-concern (and despite the number of assholes in America, they could never run their own society). But even if these impulses are hidden, they are there. They’re a part of the human condition.

Now, that isn’t to say we have a part of ourselves that’s a serial killer waiting to jump out of the bushes at any moment. But that is to say we all know a part of ourselves we’ve had to bury because of fear of punishment, rejection, or exile. Even if some of our normal, natural emotions contain an element of sadism, like jealousy or rage.

Agent Ford has a morbid fascination and curiosity that he steadily allows to surface throughout the first season. It’s the kind of curiosity that would be met with a punitive side glance or slap to the hand if he were a child. Edmund Kemper, one of the serial killers he talks to, speaks frankly about his killings, saying: “Got to get that young pussy before it turns into mom.” You can see Ford begin to back reel in awe. He uses this same line in another interrogation. Word for word.

When we hear of the unleashed sadistic acts that serial killers commit, there is an odd reverence for their “bravery” (they are, by some accounts, our new superheroes). The reverence doesn’t come for the act itself–but more for the total expulsion of society’s norms, which can be our greatest savior, but at times an omnipresent cell. In Ford’s case, he rejects the conventions of FBI conduct, gaining more bravado as the investigation continues. He feels liberated, empowered. But his own “bravery” has led his partners and girlfriend to shun him completely.

Mindhunter asks: should Ford be punished so severely for his shamelessness? How can we accept serial killers as humans like ourselves?

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to when experiences, culture, philosophy, and psychology find a meeting point, producing finely-tuned revelations. I hope you have one moment of impact every week. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Logan's Shadow of Innocence

Moments of Impact: Logan’s Shadow of Innocence

Moments of Impact

Note: This article will contain many spoilers if not divulge the entire contents of the film ‘Logan.’ If you have not yet seen it, what are you doing and hurry up already.

Logan‘s bare and dystopian setting in 2029 America fits the defeated and remorseful man at the center of the film: once the infamous Wolverine, now known as Logan. In the former movies, the conflict centered around the X-Men and enormous external obstacles. Logan is not bereft of sensationalism; it is soaked in blood and ripe with up-close and personal mutilated bodies. Although horrific, this does not match the horror of the grief eating away at Logan, now a holed-away alcoholic limo driver who will clearly meet his end soon. His healing powers are degenerating and valleys of age are carved in his face.

The movie’s central question is not which bad guy Logan has to take down, but instead: what is Logan reckoning with? What is the nature of his suffering?

Logan’s character arc overlaps with many aspects of Jungian psychology, namely the process of individuation and harmonizing our “shadow” selves with what we project to the world, our “persona.” In more fleshed out terms:

According to Jung, the “persona” constitutes the person that the individual projects to the social world. The “shadow” encompasses everything that the conscious represses, including all desires deemed different and rejected by the individual’s social standards. The individuation process starts with a person becoming aware of his/her shadow.

A “persona” is a mask, our superhero suit, our work clothes, that act as a display for others. A persona is “performance,” and a large percentage of it is made up of what we learned as “good” from society’s expectations of us. Our “shadow” is what’s cast behind this wall. It’s what repulses others (or what we think would repulse others) such as destructive, immoral, and shameful impulses, memories, and deeds. They lie waiting whether we know they are there or not.

At the beginning of the film, Logan is grappling with the persona that he’s created for the world and his destructive impulses. In the first scene, he is passed out drunk in the front of his luxury car with some gangsters outside prying the rims off. The confrontation escalates and ends with their heads and limbs on the ground, Logan standing alone in the dust, claws bare and soaked in blood. Even in his old and weary state, the world keeps drawing out the violent impulses he tries to keep inside; the ones he wishes were cast behind him. He ends the night with a bottle of vodka, staring at a poison-lined bullet, the only bullet that can kill him in one blow. He has succumb to drinking, isolation, contemplation of suicide, unaware of any other purpose than to be a killer.

A more troubling question crops up: while the rest of us project personas that are “good,” polite, funny, kind etc., Logan’s case is complicated by the the world demanding he be a violent, ruthless killer. Logan reverses Jung’s dynamic: his shadow is fronted and extracted from him, while any positive impulses to the contrary, unifying desires for human connection, goodness, and love, have been repressed. The point of his life that Logan begins with represents an atomic neutralization between his running away from his shadowy persona and his complete inability to be anything else. He can’t be a force for good. He has no family or friends left So he is forced to be an observer of his life, doing his best to be nothing.

This changes when Laura is introduced, who turns out to be his biological daughter with identical powers as his. Laura is one of the many mutant children soldiers recently created by Transigen. The experiment failed as the children rebelled, either killing themselves or trying to escape, some successful, others exterminated. One of the nurses manages to bring Laura to Logan in hopes that he might transport her safely to a sanctuary called “Eden,” located on the border of Canada, where the other children mutants are supposed to meet.

Although Laura is feral and tainted by her traumatic beginnings, she is, in a language of metaphor, Logan’s “promise:” in Jungian terms, the “child,” the familial archetype that represent “beginnings, promise, and salvation.” She has the potential to bring out the qualities Logan has long repressed: kindness and empathy. Throughout the entire film, Logan resists against this. Initially, he doesn’t acknowledge Laura is his daughter, saving Professor Xavier from Transigen agents and abandoning her with her bowl of cereal to fend for herself. Yet when he decides to save her and bring her to Eden, he shows tempered affections, buying her new things and giving her careful, almost fatherly, instructions. But he can’t let any love come to the surface.

Logan showing paternal discipline
Logan showing some paternal discipline to Laura, who’s just assaulted a gas station cashier!

This is made glaringly clear at the climax of the film. While Logan, Laura, and Professor Xavier make their arduous journey towards Eden, they run into a loving family, the Munsons, that gets stuck on the side of the road. They’re invited in for dinner and to stay the night, which is one of the most heart-warming scenes of the film as you catch a glimpse at what these mutant superheroes would be like if they had a regular, calm life together.

Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura stop for the night at the Munsons and have a warm family dinner.
Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura stop for the night at the Munsons and have a warm family dinner.

Transigen catches up with them and unleashes X-24, a malicious and violent clone of Wolverine, who looks exactly like Logan. X-24 is all of Logan’s violence and rage condensed into one dastardly efficient killing machine. It is all of the evil that Transigen wished to instill in Logan’s heart, the persona that Logan has tried to shed, and the reason why he could never embrace Laura with open arms. And it should come to no surprise that X-24 kills the Munsons in a heartbeat. X-24 then captures Laura.
At the beginning of the film, Logan was all too ready to give up on Laura, his “promise.” Now, he saves Laura at the risk of his own life.

Had Logan and his newfound daughter escaped and found a sanctuary for themselves, he may have completed the process of “individuation,” a term coined by Jung. According to Jung, individuation is the most important part of our lives; it’s when we’ve reconciled our shadow selves with our personas. Maybe in a different world, Logan and Laura could salvage some kind of relationship. Maybe in this world, Logan could discover an innocence, purity, and kindness that he has been forced to cast behind him because it was too threatening. Maybe, he could finally negotiate between his life full of bloodshed and a kinder, more loving self that was waiting for him all along. But in a world where an insidious, powerful corporation wants him dead, no such sanctuary really exists. Not for him.

At the end of the film, Logan fights X-24 with very little strength left in him. He’s trying to stave it off from the army of children mutant soldiers and save Laura’s life. Laura watches hopelessly, searching for any way to save him. She remembers the bullet with the special poison, the one Logan had almost used on himself that she stole from him in secret, finds a gun, and shoots X-24—but not before it puts Logan on the stake of a fallen tree.

For the last moments of his life, Logan witnesses the death of his darkness, and the promise of the future triumph. Logan warns Laura to break away from what the world wants to make her. And for the first time, he admits he knows what love truly feels like as he holds on to her hand and passes quietly.

Laura wanders forward with her fellow mutants. She runs towards the falling light of day, into the mountains and over the border, confused, but having seen a potential future for herself, one full of remorse and ambiguity. Only at his death, and really, the death of X-24, was Logan able to know love. Maybe Laura will not let this fall with the sun. Maybe, it will survive the darkness of the night and into the new day.

Logan's Grave
Logan’s Grave

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Metaphors in Language

Moments of Impact: Metaphors in Language

Moments of Impact

In our last moment of impact, we discussed “modals,” words that express potential worlds beyond our own. These words beg us to look beyond what is known and fall into a divine dreaming. At least once or twice a day, we should let the shoulds, coulds, and mights hypnotize, empower, and enlighten us.

As much as language is a tool for us to crack things open, it sets limits. Language is, if anything, a compromise. There’s a reason why you understand everything I’m saying: we have all agreed that these words refer to the same thing. You don’t have to fight it, and you shouldn’t; please don’t try to make red into blue, bananas into apples, or your aunt into your dog. There are objects in our world that language needs to capture; otherwise, why would we bother?

Yet there are subtle and insidious linguistic agreements we make that don’t express simply objective truths, but cultural truths. These truths are not necessary to the truths of language. They are ingrained metaphors in our culture that are expressed in language. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson refer to these as “the metaphors we live by.”

In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson mention one such metaphor in American culture:

It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle…It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture.1

I was reminded of this when I was out drinking with a friend the other day. We argued quite a bit about a little bit of everything: sports, writing, reading, relationships, gossip, and more. When he apologized for bickering and appeared genuinely ashamed, it was then I realized that for as much hype as competition gets in America, we still view it as a bad thing. It’s a thing to be avoided. It causes discomfort and hostility. It will always position one person against the other.

Why?

Argument is war.

I don’t think we need more arguments. Especially the kind we see on CNN or worse, Twitter and other social media platforms. I think there is something fundamentally wrong with setting conflicts in battle grounds. Lakoff and Johnson mention the fact that other languages use verbs like “grasping” or “meeting” instead of “winning” or “destroying” when they refer to arguments (an instance of metaphor variation). The word “argue” a couple of centuries ago used to mean something closer to “make clear” (arg meaning shine, clear, brighten).2

One should tread caution with the metaphors we live by. They define and contain. But once we see them, we can re-frame and liberate ourselves from oppressive cultural yoke in search of clarity and higher moral ground.

Footnotes

1. Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, Ill.: U of Chicago, 2011. Print.
2. Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Should we Be Stoic About Assholes?

Moments of Impact: Should we Be Stoic About Assholes?

Cultural Commentary, Moments of Impact

41nduvval-l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Anyone who read Harry G. Frankfurt’s On Bullshit or On Truth couldn’t wait to read its seemingly logical counterpart, Assholes: A Theory by Aaron James. Both philosophers cover alarming American cultural trends, such as the insidious force of “bullshit,” a noted lack of appreciation for the truth, and the so-called freedoms that we abuse on a daily basis in a truly asshole-like fashion. In his poignant taxonomy, Aaron James technically defines the asshole in this way:

Our theory is simply this: a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.

As examples to back, James cites the notorious line-cutter, entitled surfers, righteous media personalities (on both sides of the political spectrum1), bankers, politicians, our current president, Ayn Rand, and more, whilst making the distinction between a mere “prick,” an asshole, and a dangerous psychopath.

Along with meeting the criteria set above, assholes have one thing in common: they incite a righteous fury within us. An idiot is easily dismissed: they obviously don’t know any better, which is why they don’t have the capacity to offend us so. But an asshole? An asshole sets up their “wall,” the entrenched sense of entitlement James refers to, rendering us completely invisible in the moral playing field. When someone is “asshole-ish,” they have their moments but are usually, at one point or another, willing to bend and hear the perspective of the one who has been slighted by their actions. The asshole? The asshole leaves us banging at the door.

This is where James poses an interesting question that was lacking in Frankfurt’s accounts: can, and should we, accept the asshole’s behavior?

James weighs in with a Stoic perspective. Stoicism arose when Athenian society was in complete social upheaval, a response to (or even coping mechanism for) the chaos that surrounded them. In other words, at a time when you would expect many civilians be angry and upset. Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, lived an objectively wretched life as a slave and cripple, though believed that true freedom was to be found in a complete disregard for external things:

That alone is in our power, which is our own work; and in this class are our opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions. What, on the contrary, is not in our power, are our bodies, possessions, glory, and power. Any delusion on this point leads to the greatest errors, misfortunes, and troubles, and to the slavery of the soul…We have no power over external things, and the good that ought to be the object of our earnest pursuit, is to be found only within ourselves.

This includes all other living, breathing, messy human beings. And yes—this includes the asshole. And didn’t Epictetus, a slave, accept his master’s enslavement over him? Didn’t the Greeks accept that Alexander the Great, the leader of the world’s then-largest empire, was an incompetent leader and, most likely, an asshole in his own right? And did life not go on? No doubt, I think Americans are puzzling over a similar problem. Should we relinquish control and let the “all-powerful” play the same reckless and stupid game they have been playing for centuries? Or do we try knocking at the door?

And what if we do neither? What if we were to find a path in between? The asshole will never see us. They’ll never play by the rules. So the question then becomes: what does it look like, at this moment in history, to stop playing the game?

Footnotes

1. Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly, to be precise.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: “What If” Instead of “What Is”

Moments of Impact

There are “dream words” in the English language. While words like “are” and “is” presents facts, we also have words called “modals” that comment on how reality should, could, or might be. Maybe we concern ourselves too much with what “is” because our immediate truths are our way of reconciling and surviving in what’s always so coldly presented as the “real world.” Our culture, American culture, is so competitive that to look at anything else other than the other rat racing right ahead of you seems nonsensical, if not deadly. The shoulds, mights, and coulds of life get lost. Daydreaming becomes useless. They have no use because they just don’t “get you anywhere.”

But isn’t daydreaming, thinking of how things could be different, what might or should be true, what makes us human? Daydreaming is said to involve the prefontal cortex, one of the last but differentiating parts of our mind to develop in our evolutionary history. If we look past empiricism for a moment and take a tour of Plato’s idealism, which proposes that humans are ever aware of a perfection that doesn’t exist in the real world, we find that we were almost born to be dreamers. I mean, if we’re made of the stuff of stars (which is pretty darn magical), wouldn’t it make sense that we would look towards them now and again?

I’m thinking I might launch a daydream once a day using one of our modals. Instead of thinking about the jobs, the tasks, the interviews I have to go to, the worries about how things are, maybe I’ll ask myself: “What could happen if someone spontaneously burst into song? What might this kind of character do on the bus I’m riding right now?” Just as daydreaming is said to heighten innovative parts of our mind, it may help me create new paths off the track we’re all running in. The stuff of stars is real; the light it gives off is divine.

“Moments of Impact” is an original Falcon Post series dedicated to stop-in-your-track moments. It’s when the daily routine becomes jarred, experiences, knowledge, and emotions find a meeting point, producing a revelation that you could sit in your chair pondering for hours like David Bowie in the Labyrinth. I personally hope that I have at least one moment of impact a week. Indeed, this is a weekly series. 

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

Moments of Impact: Exile at the Last Supper

Moments of Impact

I recently made a reference to the Last Supper in Bad News, Judas. This poem was inspired by a recent visit from social rejection and its accompanying feelings of shame and inadequacy.

I began a kitchen job and to say that I am like a storm is an understatement. My mind wanders off to the semantics of possession in English while I’m supposed to be timing when to flip patties and grilling bacon. As I carry items to and fro from the walk in freezer, I feel trapped in a fiery head-cage, unable to be in the moment, to think about pickles, marinated onions, and if we need pizza sauce or not. “Sorry”s and “Oh God”s are uttered from my mouth and numerous eyes are rolled as I spill blue cheese crumbles and burn toast. I wish I could tell them that it isn’t that I feel superior to the work. I feel inferior to this work, a prisoner of my own mind that can’t seem to budge and learn what other people feel is the most basic work you can do. My weaknesses have resulted in minor social exile.

Like many others, I have talents that are very pronounced and weaknesses that are equally apparent. This hasn’t made rejection for me any easier or any less painful: when I sat down at our most recent employee meeting it felt like sitting down at the Last Supper. Jesus, our store manager, was at the forefront and I sat at the very end, the Judas brewing in the corner. None of my other coworkers looked nor spoke directly to me. Who could blame them? If I couldn’t be a cook, I was useless in their eyes. And without any use, who are you to a group of people, anyways?

Exile. Rejection. Group isolation. I thought of this on an even grander scale, in cases of exiled individuals throughout our history who have suffered through rejection and social exile. Judas was exiled from the apostles in his defiance of Jesus, though many say that Judas was simply criticizing Jesus’s increasingly entitled attitude, thinking that an arrest by the Romans would make Jesus a better rabbi. One might even say Judas was simply a critical person who dissented from a group mentality and took it one step too far.

Then, of course, we have the artists. , in his article Is Social Rejection the Key to Creativity?, chimes:

Aldous Huxley wrote, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely,” and upon thinking about it even a little, it quickly becomes apparent that many of history’s creative geniuses have been deeply lonely people. There is the obvious reason for this: dedicating oneself to an artistic pursuit means one has little time for social endeavors. This is what has frustrated flamboyant, gregarious writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James, both of whom wrote about the dreadful isolation necessary to turn out great fiction. But whether it’s the mysteriously secretive writing careers of J.D. Salinger or Donna Tartt, the well-known loneliness of Joseph Conrad (“we live as we dream — alone”) or the friendship-loneliness conundrum of van Gogh, it becomes apparent that something else is at play. Loneliness is not just sufficient for creativity; it is necessary. It is almost as if one can only be truly creative when one detaches from society.

Maybe it’s unfair to aggrandize myself in this way, clinging to a sense of belonging to some niche. I can’t attune to the needs of whatever “collective” I belong to, whether this is because I’m simply different or maybe zero utility, a nice knick knack of society. As I flip patties, burn toast, drop Parmesan, and serve patrons their food, I keep mental tabs on the things that inspire me and make me dream. I’ve thought once that holding on to this would land me in a community of creative people, but maybe I will be lonely just as Huxley suggests. Maybe my defiance will earn me cynical glares for as long as I live. But no matter where I stand, in company or alone, I’ll stand true.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.