"emancipate yourself from mental slavery
none but ourselves can free our own minds" - bob marley
"folks don't even own themselves
payin' mental rent to corporate presidents" - public enemy
it's 7:53 on a sunday. i have lived my life in such a way that at 7:53 on a sunday, i am awake, full of coffee and eggo waffles and typing on a computer. the chief culprits in this situation (my kids) are in the next room, zoning out to any one of the half-dozen identical disney channel shows capable of transforming otherwise vibrant 5-15 year-olds into paralyzed drooling zombies.
it has me thinking about where we direct our attentions in this bizarre modern life we lead.
you wake up one day and you are 36, and you remember like it was yesterday, shuffling downstairs at 7:53 to watch the tail end of "Gummi Bears" before "Muppet Babies" came on at 8:00 (i'll grant you that would have been on a saturday). and then, presumably, you wake up a 65 year-old and wonder why you ever sat around blogging at 36. and then, i guess you wake up at 84, and you're dead, so you don't wake up at all. our lives are composed of the fruits and waste of our choices, but they are also seasoned with the motivations for those choices - by the strange ways in which we justify our behavior.
we assume that our behavior belongs to us, but in general, i find that to be the rare exception.
a couple of years ago, i wrote myself this little rule:
"15. don't yo-yo with the goal of being admired. don't worry over whether you're 'somebody in the yo-yo community'. be 'somebody in real life' and then be the same person in the yo-yo community."
it sounds so simple, but it's a pretty tall order. i've often said that yo-yoing is significant as an inward exploration, but that it's also a kind of dance; a performance. how can you dance without considering how people react to you?
the danger is in beginning to change the way you behave so that others will accept you. that's pretty broad and maybe silly, since changing our behavior so as to be accepted is a deeply-ingrained, evolved human trait going back to our first attempts at society. and though our rules have changed somewhat, society (whether we try to define ourselves BY it or AGAINST it) still bosses us around, sending us to one side of our mental/spiritual cage or the other. maybe by recognizing that we're in a cage, we are freed a bit. the matrix has you, neo.
these days, i think we've taken it a bit further, and "the middle way" seems to have shrunk down to a treacherous ridge overlooking precipitous drops on either side. do i connect or disconnect? do i identify or ignore? do i affiliate or reject? even within the strange microcosm that is yo-yoing, we coagulate into factions which go to every imaginable length to draw borders between themselves. who can resist this tendency when in the last few decades, humanity has armed itself with impossibly powerful weapons against feeling excluded or alone. enter: facebook, instagram, the disney channel, starbucks... clyw?
i catch my daughter taking selfies sometimes (read: constantly). i completely understand that this is just something that kids do now. 20 years ago, no kid would want to waste multiple exposures of their precious and limited kodak film on their own visage when they could just look in a dang mirror. when a photo is as inexpensive as a few kilobytes, however, take a hundred. take a THOUSAND. put em online and see how many "likes" you can score. i ask her who she's trying to impress, and she's adamant that it's "no one in particular", and i've seen enough of instagram to realize she is not alone in this strange fixation.
i want to laugh derisively at this strange self-obsession, but then i stop and think of #trickcircle. over the past few months, how many hundreds of yo-yo videos have we put out there? i know, personally, i've done a couple per week, lately. and yet how many of my peers' contributions do i actually WATCH? only a few, determined by what i know of the person or if i've heard it's something "special". how many tricks have i seen that have made me say "ok i need to try that NOW"? maybe a half-dozen. i think for the most part, we are obsessively/compulsively sharing, even though as few people pay attention to our tricks as they do to my daughter's selfies. and sure, sharing a trick is a bit different than sharing our face, but is it really? our tricks reflect our ideas and in our community, our ideas reflect our identities... and, by dark proxy, determine our worth.
the other day, said daughter was dying a purple streak in her hair, and i documented the moment with an iphone snapshot. almost immediately, my 5 year-old son commented "you HAVE to post that on instagram"... 5 years old. it was a wake-up kind of moment. is my kid really being taught that the only value in a moment is its "sharability"? is he already parsing the frames of his own existence to subconsciously search for marketable moments? it was as though we had momentarily stumbled upon a rich vein in a mine, and his first impulse was to sell the gold rather than just appreciate its glow. it kinda shook me, not just because my 5 year-old had that impulse, but because before he said it, i was thinking the same exact thing. we sell our moments and we sell our tricks. we get paid in likes, and it makes us feel significant.
it makes me want to throw my phone away in revulsion, but that's a knee-jerk reaction, and i know that there must be a way to find balance on that narrow ledge. when we look at the parts of our life that are sharable or salable, we are effectively ceasing to live in these moments and instead paying with them as a kind of existential currency. but to whom?
pretty much all of our choices in this world represent a kind of payment these days. 300 years ago, you paid a tithe to the church, and today you pay it to starbucks. the latte's are probably tastier, i'll grant you, and there's much less chanting in latin (grande, venti, trenta...). we pay with our time and we pay with our money, and what we get out of the exchange is our own sense of identity. we buy a pair of retro vans so we can be "that guy who wears retro vans - maybe he cares about skateboarding's roots". we buy the nice selvedge jeans to be "the guy who cares about denim craftsmanship". we buy the sweet new Puffin 2 yo-yo to be "the guy with the super-exclusive bip-bop colorway yo-yo" (and to be cool like palli, let's face it). in reality, no one cares about these discrete choices as much as we do. WE become the world perceiving ourselves. we are paying ourselves to like ourselves through a revolving door of middle-men.
we identify and associate, and as noted, that tendency is as old as humanity itself. the only difference is that the tribes have turned into brands, and the brands have become glossier and more consolidated. the question it raises, to me, is "who am i underneath all of my choices; my collection of affiliations?"
i gave this yo-yo to alex last year. it's an "el ranchero", one of the last models SPYY put out before steve gave up the ghost. originally, it was a cool dark-bronze proto, devoid of any markings. since steve had once made a couple of special pink ronins for my daughter, i asked if i could send this one back to him to be lasered specially for my son. it's pretty funny, because i was super amped on giving it to him, but when he opened it, he was like "oh cool. a yo-yo with my name... next." he's not really jaded, but in our house, yo-yo's are everywhere, and so they aren't really special to him. someday later on, maybe he'll realize "oh man... this was a SPECIAL yo-yo" or maybe he won't. i kind of want to protect the part of him that is oblivious to what distinguishes an everyday toy from the icons of art and craft over which we "serious" players get our collective panties in a bunch. i want to protect the part of him that doesn't care what brand of t-shirt or jacket he wears, how his hair looks, or how he is perceived by a world which he will come to believe cares more deeply about him than could ever be realistic.
incidentally, my kids are still watching the disney channel (i'm a fast typist). during this time, the disney channel owns them. they are letting it happen and i am letting it happen, too. the best i can do is try to teach them that they are going to be owned sometimes (or at the very least, rented), and that everyone has to deal with that as they can. within that, hopefully i can make it clear to them that their choices have consequences; that often the most trivial, unnoticed, and reflexive are the ones that have the greatest impact in determining who they will become... that the cage isn't so terrible a thing if you're aware of yourself within it.