Melancholy and Newton’s First Law Of Motion

I am in a computer lab for Multi-national Communications 105. The professor is speaking about something and I am watching the mouse cursor make a Ouija board drift across the screen. If I focus on my nostrils I smell the tropical scent bodywash of the porcelain legs in the seat beside me. I don’t know her name. What I do know is an image in my head of those legs forming a fleshy crescent with her pout buttcheeks. I hold the image in my head but it has no meaning or tumescent effects – an anhedonic thought. I try not to look at people because of the constant sensation of being judged. I wish it weren’t a gorgeous Spring day because then I could put on my sweater, cross my arms and enjoy the warm fabric of this computer lab swivel chair.

I am in Metronomic Psychology 101 and the desk is too small, caricature of over-grown adult in kindergarten. I am trying to take notes but the professor’s voice has decompressed into Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice and the chalkboard is too far away to see the hieroglyphs.

At night in bed my heart is a percussive staccato. I am excited to do something but there is nothing to do because it is 1 2 3 4 in the morning and the excitement is vapid. It is a wasted load. I want to be doing something but I have nothing to be doing and these are the eager maggots crawling beneath the scalp of vague dreams. I spend the hours between my classes appeasing exhaustion. Daylight vituperative in my bedroom windows but I have my TV off, no more Reality TV I am reading because I have life goals and two pages in is when my eyelids become lead curtains I can’t hold open – sleep is an irreality of dreams indiscernible from life; I am daily restarting conversations I’ve never begun, apologizing for injustices I haven’t committed.

I am spending increasing amounts of class time sitting in bathroom stalls wondering why the proximity of other human beings feels like judgemental penetration of my fleshy inner-self.

I waste time between Micromanaging 203 and Consumer Success 501. I take the long way thrice around campus. I am staring at a bulletin board on the campus green and the fliers and notices are posted thus:

Lost Cat. Lost Dog. The Bachelorette Season Finale Party. Guitar For Sale. Easel For Sale. Melancholics Anonymous. Nihilist Support Group – Help Us Find Ourselves. Childhood Dream Curbside Sale – Take Everything You Can. Help Save Indigenous Possums In Sao Paolo.

There are meaty crows in the tree overhead and they are eating the baby birds that didn’t fly in time. I know nothing of their experiences. Campus is empty because the 3:15 classes began 10 minutes ago. I am gilded by the decadence of afternoon sleep.

I have been a Geology Major. A Philosophy Major. A Journalism Major with a focus on Photography. I am a Marketing Major.

I have been dumped from the high school conveyor belt into the collegiate funnel and I was even allowed to decide my major. I will in ten years be making $80,000 annually because I wisely chose Marketing instead of Journalism. My conveyor belt is set to deposit new Acuras and a fully furnished starter-home in an upscale sub-division by the time I’m 27. All I have to do is sit at my desk. Sit at my desk. Sit at my desk. Sit at my desk.

It is 2pm and I am in bed reading Techniques of Modern Photography to feel productive. I have read two pages and the sentences blur again into the irreality of deep, irresistible sleep.

Stay at my desk and happiness will be delivered.

I am back-sprawled on my bed. I am naked. It is Thurs or Fri or Sat and there hasn’t been hunger or thirst or lust or exhaustion in 2 or 3 or 4 days. I am staring at my ceiling. Stare at a single point long enough and the patterns take new forms – I am staring at a large Newton’s Cradle, four big silver balls clinking one off of the right, one off of the left. It is sometime between sunrise and sunset.

It is dark in my room but in my peripheries I can make out the darker forms of my desk, flat screen, laptop, PS3, dresser, closet full of clothes, shoe rack. And for some time now these darker forms have been evaporating with a slow, frothy hiss, evaporating up into the walls, depressurizing, the shadows of my material possessions creeping up the walls and as this evaporation spreads it leaves behind a pristine darkness, immaculate and speckled with a million points of shimmering blue.

There is nothing but the vastness and the stars. I feel only the heaviness of my own body – there is no pressure, no thing to act against and I cannot be sure if I am moving or in any meaningful way exist. The stars are too far to give perspective. There is nothing horrible about this. I can exist here in perpetuity and never physically suffer because I know that all I have to do is reach out to take a handful of stars, and what is so profoundly wrecking is the knowledge that it would all be pointless, because my mouth is already full.

 

Recalibrating Your Dreams

My wife is hanging new curtains. Purchased from… I don’t know what she’s saying. The curtains were procured at a price of… I don’t know what she’s saying because what I hear is ’16 hours of work’, or to play it back again in my head, ‘a week and a half of groceries’.

The curtains match the couch we bought on Craigslist. It’s new-ish and the dog hair’s been vacuumed out. My wife was a boho street queen when we met, a princess with a molly habit. We still have the same dream, sylvan simple house far from neighbors, in the hills. But here in our urbane townhouse there must be Netflix and Hulu and K-cups and an additional dresser to supplement the closet space.

I am stuffing the new shirts she bought me into a trashcan at the curb. My cellphone is 6 years old and is made fun of because it can’t Skype, or receive picture messages. I want to dig a hole in the warm earth and assume the fetal position. I love her painfully and I want our children in the best public schools and I want us to have 30 acres on the outskirts of a little urban center where everyone knows our names and there’s a single coffee shop and nothing is headquartered 1000 miles away. I want art galleries and farmers markets and an unpaved driveway. I want to live in Zanesville or Ashville or Ithaca and we are dirt poor. We don’t have degrees. I dropped out and to finish is another two years and $40,0000000000 in debt. My wife is hanging new curtains and I am never again going to look out the damn window.

Irreconcilable Desires

Out of the apartment window I see down into the street, tree-lined, sun-streamed verdant, quiet. There’s a family getting into their SUV/minivan, an immigrant family from some East Asian country – abandoned the crowded oriental casbahs and sweat shops for American opportunity. The husband’s getting their 9yr old into the Volvo, new and shiny and probably capable of autonomous parking. His wife’s in the passenger seat on her smartphone, talking through the open window to her parents who are watching the youngest kids for the day, walking them down the sidewalk on tricycles and plastic foot-pedal cars. This man and his wife have Made It, and brought over their parents, and they all live together in the townhouse next-door to ours.

My wife and I live 800 miles from our families. There is no generational-continuity. We left, abandoned, ditched, forgot. Our toddler’s seen his grandparents and his aunts and uncles exactly three times. We are alone here, in this bustling city we made our frontier. Except it’s already been settled. What are we doing here? What are we doing? What am I doing? I am at my typewriter drunk at 2pm and there is nothing to produce, just wringing my heart into the bathroom sink and wash it down with Draino to make sure the waste doesn’t clog.

We are in the cheapest townhouse in an expensive suburb 10 minutes from downtown. Together the wife and I, 80 hour work weeks. And I hate our neighbors. I hate our decor and I can’t stand the New Car smell of the faux-leather in the used Mazda I just bought to replace the dead chunk of metal and oil that’d been stuck along the curb for four months. Monthly payments.

The family out the window is happy. They’ve Made It. They’ve made themselves successful and happy and when I put myself in that man’s car with my own happy kids in Nike’s and name-brand clothes I resent myself. I want what he has: a good job and a comfortable income and plenty of food and a nice big HDTV and plush furniture and a wife who doesn’t have to work every night. I want a new car my own car and clothes that match and the financial ability to take week-long vacations at the shore, and I want a smartphone and a tablet and a laptop that doesn’t freeze every time I open Google Chrome.

And I hate all of it. My heart strangles thinking of having a closet and a dresser both full of my own clothes. I cringe thinking of having a $300 razor to stylishly cultivate my facial hair and who the hell actually spends $400 on a digital watch that monitors your footsteps?

I want to be happy and comfortable. I don’t want to dread bills. I want to be able to afford a doctor because my ear (infection? pierced ear-drum?) has now throbbed for two weeks.

To attain these things I must sit in an office. I must take orders with obeisance. I must make monthly payments to an insurance corporation. I must enjoy high-tech entertainment and pride myself on the luminosity of my detailed BMW.

To be happy I must become everything I despise.

I shut the blinds and the happy Made It family disappears. I drink from the bottle because it kills me quicker and when I begin to type I am banging my forehead on the typewriter.

 

How Is The Easy-Way-Out The Hardest

Solid metal is cold. In my palm it has heft. This is, by far, the second scariest moment of my life. And I am brave enough to look this decision in its quarter-inch pupil.

The scariest moment of my life has been 22 years. Maybe 20 of them I’ve been old enough to remember; subtract a few additional years for copious substance abuse. This is okay, though, it was a coping mechanism, and every night in a dilapidated drunk was every morning decent enough to go to work.

I drive a ’95 Grand Marquis held together with after-market welds and duct-tape. It runs well enough, and the Audi’s and Lexus’s are shiny smudges every morning on my ten-minute commute on the outer-belt, capsules of brightly-reflected light that zap past me and leave wakes of space-time distortion, wondering what I am worth.

The radio station is telling me that Giant Eagle super-markets are staffed by my neighbors who know my name and are there to make my community a better place. I change the radio station. The radio is telling me, from a rewind of a similar commercial, that Giant Eagle super-markets bring neighbors together. I change the station.

Giant Eagle super-markets are providing my community with in-store pharmacies, optometrists, banking, psychiatric evaluations.

I will forever shop at farmers’ markets. I will only buy my rum from the only immigrant-owned corner-store in the county. Which just sold its liquor license to Giant Eagle.

I will only ever drink beer from the corner store every night to forget the fact that I will always be Federally recognized as poor. I will wake up every morning without remembering my nightmares and I will sweat ten hours in the August heat-stroke reseeding the lawns of 4,000 sq. ft. houses because the owners didn’t like their previous lawns. But at least I have a job.

At least my toddler eats well and I know he’ll grow up to resent me because he isn’t going to get his own car to celebrate his driving permit. He will never have his own laptop or Xbox. Because I’m going to spend that money instead buying inflation-priced produce from farmers’ markets and only food from Giant Eagle that hasn’t been basted in glyphosate and the Agent Orange chemical known only as 2,4-D.

But my wife grew up on the Disney Channel and so of course my kid is going to. Grow up watching kids living on ostentatious cruise-liners, in luxurious hotels, in NYC flats geared with the latest high-tech iterations of entertainment. All of the Disney kids gaudily dressed. What is that? A Prada dinner-jacket on a twelve-year-old?

What happened to Pete and Pete? When did Hey Arnold stop living in the inner-city with his poor working-class grandparents?

How many square feet did Clarissa live in?

My wife resents our lack of vacation-time. Why are all of the lights on in the house? Why is the AC on 61? The Kia has four extremely bald tires and monthly payments and we both know we aren’t getting anything on the tax return because I can’t afford an extra $350/month to keep paying my own health insurance.

Because I refuse to work in an office. Because I refuse to have four different bosses complaining I am not properly dressed. Because I do not pride myself on commercial success… I will always be a dead-beat.

We share a garage with the neighbors and the Grand Marquis has enough gas to idle for a few hours. But I don’t want to offend the neighbors.

This is the second scariest moment of my life.

The first scariest has been this entire existence of disorientation.

If you do not understand the direction called Up, you will forever be falling down.

It is a dread that scales your skin. Helplessness, unable to ward-off the head-long rushing familial death of unavoidable debt. There is nowhere to go.

I don’t understand why I should want a five-bedroom house with a three-car garage in a sub-division. I don’t want to wear suits. I can’t find any pride in owning a $90,000 car. I would hate my wife if she got fake tits. I can’t stand television. I don’t know what a 401k is or what dividends means or why the radio talks about ways to get the most money from Social Security.

For this I am known as weak.

What I do know is that by not understanding any of this, by not understanding why I should want annual vacations at the shore and the newest obsolescence-engineered tablet, smart-phone, laptop – I will forever be categorized as poor.

I will be the unsuccessful loser. I will not be able to save myself. Or my family. My wife spends too much time at the bar, after work, with her boss. Who owns four other Giant Eagles.

What I do know is that being strong means moving up in the world. It means climbing the corporate-cliff; success is determined by how many people are beneath you.

I do not want to be over people.

What is weak is not succeeding.

But what I don’t get is how many people can sit here and slip .45 caliber bullets into a revolver that is pointing at their skull. Show me courage.

What does it mean.

Put your thumb on the trigger. You’re looking into a small diameter and you aren’t pissing yourself.

Tell me how strong you are. I don’t own a Porsche SUV.

Show me strength.

Show me courage.

High-speed crash your Ferrari.

You don’t have the balls.

Lord over others.

Show me how strong you are.

Left is Right and Right and Right and Right is Left.

I am not unstrung.

I am capable of ending.

Show me your courage.

 

You Will Graduate, You Will Buy Health Insurance, You Will Mortgage Your Home, You Will Climb The Corporate Ladder, You Will Die

I am the college graduate who leases a new Volkswagon Jetta. I admire the summer days I can detail and wax my silver four-door in front of my carport. I am the young business professional with the townhouse ten blocks from the office tower. I proposed on one knee and purchased honeymoon tickets to the Virgin Islands. I masturbate to the brochures.

I am the college graduate who dreams of investing. Stock Market For Dummies is my easy-reading. I look forward to turning 26, when my stay on parents’ health insurance ends. I have been in contact with Aetna representatives, and have secured a deal on their Gold Plan.

I am the college graduate who dreams of Fourth of July cul-de-sacs. I will grill ostentatious meat platters while my children play in the yard. They will have thousands of dollars worth of sporting equipment and a trampoline with a safety net. I will work long hours at the office – my wife will suspect me of cheating again and develop, in due recourse, an expensive pill habit.

I will trade in my old phones for the newest Android. My laptop, desktop, and tablets will be the latest models with the latest software, always. My children will immerse long hours in life-like videogames, and wear the same distant, glossy videogame gaze at the dinner table. My wife will be too intoxicated to handle sharp knives and hot pots. We will order Indian instead of Mexican.

I am the college graduate who will climb the corporate ladder. My office will be in the corner. I will mortgage my home for an additional 2,000 sq. ft., and vacation in Orlando and Bermuda. There will be luxury cruise liners upon retirement.

I am the college graduate with $50,000 in debt. I am the college graduate who hates his bosses, and his desk, and his Dockers, and his fiance’s expensive diamond. I am the college graduate making payments on a Jetta, and a Gold Plan, and a townhouse, and a washer-drier unit.

I am the college graduate who is following the correct plan. My future is an uphill climb of shit, and the peak is an empty wasted hulk, a body of subverted dreams and no purpose.

I am the college graduate who is following the plan:

The grocery store is just outside the city-limits, in a neighboring suburb. The road is paved black with deep yellow lines, and I am the first car waiting at the stoplight. The stoplight is red. This is an intersection where a side road can turn either right or left onto this main road, where I am waiting for the light. But the side road is closed for construction. I am the first car at a red light that doesn’t need to be here. Of the twenty cars waiting behind me, not one honks.

I am the college graduate who is waiting, pointlessly and against all decent reason, for the traffic light to change.

Where Is The Void

If we only perceive of a thing in opposition to another thing, if there is only joy because there is sorrow, if we can only define light because it is the opposite of dark, than what do we make of this: the Multiverse is infinite.

Human perception depends on contradiction, opposition. If we do not know the absence of a thing, we cannot know the thing.

Where, in a Multiverse of unending existence, is The Void? Where is The Nothingness? Where lies Death?

Human perception depends on opposition; if there is no Void, no such thing as Life and Death… we will create opposition to define the thing.

Patient Lost In Aisle Five of the ER

 

For two days the inside of my ribcage has been sore. A dull throb, even, on the left side. I am looking at myself in the mirror. The night it began I felt lightheaded and my left arm had a pulsating throb, dull, numbing in heartbeats right down the nerves and veins to the fingertips. That was two nights ago and the soreness beneath my ribcage has not waned. This has now become disconcerting. I shout downstairs for my wife.

There are ten hospitals within a two-hour drive. The hospitals nearest the city have the highest average ER-costs. There are websites dedicated to comparing hospital costs, for the consumer’s benefit. There are five levels of ER care depending on how much you’re dying. If you’re a Level 5 dying, the costs are highest. I understand from a business perspective this makes sense. But I don’t know what kind of heart attack this might be, hopefully a minor, not near-death one. People can have minor attacks without even knowing. I am hoping for this.

90-minute drive to the next county, rural hospital, cheapest ER. We’ve brought the credit card to prepare for Level I Might Die.

The ER waiting room has bandages, gauze, Neosporin, crutches, braces, IV bags, in vending machines along the wall. I take my family through the security checkpoint and am greeted my a polite hostess who walks us to an empty bank of seats. I fill out forms and pass along my information. No, I do not have health insurance (pangs of guilt). I am handed a financial assistance form. I am an asshole bilking the insurance pool.

We are led down a cozily-lit hallway, in the patient rooms we pass are flickers of candlelight and soothing audio of nature. There are shiny metal carts draped with white cloth, clean china and those ornate metal domes that keep meals hot until the butlers can serve. The end of the hall we make a left, antiseptically pungent white fluorescent light. We wait in the financial assistance room. My vitals are read, EKG, awaiting the results. Everything appears fine. This is great. I’m not at risk of a heart-attack, I don’t drink copiously or smoke or do hard drugs, I’m not over 60 and I’m not morbidly obese. But the EKG doesn’t always pick up everything. If I’d like to, they can take an X-ray to look for obstructions or swelling, the only heart-attack signs the EKG won’t pick up. How much extra? About a grand. This is okay, I filled out the financial assistance form, I have a credit card, my chest hurts. What aisle for the X-ray? We’ll take you to the Radiology Department.

It probably wasn’t a heart-attack, is the verdict. Probably pulled a muscle or a tendon or a ligament in my chest. I work manual labor, this sounds plausible. I am given the bill for services rendered and sent home with Ohio Health System key-chain, bumper sticker, and t-shirt Made In Taiwan.

My wife is asking about the bills. It’s okay, see this one right here, the hospital gave us 75% financial assistance, the $800 is only the original charge, before the sliding-scale discount. Yeah, says wife, but then these other two bills. This one for $400 is for the ER doctors, and this one for $1,200 is for the Radiology doctors. This warrants several hours of phone calls: elevator On-Hold music, transfers between departments, telephone line dead-ends. It is explained: the ER doctors and the Radiology doctors don’t actually work for the hospital, just in the hospital, they have their own companies they work for and you have to call their respective billing departments for questions concerning your payments. Can you transfer me? No, sir, I can’t transfer your call to a different company. Have a nice month.

I’m an idiot. My illusions of how the world works are the puerile impressions of Sim City. As a kid, at the computer, building fake digital cities and you always had to build a police station, a fire department, and a hospital. Zoom in to the Sim City streets, see the little cop cars, fire trucks, ambulances racing to save the dying Sims. You had to raise taxes and allocate funds. It was a computer game for kids, of course it was simple.

Sim City is not real life. It is time to grow up. Be a good citizen, follow the law, make your monthly payments to an insurance corporation.

Someone was breaking into our car last week. Wife the insomniac saw through the window, stranger with a coat hanger crammed down car door window slit, trying to disengage the door lock. She called the police. We were standing in the street beside our ravaged Nissan, the police officer taking our information, filling out clip-board forms. He tore off the yellow carbon copy and handed it over, a bill for $800, make all checks payable to Riverside United Security Services.

Yes, this makes sense, this isn’t Sim City.

Where The Possibilities Bloom

Human history can be analyzed by a single, constant trend: human progress is the expansion of possibilities. Revolutions in politics, technology, the sciences, philosophy, culture, have done nothing if not expand the possibilities of individuals and societies. Begin at any point in human history, and move forward: the possibilities of people grow with time.

This is the point of existing: to expand possibilities.

This expansion, this uniquely human condition, has always been carried on the backs of pioneers, pushed through wildernesses beyond the burned edges of maps. The more terrain humanity inhabits, the more materials and resources in the hands of people, the more possibilities we may nurture to blossom.

Population centers operate with varying degrees of unity, cohesion; to co-exist requires forms of cooperation, and cooperation requires degrees of like-mindedness: communities maintain specific branches of possibilities; facilitate these possibilities by limiting these other possibilities.

When individuals within a community cannot access the possibilities to which their hearts are aligned, and after the avenues of politics, technology, philosophy, etc. have been exhausted without fruition, these individuals strike out on their own, to forge their own paths, to create their own, unique sets of possibilities: wooden ships and covered wagons, caravans and curraghs.

Humanity in the 21st century, then, quite obviously finds itself in a predicament, a set of circumstances heretofore never encountered: we drill oil in deserts and frozen wastelands, harvest unnavigable forests and jungles; there are freeways between mesas, highways through mountains, Burger Kings in the Moab and parking lots in the Badlands. The frontier of last year is home to a Walmart; the parking lots cover the globe: the daily death of a dozen languages, the assimilation of indigenous cultures and the unencumbered spread of consumerism.

Not to bitch and moan: there is nothing wrong with buying an Iphone. But to facilitate one set of possibilities means to limit other sets of possibilities; globalization is a like-minded community: mass-consumption consumerism is the goal. A specific set of possibilities is being pushed at the expense of other sets of possibilities.

And there is nowhere to go: subdivisions across the plains, suburban sprawl on the mountainsides; corporate parks in the swamps, shopping centers in the deserts.

We are waiting for the clouds to part, for the skies to open, for the stars to make themselves clear. We are waiting for progress to thrust us from this terrestrial womb. We are awaiting the inevitable Great Expansion.

Until then, there is stagnation…

You will go to college, you will get a degree, you will get a 9-5; you will commute, you will take orders, you will buy a house in a sub-division; you will have a mortgage and car payments, go grocery shopping and browse aisles to upgrade your appliances, your entertainment, your furniture; you will buy health insurance and one week a year you will vacation at the beach. If you are one of the increasingly lucky few, you find it in yourself to start your own business, or even to homestead.

You may be an inventor, an innovator, the pioneer of a field, but your existence has been defined: your set of possibilities is increasingly specific. Yes, technology will continue to develop – solar energy, electric cars, and 3d-printing can revolutionize – but those who prosper from the current, predominant set of possibilities will keep the branches of this set ever trim: applications of technology can be limited to the 9-5, consumer world.

Our possibilities must expand.

There may be no more land for the pioneer, but there is always a frontier. Whatever exists beyond the predominant set of possibilities, where the culture of a community as a whole comes to an end, there lies the frontier – there are more dimensions than geographical location.

These dimensions are cultural; they are of economics and politics and lifestyle.

To expand possibilities is exert will: it is to suffer and it is to work. It is no easy-going to settle a frontier, to pioneer a lifestyle choice. But it must be done: it is our purpose for existing.

This is a call to explore what lies beyond consumerism, capitalism, college degrees and 9-5’s; to start collectives, co-ops, to drop-out and hit your own textbooks; for the autodidacts and the fearless, the brave, and the pioneers of minimalism: gypsies, vagabonds, homesteaders; a call for those who own their own labor, and expend it wisely; to those who are their own bosses, and trade with neighbors for local goods; to those who can grow their own food, and teach others how to manage their green-houses; to those who have ideas the rest of us cannot fathom.

This is a call to disregard the narrow set of possibilities held out by society, to step outside and to pioneer the lifestyle that calls you. This is a call to the discontent, the anxious, the misfits desirous of owning their own lives, the underdogs unwilling to climb the hoops of corporate bureaucracy, the simple and unassuming who cringe in the aisles of big-box stores and can’t understand the allure of a Porsche minivan – it is time to forge ourselves new lifestyles, new economies, new politics: new cultures.

This is the point of our existing. This is not for ourselves, it is for humankind.

May love and liberty keep us free.

 

 

The Humanity of Strangers

 

I will sometimes get irrationally annoyed while I am driving. I will be following the speed limit, and someone at the stoplight ahead will make a right on red, turning in front of me. And if I have to use my brakes, I get annoyed, and if the person who cut ahead of me is driving below the speed limit, I get angry. This person could have waited five seconds for me to pass, and then turned onto the road. They are now slowing me down. When this same person does not maintain the same lane as he is turning at the next light, I will be driving right on their back bumper, ready to hold down my horn.

God forbid this person has an Obama bumper sticker.

But then at the next light I change lanes and am pulling up beside this other driver, this object of my spite. I get a look at him, though we do not make eye-contact, and I can see in his face that he is worried. I feel remorse. I feel bad for antagonizing this person by tailgating him for 1.4 miles, even if he never noticed. I begin to make excuses for him, sure that is he dealing with the death of a relation, bad news from a wife who is packing herself a suitcase, or just on the phone with a boss who is no longer going to give him a paycheck. I can even understand how someone can become, through no fault of their own, deluded enough to support a politician.

Similar grievances happen at the grocery store. I am getting angry at the woman in line in front of me, because she has exactly four items, and she is going through a binder of coupons. I am in a hurry. My child keeps grabbing candy off the rack beside us, and I have nowhere to move. There is no reason for this to take so long, she is buying four boxes of generic pancake mix that are already on sale, why does this creature need a binder of coupons?

But the woman looks up at me and apologizes, was absolutely sure she had the coupons out already, gosh what a hectic day she’s been having, she is sure she has a five dollar bill in here somewhere, really sorry this is taking so long. I feel bad. I imagine this woman is taking care of her grandchildren because her daughter is addicted to FDA-prescribed heroin. She probably has little money, and is a professional coupon-er, one of those people who will sometimes leave with full grocery carts for $5. I respect this woman.

And I try to remember these things the next time I’m on the highway and someone is driving slowly in the express lane, while talking on their cellphone. I try to remind myself that I have little ability to imagine the driver as a person. I have not met that person, this driver who is slowing me down, he or she is nothing but a concept to me, a undefined placeholder for the human being who is driving this vehicle, slowly, in front of me.

I try to remind myself how little I view other people as actual human beings, especially those I cannot see or cannot speak to, cannot interact with – these people are placeholders, vague molds with no filling; bodies, without humanity. I know absolutely nothing about them, and my mind finds it difficult to fill these empty molds with identities, issues, emotions, circumstances, histories. Because my mind is focused on the here-and-now, or on my job, or my family, or what I should do with my hair before my brother’s wedding because I look homeless. I am unable to fill the thousands of molds of the individuals who cross the street without looking, slow down traffic, hold up the grocery line, take forever to return my desired book to the library… every day, a thousand reasons to be angry at and spiteful of a thousand different people – who would actually trust Donald Trump’s mouth? Why do these assholes spend $100,000 on these fucking Porsche minivans?

But I cannot imagine them. And if I met these people, I know I would begin to make one thousand excuses for them, and I would imagine their parents neglecting them, their classmates teasing them, their health insurance charging exorbitant fees and the pressures they feel from a society hell-bent on glitz and ownership of the glitz.

And I do not think this goes without saying, that imagination is the pre-requisite of empathy; that it takes cognitive effort, work, to imagine the life of a person I have no contact with. That, until I have met a person, until they have spoken to me and shown me the color of their eyes – until I am forced to see them beyond their immediate effect on my own person, I do not see them at all: they are only the effects they have upon me, superficially. I do not think this goes without saying, that our immediate, default perceptions do not perceive other people as human beings.