Recently I did a post about bad luck. Things can always get worse.
Today I was on one of my long early morning walks and a car pulled up along side me. The driver yelled something. I wondered what the hell he could be upset about. I’m just some guy walking and most the people here in Mililani say “Good morning”. This is a beautifully landscaped part of Honolulu and people seem pretty chill. I walked over and he shouted, “There’s a ballistic missile attack! Take cover!” I’m sure I didn’t look impressed. How could a missile penetrate our air defense? He pointed at a couple across the street huddled, clutching their phones, and looking dumbstruck, “Ask them. It’s all over the place. Everyone knows.” I still wasn’t ready to panic. “Where’d it come from?” I asked. “I don’t know. But you need to take cover.” “I’ll be home soon,” I said, about as minimally alarmed as possible. In fact, I lied. I had at least a half hour walk to get home.
As I crossed the street and passed the couple they looked too devastated to bother, and it’s better I didn’t ask them (you’ll see why). I walked along at a slightly accelerated pace as cars were speeding by. Even if a missile was on the way, I wasn’t sure at all it would hit Honolulu, even if Pearl Harbor is here.
I figured if there was a missile, it was probably courtesy of the portly, spoiled brat from North Korea I’d been thinking about minutes before, when I came to the conclusion that you had to be kinda’ stupid to be a “Supreme Leader”, because you had to be delusional to think you were that much better than everyone else. If it was a gift from Kim jong-Un, it was nuclear tipped, in which case I figured it was better to die in the blast than have radiation poisoning, and taking cover wasn’t going to help. I decided to NOT take cover.
I’ve read John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”, which documented the survivors of the blast, and living through a nuclear holocaust is no picnic. I didn’t fear sudden annihilation. Endless pain, sickness, and suffering is a fate worse than death.
I thought that if I made it home I would, just in case, make one last post on my blog, which is something I wrote last night but didn’t finish. The raw, unfinished, unpolished version couldn’t have been more appropriate. I’d add a brief notice that a missile was en-route, in which case this could be my last blog post. Maybe my art would get recognition!
Then I remembered something, which was that on January 1st, there was an air-raid siren. I had gone on line and discovered Hawaii was bringing these back. Well, why wasn’t I hearing a siren now? There was a man mowing his lawn and a woman across the street walking her poodle.
I decided the guy was pranking me, and I’d seen this same prank done by a YouTuber before, only he took it a step further and prerecorded an official sounding message beginning with the familiar “emergency broadcast signal”. Now I was kicking myself in the ass for not asking the guy what his video channel was called, because I’m a big fan of YouTube pranks. As I arrived home I told my girlfriend, “Someone pranked me”.
I explained what happened, and then went and took a shower. I didn’t bother to turn on the TV or check my phone for any announcements. I wished the guy good luck on his channel, and thought about how he could have done the prank better, like having an announcement playing over his car radio. I wondered if the people across the street on their phones were in on the joke.
After my shower I went outside and read a book, and then my girlfriend came out and told me the guy wasn’t pranking me, that there really was a missile attack announcement. I took a deep breath, and then she added that it was a mistake. Apparently, lots of people were truly frightened, and whole families got in their vehicles and made a beeline for concrete shelters. The image at top is what tons of people got on their phones.
The reason it was a good thing I didn’t ask the couple with their phones about the missile is they would have confirmed it, in which case I wouldn’t have been able to dismiss it as a prank.
Here’s what I wrote last night (unedited and with lots of typos) and you can see why not only would it have been a quite good last post, but also why I wasn’t appropriately upset about possible imminent death. The ballistic missile scare confirmed my thoughts and conclusions both in terms of reason and feeling. For the 10 minutes where I had to face up to being irradiated, before I decided it was a joke, I had no regrets. In a slightly different universe, this would have been my final message to the world. It ends with a couple topics I intended to address later.
Note: blogging on a smart phone is hell. Soooo, this may in fact be my last post for a good while.
You might know that I can’t make art right now because I don’t have a suitable monitor (the one on the laptop is tiny). Well, at least I could do elaborate blog posts. No more. I bought my laptop in Asia, and you don’t get a legit copy of Windows, so you can’t update, and there’s a wicked-ass new virus in town that targets just such vulnerabilities, and there’s no defense. So, now I can just write text, transfer it to my smart phone, and copy paste from there. Mostly I’ve had time to think about various rather central topics while at a time of struggle where I’m also taking heavy criticism being judged for not working a 9-5 job and socking it away for retirement, at which point I could then relax and travel, etc. So I’ve thought a lot about my life choices, and why even when I am going through hard times and at risk, there are strong reasons why if I could take it all over again, I wouldn’t go the conventional route. Here are some ideas I’ve been gnawing on during long walks.
Non-conformity. Sometimes it seems like really a lot of things are working against me, and a lot of that is because I’m not conforming to expectations, not lowering my head, not accepting the yolk of mediocrity, not doing what everyone else is doing, etc. You could say that I’ve always been a bit of a non-conformist. I don’t belong to any group and feel like a poser or acting whenever I have to play some role. I think most people will have some rather strong experience of this. In a prior post I mentioned hating having to put Burger King crown on little kids when I worked there in highs school. Part of that is I just didn’t feel at all that the uniform or the role suited me. It sure as hell wasn’t anything I aspired to be. But I feel that way about most any job I’ve had, where I can’t really get behind anything, because I kinda’ think it’s bull.
When I think of non-conformity it’s actually not accurate for what I’m addressing. It sounds like someone is against whatever the norm is and deliberately reacting against it. Rather, I think, it’s more of a conformity to ones own inner compass, against which other things don’t live up to. Who could NOT be cynical about politics, the art world, the news, law enforcement, Hollywood, Windows, advertising, banking, the pharmaceutical industry, the military, taxes, Facebook, Capitalism, Communism, the Church, gurus, and so on.
So, it’s not a matter of non-conformity in the sense of just being against authority or whatever everyone else is doing, automatically, but rather because those things are often corrupted, boring, stupid, and incompetent. But if you don’t bow your head and subordinate yourself to these flawed entities, the problem becomes you.
I’m reminded of when I was living in China and someone explained why everyone is trying to rip everyone else off. A Chinese friend put this very directly, and it’s because everyone else is ripping you off so you have to rip off everyone else to make up the difference. If you don’t participate in overcharging people, or cutting corners, or a bit of deception, than you are kinda’ stupid, and you are going to be at a disadvantage and fall behind. If you try to make up the difference in some other way that isn’t corrupted, than, it’s kind of a long shot, and you might find yourself swimming against the current. This is why being a non-conformist can feel like everything is working against you and wants you to fail. If you don’t find a better way to compensate for being cheated, and so on, than people will look down on you as a loser. If you do find a better way than people will resent you for showing them to have settled for selling out, in which case they don’t want you to succeed, and will welcome your destruction as proving you naive and impractical.
Socking away money for retirement. This is a bigger problem in America than in a lot of other developed countries, because in America vacation is not guaranteed by law (last I checked, and I DID look into this), in which case we often get a paltry one-week of paid vacation a year, best taken around X-mas, in which case you go “home”. You sure as hell don’t have time to fly to Asia, see squat, and come back. So, most Americans don’t have passports, and there’s the grand notion of clocking in to a humdrum job for decades so that when one is old, on can then go and see the world. Well, there are two whopping problems with that.
One is that the world is changing fast and the destinations will be less interesting by the time you go.
Exotic destinations will be littered with McDonald’s and Starbucks, and what were formerly genuine sites worth seeing will become more like theme parks. Anyone who has visited a certain destination a decade ago will attest that it isn’t want it used to be, and that wasn’t what it was a decade before. If you wait another 10-20-30 years to see the world, it will become less and less different or authentically interesting, and more just tourist traps and cheesy souvenirs.
The second problem is how you will change. If you’ve gotten to retirement age without doing any risky traveling, you probably aren’t going to be up for it, and it may seem too scary. After all the decades of saving up for going on grand holidays, you may find yourself saying, “I’m too old.” If you still go, you may take packaged tours, stay in upscale hotels, and only see what is presented to you without having any real experience of the place you are visiting.
The same thing applies to art or some other calling. Unless you only plan on being a hobbyist, do you really think you can wait until you are in your sixties to be a contender? Gonna’ take up the guitar and put together a garage band at that stage in your life? What will you sing about?
On being 52. It’s hard for me to believe I’m 52, and hard for others as well. As you can see I’m as idealistic as a teen. In terms of art I’m bordering on being too old to be taken seriously as relevant. But this is bullshit. Of course I started art as a child, got an MFA, and have been making art most my life (the least when I am working the sort of full-time corporate jobs that the world wants me to do). But, y’know, if you are younger you think 50 is old, but when you are 50 you may realize that you never get old, just your body does, especially if you don’t take care of it. It’s a good age if you are still healthy (which I am) because you have enough life experience to have something to say, and you may bridge a few different eras and perspectives. So, for example, I have one foot in traditional art and one in digital art, because I didn’t have my own computer until after I got my MFA, at which point I taught myself to use Photoshop, and gradually other programs. This gives my works a unique blend that earlier and later generations won’t have.
My biological father died at 52. He got a heavy dose of cancer (he’d worked with chlorine vapor in a water purification plant, and maybe that had something to do with it). For whatever reason his age when he died always stuck with me. I guess you remember when you outlive a parent. [Thankfully my mom and step-dad are still in good health.] I didn’t see him when I was growing up so only got to know him at all in the last 2 years of his life, when he reached out to his sons, because he knew he was dying, though he didn’t tell us.
If I were to die at the same age – NOW! – I realized, I’d think my life choices were pretty damned smart. I’ve traveled extensively in Asia; worked an array of jobs; been a teacher; practiced kick-boxing and had a bout in the ring; did my undergrad at UCLA (my grad-school education was more of an ordeal than anything); moved from CA to New York, living in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan for 8 years; had meaningful relationships; lived in China for nearly 5 years and in Asia for overall for 10; have imbibed heavily of art, literature, film and music; and in the last few years have put together a significant body of art work, as well as expressed my ideas in written form in scores of articles on my blog.
If I’d stuck in one of my corporate jobs for the duration, I’d have much more in the bank, maybe a house, and so on, but if I were to die this year, would I fill like I’d had a meaningful life? It’s not like I didn’t do that for 8 years while living in NY. And that 8 years could have honestly been squoze into 5 or less because so much of it was redundant.
- When I decided I had to make more art.
- The next life and only taking memories and knowledge with you.