Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I'm Sorry, But No, It's Not All About You

Have you ever noticed how ultimately narcissistic religion is, any religion? The creator of the entire fucking universe totally cares, a lot, about every detail of your life. Every action, every thought, every moment of every day, every meal, every prayer, every Sabbath, every Sunday. It's all so very important to the creator of the entire universe.

How self centered is that?

Which is exactly my reaction to this:

Just about every day someone approaches me and tells me how much they enjoy my writing, this is always humbling because I was never a good writer while I was in school. It’s strange to now be a published writer and have zero writing experience or background. It’s even more insane to get a request to speak to a high school creative writing class! What do I say? “Hi, my name is Baron. I failed English, let me show you my writing skills?" I’m not really sure how things got to this point where writing is such a huge part of who I am. Maybe it’s all a coincidence. Maybe everything is just random, and this is another one of my crazy hobbies that I have picked up; just like the time I watched the Karate Kid marathon and then researched bonsai trees and decided I needed one. Or maybe there is a reason, maybe there is an order, maybe there could possibly be a plan.


Honestly, I have no idea who this guy is, but (a) there's no reason a person who failed English* couldn't go on to improve their English skills or work ethic and go on to a successful career in writing, this does not require divine intervention, and (b) no, it's not random, but (c) there is room between completely random and godditit.

Why is a plan necessary here? I never thought blogging was something I would do until I started blogging. I never thought I'd enjoy twitter at all until I got an account. That's just how things work: there's no way of knowing if you'll like or be good at something until you try it. This does not require divine intervention.

Maybe someone, somewhere, at some time, needed to read something that I would at some point write.
Would it be far-fetched to say that there is a reason you are standing where you are standing at this exact moment and reading these words at this exact time? Would it be far fetched to say that a small decision that you see as pointless or routine could save a life? Perhaps we are all far more connected than anyone can see or comprehend. Maybe one day you will save my life. It’s not as far-fetched as you may think. Maybe everything is just a coincidence, but maybe its not.
Get on board, buckle up, and lets take a trip.

I'm going to go door to door teaching statistics at the end of a sword, I swear. Here's the thing: the odds of having any particular poker hand are something like 6,000,000:1, yet every time you play a hand, that's the hand you have. Is that divine intervention? Is that a plan?

To skip ahead, Baron is offered the chance to write a weekly column that appeared in the paper on Wednesdays. Keep in mind, this is probably a paper that is published 5 days a week, so there was a 20% chance, completely at random, of Wednesday being the publication date, but no, This Has Meaning. Deep, deep meaning. Oh, and Baron thought about quitting, but he didn't. This Has Meaning. Deep, deep meaning.

I think about quitting all the time, too. So does every writer. Anything you do on a regular basis gets a bit chore-like, no matter how much you enjoy it. This is just human psychology. I don't think Baron would have any trouble believing that the entirety of human evolution was guided in a specific direction to produce him and his column. But this narcissism is well deserved, because he saved a life!

Finally [guy who approached Baron] released his grasp and spoke words that I will never forget. This is what he said:
You saved my life. Five months ago I had given up, I was going to end it all. It was a Wednesday (ripple 2). I felt like I had nothing else to live for. I had my pistol in my lap while I sat at my desk. I had set newspaper out around the floor so I wouldn’t make a mess for whoever found me. I was about to do it. Right before I pulled the trigger I looked down and saw a piece of newspaper that said, “The easiest thing in the world to do is quit.” I put the gun down and started to read more. It was a column that you had written. Your column saved me. Thank you.

I’m glad that he told me that he didn’t expect me to respond because I was speechless. I was in awe. I was stunned. Before I could even think of anything to say back to him he said, “I’m doing much better now. I feel like you just needed to know that you’re making a huge difference.” Then he walked away.


I’m not an emotional person at all but I almost cried in the meat section of the United Supermarket. At that exact moment all of those random coincidences swirled into one beautiful event that made perfect sense.

You know what? Good for you. I'm glad that guy did not kill himself. That does not mean you are the center of some sort of divine plan. I mean, the entire purpose of writing is to reach people. If you didn't want to, or expect to, reach people, why did you write at all?

As for "random coincidences", I'm beginning to think no one knows what "random" or "coincidence" mean. A coin toss is a random event. You toss the coin, it lands heads or tails. This is random. Each coin toss is independent of each previous coin toss. Ten heads in a row does not affect the next toss. (See also: wheel, roulette) This is random.

Baron's column being printed on Wednesday was not random. It wasn't divine intervention, either. Factors Baron apparently was unaware of impacted the printing date, factors like space on various days, when opinion/lifestyle pieces are printed in that paper, when other, established columns were running. In other words, the publisher didn't throw a dart at a calendar to come up with Wednesday, zie carefully considered where and when such a column would fit and put it there.

What about the suicidal stranger? Many, many, many people who attempt (and sometimes succeed) to commit suicide are ambivalent about it at best. They don't necessarily want to die, they just don't want to live as they are living and they can't see any possibility to live any other way. So, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Suicidal Stranger, despite having obtained a gun and decided how to reduce the mess, wasn't really interest in dying so much as he was in not living as he had been living. I know this because I have been that person. I didn't want to die, I just didn't want to be in pain anymore, and it didn't seem like there was any other way to end that. There was, btw.

Would it really require that God, centering a scheme entirely around Baron, did anything at all in this situation? Baron wrote a column in a newspaper, presumably for the purposes of reaching people through his writing. A suicidal but ambivalent man reads said column and decides not to commit suicide. It's narcissism at best for Baron to assume that the entire world was shaping itself around Baron so that this would happen.

How many other people committed suicide that day? In 2006, suicide was the 7th leading cause of death for males in the US. 33,300 people committed suicide that year. That's 91 suicides every day. That's not attempts, btw, which is all Suicide Stranger was. That's actual ended-in-death suicides.

So, on the day Baron was saving a man's life, 91 other people's lives were not saved. Would you like me to reel off a list of horrors that also occurred that day? Do I need to get numerical data on rapes and molestations and abuse and murders? No, good, because I don't feel like digging it up. It's upsetting.

I think you get my point. Even if you allow that God set up that entire series of events to save one man's life, you can't ignore that at the same time, the exact same time, God allowed women to be raped, children to be raped, people to be beaten and killed, people to starve to death, people to die of treatable diseases, etc.

So, really, what's so fucking special about you, Baron? What's so special about Suicide Stranger? Why are either of you more important than those other 33,300 people per year?

You know what really pisses me off about this? This post could have been a great post about the power of writing to touch people, people the writer has no idea exist. Do you know why I write about deeply personal topics like my illnesses, physical and mental? Because I know that there are other people feeling what I am feeling. I know this. I am not the only one in pain. I hope that somewhere there is someone who will read what I have written and think, "Oh, wait, I'm not the only one? There is more to life than pain and anxiety and misery?"

I choose, personally, to give my suffering meaning, if only to one other person. If that's you, you make it all worthwhile, and I don't even know you. I don't have to.

Oh, and Baron's column? He wrote it after losing a football game. Wait a moment while I roll my eyes. Almost done. Okay, look, Baron, darling, you don't know shit about losing. You lost a game or two, I've been losing my entire life. Come back in 15 years and tell me all about losing.



*What does that even mean? Did he get one "F" on one report card, was he held back an entire year, did he have trouble learning to read initially, was he too lazy to read the assigned books and do his homework? We can't really judge this statement at all.

10 comments:

  1. ...

    wow.

    And THIS. You captured perfectly how ridiculous it is to honestly believe that you are *that* special. I mean, I find comfort in my own little briefness-- I'm gone faster than the time it takes to send an electrical impulse from brain to hand, speaking in geological time. It's comforting that I am not even for the single space of a microsecond the fulcrum upon which the earth (let alone the universe) turns-- that's a bit heavy for one little puff of life to carry.

    What if that guy had died? What if they had found Baron's column next to him and someone had told him about that instead? Would he still be bloviating about how godddidit? His breathless prosyness leads me to applaud the wisdom of his English teacher, also.

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  2. A Buddhist once told me that everything works out the way that it is supposed to in the end.

    I replied, how do you figure?

    She said, well, once the end comes, that's how it was supposed to work out.

    For a long time, I thought that was incredibly fatuous, but now I realize what she was saying. We're all just little blips, then it's all over. Which really is quite comforting.

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  3. "Would it be far fetched to say that a small decision that you see as pointless or routine could save a life?"

    Actually, this is a fun subject. Assuming for a minute that the universe isn't capable of temporal-healing:

    There's two seats on the train: I decide to sit in the one slightly closer to the door. As a result, someone else has to sit further away from the door, and as a result of that, other people have to sit in different positions and the entire person-to-seat layout in that train is changed due to my decision.

    As a result, some people leave the train several seconds earlier than they would otherwise, and others leave it several seconds later. Their interactions with other people are influenced by those extra seconds in extremely subtle ways, which influence those others. Gradually, the effects of my decision expand and grow. Someone who's lost a second or two gets a fraction of a moment less to make a critical decision, or to react to circumstance.

    That critical decision or circumstance, brought about by my mundane one, has even further reaching consequences, and like a decaying atom in a nuclear reactor goes on to change other critical decisions. Someone trips-over on stairs where otherwise they wouldn't have. Someone else has less time to react to the pedestrian who just stepped out in front of their car. A politition misses a meeting.

    And by 2050 we're all living in the dyspotopian imperialistic aftermath of the global nuclear catyclism, all thanks to me sitting on the wrong seat on the train.

    The alternative is that the universe does do the temporal-healing thing: humans unconsiously compensate for minor actions or changes, bringing us back to our routine and matching ourselves up with our "what we would have done anyway" scenario. If that's the case, then there's a sort of temporal-inertia: the timeline is moving in a certain direction, and it'll return to that direction unless we apply a big enough force to it to make it change.

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  4. "You know what really pisses me off about this? This post could have been a great post about the power of writing to touch people, people the writer has no idea exist. Do you know why I write about deeply personal topics like my illnesses, physical and mental? Because I know that there are other people feeling what I am feeling. I know this. I am not the only one in pain. I hope that somewhere there is someone who will read what I have written and think, "Oh, wait, I'm not the only one? There is more to life than pain and anxiety and misery?"

    This happens far too often. Someone who could be writing an inspirational, memorable article about trials through adversity, about the power of hope and all that slush, ends up blathering on about how special they were to be picked by their deity to be the one who managed to survive their trials. No, you're not special: you're a statistical certainty. And you're not helping others to overcome the same trials if your only answer for them is "you'll need to get help from an invisible being".

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  5. By my calculations, the statistical odds of having a specific exact 5-card hand (not a type of hand, like two-pair or full-house, but an exact specification, i.e. 6 of Clubs, 4 of Hearts, Jack of Spades, Queen of Hearts, Ace of Diamonds) out of a single 52 card deck are actually 311,875,200:1.

    Just in case anyone was curious...

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  6. Quasar;

    then you have alternate-dimension theory, where every possible action was taken somewhere. in THIS world you didn't cause a dystopia by sitting in Seat B instead of Seat A - but you DID in alternates 56392-221923. also in 6, 398, and =346-998765

    :D


    on the other end - i get this speech given to me EVERY FUCKING TIME i admit "my life sucks and i really wish i wasn't living it". the "George-the-Angel-needing-wings" speech. "But you did this! and that! and that other thing! M and S wouldn't have even MET, let along got married, if you hadn't introduced them! your sister wouldn't have been born if you hadn't been born! R and J wouldn't have had you to save their relationship, and K wouldn't have you to save her from HERS - how SELFISH ARE YOU, anyway, to want to have not done those things?"

    and all i can think is - if the only way things happen, EVER, is because of ME, why the fuck aren't you people literally worshipping me, or at least not ignoring me completely in the hopes that you won't have to deal with the fact that i'm now physically disabled?

    oh, yes, that's right - because it's BULLSHIT. M and S WOULD have met - actually, they HAD met, but didn't become friends until the night i BEGGED M to go distract S, because i wasn't interested in sleeping with him and he wouldn't stop hitting on me... i'm pretty sure they'd have ended up together, anyway. R and J used me, because i was free [and, as clergy, i CAN give "marital and relationship counseling" so long as one of the participants is also a follower of my religion]. there were other people, INCLUDING real trained professionals who would have done a better job, and they were GOING to use a real professional when they had the money - i was available for free, so they used me as a stop-gap. and then i worked, so instead of waiting a WHOLE MONTH for counseling they got it then. i think it would have worked.
    and in a really fucked up way, i think K's marriage would have ended sooner WITHOUT me. certainly, back when i was being told by them both that they BOTH wanted it to work, i was working my ass off to keep them together - because BOTH lied to me and said there was no abuse, when there WAS. a REAL, TRAINED PROFESSIONAL would have seen the abuse [and i still blame myself that i DIDN'T! i've BEEN abused! yes, yes, different situation type of abuse, but still!]

    things happen. if not me, someone else. there's over 6 billion people, i'm HARDLY indespensible, you know?

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  7. "things happen. if not me, someone else. there's over 6 billion people, i'm HARDLY indespensible, you know?"

    I am reminded of Tim Minchin: If I Didn't Have You.

    You're probably right that the people you have direct dealings with are pretty elastic in a hypothetical-timeline sense. Human decisions are based on massive quantities of data: your opinion is one data point among many. It'll be subtler things you never even notice that have the biggest effect on the future, but once the future happens it'll be what happened anyway, so it's probably not worth worrying about. This is fun!

    "then you have alternate-dimension theory, where every possible action was taken somewhere. in THIS world you didn't cause a dystopia by sitting in Seat B instead of Seat A - but you DID in alternates 56392-221923. also in 6, 398, and =346-998765"

    The X and Y axis of the phase space of every possible universe that could exist (from our big bang) actually makes up the 5th and 6th dimensions in 10th and 11th dimensional cosmology. In other words, if quantum theory is correct, those other universes actually exist... sort of. In potentia. As co-ordinates. And our decisions are actually predictable, in an "atoms following physical laws" sense, so it's not human decisions that spawn alternate timelines: it's the collapse of quantum functions, like whether or not schrodinger's cat is alive. Thinking too hard about this has been know to cause Sudden Exploding Head Syndrome, or SEHS.

    I've designed my own 6th dimensional cosmology (for a story I'm writing) based on the above ideas. It solves the dark-matter problem by claiming that gravitons move through the 5th and 6th dimensions, so the extra gravity is the influence of matter in other universes affecting our own. This sounds plausible to me, though I suspect it's already been hypothesised and disproven somehow. If anyone knows better than I, let me know!

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  8. Quasar - i'm just giggling - we make no real decisions, it's really the QUARKS that make us do things according to Quantum!
    that's such a, a, DISCWORLD thing to say :D i adore it.

    i read a LOT of sci-fi, and i have seen that particular take [gravitons in the 6th dimension exerting pressure on our own] this *I* think it's a win. go for it - i promise i'll read it.

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  9. Damn you blogspot, you comment-eating asshole!

    Hey Denelian, is it okay if I copy this conversation over here so it doesn't get buried?

    (hoping this one gets through)

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  10. i got every single version of your comment in email :)

    sure, post it, SO LONG as you fix my sentence:
    originally: i read a LOT of sci-fi, and i have seen that particular take [gravitons in the 6th dimension exerting pressure on our own] this *I* think it's a win

    SHOULD BE: i read a LOT of sci-fi, and i HAVEN'T seen that particular take [gravitons in the 6th dimension excerting pressure on our own] WRITE this, *I* think it's a win.


    i don't even KNOW how i dropped those VERY important words. so, yeah - fix my sentence so no one who isn't used to how the oxy interferes with my typing isn't confused, please :) and post away!

    ReplyDelete

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Forever in Hell by Personal Failure is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at foreverinhell.blogspot.com.