Teenaged me checked her reflection in every car window on the way to and from school. It was one part narcissism for sure, but at least two parts puberty, which was liable to produce new lumps and tentacles every week without notice. So, dip, duckface and oil dab was the OCD dance of my youth in high vigilance of life’s first world aggressions.
In high school, kids you thought you knew would walk into class on some days with a leathery adult trying to break out from their baby face! Or with embarrassingly sudden boobs and no explanation. It was rumoured to be due to pinprick levels of hormones secreting in places we couldn’t see–but who could believe that? Life was clearly just crazy. It was a momentous time.
Myself? I tapered off at 5’2, 100lbs probably sometime during Gr. 8 violin class, which I spent in the girls’ washroom, looking at magazines and then at my face in the mirror. I felt very much the putty victim of some invisible genetic sculptor, who seemed much less concerned with a beautiful product, and more with how much I could possibly be made to look like my dad. Sans moustache. Or avec moustache?!??! I was keeping tabs (and tweezers handy)!
After allowing the boob-fairy many last-chances, well into my 20s, I finally conceded that I must have my dad’s genes, if not natural heroin chic. Well, good–I was an adult. This meant that with the steep climb to physiological stasis accomplished, the gift of spiritual maturity must be at hand too. I took comfort in knowing that people in the past died at age 30 having had 11 children, living through revolution and plagues. Before 30, it seemed, life had enough to offer humans so they wouldn’t die green and spiritually unformed.
What horror then, to find out another type of puberty was waiting to overtake my freshly minted self! Sure, the growing stopped–and according to science, even physical decay wastes no time kicking in. But the palpable insecurity about everything; the “life-is-crazy” upheavals and unseen pressure that foist themselves anew meant that I’d yet to be free from that unsympathetic scalpel. Free-willies and libertarians will insist that once we’re not children, it’s we who get to drive our own destinies and shape our own lots; that inner peace can be achieved with simply being in touch, through meditation, carpe diem and such fish.
Ok. But I lay before you two giant waving tentacles that show we are no more in control of our spiritual puberty than our genetically hijacked teenaged selves were able to stem the flow of rampant hormones:
1. Consumerism: distorts what I’d really be
My god! (=part exasperation and part small g deity). There was a time in my 20s when I flew excitedly to another city with an empty suitcase itching for a massive haul that my area girls would coo over. ”I got it in Japan” would be as triumphant and exclusive as being able to say “it’s because my grandma had a superb figure”. At my most anti-intellectual, I would even equate having a new outfit every day to getting in as many books and films as you can in life; that going shopping was no different than being a keen contemporary museum goer. My friend even pointed out that when Madison Ave executives targeted stay-at-home 1950s moms with household appliance ads to boost a post-war economy with consumer crap–that that was perhaps the biggest boost to women’s equalizing effects coming to the fore in the 60s and 70s. Women became a powerful economic decision-making body. They controlled family budgets on top of their own personal spending in a national economy. Soon, their men weren’t making enough for them to spend–so they wanted to work too–at equal the pay, at least. What are you going to do? Deny them that?
I think consumer product executives HAVE denied women that. They’ve wanted their cake and to eat it too, by keeping women the biggest spenders at any mall and in any economy, but not have them join the real ranks of control–only 3% of C-level management positions are held by women. So, what is the consequence of that? Borrowed money. Households put it on their credit cards. Husbands become the workhorse. Wives too, but at roughly 75% the income.
So, this realization about myself and about the world I live in is hard to spiritually digest. It’s been hard to become my own spirit in this aggressive environs. I am worried that in every reflective surface, I just see a person shaped by corporate strategies and I have no idea if that’s what I would have chosen to be. I don’t trust I have any legitimate idea of what else there would be to choose from. I know at least, that I want to be sociable–I want to be with others and participate–that seems a plausible anthropological thing to want. But the particular time and space I’m in, that means being fashionable, doing fun things in the city, and not having a stink. Is that possible without buying something? No, it’s not. Not when every moment is photographed and posted. Not when getting from here to there requires, gas, tax and tip. Not when it’s often the only way to find love in a city of millions.
Every decision I make to participate, makes me complicit in this system. It is a system that has done me favours because my dad apparently, makes a good-looking woman. It’s the system that will see me live until at least 83. Even for the Zuccotti Park Wall-Street Occupiers, it is a system that placed them geo-politically in the 1% of humanity, with McDonald’s washrooms nearby and free wifi at Deutsche Bank.
2. Assholes: create shit wherever they stand
This is another class of problem that has too big a hand in my development. Like zombies, they don’t seem to respond to gunshots to the chest.
Assholes are everywhere, literally and figuratively whipping out their dicks, uninvited. This is the sense of entitlement that comes from the high of one-percentdom. In the past, we thought this profile might be reserved for billionaire-heirs who OD in exotic 5-star hotels. But, with the ghetto-ization of the world through our industries and the digital means to broadcast it, we, the middle class of the first world have assured ourselves of our position right at the top of the food chain too. Some among us have taken it a step further to piss downward to see where the trickles go, giving a childish laugh of delight.
It’s really hard to date someone you realize is like this. And it’s hard to work with or for people like this. In Japan, for some reason, I met a lot of these people. The expat community, in particular, has a higher concentration of assholes than in regular populations–I’d say 3 in 10, at least. Maybe it’s often excused as a language or culture gap (there’s even a term for being an expat asshole, and getting away with it: “gaijin-power”). This is sadly, in addition to the multitude of Japanese assholes who victimize foreign people. Japan, despite its reputation for being “high-tech”, is a hugely paper-based, low-tech bureaucracy of legislature and law enforcement that still uses the FAX for crissakes. Its staff routinely hangs up on you once they hear your halting Japanese (cute helpful website in English encouraging you to call them, notwithstanding). Assholes, stalkers and other criminals take full advantage of this for said dick whip-out, sometimes literally. My theory of the “low crime rate” in Japan? Don’t get me started.
So, I spent some late-formative years in Japan, dealing with these people. Every bite taken out of me, shaped me. There was almost no time or brain space to recognize what my path would have been otherwise. It was triage on a daily basis.
It was like a succession of worsening Fear Factor experiments to test your stomach-steel to deal with them. If you survived the lawsuit with the snake pit of harassing employers, then next, see if you’ll come out of the shark tank with the sexual harassing and stalking caseworker assigned to your lawsuit! And then, for the semi-finals, we’ll see how long you can stand the stench of the union executives who compromise their internal investigation of this caseworker by prioritizing a public showing of solidarity with him for years against a company suing them. Finally, the winner will be the one who can keep breathing among constricting journalists ironically “dedicated” to revealing bad labour practices, but who cut out the portion of the story which sheds an unflattering light on their long-time labour expert–your stalker and former caseworker!
These assholes made the public masturbators on the Tokyo trains, with their dicks literally out, relatively simple to deal with.
* * *
There. I told you.
Seeking reflection of myself in the world around me has always been like looking down a hall of mirrors. In adulthood, I guess I’m supposed to be wise to the distorted and haunted ones. But, I’m exhausted being startled around every corner by something disappointingly fake. Maybe this is my revolution and plague. Spiritual forging in the 21st century–except we seem to have 60 more years of it…
Afraid of seeing what lies behind it all, I could allow myself to be enshrined in glass, unable to discern what’s real, if I’m real. I could succumb. Or