Pain and Pleasure (from Visions)

In a conversation I had with a friend recently, we talked about the problem with the philosophical school utilitarianism and their distinction between pain and pleasure, because it makes it seem as if those are the only two things that can exist. We mentioned that sometimes pain is pleasure and pleasure is pain, and categorizing these concepts so rigidly undermines normal experience in ways we take for granted.

Yesterday was a day of intense pain for me. But I think in hindsight it wasn’t all bad. Good things came out of it, though such a thing isn’t immediately apparent.

I will tell the story. I don’t know how to tell the story, so I will start at the beginning, and when I get to the end, I’ll stop.

It was starting to seem like a day of potential and promise. It was starting to seem like a day of purpose. I could get it done. I had been debating donating books to the homeless youth resource center, which did not let me write for them and that of which broke my heart (who likes rejection, right?), and left me reeling, was only one of many failures of me trying to help the homeless.

But I was going to get it done today. I went to Desert Industries, a thrift store, and bought an anthology of literature. I wrote on the receipt that it was definitely a donation, and it was a gift from the University of Utah, and knocked on the door, dropping the bag at the front. I had a feeling that, indeed, they weren’t going to get it, the book was going to get damaged, no one was going to read it, the book was going to get stolen … a million possibilities. All of which weren’t going to lead to my idea of success for that book. All the things that could go wrong with the donation, well … were going to go wrong.

But I didn’t care! I was delusional, so what did it matter?! What did I care if they didn’t get my stupid donation?

I went to Ken Sanders, a local bookstore, and told them they were way better than another bookstore I went to, one where a guy freaked out at me. A long story in and of itself.

Anyway, I walked around the city, and was slowly amazed at how wrong it seemed to me. It seemed ugly, industrial, bureaucratic, raw, excessively rational, devoid of life. I hung out at the library, got nothing done, couldn’t concentrate to read, couldn’t concentrate on anything.

I tried to baptize my stag in fountain water, which I was carrying with me, a little toy stag that I loved to death.

Anyway, I purposely left my stag in front of a couple homeless people, and I don’t know what happened, but I think one of the guys just started freaking out, which scared me, and I went back later, to try to get my stag, and it was gone. I don’t know who took it. My hope it was a gift for one homeless person that I saw. He looked sad when I came back out later, he was crying. I didn’t know why, if it had to do with my gesture and the stag, if something else happened or what. But this experience shook me up, because I had no idea what happened.

I walked to the grocery store after this, a Smith’s, hoping to buy another stag and rescue the day! But alas, they were charging a ton, and the stags … they weren’t the same. I said over and over again to people that I missed my stag. It made me sad, to longer have this creature with me, a spirit animal.

Dejected, knowing I wasn’t going to get a stag, I walked past a Baskin Robbins and saw their marquis say, “Our milkshakes bring the boys to the yard,” which pissed me off and made me laugh simultaneously because I was like, “What boys? What kids?”

Anyway, it seemed random and stupid, so I went to Taco Bell, and asked for a burrito without meat. They gave me some vegan burrito with salsa fresca, which I assumed would be good and was good as I ate it.

But then I thought of when one of my friends said that they should, if it ever needed to get done, do an exposé on food places that spit in the food they give the homeless. This connected in my mind as if my own burrito had been spat in, and I looked at the burrito, and it literally looked as if it had been spat in. This upset me, because I was confused, I thought surely this wasn’t the case, it hadn’t happened, but nonetheless, I felt sick, almost threw up, wretched a few times, and tossed out the other half of my burrito, feeling hungry and broke.

I stopped by a Walgreens then and randomly passed the aisle where there were condoms. This got me thinking of sex, and how I was still a virgin. I didn’t feel shame with this, but rather, I’d preserved over the years something big and important to me, especially crucial considering the battle raging within me of whether or not I’m straight or gay or bisexual or whatever have you it’s not as if I give a fuck. So I bought a pack of condoms, not knowing what I was doing, wasting seven dollars.

I saw birds flying at this moment, and this reminded me that I’d seen pigeons pecking at bricks. I put on Facebook something to effect of, “You know that we need to evolve in leaps and bounds when birds are foraging by trying to eat bricks.” And I saw birds flying in a flock, and they seemed impatient to me, so I told them to be less impatient, to just merge, integrate, with the rest of the birds, to decrease the frustration.

Still not knowing what I was doing, I stopped by the LGBT resource center, and looked at their books, didn’t find anything to check out, and walked out holding the box of condoms in front of the staff worker there, after I told him thanks. Which I meant. He was nice. Clerical and official. But he couldn’t help me with whatever the hell I was trying to figure out.

I listened to the band Iceage, particularly the song Morals. I enjoyed it. It was beautiful.

To pause for a moment, none of these experiences are inherently bad, at least completely. And yet I felt degraded during it all. I felt confused. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I was confused. Was I experiencing pain or pleasure? Did I even know? I didn’t know. Hence the problem with such a sharp contrast and distinction between pain and pleasure.

Anyway, I’d lost my stag, I’d bought a useless pack of condoms, I’d thrown away my lunch thinking they’d literally spit in it, I was feeling pretty bad. And I felt alone.

I then went to the mall, knowing that I needed to get some pants. Some new pants, as mine had a hole in the fucking crotch. Nothing noticeable, but enough for me to need to do something quick.

I tried on some pants at Hollister, thought they would work, though they weren’t very comfortable. I wore them out of the store, decided I needed to get a pair of shoes. I bought a stupid pair at Footlocker for a hundred bucks, and wore them out of the store not knowing I couldn’t return them if they didn’t work, knowing I didn’t really have that kind of money but obviously fucking intoxicated with delusion, and then tried to buy a shirt.

Found an Adidas shirt, a white one, which fit tight.

Feeling tired, I put on my shirt and looked to see what I would look like. I looked cool but I was uncomfortable, the clothes didn’t work. But I wore them anyway.

I in fact decided I was going to wear them indeed, and so I kept all of my previous clothes in the boxes and bags I had, and pulled out a magnet that I’d gotten from the Writing Center at the Library, and put that in front of the clothes, which said, “you.”

I walked out with my new stupid wardrobe.

Time passed. I was waiting for my friend to meet me at the Urban Arts Center. It was an Alice and Wonderland theme, of all things (as if to reinforce my madness, my own madness). I listened to the band Foxing literally one million times, and got freaked out at the art, especially the Living Happily Ever After piece with a fucking zombie Snow White, which freaked me out and confused me on notions of companionship and love, of what it would be like to have a mate, someone who loved you in every way possible. Including physically. And did this mean that I wasn’t going to find the girl of my dreams, this symbol? Because I was ugly-minded and a creepy zombie with a creepy zombie mind? Especially after my mother sent me a text when I said I’d lost my stag, and she said there was no reason to go stag as I’d find a nice girl, she said, and I thought this expression meant there was no reason to go gay if you’ll find a nice girl, which makes no sense, but whatever.

In the meantime, I ran into a friend from The Legacy Initiative, the non-profit humanitarian organization I work for. He comforted me. I told him what was going on and his empathetic nature helped me through. He helped keep me stable.

My friend, the one I was waiting for, finally arrived. I’d texted him, called him, in a panic, many times, wondering if he was going to come. We talked. I couldn’t talk philosophy, I didn’t know any philosophy.

How could I know philosophy when my brain was fried? Tempura style, I believe they say.

Anyway, we talked, he said he loved the art, I was acting weird, went outside and away, came back with him and his friend, who’d done some artwork there, and feeling confused as ever, the plan was to go a concert house, listen to ska music and rock music and acoustic music.

We talked on the way. I was thinking of what he’d said about if we framed the art gallery as if we’d created it, a whole reversal of roles and expectations type thing, and I told him I just wanted to see rain flowers. He told me I seemed anxious, and I told him not to pathologize me, and we got in a little heated scuffle that was unimportant in the grand scheme of the universe, and all the while, I was thinking of what had happened in California with this friend. Long story short, I had an episode there. A minor one, as I wasn’t hospitalized thankfully, but it sucked, and this baggage was there.

I remembered telling him I didn’t want a repeat of California, which was true. Which was why I was just going to go home. But he invited me to go to the music house, and so I went, despite myself, and we talked about emergence, how H2O molecules aren’t wet but wetness emerges in the water droplets. This was poetic for him. He told me he’d be tormented at the prospect of imagination and something like curiosity, and that such questions of imagination and wonder and creativity were going to torment him all his life, but that he was starting the project, the quest, to understand, and that he’d only told me.

So I gave him my thoughts. I told him I think creativity is about flourishing. An artist in modern day society, that’s industrial and empty, must find a way to “adapt.” This then led to a conversation about natural selection, and he said this term is a misnomer, that real natural selection is psychological, and I imputed this idea to be that of a mate. A mate that I didn’t have, because my mind was hideous. Because it wasn’t fit. If I was in the wild, I would have been left for dead (a line from my favorite book, I told him, Schizo).

I then told him that I think sex has been equated with violence. He told me he didn’t understand this proposition. I went on to try and explain that I meant that, could sex be sacred? I told him, could sex be a kind of exaltation? I didn’t know, I just wondered.

He said yes, it could be.

Then we arrived at the house. I found a guy there that I thought was attractive, felt sad, we hung out some more, I had the condoms in my sweatshirt pocket and I suddenly felt self-conscious, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life, and then, after some time passed, I put on my backpack, and my friend wondered if I was leaving, and I said yeah, I was leaving. All the while thinking of my Wolf instinct (Wolf was an imaginary friend, The Wolf Kid, essentially, from my book The Street Kid), if only I could swap my intelligence for instinct. And this was a reference to Wolf that I’d mentioned in California, the one time.

I went home. Or wanted to go home. But I couldn’t go home yet. I had to get my clothes back. So on a mission to get my clothes back, I went to the place where I’d left them, exchanged the shirt, got my money back, went to Footlocker, they said I could only exchange, I told them their shoes sucked because they bit on the Achilles heel, he told me get them exchanged out at the one Footlocker at the other mall, so I did that, but not before returning the pants to Hollister.

All the while knowing I was fucking crazy.

I went to the other location, got some much more comfortable shoes, but spent even more money that I didn’t have, but I didn’t care, because I needed comfortable shoes to wear, with all my walking and the like. So I spent two hundred dollars, which was nuts. And ridiculous. But I hoped worth it.

But on the way, I got sick of the attitude of people. Of feeling not at home. Of wanting sex without knowing why, and not even having an object of desire (as I don’t like to objectify where I can, and me knowing I had no one in my mind to love and appreciate). Of feeling alienated. And the stupid fucking condoms.

What finally did me in was when these two women moved away from me after I let them go as if they were afraid of me, which stung, hurt, I told them they were bitchy though I doubt they heard me, and then, I lost it.

I walked home. And I yelled.

I told people to just hire a hitman and kill me. I told people to take a gun and shoot me themselves. I told people they should do that so they could have their glorious empire that I’d been excluded from. I told them no, I wasn’t okay, I told them, no, I didn’t want to live anymore. I was raging suicidal.

I literally screamed all of this to the point to where my throat almost went out.

This was a painful moment for me, wishing for death in a loveless world. But I didn’t care, I just wanted it to be over, I couldn’t handle the friction anymore between society and my mind, that friction, I was fucking done with it. So I thought I’d be better off dead. And I was serious. I wanted someone to hit me or run over me or shoot me or stab me. I just wanted it to be over. I was tired of it. So fucking tired of it. Of my mind. Tired of my mind. So tired of my goddamn mind. Wanting my mind to just stop. Needing it to stop. Needing it so fucking desperately to just stop thinking.

Me, at odds with society, a world I was thrown into, to use Heidegger’s idea, with me existentially and anxiously fraught.

I was sick of it.

And so I arrived at home, and memories flooded back from the kid I gave my book Silent Noise to whose parents freaked out at me and implied I was a pedophile/child killer/child hurter, when I was just trying to be nice to them, give them a role model, something to look forward to, and I happened to run into a friend who lived at my apartment complex who I’d just had conflict with, who’d said that writing wasn’t a real job and other harsh things to me, but we’d kind of made up for it when he apologized earlier that day, but anyway, he asked me if I was okay, and I told him, no, I wasn’t okay.

And then I told him I wanted to kill myself. I told him that I couldn’t live anymore. I told him I was just trying to do good at the apartment complex. I was thinking, what value is there to my life, this was a real question, and there was no satisfying proposition or conclusion for me to this question. I was literally on the brink.

And so I cried. I cried fucking heavily. I hadn’t cried like that in ages, I didn’t even know it was possible, because my tears were dry, had been for a long time.

He invited me to his place, and he gave me some water, and I listened to him ramble about stuff that was meaningful to me and distracted me from my own emotions, and prevented me from being self-indulgent. But the tears were real. The sadness was real. I knew in that moment I was tired of dealing with my mind. I knew in that moment I was done. I just couldn’t take it anymore. How scary it is, when you can’t trust your own mind, when your own mind is your enemy. How terrible of a feeling, how degrading, how alienating. And it made me sad. Which was why I was crying. Because I knew that I’d been diagnosed all over again with my mental illness and I had to learn what it was, because it throws me for a loop every time I have it figured out.

I invited him to my place, got unpacked, not knowing why I’d spent two-hundred dollars on shoes I couldn’t afford but knowing I needed them because of all the walking I do, feeling ripped off by the stupid Footlocker, and I didn’t know what to do with the damn condoms I bought (definitely not have sex, in case you’re wondering …), so I just put them on my dresser, and went to bed, exhausted, defeated, but knowing I’d have another chance at life tomorrow.

So, in closing, before I get to the end and: Stop, just like the Mad Hatter: Pain and pleasure are two concepts that are meaningless in my life. My life is not just pain or pleasure. My life is always pain, but this pain is somehow what keeps me alive and honest and human. While this is not pleasure, I think you can get a sense of pleasure from knowing you’ve lived more deeply than many people have the chance to. No, I don’t have physical pains really, but my mind does hurt. Yes, my mind hurts. It makes me think people spit in my burrito at Taco Bell, it makes me paranoid of those closest to me, it makes me feel alone, it makes me think I can afford things I can’t, it makes me think I’m psychologically unfit for a mate, it makes me afraid of simple art in exhibits, it makes me estranged from kids, it turns me against the things I care about most, it makes me think I can talk to dogs, it makes me think my mind is ugly, it makes me feel dumb time and time again, it makes me think if I was in the wild I would have been left for dead, it makes me feel tired and yet I can’t sleep, it makes me listen to songs over and over again in a hopeless boredom, it makes me look for signs in the external world that I won’t find, it makes me think I understand the philosophy of emergence, it saps the pleasure out of the good things in life, it makes me buy random things like condoms, it makes me lose my favorite toy stag, it makes me think I can communicate with birds, it breaks up my concentration, it causes me to not look people in the eye in social settings as if I’m afraid of them, it fills me with great sadness and causes me to break down and cry in front of friends, it fills my mind with delusions and racing thoughts that zing and torture and confuse, and it makes me literally suicidal.

Yet somehow I’m still here. Goddamn it, that’s cool! It takes courage, and at least I have that going for me.

And I would just add, obviously none of this is pleasurable … but I’m not sure it’s all pain. There’s some deep life lessons here, some deep experiences. And I suppose, in the end, life doesn’t become a simple false dichotomy: It becomes fuller and richer and more alive, and even the extreme moments of pain are somehow beautiful and pleasant and meaningful.


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