Paul's Internet Landfill/ demons/ Keep on Those Smiley-Smiles!

Keep on Those Smiley-Smiles!

This has been one of those weeks. You know the kind I mean -- one of those weeks when everything blows up in your face and every choice you make is wrong and life makes you feel even more hopeless than usual. I'm having one of those weeks.

I'm not trying to say that I had the worst week in the existence of the universe, or even in the history of humankind. Nothing terrible has happened to me. Nobody around me died. My cat did not get sick from eating poinsettas. I did not break any bones, and I did not get myself pregnant. I had lots to eat and a place to sleep and clean underwear to put on. A lot of people in this world cannot say that much. I should be grateful to have been blessed by this week.

Unfortunately, ingratitude is one of my talents. I am not particularly thankful. Seven precious days of summer productivity were shot this week. I became impatient with the people I tutored, and did not give them the attention they deserved. I conducted a rotten tutorial, embarrassing myself in front of my class by trying to prove a program that was wrong -- and not getting the program correct until I had revised it four times over. I magnificently failed to deal with sources of conflict in my life. The cap to my water bottle ran away when I was not looking, so I can't carry around a bottle of water any more. Some nights I didn't get enough sleep, which made me cranky the next day. Other nights I got plenty of sleep, but I still felt lethargic. In fact, all I have wanted to do this week is sleep and play Nethack -- a sinful pastime I readdicted myself to this week. Even my addiction has let me down -- I ruined all of my good Nethack games with foolish mistakes. I can't concentrate on anything. I took an Emotional Quotient test and ended up with a below average score, which should not surprise me since I am a callous fool who has managed to lose some of the best friends he ever had with his insensitivity. I posted to forums and looked like a dork. I posted the most pointless, unentertaining article ever written to the World Wide Web for everybody to read this week -- then I didn't delete it. This week, I discovered that my writing skills have committed suicide, so I cannot communicate with anybody anymore. And on and on and on...

This has been a rotten week.

Again the little voices inside my head are berating me for complaining. Forget starving children in Africa. I have had much worse weeks than this, weeks when the hopeless reality of life overwhelmed me into paralysis. In fact, I have had months of intense depression go by without me noticing, months when all I wanted to do was fall into a coma and never wake up. I'm not at that point yet. But every time the world reinforces how much of a loser I am, I creep a little closer. If I am lucky, maybe hopeless reality will visit me again.

So far, I have been able to hide my true self from the world around me. Nobody likes to see a sad person. When people walk around with their heads down, tears in their eyes or just vacant "I wish I was nothing" expressions in their faces, we get upset. I wish we wouldn't. Having been on both sides of this swimming pool, I can see why we don't like to see people who are upset -- especially when they are close friends. That makes us feel upset and helpless as well. But having been a person who is unable to smile sometimes, who sometimes just doesn't have the energy to play the "Everything is fine and dandy and I have no problems in the world even though I just want to crawl under a rock and die" games that we expect. Sometimes things aren't okay. Sometimes reality does show itself to us, and it proves to be more than some of us can handle. As far as I can tell, that's the reality of facing reality for some of us.

Some people -- perhaps a lot of people -- are really good at facing adversity. No matter what happens, these people remain strong and hopeful and ready to fight. Maybe you are one of those people. But I am not. I am one of those people who seems sad sometimes, and I can tell you that nothing bugs me more when I am feeling sad than some well-meaning person telling me to "Cheer up! Things aren't that bad!"

Whenever I hear well-intentioned comments like that, I want to seek deeper into my hole. Maybe things don't seem that bad to you. Maybe you are correct, and things really aren't that bad -- but what would you know? What would you know about my situation and the way it makes me feel? Just because I don't spill my guts to everybody I meet does not mean that my life is problem-free. Perhaps (and this is often the case) I am not telling you my problems because they are my problems and I do not want to impose my sadness on you. In my reality, things are that bad, because I cannot find the strength to play your happy-games today. So don't go around trying to cheer me up. Be supportive if you want to. Lend me an ear if you think that will help. Or just leave me alone -- but don't make me feel worse because I feel bad.

The question I ask myself when people tell me to "Be Happy" is "Why bother?" The fact is that there is not a lot to smile about. Sure, we have lots of food and clothing and good jobs and social programs in this country. But what have these good things cost? They have resulted in a society that takes its benefits for granted, a society that does not understand how much our comfortable living costs, a society buried in waste and greed, a society that does not understand the necessity of living sustainably. Nobody wants to believe me when I claim that we are the among the richest people in the world because everybody wants to compare his or her tens of thousands dollar salaries with the wealth of Bill Gates. But we are richer than we realize. We live off the backs of impoverished people and dying resources all over the world -- farming land that is paved over for developments, coffee growers who cannot earn enough money to feed themselves, people of all ages -- including children -- working in sweatshops... we all know these things exist, and we all know that they continue to survive because we are willing to buy the produce of greed. We are the bad guys in this world. And while things might not be so bad for us, I cannot escape the feeling that is just because we are living off the rest of the world's misery. So what is there to be cheerful about? Why do you all expect me to smile?

Yeah. Those are awfully selfish sentiments, because I know that I am just as judgemental -- if not more judgemental -- than pretty much anybody I know. I am just as guilty of trying to cheer people up when they don't want to feel all that cheered. I do it because I feel helpless, and I don't want the people around me to suffer. And yes, I realize that nobody's life is perfect, that everybody has a laundry basket worth of personal miseries to lug around, that just because I am too weak-willed to handle my adversity doesn't mean that I have the right to make others feel helpless. And I know that the reason we keep on our masks is so that we can exist together in an unhappy society. Again, I swim both sides of the swimming pool. But I also I know is that statements like "Things aren't that bad" are exactly what I don't want to hear when I'm feeling down. That's why I ask you to humour my foolish whims the next time you see me without my masks on. Granting me that much will give me one fewer thing to worry about the next time my weeks -- or my months, or my years, or my decades -- turn sour and I am again unable to face the realities of my pampered existence.