Friday, June 20, 2014

To the thinker sitting in Darkness(The Rustbelt)

To the thinker sitting in Darkness(The Rustbelt)

I call out to you, my fellows trapped in the suffocating ignorance of the culture of the Rustbelt. I cry out to you my brothers and sisters of suffering. Painters, Poets, Philosophers, Lyricists, Social Workers, Artists, Wordsmiths, Dancers, Singers, Musicians. People with something to say and people wishing to hear it spoken. People whom feel deep in their bones their must be more than working to live and living to work! I call out to you all! For you are my fellows, my source of hope and my source of agony both. Like you I stare into the abyss of myself and wrestle with despair and bliss. I too feel the song but can't hear the music, I know the rhythm but can't speak the words. Our longing is expressed in as many forms as there are people, but no matter the form it takes we all share one thing in common, we are thinkers.

And I call you by our true title, thinker.

Thinkers we are and thinkers we are damned for being. For we find ourselves often trapped within a vortex of vilest shit that condemns us for being on the one hand, and forces us to accept it as Mother and Father on the other. Our only source of sustenance is this reeking vile excrement that we are told is better than a home cooked meal, and like an addict we believe we must poison ourselves over and over again in order to live. This shit and this vortex have names, and though we have never been taught them, we must learn them now. For like in the old days of exorcisms learning the name of the demon gives us power to combat it. The shit in which we struggle to not drown is called "anti-intellectualism", and the vortex itself, the playground upon which we petulantly act out our petty roles is the "Rustbelt".

We thinkers have within us a drive, a desire to grow and improve a vital part of ourselves that we cherish more than life itself. Our art, our craft, our words, our expression, our way of life and our unending desire for something better. We give birth to things within the deepest holy of holies of our very souls and we seek to bring those from our depths out into the physical world. To show both the world and ourselves who it is that we really are. For us titles are meaningless, jobs a mere source of sustenance and names a hindrance. Our true name can only be whispered when our soul is free to sing. Our meaning in existence only felt when our art flows from that part of us which we will never understand.

We crave growth, we crave expression, we crave expansion and interaction. But most of all we seek. Not one of us knows what we seek, and we all choose different ways of expressing our quest and showing our journey, but nonetheless we are seekers. We are thinkers, one and all.

I have heard your cries, your moans of agony as you struggle to retain your soul amidst the anti-intellectual horrorstorm that has become the culture of the rust belt. I have felt your pain as you are attacked for daring to know a single fact that doesn't appear as a bubble in a youtube video. I too have deep scars given to me for the sin of being actually different, not different like the fools who've made a uniform out of hot topic clothing, but actually, truly different. I have read your Facebook status's as you vent your rage at being poorer for having gone to work after someone dine-n-dashed on you. I know all too well the cold hatred that sets in as you labor on your cherished craft only to have some toolbag interrupt you to ask "But how are you going to make money off this?"

You are not alone. I know that you must feel that way, isolated, assaulted, misunderstood and stereotyped. You think yourself crazy and fight the growing despair that comes with being told over and over that you are a failure, that you are flawed. You have heard it so many times in so many ways that you have become tired of defending yourself from the charge, even to yourself. The mocking voices chip away at your soul as you seek some solace, some purchase to rest upon for even a moment. I say again to you, you are not alone. You are battered, you are lying on the floor bleeding and struggling for breath, clumps of your hair floating in pools of your own blood, but you are not dead yet, and you are not alone.

I say to you that the sliver of hope that you have nourished is true. You are not the flawed one, the culture around you is. You are not a failure, you have been failed. And while you have made plenty of mistakes and rightly suffered the consequences of those, you have been made to suffer what you deserved times ten by the very fact that you have refused to relinquish possession of your soul.

I say to you, my fellow thinkers whom sit in the darkness of the Rustbelt, my arrows are aimed not at you, but at the very ideas the rust belt has come to embrace. In drawing my string taught I shall aim my words not at people, but at cultures and ideas. It is then in this vein that I shall target Ohio, not merely because it is what I know best, but because it is the most concentrated home of the vicious idiocy that has come to typify both the rust belt and conservatism in America.

Is that fair? If you've read this far I suspect that you are already well past the point of caring.

Surely someone will point out the obvious reality that not *EVERYTHING* I say applies to every single person in Ohio, that elements of what I criticize can be found all over the country. Others will contend that elements of what I rebuke can be found all over America. But these are such obviouss truth that attempting to use them as a counter argument is an Ouroboros of self defeating stupidity that I shan't even bother with it except to mock the fool who speaks it. To even utter the words aloud is to admit a fundamental ignorance of the world that is beyond my capability, or interest, to correct. Of course I cannot in one single polemic grasp at the breadth of the whole problem, so I must limit myself to the most target rich environment I can find. And that environment has the name "Ohio".

For there is only one Rust Belt anti-intellectualism, and Ohio is its prophet.

Let us consider first the plight of the working thinker in Ohio. For in Ohio being a thinker at work is not only unpopular, it is dangerous. Not to the establishment, but to the thinker. For should the fact that you possess a nuanced understanding of the world ever slip out at work a thinker will quickly find themselves hopelessly unemployable.

I once went to an interview for a job at Circle K. They wanted someone to work nights in a dangerous location (Kenmore Blvd) and I was desperate for anything, so I showed up eagerly, ready to accept the job even fully knowing I would detest every waking moment of it. I interviewed well; the manager was impressed, she wanted me to start right away and went to make my training schedule, all I needed to do was fill out some paperwork and complete a questionnaire on the computer. Happily I did so, relieved to be so close to receiving a steady (if miserably tiny) income. The test was simple enough, a few personality questions and some basic math skills. I finished it easily and sent it off.

And then I learned that because I had indicated that I felt that I worked best alone I was automatically denied. For the crime of possessing self direction and the unforgivable idiocy of admitting to it I could not be employed, and could not re-apply for 90 days. Yes fellow thinkers, I let my guard down for a moment that day and the rust belt culture sniffed me out. A job at the very bottom of society with the very lowest of wages was denied me because I was "unqualified" to push buttons and try to upsell customers on fructose water. I possessed the slightest hint of nuance in my mind and that was intolerable, the manager was crushed because she really needed someone to work but the test said no, he is unemployable. What could she do? I was asked to leave the premises but assured if I answered the test differently in 90 days I would be hired if the spot was still open.

That is my story but I'm sure each and every one of you has one like it. You keep your guard up and try to act like you are just another obedient PINO. A Person In Name Only, your lone goal in life to make money for your corporate masters, overjoyed at the prospect that the very moment you let your guard down you will have what little dignity you have hidden away ripped from you. How many of you have lost employment over something completely meaningless to your job skills, and then sunk into despair? How many of you have endured the jeers and barbs of your family for your "failure"? How many times have you despaired of ever "making something of yourself" when even the most base of jobs insist that you are undeserving of even so lowly a position as asking your betters if they want fries with that? I know your pain and I feel your agony. I know too how my words burrow into you like a needle into an abscess, painful at first, but as the toxin starts to drain you begin to regain hope.

And here let my words, my arrows, fall upon my chosen target of Ohio like so many raindrops. For no one really lives in Ohio, they merely exist. And when residents of Ohio die it is decades before they have ceased to draw breath.

You thinkers in Ohio know the hunger but you haven't tasted the feast. You are surrounded by people who can rattle off a dozen Ricky Bobby quotes but have no idea who Nietzsche is. They have detailed, nuanced opinions about the Cleveland Browns but don't know who Joe Biden is. When you ask them who they are voting for they react with hostile confusion, like you just shouted at them in moonspeak. No amount of willpower can make an Oak Tree grow in the Sahara and no amount of education or desire can nourish a thinker in Ohio.

The sign over the Highway as one crosses over the Ohio river reads "Welcome to Ohio, the Heart of it All". If that sign were to be truthful it would read "Welcome to Ohio, Through me you enter into the State of woes, Through me you enter into eternal pain, Through me you enter into the population of loss. Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." Every job application in Ohio should have a checkbox that reads "I agree that meal breaks are ++ungood to the bottom line and if my employer gives me one during my 20 hour shift I should shower them in gratitude." Every employee handbook in Ohio should be subtitled Hard Work Sets you Free!

"The light of a single candle chases away an entire room full of darkness" some fool has no doubt told you before, nodding at the sageness of their own wisdom. Of course, the room isn't filled with darkness, its filled with muddy polluted water from the Cuyahoga river. And of course the problem of not being able to see in the murk is secondary to the fact that you are fucking drowning. They insist that you merely need force yourself to be a bit more optimistic, that you just aren't "trying hard enough yet", when the real problem is that your arms are tiring and you are desperate for a moments rest.

If one seeks to have drama in the workplace in Ohio all one need do is walk into the office Monday morning with the barest hint of a contented smile on your lips. This meager sense of hope will be treated by your co-workers as a direct challenge, and entirely without your knowledge they will have conspired to wipe out that tiny glimmer of soul before your lunch break. By Tuesday night you will be drinking again. By Thursday night the irrational and vicious stupidity of your fellow employees will have you associating the name "Smith & Wesson" not with guns, but with sweet blessed release.

You carry out food to sneering people whom consider themselves your betters. People whom got a job because of Daddy but don't hesitate to tell you about how much harder they work than you. Grey hairs that look down their noses at you for taking the easy route in life. Why, back in their day they worked part time in order to pay for their small studio apartment while they saved up enough to pay their way through school. Imagine their hardship, you know nothing of such struggles. With a wave of their hand they dismiss you to your deserved fate as they discuss their troubles amongst their friends. They wonder at how you can look so ragged and worn down when you can't possibly know stress like they have. Why, just last week their precious Mr. Frumples had a nasty case of the sniffles and they rushed him off to the vet. The whole situation cost them thousands of dollars and now their Caribbean Cruise might be delayed. Oh how they stare at you, envious of your clearly carefree existence. All of this happens while you try to ignore your humanity and smile through the hunger pangs, serving them food you cannot possibly afford.

How many times have you had to suppress the urge to slap someone when they mention "Mexican Food" and "Taco Bell" in the same breath without a trace of irony? How many of you have felt a wave of depression roll through your body as some smug boomer pats their round belly contentedly, saying "I ate at Golden Corral today, had a gooooood meal."? Your muscles clench while you refrain from correcting them with the truth, which would read thusly:

"I shoveled bland forkful after bland forkful of flavorless aromaless mush into my mouth while congratulating myself on being able to afford such extravagance. I watched an unsupervised child dip a whole chicken leg into the chocolate fountain between bites,  then toss it under a table when he didn't like it anymore. I tried the same thing myself and that kid doesn't know what he was missing, chocolate covered chicken is delicious! Oops, time for my insulin."

There are those in Ohio whom work tirelessly to remedy the situation, to create a healthy community of artists and intellectuals. But how can this be done when you are surrounded by a culture that is actively hostile to the very idea of community resources? How can you form this community of artists and intellectuals when the only ones whom care are yourselves? How can you build something that none of you has ever seen or experienced yourselves? The thinking community in Ohio has died long before most of us even came of age, how can you be the beating heart of a desiccated corpse? Only dry bones and a few rotted scraps of sinew are left on the corpse and yet you seek to try and animate it into dancing. I say to you leave, go somewhere where your efforts are not so fruitless, where you toss not your pearls before swine.

I remember well the contrast of my present days to me days in Ohio. I remember the thinking of those that surrounded me and how terribly vacuous, empty of all empathy and meaning, their jeers were to me. It is a common affliction in the rust belt when one tries to develop oneself.

Your peers look at all the work you have poured into developing your mind, into creating your art. They sigh with exasperation and tell you that if you only put that kind of energy into your job on the factory floor why, your corporate masters would surely notice your dedication. You would be promoted within only a few years! Getting twice the responsibility and work for a $0.38 an hour raise, the high life! Why did you spend so much time and energy in this project when it hasn't made you any money? You should be like them they firmly insist, speaking to you like you are a stubborn, spoiled child. Let the light behind your eyes wink out and seek satisfaction in life from the approval of your boss. Why, just think of the pride you will feel when your numbers are 1.38% higher than your coworkers! You'll be feeling more fulfilled than you ever knew you could! Surely the path to happiness lies in proving how much more obedient you are than your peers. And when you disagree they snap at you, raising their voice and demanding to know when you will finally stop being immature and accept "The Real World".

Clearly, there is just no hope for you. Why oh why do they even bother at all?

The choice a thinker in Ohio faces is a dire one, either uproot everything and risk starting over in a new state, hoping conditions there are better; or die a martyr's death, uncelebrated, hated, misunderstood, and worst of all, belittled for even having cared enough to try. It is true that the thinkers that remain in Ohio are offering the cure for the condition, cold water in a desert wasteland, but as you cannot force a horse to drink you cannot convince rust belt culture that it is suffocating itself.

For myself I say that I am better a homeless man in San Antonio than I ever was employed and struggling in Ohio. For here in this city there is art, and food, and music, and culture in abundance. Even living on the street I can still attend free performances of traditional dance, enter vast art galleries on their monthly free days, and enjoy the merits of a downtown library six stories tall. Here the food is flavorful and potent, the tea sweet, and the people kind. The level of intellectual stimulation and artistic satisfaction available in San Antonio to me, a homeless man, cannot be had for any price in any city in Ohio.

It is the nature of thinkers to struggle forever, both with themselves and with their environment. An artist of any form will always have pain in their life so long as their art wishes to remain relevant. If we are to accept the inevitability of this conflict, why not choose to have this fight on a sandy Caribbean beach instead of a fetid swamp? Why not choose a place where at the very least you can take a rest when you need, to have friends apply cool salves to your wounds while you catch your breath? In Ohio the thinker will have to function as both warrior against himself and doctor to their own rapidly festering wounds, is this truly preferable? Why have this fight in a place where not only will you have to contend with the pain this process brings, but risk sepsis and gangrene as well?

Ask yourself, how many aspiring thinkers have you known whom lost this internal fight not necessarily because they were weak, but because the environment they were in never allowed them to heal? How many potential great minds and talented artists have you watched succumb to madness, despair or addiction? How many have you seen blow their minds out either with drugs or a colt .45? Do you not think they could have been saved, could have gone on to become great contributors in their own right if they had been given a reasonable respite when they needed one? How often have you heard someone express the sentiment that they "deserved it" for daring to push their own boundaries and falling off the balance beam in the process?

I left Ohio because my grip on sanity was slipping and though I knew I needed help there was just none available to me. Believe me, I looked, there was nothing. I spent literal months obsessed with the idea of killing myself, able to think of nothing else while I forced a smile on my face and spoke in a cheery manner to yet another customer. I pushed myself to make numbers all the while I felt a pang of intense envy every time I heard about someone dying on the news. I had given everything I could and my mind had been pushed to its limits and beyond in my struggle to not only learn to think, but to survive the openly hostile environment I found myself in. I had nothing left to give and when I had lost the ability to function at all in life, when I reached out for help as my last gasp before the waves rolled over my head for the final time, I found that the meager charity available in Ohio made the Orphanages in Oliver Twist look downright pleasant.

As a desperate last act I cashed my last pay check and bought a bus ticket to San Antonio, my lone hope being a homeless shelter with mental health assistance I had learned about on the internet. If that didn't work out I fully intended to kill myself.

I got lucky.

I found help.

I got better.

And though my current mental stability and peace of mind are heavily a result of the work I have put into myself since that fateful day, and though I do not regret making that decision, I detest. *DETEST* that I, or anyone else for that matter, was ever put into that position. No one, not even people I personally hate, should ever be forced to make such decisions. Yeah, I got better. But that would have never happened if I hadn't gotten lucky first. Had I remained in Ohio I would surely have died in a ditch somewhere, screaming at demons only I could see.

My personal story is not a testament to the "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality that is so prevalent in Ohio, it is a direct refutation of it.

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