The Denial of Death 

“The depressed person avoids the possibility of independence and more life precisely because there are what threaten him with destruction and death. He holds on to the people who have enslaved him in a network of crushing obligations, belittling interaction, precisely because these people are his shelter, his strength, his protection against the world. Like most everyone else the depressed person is a coward who will not stand alone on his own center, who cannot draw from within himself the necessary strength to face up to life. So he embeds himself in others; he is sheltered by the necessary and willingly accepts it. But now his tragedy is plain to see: his necessity has become trivial, and so his slavish, dependent, depersonalized life has lost its meaning. It is frightening to be in such a bind. One chooses slavery because it is safe and meaningful; then one loses the meaning of it, but fears to move out of it. One has literally died to life but must remain physically in this world. And thus the torture of depressive psychosis: to remain steeped in one’s failure and yet to justify it, to continue to draw a sense of worthwhileness out of it.”
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

Thanks Ernest, you stumped me on this one.  I don’t have a good counter-argument for that.  I guess the only solution is venturing out into this big bad world and giving up my bottle of milk and my excuses that I cling to like the last parting lifeboat from the Titanic.

Ernest Becker posits in The Denial of Death that our status as the only species on earth actually aware of our impending demise, we must concoct grand hero projects, and project emotions onto others on an epic scale, to face up to this real fact of future death, yet its still not quite comprehensible by us. We will create all manner of elaborate deception and propping up of our own mighty powers in order to successfully subvert the reckoning and acceptance of this dreadful, all too common fate.  We create symbolic groups and shared meaning meant to outlast our feeble flesh, yet we need face up to the certainty of death and demise.   We extrapolate our self-professed uniqueness to megalomaniac proportions as conscious beings, yet must somehow reconcile it with our collective fate as worm food.

I wonder how long my immediate family: My parents, my brother and sister,  would take off from work if I died suddenly.  To ponder these things is no doubt indulging my rampant narcissism, but it fills me with a deep sadness. I have seen deaths occur outside my social circles, but in neighboring and adjacent ones.   Moving on, functioning independently and “being strong, in the face of tragedy” this cultural platitude, is what irks me.  To move on and be strong is to accept the reality, to make peace with what should never be made peace with is deeply disconcerting.   What saddens me is the possibility that I will just be a passing thought, most likely a thought buried in a pool of sludge and darkness, colored with regret over sentiments never shared, and even a generous inflation of noble qualities, the kind that nostalgia can inject into a heart, but still merely an abstract thought.  If I died, I would cease to have a human form.  I don’t think its selfish to be saddened by the prospect of not having left a mark, a legacy, a trail across the sky like a 747 airbus gliding over the horizon.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of mirrors, but I find the act of taking pictures of my face and sending them over Snapchat repulsive.  I refuse to acknowledge “selfie” as part of the lexicon, which is maybe just as snobby as the new generation of self-absorbed doofus’s born after 1995 making kissy faces into their phones on the train.  “Selfie sticks” are functionally more efficient and eradicate the need for “other” and send us more hopelessly into the abyss of the narcissism-as-means-to-happiness as a culture.  I have taken many pictures of myself on my phone, yet to share with another what is my so blatant narcissism is what repulses me.   When I can cage the narcissism and confine it to  judges in my brain that heap either praise or disgust back and forth, it is contained and tolerable.  When say, a girl I have met, initiates this “selfie” game over Snapchat, a lazy form of communication because the texting Idea Well has run dry, I balk.

This sentence was communicated to me, 8 years ago, “Pete wants to bring you into his own little world and talk there.  He doesn’t want to join the rest of us in reality.” Joe addressed me loudly across the table, I had attempted to start a quiet, whispery conversation with a cousin my age, sitting directly next to me, at a table of mostly older, mature cousins sat.  What I saw as my misunderstood persona, approaching tentatively the social ritual of  smiles and merriment at Thanksgiving, Joe labeled more concisely Come into the real world and stop cowering.  I have perfected and honed this self-deception over many years as to embody a sense of individualism and rebellion that is simply a desperate attempt to cover up my sociopathic narcissism.

In mentioning my disdain for “the selfie” to anyone that will listen, I out myself as a hypocrite of massive proportions.  I don’t enjoy being around people that reflect back my more negative traits, and I will label them as unbearable and self-consumed when I am merely repulsed by parts of myself in them, looking back at me.  I have a sneaking suspicion that everything in the world that repulses me, contains a trait of mine that I so desperately do not want to confront.  Its as if, when prompted to get in bed and have sex with a girl, I want to remain fully clothed, belt and zippers securely fastened, yet I expect to be reach climax and leave it feeling satisfied.  I’m continually banging my head against a wall and expecting a different outcome each time.

I went to the store today and bought epsom salt, for my hot baths.  On the way past the toiletry aisle, I bought a box of ten condoms. Hm, Trojan: Ecstasy. I’ve never tried this kind. Why not. It could be 3 months, 6 months, a year before I have sex again, anyone’s guess, but I feel better having them on hand. Depends how long I let my passionate mistress, Porn, call the shots in our relationship. 

Sitting in my hotel room in Glasgow, Scotland with my brother Joe, getting ready to depart for the Camino de Santiago, assembling my pack, loading a pack of 12 condoms to carry in my backpack for 500 miles, Joe said, “You gonna put all those to use? Haha.”

“Its symbolic, I’m trying to envision future abundance, of sex, of success. Here, you take 6. A gift from me to the floozy comedy groupies.” I tossed him the condoms.

I have kept a single condom in my wallet for months on end throughout my life, until it is crumbled and my hopes of copulation are near dead.  He comes through in the clutch though, like Jeter in the bottom of the 9th, who the hell knows when you run into some middle-aged flight attendant in out-patient rehab with a loose grasp on reality.  I thank God, and the universe for these random, serendipitous happenings, because God knows, no pun intended, that I don’t actively engage in flirty banter with new women when I am sober.  I was 21 and my penis in her vagina felt like fucking a bag of vaseline, or like throwing a hot dog down a hallway, as the expression goes.  We had sex in the back of my Toyota 4-runner in a cramped, uncomfortable position in a 7-eleven parking lot with sweat dripping off my face and fogged up windows. I wasn’t able to come, but my spirit was revitalized, my faith restored.  I thought, Goddamnit, I knew you’d get some action buddy, thats why I hold on to you, never give up hope. Some days I feel like a Doomsday Prepper holding this lonely, loyal condom in my wallet, and other days my faith is rewarded by our glorious god, who throws me a bone every once in a while.

Mark Manson, a prominent blogger, says that guys like me: timid, shy, will attract the emotionally unhealthy, very forward girls who will attempt to control me and treat me like a blank canvas for their grand dramas.  Manson says that a guy like me, will, in turn take to the girl like a fish to water, diving in head first to the girl’s meticulously choreographed soap opera because it satisfies my need to outwardly express all the anger and shame that I repress. Truer words were never written.

I’ve struck a peaceful accord (slouch toward apathy) with being celibate lately. I’m celibate but not abstinent.  Masturbation isn’t even that pleasurable for me anymore, its just some robotic necessity, my senses and arousal are dulled and tamed like a tiger in the zoo at this point.  I see it like this: I’m a soldier, I’ve had countless bombs explode next to me, right up close, I’ve seen gore and guts, and bodies dismantled in every possible way, guys heads blown off, bodies blown in half, burned alive (porn) so I can’t hear the sweet melodies of music anymore and some tame gunshots to the chest and excessive bleeding (sex); it just doesn’t do it for me anymore. (Read: Fans of The Walking Dead, you can take the analogy literally). To summarize my absurd and grotesque analogy of the battlefield to porn and sex I mean to say that…PORN DESENSITIZES and erodes the emotional intimacy of REAL sex in the REAL world.  There is a new fleet of androgynous man-boys permeating and diluting our population and not claiming our masculinity, not out there trying to get laid, but sitting in front of the screen, feeling more detached and numbed out afterwards.

I include the below quote only to illustrate the point about 9-5 work and jobs as sustained distraction I discussed in my previous posts:

“There is no doubt that creative work is itself done under a compulsion often indistinguishable from a purely clinical obsession. In this sense, what we call a creative gift is merely the social license to be obsessed. And what we call “cultural routine” is a similar license: the proletariat demands the obsession of work in order to keep from going crazy. I used to wonder how people could stand the really demonic activity of working behind those hellish ranges in hotel kitchens, the frantic whirl of waiting on a dozen tables at one time, the madness of the travel agent’s office at the height of the tourist season, or the torture of working with a jack-hammer all day on a hot summer street. The answer is so simple that it eludes us: the craziness of these activities is exactly that of the human condition. They are “right” for us because the alternative is natural desperation. The daily madness of these jobs is a repeated vaccination against the madness of the asylum. Look at the joy and eagerness with which workers return from vacation to their compulsive routines. They plunge into their work with equanimity and lightheartedness because it drowns out something more ominous.”
― Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

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