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  • Writer's pictureHailo

How to Live a Real Life

There’s this study that’s cited in a ton of places — two of which I can remember are the Psychology of your 20s podcast and then Jean Twenge’s iGen — that discusses why social media may be harmful for mental health. And yes, we know that it generally is, but it digs into the why, it claims that we experience rejection in tiny ways constantly through social media, and that this triggers the same response in our brain that we have when we experience physical pain. And I think about this a lot — not just the social media, but the rejection part.

Every time I’m rejected, even in the tiniest of ways — like a small smile to a stranger or an unreturned text or feedback delivered with intonation that isn’t bright and warm — I flinch internally — because I anticipate the pain and then I feel it. And that’s weird, right? Anticipating the pain first. That’s the product of intellectualizing it. I think. That’s what I do, I intellectualize. I thought for the longest time that it was a coping mechanism, but now I’m feeling more that it’s just my way of trying to understand things — of trying to understand the way my own mind works. Which I’m realizing I’m also trying to do through my fiction — through the novel. I’m just trying to make sense of stuff. I’m just trying to connect the dots, even if the lines are pretty jagged.

And the other byproduct of social media and maybe tech maybe just industrialization??? that I have a bone to pick with is the inclination toward consumption. It’s like everyone is focused on optimization all the time. They want more more more. Haven’t we learned our lesson about looking for more? Wanting more? More was colonization. More was the earth stuff. More was the tree and the apple and the whole question of humanity. Right? So maybe the inclination toward consumption, maybe this insatiability is just the byproduct of the human condition.

But what am I supposed to do with this knowledge? Am I wrong in my pursuit of it. Is that consumption too. Should I put down the books. Should I stop writing mine. I don’t want to want more. I want to unlearn this wanting. I yearn to no longer yearn. How does one find contentment without looking for it? And what if I figure out how to stop wanting. Is that not stopping being human, stopping being.

And I have this weird feeling as if everyone around me wants things that are distinctly inhuman now, that are divorced from what it means to live a life. I feel like they want more of this vague social capital we’ve created — want more money so that people will want to be around them, will be fascinated by them, want to be around (or even “own”) someone who’s been deemed worthy by vague numbers reflective of fame, of social capital, or beauty — but even beauty has the sense of the latter and is so easily commodifiable now. I don’t want these things. I don’t think I want these things. I want more of the things that are distinctly human, that are real. I want to touch people’s arms, hold their hands, I want people to look me in my eyes, to smile, to laugh. I want people to reject me tactilely, I want them to push me away if they must, because then at least I’ll feel the pain on my body and maybe it’ll make sense in my brain too.

I’m afraid that I’m not very nice. I am short and I have big eyes and a sweet voice, but I feel this distinction and I fear it makes me judgemental. Because I don’t know how to be around other people who don’t want to be human. I don’t know how to be around other people who don’t want to be around other people for reasons that are human. I don’t know how to wake up every day in pursuit of a life that doesn’t feel human to me. And I would want to delete everything. I would want to “go off the gid,” which means something so different now, but this has given me a platform, it’s gotten my writing and my passion for words that I love because they document what it means to be human in front of people who like it and maybe feel the same way. But — to Twenge’s points in iGen — I don’t get the same benefits in my brain than if all of you grabbed me by my chin and looked me in the eyes and told me that you read this and felt the same way. It is not the same. It is not the same. And now, we have to wallow in what we’ve created. We have to flinch and feel the pain in our brains from the things we’ve created that we can’t put down. We have to stop smiling at each other because we’ve gotten out of practice or maybe forgotten how to. And this is what we get for wanting more. And this is what I get for trying to figure it out. For wanting more knowledge. And when I think about knowledge and want, I think about the apple, I think about the Bible, I think about a few sections, I think about this line a lot:

It is an unhappy business that God has given the children of man to be busy with. (Ecclesiastes 1:11)

Because doesn’t it feel like we’re in a feedback loop? In some Greek tragedy. The very thing that keeps us going, this momentum, this want, is the thing that hurts the most. That alienates us from one another, from living a life that is truly human. And I say those things a lot —

— living a life.

— being human.

And maybe we’ll never get to live a life as it was truly meant. Maybe it was doomed from the beginning. Maybe we rejected God. We did the one thing that we knew would hurt God. And now, we must be busy with the act of rejecting one another. Constantly. The business of being fickle with one another’s souls.

I don’t like it when people reject me. Even in small ways.

One of the books I’m reading right now, Tirza, says this on rejection:

“All rejection, anything in which he detected rejection, rattled him. In life he had detected rejection. That’s why life rattled him too.” (58)

“Rattle.” Like a snake. I like when things connect like that. And later on, the book says this about the same man — the protagonist — the man who is rattled by rejection, as he is rejected from his job:

“‘What do you think of that…’

‘I don’t know,’ [he] said, withdrawing his hand carefully from [his] grip. His always warm and moist hands, his eternal fear of getting caught, but at what he had no idea.’” (141).

His fear of getting caught!!! His eternal fear of getting caught!!! And bear with me, because I’m going to mention one last book — I’m going to bring Girard into the conversation. Because in Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, Girard discusses mimetic desire — he talks about how even with the whole story of the Bible — apple, to cross, to resurrection — and the promise of redemption under all of this — that the following subsists:

“Each individual discovers in the solitude of his consciousness that the promise is false but no one is able to universalize his experience. The promise remains true for Others. Each one believes that he alone is excluded from the divine inheritance and takes pains to hide this misfortune. Original sin is no longer the truth about all men as in a religious universe but rather each individual’s secret, the unique possession of that subjectivity which broadcasts its omnipotence and its dazzling supremacy… Everyone thinks that he alone is condemned to hell, and that is what makes it hell.”

What are all so afraid of? Is it loneliness? Is it separation from a wholeness that we’ve never known? And here I am, writing this, alone in my room. And I feel alone when I’m with most people. I feel especially alone in groups. And I don’t try to hide it. I’m done hiding myself. I’m done hiding my fear that I’ve been left out of whatever, out of divine inheritance, out of living a real life, out of wanting without asking questions. This is how my mind works, these are how my thoughts come to me and I’m done hiding this too. And I’m done hiding my fear of rejection. Acknowledge me. I am human, even if I am underground, even if I am small and soft and kind. I am not going to reject everyone else in the pursuit of acceptance. And if I must, if I must remain online to get my writing to the people who care, to the people who think this way too, I will do my best to manage the little bursts of pain in my brain until I can just write and write and write and write on paper, on real paper, and trust that it is being sent out into the real world, to be touched with real hands and carried in flesh arms.

And maybe we will figure this thing out together.


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