Perhaps, Like in the Poem Howl
Part I: The Retreat
The Junior Year Retreat was reminiscent of David Foster Wallace's Shipping Out. Clearly, the administration had poured money into this Junior Retreat, as seen by the venue chosen and the little packages of candy intended to get us kids excited. Until then, I had never seen anyone eat candy so forlornly. A part of me wanted us to all be giddy 2-dimensional little teenagers, stressing only about our idealistic plans for senior gift and senior mural. Another part ignored that part of myself completely, half-shutting everyone else off. I reached a balance, as I always do, and compelled myself to make sure that my group got all the work done. I initiated conversation like a good little leader, and even acted a little enthusiastic while presenting my groups' ideas.
The bus-ride back was tougher. As I watched girls in the back of the bus talk about skipping school in hushed and giggly voices, I noticed how many phones and white earphones each of us had. Boring stuff. When we got back, I told one of the people leading the Junior Retreat that they had done a good job. They asked me if I had bonded with anyone. . . . . . . . . .
My one goal for the entire trip was to talk to this one girl who I had known since 5th grade, but never really got around to re-meeting. This day, I went to sit down at her table, myself practically alone. As a teenager who felt that they didn't know anybody at the party, trying to initiate some form of "so how was your life over the past 7 years?" was incredibly daunting... But hey! it was the Junior Retreat! This event was meant for re-meeting the people in our grade with whom, for years, we had stopped talking! I sat down, began a conversation, and got maybe a sentence in before their entire group got up, looked away, and moved to the table with the rest of their friends, leaving me, confused and suddenly very alone. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn't smell bad, or act cynical or weird. I'm considered fun to talk to I thought, although I rarely try to initiate conversation much with strangers anymore.
Part II: How to Pick Your Screensaver
The screen-savers in my folder "Cool Desktop Pictures" keep themselves tucked away inside of the bottom right corner of the inside of my purple, school-issued laptop. I pull these up fullscreen by clicking the tiny green little button in the top right corner of the window, and stare at them whenever a class becomes unproductive.
These are meaningful to me simply because I am intrigued with them enough to have gazed upon them like a child in a Toys R Us. I'm sorry, but I think you are going to have to find your own.
Why pick out a meaningful screensaver? It's the least you could do. I'm not talking about a waterfall or a mountain range, or some joke that you found funny. You won't be picking a screensaver that would make others think that you're cool or quirky, you'll be picking out a screensaver that you won't use. A screensaver that hides in a tiny folder in the bottom right corner of your laptop, that you can stare into during the times where you can't go out and explore the actual world.
Part III: My Favorite Pen
The act of drumming meaning into things is both incredibly daunting and inconveniently elusive.
In 10th grade, I worked in my father's shop in the garage with a large device called a lathe. Carving away, I shaped my own pen out of the wooden block. And after attaching a couple of metal pieces and adding in the ink compartment, I fiddled between my fingers the most remarkable rollerball pen I had ever seen in my entire, life. Gold bits, between fine-crafted wood. Elegant, classical, and deeply, deeply romantic. Who was I not to attach some significant ulterior purpose to it.
And so I decided that as long as I had ink, my writing had life. The pen acted as a symbol for my creative vitality, and I could only write important things using that pen just as how the pen could only write important things.
So I never wrote anything stupid with it, the only things I wrote with the pen being really saturated romantic shreds of poetry to a senior girl. Some days I would agonize over what to write, and other days it was effortless. I wrote on index cards which I carried around in my schoolbag so I could keep my writing wherever.
I kept everything I ever wrote with that pen—all of the index cards are on my desk, written from 10th grade. All except what I gave away to other people, most of them unaware of what made them so important. One day I just started coloring an entire index card with ink, and didn't stop until it was completely black, and gave it away. I didn't write anything for two weeks.
And then, at the beginning of 11th grade, or maybe it was over the summer, I lost it.
Part IV: How to pick your shoelaces
I wear blue shoelaces.
In 10th grade, I wore black and white laces.
During the Summer of 9th grade (going into 10th) I wore shoes with pink and yellow laces.
I find that changing the color of shoelaces brings no dramatic transformation to my life, but a very simple joy in recognizing its arrant beauty. The difference manifests itself subtlety to others. Reminding me of the way old-fashioned businessmen wore the same khakis, white button-down shirts, shoes, and ties, yet different and interesting socks.
It reminds me of a creepy photo I took of some buisnessman's legs at a Starbucks. His outfit was debonair, and one day I wish to emulate it.
There's a program called CBT—Cognitive Behavioral Therapy—that I was skimming through yesterday at 9:00pm in the psychology section of a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Stuff such as putting a 50 pence piece into a jar every time you call yourself a loser, or useless, or unwanted or something. It promotes active growth through change in habit, and since humans are very much creatures of habit it can therefore literally be life-changing. It had a section on getting more sleep, and concentrating more during studying. I don't have depression anymore, and I actually—you may have noticed—have a pretty high self-esteem. But I bought the book anyways, optimistic about systematically bringing more meaning and happiness to my life, the hard way, the effective way.
Today I had a realization—very much like Archimedes—in a bathtub. Humans are creatures of habit (not my realization) and that plays into addiction (also not my realization) and since we're all becoming dependent on our phones for communicating and social interaction it isn't an addiction to being on our phones as much as it is a somewhat pathetic addiction to satisfying our needs for staying connected with friends. The problem being that social media takes ahold of our teeny tiny attention span and promises us seemingly endless content in exchange for our time and attention. Our insecurities about missing out, or not connecting with others, often times exacerbated after a bad day, can lead us to spending more and more time glancing at our phones etc. The problem isn't social media affecting us, but rather us affecting us. Habitually growing more bored and more insecure and more deprived of community that we grow a strange habit of whipping out our phones. The idea builds upon penopticonism—our habits of following the rules—and DFW's ideas for TV—our habits of over-indulging in TV. As a good friend pointed out to me via Op-Ed, the problem with video games isn't video games (they're actually, like movies or books, a medium for artistic expression and experience) but rather us, over-indulging. Penn Jillette, one of my favorite magicians and storytellers, wrote a book about weight loss where he re-set his taste buds by eating potatoes whenever he felt hungry for 2 weeks. By doing this, he curbed his desires for over-saturated sugars and salts and acids, and corn on the cob "tasted like candy." This is the way I want to strengthen my life; pushing the reset button and re-adjusting using the wisdom I've gained through past mistakes.
Reminders are helpful, constant jabs at our sides telling us to remember to compliment someone or be assertive or whatever you need. A reminder app on your phone telling you to put it down, a sticky note on your wall, a tattoo or a screensaver to remind you to be more creative.
Part V: The Games We Used to Play
A young chris barclay, ahead of his own life, staring out of the edge of a car window counting meticulously and carefully the streetlamps and cars outside. He does not know whether something is actually wrong with him for this, and understandably he is confused as to both why he does this every time he sits in a car and also what it may mean if anything. He plays these games.
One car passes by, a blue car (though it never mattered the color), and he subtracts one. He passes a streetlamp, he adds one. He has 10 streetlamps stored thus far. He passes 4 more streetlamps 14 before the next flurry of cars 8 bumping him down to 6 streetlamps, then 5, 4, 3, he gets some more streetlamps in but his father stops the car at the STOP sign and more cars drive past him. He's in the red, he has negative streetlamps, and it doesn't look like he's going to get more streetlamps than cars. He becomes increasingly frustrated by this, and suddenly streetlamps are worth 2. He passes 5 and now he's back at zero. By the time he reaches school he has 40 streetlamps saved up. He'll try to remember that number, but will fail, and start again at zero when his dad comes to pick him up.
In the back of the car he listens to the NPR talkshow his father has on. Words, big words, they sometimes seep their way into his mind the way that they do when his father reads to him. Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its two sequels, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, R L Green's King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, the entire Series of Unfortunate Events books (13), more than a couple The Magic Treehouse books, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes books, poetry of Edgar Allen Poe and Ogden Nash and Robert Frost and occasionally the easier Shel Silverstein, and additionally some of the Xanth novels (his favorite being A Spell for Chameleon).
I had stopped counting streetlamps and cars by around 6th grade. That was also the time I had stopped reading. Currently I'm reading Oliver Sacks' The Island of the Colorblind because I got sick of the for-fun fantasy crime novel due to its simplicity and unrewarding childish plot. Here's a quote from the aforementioned Oliver Sacks novel:
In the next pages he talks about a book he read where the main character stumbles upon a valley where everyone lost their sense of color due to a disease that passed through hundreds of years before. The explorer melds into society, but is looked upon as deranged and crazy—seeing "hallucinations" all the time—due to his ability to see color. He falls in love with a colorblind woman, and the village chiefs require of him to rip out his eyeballs in order to fit in and get rid of the pain that is seeing color.
Additionally, I find it interesting that light (photons) are invisible to us unless they reflect off of something and bounce off our retinas. It is only the anatomy of our eyeballs that allows us to perceive light, and heat is only the feeling of our cells being excited by something such as solar radiation. Perhaps, like in the poem Howl, we're all crazy but nobody knows it because it's all become so natural to us.