A World of Cardboard Cutouts

I normally don’t shy away from very many topics, as evidenced by having some fairly controversial posts already on this blog (The Death of Politics and Sex vs Violence, in example). All the same, I’ve avoided this one, despite it coming up multiple times as a topic idea. In part, this was on account of not having a good way to put the idea forward, and the rest was understanding that most people don’t really want the hard truths pointed out to them. As a result, it probably isn’t the best idea for generating tons of traffic, but it is the driving force behind much of my writing. Given that latter fact, it seems logical that I really ought to buckle down, suck it up, and tackle the topic in some form. Sure, maybe someday I’ll find a better way to put it, or have a better understanding of how to address the issue without pissing people off, and if that day comes I can address the topic again. For now, though, I’ll simply do the best I can. Of course, this post is also a good week and a half later than it should have been, due to repeatedly scrapping it and trying again. So, sorry about that.

We live in a world of cardboard cutouts, pretending to be human beings. They live in cardboard houses, with cardboard furniture, and virtually everything about their life is made out of pre-built cardboard kits. The average human being, at least here in the west, is issued one of these cardboard kits and a pair of dull scissors at birth. He or she goes to school to get a standard education, leaves to get a standard job, live one of a handful of standard lives, and aspire only for promotions, vacations, or a better Netflix queue. They do not dream any longer, some of them not since they were very young. They don’t want to be something awesome when they ‘grow up’ any more, they just want to exist in a numb place where their failures don’t hurt as much. That place of survival where neither pleasure nor pain can go, and thus nothing can disrupt their colorless existence. I personally find it so utterly disturbing that I’ve long since lost most of my ability to relate to or express interest in my fellow human beings. How can someone live like that? What is the point? To get money? What is money if you don’t have a dream any longer? And people can’t make you happy either. No matter what load of donkey crap Disney feeds you, true love isn’t enough to overcome all. It might help you forget, or it may fuel your dreams with the support of someone who understands, but it won’t sustain you. Not really. More, despite being a religious man myself, I dare say that not even God could (or rather, would) make you happy if you lose your dreams, if you cease moving forward. Not directly, at least, as God doing something like that would violate free will, which he seems to find important. God can give you a purpose, a dream to work toward, but you must want to pursue that purpose, that dream, for it to do you any good, and that bit is all on you.

There are exceptions, of course, there always are. There are people not made of cardboard, and those handful of exceptions become either the standouts or the exiles. The larger than life figures that the masses of people cling to like sparks of remembered life, warming them in their numbness, making them feel something again. Accidental cults of personality, almost. Celebrities, politicians, even just the popular guy at the office, though in all three cases it can also simply be someone who has recognized the cardboard for what it is and figured out how to manipulate all the little cardboard people. What to say and what stimulus to offer to get them to agree or follow. Or, on the darker flipside, they become the outcasts, the hated and despised. The perfectly nice biker who no one will speak to because he has more tattoos than unadorned skin, the troubled young artist who creates awe inspiring works that move even the coldest hearts, but who finds him or herself alone against a world of quiet conformity that drives them to drink and drugs.

The worst thing about it…is that most of those who read this post won’t think it applies to them. They have become so mired in the standard life, surrounded themselves with so many people that are just like them, that they will fail to recognized what I’m speaking of. They simply won’t get it. They don’t have the mental framework in place to understand, and it’s entirely possible that they never will. Perhaps, for them, it is better that way. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Even so, a few of you will know, and a few more may dimly recognize the idea with it laid out in such a way. Others yet will look around and realize that I’ve put into words (though perhaps not the best words) the struggle to define the problem they have with their own environments. Those people are the ones who did what everyone ought to do, what the people of an earlier age were prone to do. They took the standard kits as only the basics and built upon them. They painted the cardboard, they worked hard to acquire legos and added them to their mental rooms. They used the tools provided by a “standard” education from a “standard” kit to create something new, something with more vibrancy than the kit itself could ever have. Such people possess a strong spark of something “more” of the “muchness” that some versions of the Mad Hatter are fond of, and that irrepressible something more made them use the standard kits they were provided as, I think, those kits were originally meant to be used. That is to say, they used them only as a basic jumping off point. Not an end, but a beginning. A basic skill set for life that they needed to add to in order to make themselves complete.

In this day of cubical zombies, this age where the business of making things is broken down into nothing but a set of efficiency numbers and any person can be plugged into any place, how many people still do this? When was the last time YOU picked up a new skillset? Not something like, “how to garden 101” but an actual productive skillset that left you feeling like you were more complete for having picked it up. Not merely something to whittle away empty time or entertain yourself, but something that adds to you in such a way that it is a significant step forward. A new version of you with an added set of useful features.

As for how this comes into my writing…my frustration with my fellow human beings is hiding behind virtually every story I write. I never tell a tale of the expected, and the idea of writing yet another story on a tired and popular theme (Say, in example, a vampire romance) makes me nauseous. I write the unusual, the absurd, the bizarre and the alive. Anything I think will make a reader stop for a second, confused, and start thinking like the person I know(or hope) they are under all the drudgery. Something they can’t process without waking up a little. I want to make them laugh, I want to make them cry, I want to make them, perhaps most of all, cock their head to the side in confusion until they are forced to think, to wrap their heads around a new perspective or a new idea.

Perhaps that is arrogant of me, or condescending, but it is nevertheless true. I am never happier than when I can watch someone read one of my works and laugh, or go “huh,” or snort in surprise. I am thrilled when they come to me and say something was amazing, or that they want to read more. Not because it’s a validation of my skill, I already know I’m a fairly decent writer (mind you, I still enjoy the validation, and if you meet a writer that tells you they don’t, you’ve met a liar), but rather it’s knowing that I was able to spark an interest in them…sort of. It’s a hard feeling to describe in words, and I spent a good ten minutes staring at the blank page trying to figure out how to describe it, before I realized that I couldn’t. There are no words in the English language to support the concept, or if there are they are not words that I know. I suppose the best I can do is to say that it’s seeing the spark of a fire within them, even if just for a few moments. The echo of a dream I suppose, if such a thing could exist. The child inside them still dreaming, wanting to be more, wanting the world to be more, wanting to make the world be more.

Ultimately, I do not understand. How can someone, anyone, function without the desire to get better, to be more than they were yesterday, to quest forward with a heart of passion to tilt at the nearest windmill? How is it that a person can settle for less than everything they are, everything they could be or should be? How do they live with themselves, how do they look into their own eyes in the mirror? Do they look at their own eyes in the mirror? Or do they shy away instinctively, knowing on some level that they don’t want to see what they have become, what treason they have committed against themselves. I’ve spent my life living by only a very few absolute principles. I value freedom above nearly any other thing, I believe in and follow God, I never ever lie to myself, and I will never be less than everything I am, no matter what it costs me. It hasn’t exactly led to a life of fuzzy bunny rabbits, colorful rainbows, money raining down from the sky, or talking horses that extol the virtues of friendship. But that’s okay. I keep growing, I keep getting better, and when I finally face my end or meet my creator I will be able to give an honest account for the efforts I made. And that is enough for me.

 

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