Today is my birthday. I've never felt so 29 as I do on this 30th of November. It really makes a guy think...what it means...living in this post-modern, techno-savvy age of irony and interconnection and to celebrate oneself. And how to be happy in relation to others. This seems a good time to reflect upon our national culture of individualism (n):
the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant.
self-centered feeling or conduct; egoism.
a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control.
Ayn Rand nods to us from beyond the grave. She asks, 'Why shouldn't we all put our own interests before the well-being of the community? Survival of the fittest is human nature! Sink or swim kiddos!' Supposedly, in America you can have anything your little heart desires just so long as you work hard enough for it and...and...you accomplish everything on your own...? But we want happiness here! What's the best way? Now, I'll share with you my revelatory personal birthday anecdote! But first, I'll miraculously pull my tongue from the inside of my cheek. Without further ado...
[narrator takes a selfie]
As for context, readers, I can safely proclaim myself to be the height of white. My bio sheet, which does not include my criminal record, reads as such: 'A privileged male, height 6'2", middle class, Caucasian, educated (wasted), straight, not ugly, two parents, etc., etc.' Despite these tallies in my favor I do not resemble an "American Dream." My car, for example, is something The Dude might drive. My employment resume resembles the sporadic and varied structure of a Charlie Sheen STD test printout. Squaring off against the "young professionals" we could call my contemporaries, I'm a third of the way down the road of life and have 'nothing to show for it' but holes in my sandals. And I can't grow a beard. Otherwise, I'd probably say I was akin to Jesus.
Soooooo...today, I followed through on what all the self-help gurus and self-actualized assholessay is a cornerstone to the essential (read: elusive) human happiness. It's a 'C' word. One of my faves...it's not what you think.
To be clear, I've been exhaustive in my search for personal happiness and meaning. All the drugs, done 'em; been blowing brain cells far-away into long hours of dark nights like confetti on New Years. The obtuse micro brew scene? Gag and check, please. I'm still an alcoholic if my small-batch hooch is made from Medieval-era bacteria and I paid $15 for all 6 oz. of it. The pun-ny name is key. 'Doubled Hopped Up On Bullshit Pale Ale, please - hold the mustache hair,' for example. Next!
After the 31-flavors-of-females approach I'm certainly no closer to the sweetness of "true love" but I'm certifiably closer to having a cavity where my heart used to be. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The cyclical fashions and interchangeable personal identities for sale, whatever the styling - none rendered unto me what I desired. Consumption and subscription to this young, wild and free American lifestyle seem to me an endless hedonic treadmill. FYI: dressing like a hippie or whatnot doesn't mean you'll inherit the principles or the gumption of the flower generation. Those days of revolutionary change, free love and Kumbaya aren't coming back until you and I are willing to actually fight for something. And Americans won't fight for anything while there's cold beer, warm pussy and a place to shit with a door on it. So obviously acting and looking like I've got 'that' character isn't the answer. This culture of personality has no substance...you might as well go shopping for dinner in a vending machine full of dried bones.
So to feed my ragged insides I volunteered at Lift Up. No, Lift Up is not a Cross Fit spin-off that only works your arms. It's a food bank that receives and redistributes food for the millions of Americans who live in poverty every day of the year. Check the box, you're about to learn something today: 15% of America (THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH??) lives in poverty. As in they might not have a smartphone! In California, our Golden State? 25% of people can't afford to eat without assistance. And that's after working 40-80 hours a week. Huh?
I think there was something on those many cans of creamed corn, or maybe the Chef Boyardee, that rubbed off on me. Must have been the good will from those who'd donated. I enthusiastically spent half the day organizing food, making it ready to distribute on the fly to hungry families in need. Talk about some canned chicken noodle soup for the soul! I'd come into the food pantry with a will to help and learn and feeling damn good about it but...damn if my spirits didn't brighten further as people shared in the mutual responsibility to helping fellow people ride through the hard waves of life. And yes, life is hard. And for some that means they might not have enough to eat. The way I see it, and scientifically speaking, we're all one and of one; we owe another 'an incredible debt.' We're the only ones who can improve the lives of one another.
So on my big day the one I'm told was supposed to be all about me, about my entitlement to having it my way with just my people, never hearing no, all those things I liked, to have my cake and eat it too, to swagger wasted into another belligerent year of me; instead I gave it away. It's better to give than receive, at least when the heart's concerned. It's been my most satisfying birthday so far because it had nothing to do with me. Yes, my family and I had dinner but I gave most my time and energy today (the only truly valuable things in this world) away and I feel changed. A new world was discovered somewhere between the evaporated milk and the mac and cheese. We may all be a projection of our mind or whatever and our worlds are just interpretations of our head-spaces and whatever but maybe its time to give them a break. Disconnect the 'me' and give the individual back to the group. Take a vacation from yourself. Get high on humanity. Yes, I wrote that. And proofed it. And left it there.
I wish myself a happy birthday and I know it has come true. I wish the same for you on your special day. And every day. I encourage you to try something similar in your neighborhood. Get into the opposite of retail therapy; that is, charity therapy. I say fuck Cyber Monday with a big Black Friday dick. Celebrate international 'buy nothing day.' Give it all.
PS - The author makes no claims that charity work will bring you lasting happiness. He simply appreciates how it helps him get outside himself and wanted to share this healthy buzz. Charity therapy may not be for you. You might be dead inside.
PSS - To put it another way: Lift Up is 'locally-sourced' food. I'm surprised hipsters don't search it on Yelp. Cue the next season of Portlandia.