Fitting into the Mainstream

There is much to be said for being average. You don’t get hassled as much i.e. you get hassled the average amount in grade school and high school, certainly not in college unless you opt for a fraternity, and never to the point of getting PTSD unless you join the military. Everything works out seamlessly, from babyhood to toddler to grade schooler to dating in high school and the first summer jobs, graduating from high school and becoming old enough to smoke, to drink and to vote. For many there’s college then the first post-college job and you’re on the conveyor belt thereafter with little time to look around you and notice if this is where you want to be. You get married, raise kids, get promoted, retire and move to Florida.

John Waters is not average. His interview with Terry Gross on June 3 hooked me like a drug addict to heroin. His story is pebbled with so many similarities to my own story except that he seems to have moved from “hysterical misery into common unhappiness” and I have not. But that’s not true either. I still fall into deep misery as I used to as a teenager but now misery is accompanied by a kind of awareness. I am not altogether alone when I’m miserable. If nothing else misery keeps me company. I’m there and so is he.

In real life few people are average. We’re all neurotics, as Waters’s hero Freud concluded in the 19th century. Some have more dramatic or flamboyant neuroses but theirs are not the worst. I think the worst off are those who are buried in the past, those who bought into the trauma of their young, growing selves, that they are trapped there the rest of their lives. We’re all victims of our egos, trapped forever in how we view ourselves and through those glasses view the world around us. Society is itself like opera glasses that we don’t take away from our eyes. To discover that we have eyes that can see without benefit of those glasses is life-transforming.
The only hope I’ve encountered is described by mystics, especially the Asian sages like the Buddha. I date a rebirth of my own neurosis from the nine days I spent in April 1986 when I attended a retreat with Ruth Denison. Sometime around the fourth day I found those primordial eyes. For moments I detached from the stream of compulsive thoughts, urges, memories and desires and realized there was more to experience beyond the stream. Henceforth, while not all the time, I saw me and saw that it was not all there was. I can pat myself on the back or shake my finger at myself. It’s quite a feat. It’s my sort of miracle.

Culture is awesome. It’s where we come to affix meaning to what our physical senses and minds feed us. From culture comes the wonderful creations of humans from the dawn of time. From culture and in culture we create literature, art, politics, morality, religion, the whole shebang! But culture and ego are not all there is. Alongside them, silent but more potent than them, walks something other. Some may call this God. I don’t know. All I know is that I am not alone.

Having established this, instead of suffering in misery I can learn to play. Waters made his living from his being different. Instead of hiding the unsavory pieces of his neurosis, he turned them into movies and now a book, Role Models. He is a role model. We can turn our unhealthy lives into something grand. All it takes is a certain disidentification from it all, learning to soar while immersed in the mud. Mud is beautiful!

About orlando gustilo

Digital content producer, photographer, writer.
This entry was posted in creativity, culture, memoirs, psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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