Light

You muddle through as best you can.

Every morning you slide into a society you had no hand in constructing and don’t really understand, like an awkward introvert arriving late to a party full of strangers who all know each other.

You interact with the whole thing through an interface of culture, language and etiquette that was invented by people you don’t know who died a long time ago. Any time you want to interact with someone, like when you’ve got an interesting idea you want to share or because they’re looking especially beautiful in the light of the street lamps or whatever, you’ve got to plug into this whole network of information which is dictated by past events ranging from how their parents treated them when they were little to the migratory behaviors of Anglo-Saxon settlers in fifth century Europe.

You shove a sloppy effort at communication through this thick veil of unknowable variables, and whatever happens is called conversation. They say something back like “What do you do for a living? I manufacture fish poison,” and you say “I turn a gear at a factory that makes gears,” and they say “I understand society perfectly and everything makes sense and we’re never going to die hahahaha,” and then you say something like “I know right hahahahahahaha,” and you just want to scream or punch them or kiss them full on the mouth, or anything to make a real connection happen beyond the vapid small mouth noises of gibbering naked ape monsters.

You stumble away vaguely frustrated and muddle on. Maybe you turn on one of the glowing rectangles you own, and maybe it tells you you’re ugly unless you wear the right kind of makeup. Maybe it tells you you’d fit in much better if you were rich and famous. Maybe it tells you the government is dropping smiley-faced bombs on smiley-faced peasants in Boingbonkistan to spread freedom and democracy. Maybe some talking head thinkbrain looks you right in the eye and explains why it’s good for you to work hard for not much money. The screen is full of strained, plastic smiles and calm, confident tones of voice, which are nothing like the confused desperation behind the eyes of your neighbors.

You muddle your way outside and look at all the other human creatures scuttling around on their leg stalks. Maybe you walk past a dead accordion angel with sailboat wings in the gutter, and you stare at it for a while wondering if the stars in the sky are still there. Maybe you remember what it was like riding your tricycle as a little kid, and how good and how real it felt.

Maybe you decide then and there that you’re just not going to anymore, you’re not going to keep pretending and faking your way through a fake civilization made of fake ideas with a fake smile on your fake face. Maybe you turn around and say to the people walking by, “I’m not doing this anymore.” And maybe they say “But but but what about the gear?” And maybe you say “I do not care about that gear.” And maybe they say “But there’s that new fish poison factory opening down the road and it will need gears from the gear factory.”

And maybe you say something back like, “Well I don’t know. I’m just muddling through the best I can here, okay? I showed up as a little baby and you all told me what to think about things, and then a whole muddled confusion happened and now I’ve got these calloused hands from the gear and when I’m really honest with myself it hurts to live. I want to fall in love and learn the songs of skybirds and sip train smoke through intravenous tubes. I want to swim with the manta whales and the barking wolf sharks. I want to grow a flower in an old boot and have a frivolous abortion. I want to get into fights with broken bottles in a dusty tavern and get a bad facial scar and choke a man unconscious with my legs. I want to dream like there’s no tomorrow and write poems like there’s no today. I can’t lie anymore. I can’t keep pretending to be shaped the same way as the cardigan clowns on the sitcoms. I am a howling beast. I am too alive for this cage.”

“But but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but, what about the gear?” they might say.

And you may end up saying “Ah yes, good point,” and go back to the murk for another few years before you catch another glimpse of that three year-old on that trike. And that’s okay. You muddle through. You muddle through and move toward the light whenever you spot it.

And it is real. In the name of all that is holy, I swear to you that that light is real, and that it leads to the other side of this mess. Upon my broken wings and my broken hands, I swear it from the bottom of my peacock feather heart. Keep muddling through, beautiful ape monster. Keep muddling through.

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Latest comments

  • 1 Let’s
    2 deluge
    3 you with light!
    4 You will then love
    5 each ghastly minute
    6 of life on this planet —
    7 even the gears and the fish.
    8 Seceding is just the first step!
    9 You are still that three-year-old! But now
    0 the world is your tricycle, yours to serve!

  • This reflection was thought provoking. However, I was surprised by the following since you are an Atheist: “And it is real. In the name of all that is holy, I swear to you that that light is real, and that it leads to the other side of this mess.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFa2L5xkw1E

  • Caitlin,
    I share your pieces less than I should simply because I can’t tolerate people I care about reading your words and not loving them as I do. I finally sent this post along to my mum and dad, who both were amazed. From my mom, “I feel like she really sees it and understands!”
    Thank you again, deeply, and count two more (old people) among your fans.
    Uriel
    Ithaca, NY, USA

  • Moved to laughter and a tear. Nice one. Threw some bits in your hat. Peace

  • I’ve managed to accomplish one thing while I’ve been muddling, Caitlin; falling in love with your old soul. It was easy.

  • Concerning Trump’s attempts to ease tensions with Putin (posted in response to an article in the WAPO):

    I agree with DT. The U.S. had plenty of opportunities to make peace with Russia (and Cuba and Vietnam, and Iraq, and…) Our war industry hated that idea.

    No enemies means no war materiel profits. Our $trillion F-35 is already obsolete in light of radar technology advances. We intend to build more aircraft carriers so that the enemies we create will enjoy more targets for their ASCMs. Luckily, we have plenty of money to build weapons of war, despite our $20 trillion+ federal debt and near $1 trillion per year deficits.

    What is frightening is that so many comments oppose becoming less belligerent toward Russia. That illustrates the success of our pro-war propaganda and the gullibility of American citizens. We do not need foreign enemies; we have ourselves.

    Members of the idiocracy: Please do not tell me that I am a Russian or am pro-Russia. First, it is too easy and requires no thought, and second it is false.

  • Excellent take on a thinking persons internal workings in the times we have to deal with on a daily basis!

  • JrgJrg you spout too much. Mebbe it would be better if you had something to say. It’s easy to stand on the shoulders of someone who produces something worthy and crow like you’re somebody important that we need to listen to. This is a beautiful piece, Caitlin. Thank you. Love the metaphors. Love the grit and gristle. Civilization hasn’t happened yet.

    • Brucie, you only skimmed what I wrote and didn’t read it carefully, or else it’s just too far over your head or you have confirmation bias. I don’t claim to be important. The test is not the importance of the commenter. That’s an authority test. It’s the importance of the idea. No one has a monopoly on ideas. Go back and read again. Maybe you’ll get my point this time. If you still don’t get it, I’m sorry.

      • Brucie…? Yer a trip. I read all yer comments, at least up to that point. Idiocy is its own reward.

  • “I am a howling beast. I am too alive for this cage.” Beautiful.

    • Does that mean you regard yourself as an Ubermensch?

  • While she makes good points about the vacuous life most lead, she goes way over the edge: “sip train smoke through intravenous tubes…have a frivolous abortion. I want to get into fights with broken bottles in a dusty tavern and get a bad facial scar and choke a man unconscious with my legs”?!? Those are insane crazy. Thoreau’s “Walden” and Veblen’s ” The Theory of the Leisure Class”, as well as Buddhism and Lao Tzu’s Taoism said it all before and continue to be ignored by the masses. But why do we expect people to be gods? Not only are we not that bright, we are herd animals, torn and confused by drugs we love that our own bodies produce (love, hate, jealousy, anger, fear, etc. – we watch movies, TV, read books, fantasize to vicariously get the thrills, without the real danger that our precursors faced) as well as the drugs we take for pleasure and to escape reality. We are predators that love conflict (sports, war, contests, etc.), which is probably why getting into a bar fight and choking someone unconscious sprung into Caitlin Johnstone’s mind. So while a few eschew the vacuous life and praise the noble life, most don’t really want it. And since most don’t want it, it is not possible for many. The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man”, Pink Floyd’s “Time”, and Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender” all sum it up.
    I’m going to rent myself a house
    In the shade of the freeway
    I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
    And go to work each day
    And when the evening rolls around
    I’ll go on home and lay my body down
    And when the morning light comes streaming in
    I’ll get up and do it again
    Amen
    Say it again
    Amen

    I want to know what became of the changes
    We waited for love to bring
    Were they only the fitful dreams
    Of some greater awakening
    I’ve been aware of the time going by
    They say in the end it’s the wink of an eye
    And when the morning light comes streaming in
    You’ll get up and do it again
    Amen

    Caught between the longing for love
    And the struggle for the legal tender
    Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
    And the junk man pounds his fender
    Where the veterans dream of the fight
    Fast asleep at the traffic light
    And the children solemnly wait
    For the ice cream vendor
    Out into the cool of the evening
    Strolls the pretender
    He knows that all his hopes and dreams
    Begin and end there

    Ah the laughter of the lovers
    As they run through the night
    Leaving nothing for the others
    But to choose off and fight
    And tear at the world with all their might
    While the ships bearing their dreams
    Sail out of sight

    I’m going to find myself a girl
    Who can show me what laughter means
    And we’ll fill in the missing colors
    In each other’s paint-by-number dreams
    And then we’ll put out dark glasses on
    And we’ll make love until our strength is gone
    And when the morning light comes streaming in
    We’ll get up and do it again
    Get it up again

    I’m going to be a happy idiot
    And struggle for the legal tender
    Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
    To the heart and the soul of the spender
    And believe in whatever may lie
    In those things that money can buy
    Thought true love could have been a contender
    Are you there?
    Say a prayer for the pretender
    Who started out so young and strong
    Only to surrender

    • Well spoken, Jimmy. You point out something I missed, the dangerous infatuation with the fad myth of transhumanism underlying Caitlin’s message.

  • Ah, Caitlin, you’ve perfectly captured the angst, ennui and zeitgeist of the last days of a dying empire. And perhaps a dying ‘civilisation’ as well. I’m reminded of the story of Ghandi’s arrival in England. He was asked what he thought of Western civilisation. His reply? “I think it would be a very good idea.”

    Those of us who think deeply, or at all, must find ways to stay safe as the System erodes. My earnest hope is that you have found those ways to stay safe, stay balanced (I nearly said ‘sane’) and keep blessing us with your insights.

  • Beautiful! Thank you.

  • Yes. Because the sun exists it will not stop shining because you’re not interested or try to deny it. You exist but you have no monopoly on the rest of existence. There’s lots you can’t talk your way out of. I fish. The fish are not listening to what I say…though if I make too much noise that could scare them away. You just fish and keep the lure in the water and sooner or later you will find a taker. The river moves, the fish move, the air moves and I move. If I hear the same story repeated too often I know it’s a lie…because it didn’t move. It stopped.

    • Yes, that’s right, James. I’m not a religious person but there are times I have to admit that Faith makes good sense in certain situations. You don’t have to be religious to understand that. You do have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants, as we scientists often say, and why not benefit from what has been studied and learned before? Otherwise you’re stuck in a time warp.

      • What’s “Faith” got to do with it? I’m a revolutionary Marxist Atheist. I’m 65. I’ve been fishing around Loch Lomond, Scotland, since the ’50’s. The book hasn’t been written, studied or learned on the fish I’ve caught and more besides. Slay the “giants.”

  • “I want to grow a flower in an old boot and have a frivolous abortion.”

    ?? I’m missing something…

    • John, she means, I suppose, instead of using a condom next time she’s going to use it as a flower pot instead and plant arugula in it, and then abort the resulting fetus for no reason except she kinda feels like it instead of using the condom (boot).

      I dunno, it sounds kinda crazy anyway. These poets….sheesh! Whaddya gonna do?

  • Thanks for the encouragement…and the love.

    • Sometimes real love means bravely questioning the people you really admire most, to test their thinking as if you consider it worthwhile to do it.

  • Aw, stop yer bitchin’, will ya!

    Be appropriately grateful that among us humans you have been granted the rare privilege given to the few of enough time at the self-actualization peak of the needs pyramid to stop and reinvent yourself a little bit at a time once in a while and wonder what it’s all about.

    Most of us ordinary struggling beasts are happy we can get through another day with most things laid out for them, which we don’t have to figure out anew in detail from scratch without enough time to do it. We have time to progress from the starting point that destiny handed us, which is already a lot of amusement to be thankful for.

    • When you stop bitching and only muddle through that which exists, you achieve nothing.
      I will never accept only that which is given to me. I will strive to give more to myself and those who look for a light at the end of the tunnel.

      • No standing on the shoulders of giants for you, then! Go muddle!

      • It’s a version of the merchant of doubt thing where you’re supposed to forget everything you know for sure is true and start all over again and doubt everything you hear from now on. Forget critical thinking, just doubt everything. Accept nothing. Dumbs down everyone. I’m a fan of Caitlin but I think she kinda messed up this time.

        • How about flat earth theory? It’s possible, isn’t it? Something “they” don’t want you to know. How about the law of gravity? Who knows for sure? I’m confused. Could be that the sun is not at the center of the solar system? Maybe Galileo was wrong. Can’t be 100% positive. The elites are lying to us again.. Get my drift?

      • Maybe each time you want to build a house and figure out angles, you have to re-derive Pythagoras’ theorem again each time to check if it’s still true, instead of just looking up the value of sin(x) in a table or checking it on your scientific calculator. Maybe you could disprove it if you check it enough times, you never know. And what if there’s a climate scientist that thinks climate change is a hoax so the jury is still out and we need to wait until there’s absolute uniformity in the scientific community on the subject before we take any action. Life is full of decisions we are forced to make based on imperfect information, realistically we will never get perfect information on anything but we still have to make decisions every day to keep going.

        • Yeah, maybe by the time we discover climate change is true we will all be standing hip-deep in water and still there will be crazy people that say it was God that did it, not humans. Using critical thinking is hard work, no shortcuts so don’t oversimplify. That’s what I’m doing right now, checking whether Caitlin is right or wrong, doubting everything even our genius writer.

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