I’ve been listening to a lot of KPOP recently. There’s a lot of catchy songs that I’ve been playing on repeat, but one song especially: that song is “No” by CLC.
KPOP already has some barriers to entry, most notably the language: although a lot of KPOP makes use of English, most of the lyrics will be in Korean. Most American listeners have to be wary of the language difference and be comfortable with NOT understanding most of the lyrics. Even so, languages will oftentimes blend, and sometimes Korean will be misunderstood as English, and vice versa.
“No” is a very short song, only clocking in at 3 minutes long, but it moves incredibly fast and is extremely catchy to boot. The main hook is spoken completely in English:
Red lip? No
High heels? No
The first time I heard this song and even a few times afterwards, in spite of knowing the name of the song, I always misheard “No” as “Now”.
There is a lot to be said about the KPOP industry, much more than I could say here and by people that are far more familiar with the politics in and surrounding it. I will say that I do believe the meaning in the song’s hook is apparent as a rejection of popular beauty standards. According to the Genius page, “CLC explained… that they wanted to deliver a lesson… [in that] people should stick to their own personality and find the real, authentic self”.
It is difficult to reconcile with that sentiment, but I believe that my own misinterpretation of the song’s main hook creates a duality between what I believe I’m hearing, and what the song is actually saying: KPOP has been described as a much more hyper-capitalist, indulgent, accelerated counterpart of American pop music and, in this context, my misunderstanding of the song lyrics reinforces this image – while the actual contents are actually the complete opposite (and, in either case, does not actually represent or reflect the reality of the content taken as a whole).
Then, take the chorus, which switches between English and then Korean. “I love me, I like it,” Elkie Chong sings, at once a strange affirmation of self-love (“I love me”) and then an affirmation of adoration for something else altogether (“I like it”). What exactly is “it” in this context? When she refers to “it” does she refer to her life? Does she love herself, and only “like” her life? Of course, there is a world of difference between “loving” and “liking” something, so then it begs the question why does she love herself and why does she only “like” her life?
The second spoken English line in the chorus is “I love me, walk like me,” sung by Oh Seung Hee, which again seems to contradict some earlier lyrical theming (if we are to assume that, “walk like me” is an invitation to imitate or emulate a person’s style).
However, for me personally, I had always heard the line as: “I want me, more like me,” and this interpretation has made more sense to me, and has much more potent thematic relevance.
Firstly, because a “want” conveys something that is desired but not necessarily required – secondly, because the idea reinforces the idea that you can always be more authentic, or more “yourself”.
It can also be interpreted the other way entirely – because there is so much emphasis placed on the individual, instead of actualization through radical individualism, Seunghee could also be saying that she wants to claim herself as a person (“I want me”) and that she wants other people to follow her lead (“more like me”) although, again, this is all presupposed because of the idea that these are the lyrics – which they objectively aren’t.
The final line from Seunghee, in Korean, is “Try it, if you want”. I believe this implies that imitating or emulating someone is not something to be ashamed of, but encouraged as a means of parsing out what IS or ISN’T oneself. We could liken one’s identity to an outfit, to be tried, and expressed, but not necessarily what one will always be wearing or base themselves on.
I believe that the metaphor is apt but, as any metaphor is, not perfect. Identity is an outfit that is something worn, expressed, and used to reinforce an image one has of oneself. An identity is separate from one’s life and indeed one’s own self, but it is a type of persona, or face (see Face theory), that communicates information to others as much as it is presented to examine how others perceive/receive this information.
When I say identity, I do not mean to limit it to any one type (gender, sexual, class, spiritual, age, national, etc.) but as any and all of the types suggested. It is one thing to wear an identity and express it openly (i.e. a person of religious faith wearing a cross necklace, or headscarves) and it is another thing to repress or hide an identity (i.e. a wealthy or affluent person dressing in thrift store clothes, or someone who identifies strongly with another gender but still conforms to their assigned gender at birth). It is because we are well-aware of the fact that there are some aspects of our identities that are disapproved of by some people, and insecurity can come from any numerous amount of sources – family life can oftentimes inform some insecurities later in life, and I’m sure that many people have acted out of some irrational fear based in childhood trauma or repressed anxiety that still resurfaces when confronting these contradictions towards their identity.
Take gender identity, for example. We are still struggling to accept nonbinary people into our society, and those that are opposed to their very existence oppress them and their voices, oftentimes without even realizing it. Identifying as nonbinary is an act of defiance against the zeitgeist we are born into – call it smug or holier-than-thou, but there is nothing as heart-wrenching as watching some people, people that I’ve grown close and attached to, having to constantly reaffirm their very existence and self-conception to other people over and over again.
Every time you misgender someone, you are invalidating their existence. Every time you dead name someone, you are invalidating their existence. Every time you ask for someone’s sex instead of respecting their gender identity, you are invalidating their existence.
Every time you invalidate someone’s existence, you marginalize them, cordon them into a space that you are unconcerned with, and effectively erase them from both your perception and from your world. They don’t exist to you. And if you are to protest, dear reader, then I’d ask you not to. I understand. If you’re not to concern yourself with someone based on some incompatibility that you feel is irreconcilable, then I understand, and maybe it is for the best that you do not associate with them, after all.
I would only like you to understand that if you do not take the time to learn and understand someone, you have erased them already.
When you erase somebody, you are communicating to them that their presence in your life does not matter or, what’s more, that their presence in your life does not matter as they are now. It is the erasure of respect and recognition that implies that someone cannot exist within your world without first adhering to your standards. It is also the adherence to these standards which is the privilege of those that can remain comfortably at-present with themselves. It is also this privilege that implies that one must change to fit other people’s standards, to be accepted and approved, instead of having that being accepted and approved as one is.
This isn’t to say that one should always remain stubbornly persistent or resilient in the face of opposition, as obviously there comes a point where criticism can reveal some underlying character flaw – although, this is hypothetical, and surely on a case-by-case basis – what I mean to say is that it is the privilege of those who have presence to dictate the terms and conditions of what it requires for one to exist in their space.
Returning to the metaphor of presence and of life being a “house,” we can imagine that there are probably some rules that visitors would have to abide by to remain in someone’s life. This is not inherently a bad thing. Being able to remove unhealthy or damaging relationships from one’s life is a personal agency that should be afforded to most people, “should” being the keyword.
Again, not everyone is always afforded the privilege of having presence. A house is not a home. There are always terms and conditions when living in a house that isn’t yours.
It is difficult to argue with an angry tenant that sinks to passive-aggressive over months, it is difficult to coordinate with roommates that have taken to isolate themselves or avoid paying rent or decide to move out with little justification or warning, and more than anything, it is difficult to live with people who encroach on one’s boundaries and instead turn to bitter and sour behavior when social cues are not properly understood.
But, you know what else is difficult? Not having a house.
Understand that there are worse alternatives, but the experience of being erased inside of a space that should promote support and stability can be distressing, especially because one might even start to believe that conceding one’s own boundaries is crucial to survival. This is, again, why I say that a house is not a home.
A house can be a home, but a house is that means to an end. A home is that end.
It is the privilege of tenants and homeowners (people that own houses, property, etc.) to decide who should live with them, or in their house(s), at all. Some people do not have this privilege, and I count myself as one of them.
It is difficult to envision myself without the support network that I have right now. My parents; my friends; my relatives; all of them have helped more than I could ever put into words. It is also difficult, then, to step outside of those boundaries without fear of losing some valuable benefit: there are some days where I want to be confrontational, but I choose not to. I choose not to because I am afraid that I will lose my support if I say the wrong things, and I am in no good position to lose what support I haven’t already lost.
NOW THAT YOU HAVE READ IT, AND IN THE INTEREST OF THOSE WHO MIGHT HAVE NOT READ IT BEFORE, what did you think, dear reader?
Did you like it, did you hate it? Let me know in the comments section down below.
As for what I think? I’ve never read Bukowski outside of the poem, so I don’t know. The guy has been dead for over 25 years now. If I ever met Charles Bukowski, had I been born 25 years earlier, I know exactly what I would say to him:
(A/N: I removed this entire section because of my colorful language. I believed it to be a little excessive and, really, to spare you, dear reader, from another one of my impetuous temper tantrums towards American authors and poets.)
…and maybe I would even regret saying those words! Because I never really knew him, and I know that all of his words must have come from somewhere – from experience, surely – and having looked up a brief biography of the man on poets.org (where I copied + pasted this poem from), the man also apparently worked as a dishwasher, so I feel for him. Maybe him and I were more alike than I’d like to think, or maybe not. He had 50 years on me when he kicked the bucket, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well for myself so far.
Anyways… LOOK, here’s the brass tacks: even if I do agree with some of what Bukowski is saying here about not being a writer for fame or sex (which, to be honest, you shouldn’t pursue any occupation for fame or sex), what is so wrong about being a writer for money? You think you’re better than me, you pretentious old fart?
so you want to be a dishwasher?
if you have to spray down the dishes
for more than five seconds
don’t do it.
if the thought of pushing an entire carton
of dirty dishes into a machine
and letting it do all the work
don’t do it.
Like, does it really matter if you’re not ready, Bukowski? Instead of offering advice to blossoming writers, your plan is to attack them for their inexperience and inauthenticity? Yeah, okay, big guy.
Even if I do agree with most of what he says, that still doesn’t excuse the fact that it is a deliberately self-indulgent piece which is a massive middle-finger to anybody that isn’t on the same level as him. Not everybody can be Charles Bukowski, yet here we are, cowering underneath his titanic shadow.
The king is dead. Long live the king!
Even so, all of that would be perfectly acceptable. But I will never, never accept Bukowski’s position on the pretense of this passage alone:
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
This is the essence of each and every “Fuck you” I have directed specifically at Charles Bukowski. I will never understand this dumb elitism and ubiquitous need to be unique as a writer. There is nothing so undermining and condescending and frankly pretentious as saying “don’t be like everyone else,” like, hey, no shit, pal? I’d like very much to be my own person, but we’re not there yet. I need to be a person before I can be my own person, and I struggle being a person every day of my life.
What’s more than that, though, is the statement “Don’t be dull and boring and pretentious,” written as if to mean anything. What is dull? What is boring? What is pretentious?
Most offensive of all, though, is the maxim “Don’t be consumed with self-love”.
This I cannot agree with in any capacity.
If I am to be consumed, I would rather have it be by myself than by an awful life I have resigned to.
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I HATE IT.
I hate it because I know he is speaking from a place of certainty. He believes this to be the truth, and there are many who will believe it to be the truth. But I know that, for certain, it’s simply NOT true.
This idea of virtuous suffering, of self-sacrifice being the greatest good… it’s not true.
If you are consumed by the flames of that burning passion that you give yourself to, then I’m afraid that’s it. There’s nothing after. You are consumed, and there is nothing left. You ought not to drive yourself to madness for the glory.
None of us are born with a value attached to us. There is a light only you can see, a significance that is only evident to yourself. Do not discount it for the world at large.
But maybe… just maybe I’ve read Bukowski’s words wrong. It’s a little hard to say for certain and, after all, the essence of art is that everything is open to interpretation – but I feel correct in my reading of Bukowski’s poem here.
Either the work says more about the artist, or the work says more about the reader, depending on the context.
Again, art is open to interpretation. It is one of art’s greatest strengths and its most reliable shortcomings. I could be dead wrong. But, you know what? Bukowski could’ve been dead wrong, too. You don’t need to listen to the preachy ramblings and poetic musings of a bunch of old coots to know that your feelings and experiences are valid. That’s a lesson I learned a long time ago.
Maybe Bukowski didn’t mean any of what I am accusing him of meaning here – absolutely – maybe my anger and distaste towards him is completely unjustified, but maybe that says more about me than it does about him. In that sense, perhaps my reaction is a valuable outcome in and of itself.
Again, there is considerable significance and value in the misinterpretation of words and their meaning.
I’VE BEEN IN THE COMPANY OF CATS FOR SO LONG NOW, I almost forgot that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. There’s a good chance I may not land on my feet this time.
All my plans have fallen through. Everything I was planning to do at this stage in life has been waylaid so that I might focus on being okay. I am locked into survival mode, being-to-be.
My behavior in the past month has been unacceptable. I’ll fully admit to that. I had to abruptly hang up on my mother while she was talking to me at one point, on the verge of tears, unable to speak. I was so upset I couldn’t even tell her why. My father texted me a while later, a long text that I’ve read over and over to myself. It ends with “I really expected better from you”. I never responded. I really expected better from myself, too. I don’t know how to respond to that.
I talked to my mother about it later. I talked to her through stifled, ugly crying. I hate to have people see or hear me when I’m so broken. I feel guilty even typing this. I’m alternating constantly between “She’s already done so much for me,” and “I wish she could support me more,” and I don’t mean financially, no, I’m saying this as someone who struggles to open up, to be honest, and to express myself. I still can’t be myself around my parents and that really fucking hurts sometimes (A/N: In hindsight, having written this, I don’t mean to undermine or downplay the significance of my parents’ contributions to my success as a student, and in general; my reasoning for this goes back to “boundaries,” but know that I do love my parents very much. Mom, Dad, if you’re reading this: I really want to work on our relationship together, and I hope that I can prove myself a better son than the person I am now. I endlessly appreciate your patience and support for me. I love you both so much).
The last month has been turbulent. I secured two jobs (two dishwashing positions, in Northeast and Southwest Portland, respectively) and I found out that I wouldn’t be living with my best friends in a month’s time. I’ve been planning this for a while, and so the news that I wouldn’t actually be a part of the process was heartbreaking. I mean that in every sense of the word. I really wanted this. This is the first thing I wanted so bad in such a long, long time, and knowing that it wouldn’t happen dealt such a blow to my ego that I honestly felt like calling it quits, packing up, and heading right back to where I started in Cali (A/N: This might still be the case as of now).
But, as my mother tells me, “Everyone struggles, struggling builds character,” and, more pertinently, “This is the worst of it, you’re at the bottom now”.
As much as I would like to believe that, however, I feel like it’ll get even worse before it gets better. I don’t feel like I’ve hit bottom yet. It’s such a long, long way down (A/N: This was written at the beginning of March).
I want to struggle. I’m here because I want to struggle. If I can quit at any moment, why would I not want to be here right now? Why would I want to take the easy way out?
Who do you take me for?
If you’re so concerned with the outcome and not the process, if all you do is cut corners, you’ll never grow as a person. I know that I’m slow, but I’m also deliberate. I’m learning. I’m getting better. It won’t be overnight, and it won’t be drastic, but I will be better and it will be sooner than you expect.
I know that my mother meant “Everyone struggles,” to deter me from putting myself under any more stress, to make me feel like I wasn’t alone – but I’m afraid she’s done the opposite. I know she wants me to be okay, and believe me, I do want to be okay, but I’ll never be okay if I can’t struggle for my own sake. I need to prove to myself that I can exist here because I want to, and not just because I have the privilege of existing here now.
There is considerable significance in the misinterpretation of words. There is also considerable value in the misinterpretation of words (in some circumstances).
A writer’s greatest tool is being able to carefully select the correct words to get their true meaning across: it is an honor to be able to translate one’s thoughts into words, but a daunting, paralyzing task at times.
At some point, the fear melts away.
Charles Bukowski published a poem once, entitled “so you want to be a writer?”
If you haven’t read it, here it is, in its full, unedited glory:
THROUGHOUT 2018 AND MOST OF 2019 I WAS VERY CONCERNED WITH MY OWN HEALTH, and I took an hour or so out of each and every day to exercise and work out so that I might offset my diet of junk food and carbohydrates with some kind of physical activity. Working out is good for you, after all – and I thought that if I can do good and be fulfilled then I am living a life that is both good and fulfilling.
I started 2020 much the same and quickly set aside my regular routine, for many reasons.
I’m losing motivation, for one; for two, it’s a time investment, and I am running exceptionally low on time nowadays; third, and perhaps this is the one that has been the determining factor (and I suppose this goes hand-in-hand with the time investment bit), is that it’s become less of a priority to be healthy and more of a priority to exist.
The prospect reads like a contradiction, but I assure you that anybody who has lived a day in this life knows what I mean when I say that I am focusing on getting by.
I am no longer investing into long-term goals and my own presence-beyond-now. I am only investing into what is immediate and certain: I need to work, and to pay rent, and to find someplace to live, etc. etc.
It is the privilege of those who are well-adjusted and certain of their life’s trajectory that can invest in their future. I belong to the caste of people whose existence is the day-to-day.
Being a college graduate is not all what I thought it was cracked up to be. I’m beginning to realize that college is, and has always been, a waste bunker meant for burnouts and people who don’t know what they want to do after high school, of which I belong to both categories.
I could have spent the last four years working for money. Instead, I spent the last four years paying an institution so that I might access a much more prestigious version of my high school, and so that I might boast the accolade of having a Bachelor’s degree on my job resume (also, for those curious, I doubt it makes any kind of difference – nobody has actually offered me an interview for any kind of career in my field; if you’re thinking of attending college because it’ll land you a “good job”, save your money).
It is more accurate to say that college is a full-time job that you pay for. If you go into a college or university without already having a clear plan for your future, you’ve already set yourself up for failure, and I don’t mean to come off as condescending or to say “Failure to plan is planning for failure,” but if you don’t gear yourself towards a career during college, you will not reap the full benefits from your experience there. I say this as someone who has graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in communications and, as I’m sure you’re probably wondering, dear reader, “What exactly is communications?”
The joke is that, even in the communications department, communications is very vague and ill-defined. If you asked me to describe it, I would say it’s a little bit of marketing, a little bit of public relations, and a little bit of sociology for good measure, but without any real strong focus on any. I picked communications as a major only because Portland State University didn’t offer any majors in writing, so I chose a writing minor instead. I wanted communications to really “open up” any opportunities in terms of career choice. I’m not someone who wants to limit myself to any one career path, and being flexible job-wise has always been something I’ve really wanted.
The mistake I made was treating college as another “high school”.
So, if you’ve yet to attend college or university, and your main goal is to “get a good job”… in spite of my recent warning to “save your money,” my only advice would be this: college is not high school, and the work you put in will come secondary to the time you invest in networking. Colleges have many resources dedicated to helping students and alumni find post-graduate work, and I recommend you use those resources while they’re available to you, or risk squandering your work in mediocrity for a piece of paper that really amounts to a glorified gold star for participation.
College is a disgusting hybrid of high school and a full-time job. Treat it as such.
I interrupt my regularly scheduled writings to insert my first book review.
“My Name Is Romero” is a poetry book written by Mexican-American spoken word artist David A. Romero, and (soon to be) published by FlowerSong books.
Although the book acts as an anthology, it is still closely bound by the recurrent themes of lineage and identity. Nowhere is this more evident than the eponymous first poem, which is a title track of sorts – an introduction to the anthology, and the author. “My Name Is Romero” is a declaration, an affirmation, and a statement of purpose: all of this poem culminates in an excellent metaphor, in which Romero proclaims and muses, “That we are all the children of Africa / Roots of no single family tree / But of a flourishing forest / That grows majestically / Towards a magnificent destiny / Shining / Radiant beauty / Just please / Close your eyes / And you can see it…”
The denouement of this first piece, then, is scaling back down, and returning to the name of the book and of the poem. “Because if you’re not proud of who you are / Then what’re you gonna be proud of?” It is a resounding statement of power, and one that resonates throughout each and every poem that succeeds it.
As a mixed-latinx person myself, I still struggle with my own identity. It is difficult to identify with any strong family ties or ancestry because that wasn’t the family environment I grew up with. My skin is darker than my mom’s but lighter than my dad’s, and I’ve been acutely aware of my denomination as “white passing” for a while now. I can still remember when a group of friends, people that I genuinely liked, were surprised that I considered myself latinx – and then went onto tell me that I wasn’t latinx at all, but actually white. At the time, I accepted their words as truth (after all, they were white as well, so it was almost as if the decision to call me white was meant to be an induction into whiteness), but as I reflected on the event, it began to upset me more and more. I suppose that the phenomenon of “not being latinx enough” will be a recurring nightmare for many mixed-latinx kids – a trauma that will be experienced many times over. Reading Romero’s first poem, I felt an instant connection that persisted well after I had finished reading. There was an earnest pathos: I found someone who must understand my own struggles with identity. I had come to understand Romero’s words vicariously, and it was an important connection for me.
Again, although the book acts as an anthology, there are some recurrent themes that persist. The second poem, although a self-contained narrative on its own, incorporates lineage in its story through generational trauma (and the allusions should be obvious to anyone who is aware of, or has been directly affected by the conditions imposed upon migrant peoples by American border security) and identity through the story’s framing device of a football game. The metaphorical significance of running away and keeping a low profile is contrasted with the poem’s subject, Miguel, and how badly he wants to claim victory over his opponents.
There are many other gripping narrative poems on display, especially in the sections “Flowers” and “Beloved”, but Romero puts his best foot forward first and offers a healthy selection of selected works that emphasize his lineage, his identity, and his political predispositions. The words are also beefed up with some spicy humor which accent some works, as in “Pardon My French” where Romero tells us that “In high school / I took French instead of Spanish / Got A’s in my classes / Wanting to French my French teacher / Ooo la la!”; in other cases, as in “That’s a Wrap / Ode to the Burrito,” the humor is the work’s main attraction while still managing to balance out a serious political statement about cultural appropriation.
Each work manages its own compound of these constituent elements, some such as “Gorilla Arms” and “Micro Machines” focusing more on individual experiences and stories, while works like “Poor, Poor Spaniard,” “Who Wins?” and “Patriots & Lunatics” are much more politically charged, ardent, and serious. Yet, there are still poems such as “Black and Brown: Fight Tonight!” which are skewed towards the more political end of the spectrum which still blend humor and playful metaphor to great effect.
My favorite poem from the first section comes at the very end. “Grandfather Tells Time” has a very unique, wistful ambiance to it that sharply contrasts with everything come before it. It is all at once calm and sad and beautiful. It makes me feel the same way I do as when I listen to the Caretaker album, An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.
The second section, “Flowers” has much more ambitious, historical narratively-focused poems. Nowhere better is this exemplified than “Concierto de al-Andalus” which tells the story of Aderfi, an Imazighen villager kidnapped by pillaging Moors and separated from his wife – the poem has an epic scope, but only lasts for about as twice as long as any other poem contained within this collection.
Then, there is “Lili’uokalani” which is a poem presented as a letter written by Julius A. Palmer, Jr. It is both creative in subject matter and presentation, and surely stands out as exceptionally unique from anything come before it.
Although “Flowers” offers a much bolder, refined style of poetry, the third and penultimate section of the book, “Beloved” distills some of the previous sections’ pronounced narratives and creates with it a brilliant, striking series of descending poems: “Secret Beaches” leans into nostalgic love lost, and “The Woman with Many Names” revives much of the first section’s playful humor.
“It Could’ve Been Magic” is my favorite poem in the book by far, so much so that I feel it necessary not to talk about here lest I accidentally spoil my favorite parts. The section ends with “Rosemary,” one of the shortest poems – its title recalling an earlier footnote, and its subject matter returning to family: it is much more personal and somber than any other poem in this section.
The final poem, “Our Name Is Romero” has a section of its own, “Etymology”, properly bookending the experience in one climactic stroke. What I find most prominent is that the poem draws attention to Bartolome II, “The Last Great Conquistador”. It is another somber interval, wherein Romero recounts a myriad of grave actions that earned Bartolome the title of “butcher”. Although, the past is not erased, he says, “This Bartolome / This Romero / He is a part of us / He gave us our name. / What follows / Is what we make”.
It is a powerful conclusion, and another great contrast between the ideas explored at the beginning and the end of the collection: whereas Romero wears his name with pride in his poems at the beginning, there emerges a maturity in both the tone and style of the writings in the second and third sections, looking to the past, both in life and lineage, to learn and to grow; in “Our Name Is Romero,” the name is worn with both pride and humility, as a legacy and a responsibility.
I could sing more praise, but I would rather recommend the book outright: my favorite poems are “It Could’ve Been Magic,” “Lilli’uokalani,” “Grandfather Tells Time,” “Gorilla Arms,” and “Undocumented Football”. If you are latinx or mixed, I could not recommend this book to you enough – if you are not latinx or mixed, I would still recommend this if you enjoy storytelling in poetry. There is a story here that extends beyond the words and the pages, and it is wholly engrossing experience to behold.
LET ME RETURN TO HEIDEGGER FOR A MOMENT HERE AS I MOVE ONTO MY NEXT POINT.
As Jenny and Linn Berggren from Swedish pop group Ace of Base once said, “I saw Dasein, and it opened up my eyes,” asserting that, “Life is demanding, without understanding”.
As we broach this next topic, let me conclude some tapering threads from my previous section by saying this: human beings are fundamentally different from food, and thus the metaphor does not complete itself. Human beings are not consumables because we cannot easily be digested or broken down into our constituent parts. We cannot quantify what it is that we give to our lives to sustain them. We are not materials to be used and be rid of, but neither do we earn our existence without the production of some kind of value of our own that cannot be reduced into constituent parts or easily digested.
In other words, we have certain – how might you say this? – “inalienable rights” that do entitle us to some liberty, but with some disclaimers attached.
Much in the same way a police officer will read your Miranda rights to you, and recite the stock incantation, “You have the right to remain silent,” you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, but do be prepared for some abuse at the expense of your own liberty.
In this peculiar age, people have taken to describing life as suffering, or burdensome, or anything that would imply that the mere state of existence is a tribulation of its own. I will not argue this position here, although I will reconcile this schema towards suffering as significant in regards to how it means, in our modern age, to be.
“Being” is a funny word because despite its insistence on being a common noun, it is actually a very cleverly disguised verb: that is, a human be-ing.
Consider what Hamlet means when he asks, “To be, or not to be?”
When it comes down to brass tacks, being that we are still here and will likely not leave of our own volition hereafter – don’t we already know that our answer consistently has been, and will be, to?
Technically, yes – but with some disclaimers attached.
We live in an increasingly digital, technological marvel of a world today. The convenience afforded to us might be so great, in fact, that you* could say it’s embedded in our understanding of how the world at large functions.
*This is the first instance where I mean to say “I” when referring to you.
Existence and presence are two halves of the whole coin that I will refer to as “being”. Heidegger had some ideas on being which, if you (you) don’t know or aren’t aware of yet because you haven’t been doing your ASSIGNED READING LIKE I’VE BEEN ASKING YOU TO, Dasein is Heidegger’s terminology for “being-there” (da = there, sein = being) as separate from Sein, which refers to only “being”.
I’ll also take this opportunity to say that if, for whatever reason, you are not familiar with Heidegger or his texts at all, just read the Wikipedia article for “Heideggerian terminology” as it covers most of the main ideas that I’ll be referencing to and pulling from here. Let me also take this opportunity to say that if you are unfamiliar with Heidegger, know that I borrow his terminology here because it serves a practical use in reinforcing the points I am trying to get across. Obviously, the man has some baggage attached to him: the same way Volkswagen companies don’t appeal to their rich history and humble beginnings, I will not discuss or make a case for Heidegger outside of his ideas.
I will define being as one’s material existence. You are welcome to disagree or contend this point with me, and I will say that you are also welcome to define being as material and/or immaterial or the inseparable union of both but I will put up resistance to this and going forward explain why to the best of my ability.
To me, however, it is not enough for someone to simply “be” how they are/ought to. The difference between being and being-there, in my own interpretation, is the presence of those who are be-ing. In other words, it is not enough for someone to simply “be” (material existence) but to “be there” (immaterial existence). Dasein and its conception of “being-there”, in my opinion, is what it means to be present.
It might seem pedantic, and you (I) might even argue that a distinction need not be made between one another since the idea of being precedes being-there (or even that being supersedes being-there, as the former is concerned with total existence as opposed to particular existence (particular existence here, I mean as “living in the moment”, while total existence is more of a mode of existence that means acting in service to, or to support, a continuation of existence (but again, I don’t know. I’ve done some surface level reading on existentialism and topics surrounding it, and there’s probably words for this stuff out there already, but it works for the concepts I’m going for))).
The reason I feel as though I need to make the distinction is specifically that someone needs to “be” in order to “be there”. So, the concept of simply “being”, might seem silly at first. Like, yeah, okay, well you (I) and I (you) are “being” right now, I’m “being” an active reader and doing a stupid voice in my head, and you’re “being” a very flippant and not-at-all-fluent writer, to which I (I) would say, yes, we are “being” those respective things you had just mentioned, but that is not at all what “being” is about.
This distinction has been important to me for a while: nowadays, you cannot simply “be” as you are. You cannot be to be, you have to be to belong. You have to belong to something, whether it is an organization (social or political or corporate), or an ideology, or some other set of ideas, or more commonly, your own life. Even belonging to your own life, it seems, restricts you to the belonging of a much broader matrix of domination than even you yourself might be aware of. Perhaps we could call this phenomenon… a dominatrix (A/N: Jared, please google this word later and consider revising. Thank you.)
Sartre said once that “[people are] condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, [they are] responsible for everything [they do]. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning”. As we’ve moved into the new millennium (that being the millennium where I’ve learned to walk, talk, speak, form coherent sentences, and eventually create meaningful relationships out of the strange little words that everyone else gives much more credence and significance than even I intend to most of the time), we have also moved beyond the narrow-minded confines and gospel of traditional, orthodox religion and instead embraced the radical individualist, postmodern science-and-stoic-nihilism doctrine of existence, so much so that its influence has trickled down into the bedrock of what most people today consider “philosophy”.
I would venture to say that we have all unanimously chosen to prefer, or favor, a society whose values are strictly material. This is also to say that we have placed our faith in social and political institutions such as sociology, psychology, applied sciences (such as physics, medicine, etc.) and the dreaded government superpowers-that-be.
Now, look, I know that none of this is even remotely close to an original idea – I have no presumptions that any of this is; I’d like to wear my heart on my sleeves when I can, and my influences when I can’t – that all being said, is it not telling that we must put our faith into something, if not God then surely our nation, and if not our nation, then surely our families and the places that we call home, and if none of the above, then surely ourselves?
Your next line, I would assume, is “Yeah, well, what if I don’t have faith in anything? How you beg the question and all of what it entails would fall apart.”
To which I would reply, “If you have the faith to remain here, then you must believe in something”. I don’t believe you would have an adequate response to this otherwise.
You cannot convince me that you are a completely faithless person, otherwise you would not be reading this, or you would be dying, or dead, or you would be, or you would be trying to.
The heuristics of our everyday existence is largely absent now. Everything exists with a material purpose, and that includes ourselves, our lives, and our existence as a whole (A/N: Citation needed, obviously – but what I meant to say is that everything is either made, or happens, for a reason. As the Sartre quote above goes, we make our own reasons). To exist without purpose is to not be anything, at all. I would also hazard to say that it is statistically impossible to be on a long-enough timeline as a vagrant, purposeless husk of a human and not eventually pachinko your way into some decent purpose by happenstance alone. This thought, however, as comforting as it may be, does not allay the mental anguish associated with a purposeless existence.
We all have to belong to something, to be in service of something greater than ourselves, even if that ‘something’ is our own lives.
All of this is predicated, however, on being.
So, I’ll return to “be-ing” and ask: what does it mean “to be”?
My interpretation of being is to be and to meet all the necessary requirements there are which enable us to exist as we are. In layman’s terms, I suppose, being is to exist with all of our needs met.
Again, this might seem very eye-rolling and pedantic and hairsplitting, yes, I’ll acknowledge that, but I’d like you to consider what exactly it means to have your needs satisfied.
If all our needs are, for lack of a better definition, elements necessary to our survival, then would we not always have our needs met? If we consider needs as the determining factors to our continued existence, then yes.
If we consider our needs the bare essential minimum for any life to exist, I would say that if you are reading this and comprehend even a fraction of it, you are likely well above that cutoff line. When we have our needs met, we can be.
People have always grappled with the problem of being: we are all being, yes, and I will not argue that we are never not being, but that we have put less and less emphasis on being in this new millennium (and indeed the century leading up to the new millennium) and more emphasis on the presence of our being, that is, the immaterial existence outside of our being in the material world.
I needn’t tell you that there is a world of difference between being, and being able to; being, and being aware of; being, and being there for; being, and being present. I don’t say this to be tautological (although I will say that I do use that word so that I can impress you by knowing what tautology even means), but to say that there is much more emphasis on the value of a person’s being than their being itself.
Put another way: nowadays, there is much more value attached to how someone lives, than in regards to their own life.
This distinction can be seen in people who consistently devalue the lives of criminals, people who suffer from substance addiction, homeless people, conventionally unattractive people, people of color, religious advocates, service industry workers, and even sex workers. Of course, these are only to name a few – there are certainly other demographics I could pull from, but it has always struck me as morally repulsive when people treat others in callous or uncaring ways with little to no provocation at all.
There are obvious exceptions. I doubt that I would treat a sex offender or a serial killer with the same respect I would treat a burglar, for example.
People consistently fail to consider the material circumstances of any one person’s life. We are, again, “condemned to be free,” and within that freedom, many people are often subject to circumstances outside of their control which require them to break the rules of what is considered conventional, normal, or even moral, to define their own existence*.
*This is the disclaimer we have attached to all our lives, actually (disclaimer as in our very existence disclaims us from the dogma that our society imposes onto us, so says radical individualism). Every rule and every law we abide by all have an unattached disclaimer, too, and that is that you are always ‘allowed’ to break those rules and laws, so long as you understand the consequences associated with doing so. This unspoken truth is the underpinning for any system on which rules or laws exist. I’ll also take this opportunity to say that any contradictions you’ve noticed or uncertainties you’ve had about the world and how it works can be directly attributed to the knowledge of this truth – in the same way we ask ourselves, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” we could also say, “If somebody breaks a law but nobody is around to witness it, did it really happen?” – we are responsible for our own behavior and actions, and likewise how our own behavior and actions might infringe upon other people’s liberty.
I’m afraid that I do believe in some instances, spaces, and contexts, that violence is permissible, and even preferable. I will not make any further claims on this statement, and I will not distinguish physical violence from verbal violence, either – I will say, however, that I respect a victim’s right to retaliation.
It goes without saying that any person’s individual material existence can be threatened, and not only through physical or verbal violence, but systemic violence; institutionalized racism; normalized sexism; the existence of homophobia and transphobia as concepts is a particularly egregious case, if only that the terms pathologize what is essentially bigotry (but we still lack any other terminology that, to my knowledge, adequately describes these impolitic individuals in lieu of being bigots).
Threats of violence do not wholly deter being, but that people might respond with violence to protect themselves does make logical sense; likewise, we are always being with the knowledge that our material existence can and will be threatened if the status quo that is our being is not maintained properly.
Think of it like a videogame: we have our hunger and thirst stats, which should preferably be kept at a good level most of the time, and then we have our health stats which includes physical, mental, and emotional health.
Now, these stats can be neglected, and even be kept at exceedingly, dangerously low levels, and our player character can still be and exist in the world. This is not to say that this being is preferable, or even desirable, but likely that our player character is struggling — being to be.
Being-to-be is not preferable or desirable, but it is being.
Many people nowadays are being-to-be, but also to be there. These are not mutually exclusive categories.
Being-there is to be present, to have presence.
Many people will find themselves struggling to be, and to be there, at the same time.
I will also concede that, to my knowledge, Dasein is more accurately defined as existence and more to do with being-there-in-the-now (which is why I combined being-there with the idea of having “presence,” as in to be present) but, in Heidegger’s own view, that this mode of existence was somehow “inauthentic” insofar that people were not acting in service of their own meaning, destiny, etc.
So, look, I’m not trying to rewrite the entire canon of philosophical musings done by Germans some centuries ago – nor am I trying to be pedagogic about some translation elements – not at all.
I reject Heidegger’s notion that being-there is somehow an inauthentic expression. To me, being-there is the most radical authentic expression a person can have. Being able to have presence in the now is what differentiates us from one another, defines us, and communicates to ourselves what is most important to us.
“Being” (Sein) is only one half of the equation, and even then… “Being” is only one-half of one-half (so, a quarter) of the equation that is authenticity, which ends with what I refer to as having a presence-beyond-now.
What I mean to say is that there is a hierarchy to this mode of thought that hasn’t been explored yet, or if it has, I have not seen it described in the way I believe it to be (if someone knows of a concept similar to this, feel free to redirect me):
1. BEING is the most basic mode of existence, and that entails being, or existing physically in a space. Being is a very broad mode of existence. Being can be stripped of any philosophical thought experiments as some inalienable right afforded to all of existence, including ourselves – it is that radical freedom which condemns us to be free.
2. BEING-TO-BE is a layer removed, or above, simply being. Being-to-be is a mode of existence in which action is to be taken by the being in question. The being occupies a physical space wherein their rights to exist-as-they-are come under scrutiny, and their security and stability in being-as-they-are now comes into question. I draw upon the idea of Positive and Negative liberty in this instance, having to incorporate oneself into larger organizations or with support networks in order to maintain existence at the expense of some authenticity of the self.
3. PRESENCE is that existence which enables a being the ability of being-there, or being “present,” that is willing and able to respond to the threat of invalidation and being able to assert one’s own right to exist without impediment. To me, presence is the authenticity that is often clouded over when oneself is immersed in that existence which is “Being-to-be,” which necessitates some actions that would otherwise be considered immoral or disagreeable in other contexts. Presence is then the privilege of being present, without immediate fear or apprehension of having existence be threatened (or, it is the assertion of validity in regards to, or in spite of, circumstances that would otherwise permit or dissuade one’s presence).
4. PRESENCE-BEYOND-NOW is that existence which Heidegger refers to as the authentic self, and those lofty ideas of individual meaning, destiny, and all else that entails. As “Being-to-be” is the persistence of being, the “presence-beyond-now” is the persistence of one’s presence. This is when presence remains unthreatened, and the person can move beyond the conflicts that come with simply living to live. This is the goal. This is the tip-top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where “self-actualization” can occur.
Presence-beyond-now is not something we have discussed yet, and with good reason. I don’t feel it’s actually entirely necessary to the point I’m trying to make, either. At any rate, I’m not trying to contribute anything of significance to your intellectual palette via a Facebook post (A/N: This was originally a Facebook post, but it was too long).
I daydream about having presence and presence-beyond-now more than I would like to admit. It is difficult for me to imagine what a presence-beyond-now looks like. It’s that question, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” – who really knows? Not me.
You can’t ask a goldfish to describe its existence to you. If we were goldfish, immersed in the water of a glass bowl our entire lives, how can we experience the world as anything different?
It is at each of these stages of existence, in Being, Being-to-be, Presence, and the Presence-beyond-now, that the individual views their own existence in very different terms.
In Being, life is viewed as the self. They are inseparable. It is at this level that many different attitudes and behaviors towards the prospect of living exist. When a person falls to penury or sickness without any doing of their own, you can reasonably expect the individual to be upset about it and even begin to weigh the costs and benefits of further existence at all (A/N: I wrote this before COVID-19 was considered a pandemic, but I will be leaving the statement as is).
In Being-to-be, life is viewed as a vehicle or a vessel that requires constant upkeep so that progress can be made accordingly. Here, there is motivation to keep one’s life in good shape so that we can have presence. Most people seesaw between Being, Being-to-be, and having Presence. In Being-to-be, you can imagine one’s entire existence as analogous to an automobile. While most automobiles look serviceable regularly, it is the owner, ultimately, who is responsible for the internal engine and the vehicle’s interior. It is not uncommon for people who are trapped, or spend a majority of their existence being-to-be, to have extremely messy cars. Automobiles are meant for one thing: getting the driver from one place to another. Any passengers along for the ride are cargo. It is also not uncommon for automobiles to break down, requiring outside assistance to make it to the next destination safely, or to have maintenance performed on the vehicle. That feeling of seeing an automobile broken down on the side of the highway and roaring past without a second glance or consideration are all too familiar for people simply being-to-be.
In Presence, or being-there, life is a house that requires much more upkeep than an automobile, but is usually indicative of a much more stable environment overall. Having someplace to regularly return to allows for much more freedom, actually. It is in having presence, and allowing people to come into our lives, that we are able to have some decision over who we do and don’t want to share ourselves with. Here, we are able to assert our boundaries consciously and effectively. Much more, we are able to straighten ourselves out and make our lives much more attractive by cleaning and keeping up appearances for other people. In appearing collected for other people, we must actually collect ourselves first. Funnily enough, other people encourage us to keep our presence. Obviously, this analogy does not account for all hypothetical variables – but because Being-to-be is more of a vehicle, it is practical because it supports the notion that Being-to-be is a processual movement between spaces, and Presence is that space which we clearly understand as ours. On the road, for example, we share the highway with many different people who are headed to different places. While everyone understands and obeys driving laws most of the time, there is always the possibility of being in an accident. Of course, accidents can be anybody’s fault – they’re called “accidents” for a reason – but the analogy remains the same, when you’re Being-to-be, you’re always at risk of an unexpected setback, sometimes because of another person, other times because of unforeseen circumstances.
In Presence-beyond-now, life is a home. Life is a place to be lived in for now, and for whoever comes into your life even after your presence is no longer there – either because of distance, or because you’ve gone and shuffled off this mortal coil. Home is a place where new possibilities manifest, a place to rest and to return to when your presence is threatened. When I say “home,” I do not mean to conflate your idea of it with a house, either. I mean home in a much broader sense. I mean “home” as in a space you’ve cultivated specifically for yourself. When I say “home,” I mean to say your friends, your family, your friends that you consider family, the places that are most special to you, the history you’ve written, the goals you’ve achieved, and the goals you have in mind for the future – all of these are that space which I would call “home”. Yes, if we wanted to take the analogy further, we could say that a house is not a home; therefore, our Presence is not our Presence-beyond-now precisely because we will live in many different houses throughout our lives, but we will only associate one (or very few of them) with “home”. While a house is much safer than an automobile on the road, there are still many things that determine how “safe” a house is to live in overall. The stability of a home, however, is the sum of all that supports it.
To return to Being, for a moment, before I close discussion of this: if we use the analogy of Being-to-be as an automobile, we could also say that Being can be viewed as any method of transportation outside of the automobile: either public transportation, or using a bicycle, or simply walking. In the instance of public transportation, you remain within an automotive vehicle – however, these vehicles have predetermined routes that you must adhere to; likewise, you must share the space inside the vehicle with other people (in the same way you share the road with other people, although in this context, in an environment where personal space can be ignored very easily – anyone who has used public transportation during an especially busy season can attest to this). The threat of physical harm is always implicit in spaces where personal space is not given consideration. In the case of Being-to-be, violent car crashes can be fatal, although these are less common than accidents which usually only involve property damage. In the instance of using a bicycle, the threat of being hit by a moving vehicle will always be understood by cyclists. The instance of physical harm that may come as simply being a civilian should be apparent.
This is all to say that I don’t know if there is any guaranteed way to live a good and fulfilling life, and I don’t think that many people do, either.