I just clarified my perception of yet another obnoxious flaw in human psychology…

Pity and self-pity are things people crave. I have no idea why, but we crave them, particularly when we feel like something’s not fair.

ALSO: Pity and self-pity are a couple of the worst things that can happen to us.

When I was stuck in shit jobs in my teens and early-to-mid-20s, I “dealt with it” by drinking with my coworkers and wallowing in self-pity, and pitying each other, for hours after every shift… often till it was time to hurry to bed, sleep a few hours, and go back to work. We were craving pity and recognition of our wrongs, but all it wound up doing for us was to keep us from doing anything productive with the time we did have off.

I really wish I could have gotten in a time machine for a bit to see this video:

“Do your job, 20-year-olds”

It would have pissed me off, and it’s not like I was the kind of little douche who would run off with the Peace Corps and think I was actually doing something that would help anyone (unless the Peace Corps has a Condom Cavalry?), but the basic message is good for any kid: Look, the fact that you’re making yourself even more miserable than your shitty job makes you feel already is doing nobody any good, particularly not you. And you’re not alone, the universe has no particular grudge against you, it just sucks for everyone, so, I don’t know, just try not to be a jerk.

Yes, IT WOULD HAVE PISSED ME OFF NO END. But if I actually listened, it would have gotten me out of the shit jobs a lot faster.

Ah, sweet, sweet pity. The number one filler of jail cells. (And sweet, sweet irony: If I hadn’t wasted so much time and energy on hating my shit jobs, I’d have had less shit to deal with in total.) Just because we want things doesn’t mean they’re good for us.

But just because they’re nasty doesn’t mean they’re good for us either. The obvious example being hitting yourself in the face with a hammer, but more subtle things, like feeling overly guilty just to be sure you aren’t a jerk, perhaps more thoroughly permeate life with badness that can’t be reversed.

“OK, so be a jerk, but don’t be a jerk? Don’t do what feels good, and don’t do what feels bad? How am I supposed to know what IS good for me?”

Well, assuming you’re young, try to listen to your elders (if you’re old, you’re probably screwed already anyway, so decide for yourself whether that next beer is worth it), and learn to avoid the most common mistakes before you make them.

Suuuuuure. But then again, in order to come to the understanding that you should listen to your fuck-up, pathetic elders precisely BECAUSE they have fucked up and proved that the thing they tried doesn’t work, you generally have to learn by making the mistake of not listening to your elders… (and as you may have noticed, your elders can generally only give you anti-examples. Don’t do this, I’m rich but I’m miserable. Don’t do that, she died of starvation at age 82… does it start to look like there ARE no good choices?)… and by the time you have that lesson down you’ve already fumbled your way into middle age and now, jesus h. Christ, you’re the old fuckup now and there’s no one willing to give you free advice anymore. Your turn, gramps! Try to tell the kids to listen to the grownups, that’s the life lesson that’s become your job to repeat to no avail.

Hopefully you’ll just be advising the neighborhood kids. Because really, who needs Son of Fuckup around?

Comments

  1. Srikant

    That's a good thought, Ann! Only thing is, is the time we're free enough for the other endeavour? Then again, spending some of it for pity will only slice it down further, so … =)

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    Ann Sterzinger

    It isn't really… but at least it's enough to look for a slightly better job.
    No, it isn't really, and thus the anger… but even if you didn't have to work there's still not enough time before the curtain to do everything you want to do. Not that knowing this is a very great store of comfort against the lost hours. To wildly paraphrase Chip Smith, it isn't necessary to be an anhedonic depressive to grasp the logic of the antinatalist position… and in fact NOT being anhedonic only makes that finish line more bitter. I'm actually capable of enjoying things sometimes as though they mattered… and in that they matter to me, or temporarily feel as though they do, comes an equal and opposite and equally pointless anger at the existence of the crushing curtain.

  3. Dylan Koch

    It's refreshing to see analysis of this kind, for, without it, don't we become imprisoned by our own rutted and established behaviors, only to waste the most precious resource, time? Haven't you seen this happen in the "scene" as you got older? Those sad friends who kept repeating the same piece of sheet music over and over again while wasting potential opportunities to do something different? I have done this myself to some degree. It seemed so obvious that they needed a change of thinking (and that's all) to get back on track to actually doing something with their lives, which were teeming with potential. Watch Bill Moyer's latest interview with Marty Kaplan where he talks about having "rage-envy" because of the lack of getting up and doing anything in this country compared to the vociferous public rioting in the streets of Brazil when bus fare when up ten cents. In the piece he asks,"Where is our Brazil?" It does take, as J Robbins would say, "…an intellect to stretch your neck out of a cushioned tomb." In other words, we seem to become both resistant and vulnerable with each nudge towards an unfamiliar way of thinking or perceiving something, whatever it might be. Enter Brene Brown and her seven plus years of research on the power of vulnerability (check it out if you have time). But this is the only way informed opinions can be made- by first actually listening. To quote Ben Franklin in Poor Richard's Almanac," A good pair of ears drains dry a hundred tongues." I actually use this on my patients all the time and they totally love to hear it, because it lets them know that although they may feel trapped in the spiderweb of the healthcare system, I am making a concerted effort to actually listen attentively first before I do anything else. Essentially, to humanize what should already be human, yet, nowadays, is often not. Many of us live persistently under the weight of our own identities, whose archetypes may often propel us to act or behave in ways that would most likely undermine any sense of growth from a situation. Strangely, it becomes this tax we owe to our identities that sometimes causes this inability to pry ourselves out of the pity mud and get on with, as you put it, productive living (and more importantly, doing). I completely agree with this. This is why I liked the analysis of pity and the discourse in attempting to discover what is the actual underlying etiology of it. That is where I also have "failed"-failed to perceive the actual opportunity for some kind of improvement (or at least change). This requires self-reflection and clarification that would likely result from this action, like you had pointed out happened to you (probably long before you even knew who Louie CK was). Interesting research about what it takes to acquire expertise done by K. Anders Ericcson, out of the University of Tallahassee, Florida, boils down to a relatively simple idea. Experts are made, not born. This goes sideways to what most of our "collective common sense" tells us. We quickly agree that it must be genetic endowment that makes or breaks us, but research does not bear this hypothesis out. In fact, it's more about deliberate practice, the basic premise of your post. It's this belief in the process , and not that you are born into achievement, that we need to place out trust in. So keep writing…and sorry this got so long.

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    Ann Sterzinger

    Thank you! My reading list grows ever longer…

    I only wish I'd come to this perception much, much sooner.

    "Many of us live persistently under the weight of our own identities, whose archetypes may often propel us to act or behave in ways that would most likely undermine any sense of growth from a situation. Strangely, it becomes this tax we owe to our identities that sometimes causes this inability to pry ourselves out of the pity mud and get on with, as you put it, productive living (and more importantly, doing)."

    That's a great way to say it… I'll have to think about that. The identity keeps us mired in the mud, but also seems to keep us from floating into madness… (by madness here I mean a spiralling sense of meaninglessness, well described in Ligotti's THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE—although the actual feeling of the beginning of this spiral is worse than words can probably convey). The balance is extremely difficult, and most of the time most of us err on the side of huddling in the identity, because the opposite pole is so very frightening…

    1. Dylan Koch

      Ann,
      Speaking of identities, I was wondering if you may remember me (and my old/same identity nowadays).

      Some clues: Listening to the Cars records and drinking Blatz together at the Wilson street punkhouse in Madison
      Complaining about the world
      Talking about ideas and writing
      Playing on my drumset at the punk house with the long forgotten band I was in with your then roommate Paul called Nervejerk.
      Both of us are friends with Julie and Johnie the photographers
      Ring a bell? Hahaha! I'm that Dylan.

      I don't know if that will really make much of a difference, or if you already guessed it, but I thought I'd have a little fun and comment on your blog (which is of course awesome) and sort of rekindle the connection of milenia gone past (the 90's).

      I was checking out some pictures on Julie and Johnie's flicker page and I saw a picture of you performing with Nigel at their old gallery in Manitowoc, and I so needed to see what you have been up to. I don't have a facebook because I don't want to align myself with anything Zuckerberg, so I'm quite "out of the loop" technologically-speaking. It seems like this is the only way people find out about each other anymore, so it was nice giving my memory a jolt by utilizing other less-traveled channels.

      I plan on reading all your books and am totally interested in all things Ann but right now I'm on the latter portion of my winter break from MATC's registered nursing program and I better get back to reviewing for next semester. I have one semester left and I can sit for state boards and hopefully pass them and begin practice here in Milwaukee, pending all goes well. I deeply enjoy philosophy and economics and the comedy of Louie CK, Tim and Eric, among many others. I have done a lot of extra reading about psychology as well and am thinking with continuing on to pursue my nurse practitioners degree (which, in 2015, now requires a PhD, yuck) but for now, am just trying to finish my associates. In additional news, I did get married to TingTing, my lovely wife from Beijing. She graduated from MATC's dental hygiene program about 2 years ago and is basically my lifeline while I'm finishing up my schooling. I was actually over in Beijing getting married when 911 happened. Weird, right?

      Anyway, enough about me. I don't want to turn into a narcissist (although, it would hilarious to try, since I would suck at it so badly) and I'm spazzy enough with my own intellectual incoherence and overall tangentiallity.

      I am thinking about creating a comic book or graphic novel about my experiences in the medical field (when I have the time) and I have no clue on what it will really be about and haven't developed any characters yet, etc. I thought you might think that is kind of interesting. I contacted a uk-based artist named Isabel Greenburg who just published a graphic novel I liked called The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. http://isabelnecessary.com/Early-Earth
      She exposed me to a cool organization that provides a legitimate forum for medicine and art called graphic medicine. http://www.graphicmedicine.org/

      Pretty cool. So that's what I'm exploring lately before I have to go back to school. Let me know if my posts are too much….When I read over the last one, I realized how quote-laden it was. I just get excited about ideas and sharing them. Is there a better place than right here? You tell me.

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  6. Dylan Koch

    I miss you, too and was so glad to find your ambitions with writing have persisted over time and you seem to be doing well. Hope is more powerful than fear and doubt and without it, life is filled with despair. Not the "good" kind. It would be cool to hang out somehow and catch up without typing so much, but we still have this blog! You are based out of Chicago? I'm in West Allis (Milwaukee), so who knows, I could make the drive if you have the time ever. Connectivity of relationships are one of the most important factors in establishing meaningfullness. Have you heard of the social theorist Slavoj Zizek? He is a psychoanalyst, atheist, marxist, and communist writer from Slovenia who I've grown to really like over the last few years. He was in a really cool film called Perverts Guide to Cinema where he psychoanalyzes movies ranging from Chaplin films like City Lights to more modern movies.

    Anyway, no more dissertations. They're exhausting to read, aren't they? But I'll be sure to keep up on this blog (which is the best on the internet) and maybe, depending on your work schedule or availability I could drive down and we could get away from the computer screen a little. I only have a window of about 10 days until I go back to school, but either way I'm behind whatever you are doing!

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    3. Dylan Koch

      Ann,
      So sorry I haven't had time check back with you in a while. Semester 4 just started and it looks to me like watching every Louie episode on Netflix supplanted my reviewing information pertinent to, uh, nursing school. Prioritizing is quite difficult for me. But, yes, let's keep spring break in mind to catch up.

      Why is the weather so cold? I feel super bad for the homeless people on these awful days. As I pull out of the parking structure from school, there is a shelter across the street and I can't even imagine what those poor folks have to endure. I see them getting battered by the unforgiving swales of subzero arctic vortex. I wuss out as I walk 30 yards to my minivan from my heated apartment building and get infuriated as I realize I have to spend 11 more seconds outside to brush the snow off my windshield… I thought we had reached critical mass on climate change last year when it was 50 degrees all winter long. I'm actually happy it's cold again but I hate hearing about people in horrific accidents, etc. Why am I talking about the weather? This is a professional blog- not a dispensary for unburdening me from my Styrofoam guilt.

      In very unrelated news, Maria Bamford's performance on Louie Season 3 is amazing. I can't wait to see who he has on next season. Homelessness to the FX channels programming in two sentences…I am an American-Styrofoam included.

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      Ann Sterzinger

      Dylan! Glad to hear back from you again. Do you have an email address, at least? (I'm at asterzingerzATgmail). I LOVE Maria Bamford… have you seen her stand-up? I have to admit, stand-up is one of my favoritest vices. Have you seen Bo Berman? I haven't yet but I just got a trusted recommendation.

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