Books, Psyche, and Music: A Journey into the Self

I don’t know if I can speak for everyone, but based on what I’ve seen in my sixteen years, it seems that there is not a single teenager out there who has never struggled with finding themselves, figuring out their identity. It’s really scary, standing right there on the edge between child and adulthood without a buffer, preparing yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally to be pushed out into the real world and be a grown up. You’re supposed to have it all figured out — have a dream school, a dream job, and a plan for your dream life. You have to know what decisions you need to make to lead you down your chosen path, but how do you know what’s right for you? Then you start thinking about yourself to try and figure it all out. Let’s see, I like listening to concept albums, participating in habitat restoration, reading Kurt Vonnegut novels, drawing zentangles, and going on spontaneous adventures. I don’t like the commercial corruption of art and someday I hope to be the lead guitar player of a protest band and live in a house covered with murals that I have painted myself. Well, now that that’s settled, how is that supposed to help me figure out what I want to do with my life? What the heck does all of this even mean about me?

Like the paranoid and confused Holden Caulfield, I was worried about choosing a path that would change who I am and that I would lose the essence of my identity in the process of growing up, but I soon found myself pondering an even deeper question: how do we even know who we are? Obviously, identity is more than just what’s on your driver’s license. But trying to figure out what actually constitutes a person’s identity only lead to more and more questions. Continue reading

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Beginning to See the Light – The Velvet Underground

Life is really scary sometimes. Especially when everything that is to ever come and ever be all joins together, intersects, and converges at one point: you. The overwhelmingly infinite possibilities in life are all within reach and all you have to do is reach out and grab one and it could be yours — your future, your story, the mark that you leave on the world.

But you only have so many hands.

Some of us want to experience it all. I want to help everyone who needs me. I want to develop sustainable energy. I want to protect threatened ecosystems. I want to put my thoughts into words. I want to reorganize our unjust society. I want to visit new places. I want to be an activist. I want to paint murals on every wall. I want to play my guitar. I want to make people think. I want to add something to the history of the world that is different from everything that has come before. I want to be happy. I want to be free. There’s so much pressure to be great and so much to do in so little time that it makes me wish more than anything that the multiverse theory of quantum mechanics is true, so that maybe somewhere I am doing everything that I want to do, being everything I want to be. Continue reading

Which is Right and Which is An Illusion? – Late Lament by the Moody Blues

A man takes a walk down the street. The frost lines the sidewalk, so that when he attempts to sidestep a stray cat that runs by he slips and falls on the icy pavement and lands in a pile of fresh snow. There, embedded in the piles of crystalline water, is a ten dollar bill — fate’s reconciliatory gift for his nasty fall. He pockets the cash and continues on his way. He rounds a corner, where he sees a homeless man, bundled in an assortment of ancient, browned, and smelly garments, stretching his arm outward with a tin can, begging for spare change to sustain his miserable existence. After some hesitation, the man reaches into his pocket and retrieves the twenty dollar bill. Sure, its a lot of money to give to a beggar, he thinks, but it’s good karma and I don’t need it anyways. He reaches out and drops the bill into the tattered tin can. “God bless you!” the beggar says as the man continues on his way.

This was a good deed, right? An act of charity that may have saved the life of someone in need, someone struggling to keep his head above the waters of death, which could ultimately take his life whenever people decide to stop giving without self-interest in mind. Continue reading

Watching the Wheels – John Lennon

There is defined path to success. Find a safe and stable job. Make money. Get married. Make more money. Buy a suburban home with a green lawn and white picket fence. Keep making money. Retire. Die happy.

That’s how society wants us to live our lives.

From the moment our brains are developed enough to understand what the heck is going on in the crazy world around us, they start taking the crazy out of it. When you’re little, you imagine yourself as a wizard or a superhero or a powerful fairy queen or time-travelling rockstar or the captain of an alien spaceship that has entered a wormhole and is a about to discover a new universe with a billion opportunities and where anything is possible. Then, they tell you that when you grow up you have to be a financial advisor. Or a pharmacist. Or a housewife. They say that everyone has a place in the world, but they’re not going to let you find it by yourself. Why are we expected to stuff our identities in a bottle for the sake of social approval, respectability, and money? Why do we let our inner selves rot away and die, only to be encased by a corporate robot that the world has deemed “respectable”? Why is everyone so afraid of risk-taking and adventure when that’s what has allowed our species to progress in the first place? What is so wrong about the word different? We all have freedom of choice. You can choose to play it safe and live a stable life. If that’s what you want there is nothing wrong with that. But if normality is something you have been trying to escape, keep running. Sure, the rest of the world will look at you and wonder what you’ve done with your life and talk about how you’ve ruined it. You probably won’t be getting their approval but you will get something far more valuable: self-satisfaction. Watch everyone else continue to roll along the same track, never venturing an inch off the path, to follow the same route that the preceding generation and the generation before that and the generation before that have all taken, while you explore the rest of the world and its multitude of opportunities. Continue reading

Isn’t It A Pity – George Harrison

The world is full of problems: hunger, poverty, disease, abuse, intolerance, destruction of the environment, homicide, suicide, genocide, entire nations at war with each other, and so much more that brings pain and suffering to the world. But this is not the saddest part. What I find to be the most bizarre and mind-boggling is that all of us sympathize with at least one of these problems. We can all tell that something is wrong. We all want an end to these problems. We all feel that something must be done.

But how many people will actually do something?

The thing about people is that they can see suffering on their TV’s, they can read about it in the news, they can even be a spectator of it on the street, but very rarely will they cast a second glance after thinking, “Oh, how awful!” before continuing on their way. The problem is not that people are insensitive – for the most part everyone will feel something after witnessing a tragedy – the problem is that most people do not think of how much their actions can make a difference. Continue reading

Shooting Star – Bad Company

Every one of us is a story teller. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like to read or write or don’t consider yourself a creative person. The decisions we make, the actions we take, our triumphs and mistakes – they are all just plot points of our own stories. Our choices to take risks or to hold back are what can make our stories not only memorable, but also significant within the scope of the world. Anyone can weave a powerful story – it doesn’t matter how it starts, that is not up to us, but what we can control is how it ends. A story’s greatness isn’t determined by how widely read it is, but by how deeply read. If someone, somewhere is impacted by you, then you know you have done something at least somewhat significant amidst all that has occurred within time and space. Ultimately, it is ourselves who choose how we will remembered, and it is those who do the most to touch those around them that will be remembered most affectionately. Continue reading

Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/the End – the Beatles

Sometimes life is heavy. It presses down on your back, compresses your chess, constricts your throat, and pushes down on your temples, like a large, calloused, relentless fist. Maybe life has added something to the weight, thrown something at you that was unexpected or unwanted. But it seems to me that the weight is heaviest when it takes something away from you, something that you didn’t realize was actually keeping you up on your feet. Sorrow does not crush you instantaneously like rage, or dangle above your head guilt. It is a load that drags behind you, making sure that you are always looking back and never ahead. Eventually, this load may become a part of you, some extra piece of luggage that you must take with you everywhere you go. Is there any way to rid ourselves of this weight? The struggle to stay afloat in a world that seems to be trying to drag you down is beautifully detailed in the Beatles’ medley “Golden Slumbers/Carry that Weight/the End”, an eloquent and insightful conclusion to Abbey Road, the final album that they would record together. Continue reading

Machines Against Rivers

Machine vs. River

There are two kinds of artists in the world: the machines and the rivers; the technically perfect and the free. The machines are masters of precision, each and every note is clear and faultless. Accuracy is a standard and anything that is even the slightest bit less than perfect is failure. Despite all that is in the machine’s perfection, there is something lacking, something intangible that keeps the audience from bursting with joy or being moved to tears. This is where the river excels. Continue reading