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STOIC POETRY | Life as a distraction

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

October 24, 2019

Dear Eric,

Do you remember the flashy show we made of our youth? No, of course, you don't. You can't remember anything... But, I do. I remember how I rode my skateboard recklessly down the pedestrian pathways at the university. And how I went barefoot on rainy days. And a whole lot of other things which I thought were bold expressions of personality and which got the attention of others. You did the same thing... Do you remember those colorful clown pants you sometimes wore? Or how you never laced your tennis shoes? Of course you don't. You don't remember any of that. But, I do. And I was thinking of this today. It was a loud car that passed me - loudly - on the street while I was walking the dogs. It was the way the man behind the wheel revved the engine as he went by, getting everyone to look...and reminding himself to not see.

We distract ourselves with ourselves. It's a neat trick. We animate our living in such a way as to remind ourselves and others that we are alive. Of course, we need no such overt show of living, but we remind ourselves - and others - nonetheless for a more sober reason. It's because we require distraction. It's what we do not wish to remember that we seek to neglect.

Men with loud cars Drawing attention To their own distraction

Listen to that engine rev... Vrooom, VROOM!! Wow! Everyone! Listen and look! I'm alive. And I'm YOUNG-ish... Vroom! VROOM!!! Now, I'm going to peel out and roar away from this stoplight. I'm ALIVE!!

It's a nice distraction, perhaps. All show and flash and color. Of course, the car's gotta be red. And it's gotta have pipes. And listen to that stereo! All these things are part of the means to an end of making a good show at being alive, and young-ish, and strong, and potent, and capable, and in command of means, and the right person to get with for tonight or a lifetime. These behaviors can probably be traced to our evolution, and are simple demonstrations of our fitness for the purpose of attracting a mate. I'm sure birds are doing something similar when they sing and croon and prance for a mate. And tomcats when they howl, and male lions who roar and fight for control while the pride looks on. It's a simple bit of biology we're doing - that's for sure... But with us - with us humans - I think there's something more. It's because of our brains, our big brains that know death. And our brains which do not wish to be reminded of death - our own death in particular - so we exaggerate our displays both to find and retain a mate, and also to distance our memory from the fact of what we know is to come, what we know is our fate, what we do not wish to remember; the nothing to come; the nothing we can't remember once it's here. So, we forget, or we try to anyway. Nice try.

The loud noise and flashy display might work for a season. For a time, we get by. Either during youth - when we largely do not know better, there being little bodily pain to remind us that we fail - or later in life, mid-life, perhaps, when the pain begins, and we can't help noting we must fail. And so, we done the clown pants, and make a show; or we walk through the rain barefoot feeling alive with every step; or we buy a sports car as the hair atop our heads starts to fall out, or take a cruise to Alaska to live a little while we still can.

Or, maybe we simply pray... Maybe we turn to our imagination in earnest and make a show of our conviction and faith. We give up the threat of the death we fear to another, a more powerful being, who hides our fears behind reassuring chapter and verse, and in ritual, and the communion of shared belief. And the others who believe like us are also quite reassuring. There is certainly certainty in numbers. Let's make a show now, shall we? Let's build a big house there on the corner and come together to sing. Let's sing LOUDLY perhaps, shall we not? And the man up front will tell us stories - tales of what is true - and we like it when he gets worked up in the spirit, we like it when he tells us our faith is a virtue. We like it when he revs up the engine... Vroom, VROOM! goes the engine.

And we remember together the show we've contrived to forget the now and tomorrow. We distract ourselves with our show of living. We draw our attention to the life we have this moment to live with noise and color and claims of importance.

Meanwhile, the earth spins and hurtles through space.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe...but not too safe.

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