I am 15 years old and to me it seems like America is rapidly spiraling into depravity.
The government becomes increasingly authoritarian, culture continues degrading into a grey consumerist sludge, our society is worse than ever, the next generation is posed to be worse off than any generation since people who were 18 in the 1940s. Should I just abandon the country, get my college education and leave without looking back? Is it worth discarding everything to jump off a burning ship?
I think you’ve already answered your question simply by the way you’ve worded it.
Far be it from me to stop you when you’ve very astutely assessed the smoldering wreck that is this once-fine country.
Increasingly authoritarian? Check. Degrading culture? Double check. Addicted to consumerism? Triple check. Setting up our future progeny for the worst experience in the last hundred years? Game, set, and match.
You seem like a smart kid. And if you’ve downed this many red pills at the tender age of 15, there’s nothing that can stop you. Should you get out of America? Hell, yeah! And why wait until you’ve gotten a college education before you take off? I’m sure there are at least a dozen other countries that aren’t total shitholes where you can head right now and support yourself through a combination of English tutoring and online gambling. Some of those even offer free college to residents.*
I mean, you owe this country nothing. And likewise, the country owes you nothing in return. What the hell would you be discarding anyway? According to your eminently informed opinion, the engines are already on fire and the nose of the plane is pointed directly at the side of the mountain, so you should be bailing out waaaaay before college.
I wish I was in your shoes. I’d do it all differently. Fuck “normal”. Screw “standard” and “supposed to”.
I don’t know many details as he gets very tense and nervous talking about this, I can’t blame him. Firstly, he is a young adult and lives in a pretty rural area. He said this has been happening for months now. He is getting strange calls and a particular car is slowing down and looking at his house when it passes by. My friend knows a coder and somehow the coder was able to trace the number and the car together. Wait, it gets worse. He will leave his house and come back and the window in his bedroom is open. A lot of the time he will have a perfectly tidy room, come home and it is a mess. One time he cleaned the bathroom before he left to go somewhere, he came back home and the sink was dirty.
I should probably add that he lives with his younger sibling and parents. The parents work and the sibling goes to school. One time he came back home and saw that on the top of a stack of papers he had laying on his desk suddenly had a piece of paper with his girlfriends home address on top. Also, his curtains had a hole cut through them and his box cutter was missing. I’m very worried for him. What should my friend do? Has anyone had something similar happen to them? His parents won’t take him seriously.
— Concerned for My “Friend” in Cheyenne
Okay, first of all, you and your friend have nothing to be worried about. There’s no stalker.
Everything you’ve described has a perfectly logical explanation. And, as we often do when thinking about weird events, we invoke the Fermi Principle*, that the simplest explanation is often the right one. Nobody’s sneaking around, watching this friend of yours and breaking into his room to write cryptic addresses on scrap paper, cut holes in curtains, open windows, and leave excess pimple waste in the sink.
Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? Your friend is a nobody. He lives with parents and a younger sibling in a rural area. From the way you write, you’re probably both still under twenty, which means your friends about as worthy of stalking as some Holstein’s half-digested cud she’s burped back up and chewed on for the last half-hour. Why would anyone take any interest at all in this person, much less enough so that they would go to the trouble, for months at a time, to cruise the house? That’s not how stalkers do it.
We figure out an actually important person in our lives, maybe that principal who held us back in the tenth grade for no good reason (replacing the jelly in doughnuts with poo isn’t a good reason, in my opinion). Or that one girl who promised to keep writing while we were in prison and never did, and we follow them to plot our revenge. (We don’t actually do anything, remember. That would destroy the fantasy.) A stalker has to have some reason to avoid living their life like a sane person, and, frankly, from the sounds of it, your friend isn’t appealing enough to bridge that gap.
So what’s happening? Again, very simple: Your friend is making this all up.
I’ve had a fear of cars/driving since my best friend died in a car accident.
I recently turned 24 and started my ‘big girl’ job. one of the first things i did was buy a car that made me feel safe. I drive 1-2 miles at most but have not been able to go beyond that. I feel like whenever i get confident in my driving i back track and shut off again. I already took my written portion and just waiting to make my appointment for road test. I’m so tired of depending on people for rides to my JOB and sometimes even to the store if they’re beyond 2 miles. I don’t know what to do to feel better about driving and just do it. I feel like i go back and forth. I’m thinking of buying accessories for my car? I’m someone who finds comfort in little things that spark joy. I don’t know. I think my fear is now getting caught driving without a license. So i avoid going further than i need to. Any advice?? tips?
— Frightened in Flagstaff
Listen, you’ve got nothing to worry about. I mean, what are the odds that two people you know are going to die in a car accident? One is usually rare in itself, and the fact that your friend took one for the team like that so you don’t have to live with the irrational fear that you will die in a car wreck, for the rest of your life, well, that should be celebrated, not bemoaned!
Statistically speaking, there’s about a 5% probability that anyone will die before age 40. (You know I’m making this all up, right?) So to think that two people would, those two people being your friend and you, is, like, … carry the 7… really small. You’re not gonna die in a car accident. You can just live your life from now on without worrying your pretty little head.
We welcomed new neighbors and allowed them to use our garbage can until they got one, and gave them a bottle of wine and a housewarming card.
We also offered to let them use our downstairs bathroom until the contractor finished theirs. No one else on the block did anything for them. Nothing.
Then they invited a neighbor and his wife over for drinks and didn’t invite us. My husband says I shouldn’t be offended by this. What do you think?
— Snubbed in the South
What do I think? I think you’re a selfish old shrew who wouldn’t know neighborly behavior if it jumped up out of the sewer and bit you in your wrinkled ass.
And I’m not talking about those in your neighborhood who either did or didn’t do anything for your new next-doors, or that same new next-door who didn’t “pay you back” for your hospitality earlier.
I’m talking about you, you misguided misanthrope (it’s a real word) who thinks you’re only going to do something if you can profit from the situation. You want to be a good neighbor and offer to let the new guys use your garbage can and your bathroom? Great. Do it. Don’t expect anything in return. You want to offer a gift of a bottle of wine and a housewarming card? Great. Do it. Don’t expect anything in return. That’s what being a good neighbor is. Not reciprocating or expecting something in the future.
I have been blessed with a gorgeous 4-year-old daughter who is (even more importantly) smart, funny and kind, but I have an issue. Every time we go anywhere or meet someone new, the person feels the need to comment on her beauty. We receive comments like, “Just wait till she’s older. Boys will be all over her!” This happens not only with older distant relatives and my in-laws, but also random people at the grocery store.
I understand they are trying to pay a compliment, but I find it disturbing that they are thinking about my little girl in this way. I’m tired of it, but I’m not sure of the appropriate response when people make these comments.
— Protective Mom
Let me get this straight. People are complimenting your daughter, and you’re upset? What is it about this world do you not get? In case you haven’t noticed, pretty people have the most advantage of all. Forget white privilege, male privilege, Ivy-League privilege. Sexy privilege tops all those in terms of the opportunities it offers a person.
The world is very shallow. Pretty people get more job offers, bigger raises, more sex, and more free shit when they don’t actually need that free shit. I mean, have you ever seen an ugly newscaster? Or a 3 on the main stage at Madison Square Garden? No, no you haven’t. And you’re not likely to, either. “A face for radio” isn’t just a funny joke. Sex sells, and it will continue to dominate the minds and wallets (because it dominates the genitalia) of this world for a long time to come…
Hey friends! Your friendly resident ass back again. Just wanted you to know that I’ve launched a new blog on Patreon! This one will stay up for the SEO and for longer works, and act as a funnel to the Extremely Bad Advice blog itself.
I’ll still post here to drive additional traffic, so if you want to read and be entertained, by all means. Here’s one that is now live over there, and will be for at least a week after launch.
Dear SJ: I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, this is my first time writing. I have to admit, I’ve been having major anxiety for the past few years and only recently found a therapist I like. Sometimes he is very helpful. He helps me through some rough patches, but, to be honest, he’s not that professional. Sometimes he’ll go off on tangents, talking about topics I’m not interested in or that don’t really affect me. It’s frustrating. We’re supposed to be there to talk about my issues, not his problems. When this happens, how can I get him back on track quickly? If something doesn’t change soon, I’m going to have to stop seeing him. I need help for my anxiety and he’s not doing that.
— Seeking Real Change in Raleigh
Dear Seeking, I’m so glad you wrote.
This is bound to be one of my best columns, if I do say so myself, because, believe it or not, I am uniquely qualified to give you advice in this area. You see, I happen to know, for a fact, that anxiety is not real, you’re just making it up. I know this because you state that this “therapist” sometimes helps, but you and I know that the only person who’s really doing anything for you is you.
First of all, if this guy really were getting you results, he would be consistently doing it, not only occasionally. “Sometimes”? That’s not enough. Teeter-totters don’t only sometimes go up on one end when you push down on the other. Gravity doesn’t only sometimes work. And by the same token, if a therapist actually worked to help with your anxiety, it wouldn’t only be sometimes. The fact that you sometimes feel better after talking with him, and sometimes not, is more likely just due to random fluctuation than any kind of cause-and-effect.
And second of all, let’s be honest, anxiety isn’t even real.
What keeps coming to my mind is that day – that one special, glorious, magical, mystical day in which you both took me to the heights of ecstasy and dashed my heart at the bottom of the highest cliffs imaginable.
Do you remember? Of course you do. No human still with a heart would have forgotten that day. The emotions were too strong, like a tidal wave washing over the both of us, a relentless force overwhelming and tumbling and covering over us, and there we were, helpless against the forces of love and lust and desire and peace and power.
I wished it could have been different. Do you? Who am I kidding, of course you do. I know you wished it could have been more like a gentle fade to black, a casual loss of feeling that subsided over months, years, as the perpetual erosion of the hours gradually wore down the blocks we both were putting up as shields to our hearts.
Instead, it was a bomb that went off between us, one that disintegrate those walls and sent shrapnel flying into our hearts, our souls, and tore them to shreds too.
It would have been better if you hadn’t said it, too. If it had just been a thing that I was too scared of, or too weak to face, or too inexperienced to understand.
But when you did, when you said “I love you too,” it destroyed me. IT took me from the place of confidence and assurance that I couldn’t do right by you, couldn’t do enough for you, couldn’t be what you wanted and needed, and that I was fooling myself to think that I could, and It squished that idea through a wormhole the size of the galaxy and shot my thoughts and expectations halfway across the universe.
When I arrived I thought that I knew what I wanted. When I said what had to happen, I thought it was the right thing. When you knew what I wanted to say but wouldn’t let me say it, it confirmed my suspicion of imbalance, of an out of alignment relationship, of the distance not only between our beds but our hearts too.
And yet –
Why? Why did you say it?
Why did you tell me that? Why couldn’t it have just been my foolish, vulnerable mistake?
And that’s all it would have been, had you not said what you said.
And now I sit here, years having gone by, and the wound occasionally opens once again. A short memory of that day, or the weeks before, or the first date, or how you first smiled at me.
There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought of you. I hate that fact and love it at the same time.
This afternoon I visited the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). As I am sometimes inclined to do, I took along my notebook, in case anything inspired me to write while there. As the art is often inclined to do, it inspired me at various times and from various pieces. Here’s what came out.
We perch most of the way up the Soul Mountain, a respite during our climb, and as we do I turn a head to look back at the wy we’ve come. Tens of thousands of steps upwards, upwards, ever upwards, this pilgrimage has been harder with each passing day, and yet, a moment like this – a brief respite, a chance to Preview the past and how far we’ve come – is welcome, not just for the termination (if only for a moment) of the incessant pounding of the hike, but for a glimpse of the earth’s natural beauty, arrayed out before us like a divine display of pride in the god’s own creation.
Behind, and below us, we see the craggy, snaggle-toothed lesser peaks poking their irregular peak tops out of the smooth, otherwise unbroken layer of clouds. The pure white dazzles int he shimmering morning sunshine, a radiance which would hurt the eyes, were it not also so beautiful that the body sacrifices itself to the risk of permanent damage just to behold the beauty of the moment.
I wonder if this is the feeling of schizophrenia – a mass, a seeming jumbled disorder of conflicting thoughts, emotions, logical or illogical connections between elements that would see (to the outsider) to be nothing more than randomness.
I imagine that, to the jumbled mind, this perhaps makes sense – perhaps the lenses inside the brain so refract and refocus and prioritize the overhwhelm that, instead, it looks like this:
Smooth lines, patterns emerging, a sense of peace and cleanness at the outset and continuing into the whole of the experience.
There is no challenge here except what I make for myself. What I see as disorder, I know is less a problem of the other being “abnormal” and simply my own failure to apply the right kind of equipment.
What state could I put myself in should I wish to be able to see as the other does, the patterns which emerge from the chaos? How can I simplify my own experience, my own observations, the pre-ordained and rigid mechanics I have learned which are insufficient to make meaning out of something which, to another, clearly has a value beyond ink on canvas?
Now, I can see a beauty, a symbolism, a regularity, a meaning behind apiece of art. But for the artist, before it is formed, to have not only the skill to achieve a piece, but a vision of what could exist, were she to apply that skill, is extraordinary.
I know not where that vision comes from. Perhaps it is an inherent tendency in us all, the creative instinct deep inside, that only some choose to listen to, only some choose to obey in the call to make something out of something else.
This was a single piece of wood, 28 feet long, and straight. The Artist, instead of imagining it as cut into smaller pieces and fashioned into a chair – or a picture frame – or an oar; instead of those useful, practical items, he choose to see art – this spiral, this sweeping interlocking interconnecting divergence from reality into imagination. Why? Why not? Because it’s there. Because all could do the same thing, given enough practice; and the greatest practice of all is to listen to the Muse as she whispers. She is always whispering. She is always inspiring.
Do you hear her? Do you obey? Or do you listen to the other whispers, in the other ear, of inadequacy, of limited time, of irrelevance once you have created, of insubstantialism, of ignorance by the rest of them out there once you have finished?
She is persistent, that Muse. but she is not overpowering. So be careful that you do not ignore her. Persistent, yes. Perpetually waiting for you to acknowledge her presence? To obey her directive? To do as you have been inspired? Perhaps not.
Therefore, take heed whenever the call is given. Ignore it at your own creative peril. Obey, and make, and make the world better for having done so.
Just as well, why do I keep asking the question? I have thoughts in my head, surely I have ideas that, if I did not release them to the pages, would build up and build up and build up, until I had no other recourse but to explode my brain in a disorganized, jumbled mess of a release, and then I would have no way of controlling the output.
But that could be okay, wouldn’t it? But, no, it wouldn’t, because I would have no more organized state, no friendly status, no more attractor to future ideas.
Because ideas come to join other ideas. They herd together, they band together, they like to travel in packs like wolves (or, maybe better, elephants, who are less territorial and defensive and more collaborative and cooperative).
My ideas like to be around other ideas and if the destructive release happens (if the reservoir disappears, evaporating into the ether when the head blows up, then there’s really no thing to attract more ideas, and they’ll go off and implant themselves in someone else’s head. Somewhere else that has a more fertile repository, a better breeding ground for the spawn of those ideas in the future.
Would it be too strange to say that such ideas are alive? That they have intentionality, that they have goals, that they choose one thing or another based on a weighing of potential costs and benefits?
Perhaps they do not “move” like flagella, maybe they do not wriggle like the worm or pace like the lion, but I know that ideas do not simply pop into my head spontaneously ex nihilo. They come from their own breeding ground, out there in the non-physical realms, and they are searching for a place to land. They wander the sixth dimension, seeking, seeking, seeking that place that will be welcoming to them. That will invite them in, offer them warmth, comfort, succor, companionship, a place to rest, to remain, to flourish.
My brain offers that when it not only has enough ideas that the newcomer is not scared, but also not so many that it is too crowded to adequately take hold.
Thus my need for continual offloading of ideas into the page. I must make these ideas feel welcome, while, too, allowing for them to explore themselves, to be comfortable, to be real and to understand that they have a larger part to play in this world. They are part of something. We do not know just what that is. But we – my ideas and I and all my other ideas I have had – and will again have in the future – we join together in this symbiosis, this equal-but-not partnership, and we wait.
We wait for our time to shine. We wait for our purpose to be revealed. And while we wait, we enjoy one another, in a wonderfully trans-materialistic orgy of experience and ideation and substantiation and metaphor and causal chain and letting go and simply wondering in amazement at it all.
Good lord, don’t speak to me of budgets. How often must we talk of accounts, and income, and expenses, and allocations? Let us live our lives! Let us run free! Let us roam, let us expand let us explore! No more artificial, arbitrary constraints of a dollar here or a dollar there. No more abstract concepts of balancing from one ledger line to another. No more wondering whether we’ll be off and over by a penny, thus incurring the same warmth as if we had gone over by ten dollars or a thousand.
Why such absolutes? Be more fluid, more flexible, and see where life takes you. Fly! Fly free and enjoy the wind of life in your hair.
Ignore the boundaries of capitalism and embrace the freedom of poverty. Release yourself from the shackles of limitations and discover just how much you can accomplish with nothing, nothing at all.
Ignore the voices at the back of your head saying “worry” and “fear” and “save”. What do they know of life, anyway? What good is saving now for another day, when that other day, you are too feeble to use what you have saved?
No, tomorrow is not guaranteed. And, likewise, neither is a year from now not guaranteed. So, live your life. Love your life. Appreciate your boundaries, and run free within them.
When you find, as you absolutely will, eventually, that those boundaries no longer offer the stimulation you once received – when your cavorting within the confines of your budget no longer satisfy your curiosity for adventure, for exploration, and experience – then, then my friend, it is time.
You shall know it by the warning signs: when you are antsy with your routine – when you are bored of your friends – when your lover does not – when you see these, be aware, and be prepared, that the change is coming.
It will be difficult, no doubt. It may be violent, how strongly your subconscious rebels against the freedom you are exposing it to. But push on, continue, fight this good fight, for in doing, you dissolve the last barriers to true experience – those limitations on mind, on body, and, truly, on happiness usually called a “budget”.