Think About The Way XVIII

Think About The Way XVIII

The eighteenth of a never-ending series

By Doctor Gonzo 

14 January 2006

Minneapolis — Complacency.

It happens from time to time. What is it? Retreating into a shell, falling into a rut, ignoring the little things in life to focus on the big things (or is that vice-versa?). Merriam-Webster says "self-satisfaction accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies." Self-satisfaction sounds a little too positive, like a goal has been met and no other goals have yet been decided upon. That may be true in some circumstances, but a lot of complacency isn't about being self-satisfied, it's about no longer being self-critical or self-improving. The unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies, I can agree with.

The years pass by more and more quickly as time goes on and youth gives way to age. Not only that, but introspective vision gets altered: there is a loss of acuity, and some mostly-insignificant things that used to get noticed are no longer within the field of vision. How inevitable this process is remains a personal thing. For some people, they don't have the luxury of having any time to take a look around and meditate on the state of being before the hard realities of life come down on them. Some people keep their noses in the rose bushes for what seems like an eternity, and the passers-by around them grow increasingly annoyed by how out-of-touch and ethereal they stay.

Neither extreme is probably for the best when all things are considered, especially the former. It is one of the benefits of youth that people think that they will be immune, they won't fall into the same traps, they will be different. That isn't often the case, but the world is better for the change and dynamism that briefly flowers in the next generation that will lash the world into some kind of shape that they find to be moral or right. If people did not believe that change was possible, if they were locked-in from the very beginning, the worst stagnation imaginable would be the result.

But just because continued travel down the road of life may explain why complacency becomes more likely, it doesn't excuse it. Some people may be able to function for long periods of time without thinking about the minutiae, about the human condition, or about what kind of footnote to history we will be in a thousand years hence. I never thought that I would be one of them, or that I would find it easy to ignore the most important parts of me and hard to get them back, if they can be found again at all. Of course, some can't, when death is involved, but what of those things I simply let atrophy through inaction? Can the Great Scorer excuse those?

Have you time before you leave to greet another man Just to let me know...How do you feel?

I rang in the New Year with a Guinness in one hand and a small plastic cup of champagne in the other at an Irish pub called Kieran's. It wasn't the best option out there, but it wasn't the worst option was simply the option that I chose. There was a band playing "Auld Lang Syne" after everybody did the countdown and watched the (tape-delayed) video of the ball dropping in Times Square, closing out 2005 and bringing in 2006. It could have been a lot worse.

I was once told that the people you start the New Year with are the same people that you will finish it with. If that were really the case, 2006 looks to include a lot of random drunk people, none of which I had ever seen before. If this were true, it would make for some interesting adventures, but so far the batting average on that nugget of wisdom hasn't been too high. Some years it has rang true, more or less, but it seems that in more years it came nowhere close to being accurate. With all due respect to the people at Kieran's, I'm hoping that this isn't an exemplary year for that folklore, although it has more to do with the implied converse than anything else.

It's not that the people there were bad, or were out of the ordinary: one person sitting at the end of the bar right next to the impromptu plastic-cup champagne fountain reminded me greatly of a sorority sister from long ago. They generally stick to the places along Hennepin and First Avenue (which is part of the reason why I ambled down to Kieran's, off the main strip of nighttime hotspots), but they do get around, so it's not that surprising to see one or two, along with a wide variety of the young and old who don't want to be at home on 12/31 for some reason or another. Inertia was my reason, and when I was not allowed entrance to a private party, momentum shot me across the Mississippi River until I found a place to get in out of the cold. Like I said, it worked out well enough.

I've also heard three words spoken on New Year's, eight letters, in various states of inebriation and varying distances. That too gives me something to think about on the verge of another calendar change. However, the atmosphere wasn't conducive to heavy thought, with noisemakers, well-wishers, and whistles, so I put it aside for the moment. Plenty of time to meditate on the deep stuff later.

In the end, I was in a pretty good mood, and although it wasn't my ideal plan, it worked well enough. The fear and loathing that I used to have towards large crowds of people in general and decadence has mellowed, due to age and experience: as Bob Dylan knows, sometimes you used to be so much older back then, and not now. Live and let live. Don't begrudge a person trying to escape the mundane, as long as it is only temporary. It's only when things get out of control that you need to step aside and do what needs to be done. Fortunately, that was not in the cards Saturday night, to my relief.

Silence in the studio!

While complacency may be a bad thing, since the universe ultimately needs balance, complacency has a necessary function. Complacency, at its simplest, may just allow a person to enjoy a holiday without the weight of the world interfering like it tends to do, or without unnecessary judgments being made. More importantly, however, complacency represents a transition, and as such it can't last forever. It gives way to something else as the self-improvement comes back, or more generally as impatience sets in. It is hard to be complacent forever, unless that complacency is artificially generated and supported.

One of the benefits, if you can make it to the other side, is that you start to see things in a whole new light. As Phaedrus long ago pointed out, sometimes the goal is not immediately visible, or at least laid out in a nice linear line. "Lateral drift" is necessary from time to time, not advancing towards any goal, but just floating along in the current until you find the exit ramp that you didn't see before. It often crystallizes out of nowhere, in a place that you have looked a thousand times before or a place you didn't know even existed. Then you can pull out and move on your way.

It must be remembered, complacency is a process, with a beginning and an end; it is not instantaneous. Before the light can illuminate the answers to questions you did not realize you were asking, it must go dark. The lateral drift exists main at the end, not the beginning. Not only does it take time, it generally cannot be hurried. It has to come on its own, and it usually doesn't care who is inconvenienced along the way.

I had been in the complacency stage many times before, such as after leaving the Land of Lincoln and returning to Savage City to figure out what to do next. The chaos of the past, real or imagined, created a maelstrom that made even the lowliest of $7 an hour jobs look like a fairly good port in a storm. It left little time for thinking other than shallow gonzo rehashing or unrealistic fantasies, and as can happen when you are caught up in this kind of complacency, change seemed worse than staying, even knowing that change, with its infinite possibilities, was a bit better than the status quo, with its grand total of zero. Fortunately, fate had conspired against being tied down (it simply could not last), and those around me had the sense to tell me that there were better things I could be doing, and although I didn't totally believe it at the time, it was enough.

This time around, it was about the same, though it was more of a feeling of finally climbing a cliff and getting to the top than it was dragging myself out of a stormy sea to some sanctuary. The other difference was that this time I was able to stay complacent as long as I wanted, without any of the barriers that I had before. Predictably, that meant it lasted a bit longer, and the realization was a stronger jolt that before.

It was getting harder and harder to find quality in what I was doing, but rather than take a good hard look at what I was doing, I let it be for fear that poking around the foundations may send it all tumbling down. Of course, my life is not so Jerry Springer-like that it could collapse at the merest prodding, but for some reason the unexamined life seemed to be the safest bet. Forward motion stopped, and the sideways seeking had not yet started. Instead of expanding into multiple dimensions, everything was crushed down, almost as if I was back again living the Savage life that I had long ago deserted and essentially forgotten.

Have I completely left? It is one of those questions that is impossible to answer from the inside. Only experience and wise hindsight can determine where one phase ended and another began. There are plenty of times in life where, coming up on an event that seems to be earth-shattering, it passes with nary a wave. Other times, it takes years to see that an event that was thought to be hugely unimportant at the time was in fact, an inflection point, where things stopped, turned around, and started heading the other way.

So I stand, and give myself to the currents to do as they see fit.


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