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You’ve finally crossed that blurry line into official adulthood, which you will soon discover is a bit thin and arbitrary. While this milestone age will grant you certain statutory privileges, others will be withheld from you a bit longer for no real logical reason, while a whole new set of expectations will be laid upon you, some of which are certainly reasonable, others of which are rather insensible and unrealistic. The true qualities of adulthood will begin to blossom later down the road, however. Ten years from now, you will look back and see your relative naivete, foolishness, and lack of perspective compared to the point you will have arrived at (hopefully). Remember that the brain continues developing well into one’s early twenties. At this moment, you’re a novice, so do realize that you will founder and fall and fumble, but as life is an ongoing experiment, a constant work in progress, the important thing is that you maintain a forgiving mind toward yourself and continue creating. Don’t become preoccupied with “the right way,” as you will learn that as you go, and it will be unique to your own experience, not a stodgy and static, one-size-fits-all template. Continue to experience life on your own terms and maintain a healthy skepticism toward any external authority that claims to know what’s best for you. This, too, you will discover, and live in accordance to, as you go, if you’re at all honest with yourself. To be fair, while it is reasonable to consider the advice of those you respect, admire, and/or love, remember that those same people may merely be living the same mistake they learned from others, going from A to B, never considering peripheral roads, or if A and B are even worth a damn.

Remember Dr. Seuss’s words, whose whimsical wisdom remains applicable beyond childhood (especially beyond childhood): “My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond ‘Z’ and start poking around!” The reality is that all people are full of shit some of the time, and some people are full of shit most (if not all) of the time. I say this not to encourage a cynical view of humans but in effort to keep you sharp. The human mind is quite clever, to be sure, so clever that we’ve become quite capable of deceiving ourselves, of believing in our relative infallibility, and therefore misleading others into the same dark hole of dishonesty and misunderstanding. Hopefully, you will learn to realize when you’ve been offered a true token of wisdom and not just a dust ball masquerading as a diamond. It should be said that real wisdom will not proselytize or self-aggrandize or subjugate you to its revealing authority; it will not condescend and handle you with kid gloves; it won’t expect everything in return for delivering very little or nothing to you. Real wisdom will prepare your mind to reveal its own insights. It will respect your individuality. It will meet you as an equal yet challenge what you think you know. It will allow you the freedom of your mind and body without extracting a toll on, or annihilating, one or both. It will be more invested in knowing when it’s wrong than proving itself right, because it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so that gets you in trouble, as Mark Twain knew.

The aforementioned line is a line that will continue to follow you all throughout your life in some form or another, and it will exist as a stultifying, stagnating, and limiting borderline, all at once expecting yet denying, and the more aware of it you are, the less effecting it will be, as it inevitably puts you in the role of the dog within the invisible fence: the dog doesn’t see a thing but is nevertheless subjected to its effects. If you haven’t realized already, you will find that the older people get, the more preoccupied they become with borders, containment, and order-through-constriction (as opposed to spontaneous order through fluidity). This is why Dr. Seuss remains even more applicable in adulthood, as this is when his words benefit us the most, those moments where we’re more inclined to grow dull and rigid and certain in our biases. Once you begin to feel you’ve arrived, that you’re “complete,” that is when you grow lazy and fall off, so to speak. Wholeness comes with the awareness that there is always subsequent pieces to the puzzle, paradoxically.

One of the most commonly uttered statements of encouragement to young adults is “You can be/do anything you set your mind to.” I’m going to level with you and tell you that is just hollow Hallmark sentiment, naively optimistic and completely ignores reality–b.s., in other words. What I will say is this: the only way to discover what you can be is by doing, and it is only your own mind, your “mind-forg’d manacles,” that will prevent you from realizing your capabilities. Whether you discover your niche now or later, never stop searching, never stop experimenting, always remain open and continue tasting Life, as there will always be something that is new to you, and the reality of that can change the circumstances of your individual life at any given moment, and remember that “success can eliminate as many options as failure.”

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“Pat Tree’s Art Key”

The emotional states that drive beliefs are interesting to think about. For example, what leads a young woman to the belief that society would benefit if a majority of the white male population were dead? Whether this is simply hyperbolic black humor or outlandish sincerity, it’s reckless in its broad brush application, wherein the diagnosis of a problem teeters on one generalized and caricatured mass-identity, seemingly reluctant to distinguish particular individuals from its overarching shadow.

Individual responsibility, in speech and in actions, should, of course, be expected from everybody, but at what point does responsibility for one’s emotions begin, particularly in light of a perceived slight? Is the alleged offender always in the wrong, no matter the situation, despite no ill intention? (There are heavy thoughts on that word, “intention.”) If one enters every social interaction with the expectation of encountering sexism, they will certainly have little trouble finding it, whether it has shown its face in a particular instance or not, because an overexcited mind will conjure up the extraordinary from the perfectly mundane and insignificant. Of course, this revisits the question of just how deep and subtle the problem is, which could be chewed over indefinitely. Some see its existence straight down to the core, which would seem to suggest that we are all mere pawns of cultural conditioning, but that sort of hard determinism is a rather lazy outlook on human behavior. Others may simply see paranoiacs, phantom chasers. Perhaps reality lies somewhere in the middle? Regardless of the barometer’s current position, one would do well, in the search and routing out of pathology, not to get too liberal with the scalpel, to the point that one is maiming the body in order to save it and the treatment becomes as injurious as the ailment. History has numerous examples of this tendency to draw from, many of which were built on good intentions (there’s that word again) but ended poorly for all parties involved.

It’s been said by some that women are incapable of sexism, that they can be merely guilty of bias. Well, what exactly have we established with this distinction? Is one somehow worse than the other, more severe in its perpetration? Are women granted a certain level of immunity by virtue of being on the other side of that severity? Does the offending of one group matter more than that of the other? Isn’t the disrespect and devaluing of others crass, regardless of whom it’s directed toward? Are some entitled to special considerations, and if so, does this not amount to policing of minds, as it implies that some deeds are made worse simply by their motivating thoughts? At this point, some may feel inclined to just disassociate and maintain a respectful distance from others, rather than attempt word acrobatics in an effort to keep all eggshells intact. Nobody is wronged, then, inadvertently or otherwise.

If one were so inclined to look beyond the limits of ideology, real differences between males and females would become apparent, and it is those differences that make us so interesting. Edward Abbey once quipped, “It is the difference between men and women, not the sameness, that creates the tension and the delight.” These differences need not amount to the establishment and defense of a superior-subordinate existence. They merely reveal a yin and yang balance, wherein predominate qualities, strengths, and idiosyncrasies reside in each respective side, and yet, are tempered oh-so-slightly by a drop of its opposite, which, of course, creates some fluidity between the two, but it doesn’t dissolve the distinction completely. “Never forget that you are a woman, and the greatest powers you can employ … are totally dependent upon your own self-realization that in being a woman you are different from a man and that very difference must be exploited!” Now that’s empowerment.

So, the implication being that maybe, just maybe, in some instances, where a desired and expected outcome is unrealized, perhaps it has nothing to do with institutionalized prejudice and is simply a result of a natural sifting of innate inclinations. In those moments where it may be something more damaging, confronting it with grace, wit, fortitude, resiliency, and integrity, are all immeasurably effective. Resentment and bitterness eat away at all of whom they encircle. If the overall intention here is not to target specific others, then generalized and limiting categorizations, which always suggest guilt by association, ought to be tossed out for good. Don’t create an enemy out of those who may simply wish to understand you as much as you wish to understand them.

Reawakening Totemic Awareness

Consider for a moment that all life has the capacity for some degree of awareness, and all are driven by a will to life and have the means to defend this, and as such, nothing offers itself willingly. Does this alter your view of any of the foods at your table? The notion that we can at once revere and honor animals as they take a place on our plates may, for some folks, rustle up a dissonance that threatens to blow the mind in two. Yet, embracing the death within our food is the very means of honoring the life that feeds us, as living inevitably takes life, directly and on the periphery, and the severity of this truth is not broken by choosing one dietary road over another. The fire that animates our individual lives is shared through eating — “mutual insparkedness” as the Mayan say. Life feasts and is feasted upon. There is no either-or, only this and that. Such paradoxes, the tension between apparent opposites, are woven into Life. It is that pushing and pulling that creates our reality. It seems our kind once held a deep awareness of this, having not yet elevated themselves above their earthly origins, allowing them to gracefully approach Life on its terms, neither romanticizing nor demonizing the circumstances of their existence, and this included the reality that they had to kill in order to eat. Yet, their thoughtfulness and respect in light of this is evident in what their cultures left behind. Though the meaning and purpose of the ancient artwork that adorns the caves of modern Europe is mere speculation on our part, the artists clearly admired their four-legged muses. They inevitably hunted the subject of their admiration as well, though we can presume that they ate with gratitude and accepted this food as the gift that it is. The modern world has largely failed on this last count, viewing the life that feeds us as mere commodity, an entitlement, which in turn has sparked the sentimentalist notion that death can be completely severed from life and one can eat without the former.

“The knowledge that every animal, plant, [and] person … is indebted to the fruit of everything else is an adult knowledge. To get out of debt means you don’t want to be a part of life, and you don’t want to grow into an adult,” is the elder wisdom quoted by Martín Prechtel in his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart. Only in a culture built on a foundation of forgetting, isolated from its beginnings and split into dualities could such black and white thinking that now exists arise, content in its childishness, as it were. It is ill-acknowledged that we are all existing in the same sacred space, that we all share the general essence of Life, and that while individual sparks may extinguish, the fire continues burning. Any living thing that is free to indulge in the wide, wild spaces of its full character, without restraints, does not die in vain, and when we deepen, as well as broaden, our view, we see that there are no true endings, only transitions. One form moves into another: the sun into vegetation, vegetation into beasts, beasts into us, and, inevitably, us into soil. Revolving existence, life lived in multitudes through unbroken change and transformation. What could be more beautiful?

The Joy of a Flat Tire

Thrice in my life as a driver I have had to change a flat, and in two of those instances I was already in the midst of a hot-headed moment, but rather than compounding the anger and compelling me to wield the tire iron as a weapon, it deflated it and pulled me out of that cloud of self-absorption. Calamity can be extremely self-revelatory, a perfect opportunity for realizing our capabilities by throwing us dead center into the whirring present, a place many of us rarely reside in any given moment, and all the better when we have no choice but to act. If you can remain open and receptive in such times, your resiliency may surprise you.

Nietzsche emphasized the concept of amor fati, or “love of fate,” as a means to greatness. This love is not so much a matter of rolling over and allowing Life to rub your face in the dirt, a weak complacency of an abusee. It’s a light-hearted embracing that enables you to move through and beyond whatever you’re confronted with. When you turn your burdens into enemies, they become walls, and not only do you suffer the pain of the initial event, but that of banging your head in torment over your “bad fortune,” and the indignity that follows, as well. It’s in these particular moments that we become our own worst punishers, because we alone are responsible for our emotions, including the ones that wind us into a positive feedback loop of misery. Rather than true victims of circumstance robbed of control, it is often an unfortunate example of an individual with a total loss of perspective and a deflated will. When you take these heavy moments by the hand, make their acquaintance, and go down deep, all the way through their respective levels of Hell with them, you are refined that much more, revealing a brilliant new layer of yourself.