My Floral Linen Pants: The Absurd Delight in Being Yourself

A few days ago, my mom and I had gone shopping together. It was no major event by any means; Ross, Target, pick up food, etc. It was, for all intents and purposes, a typical day of errand-running. Of course, there is always a particular kind of pleasure in spending time with one’s parents, especially after you have “moved out” and have begun, in one way or another, your own life, your own journey, beyond that of childhood. Now, you greet your parents on equal footing, and see them as they truly are, just as they do for you.

The day was then already pleasant in its own right. Simple tasks like running errands comprise most of your life, so it’s important to cherish such small adventures; in doing so, it becomes easier to enjoy life; it becomes easier to enjoy yourself. It always becomes easier to relax and to be yourself when you are happy, upbeat, positive—and by doing so, you’ll learn more about yourself in moments that you least expect it. Moments that may seem pointless to anyone else.

Take for instance, looking at a pair of floral linen pants. Nothing I have ever seen could look more ridiculous. Nothing so gaudy, so silly. Nothing so delightful. In truth, I loved them. I said aloud that I did in fact love them; next thing I know, I am driving home with them.

Of course, one’s first thought would be, “they were bought as a joke.” I told myself, “what a joke. These are delightful, because they are clownish! I have them to poke fun at them.” But the more I thought about it, the more I considered how that wasn’t the full truth. The pants are delightful; not just to make fun of them, but because they are just fun to me.

Suddenly, the ridiculousness, the gaudiness, the silliness of it all, every seam, every bird sewn on, every inch of the pants, the bellbottoms, the lace waistline, became delightful. Nothing could look more interesting. Nothing more unique. Nothing more brilliant. The pants became a slap in the face to convention, because I have never seen anything like it before.

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It got me thinking about how boring pants can be, especially for men. It is universally expected, in America at least, for blue jeans to be the basic component of most outfits. Slight variants of the blue, slight variants of the size, and the occasional black or kaki pair (which is considered the more exciting alternative), are all that can be expected to be worn. Women have a few different options in regards to legwear, but the point still stands: everyone is held to the same social expectations for clothes. Everyone is held to the same social expectations for everything. One’s ability to conform is, quite honestly, considered a virtue. Eventually, even the theme of “non-conformity” became a way of conforming (I blame the hipsters).

And this is something all are guilty of. Everyone wants to fit in; everyone wants to be the “it guy” or the “it girl”. My pants consist almost entirely of blue jeans as well; I am one of the worst offenders of this concept.

But, at the same time, there is a surreal, almost absurd joy in doing something entirely unexpected, entirely unique, entirely personal. There is an absurd joy in following an impulse as opposed to a social norm; there is an absurd joy in owning a pair of floral linen pants. So why then, do we flagellate ourselves into conformity? Why not disregard convention whenever and wherever possible? Why not seek this absurd delight in everything we do?

That’s easy to answer: it’s because it is difficult. It’s isolating; it’s awkward. It is entirely too easy to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, when acting in one’s own impulsive amusement. Even the idea of strolling around at the mall, for my own purposes, in my pair of floral linen pants, is horrifying—even though I was bewitched enough to buy them in the first place. In private, beyond the public sphere, one feels no pressure, no obligation to conform, and no shame at laughing and enjoying one’s own ridiculous pleasures. But when faced with the idea of being seen by people, being noticed, being judged, it’s suddenly all about the blue jeans. And if someone were to wear the floral linen pants in public (especially a guy), they would be strange, goofy, crazy—they would be out of their head, or they would be trying too hard. Never, it seems, can one be judged without bias while being oneself in public.

Clothes are just one of the more obvious examples; the power of conformity is all-encompassing, looming over all of our actions. It is a shadow, it seems, that sees everything. It hovers above us, as we skip a song on our playlist while friends are in the car, because it feels to embarrassing for them to know you listen to it; it whispers in our ear, while we feel like dancing to the music in our headphones, choosing instead to walk silently, quickly, across the street to our destination, and seeing everyone else doing the same. It is inescapable. Worse, it is revered. Even when we try to fight it, we fall deeper into its net. We dye our hair blue to fit in with that punk group over there; we shave our heads because we saw it on Facebook; we wear yellow lipstick because a celebrity did a photoshoot in it. We try to act different, only to be just as guilty as that guy that only wears blue jeans.

There is nothing inherently wrong with conformity, per se. Sometimes, someone might just actually enjoy blue jeans. There is nothing wrong with dying our hair blue because it’s a punk look.

But it does become wrong when it keeps us from owning a pair of floral linen pants. It does become wrong when one refuses to play one’s favorite song, because it would embarrass them in front of their “bros” if they knew they listened to Britney Spears. It does become wrong when we hide bits of ourselves—the bits that give us the most absurd pleasure, the purest joy—from others because we are afraid.

The pressure to hide ourselves away is too common, and too accepted. The power of what other people think of us is too great. If wearing a particularly ridiculous article of clothing, or playing a particularly strange song, gives us joy, why hide it? Why feel ashamed?

I believe there is power in absurdity, in strangeness. There is integrity and happiness in forgoing the conclusions others may come to. We, as individuals, are all absurd; we are all inherently ridiculous. To embrace this concept, to feel ridiculous and absurd and to be proud of that, is heroic; it is awe-worthy; it is unique; it is a thousand-and-one things, but most of all, it is freeing. It means something to be proud of your absurdities, and we’ve all been there. We’ve all known people who were truly themselves, far closer than anyone else we know, that exude confidence and happiness. And it all comes down to these little things; it all comes down to feeling bizarre in a stupid shirt that we have an inexplicable love for; it all comes down to wearing the floral linen pants we bought the other day, and feel truly amused and delighted to see them in the mirror.

If there ever were a path to happiness, this would have to be my definition of it. Disregard the mocking, the judgements, the isolation it might bring, to be yourself; disregard the doubts you have, or the fears, and forego convention. And one day, if I happen to take my own advice to heart (because writing about something is hell of a lot easier than mastering it), you might see an idiot walking down the street in those stupid floral linen pants.

So, here are some more embarrassment fodder; aka me on snapchat.

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The Not-Quites: Who Are They?

Imagine yourself, the entity that you know yourself as, sitting in a room. This room, for all intents and purposes, is nondescript—the color, size, proportions, and contents completely of your own choosing; it does not matter. As for the “you” that inhabits this cell, imagine it to be the quintessential you. The “you” you want to be, or was, or could be; the “you” that was or is or will be; imagine every detail of this person—fingers, toes, clothing, hair, nose, etc. Leave nothing out. What do you see? What kind of person do you imagine? Are they attractive, or ugly? Dark or fair? Young or old? Benevolent or malicious? It is yourself in its entirety; make sure you leave nothing out.

Regardless of the detail and quality of this portrait, it will always be inaccurate. This sole person, the quintessential you, alone in this imaginary room, brushes nothing more than the mere surface, the very top level of scum, amidst an ocean of what lies underneath. Perhaps a better, more precise way of imagining yourself, is as a diamond, cut to perfection, another edge sparkles as it turns in the light and then another; multifaceted and multi-layered—all sparkling in its own rotation, adding to the greater whole of the jewel itself. But even then, the diamond has its limits; the edges have a finite number; you, on the other hand do not.

Instead, paint another image of yourself, in the same room, with as much crystalline detail. This time, imagine as many copies of yourself as you like, but once more, leave nothing out; capture every potential self that you can imagine in the time it takes to read this. The “you” as a child, do not forget them; the teenage self, twenty-year old, twenty-one-year-old, middle-aged, the one with a shaved head, one with long hair that goes to the waist, do not forget them; The benevolent you, the cruel you, the artist, the mechanic, the teacher, the firefighter, the child, the parent, the sibling, the cousin, the aunt or uncle—even the man you or the woman you, imagine them all. You have, at one point or another, been faced with the option of becoming this “you”. Perhaps in childhood, you had made the decision to become a novelist, and that self was freed from this tiny room while the mechanic, teacher, and plumber versions of yourself were to be trapped forever. Perhaps you have married, and the husband or wife self was freed, damning the single man or woman facet of yourself to remain in the room. These facets can change, just as easily as you change yourself; you are, perhaps, kinder around your friends, drawing this image into reality, only to be swapped out for the angry, irritable facet while you are at work, dealing with a particularly irritating coworker. If you are still attempting to imagine all of these individual selves in the room, stop now; you will never finish; the number is infinite, growing more infinite by the second. The endless diamond, each facet having the opportunity to sparkle and gleam at one point or another, makes up the true “self” that you are trying to imagine.

How glorious life may seem, when one thinks of oneself as an infinite diamond. But perhaps it is as equally damning to realize that the diamond will never reflect all at once; it is the nature of life, from birth to death, to call forth only a handle of these facets at any given time; the single “you” and the married “you” can never shine together, never coexist to encompass the full vastness of your person. To become a police officer can mean nothing more than killing the nurse that you could have been. These unrealized selves, ones forever dead or ones changed out at times, become the Not-Quites: the facets of your personality, that exist, as real as the screen before you, but never to gleam, refract, or glow in this world (or perhaps only at select times).

Life then seems to become a shame; the infinite diamond that you are, cannot exist. Others will never see it. Your husband will never see the “you” that exists when he is not around. Your parents will, most likely, never be exposed to the party-you, the drunk-you, the during sex-you. They will only ever see the facets you present them, all beginning with the notion, “My parents are here. I now can, and cannot, act a certain way. They cannot see this side of me. They cannot know this part of my self.” Life then becomes a tragedy. The infinite amount of Not-Quites, the could-have-beens and the almosts, the was-befores and the not-yets, all remain dormant, in the dark, while the one sliver, the inexplicitly, insignificant fragment of yourself that currently shines and glows, takes the spotlight. One cannot help but ask, why? Why does this facet currently deserve the spotlight?

Life then always feels like a series of missed opportunities. You, uncomfortable with yourself now, straining against your career or your home life or your nagging spouse, cannot help but ponder and wonder the “you” that could have been; the “you” that was killed, hidden away, locked inside this nondescript room of your own choosing, becomes the object of despair and regret. One cannot help but regret the life one has lived; one cannot help but feel pointless and insignificant, when one realizes the endless maelstrom of Not-Quites that live in your own mind, much less the stranger you pass on the street. The rush of traffic and people passing by you, bumping into your side, cutting you off, speeding through, seems less calamitous than the highway that lives in yourself, in the tiny room pouring and filling with limitless missed opportunities and facets of you. You, in the entire essence of the word, become your own universe.

Life then seems hopeful. One cannot help but then imagine every person they see, every child of ten, every man of eighty, every mother and father, possessing and fighting and failing to conquer the same torrent of Not-Quites that live in their minds as well. One cannot help but feel more sympathetic to others, or more considerate to the anxiety and irritation others feel. One cannot help but wish to see others in a better place, knowing they experience the same daily torment as anyone and everyone else. The obnoxious coworker and the nagging spouse suddenly become objects of your compassion and your understanding; would you wish for any less for yourself? Knowing the battle, the waging war inside yourself, that affects each and every one of us, how could you not? As humans, we are all victims of the Not-Quites, and all at the mercy of the unilluminated facets of our own lives. Overcome by missed opportunities and disillusionment with our current selves, we are all experiencing the human-condition. But, we all experience it together.

How glorious life seems once more, when one realizes they are not alone—they could not be alone. Every man and woman has regrets, harbors thoughts about the almosts and the could-have-beens. It becomes our struggle to recognize this, our duty to fight it, and, knowing that we could never defeat the torrent, resign together. Life has meaning once more. Our current selves, young or old, single or married, the mechanic or the teacher, become our tools as humans in a fight together. Life is about fighting these Not-Quites, lessening the distance between yourself and your fellow humans, and realizing that change can always happen; the light will always rotate; the diamond will gleam from different angles. It is only in death, that this rotation ceases, and the lights die out. But life? It becomes endless, filled with a new version of yourself every moment of every day. Life then, instead of death, feels infinite. Life then, feels hopeful.

So understand this war within yourself; understand this ocean that lies beneath the surface, infinitely deep, always changing, always moving. Understand the maelstrom that exists in your own mind, and embrace it. Understand others more, because of it. It is only when one recognizes their mind is a room filled with infinite people, that one can recognize it in others. Everyone then becomes worthy of your compassion and sympathy, and you theirs. Your irritating coworker, shy neighbor, nagging spouse, are now your fellow soldiers, charging, swords raised, into the same darkness that you are now running towards. The Not-Quites, averted disasters and missed opportunities alike, are nothing to be afraid of. Yourself, as you are now, is what shines in the spotlight. Life then seems worth fighting for.

What’s Right About Ayn Rand?

“Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, begins by embracing the basic fact that existence exists. Reality is, and in the quest to live we must discover reality’s nature and learn to act successfully in it.”

This is the blanket statement for what “Objectivism” means according to the Ayn Rand Institute. It seems fairly straight forward; existence exists. As a people, we ought to learn how to thrive in the objective reality that is our own. So how did this philosophy radicalize the 20th century and spawn countless devotees and equally harsh critics?

Well, because apparently recognizing that existence is a thing requires a lot more work than one might think. At least, according to Miss Rand it is.

Objectivism, of course, had been popularized (and demonized) mostly because of the shocking tagline that comes with the moral philosophy: Be Selfish. Besides Nietzsche, perhaps, Rand was probably one of the first advocates for saying that acting in one’s own self-interest is actually what is moral and proper. How does that work? What could possibly be good about being selfish and pursuing your own passions, rather than working for the greater good. According to Ayn Rand, these are one of the same thing. The only way to work for the so-called “greater good” is to work on your own selfish interests.

I’m not advocating Objectivism. To be quite honest, I’m not sure what exactly to make of it. It seems like it makes sense—but what good writer/speaker doesn’t make something sound sensible? I know there are plenty of valid criticisms on Rand and her philosophy, particularly her conviction that only a true Laissez-Faire Capitalist society is “moral”, and that she held quite a few severely negative opinions on gender, homosexuality, race, etc.

However, I personally hold a conviction that there are many invalid criticisms about Objectivism, that tend to come merely from people thinking they know what the philosophy is about. A lot of these “what-if” scenarios and straw-man flaws people find are actually addressed by Ayn Rand herself, and she disputes these claims as not part of her objective beliefs. Just from scouring the internet, and bringing up Objectivism between my own friends, I’ve heard countless misconceptions about the philosophy that I wish to clear up.

Claim 1: Why would anyone think selfishness is a good thing? What would stop me from murdering you right now and taking your money? That would add to my selfish interest, right?

Rand’s Actual Belief: Objectivist ethics hold that it is important to always act in one’s rational self-interest. This includes allowing other people to follow suit. If you murder someone and then steal their money, you not only deprive them of their right (which Rand does list as a right to all mankind) to pursue their own happiness, but you also indirectly make yourself dependent on other men for your own happiness. Ayn Rand declares that requiring another person to grant you life—meaning that they provide your living or reason to live—is immoral. You become dependent on other men by stealing from them.  You become a looter, or second-hander, because it is not your own self that makes your money, but it is another man’s. Ayn Rand argues that living in anyway based off the whims or desires of the irrational is immoral. It is rational to earn your own money, because you require no other person to validate your happiness. It is irrational to steal from other people, because you become dependent on them.

TL;DR—Rand agrees with the principle that everyone has the right to pursue their own selfish desires. Murder and theft conflict with another person’s right to live. Also, you indirectly become a moocher or second-hander by living based off of murdering other people. You still depend on someone else, even if that includes murdering them.

Claim Two: If she claims we should always act in our own selfish benefit, why would anyone need a morality? Why does anyone have a sense of right or wrong? Why not just disregard ethics and do whatever you want?

Rand’s Actual Belief: This is actually the flaw I found in the video game, “Bioshock”. Bioshock is a game that acts in a dystopian society based off of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. It does a lot of things right (and it’s a fabulous game). But one claim the fictionalized Ayn Rand, cleverly named Andrew Ryan, makes is their society is above the “smallness of morality”. In actuality, Rand argues that morality is required to live. Humanity’s only objective desire is the wish to stay alive. We use our rationality to determine what is right or wrong for us, in order to stay alive. This is how morality came to be. Ayn Rand believes it is impossible to survive without ethics, because those principles are what tells us what would keep us alive and what would kill us. For example, one could argue that it is morally unethical to use heroin, because addiction often leads to death. One could argue that killing other people is morally unethical, because it is highly probable that it would lead to your own death (either your target kills you in self-defense, or you are killed by the society’s justice system…This also ties back into Claim One). Who exactly determines what is “morally” acceptable for a man to do? Ayn Rand claims logic. She believes ethical standards should not change between each society, but that the only moral standards we should hold are the ones that are objectively true. Objectivism claims that the only rational morals are what leads to one’s own self-benefit. Basically, always do things that keep you alive, happy, and feeling fulfilled. Don’t do things that would logically kill you or make you unhappy—this includes encroaching on someone’s right to live their own life.

TL;DR—Morality is man’s way of staying alive. We justify and condemn actions because they either help us live or kill us. Every man should have an ethical system because of this concept—it is the only rational thing to do. Of course, Rand believes it is only rational to hold her ethical standards.

Claim Three: Objectivists probably don’t believe in love then. The whole idea of love is that you act selflessly for the benefit of another person, right?

Rand’s Actual Belief: Rand actually believed that love is the most selfish thing one is capable of. Romantic love and pursuing your passionate career are the two pillars of what makes someone rationally happy (she even claimed that her success as a writer and her husband Frank O’Connor were the reasons she loved her life). But how can this be? How could Miss Rand herself depend her happiness on her husband’s love for her? Ayn Rand rationalized this because she is not happy because her husband loves her; she is happy because she loves him, and derives selfish pleasure from his love for her. One should always get selfish pleasure from their lover. To see them happy should make you happy. If it doesn’t, it is not a rational or moral love. This is not altruistic, because if your partner becomes a greater or more successful person, it would indirectly imply you are a more successful person because of it, because of your connection to them. You should love people because of the achievements they have made in life, something Rand calls “virtue”. The more virtue a person has, the more worthy they are of love. For example, Rand believed Frank was a virtuous man; he had good principles and was strong and capable. She loved him for it and took selfish pleasure in respecting her partner in that way. Likewise, Ayn Rand would never have wanted Frank to love her only because of the things she did for him, but because of the person she was. She would want Frank to love her because he believed she was a magnificent and successful person in her own right.

TL;DR—Love is actually the most selfish thing in the world. You marry someone you think is great because you get selfish pleasure for being in love with someone so goddamn amazing. Likewise, they should feel the same way about you.

Claim Four: Ayn Rand must hate Christmas then. The spirit of the season is giving presents to other people and acting entirely in a selfless way.

Rand’s Actual Belief: Ayn Rand actually loved Christmas. Like a lot. Not only was it the perfect stimulation of a capitalist market (think of all the money those manufacturers and corporations make from the holidays), but because of the selfish pleasure you get from giving people gifts. She did not, however, agree at all with the principle of giving everyone a present. You should only give a present to people who are worthy of it, because only then would it actually make you happy. Does it really affect you by giving your snotty distant relation a gift? Probably not, because you don’t care about them. But, when you give a gift to your mother, you want her to be happy. You might think your mother is so deserving of a present because of her “virtue”, that you would gain selfish joy at seeing her delighted. Also, it reflects well on your image to engage in the holidays. If you were the person who got everyone you loved the best gift they’ve ever received, you would gain a great deal of selfish pride and benefit from their gratitude. What a great way to bring Christmas cheer.

TL;DR—Christmas stimulates a capitalist society. You also gain selfish happiness by seeing those who you think deserve it, happy. The catch is, don’t buy presents for people you don’t care about.

 

Basically, Ayn Rand justifies a lot of the moral standards we already have in place through her own philosophy. We already know killing other people is wrong, she just gives us another reason for it.

(Note: My sources are mostly from “The Virtue of Selfishness”, the philosophy book written by Rand. Here are the other sources:

Link to the Ayn Rand Institute page: https://www.aynrand.org/ideas/philosophy

Link to interview where Ayn Rand talks about her love for her husband: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhaxvXRdENg

Take all of her philosophy with a grain of salt.)