Self-Contained Chaos

The Lunatic Is in My Room

Last Saturday night my wife Jina suddenly flipped out on me–hardly an unusual occurrence.  Only this time the display of her terrifying temper made my blood run colder than usual–a delicious, high-calorie, vampire-friendly crimson smoothie from Reincarnation Instant Breakfasts.  (The word “breakfast” is funny when you think about it.  Considering it’s the first meal of the day, eaten after a long phase of sleep, the idea of breaking a fast held while unconscious doesn’t sound so impressive.  “Hey, I fast for eight hours every night, but I still can’t seem to lose weight!”)

The reason she went berserk was she couldn’t find a box she’d left on the table in this room–which I guess you could call a study.  It contained some money she owed to the mother of one of her students.  I tried to help her find it by looking around on other surfaces in the apartment, including the messy round table in the living room, the sofa covered with clothes, the medical knick-knack-strewn side table in our bedroom–all to no avail.

The table she’d lost the item on was the most cluttered area of all–anarchically adorned with folded receipts, ballpoint pens, church-related propaganda, neglected mints, clothespins (beware!  If you’re a native English speaker living in Korea, a “close-pin” refers to a safety pin.  As my brother would say, “Stop fucking with my language!”), safety pins, an orphaned trouser button, a roll of toilet paper, a highlighter pen, and the perforated cardboard seal of a box of tissues.

As she continued to rage against the dying of the light, I gently suggested she might have left it at the little school she runs.

She replied by screaming at the top of her lungs.

“When are you going to get rid of all these books!  I can’t stand it anymore!”

The books, by the way, were all stacked on the shelves; none of them were on the table where she’d left the box.  In fact, all the stuff in the catalogue above was generated by her (not that I’m not a major league slob myself, although she’s gone a long way towards domesticating me, an intricate part of the gelding process).

“Okay, I guess I’ll go back to America, then.”

“Keep talking like that!  You really know how to stimulate me!”

(When Korean people use the word “stimulate,” at least in my experience, they usually mean something closer to “annoy” or “infuriate.”)

Over dinner she asked me if I was planning on continuing teaching a class that only meets once a week.  Compounding matters, since the students are professionals and are often busy with their work, the class is frequently canceled.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I might as well until I find something better.”

“Do you want to teach them?”

“It doesn’t make any difference to me one way or another.  I couldn’t care less.  I’ve been teaching English for twenty-three years and I’m fucking sick of it.”

“Well,” she said, “what would you like to do instead?”

“I don’t know what else I could do for comparable pay.  Probably not much in this shitty economy.”

With a dramatic sigh of self-pity, I said, “So I guess I’ve just got to keep teaching.”

I was able to sigh with relief instead of pity when she finally left for awhile, making it safe to breathe without bringing the roof down on my head.

She called me half an hour later.  Sure enough, she’d left the box she’d been looking for at the school.  She apologized.  I accepted her apology.  Predictable pattern complete in the endless suffering cycle of life, death, and rebirth that is everyday human experience.

The Mirror Bites Back

It can be a blow to the gut to meet yourself in the pages of a nonfiction book–and I don’t mean your own autobiography.  Recently I read in Geoffrey Miller’s Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior a citation from “psychiatry’s bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (sounds like the name of a catchy tune), that listed the traits of a narcissist.

They include “selfishness (lacking empathy), arrogance (haughty, contemptuous attitudes), exceptionalism (belief that one is special), sense of entitlement (expecting special treatment and automatic compliance with one’s wishes), admiration seeking, success fantasizing, grandiosity,” and a “victim mentality (blaming the outside world for one’s failures and disappointments).”

I cherry-picked from the list, but I’m guilty of most of these offenses.

The author goes on to say these “symptoms” make “narcissists. . . view themselves as stars in their own life stories, protagonists in their own epics, with everyone else a minor character.  (They’re like bloggers that way.)” (!)

But that’s not all:  “They feel irritable and show a low frustration tolerance. . . reward themselves with impulsive, hedonistic extremes.  They sometimes perceive a ‘grandiosity gap’ between their inflated self-esteem and their actual accomplishments, leading to an unstable sense of self-worth and periodic self-doubts and depression.”

They–okay, we–get our kicks not so much by spending time with our peers, but via “self-stimulation (fiction reading, TV watching, drug taking, masturbating). . . Tech-savvy narcissists. . . do a lot of ‘ego-surfing'”–in other words, Googling themselves–“and ‘blog streaking’ (revealing overly personal details in their blogs)(!)(italics mine–all mine!!!)

Fair enough:  I stand accused, with my fore-tail between my legs.  Anyway, I’m sorry if I’m sometimes Mr. Too Much Information (or maybe that should be Not Enough Imagination.)

I’m tired of flagellating myself; please summon Mel Gibson to relieve me.

Laugh As If You Mean It

The tenets of ancient Buddhism and cutting-edge neuroscience both reveal that the thing that we think of as the self is in fact an illusion.  That would be enough to drive any die-hard narcissist truly nuts.

As a Westerner who grew up in the United States of America–the original culture of narcissism (and, as far as I can see, contemporary Korea’s template–at least on the surface–in all too many ways)–I can attest that my country’s cult of individuality goes a  long way towards alienating people from one another.  The endless hypermasculine games of competition and one-upmanship are supremely idiotic; they’re also probably what drives the economy and the war machine, if I may be so glib.

But I’m not here to lecture you and pontificate about piffle.  Instead, I want to share a technique I’ve picked up that helps me laugh again.  Did you know that the average child laughs about two-hundred times a day, while the average adult only laughs about fifty (it might be even less than that; my memory for figures isn’t great)?

The world is so depressing these days (there I go again, blaming the world for my problems), as is my marriage (see?  It’s all the wife’s fault, not mine), that even though I still love a good joke as much as the next person, I find it hard to bust out laughing.  My wife even pointed out that I seem to have “lost your humor sense.”

No need to despair, thanks to laughing yoga.  If you need a good laugh but can find nothing funny enough to provoke one, all you have to do is start out with a fake one.  As William Shakespeare said, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”  You’ll feel “distinctly like an idiot,” as Peter Lorre would say in The Maltese Falcon, since you’re not really laughing, but keep it up for a minute or two and I guarantee you you’ll be roaring like Daffy Duck on a bender, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler on TV’s Batman, or Jack Nicholson whooping it up as Randle Patrick McMurphy after the guard removes his handcuffs in his opening scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 

Not only does it feel good, but it’s great for your health.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

P. S.  Apologies for any possible typos in this entry; I’ve got to get my ass in gear and get out of here and don’t have time to proofreed what I’ve writed.

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