A Brief Note on Scarcity

I listened to this podcast yesterday about scarcity. It actually tricked me a bit with the title because it was something like, "your brain when you're hungry", which alluded to a jovial podcast maybe centering around the idea of being hangry. Which I am a lot. In fact, I was in the throes of hanger -- with my pants feeling as if they were wrapped around my legs weird and my headphones making my ear sweat an uncomfortable amount -- as I hit the play button. The podcast was, in fact, more along the lines of the behavior of people in periods of poverty, loneliness, or hunger and what sort of decisions they make.

The vocabulary they used to group these situations was to call them moments of scarcity. In moments of scarcity, we are driven to focus on the thing that is scarce, and this alters the way we would usually handle dealing with needing this thing. What is stranger is that scarcity causes people to create short-term strategies that are effective, but usually massively hurt their long term objectives. The podcast focused on a woman who lost her job under an unlucky set of circumstances and slowly fell into poverty.

The one point that really struck me (and was highlighted additionally in stories about starvation, eating disorders, loneliness, and people’s sensation of time) was how this woman began to move towards poverty and then sort of looked up and realized, "Shit. I'm totally broke." There's that piece of dialogue from Hemmingway that popped into my head when hearing this:

How did you go bankrupt?
Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly

Scarcity causes a certain tunnel vision. It pulls us into a mode of thinking that, by the time we see it, we're struggling with (physical or existential) survival. It's weird, and maybe pointless, but when an idea like Scarcity floats its way across my brain, I start to frame my entire world in relationship to that singular idea; like creating a new big bang of meaning. I feel like a lot of life is just doing this over and over: picking a new starting structure and then building the whole world out of it. At the end I always end up with the same world, it just can start to mean different things because of what I constructed it out of. 

A blanket covering a dinosaur probably looks a lot like a blanket covering a bunch of discarded appliances. But they both are very different. You know? It’s like Hamilton and Newton looking at motion or Schrödinger and Feynman talking about the basis of reality. Between each pair of scientists, a lumpy blanket is understood, but it is created from things that aren’t remotely connected.

Anyways. As I swung around thinking about all in my life as reactions to scarcity — relationships and their faults, career paths chosen, personal faults carved deeper through repetition — the one piece of my life that really stuck out as being framed by scarcity is the way I deal with my depression. 

I’ve had a few bad bouts of depression in my life. At it’s worse it’s the sensation of having my will to make choices taken away and I’m left like a shell with no means from creating a structure within. Time is infinitely expanding in all directions with my sense of movement being completely stripped from me. And I think a lot of the ways I end up tackling depression can be to focus on this exact moment in time and its relationship to this feeling. This hollowness. But fixating on its immediacy and looking for remedies — exercise, eating well, SSRIs (which I was once on and have very mixed feelings about. It seems like club kids doing Ketamine are having outcomes similar to taking SSRIs) — are short term strategies. They are solutions created by scarcity; where I become singular in my approach to all things in my life as all actions and events are no longer just actions and events, but actions and events that happen while I’m depressed.

This is my brain on scarcity.

And so I’ve been thinking a lot what it looks like to think of depression as something that is everywhere all the time, instead of a culdesac I end up in when I get lost in the shittiest suburb. It’s the outcome of many things that pick away at my interior. And to live in its presence effectively I think is a question about the way I orient myself to the larger structures that are part of my environment and life. And this has been a really illuminating way to look at depression. Not to ask, “Why am I like this?”, but more to ask, “How have I come to get here?” 

Depression is a little like a really crappy super power. It is the ability to reorient myself in my environment where the lens that I create on my experience only sees an internal space that will never find a place in the world around it. It’s like holding a flashlight and pointing it out to a set of mirrors I have laid around the room, to find the light bounce around and punch me right in the eye. I can keep blinding myself, or I can go around and adjust some mirrors.

How hokey do reflections on these sort of things sound? Pretty hokey.

Oh look, it’s sunny outside.

present history

I had this post sort of on a loop being re-read in my mind since I wrote it, because I think it missed the basic point that I was trying to make. The point that I was trying to make was about mystery. The mystery that continues to exist in the people that are close to me in my life. And what I feel so happy for, is that the people I love in my life exist in some sort of quantum state, where they are presented as these solid stable objects, but underneath it all, stuff is uncertain and new and popping in and out of existence. They do not harden. And I say with particular love and gratitude that my parents have maintained this quality. I think we have the ability to easily write off the people that raised us due to the caricature we push them to be; a caricature that usually just highlights the things we have up to the point been unwilling to take ownership over having parts of ourselves.

So. Anyway. 

The garbage below was supposed to be an ode to mystery in those I love.

------- ORIGINAL POST -----------

I recently finished reading The Burried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro and it has me thinking a lot about memory and my relationships to people. The book follows two elderly Britons, Axel and Beatrice, as they go in search of their son, in a period shortly after King Arthur’s death. Everywhere the land is covered in a mysterious mist that makes everyone forget the past in any concrete way. The mist, it is revealed, is a tool created by King Arthur that makes everyone forget the horrors of the war, therefore allowing peace between the Britons and Saxons. On an individual level, however, it also makes everyone forget the history of their own relationships. 

In the main two layers of the story, there is a framing of love and peace as careful balances of history and emotion. Our love for another person is created through a certain awareness of narrative as well as a desire to choose that person to be in our life. And, similarly, peace requires a certain understanding of history, with a choice to try and understand another group of people. 

There’s a lot of Big Picture thoughts around what happens when we frame peace (or war for that matter) off of purely emotional or purely historical viewpoints. That is, especially given the current political climate, something that is worth taking some time to ponder. INSTEAD, however, I’ll be talking about my parents.

This idea that love can be thought of as a balance of history and emotion has struck a chord with me at the moment. I’ve been very lucky, in that for the last couple years I’ve been able to enjoy most of my time bouncing around the world for my work. One of the things that has changed a lot because of this is how often I see my parents. The three of us have usually lived relatively close to each other, and now I see them every 6 month or a year.

And it strikes me how they have become more sculptural in this time. The way my mom’s cheeks rise and her eyes close when she smiles, or the way my dad’s fingertips look when they rest on a tabletop. And these things start to stand out more because each of their histories become more prominent in how I think about them; each of their histories become more present in the way that I love them. I say “present in the way that I love them”, because I think there is a way that some people disappear into their histories; the vibration of their character is lost to the stories of times past.

But I see in this time, as history fills the gap in emotion of these two people I know quite well, that they aren’t disappearing, but I think in actuality it just is a different balancing act between the emotion that comes in our time together and the attention I pay to how I remember them. I guess what I’m saying is that I see the multitude of ways that I remember them and how that seems to bring the present into a more textured experience.

Sculptural is not a bad way to describe the love you have for someone. I think what would be sad is if their sculptural form was only created by memory. The best sculptures are ones whose history continues to party with their emotional self.