Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Characters: Juvenal

Life Lessons I’ve Learned From My Characters: Juvenal May 28, 2016

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One of the great joys of being an author is you get to stand outside of yourself – to see other people’s worldviews through their own eyes. It also means that you end up learning how to see what’s good and useful in philosophies that are very different from your own. Over the next couple of days, for fun, I’m going to present a series of pithy little life lessons that I’ve learned from my characters. Some of them are really good observations that I apply all the time in everyday life. Others are… let’s just say that they’re useful in certain contexts and ought to be applied with moderation.

We’ll start with Juvenal. He’s from a series of YA horror novels that I’m writing, and also appears in Eros & Thanatos. Philosophically, he describes himself as an altruistic Machievellian, or a post-Nietzchean unterman. Really, I think he’s just suffering from deep epistemological despair. Also from alcoholism, unemployment and living out of the back of his pick-up.

(Caveat: I have allowed to my characters to speak in their own voice. I do not necessarily endorse their views.)

Juvenal:

(1) It’s Still Good – We live in a society where we’re trained to expect an unrealistic standard of perfection. Your clothes should always look like they’re brand new. Ditto for your furniture. Everything should always be clean. All conflict takes the form of a major drama accompanied by a soundtrack of doom. Even if you’re a hipster you have to drink the right hipster coffee and your clothes should look vintage – not used. This is BS. If a thing works, it’s still good. If it doesn’t work but all it needs is a bit of duct tape or a cover thrown over it, it’s also still good.

(2) Lower Your Standards – This follows from “It’s Still Good.” Half of all problems in life basically come down to “I expected it to be better than this.” Why did you expect it to be better than this? Who told you it would be? Probably someone who was trying to sell you “better.” They had an ulterior motive and, let me square with you, they lied. This is how life is and you can enjoy it if you stop stressing about how it could theoretically be better.

(3) Coke is a Vegetable – The “Still Good” principle also applies to food. I know that all you foodies out there are going to your fridges, seeing that pack of weiners that a house guest brought in and that you haven’t quite thrown out yet, and you’re looking at it thinking “I could not possibly feed that to my children. I don’t even have hot dog buns.” But you’re also out of fresh organic spelt, and let’s be honest: you’re sick of fighting with the kids to eat their kale. The weiners are so easy. But they’re bad bad bad evil food that will almost certainly cause rickets. No. No they won’t. All food is food. Good food may be better, but you’re not a failure as a human being if you occasionally have a pogo stick and coke for lunch. The same goes for that cookie that you dropped on the floor, and the sour cream that’s one day past its sell by date, and the veggies on the reduced table. In the immortal words of ‘Wierd Al’ Yankovic, “Just eat it.”

(4) If You Use the Word “Bourgeois”, You Are – All of the above points are really, secretly, about class. When your brain punishes you emotionally for failing to live up to some invisible social standard, what it’s really doing is enforcing internalized low-classophobia. Being low class is not shameful. It’s also not virtuous. It’s just a thing. Deconstructing the moralization of class is super important, there’s only one small problem which is that the people who do it tend to use terms like “deconstruct,” “bourgeois,” “proletariat,” “privilege,” “hegemony,” and “micro-physics of power-knowledge imposed on labouring bodies.” Don’t do that. What you are basically saying is “Look at me! I am an educated high class privileged person. Now let me talk about the problems of low class people in a way that will necessarily exclude any actual poor or uneducated people from the discussion.”

(5) The Unexamined Life Is Totally Worth Living – You want another classist notion? The idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Philosophy is a luxury. Most people do not have the leisure or the education to examine every freakin’ thing in their life. They don’t ask the “big questions” because they are already struggling to answer questions like “How will I pay the rent?” And really, where the hell do you get off thinking that the question “How can I be certain that other minds really exist?” or “What is the ontological relationship between being and nothingness?” are more important questions than “Where’s supper at?” And what about people with cognitive disabilities who can’t even frame these questions in the first place? Are their lives worth living? Damn right they are.

(6) Socrates Was Criminally Irritating – While we’re at it, constantly demanding that other people explain themselves and their lives is also not necessarily a great and virtuous thing. There’s no problem with a bunch of guys sitting around in the agora asking what, precisely, it means for a horse to be excellent according to the nature of a horse. If you enjoy that kind of thing, go for it. Do it with other people who also enjoy it. Ideas are valuable, sure. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be a pushy idea salesman. People will come to the font of wisdom when they’re thirsty. Picking on people because they haven’t got it all worked out, and they can’t explain and justify every single aspect of their life to your satisfaction does, in fact, make you like a gadfly – not in the sense that you disturb the complacent, but in the sense that people will have good reason to squash you or swat you away.

(7) If you have to do it… you just have to do it. – People will often tell you “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Okay, so the thing is that you have a limited amount of time and energy and there are a lot of things that have to get done in life. Most of them aren’t “worth doing” in some lofty, abstract sense but they are worth doing in the sense that bad things will happen to you if they don’t get done. These things are worth doing badly. In fact, waiting around until you’re ready to do them “right” often means waiting until problems have already emerged. Why not just get on with it? If the leisure fairy comes along later and blesses you with a 28 hour day, then go ahead and redo it “right.” For now, just get over yourself and get ‘er done.

(8) Beyond A Certain Point of Badness, The Worse It is, The Better It Gets – You ever watch Plan 9 From Outer Space? It’s terrible. So terrible that people still watch it decades later, when a lot of much better (albeit still terrible to mediocre) movies have been completely forgotten. Why? Because it’s so bad that it’s broken on through to the other side and you can take pleasure in the badness. Life’s like that.

(9) Nothing is No Good – If a person makes a thing, and other people like that thing, there’s something in it. The problem is that what we do is we form up into these little cliques based on mutual interest, and then we like the same things and talk about how much we like them and how much better the things we like are than the stuff that everybody else likes. This method of social self-ghettoization produces the illusion that the world is full of unmitigated crap, with just a small sliver of really “good” stuff that floats to the top – or more commonly, that gets relegated to some minute sub-culture and ignored by everybody else. If you don’t like something, it’s generally because you’ve never hung out with the kind of people who like it so you’ve never learned what makes it good.

(10) Of Course You’ve Made Poor Decisions – Pretty much everyone spends huge amounts of time and energy trying to produce the illusion that they are doing great, and that they are never a trainwreck. Dude. You’re human. You have fucked up your life. Not just once, but hundreds of times. So has everybody else. You don’t have to come up with excuses to explain how just this one time it was a major exception to the general rule of you being a good, competent, knowledgable and virtuous human being. Nor do you need to sit there stewing in regret about what might have been. If you had your life to live over, knowing what you know now, all this would enable you to do is to make completely different mistakes.

(11) Burn Your Frustrations as Fuel For Your Journey – Do not be mindful and live in the moment. Do not find your centre and act out of the deep serenity that you discover within. There’s a much, much easier way to get things done. You feel like complete garbage and you want to kick someone in the teeth? Stop right there. Put down the cup of ylang-ylang tea and get your legs out of that knot. You’ve got all this valuable aggressive energy bubbling through your system, and you’re just gonna let it dissipate in a slop of good vibes? Seriously. Grab a hoe, get out in the garden and rain bloody vengeance on the weeds. Sing apocalyptic Judas Priest anthems at them as they die. I mean, plants love music, right?

Image credit: me
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