No. 117: A dose of perspective
Caution: I have no original idea this week.
But I do have someone else’s original idea to share.
In fact, it may not be all that original. But it felt that way to me.
What’s “original,” anyway?
A rabbit hole I’ll save for another day.
But I don’t think it’s far off to say the most original ideas seem to hit on sensations completely unoriginal a.k.a those that are so relatable we think, “Yeah, that’s really how it is.”
Comedians are great at finding these, which is something I’m taking note of from a writing perspective.
This time, it was Louis C.K. who dusted off a truth I hadn’t thought enough about. I was listening to him this week on the Joe Rogan podcast.
The guy is smart. Really smart. Serious, even, which I didn’t expect from a career jokester. (He’s also, I discovered, half-Mexican like yours truly, which is cool). It was interesting to hear him chat like a regular, intellectual guy. I was expecting the usual comedian schtick of always looking for a joke, a laugh, a rise.
Not the case with Louis C.K.
At one point, he indirectly called out Rogan on one of his preconceived notions, which also happened to be one of mine.
Rogan was chatting about the benefits of sauna, of cold plunges, and of other health-nut topics not unfamiliar to me, things that C.K. just kind of chuckled at, politely viewing them as a bit . . . ridiculous.
Rogan attributed C.K.’s dismissive reaction to the accessibility of these luxuries. Saunas and ice baths aren’t cheap. They run into the thousands of dollars — each.
But that wasn’t what C.K. took issue with. It was something deeper.
I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with talking about that stuff because other people can’t afford it. Not at all.
The Earth and the experience of, like, competing for food and oxygen and living on Earth and being in society and just being a person?
We’ve gotten to some altitude here where we’re having some stupid conversations that are just, you know, Should I do a cold plunge or a sauna?
Like what the fuck is that?
It’s a ridiculous a thing, trying to find just the right balance because there’s nothing really challenging you, because you don’t have any real problems.
You’re not standing on the Earth anymore. You’re in a bubble, where you’re sort of, Maybe I’ll try this, or maybe I’ll just do protein now, you know what I mean?
And you’ll never find balance. Because that’s not a normal life. That’s not organic living. That’s not living like a human being.
Big ideas entering the stage.
What, really, was he saying?
That being healthy, in the end, is pointless?
In a way, not wrong. But anyone can say that being healthy isn’t real life. Real life is what we make it, isn’t it? Simply because death awaits us all, should we give up every attempt at eating well, exercising, feeling good?
These reactions still missed the point.
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What C.K. was critiquing is the weirdness of having a dedicated space in public discourse for topics as abstract as saunas and cold plunges.
That such conversations exist is a signal of a deeply privileged life detached from those of most humans.
The majority of the world is struggling just to get by, and we’re over here talking about keeping our mouths shut when we sleep in order to improve the definition of our cheekbones?
How idle are we to sit around wondering about the best diet, the most effective form of exercise, the most ideal sleeping position? How deprived of meaning have our lives become when we spend our days searching for the minor tweaks that will (maybe) make us feel just a little bit better or live a little bit longer?
Put that way? Yeah, it’s totally ridiculous.
You won’t ever get to what is fulfilling about life through that stuff. It’s a weird thing because you’re not supposed to be happy, and you’re not supposed to be safe.
I think that that’s the problem. People expect that. And it’s not a good way to live.
You’re not happy when you’re safe.
You’re not happy when you’re happy.
The point of life used to be, Don’t die. And then, somewhere in the margins, you’d be like, This feels good, you know, like, next to a fire. You almost died, but you cooked the thing that tried to kill you, and you’re eating it, and you go, Alright, I feel good, this feels nice, and you get to enjoy the stars in the sky.
There’s something to that.
There is absolutely is something to that. But hould we return to that? Is such a return even possible?
Still, it’s worth realizing, I think, that once upon a time we were overjoyed to sit by a fire, chew on a hunk of meat, and look up at the stars whereas now, we’re looking for happiness in the shape of a sensory deprivation tank.
C.K.’s underlying point here is clearly that life is suffering.
There is no comfort. There is no safety. There is no guarantee of happiness.
And within that suffering there’s what it means to be a human being.
Conversations, then, about minute lifestyle improvements by a groups of already well-off people seem to lose sight of that, and, as a result, pose the risk of missing the meaning of life altogether.
Another angle might be that our constant searching is evidence of just another kind of human struggle, one primarily plagues on the “comfortable.”
What C.K. is saying, I think, is true. I agree. And I imagine it struck a chord with Rogan, who must experience this ennui better than any.
Certainly it made me look at my own lifestyle and laugh at myself a bit.
How true that my growing obsession with diet, exercise, supplements, etc. is a signal of listlessness, boredom, potential meaninglessness?
I haven’t gone off the deep end, not by a long shot, but it was powerful to view these occupations from a new perspective. No, I wasn’t going to throw my healthy habits away. But it’s not lost on me that I’m lucky as hell to occupy myself with decisions like factory-farmed versus grass-fed.
Where I stray from C.K.’s (perceived) reasoning is that the weird things that crop up within an America life — saunas and cold plunges, i.e. — are not invalidated by their ridiculousness.
Is it a strange way of life, very different from most others? Yes.
But is it any easier, per se? I’m not sure.
This seems a situation where two truths can co-exist. Though our problems are small on a global scale, they are real to the people experiencing them, and should be dealt with as such. Every life, I think, contains both great struggle and great beauty.
But the C.K. wisdom-sesh didn’t end there.
He talked about people being too “big picture” nowadays, with their podcasts, YouTube videos, social medias, and the lot.
Everyone has some grand opinion on how they are going to change the world.
“Your only responsibility is the space you take up and the people you encounter,” C.K. said.
Which is so damn true.
I needed to hear that.
What if, instead of worrying so much about the world at large, we just focus on being the best people we can be towards those within our reach, people like our friends and family, our coworkers, the people we encounter at the grocery store, the guy we pass walking down the street?
Maybe you already do. Maybe I already did. But I still loved hearing that.
My only job is to be the kindest, most loving person I can be to those within reach of my love and kindness, and I’m very confident about my ability to do that. I just have to make sure to do it.
All this information I took in while walking my dog around the lake near my house. When I got home, it’s no an exaggeration to say I felt changed. My plan was to work out in the little gym I built in the basement, but instead I took off Archer’s harness, kicked off my shoes, and just sat on the couch.
I was stunned into an aloofness. I mulled all the ideas I had just encountered. Honestly, I was feeling a little down, aimless, and unmotivated.
Then I got up and started my workout.
I realized the absurdity, but I enjoyed it no less.
The goals of balance and perfect contentment are unattainable, I know.
But what makes me human is that I keep trying anyway. ♦
HEAR: “All I Want Is U” by Chase Ceglie
READ: I think I’ve shared this before, but here’s one of my favorite short stories of all time. “What’s the Deal, Hummingbird?” by Arthur Krystal.
VIEW: The Joe Rogan Experience #1929: Louis C.K. The part of the conversation I talked about in this newsletter starts at about 2hr 23m.
“My plan was to work out in the little gym I built in the basement, but instead I took off Archer’s harness, kicked off my shoes, and just sat on the couch.”
Almost a sense of deja vu when I read this. I was up early this morning and had thoughts of reworking a conference proposal and possibly working out before anyone else woke up.
I sat down on the couch for a moment. Louise the dog hopped up beside me and curled up. Margo the cat was a few feet away and also curled up. I caught up on some email, and realized they had both fallen asleep. Then it hit me. Sometimes there is nothing better that you can do than be in the peaceful company of sleeping animals.
I love this post, Matt. So much resonated with me. We have become so ridiculous about so many things. When I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition we would study a different food/health theory every weekend. And each time I'd think "Yeah! That makes perfect sense. From veganism to raw food to a carnivore diet, etc. One day our teacher told us about Orthorexia Nervosa - an eating disorder from being hyper-focused on healthy eating. Everyone looked around sheepishly guilty as charged. Many of us were healing from something. Now, I can't tolerate when someone gets on their soapbox saying everyone should be a this or a that - or that cold plunges are for everyone. I know that your point is much deeper.
I love this: "What if, instead of worrying so much about the world at large, we just focus on being the best people we can be towards those within our reach, people like our friends and family, our coworkers, the people we encounter at the grocery store, the guy we pass walking down the street?" I have felt this way for a very long time now. Your "no original idea this week" turned out to be just perfect. :)