Month: December 2013

The 15th of September 2013 – Somewhere in Cyberspace

(found in his Gmail trash bin)

Subject: RE: Did you see this?

Hello Paul,

Yeah, I saw it. I’ve read it over a few times, and to be honest, I disagree with most of it.

You know, I think the first thing that needs to be considered is “reality” and how that’s changed over the years. I wouldn’t argue that it’s more fair or unfair compared to decades ago, but I would say that it might be reasonable to expect members of the generation in question to be less happy than their predecessors if half the equation of happiness has to do with “reality.” There was a time – believe it or not – when as little as a high school diploma entitled you to a “secure career” with middle class pay and health insurance and a fully-stocked pension. Nowadays, it’s a tough fight to get an unpaid internship with no guarantee of future employment even with a college diploma and a couple years of work experience, and this is in a world in which the financial, emotional and mental investment of a bachelor’s degree has skyrocketed while its relative value has fallen off a cliff.

So are the yuppies entitled? Perhaps. But they aren’t lazy, and they aren’t delusional. They – maybe I should say we, maybe I should say me – have worked and are working hard in class long before they entered the job market, long before they first stepped onto that career path. And in class they’re under the pressure of thousands of dollars of tuition, pulling all-nighters to cram for exams and finish papers, all the while competing to stand out against a backdrop of people who they know are all the same, who they know will beat them if given the chance.

Yeah, the yuppies chase a rainbow, and yes, we thought there was a pot of gold at the end of it, whatever that gold is – fulfillment or security or wealth or booze or cars. And that’s our fault. I’ll admit on everyone’s behalf. But it’s our fault for believing what others have told us. So only out of spite, I will quote the great poetry of blink-182: “If we’re fucked up, you’re to blame.

What the author of this piece misses is just how fragile the collective entitlement of the Gen-Y yuppies is, especially in the aftermath of previous generations’ many attempts to destroy the world economy and suck the government dry with Social Security, Medicare, wars all around the planet and the like. As entitled as recent college graduates are, will be and have been, as delusional as some may think that twenty-something year old living in her parent’s basement is, none of them have any responsibility for that.

The world has made very clear to the yuppies, to the GYPSYs, that they aren’t special, they aren’t exceptional. They know they aren’t special. They know that no matter how hard they work, they’ll just fade back into the crowd, but they’ve been taught a certain idea. They are special. Their teachers told them this. Their after-school cartoons told them this. And their parents seem to have put a whole lot of faith in them to achieve this special destiny. So shouldn’t the yuppies at least act the part? They know more than anyone else – I mean outside of the exceptionally delusional who believe they can become bestselling authors and Youtube phenoms and startup superstars – that their lives are and should be just like everyone else’s. But – just as we are told, just as those before us did – we yuppies put on a brave smile in the face of doom.

Not to say that this entitlement or concept of the self as being special is anything new, nor do I think it is fair to consider out of control social comparison to be a new phenomenon that is wildly detrimental to the psyche. “Keeping up with the Joneses” was not coined within the last decade.

And forgive me for only existing as long as I have existed, but I would argue that the first person narrative has been essential to humanity for as long as humans have been conscious and aware. We all think we are somewhat special and deserving of certain things, and on a unique path towards those things, love and friendship and the like. Even the mere discussion of happiness implies that we should all be happy, that we are somehow entitled to it because of who we are.

This leads me to my final point, which I’m sure you will ignore after rolling your eyes with such force that your neck snaps. What is happiness and why should I care about it?

Personally, I am entirely unsatisfied that happiness (or love or any other emotional state of consciousness) is the result of some material equation, the mere accruement of experiences (of course experiences treated as things, as objects rather than actual experiences, something other, something undefined and transcendent and meaningful) and their perceived benefit or detriment.

Happiness is a worthy goal, or at least a worthy achievement, only when it is true, just like everything else. The artificial, conscious happiness, like the one that results from a carefully constructed list of pros outweighing a carefully constructed list of cons, is nothing more than a drop of an anesthetic splattered onto a fatal wound. Yes, it feels better; yes, the pain goes away, but you’re still missing a chunk of your flesh, of yourself. That’s enough for some people, I’m sure.

All I see is sedation. That’s what that equation will get you. So many people engage in this process of contentment, of convincing themselves to be satisfied. They reach out into the world and grab handfuls of things – labels and identities, hobbies, activities and careers – and they jab these things into their bodies hoping they are needles full of morphine. Climb the ladder of your career – secure or fulfilling – and roll around in your grassy field, your meadow of flowers and unicorns. Do something, move forward and keep moving. That’s the mantra today. Keep doing and don’t stop because you might actually have to consider what’s valuable, what’s really joyous, because you might actually have to ask yourself a question that is difficult to answer, a question to which you might not have an answer.

Happiness is valuable when it is genuine, when it exists organically in a quantity so great that it easily overwhelms the conscious mind with its shouts of glee and joy. And that happens. Those moments are real, and they exist, and most of the time we don’t really feel them.

Happiness isn’t smiling. Happiness is not being able to stop smiling. It is, or should be, natural and raw and powerful. And we shouldn’t try to achieve it. We should only hope to be lucky enough to experience it, to be in a position to appreciate it, and we should savor it when it does come along.

It is the experience of these moments and the self-assurance that they will continue to exist – or that their mere memory will be sustenance enough if they do not – that allows for happiness, that allows for us to live our lives beyond the superficial and the material.

So maybe I will be unhappy, with my entitlement and my belief in my own specialness. So I will be unhappy, but I will be quite happy with that.


>Date: Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 11:50 PM

>From: Paul Biederman

>Subject: Did you see this?

>Neat pictures with neat ideas.



>Paul Biederman

>Biederman Enterprises Inc.


The 28th of December 1992 – Liverpool, England

(found on Spellow Lane, beneath a blue jersey)

Dear Steven,

It was with perhaps great fortune that I received your letter this morning. It was right on time for the occasion, perhaps just as you had intended it.

But reading it left me in a rather perplexed state. I do not understand what would cause you to write in so celebratory a manner, particularly on my behalf. Nothing momentous has occurred, certainly not today. Neither you nor I have achieved any great thing. So I am left wondering what could possibly have happened to fill you with such excitement and good tidings.

Of course the above is written in jest, and I thank you for your well-wishes, perhaps because social convention leaves me with no other option. But we are close enough friends, closer than many of the others who have – with equal ceremony and forethought as you – dropped cards adorned with funny little pre-printed greetings through my mail slot. Therefore I feel comfortable enough airing this little grievance to you.

For really, what is the cause for celebration today? Is it, as I so cynically expect, my mere survival? Everyone is congratulating me for not succumbing to some great illness or for failing to do anything so stupid and reckless that it would result in my death? Or – and again I reference this dark spot due to our relative closeness as friends – are they all celebrating that I have quarantined that particularly dangerous thought into a benign quadrant of my brain and have, as of yet, resisted its calls to perform the unmentionable?

No. It is mere survival that is being celebrated. Mere and mediocre survival, because my life over the past year has been just that: mediocre. I have passed no great milestone, at least no milestone that hasn’t been arbitrarily chucked into the ground by the mob of insecure glory-hunters that preceded me. As I previously mentioned, I have not accomplished anything great: no love, no fortune, no career advancement. Nothing I’ve done in the last week, month or year can be considered by anyone to be anything but average and blah. So why have my friends all chipped in to buy me a chocolate cake?

Generations ago, I would understand the cause for celebration, back when children died of dysentery and whooping cough. But to die, particularly to die young in a reasonably civilized society, is perhaps particularly difficult, either caused by grave misfortune or great stupidity. So are we cheering that the Grim Reaper has yet to call my number or that I have yet to hand it to him myself?

I mean to say this: mere existence is worth nothing. Life must be done, must be striven and must be achieved, at least if it is to be cause for celebration. Mereness, mediocrity, at least the type that has filled my days, that’s worth barely a peep, let alone a song and a cake.


The 24th of December 2002 – King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

(found in the mall, just outside of the T.G.I Friday’s)

Nancy, Nancy,

Jesus Christ, Nancy.

What a horror.

Can you believe I actually said it? I did. I actually said it.

I was just walking through the mall, trying to find a store that still had those red-polka-dot socks that Uncle Leo likes so much. Can you believe that nobody had those socks? Nobody had those socks! What am I supposed to get Uncle Leo?

I’m walking through the mall and this old lady comes bombing out of Spencer’s Gifts, big black bags hanging from her hands. I mean, these bags were huge. They were dragging her down to the ground. She’s flying out of this store with these huge bags and she comes spinning right into me. I mean, she was going right for me.

I just barely got out of the way, but I held my hands out, just to slow her down, maybe stop her and see if she had any red-polka-dot socks in those big, black bags. I didn’t see any.

She looks up at me, like she just noticed me – even though she almost ran me down in a crowded holiday mall (Some people, right?). She looks up at me and she smiles and all she says is “Merry Christmas.”

No apology. No nothing. Just “Merry Christmas.”

And I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t even stop to think. I looked down at this tiny old lady, bent over because of the weight of these big, black bags. I looked down at her and I smiled, because there was this joy in the air. I looked down at her and I said it. I said “Merry Christmas.” And then the old lady with the big, black bags just walked right on by. I didn’t care. I wasn’t interested in her or her response or her explanation as to why she needed to come rushing out of Spencer’s Gifts.


I just said it. I just said “Merry Christmas.” And then I smiled and I felt my heart fill up with this weird happiness and I moved on, content with it. I just said it, and that was all.

“Merry Christmas.”

I always wondered about those people. I always laughed at those people who sent those Christmas cards with those pages and pages of words about their lives and their family’s lives. They’d send these letters every single year, but they never picked up a phone, but they never bothered to actually talk, to actually start a conversation. They just wanted to write in a check mark next to that line item: “have human contact.” They just needed to fill their quota and move on. They were just content with it.

“Merry Christmas.”

I think it’s all I need. I really do. What if it is?

When did I become one of those people? When did I transform and lose my spirit? When did I realize that I could only foster human interaction through farcical holiday cheer? When did I start to crave it, because it is just so much easier to talk to people through holiday greetings than actual conversations?


Merry Christmas,


The 30th of December 1933 – Cleveland, Ohio

(found on an evergreen tree, wrapped around a half-chewed candy cane)


I’m not sure what might have provoked such honesty in you, but your last letter certainly came as a shock to me. I guess the two of us are closer than I had believed. I have always considered us to be somewhat casual pen pals, old friends that keep in touch to pass the time away. As such, and as far as I am aware, I had never made any particularly revealing statements about myself to you in my letters. Certainly, I don’t think you have read anything from me that would have given you such insight into what you believe is my character.

Now, with my caveats aired, I would like to thank you for telling me what I am. I really appreciate it. You see, I do not own a mirror, nor do I have any self-awareness or esteem, so I am wholly reliant upon other people, even people I would consider to be essential strangers – casual acquaintances at best – to inform me of what, why and how I behave.

Particularly useful to my process of self-actualization was the passage in which you described to me what you called my “thing.” I have included, here in my own text, a direct copy of your writing for demonstration:

Now I was particularly shocked, Harold, when you wrote of your firm’s Christmas party. It sounded as though the festivities became particularly rowdy, not that there is or is not anything wrong about that. But it sounded as if you yourself became particularly imbibed with the drink. Now, Harold, this came as rather a shock because I thought of you as one of me, of upstanding morals and free from that particular sin of rowdiness and partying and alcohol. I thought that was who you were. I thought that was your thing, like I had made it mine.

How dare you, sir! How dare you seek to deprive me of my humanity, my individuality! And how dare you attempt to simplify me, draw a neat little border around my being and pin to it a series of bland labels, things and characteristics merely because you want to make the world around you cute and manageable. I will, and will and will and will, hold you with only the strongest contempt because of this behavior, this childish attempt to affix me like a preserved insect in your collection.

Please Clarence – and keep this in mind – do not put me in a little box with my bland characteristics. Do not try to pin me to a line and leave me to dry out and shrivel in the afternoon breeze, just so you can watch and observe. And, certainly remember this, do not tell me what my thing is. Would that not be best left for me to decide myself?

So let me ask you, if you think you know so much about me: what, or who (if you consider yourself deserving of being considered a human being), do you think you are?

I am interested to find that out,


The 13th of June 1929 – Hometown, Pennsylvania

(found in an empty cradle)

For Marie,

Please don’t be mad at me. I’m sorry. Honest, I am. So please don’t be mad. But let me explain. I want to try to explain.

All I was trying to say is that nobody is anything. People aren’t just people. But don’t take offense. We aren’t any thing. We aren’t nothing. We are everything. We are every goddamned thing. That’s what I meant. I know I didn’t say it that way, but that’s what I meant. I’m nothing. You’re nothing. That’s it: nothing. But that nothing is everything.

We are universes. That’s what buzzes around in our minds: entire worlds filled with dreams and hopes and problems and solutions. We aren’t just beings. We aren’t just collections of beliefs and identities and orientations. We are universes, each their own.

My body, your body, everybody’s body is just a vessel for this energy, just a physical representation of the universes our minds contain. And these bodies are unique, and these bodies are separate.

But they intersect, these bodies and the energies they contain. Thank god they intersect, these universes in our minds.

I know you hate when I get personal, but I need to, just for this demonstration. You see, I have trouble touching people. I have trouble even being around them. Because – even though we look so similar, even though we should be so similar and even though we really are the same – I just feel so damn different. See these universes give off energy. They’re that powerful. That’s what our minds do. They buzz and vibrate and hum and we know, just by being next to someone, what they are. We can feel it. We can hear it.

And sometimes it just doesn’t feel right – most of the time, if you’re someone like me. Most of the time your mind is humming one note and the other person is just off key and it doesn’t feel right. I mean, I walk into a room sometimes and everyone just looks at me. They look at me like I’m some sort of monster. They hear it. I can hear it, and it sounds like cats being run through a woodchipper. I’m just out of tune.

And other times, rarely, you’re close, you’re in harmony and something beautiful can happen.

But – oh I don’t want to think about it – but sometimes, you find yourself buzzing along with somebody in perfect unison. And then it’s just…

See then it’s all about this energy. It’s all about that moment and what that moment contains. But it isn’t. It has nothing to do with what’s real. It has everything to do with what we can convince ourselves. Whether or not it really happened is irrelevant, this intersection, this harmony, this melody. Whether or not you believe it is all that matters.

I believed it. I know that’s not the point of this, but I really did. It was only for a second, but I really did.

So please don’t be mad at me. I didn’t mean nothing by it. I just

I’m sorry.


The 8th of July 1972 – El Paso, Texas

(found amongst the scraps of an spent firework)

Would you just shut up about the chili, Brad?

It’s not a thing to worry about, Brad. It’s not. So just drop it already.

Do you think everyone’s lying to you? Is that the kind of person you are, Brad? Every time someone gives you a compliment, every time someone smiles at you, you think they’re lying about something. Why is that? Do you think you’re a piece of shit, Brad? Because maybe you are. Maybe you are, but that doesn’t matter right now. That doesn’t make you any different.

Because people were telling you the chili was good the whole time. Marcy and John and Maxine all asked you for the recipe. Do you think they were lying? Do you think they said that just to make you feel better? Because, and know this, they don’t care about making you feel better. They don’t think about you enough to want to make you feel better.

And then one person says or whispers something about how the chili is bland, and you freak out. You didn’t even hear Dennis say it. You didn’t. You saw his lips move. You tried to read his lips from across a table after you’ve had five or six beers. Brad, you’ve got to shut up about the chili. Brad, you’ve got to just shut up.

Do you think anyone cares? So the chili needed an extra teaspoon of salt or something. So what if you burned the walnuts in the Waldorf salad you brought to Linda’s Memorial Day BBQ. Nobody remembers. Nobody’s thinking about that. They’re not thinking about you. They’re barely thinking about themselves. They just want to listen to Britney Spears and watch The Big Bang Theory or whatever. They don’t think about giving you validation. They don’t.

Here’s the thing, Brad, here’s the thing. You’re not special. See, you’re barely anything – just like the rest of us. You can walk into a room, and nobody’s going to notice you. Nobody’s going to look for you and point you out and hold you above everyone else. They’re not going to do that because you’re not special. You’re not. You’re nothing, just like the rest of us. You’re just one of us, not some mini-movie star, not some undiscovered celebrity chef. Nobody’s out to get you. Nobody’s trying to sabotage your self-esteem with false compliments or harsh criticism. Shockingly, to everyone else, you’re just another person. You’re just another person, Brad.

That’s just the way it is.

I liked the chili anyway, Brad. I thought it was pretty good.

See you at next week’s block party,


The 29th of December 1948 – Weston, Massachusetts

(found in the glovebox of a turquoise Ford Vedette)

Hello John,

You can tell me all you want, but you can’t change what I see. At least, you can’t change what I’ve convinced myself that I see.

And what I see is darkness, darkness with no light. You see so much beauty in the world, and so do I, but beneath it, floating there, beneath everything, I see this emptiness, this darkness, this abyss. That’s what fills my sight, not the beauty, but the darkness.

But there are these speckles of light, John. They’re in you and me and everyone around us. We are the twinkling stars that flitter around the night sky and try to shed some light on something for once, just something for a change, just a little fucking light. John – that’s us, that’s what we’re here for.

And we can do anything we want, John. Because all there is is darkness. And all there is is what we can see with our own light.

I am a fire. Perhaps we all are, but I feel it in me, John. I am a light. And when I shine, I see so much, John. But I have to warn you. If you keep smiling at me, I have to warn you.

I don’t care like other people, John. I don’t care like how you care. I don’t care that way. See I don’t understand how you care. Not in general, but just the way that you care – how do you do that? You and everyone else, everyone normal, you care a little bit about a lot of things. I care a lot about a little.

I focus on something until it becomes so important to me, even just in my mind, but it’s so important to me that I feel my soul, my essence, my entire being melt into this molten, bubbling magma until I just can’t take it anymore. That’s how I light the darkness. I burp and let out a little bit of that fire. We all do, I guess, just most do it less – or with more control, more restraint – than I could ever.

And I vacillate between this empty fucking darkness and the brightest, warmest place I could ever imagine, and it all just happens inside me. I don’t know usually what to do with it.

And then something comes along that stokes me even further. That fire burns so bright that I can see it through my skin, through my bones. My gut glows. Pregnant with passion, it radiates like a sun. Then the terrible, inevitable thing happens and I just can’t hold on anymore, so I vomit. I erupt. And my entire world blazes red and yellow. I hear trees crack from the heat spitting from my mouth. I listen as everything rages and roars, lost from my sight in an orange haze. I wait for everything to be cut short by an ashy silence.

So I’m warning you, John. The darkness can free us. The light – my light – might consume us.

So you better be ready,