I was thinking about my life - my by many measures extremely lucky, slightly crazy, weird life over the past ten years. And I compared it to the slight echo of disappointment that lingered in the air after all of it. The idea that maybe I haven't been great, or that I was not entirely present for the moments that counted, or I have been so awkward-and-proud-of-it that I've missed one too many things to make my weirdness worth it. It's impossible to know, I guess - it's like that old question about whether my 'green' is the same as your 'green,' and how could we know if we can't literally get inside one another's brains? Maybe some people see and feel the drama and turmoil of their inner lives simply because they spend the time looking there. Maybe I can be such a chipper dude simply because my brain chemistry is like whatever's the opposite of psychotic.
I'm listening to the new Gonjasufi album, MU.ZZ.LE. I put it on right after the Bad Brains' I Against I, so I must be on some sort of thing. The Bad Brains was what I put on after I bailed on Occupy Tampa for the night. I stopped by very briefly, just long enough to hear the start of a conversation about the kitchen that I really didn't have even the slightest desire to stick around for. A substantial part of energy in the camp is going now into these sorts of discussions - which as simple as they sound, regularly explode into massive personality conflicts that stretch over multiple meetings, night after night. This is because the camp is made up more than anything else by asocial narcissists, including longtime homeless, travellers, borderline head cases, and apparent drug addicts.
It took less than a month for this population to make up the critical mass of the 24/7 occupation of Occupy Tampa. I have some serious concerns about where we go from here, despite the valiant efforts of several organizers to keep momentum going into several ongoing and exciting projects. The idea of the 'occupation' has been so crucial to the appeal of the movement in the public eye - but I have seen much firsthand, not just in Tampa but in New York City, to suggest that in the long term these occupations might have destroyed themselves - that in fact the police in cities across the country are doing Occupy a huge image favor in decamping them before their tents become symbols, not of freedom and uprising, but of needle drug use and screaming matches.
What does this say about the ethos of the Occupy movement, its commitments to horizontalism and autonomy? Well, it leaves me sorely tempted to declare that, at least at the very extremes, there are people for whom the chance to make their own decisions represents a clear and present danger to themselves and others. Occupy has attracted a great number of, first, genuinely mentally ill people, and second, borderline personality types. People shout to get attention, and turn it into a fight when shouting isn't enough. People badmouth one another and scream and cry. People require regular trips to the hospital from participants with cars, for injuries incurred long ago and far away.
And yet. These people are broken, beat, tired - and yet I can't bring myself to dismiss them, to throw up my hands in despair. They are struggling just like the rest of us. And god knows, this is where any of us could end up if we were taken off our Xanax and put in a minimum wage job for ten years struggling to take care of kids and a wife and a house until one day suddenly it's all gone away. Or been put out of the house at fourteen and made to fend for ourselves. Or had to grow up transgendered in a macho Latino family. Sometimes the cliches are just true.
We all fancy ourselves misfits, we suburban white kids and Brooklyn hipsters, but how ready are we to recognize a real one? I've never been one of the hipster haters, I think that art is essential to progress and pretension is essential to art. But the almost complete lack of trendy participation in Occupy has maybe disturbed the comfortable fiction I'd so long lived with that under all the superficial bullshit these people shared my discontent. That their consumerism was, as they often claimed, somehow ironic. But I saw a cute couple the other day, in Ray-Bans and cutoffs, and realized I've never felt more distant from people like that. They were suddenly only slightly less offensive to me than the Britnis and Bobbys who had tormented my high school years (or at least haunted my imagination).
Occupy, at least out here in the real hinterland, is a province of the true fringe - the left behind, the kicked out, and the fucked up. And even though I don't always look like it or often give in to it, I'm one of those myself. I mean, I guess I must be, or why am I spending so much time with this gang of losers? I went to the Publix Greenwise a few miles from the Occupy Tampa camp tonight - it's a kind of commercial-organics-froufrou grocery store, like a low-rent Whole Foods. It was full of beautiful women in their early 30s, shopping alone. They were dressed like me, in the nearly automatic neat-creative mode that comes with giving a shit and making an adult, white salary. But there was something in their eyes, something scared and vacant and confused. They didn't know (and here comes another true cliche) how they could still be unhappy after buying the things they had been told to want.
I can't deal with that. And I'm also realizing: maybe the only thing stopping me from truly feeling those situations, that amazing past I've travelled through, was that I haven't spent enough time writing about it. I am a writer - why is this not how I've been creating myself?