“No person is free who is not master of himself.”
Epictetus, Epic for short, was born a slave, so I tend to believe he knows what he’s talking about here. I’ve always been drawn to stoicism. I used to think it was because Diogenes was such a badass that he was homeless on purpose, and was still admired by Alexander the Great. But after reading that James Stockdale credits Epic’s writings for helping him survive the torture he was subjected to for 7 years while he was a prisoner of war in Viet Nam, I now understand there’s another reason. Stoicism is for people who had to learn how to endure torture. For your enjoyment, here’s an epic example of Epic’s teachings in action.
I was master of myself just this morning. At 7:30 a.m., I got out of bed to use the bathroom. Then, as if that wasn’t a stellar enough accomplishment for a depressed person, I stayed up! Once I was up, the daily battle between the carrot and the stick began. Like always, the the stick showed up first, threatening loudly that there would be “No coffee for lazy-ass bums who haven’t done the dishes”. It took a few minutes, but the carrot finally arrived, gently whispering “You can reward yourself with a delicious cup of coffee right after you’ve done the dishes.” The carrot is always late, and some days, it doesn’t bother to show up at all. Those are the worst. Sometimes I try to imagine what life without sticks and carrots might be like. I’d probably have to hire a professional cult deprogrammer to find out. Therapists just try to keep your focus on the carrots and away from the fact that somebody else has the power to either give them to you or not. Somebody should write a self-help book titled “Whittling Your Inner Stick”. It could be a kind of occupational art therapy.
Sorry, I’ve done it again. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, I was being master of myself this morning. Actually, I think I started in the middle of the night. I had another one of those dreams in which I’m naked and ashamed. Sometimes, in those dreams, I’m a child on a playground and I magically become able to fly to escape being stared at and ridiculed. Other times, I’m an adult and after frantically searching everywhere, manage to find something to at least partially cover myself with. It’s never a fig leaf, but it’s usually about the same size. Sometimes I luck out and find a towel. Last night was different, though—I was naked, but I wasn’t ashamed. When I saw a big group of people coming towards me on the path, aside from a momentary passing fear that I might be raped, my attitude was “If you’re staring at me, it’s because you have a problem, not because it’s wrong to be naked.”. I just kept walking straight toward the group without even trying to hide, which turned out to be a big hiking group of people of all ages, including children. I didn’t even try to avoid eye contact. None of them looked at me any longer than they would have at someone who wasn’t naked. So maybe this dream was just telling me not to even bother applying for any pole dancing jobs.
Speaking of jobs, I accepted a writing assignment yesterday, the first since August. It felt really good, even though it’s only writing about how trans fats can kill you. That means I’m going to have to learn what trans fats are, and fast. I’m actually more interested in why they’re called trans fats, especially now that trans has come to mean transgender. Is it because these fats are shape-shifters that can transform themselves into other things? I’m about to find out. One thing I enjoy about these writing assignments is the opportunity to learn all kinds of information that could possibly be useful if I were to ever be chosen to be a contestant on Jeopardy. One time, I was chosen to come to Los Angeles to take the next round of tests, but that day’s test just happened to have three questions about the novels of Charles Dickens, whose writing I can’t stand, so I’d never read. Alex Trebek’s assistant told me she liked my hat, though.
Another thing I used to enjoy about writing assignments was having a professional identity I could feel good about. During the time I made enough money to live by accepting writing assignments, I never wanted to die. Those were my good old days. That was before most of the assignments became things I couldn’t feel good about accepting, so didn’t. Things like writing an article that would convince people to take out a loan for a big wedding or an article singing the praises of somebody despicable to improve their public image. It was also before I had to have proof of a steady paycheck to be able to rent a place to live. It’s been mostly all downhill from there, but not in an exhilarating downhill skiing or snowboarding kind of way. More like a Wile E. Coyote falling from yet another cliff kind of way.
Another way I was master of myself yesterday was that I went outside for a walk. The walk was my carrot for turning in my keys and badge at the district office, which I’d been dreading. I still haven’t been able to make myself go clean out my desk, and don’t think I ever will be able to. Facing all that whispering as soon as I’m out of earshot just feels like too much. While I was walking, I made a new rule that at least one of the photos I use for these entries has to be one I took myself, instead of getting them all from Pixabay. So here’s a photo I took of an ideal place to sleep once I become homeless. It’s a tree fort! I think being cradled by a tree could be very therapeutic.