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Vanishing Point Mental Contagion
Journeys to places that don't exist
by Karen Kopacz

A Vast Number of Endless Decisions

I am going to buy a nice jacket today. I rarely spend money on things like this. I spend money on bills, paying off debt, good food, good books, and fancy coffee. At a department store, jackets cost between $100 and $200. Not coats, jackets. This is the jacket I am going to wear for the next 3 years, so I'd better make sure I really want it. Let's break it down. What does $200 mean exactly? $200 represents several hours of my time and energy that I have "spent" working and the money itself is an abstract representation of that energy. The money isn't even real. No wonder so many people have problems over-spending it. Is this jacket worth a few hours of work? Yes, it's well-made, it has a nice cut, and there are no stains to remove or rips to repair. I should buy this jacket. But maybe there is a better one. What if the workers weren't paid what they deserve? Do I really want to support this business? And if I am going to spend $200 on a jacket, shouldn't it fit me perfectly? Because this one is a bit snug. Ultimately, I will go to another store and find other jackets, with other problems, that are more expensive. I will walk away buying nothing. It's sick, but this is not my neurosis. This terrible process is a product of our culture. Too many things exist, too many choices. I will spend a couple of hours trying to decide on one item and end up buying nothing. I wil not earn $200, I will not buy anything for $200, and I will not spend my time well, cooking a good meal, walking along the river, or having tea or wine with my friend. I will only suffer. This is just the jacket. I have not gotten to the pants or the bras.

Style, for me, is the best possible combination of things that other people have decided they do not want. Style happens to me. Tables, chairs, furniture, have all been hodgepodge from the thrift store. Since buying a house, this has changed some. I own a place-setting for four now and I have a nice lamp. I actually chose these things because I liked them the best, not because they cost the least. It took me several hours. Still, about once a month, I think about giving it all away. I would prefer to own nothing - a bowl for my soup and two robes, shave my head. "Things" make me crazy.

Last month my sister-in-law saw me start to cry at a bookstore because I could not decide between "Life of Pi" and a generic art book for the family gift exchange. I went with the art book - it will probably eventually end up in the garbage. This is what made me cry. Despite my embarrassment, I could not stop the tears from coming and I could not explain why I needed to cry. Ultimately, unless you know someone very well and know what they do and do not own, there is no way to know what to buy for them. It's all guess work. At that moment, I think, "What is the point?" Sometimes I take life too seriously; it's just a $10 gift exchange. On the other hand our culture dictates that thing is what matters. Buying for myself, horrifyingly difficult. Buying for someone else, impossible.

There are too many choices and most of them are crap. I have to spend time wading through styles that don't make sense, and when I finally find one that I like, it's the wrong size, or the arch of my foot is not supported and my toe jams into the end of the shoe, or the pants are too short, or I can tell that the material will collect cat hair like metal shavings to a magnet. I do not "dry clean only". I throw the shirt in the washer, defiantly and on purpose; sometimes it gets ruined. There are a million reasons not to buy something, just like there are a million reasons not to love someone. These two things could wreck my whole life in a moment. In these moments, I want to die or throw everything away and move to the country. I think, "Does it have to be so much work? What if I continue to discover who I am throughout my life, instead of defining myself by an era or a moment or a job, which would make everything easier. (This is what some people do.) I will never have a place to shop that consistently suits me, and perhaps there is no relationship that can sustain my growth. I am recreating my life all the time. This is the essence of being alive. This, and the innate drive to pair, which presents a vast number of endless decisions about what is acceptable or expected in relationship. Who can one live with happily for the rest of one's life? No one. But we keep attempting to find a way to do it. In relationship, we don't listen, we are selfish, and we put our own needs on hold to sustain something that ultimately will crumble in the end. What if we were to simply live and be ourselves together. I used to think that if two people were willing to grow and loved each other, that this was the Occam's Razor for a successful relationship. Add to this good communication, responsibility, independence, affection, passion, acceptance, forgiveness, a willingness to try, and the ability have fun and this is what I have been looking for my whole life. Maybe I expect too much. When the other, as well as self, will ultimately always change, this causes a problem if one is seeking contentment in the midst of relationship. The equation for contentment does not exist in relationship. One person is continually adjusting to be in relation to the other and vice versa. The variables in this are endless, unless we have become compalcent, in which case it is predictable. What if as a culture and a people, we will never escape suffering because it is embedded into too many of our systems and relationships. I have become one of them. Today I have lost my faith in life, in love, in humanity. Today I suffer. Tomorrow, I will be fine. Tomorrow I will go out, dance, embarrass myself, and laugh too loud. Either way, I will never find the perfect jacket.

Despite all of this confusion, I understand how one can exist in happiness, happiness of course, not being defined as a continuous state of bliss. One can be happy in life only if one is present, aware, and engaged. This means we have to look at issues when they arise, we have to admit when we're wrong, we have to stand up and say something when someone crosses a line, we have to cry, we have to molt when the ego starts to surface too much, we have to get angry, say no, say yes, say screw you, say I love you. We have to work. We have to let go. We have to balance. We laugh, dance, celebrate, find beauty in an action, find serenity in a moment, tear up when the moment is about to disappear. We are engaged in life. There are no correct decisions. We cannot be afraid to live. We have to act. Be. Do. Go. Run. Love. Love. Love. Do the math. Take the job. Go on the trip. Have the tea. Wear a hat. Walk to the store. Drive to the park. Start the argument. Make love. Be a woman. Remember the girl. Send the email. Erase the last line. Regret the email. Make lunch. Push toward your dreams. Get scared. Pull back. Cry. Cry for 3 days. Cry so that your neighbors hear you. Throw what is most sacred to you. Calm down. Say your sorry. Laugh. Actions. Reactions. Do this. Do that. All of it gets you somewhere. And when you get there, that changes too. It's not what you thought. So either you keep going or you walk away, and neither can be done before all of these other things are done, unless of course one chooses simply not to engage at all, which is also an option. Determination by any other method is random.

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers