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Coming of Age and Not Being Bothered by Monsters
When does a child becomes an adult in the modern world?
This story is about coming of age while living under the boot, inside the Machine.
Seeing the Face of the Machine
Here is the biggest elephant in the room out of all elephants in the room. Whether we actively think about it or not, we have been living inside the Machine since the day we were born. We were conceived inside the Machine, sent to our first grade inside the Machine, taught to work hard inside the Machine, got our first job inside the Machine. We’ve been reading books written inside the Machine, listening to music composed inside the Machine, building connections with people maimed by the Machines, looking up to the academics trained and certified by the Machine, relying on institutions created by the Machine, and earning money printed by the Machine and for the benefit of the Machine. And all along, we’ve been also trying not to piss off the Machine too much since, no matter how rebellious we are, we know that it’s best to avoid being eaten by the Machine.
Accurate? I think so.
All love and no kumbaya
And yet, the universe is made of love. How does this reconcile?
I want to say a few important words about where I am personally coming from. Perhaps there are people who talk about the power of love, coming from some kind of a theoretical kumbaya—I can’t speak for them and I don’t know what they mean. All I know is what I know from the inside, and there is no kumbaya anywhere near. None.
True, when I was growing up, I was a goody two-shoes and a very lofty, philosophical child. True, even though life in the USSR was measured by very different measures of comforts than, say, life in the U.S., I did go to good schools, etc.
However, once I grew up and spread my wings, I went for adventures galore. First, in China, where I went to work on my thesis, I was attacked by a sex trafficker and narrowly escaped being trafficked into slavery of some sort. I was lucky, and all I experienced was being beaten and eating dirt. I was able to jump out of the trafficker’s car and escape.
I believe I’ve mentioned it earlier but it was quite interesting how two separate groups of very regular, everyday people were just watching me crawling on the ground under the trafficker’s kicks (on my stomach, none the less). Some seemed uncomfortable, and some laughed. Anyway, thanks to the kindness of the universe that smiled at me through this mess, I was able to run away before it got dark. All I remember is how weird it was. It was a shocking adventure but I quickly forgot.
After that, I came to the U.S. and… wait for it … married an abusive man, a smooth-talking and handsome lawyer I met on the train. It was really very stupid. Everything was going well for me: a good school, a good job that was about to start… but no, I had to date that guy and then learn about abuse! At the time, I was still in many ways a very lofty, philosophical child, so I had no idea how to deal with the “cycle of abuse,” with the gaslighting, with the hands on my throat, with the yelling, with the threats, with any of this crazy stuff, so I was just shrinking, and putting on a good face while at work, and pretending everything was fine--while on the inside, I was just numb. Just numb. Just numb.
But it wasn’t the end of the story. Scared that sooner or later, I would wake up and start talking, he manufactured an unbelievable plot and set me up to be arrested and grilled by the cruel agents with no heart. Now, imagine a philosophical, lofty child, a graduate of good schools, a holder a nice corporate job, suddenly in jail, socializing with criminals, “guarded” by occasionally violent officers, and grilled by agents with no hearts. That was a lasting shock.
In the beginning, just for a few first few days, I silently practiced salsa dancing in my cell (my obsession at the time). I tried to practice Chinese. Then salsa dancing ended. I was no longer interested in any of that. I was just an animal stick in a scream.
That was when in earnest, I saw the face of the Machine. My romantic ideas about “American democracy” melted with that scream. I saw the face of the Machine—and once you see it, it is something you can’t unsee.
That was also when I experienced the mystery of letting go. There was a point when I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. It was too impossible, too cruel, too absurd., it didn’t feel like my real life, it felt like a really horrible dream. And I just said to myself, whatever comes, comes. Whatever comes, comes. I am letting go. And shortly after, thanks to the help of my friends, the wheels started spinning in the right direction, and I was released (that weirdness of being able to just look at the sky? OMG). Then many things followed, and then everything was fine. Of course, the a**hole agents never apologized. But I guess that is their a**hole job.
It ended well, it made me stronger and more experienced, and in 2020, it helped me recognize the face of the Machine right away—a positive thing—but what I am saying is that I am authorized to speak about love. There is no fake kumbaya here. None.
Coming of age
That was just a preamble. I started writing this to share a revelation that I came upon me after COVID began. It has to do with adulthood. I discovered that the qualities that distinguish an adult from a child are happy humility, patience, and the ability to not freak out in monsterland.
An effective adult is a former pure-minded child who has realized that bad habits in the people of the world are not a “one off,” not an odd exception, not something that is about to disappear thanks to the truths you’ve just figured out, and the world is about to believe and thank you for (lol)— but the state of affairs that has been around for a long time. Bad habits in the people of the world are what so many generations of our ancestors “on the good side of history” have been working against, and the world is in its current bleeding state due to exactly that.
It’s humbling but I think it’s true.
I think a sincere child becomes an effective adult when he accepts the fact that everything is a long haul, that “patience” is not a boring word but a necessity, something that in this world one can’t survive without--and that “having figured things out” is merely the first baby step of the journey. The very first step. The very very very first baby step out of thousands of steps that we take in this imperfect world.
And yes, bad habits in the people of the world are not a “one off,” not an “odd thing,” not an “exception,” but more or less a rule. Most people love their bad habits more than anything else. They love their ghosts and their cowardice and their word salad much, much more than they love you, their own happiness or the truth. And this is how it is. But one day, the dam will break, they will cry salty tears, for their own sake, and things will start healing. It’s a long haul.
It boils down to the just how broken most people are. Emotionally broken people live emotionally broken lives.
The world is broken af, most people are broken af, and it has been for a while. It will probably take centuries to heal the world back. And it is definitely not the kind of a job that one woman or one man can do, it’s a job for thousands of people, maybe millions of people, maybe billions of people, over generations to come—and yet, it’s a beautiful job that needs to be done today. Like one of my interview guests, Mary Otto-Chang, said, “be the drop that tips the bucket.” I think she is right.
A Russian doll of lies
And yes, we are living in a humongous, giant, unbelievable Russian doll of lies. We peel one layer of lies and think we have found the truth—but nope, it’s just another lie. Then another layer, is it the truth now? Nope, another lie. Another layer? Wait what, another lie? How can a human soul take this? How many layers do we have to peel?!! Yep, you got it now. You are growing up. And that’s where the patience kicks in, and the love, because without love, it makes no sense at all, it’s the love that animates our journey and allows us to see with the eyes of our soul.
Joyful adulthood, at last (albeit in monsterland)
And so, what distinguishes an adult from a child is the realization that work needs to be done in the real world. Not the ideal world where people are about to drop everything and start listening to us because how can they not—but the real world, in which bad habits are strong. Those who came before us did their best, and now it’s our turn.
Life has never been meant to be torture, and joy is not a sin. It’s just that we are in a long haul (oh and damn you, COVID language, I forgot about the “long haul COVID,” I meant the normal English language long haul, not the COVID long haul :).
And so, an effective, happy adult is a goodhearted warrior child with a truck of patience, with eyes on healing, and with an unbreakable connection to one’s heart.
I think the universe heals all. We just need to do the work.
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