I have long wanted to write about this.
Actor Owen Wilson tried to kill himself in 2007. Wilson’s biggest movie prior to his suicide attempt was a super lighthearted sex-romp comedy called “Wedding Crashers.” His image was that of a laidback, charming stoner. Someone we could all look to when we took life too seriously. Just chill out and blaze a doob, bro. And then he slit his wrists.
It gets real here on Earth sometimes…
Below the Surface
Isn’t it strange. What is beneath the perfect smile is so often so different from the appearance that when the bubble bursts, it’s almost unimaginable. And it seems more and more that the whole world that we inhabit is like this. Beautiful on the outside, more so everyday. But oowee, behind the facade it gets mighty gritty…
They say that Owen Wilson was going through cocaine and heroin addiction for years. So what you see on the screen is this cool dude charming beautiful women in stunning locations. While after work he shoots junk into his arm.
I know that at some level we are supposed to know. It’s just the movies. But they keep getting more real everyday. Real news anchors reporting fictional news (see Wolf Blitzer in 007), real sports stars giving fictional advice (see Lance Armstrong in Dodgeball). It gets mighty confusing, at least for me.
Owen Wilson is a Microcosm of Modern Society
In fact, it’s everywhere I look. I find it so hard to not be snowed by the world of appearances. It’s like I have to pinch myself over and over as this opiate daze attempts to wash over me. Women bathed in chemicals designed to imitate pheromones draw my nose toward them. As if on cue, I become a Pavlovian dog and turn to look. I am immediately affronted with a shirt designed to accentuate cleavage, likely covering a pushup bra made to make the cleavage appear larger and firmer, perhaps covering up breasts injected with silicone for the same purpose.
Having wised up in my old age, I deftly maneuver past that facade and turn to see a man in slick sunglasses, projecting success as he rides down the street in his sports car. What I might not know is that the car was financed with no money down, with an interest rate designed to keep payments low for the first 36 months, before they begin doubling and tripling afterwards. In fact, what I don’t know is that his whole life is financed and he takes sleeping pills because he can’t stop worrying at night. But damn he looked bad ass as he passed before me.
A little shaken, I look up into the sky and there’s the skyscraper for Citi. A bastion of success. Their 96-story building of shining glass designed by Danish architects who received numerous awards for the construction. They have more than a trillion dollars in holdings. What I don’t see is the trillions of debt threatening to swallow them whole. It appears so solid when I touch the exterior.
And finally, there it is. A plant. A lowly, puny, withering plant. No disguises here. Leaves browned under the sun, just struggling to get through the day. Thanks plant; at least you aren’t wearing makeup yet.
Just Be Fake
Paul Graham writes that different cities broadcast different desires outward. Cambridge, smart. New York, rich. Los Angeles, famous. Paris, stylish. Well, I would venture that the entire world that I have personally explored, with almost no exceptions, has an underlying projection: fake.
Be fake. Be better than you are. Mask your deficiencies. Fake it til you make it. Accentuate the positives. Stay on the surface.
This message is so subtle and so all-pervasive that it is like the ocean that we swim in or the air that we breathe. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine things on a large scale even being another way. All signs point to the validity of this approach. Nearly everyone successful we see in the public sphere, from actors to politicians, news anchors to musicians, is outwardly confident, well-groomed, and certain of the rightness of all of this.
Even if you’re not into all that, that’s what’s being reflected back to you in nearly every billboard, every magazine cover, and every movie. Not to mention an enormous percentage of the people you physically see around you, whether you’re at the grocery store or just taking a walk. It’s literally very difficult to be unaffected. And in a more spiritual oneness sense, it’s impossible. No matter how much you think otherwise, it’s in the very air of the culture you breathe.
It makes the whole thing pretty confusing. It makes it downright scary to be open and vulnerable. In public. Like you’re some kind of leper. Owen Wilson is likely supremely sensitive.
And even if he’s not, I am.
Living in the Future; Choosing to be Real
Paul Graham wrote today about discovering good ideas. He said that the secret is to be someone who is at the leading edge, currently living in the future, and then think of what you wish existed. What immediate things you see missing around you. For when you’re at the leading edge, it means that more often than not a lot of people are slowly but surely heading in the direction you are currently living.
And what I think is missing is honesty and vulnerability. I am so god damn tired of everyone (like me) being so confident and knowing so much and having such assurance of either themselves or their ideas. Of being good and correct and right (I think Jenny would say I’m sick of myself lol). And what I want to see is someone confused and messy and letting it show. I think of Lauryn Hill Unplugged as the best example I’ve ever seen of this.
And I think this is a trend, the trend, this honesty and vulnerability thing. As homosexuality becomes more accepted, as more men begin to truly explore their feelings, and different, sustainable lifestyles become mainstream, the trend seems to be naturalness. Yah. In one word, that’s it. Naturalness. What’s coming to the world is naturalness. Like the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.
And the natural truth is that like Owen Wilson I’m confused. That’s the natural part of myself I do everything to hide. And I know it’s in everyone else too. Avoiding conversation in elevators. Not talking to someone sitting next to you. This prison of isolation. All the while smelling good, looking good, and projecting an air of confidence.
How do you express that? These feelings… How do you turn this pain into something beautiful for the world? And do it knowing full well you are likely to be misunderstood, labeled self-indulgent, and may end up feeling more alone than you did before!
That my friends is the journey of the artist, perhaps always, but certainly of the 21st-century. Because we have run out of linear time. We have now managed to coverup almost everything on the planet. Our genitalia smell great, our faces are surgically ageless, we can drive-thru from location to location without ever having to leave our cars. Our food need never touch dirt because dirt is gross! We can stare into our phone during any period of silence. We have air conditioning, heating, and no-money down. And if we’re Owen, we have superstardom, famous friends, our name in lights, and here we are, slitting our wrists.
There is a desperate need for a release valve. To see something genuine and real. To witness someone who actually doesn’t want something back from us. Someone with nothing but a gift. A gift of themselves and their expression. A gift that connects us back to where we all really came from, before the birth canal and all that fluid. In the specific is the universal. In your story is mine.
There’s no choice but to be that person or die in the attempt to do so. I feel you Owen Wilson. It’s not always easy in this here physical reality. But at least for now, here we are, kids, here we are…