This is a prelude to a horror novel, I started way, way back (I think the date in it was close to when I wrote it – 5/12/02). Enjoy.
My Mentor My Self
By Joe Cassavaugh
Journal of Rex Stephanos – Sunday May 12th, 2002, 9:45 pm:
I have just returned from Hedgewick College where I delivered the commencement address. It was my first public appearance since retiring two years ago. I must admit that it went better than I had anticipated. Seeing Mike Berner after almost twenty years brought back a flood of old memories from our fraternity days. It’s virtually impossible to imagine that the President of Hedgewick College is the same guy who streaked with me through the Student Union at that very same college. Back then, I was eighty pounds lighter and I could run a six-minute mile right after consuming four slices of pizza. I wonder if the board of trustees knows that he did it just to win a paltry five-dollar bet. If it had been a horse race then I’m sure it would have been a photo finish. In fact, I thought we had tied but Mike pointed out that since I had been circumcised as an infant then a part of his anatomy, that I no longer possessed, crossed the finish line first. His reasoning had been impeccable, so I paid him with a ten-dollar bill. He told me that he didn’t have any change. I told him and this is a direct quote “You don’t need any change…you can keep the tip!”
When I think back on that event, it’s obvious why I have very little humor in my horror stories. What puzzles me is why I ever thought I could be funny at all? Have I changed that much? Would I even like myself from twenty years ago? Would the past me from twenty years ago like the me I am now? Will I like the future me from twenty years down the road? Maybe John and Paul had it wrong and it should have been “Will I still love me, Will I still hug me…when I’m 64?”
All these questions had been on my mind since Mike called and asked me to deliver the commencement address. I guess it makes sense to copy the address into this journal because it deals with the same issues I’ve been discussing here. I’m also quite disturbed about what occurred at the very end of my speech. It may be nothing but it’s got me rethinking all of my thoughts these past few weeks. Here is the commencement address as it was written. I changed some words on the fly but the content remained the same.
Hedgewick College Commencement Address
May 12th, 2002
by Rex Stephanos
Thank you all so very much. I appreciate that very warm welcome. Thank you President Berner for that generous introduction. I would also like to thank all of Hedgewick College for inviting me to speak on this special day.
Traditionally, commencement addresses are brief and quickly forgotten. As of right now, I am the only person standing between you and your diploma. If you will promise not to quickly forget what I say here today, then I’ll promise to be brief. Of course the retired horror novelist in me will derive some pleasure from watching you squirm in your seats, anxious for your new lives to begin, while slowly torturing you with pithy advice that seems to drag on and on and on. Plus, since retiring, I just don’t get the chance to pontificate to the masses anymore. So, I offer you a compromise. I’ll give you ten pieces of timeless wisdom coupled with my hopefully short digressions and you’ll promise not to applaud or boo until the very end.
Timeless Wisdom #1:
“Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
Do I really need to explain that one? For the metaphorically impaired, it simply means, You and only You are the only one that you can expect to really change in your life. Other people will never change into what you want them to be. Not your parents, your friends, your lovers, your future children. Absolutely no one will change one little bit in the direction that you want them to. It is probably the scariest, most truthful thing that I can share with you. So my sub-advice is to you: “Don’t waste your time!” Work on accepting others as they are and work on changing yourself.
Timeless Wisdom #2:
“If you meet Dr. Phil on the road, kill him”
I’m paraphrasing Sheldon Koop but I’ll quote Basho directly – “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Of course, in the case of Dr. Phil, I would counsel to kill him slowly. Maybe even roast his chestnuts on an Oprah fire. Seriously though, stop listening to self-help Guru’s and make up your own mind about your life and your purpose in life. And your own mind leads me to…
Timeless Wisdom #3:
“Your mind is a computer, don’t mess with its hardware”
Forget the “Your body is a temple” crap. It’s your brain that’s the temple. Mess with the software all you want with meditation, yoga, philosophy, thrill-seeking, bio-feedback, lucid dreaming, psychotherapy, rolfing, est etc…but stay away from things that permanently affect the hardware, like drugs and alcohol mostly but I’d also include banging your head against a wall as well. I do all my mind expansion trips through my writings and my personal fantasies. I’m in complete control of them and I can go as deep in as I want at any time and step back out again whenever I want.
Timeless Wisdom #4:
“99% of all problems are solved with inaction.”
You are not a government trying to solve the problems of the world. Over half of your problems are caused by you trying to teach that pig to sing. If you just sat down and thought about which problems you really wanted to solve you would find that most of them will work themselves out given enough time. Action or any sort of “Trying” on your part will be counter-productive especially if your only goal is to solve the problem that prompted you to take action in the first place. Initiating action on your own is almost always counter-productive. Instead, over time, the universe will provide you with the solution. If you really must speed up that process, then get better at “noticing” how the universe solves your problems and learn to follow the signs more quickly to help the universe out.
Timeless Wisdom #5:
“Curly is much more funnier than Shemp.”
Okay, that one’s not really timeless. It’s only been true for the last 50 years.
Timeless Wisdom #6:
“Chance Favors Those Who Persist.”
Wow, does that sound like I’m contradicting Timeless Wisdom #4! In fact, I’m not. There is a problem that is not really a problem at all called “The Problem of Life”. We exist. We exist in time. We need something to do to pass the time. We care about our future happiness. All I’m saying is that to increase your own chances for future happiness, spend your time now pursuing the things that interest you and leverage your spare time by persistently improving yourself in the areas of interest that you care about. This is not solving a problem, this is just living life to it’s fullest potential.
Timeless Wisdom #7:
“If you are not in physical pain or hungry, then all other anxiety is self-imposed.”
If you can truly understand those words then you will achieve enlightenment. But what is reaching enlightenment like you ask. I’ll tell you. It’s like carrying a hundred pound backpack to the very top of the tallest Mountain in the world…and at the very top….you take off the backpack and look around. That is what it is to reach enlightenment. But I bet you’re asking what do you after you reach enlightenment. That’s even easier to explain. You pick up the hundred pound backpack and go back down the mountain. If you find out that you’re different after achieving enlightenment then you didn’t really achieve enlightenment at all. Life is a conflicting dance of pain and pleasure and that statement is just as true after enlightenment as it was before. Karma and Dharma, Yin and Yang, Pain and Pleasure, Love and Hate, Light and Dark, Heaven and Hell; The dance goes by many names but it’s still the same music playing in the background.
Timeless Wisdom #8:
“Free Will is the only game in town.”
Now I need to digress for a bit. Do you think you have a Soul? Do you think you have Free Will? Do you believe in God? Do you think this is a logical world? Can you answer the question “Why is there something instead of nothing?” or “Why does anything exist at all?” or even “Why is Curly funnier than Shemp”?
For intelligent creatures that exist in time there is no logically good answer to “Why does anything exist at all?” No matter how far back you go and no matter what you postulate as the reason for “Anything” – “God”, “The Big Bang”, “The inherent rules of this Universe to create something out of nothing at the Quantum level” – an intelligent creature that exist in time can say “Okay, I understand your reasoning but what happened before that?” Logically, nothing should exist and that means that something is wrong with our notion of causality. Since I’m not ready to throw out logic yet then maybe I don’t really exist in time at all. Maybe there is no “I” at all. Maybe the voices in your head are just twisty loops of chemical reactions dancing round and round in response to external stimulus. The only yesterday that truly exists is in your mind. The only tomorrow that truly exists is also in your mind. The only time that is real is right now
and the “I” that I think of as having existed before this moment is an illusion. It also means that there is no Free Will because there is no such thing as a “choice” because a “choice” involves time. All that we are left with is Action and Reaction.. No Soul, no Cartesian viewer saying “I think therefor I am”, No Free Will, almost nothing really. What we are left with is an empty, soulless machine that has the ability to notice itself and wrongly conclude that it is making choices.
My choices may be an illusion but I’ll choose Free Will every time.
Which brings me to…
Timeless Wisdom #9 and #10:
“The different voices in your head are normal. Everyone has them.”
“True happiness is no regrets.”
There are two modes of thought called “Brain-On” and “Brain-Off”. “Brain-On” exists in time and is the CEO of yourself exercising your illusion of Free Will. To paraphrase Descarte, “I think therefor I am my own CEO guy”. The “Brain-Off” guy just reacts to external stimuli without the CEO’s prior knowledge. Someone hits you unexpectedly and you immediately hit him back. You stub your toe on the kitchen table leg and yell out an obscenity in front of your five-year old son.
You laugh at Curly and that’s “Brain-Off”. You cringe at Shemp trying to be funny and a voice in your head says “I wish this was a Curly clip”. This voice is also “Brain-Off” bubbling up without the knowledge of your CEO. It’s not Free Will to notice that Shemp is not as funny as Curly anymore than it is Free Will to notice that you’re hungry for pizza? However, if you start thinking about why Curly is funnier, then the CEO gets involved. The CEO may also act on your internal noticing of Shemp not being really funny and exercise his Free Will to change the channel.
So let’s talk about happiness. Happiness is having your “Brain-Off” being in alignment with your CEO. How does one go about achieving that? You are CEO of the organization that is you and those voices in your head are just your different department heads reporting to you. And all those department heads are just reporting on activity done by your different “Brain-Off” subsystems. Those department heads have a volume that gets louder and louder as their subsystems require more immediate attention. Try starving yourself and see how long it is until your Department of Energy manager starts yelling at your CEO to give you something to eat.
When your CEO and your “Brain-Off” are out of alignment your CEO notices this and the usual result is unhappiness on some level. Let’s take a simple example of trying to lose weight. Your CEO has decided that the long-term health benefit of losing 50 lbs is a positive goal. However, every time you smell Pizza you get a craving. And now the voices in your head start-up. Let’s call him “Pig-Out” guy. He gets information from your stomach, nose and eyes and puts together a report called “Feed The Hungry Now” and starts voicing what he wants to the CEO. Basically, the CEO can take the advice of “Pig-Out” guy and go pig-out or try to stifle “Pig-Out” guy and exert the CEO’s willpower to not give-in this particular time. Turns out that if the CEO stifles the “Pig-Out” guy then the “Pig-Out” guy will just get louder next time. Also, if the CEO gives in to “Pig-Out” guy, then the CEO has just strengthened that particular channel. And the CEO will make this channel even stronger if the CEO keeps thinking about this decision and his inability to exercise his willpower in this way. The only way out is for CEO to accept “Pig-Out” guy’s valid request and act on it in moderation without beating himself up over his own lack of willpower. By compromising, the CEO brings himself into alignment with “Pig-Out” guy and true happiness results.
It’s the people who don’t think they hear voices in their heads that you really have to worry about. Or it’s people who totally try to suppress those voices that eventually snap and wind up killing a few people and themselves as Loud-Voice-Angry-Guy kicks out the CEO and takes control of your inner company. Everyone has this Loud-Voice-Angry-Guy in their “Brain-Off” area and just about any perceived threat can bring him to the CEO’s attention. Let’s take a simple case of road rage. Someone cuts you off in traffic and almost causes an accident in the process. Immediately Loud-Voice-Angry-Guy yells at the CEO with a few obscenities and a few constructive ideas about what to do to the guy who just cut you off. Most people’s CEO will realize that they are no longer in immediate danger and just “laugh-it-off” in a few seconds or so. By “laughing-it-off”, CEO guy acknowledges Loud-Voice-Angry-Guy and may even compliment him on his creativity. As the example above showed, this is the best response. Everything is normal as long as the CEO acknowledges Loud-Voice-Angry-Guy and doesn’t just try to ignore him completely.
I have a whispering version of this guy that I like to call Whispering-Voice-Revenge-Guy. Since I was quite successful writing horror fiction for a number of years I have a very active Good-Revenge-Suggestion mechanism that seemed to live somewhere between the CEO and “Brain-Off” levels of my brain. Sometimes I would consciously think of new variations on the revenge theme and other times I would get ideas bubbling up like a whisper of a totally new idea usually based on some external stimuli that I might not be consciously aware of. I’d even wake up from a dream sometime with a totally original way of killing someone. I’ve been having those types of dreams more often and I think it’s because I’m no longer writing horror stories so that my Good-Revenge-Suggestion mechanism is finding new ways to talk to my CEO. It’s still just a soft-whisper and my own CEO knows it’s just my creative side looking for an outlet so I take my own advice and I don’t worry about it. Or at least my CEO doesn’t worry about it. That was a joke or at least it was supposed to be a joke.
I’ve known for over twenty years that I’m not a funny guy. That’s the reason there is very little humor in any of my fiction. I guess this is a good time to wish you all a happy journey as you go out into this world to the adventure that is your life. I hope I have provided you with some original ideas to toss around at the next board meeting in that corporation that is You. Treat your CEOs well, avoid any Pigs that don’t know how to sing, and remember, when in doubt, breathe and smile. And lastly, to answer one of the great mysteries of life…Curly was funnier than Shemp because he was happier. And Curly was happier because he ate more Pizza. It’s so obvious when you think about it.
End of Commencement Address
Journal of Rex Stephanos – Sunday May 12th, 2002, 9:45 pm: (cont.)
I think the speech went over well. There was the usual amount of applause as I bowed, waved and then left the podium. As I glanced out over the audience during my bow, I noticed that a small percentage of the audience wasn’t clapping, their hands remaining folded in their laps. I then noticed that all of them were tightly bound with razor sharp handcuffs. Even the slightest motion caused blood to squirt out in the opposite direction of their movement. I knew that this was just the work of my Whispering-Voice-Revenge-Guy and my CEO had to admit that it was a fitting punishment for those uncouth students who didn’t even provide polite applause.
That didn’t bother me because I’m familiar with those kinds of visions now. What really bothered me was what I heard as I was returning to my seat. In a whisper that was even softer than normal, I heard my Whispering-Voice-Revenge-Guy say: “But I’m getting louder”. That was bad enough, but then, a second voice that I had never heard before said: “Heh, Heh….That was a good one Boss”.