If you’ve taken a Sociology 101 course, you’re already aware that meritocracy (a system in which people are chosen and moved into positions of success and power on the basis of their accomplishments and not, like, daddy’s money) is a myth. That is, we do not currently live in a society that rewards merit exclusively – or even primarily – and there are many conflating factors like class, gender, race, etc. that muck up the general premise.
Along the same lines, karmic meritocracy, a phrase of my own creation, is a similarly incorrect interpretation of how the world operates. It applies the above to the concept of character and the popular misconception that good things happen to people who deserve them, and conversely, bad things to those who deserve them too.
I think that belief is false.
I am on a trip to Washington DC, which means I am spending more time alone than I typically do: dining out as a party of one, gazing mock-pensively at nineteenth-century daguerreotypes to impress no one, going on solo quests for late-night gelato while mosquitos nip at my ankles.
Solitude makes me hyperaware, and hyperawareness invites wonder.
As I wander the well-foliaged, Victorian-lined streets of DC awed and inspired by the great big world and my great big fortune to exist in it, I reflect on how far I have come in my ability to function as a fully-formed human. In addition to having the fortitude to make phone calls without rehearsing beforehand and being able to describe what a “nest egg” is, I am learning how to excel at navigating leisure as an individual, which is to say that I’m getting better at structuring my elective experience of the world in ways that are pleasant and satisfying rather than merely assigned or advised.
Of all the very sad things in our very sad world, the one that never fails to get me is imagining a child sitting alone at a folding table, conical party hat slightly askew, gazing out uncomprehendingly at an expanse of untouched place settings and waiting for birthday party guests who will never show up. I envision the parents white-knuckled, pitying, awash with shame and heartache and anger, willing their emotions into place in order to put on a brave face for their child -- their sweet, strange child who is still far too young to be burdened with the punishments of poor socialization.
I am moved by situations where the distance between devastating and salvageable is a little bit of well-placed effort from the right person. And I’ve been thinking about places where I can be that person.
Six days after I met Octo for the first time, I invited him to move in with me.
On paper, inviting a stranger to live with you is a dubious and potentially dangerous idea. In practice, it’s tremendously exciting, lots of fun, and a rare chance to learn about yourself in an accelerated, yet low-stakes environment. It also makes for a good story, particularly if you’re both fresh off somewhat hackjobbed international moves, receptive to indulging in mood enhancers, and navigating the first few weeks of fancy new jobs.
Speaking for myself, moving in with Octo was weird and silly and special. Acting on our whims facilitated a slurry of lovely experiences: late-night cannolis and conversation, easy jogs along the Embarcadero, collaborative domesticity, reflections on power and how to wield more of it, one or two mutual confessions, a revival of my affinity toward clout goggles and mint it-it’s, and spirited conversation centered around acceptable uses cases for whole wheat tortillas (bad for burritos, good for wraps), the only two types of people in this world (cult leaders and cult followers), and how we plan to make the most of our limited, precious time on this earth.
Increasingly, much of my personality relies upon a blend of humility, Selflessness (in the capital ‘S’ sense), and mirth of the cup-runneth-over variety, largely informed by my firm belief that I am, and always have been, soundly in the middle-of-the-pack: not exceptionally skilled nor kind nor impressive, but reliably proficient in a moderate range of competencies. Positioning myself as average outputs two primary benefits. One, I steer clear of the behavioral deficiencies that tend to befall egoists, such as developing a holier-than-thou attitude or posting on Linkedin unironically. Two, I exploit positive psychology strategies by managing expectations in a way that ensures I am continually and happily surprised by the contents of my life, which tend to be on par with those of the typical middle-class American (ie. nice and comfortable). The combination of intentionally expecting very little while simultaneously enjoying a consistently charmed life helps my brain emit a maximal amount of happy chemicals. On pragmatic days, I refer to my unexpectedly good fortune as “privilege.” On spiritual days, I call it the “Universe,” or maybe even “God”.
On his track “Fast” from the album Death Race for Love, the late, Chicago-born emo-rap artist Juice WRLD delivers the following lyric: “I’ve been living fast, fast, fast, fast.” Like Juice, I, too, have been living fast (fast, fast, fast).
Over the past month or so, I have enjoyed a gratuitous amount of leisure activity. I’ve crested volcanoes, imbibed fancy beverages in fancy places, and participated in healthy levels of tomfoolery, much of which would make for excellent content fodder but cannot be shared online until I reach a protective level of wealth or status.
I’ve been thoroughly doused by a free-flowing spigot of experience, and the privilege of that is not lost on me. That’s why I’m disappointed to admit that I’ve neglected to truly process (and thus, truly appreciate) the vast majority of it.