Tonight while shopping for cat litter at my beloved neighborhood drug store, angels began singing, the heavens broke open, and a beam of golden light shone down upon me as I stumbled upon onto what I have deemed the Miracle Aisle— a gorgeous eight feet of shelving containing all of the products from As Seen on TV! I was riveted. Being a very focused shopper, normally I would just breeze right by the Miracle Aisle, but I have been kept up the last three nights by stabbing pains in my ears from an over-Q-tipping-induced infection, and all I can do is lie there in an aspirin stupor, fading in and out of consciousness while letting the hypnotic tones of one infomercial after the other waft through my impressionable cerebral cortex.
I stood there in a near panic, unable to decide which amazing product to grab first. There was the Lady Hair Trimmer—I need that for my eyebrows, you see, because with sensitive redhead skin, waxing is torture, and I have noticed the insidious beginnings of beetle-brow. There was the Shake Weight—I’m short on time and you will get skinny toned arms in a mere six minutes a day—and then there was the magnified toe clipper, the miracle wallet, (I love wallets!), the drain snake, and the magic bread bag. It occurred to me that I have seen infomercials for every one of these products at some point during my sweaty nighttime half-sleeps, and I have been hypnotized into wanting them. But that didn’t stop my heart from lusting.
Because, I also want to believe that there are solutions. Looking at that shelf, it seemed for a moment as though there is amazing cleverness in the world; that no matter what the problem is, some patriotic innovator will think up the solution and whiz-bang a patent, and there is not a trouble on this green earth that can’t be soothed or made better. It was a cozy little haven of florescence and answers; a momentary escape from the existentialism that's been plaguing me the last few weeks. Yesterday, I wrote this e-mail to a physicist friend of mine:
“Sometimes I think all we ever do is "create the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization”*; I think this is true on so many macro and micro levels. Lately, I've been having a weird existential crisis where I feel like all action is futile, because it will just lead to more confusion and muddle. It's a bone deep, cold, frightening feeling --as though I'm on the cusp of realizing that nothing in my life is real; it's all just a bluescreen that I'm playing out my pathetic humanity against, and no matter what action I take, that won't change. It's a freeing feeling, but very scary nonetheless because it proves how little control I actually have over anything.”
And he wrote back:
“A friend of mine brought up this issue to me when we were in our late teens. He said, "I try to clean my room, but it's impossible. When I vacuum, it just stirs up more dust elsewhere. I can move a book from one place to what I think is a better place, but it always ends in the room being worse off." He was literally talking about his room, but I think he was unknowingly talking about his life, or life in general.
There is a physics to all of this: Entropy. The best the universe can do is stay as ordered as it is now. For every effort to improve some small part of the universe, we MUST make the rest of the universe AT LEAST that much worse. If I just sit on my ass for the rest of my life, I will be adding to the universe exactly the same as if I suddenly became Graham Greene. In the end, humans will die off. Books will last only a couple hundred years. Actually, the best thing I can do for the universe is to remain very still.”
It turns out, within me was a deep reserve of iron will and discipline. I bought only the drain snake and the magic bread bag. I’m tired of going through bottle after bottle of Drano, and tossing out bread three days after I buy it. All in all, a pretty savvy move, I think. Now I am going to pop a few aspirins and sit very still…but not in front of the television.
*Quote from Charlton Ogburn
Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pittsinger/favorites/page4/