I’m on the road doing a gig in Indianapolis, IN. My hotel is near a shopping mall, so I drove over, watched a movie and ate lunch.
While traversing the mall, I looked out and saw the life inside the arcology: people mindlessly hurrying from the entertainment hut to the fried foods dispensary; thoughtless young girls checking the directory so they don’t lose a minute walking toward their favorite boutique; annoying blue shirts orbiting potential customers at the Apple store to seamlessly guide them into accepting their new god.
Obviously, this is one take on that scene. It can be Hell, if I so choose: “Look at these stupid, petulant consumers. Sheep, all of them. These are my peers? Filling their empty lives with material things to make up for the lack of meaning and autonomy in their own lives. Of course, society intentionally deprives them of these things to keep them serving ITS needs and ITS values. People are merely the mechanisms that perpetuate THE MACHINE. We are all prisoners, taking our stroll around the prison yards…”
But what if it’s not that?
What if I am someone else entirely and my surroundings change as well? I decided, right there, that I was not me, but another person altogether. And instantly it all changed.
It was as if I’d traveled to a far off place or a far off time: here. This place. Where everyone paints their face to look like magazine covers and movie stars. Everyone fills their lives with gadgets and toys, the same ones the people on TV use. Old women desperately try to keep up with the young people who take their cues from the people who look like them on TV, the people they secretly wish they were. Parents hold their children’s hands and show them The Way. I looked at these people, this place, taking in both the people and things as well as the intangible social forces guiding those people and things, the same way one might look at the pyramids in Egypt: with curiosity and awe.
It was a strange place. Now. The “present.” The past’s future and the future’s past. “Here” to some, “there” to others. Everywhere is somewhere else to someone else… So I was here. Or not here. Or there. Or not there. Or now, or before, or later. But I did visit this place. At some point. At some time. In some way. I am still here. Or not here. Or there. Or not there. The mall.
I struggle to engage this world. Our Way. It seems so foreign to me. So, perhaps it actually is? What if I am not from here? I am a traveler who has found this place in some highly improbably cosmic coincidence. This is a place stuck in time, or space, a strange state for this group called humanity.
And rather than lament the zeitgeist of this particular place (my “here”, your “there”) and that it doesn’t seem to coincide with my own arbitrary and subjective ideals, virtues, and values, I am not going to miss the opportunity to look around and absorb it. Enjoy it. Because I am here. Now. And soon I will be there, somewhere very different, and I will always wonder what I missed when I was here.