All Is Vanity and a Chasing After Wind — By Jennifer Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico

All Is Vanity and a Chasing After Wind — By Jennifer Shipp

This house is a nightmare to design because so much of it needs to be destroyed. Like the stairs to the left, for example, that literally drop 12 feet to the ground with nothing but dirt and some poinsettias below them.

It’s hard to know where to start. I had so many endings over the past 12 months. I seem to be experiencing my own personal Mini-Age-of-Kali; an epic downward spiral (at least today). Moving to Mexico opened up a Pandora’s box of possibilities that I’ve been rummaging through since last January. First, we thought we’d go on a Pan-American Highway trip. Then, realizing (and coming to terms with the fact) that Lydian would be turning 18 soon, we decided it made sense to create a Home Base for safe returns before casting out into the world again. But Mexico is a different place than the U.S. What wasn’t possible to do or to create in the states, is possible here. It isn’t just about money and currency exchanges…

My mind has been blown…

…little pieces of it are strewn everywhere and I’m wandering like a crazy person through the cobblestone streets searching for everything I feel like I’ve lost. But as I search, I keep finding these bits that I never really wanted; beliefs and habits that I loathe. They’re things that I adopted from my culture of origin: habits and beliefs that were never truly mine. Stuff I can discard if I want to, but it leaves an empty space for new thoughts that lead to more new thoughts and…the possibilities are occasionally terrifying. Like finding out that your blue-collar parents are really government spies or that your cat actually speaks English fluently.

I’ve had moments over the past year when I thought I was going crazy due to the sheer inundation of new information and possibilities. We’ve moved three times. Spanish is a part of daily lives. A few weeks ago, we bought a new building. And now we’re renovating it into housing for us and Lydian as well as apartments for travelers and digital nomads. Last week, we found out that the land behind the building is for sale too. So what was once a house for us and a separate house for Lydian (she bought part of the building) has become a gigantic 8000 square foot business of ideas and possibilities. I have copy paper and a #2 pencil from the grocery store that I’m using to draw out design ideas. Yesterday, I had fun with the project, until Lydian, in a teenage fit of jealousy started making fun of the drawings. So I crumpled up the drawings and threw them into the air and walked away.

Since that time yesterday evening, the project hasn’t felt fun to me.

While I cooled my heels in the bedroom, Lydian laid the drawings out on the table gently and tried in vain to flatten them as an apology. But alas, the drawings were still wrinkled. I picked up the designs and went back into the bedroom and asked myself if I cared about the designs for Apartment 1.

No. I didn’t care.

This morning I woke up and asked myself again, “do you care about the crumpled drawings?” And again, I told myself, “No, I don’t care.”

There were no protesting voices in my head saying things like, “Oh my God! Yes you DO care!” Or, “Bullshit, you CARE about the drawings.” Or, “You’re such a martyr!”

Nope. This morning, there was silence. Even the other voices in my head weren’t willing to protest against the crumpled papers. My Inner Council agreed that the wrinkles were resonant with this sense that I can’t change some things back to flat after they’ve been crumpled. And that maybe the designs I’m willing to crumple up were never really good ideas in the first place. Everything is destined to be crumpled up and thrown in the air eventually.

So today I’m forcing myself to work on this design project that I care about only halfway. I can do the work, but as I fiddle with it, inching ahead in tiny, painful steps, I try to force myself to care about it more. And the more I try to care, the more I fail. So, I go out to the kitchen to cut up onions. There are always onions that need to be diced. Every day of my life, I could probably dice an onion with purpose, though maybe not with passion. I consider maybe taking up onion-cutting as a life-profession. I stare out the window. And I wonder what the fuck I’m doing in the general sense of things.

I wonder what the fuck everyone is doing. What are humans doing? It’s all so frickin’ petty and so much of what I do involves dealing with people. And dealing with people means dealing with manipulation. There are those who want to be manipulated. These are the ones who don’t want to take responsibility for anything. They don’t want to risk anything. They try to position me relationally to them so that I take risks on their behalf and later, they can claim the rewards. These relationships tend to end poorly. Usually, I give these people the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves and their decisions. Only rarely (RARELY) do these types step up. Their work in the world is to get people to manipulate the world and others in it on their behalf.

There are also those who want to manipulate me directly. These people can be full-frontal or insidious. They work their way into my living room and start moving the furniture around. Sometimes I let them do it for a while before I realize that I don’t like the new arrangement. Once it becomes clear that my living room is no longer mine, I dismiss these people swiftly. Usually not swiftly enough. Then it takes a while to put everything back in place. I chastise myself for having invited guests into my space and try to forge ahead with life again. Sometimes I promise myself that I’ll never invite people into my life again even if I know that such a promise isn’t really realistic.

Some people work both sides of this coin, manipulating and wanting to be manipulated. These people take the most energy. After I dealing with this type of person, I feel drained and exhausted; like never working with people ever again. These are the people who don’t want to take accountability for their own decisions, but they also would like to take up residency in my life and start moving all the pieces around to suit their own tastes. Working with people like this in terms of projects and business equates in the following way: whatever fails can be mine, whatever succeeds can be theirs.

And then, of course, there are sociopaths. These are vacuous folks who leave nothing but a pile of social debris in their wake. I used to stumble across an “annual sociopath” in my work with humans, and now, as I’ve realized some of the subtleties of people’s efforts at manipulation, I’ve noted that most people veer toward sociopathology if I get too close to them. It’s like a spectrum from Not Sociopathic At All to Super Sociopathic. The closer the relationship I have with another person, the more that person starts to behave like a sociopath. I look for exceptions, but there aren’t many. Most people seem to live their lives somewhere between Moderately Sociopathic and Super Sociopathic.

Two miles away from a sociopath, I can stand and watch the dust rising. I can see the cows lifted off the ground, flying around and around and the farmhouse that gets sucked up into their vortex. As I get closer and closer to these people, I get more and more sucked in. A quarter of a mile from the swirling tornado of the average sociopath, I dig in my heels and everything I do seems really dramatic and important, like life or death. I flail and clutch for things like trees and whatever seems solid. And then, finally, I let go. When that happens, I always find that the core of the tornado is empty. There’s nothing inside. There’s no core to what sociopaths and other manipulators are doing. They have no project. No final product. It’s all just manipulation of others without any real goal. The destruction of everything in these people’s wake is merely a by-product of manipulation.

I have a chakra theory to go with this analogy. I think that people who spend their lives manipulating others to do their bidding have chakras that spin backward. Their chakras suck inward instead of projecting things outward into the world. And unfortunately, my chakras are open for sucking (apparently). The more I open myself up, the more easily these people find me (or so it seems). When I encounter a sucker, it’s like an emotional street-fight. Words are my kicks, blocks, and punches and luckily I have some tools at my disposal, but I always walk away with bumps and bruises. And as in martial arts, staying calm helps but it isn’t easy. Usually, I vow never to work with people ever again.

So today, after having endured a storm that recently produced several tornados, I don’t care about anything. I’m tired and bored with all the drama of tornadic encounters. The sirens have been going off for days? Weeks? (I lose track) and I just keep wanting for the storm to end so I can come out of the cellar. Jesus Christ…where did all these tornados come from?

Since we moved to Mexico and decided to put down roots, I’ve been working hard at changing what I do from something very computer-oriented to something less hermitical, but today, I think I’m calibrated for hermitical. I don’t think I have the strength to work with manipulation except in small doses. Maybe I’ll write a coffee table book about flowers or something and take a siesta from humanity until my death 40 to 60 years hence.

Today, I have the sense that there’s nothing new to add to the dialogue of what’s being said or what’s going to be said. There’s nothing new to create that hasn’t already been created. There’s nothing exciting. Nothing worthwhile. It’s a very ecclesiastical-Solomon-esque view of things. I keep thinking thoughts along the lines of…:

“…then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 2:11

Does it really matter whether the downstairs apartment in this new building looks like a real cave or not (with theatrical lighting and an infinity chamber)? The answer is no. It does not matter…that is, unless it matters to me, which takes me around in a mental circle where I then remember that if it matters to me, there’s a whole group of out-of-control people who will assume that the downstairs apartment is cool and important because it mattered to someone. I can charge more for something I care about than for a copy of a copy of something. So when something that doesn’t matter, matters to me, it becomes important to others, which is all fucked up and ultimately pertains to the tornados I just talked about above.

So, there are those who’s care and passion comes from the inside. These people stack their things neatly in piles here on earth and under their watch, little surprising works of art take shape. Some of these people play with blocks. Some play with clay. Some play with ribbon or paper. They produce and project.

And then there are those who only care about what everyone else cares about because everyone else cares about it. These people vary in terms of their tendency to destroy stuff (I like rate them on the F scale for ease of communication with non-tornadic individuals). Some of them are like harmless little whirlwinds. Others are like F5’s. Most people (members of the general public) can, as a rule, be rated on the F scale because most people aren’t producing anything. They’re jealously trying to destroy and suck people into their vortex. But the irony is…these people are my audience. What I build, I build for them.

Which is probably why I feel utterly demotivated today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up disillusioned and ready to work again. Ready to make another house of cards for someone else to knock down.

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