My car radio is always on. Sometimes I turn the volume all the way down, but I never turn the power off.
When I drive, I either listen to the radio or I think. When I think, the radio is always turned down, sometimes to silence, but it’s never powered off.
When the radio’s turned up, it’s to one of 4 stations that play a lot of the same kinds of shit. There’s not much variety to my choices. Turning the radio up to any station playing the same old shit is a matter of habit. Leaving the radio on instead of powering it off is a matter of habit too.
I had the radio turned down. I was driving home from work at night. I was thinking about people who don’t think. I was thinking about people who live by following their instincts almost exclusively. I was thinking a bunch of shit along the lines of Socrates and what he said about the unexamined life not being worth living. I was thinking about people whose instinct is to fuck up, so they fuck up. And they continue fucking up without ever examining how or why they’re fucking up.
There are other people who simply don’t live. They merely exist. These are people who don’t think either. They don’t think about what it means to live. They don’t think what it is to merely exist. They just do.
There are people who rarely consider what life is. Is it a gift or a burden? Or both? Is it a real gift or a gag gift? Is it a Christmas stocking full of toys and trinkets and candy or a stocking stuffed with coal? Or a mix of both? Probably both. And I know people, too stupid or lazy for anything, who disregard the toys and candy cause all they care to understand or know about is the coal. The coal is the excuse for never removing the stuffed stocking from the mantel. Maybe that’s what they got once, was a stocking full of coal. And it was enough of a humiliatingly kick in the nuts that now they’ve convinced themselves there’s no good reason to care about Christmas stockings anymore. All the while ignoring how things can change from season to season, sometimes, when we try to make them change.
The way I figure it is: the toys and candy are stuff like love, trust, companionship, laughter and the best from our arts in music, films, paintings, literature and poetry. They’re a drink or a smoke or a walk in the park or a tender, kind, sincere embrace when you need one. It’s a friend laughing at himself so you can laugh at yourself too. It’s the divinely symmetrical thickness of that woman at the gym. It’s watching two people dancing, loving the moment. It’s watching them loving a moment, a reminder from the heavens that there’s lovely moments to be had – even shared – when we learn what they are and how they’re caught. But appreciating those things isn’t easy in light of all the difficulties that are a necessary condition of our lives. The consequences of our disappointments, failures, and miscalculations obscure our potential pleasures. The hard stuff makes the good stuff difficult to comprehend and appreciate. And some folks seem to give up since overcoming the hard stuff takes effort. This overcoming is a challenge at which any of us, in some measure, will fail at again, just as we’ve already disappointingly and humiliatingly failed at plenty of other shit. For some, it’s just too hard getting over the hard stuff, so they don’t even try. Instead, they completely ignore it in favor of TV, booze or social media or some other exercise in chasing their tail. Or, even worse, perhaps, wasting away in a stupor of vague thoughts about chasing their tails. As a consequence, there’s no comprehension or appreciation of the good that might motivate some action that results from some deliberation about the good stuff, the bad stuff and how to get more and less of each.
I was thinking about people who live without thinking. Then I realized, it’s just like me and my goddamned radio. I realized that living without thinking – without critical examination – is living that way by habit. It’s waking up and turning on the TV or fucking around all day on the internet, napping, eating a sandwich, petting a cat, picking a wrapper or a can or plastic bottle out of the yard, shitting, repeat. Sometimes they offer themselves the novelty of repeat, but on shuffle. It’s a lifestyle of habit. And a habit of never examining anything. Never evaluating anything critically. A habit no different than me turning up the radio to the same old shit when I need a break from my thoughts.
I listen to the same 4 stations on the radio. It’s exclusively old rock and pop stuff. Sometimes I think about listening to some podcasts or books or lectures or the Drive-By Truckers albums I don’t know well enough. Sometimes I think about breaking up my mostly habitual, unexamined drives to and from work with something different.
I think about those things, but nothing about my commute changes. Sometimes I think about changing what’s on the radio, but I never do.
Maybe it’s because I like my thoughts, though, even on those drives while thinking, I question if it’s a good thing that I’m so addicted to my thoughts. I like trying to figure things out in my head. And when an idea about something seems like it’s congealing, I like going somewhere to try to write it out of my head. I like thinking. I like the whole process of creating something out of the bits and pieces of random thoughts and observations. I’m addicted, but I’m aware it’s not necessarily a healthy addiction. It’s a reflexive habit to brood over the shit I brood about. And it’s the music that gives the mind a little space and time to catch its breath after its short sprints of formulating.
I know people who wake up every day, but do nothing. I know people who wake up and never think about anything. Maybe they do, but nothing ever changes, sorta like with me and that goddamned radio that, at best, only switches between stations playing the same old shit.
So, I guess, I know from a bit of experience how it works. But I also know there’s a vast difference between the whole of our living and the radio during a 30 minute commute to somewhere, making our way to doing something. I suppose that’s what I get from doing a little bit of thinking sometimes.