Your Brain Is Stupid And Everything Is Fucked
And I'm sorry I can't save you all
The title of this essay went through a few renditions. First it was “Sorry I Can’t Save You all” and then became, “So, I Forgot How To Sneeze”, and then I had a call with my friend Nikita (seen above). We realized we’ve been friends for six years—which means, if we had a child (neither of us have children) it would be starting the first grade now (we have no idea how old first graders are). We got to talking about the valuable lessons we would have to impart on a child entering this world and landed on: “Your brain is stupid and everything is fucked,” which inevitably became the title of this piece. The only other thing we could think a child might need to know was, “your brain is fucked and everything is stupid.”
As for where you can find my work this week: My latest column piece was published in Lustery POV about how men discover butt stuff. There is a little travel piece about how traveling is actually pretty safe up in Farewell Alarms. And Chuck Palahniuk workshopped my story in his newsletter this week which was cool to see (also his newsletter is great for any writers out there).
A year ago, I forgot how to sneeze. I was about to sneeze, my girlfriend stuck her finger in my mouth, and my brain broke. Since then, when I try to sneeze, I think, Oh, yes! I’m sneezing!
And then I lose it.
About three months in, I started screaming in frustration whenever a sneeze would fail. This happened on the phone with my brother once, and his girlfriend popped in to say, “Why don’t you just sniff some pepper?”
So, I grabbed the pepper shaker, shoved it under my nose, inhaled, and started sneezing—over and over and over. It was glorious.
Then, an hour later, as I lay in bed, unable to sleep because my nose was on fire, tears in my eyes, I thought, You know, I’m probably not going to be the one who figures out the meaning of life.
Now, as a jimmy-rigged solution, when I feel a sneeze coming, I try to distract myself by thinking of something—anything—else like, A blowjob from the perspective of a penis must be terrifying, or maybe just the name of the first thing I see over and over. Pillow-pillow-pillow-pillow-pillow, for example. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I can sneeze about 70% of the time, up from 10% at the end of last year1.
Still, I always hoped I was smart enough—that if I learned enough, experienced enough, thought the right way, I’d be able to put this whole life puzzle together for everyone. But after a year of having to trick myself into sneezing, I must admit: Okay, well, maybe not, then.
This concept might seem foreign to some, but it shook my world – took me down a real rabbit hole. I’m a smart guy, well-traveled, well-read in philosophy, psychology, literature, politics, history, science fiction—but before all of that, even as a kid, I thought: People seem so confused. At some point in my life, I bet I’ll figure out a way to help them. Maybe I’d find a solution to capitalistic greed, world hunger, bigotry—you know, solve all the -isms and -phobias.
Yet, whenever I have to get an MRI, I need to hold my arms up out of the machine in order to feel safe.
I will even ask the technician if this is okay. And they always look at me like I’m fucking nuts, and I have to explain that I get claustrophobic, and having my arms over my head—as though on a plunging roller coaster—will make me less anxious.
Yes, I admit to them; I know it is stupid. Of course, this machine is not going to collapse on me—but, like, if it did, I’d be able to pull myself out quickly, so I can get on with my important business of solving all of humanity’s woes. I cannot brute-force my brain into believing that I am in a well-tested, clearly stable, and sturdy machine that has never collapsed on a patient in the history of lower back pain. I try—I really do—but my brain just keeps screaming:
WE’RE BEING BURIED ALIVE! QUICK! RAISE YOUR ARMS OVER YOUR HEAD!
So, my doctor prescribed me Xanax to cope with the MRI machines. I still panic, but the Xanax helps my shame hold me down. If I can turn off the anxious part of my brain, then I’m good, right?
Right. I just need a bit of help.
If it were just the sneezing, just the MRIs, that’d be fine; I could manage–might at least be able to discover the nature of the human soul. But whenever I finish eating, I stare from my living room at a counter full of dishes and think: I have absolutely nothing else to do—there is no single reason why I cannot get up right now and clean those.
And I know, based on years of experience that tomorrow it will be more of a hassle to wash them and—in the three or so minutes I spend considering this, not making excuses, just repeating over and over the knowledge that it is possible for me to do them—I could have cleaned at least one pot.
Then I think about child soldiers, gender inequality, water shortages, melting ice caps, and whether there is any provable belief system that might bring everyone together in harmony—and I think, Maybe if I could just clean that fucking pot, I could be the one who figures these things out.
Sometimes I imagine myself solving my personal problems. My fears. My anxieties. That I purge my body of errors, becoming the Übermensch. I don’t just imagine. I put in real practice, working under the impression that, okay, first I’ll solve my own shit, then I can help the world. But, for twenty years, I’ve been walking along that little strip of concrete that borders sidewalks.
Look, I’m petrified of heights. It doesn’t matter who I am on top of a building with—how much I love and trust them—my brain will always think: This is the moment they’ve been waiting for.
But even alone, I can’t bring myself to go near the edge. As soon as I do, my brain floods with images of me having some sort of slapstick trip where I tumble over the edge to my death–which is even more ridiculous for me since I don’t even need to worry about sneezing. But this has been how I feel for as long as I can remember.
At some point, I got into the habit of walking, heel-toe-heel-toe on those concrete strips that line sidewalks, each time, thinking, See, you can walk in a straight line, no problem. There is no reason you’d fall off of a roof.
For decades I have been doing this—and I walk a lot. I’d say I’ve spent a few thousand combined hours of my life walking along a strip of sidewalk thinking, See, you can do it! And getting absolutely nowhere. To this day—on any roof—if you gave me the choice between walking toward the edge or shitting myself on national TV, the next words out of my mouth would be: “Hold my pants.”
When I come to these realizations, I tend to have a drink, smoke a cigarette, go outside, look up into the darkness above, and think about how, because of the expanding universe, there is little chance that humanity will ever see, ever understand what is out there; how, when you look up, most of what you see is dead and gone or moving beyond our grasp; how at this point in history, even with any technology we can fathom, we’d only be able to maybe visit a measly 6% of what is out there; and how, with every passing second, that number grows smaller so that, within a few billion years, any life form standing where I am will look up and see nothing but emptiness, and even though we live in this shrinking window of opportunity, we can’t explore this space because we are too wrapped up in staying alive, too distracted by wars, too riddled with existential dread and because—as much as I’d love to help–I am still afraid of the dark.
Since writing this, I have gone back to about 10% sneezing. Not by choice—no, my brain just goes, “OH SO YOU THINK YOU’RE FUNNY NOW, EH?” every time I try. So, well, fuck.