Asceticism has been my new vocabulary word. My friend Devon and I just got over our phase of using the word “pheromones” like it was our job, so now I’m on to asceticism. I’m obsessed with it. For it being such a rare word, I think I have somehow found a way to say it at least once a day for the last week and a half. I was reading “No Impact Man” (a book that should be required reading for all human beings) and when I came across it, I think I literally said out loud, “what in the hell is that?” I looked up the definition in my Webster’s pocket dictionary that I keep on my nightstand, and have been fascinated ever since.
Asceticism is a lifestyle or practice characterized by extreme self-denial, austerity, self-mortification, avoidance of indulgences and abstinence from worldly pleasures, with the purpose of obtaining a higher spiritual or moral state. I apologize for the run-on sentence, but I got excited. Anyway, think monks. The practice is typically for religious purposes, but it doesn’t need to be.
This made me start wondering… when I stop relationships before they even begin, does this mean I’m practicing asceticism? When I don’t eat when I’m hungry because I lose my appetite due to my current hatred for First World consumption and get pissed at the endless rows of pop-tars. Does this mean I’m ascetic? No Caitlin, it just means that you’re self-destructive and crazy. I wanted to associate myself with my newfound vocab word, but I don’t think I can quite claim it. There are some characteristics of the lifestyle that I can relate to, but with MUCH less severity. Those monks are hardcore.
I was passion vomiting (a term I have coined, meaning when I passionately rant or go excitedly off on a tangent about something that the listener could not care less about, but I don’t care and continue to make them suffer through my opinions) on the boy with the white hair recently. I was telling him all about why he shouldn’t keep his air conditioner on 68 degrees because it’s murdering the planet, and all of my other epiphanies I’ve had since reading “No Impact Man.” He said that this book is ruining his life and he hasn’t even read it. I wish he was saying this because it has inspired him to stop buying plastic and make some life changes… but no. He means it’s ruining his life because he has to listen to my passion vomits. I laughed really hard, but still went on to try to say, “No! But the whole point is that it’s not ‘ruining‘ our lives! It’s enhancing it! It’s not about asceticism–” and then I realized, the boy with the white hair is totally ascetic. Well, in a mild way, but I still got a rush of excitement and slightly turned on because I got to apply my new favorite word and because I think I discovered his word, which is austere. Like I said in Extinguishing a Wildfire, I am fascinated with what I believe a person’s “word” is.
Then I got immediately sad. Sad for the boy with the white hair, that he doesn’t really allow himself to be happy. Many of the things that I think of as “worldly pleasures,” he thinks of as distractions. He is the guy that is not tempted by a pretty girl if he has work to do. How he came to be this way is quite a story, but I’m not going to tell it here because it is private. All I’ll say is that it is amazing that he has become a fully functioning, respectable human. In that regard, he’s truly admirable and I respect his goal, which is essentially to become financially successful. For someone who has such little interest in money and things, he sacrifices a lot to pursue prosperity. He does it for altuistic reasons though. He has siblings that he feels responsible for, and wants to provide for them. He doesn’t care about having money for himself, but he needs to succeed so that he can take care of them.
In some ways, we are very much on the same page with avoiding indulgences. He, more than anyone else who is currently in my life, is equally as disgusted with consumerism as I am. Neither of us spend much money on “things,” for the most part we only take what we need, so we both live pretty simply.
In the past, I have always urged him to let loose a little bit. I don’t think I’ve ever actually used the phrase “let loose,” because that sounds incredibly lame, but you get my point. I constantly try to convince him to go on a vacation. I MADE him strip down to his boxers and jump into a closed pool with me at three o‘ clock in the morning. I am always trying to get him to play fun bar games with me like, “guess which bar patron played this song on the jukebox” and I regularly tell him to just go out into the sun and soak up some happy rays. Instead, he sits in a Starbucks for hours NOT hanging out with me and working on codes or coding or whatever the fuck it’s called. Basically, working on stuff that I don’t understand. Side note: he’s very academically inclined.
He goes to work, he leaves, then he works again from home until late at night, and then wakes up and does it again. Okay, wait. I don’t want to make him sound like a boring white dude. He will definitely go do things and one of his jobs requires him to be social. We go to dive bars together, we hit up art shows and music shows and occasionally grab lunch or something. He has a small group of friends that he sometimes hangs out with and he dates girls (though he seems to kind of suck at it just like I do). However, all of this falls far behind work on his priority list. If he feels that he should be sitting behind a computer doing work instead, then we are not going to a show that night. Most of his heavy work load is self-induced. Yes, he has a day job, but one that he could just leave at 5:00pm and be done for the day. He takes on a lot of extra work by choice, and that’s where his ridiculous work load comes from.
When we laugh together, I can feel that he feels good, but I can also feel that he is partially resenting it. It’s a distraction for him. He doesn’t want to be thinking about me later that day or tomorrow or next week when he is trying to work. That’s where the self denial comes in. He purposely deprives himself of “feeling good” because the good feeling gets in the way of his quest toward a higher state.
“Don’t you get lonely?” I asked him one evening, and his immediate response was, “Yeah.” He didn’t say it with a tone of despair, he just said it very matter-of-factly. More like yeah, of course I do but it’s a necessity and I don’t think much of it. Relationships of any kind are what he considers distractions, and distractions in his world, are unacceptable.
I felt compelled to “save” him, introduce him to fun. Then I realized, who am I to say what does and does not make him happy? I’m being selfish and I’m trying to instill my values onto him. Just because he doesn’t find immense pleasure in hopping fences to jump into pools in the middle of the night the way I do, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t find pleasure in the things that he does do. I keep trying to force “fun” into his world, because that is important to me. I keep thinking that if he just gets little doses of fun, then he’ll be happy and not want to deprive himself of said happiness. In a way, I think I’ve been trying to change him, but maybe he doesn’t need change. Maybe I need the change. I need to remember that not everyone seeks the same values that I do and not everyone is as discontent with themselves as I am.
I live off of momentary exhilaration; immediate gratification, so I try to provide that, and be that for everyone else, and maybe that is where a lot of my issues lie. Most people don’t live as temporarily as I do, and I need to realize that just because the boy with the white hair doesn’t feel the need to break into abandoned buildings with me, doesn’t mean that he is depriving himself of happiness. Maybe his source of happiness is just different from mine, or maybe he has contentment figured out. Or maybe he is just as fucked up as I am and this epiphany is meaningless, but the point is, that asceticism is a cool word and I respect the boy with the white hair’s lifestyle choices, even though I sometimes don’t understand them.
Caitlin Rule: Don’t judge what you don’t understand.
There is more about the boy with the white hair in my book that will hopefully be published sometime in the near future.