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Angst

(An excerpt from my book Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
Philosophy, Per. 6

Angst and the Suburban Teen

Unfortunately, no matter how much Paxil they prescribe, Big Pharma still can’t seem to manufacture teen happiness. Why? Are we just a bunch of whiny, hormonally-challenged smart-asses like MTV would have us believe? Nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wouldn’t think so.

If Nietzsche was alive today, he would diagnose America with a clinical case of mass-consumerism. The American Dream has spiraled into a raving capitalistic hallucination—and young people bear the brunt of it. We face a mediocre future working as purposeless cubicle-zombies so we can buy loads of crap. No wonder we’re depressed.

On top of that, we’ve grown up aware since birth that this lifestyle of disposable excess is not only destroying the planet but killing us in the process. We’re blocking our blood vessels with food that is leveling rainforests at the rate of an acre and a half per second, and we don’t know which will kill us faster; global warming or heart disease.

At the same time, as much as we rail against it, we love going to Fatburger on Fridays to inhale the very beef that is wiping out an estimated 30 species a day. It’s delicious, especially with a vanilla milkshake. We’re trapped between the conflict of knowledge and desire, motivation and a life of ease—and it’s making us crazy.

Call it angst, anomie or nihilism; Nietzsche foresaw the rise of the meaninglessness and alienation that accompanies modern excess. My friends and I loathe this homogenous suburban sprawl, this wasteland of unoriginality with Starbucks and Baby Gap on every corner. And yet when we’re hanging out late-night we’re ridiculously stoked that there’s a Target three blocks away so we can get Cherry Icees. It makes our night!

We’re drowning in consumer capitalist rhetoric and contradictory impulses.
We’re Generation Angst.
Nietzsche would be delighted.

Denial

(An excerpt from my book Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
English, Per. 3

The Dark and Tantalizing Tendrils of Denial

     Denial is a strange and wondrous thing. It may seem counterintuitive, but denial has been deliberately woven into our DNA; a hunter had to believe that a sharpened stick was a proper weapon against a bison or his family would never eat. And the hunter that followed his dying, bison-gored friend had to believe that this time his stick would work.

But denial isn’t always helpful. For example, my friend’s mother really needs to stop denying the existence of her ever-increasing mustache. It’s getting hard to look at, and I’m not saying American voters are shallow but a thorough waxing would undoubtedly help her political career. In fact Denial is a key element of the modern American political process. We have to remain blind to the fact that both candidates are dementors in fancy suits, waiting to pounce so they can suck the soul out of the Constitution. But maybe that’s a little bleak for an expository essay.

Denial is also an elemental part of love; you’re never going to kiss if you think about him trimming his nose hairs and sitting on the potty. And when true love is lost, as in Edgar Allen Poe’s classic poem, The Raven, sometimes denial is the only thing that can keep a person going in the face of gasping despair.

Unfortunately for Poe’s narrator, it’s difficult to remain in denial with a raven repeatedly screeching ‘Nevermore’ in your face.

 

Bonsai and the Quest for Self

(An excerpt from my book Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
Philosophy, Per. 6

Bonsai and the Quest for Self

Bonsai has very little to do with gardening. It is not a hobby, nor a craft, nor even an art form. Bonsai is an ideal. A single bonsai is an entire universe in miniature; each twig and trunk shaped, cut or wired until the perfect symbiosis is achieved. Unlike the mundane potted plant; that vanilla fern, suburban ficus, or even the trendy but superficial orchid—bonsai have soul.

For Bonsai practitioners, these trees are not merely ornamentation, not air quality filters or touches of green in the living room; bonsai are teachers and friends. The act of creating bonsai is a meditative practice that turns a person within, connects him to nature and ultimately himself.

‘Know Thyself’ was inscribed on the doorway of the sacred temple of Apollo at Delphi. This ancient wisdom reflects the heart of bonsai. In essence, bonsai is an exercise in self-discovery. And getting to know yourself is the most powerful and radical act of a lifetime.

Divine Feminine

(An excerpt from my book, Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
Philosophy, Per. 6

The Divine Feminine

Many ancient religions worshipped not a singular god, but a duality — the God and the Goddess — while others worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Then monotheism became all the rage, and for some reason the One God became entirely, singularly masculine. He became a He. The Lord and Father. Or at least a single divine spirit who was neither male nor female but was still referred to as ‘He’ rather than ‘It.’

So what happened? Where did the Goddess go? And why is it that nowadays any mention of a ‘Goddess’ is written off as a lot of New Age claptrap?

There are many plausible theories ranging from sexual politics to war-mongering, but I propose another possibility. Consider; an all-powerful, all-knowing woman ruling every aspect of your life? Sounds like my mom.

I believe everyone got sick of having a giant mother as a deity. One terrestrial mother is quite enough, thank you. And once you get married, the force known as the mother-in-law is introduced into your life and from what I hear that’s no picnic. I think human beings panicked at the thought of a third even more powerful mother and collectively agreed to abandon that aspect of their religion altogether.

It’s not that mothers are bad; a mother’s love is one of life’s purest realities. If there’s the slightest twinge of sadness in your voice your mom will hear it and somehow appear at your side within five minutes, even if she’s been traveling in France. It’s a strange mother vortex that can’t be understood until you become a mother yourself. And is never understood by the husband who finds himself suddenly alone at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Hey, women are mysterious. And mothers are downright baffling.

Another thing to be said about your mother: she will arrive to help, the only person who would drop everything for your sake, but upon her arrival the first thing your mom will do is annoy the crap out of you. This isn’t her fault, so try to be kind, but it isn’t your fault either —that much devotion can be really annoying.

Is it any wonder that human beings abandoned the worship of the Great Mother?

 

Opposing Forces

(An excerpt from my book, Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
Physics, Per. 1

An Equal But Opposite Reaction

     Newton’s Third Law of Motion states that to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.  Newton’s third law is frequently misunderstood. For example, my mom forbade me from having my own car because of the one time I drove on the sidewalk. Some people would claim that this is an equal but opposite reaction, whereas I would claim that it is a gross overreaction, and Newton would sit down and put his head in his hands.

The main misinterpretation of Newton’s Third Law is a failure to understand that the action and reaction apply to different bodies. They are not equal but opposite forces acting on the same object, but rather, two objects exerting relatable forces on each other. Like the loose dog that forced me to turn the wheel which forced my tires onto the sidewalk and forced my mother to totally freak out.

Okay, not exactly. A better example would be the way a fish swims in a pond. The fish uses its fin to push water backwards, but all that does is move the water. It is the water pushing back on the fish that propels the fish forward.

 

Strife

(An excerpt from my book Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
English, Per. 3

 

Strife and The Scarlet Letter

     It is said, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It is also said, “Life is a bowl of cherries, all you have to do is spit out the pits.” I’m not sure why people feel the need to vilify fruit in order to cheer each other up, but it probably has something to do with fiber.

Still, there’s something behind these over-simplified, produce-dependent mantras. Some call it perseverance, some call it optimism, Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa calls it the manure of experience. He advises that we do not throw away our rotten lemon peels and chewed-up cherry pits, our stinky jealousy and putrid pettiness, our rancid rejections and vomitous piles of fear. No, instead of throwing it all away we are to collect our garbage, sift through it and grow with it—just as a farmer would accumulate and cultivate manure so that one day a fresh crop of enlightenment might blossom. It takes a lot of lemons to make lemonade. And it takes a lot of manure to grow the lemons.

Hester Prynne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lead character in the classic American novel, The Scarlet Letter, is an elegant example of a woman acknowledging her past, accepting her struggles, and growing richer from the experience.

Boredom

(An excerpt from my book Bonsai Coyote)

Catherine Shephard
English Per. 3        

Boredom and Arthur Miller

In the scope of human history, boredom is a relatively new phenomenon. Early man didn’t have much idle time, what with all the hunting, gathering, saber-toothed tigers, and a general lack of convenient transportation. While tedium and monotony have always been a part of the human struggle, real split-end gathering, toe-picking boredom didn’t rear its vaguely disinterested head until the industrial revolution when it began to be mass-marketed for profit. Suddenly average people found themselves trying to find something to do: something interesting, something meaningful, but nothing too hard. Maybe a movie? Nah, there’s just nothing good out right now. Modern humans had encountered the luxury of boredom.

Unfortunately it turns out that the lack of things to kill, gather, build and escape from is driving everybody mad.

The Puritans were fond of the saying; ‘Idle minds are the devil’s workshop.’ These were the same people who lived by the belief that ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’ Interestingly the offspring of these Puritans proceeded to fuel one of the bloodiest episodes of mass hysteria in American History in the form of the Salem Witch Trials. And it all began with a handful of bored kids.

In his play, The Crucible, Arthur Miller reminds us that it would do well for society to pay attention to our muted, idle children. Especially when they’re bored.