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Me vs. Machine

Sometimes, when it's late and my legs are kicking tirelessly beneath my body on the elliptical trainer, when the right song pours into my ears, when it's dark enough outside and my reflection is just faint enough to let me redraw it with my eyes, I change shape. The creaking, aching joint of my right knee is replaced by oiled titanium. Muscles become pistons and my body becomes more permanent, more efficient. More stable. No cracking sound of bone on bone, but the smooth hush of well-greased gears.

I like to think of my body as a single solid unit. I have no organs. I have no muscles or bones. I'm just one piece of human material from front to back. Solid. You could skewer me and meet nothing but the same stuff on the outside. It's when I think about myself as parts that I start to worry. Why does my machine work the way its supposed to? What's to keep it from giving up or giving out? My breathing no longer increases when I exercise, and although I know it's because I'm in shape, I sometimes wonder if there isn't something wrong with my brain. My heart screws up pretty frequently now, even causing nausea sometimes--which is a bad sign--but I think it's because I've been living off caffeine recently. (Something's got to get me up in the morning.) I talked with my cardiologist over winter break about having a repeat ablation, but he didn't think I needed it. And I didn't have the time to devote to it. (Nor did I have the insurance at the time.)

I think having a faulty motor has driven me into the elusive yet seductive arms of cybernetics. If I could just replace my broken parts with metal upgrades, I'd last longer. (Honestly, at this point, I'm pretty sure I'm going to drink myself into the grave, but I'm sure my heart will be a factor in one way or another.) I'd save up a little money on the side and have each part of my body replaced. Of course, I wouldn't be able to overcome biological programming, even with a cybernetic body, due to my organic brain. I wonder where the line is between soul and flesh. They say that some memories lie in the heart. Heart transplant recipients have supposedly complained of phantom memories from the donors. If you replaced the heart but kept the brain, would it be the same person? Would I still love you if I had a metal heart? And if you replaced the brain instead? Would I know how to love?

I've always wanted to be a machine. It's a control thing, of course. I could overcome my instincts and simply function. I wouldn't want a family simply because that's the urge to promote the survival of the species. I wouldn't love and long for people because chance for survival increases in greater numbers. I wouldn't have to sleep at night to refresh myself. I wouldn't need vices.

I have many vices. Ultimate fighting has become my most recent one. There is something very fulfilling about watching two people beat each other bloody. A good fight can get me out of my seat and make me yell at the TV, even if I'm alone and sober. I don't have any favorite fighters yet, but I've watched all of The Ultimate Fighter 2, and I have a working list of people I enjoy watching. Sometimes I think I'd like to quit school and run away and join the UFC, except that I'm pretty sure the only women they actively employ are the ones in bikinis who strut around the octagon holding signs. I would love to jump in the ring and beat the shit out of somebody, although I know a good fight means that both fighters get hurt pretty badly. And, knowing me, I'd get depressed after getting whooped enough times. Still, it's a nice fantasy, driving out to Vegas in a convertible and getting paid to beef up and wail on people. (Might flatten my horrible nose out.) You can tell how green or good fighters are by how smashed in their noses are, which I think is hilarious.

Of course, the idea of having my brain turned to mush like Mohammed Ali's is pretty sobering. Not that I don't do enough damage to my grey cells with booze, which leads me to my next vice.

I am an alcoholic.

Let me repeat that.

I am an alcoholic. I don't mean that in the half-joking way I usually say it. I seriously have an alcohol problem. I finally realized that two weeks ago when my shrink told me I needed to cut alcohol out of my diet completely (so we can better gauge how well the new meds are working) and I felt a sudden, decisive flash of rage. I was actually angry that somebody was trying to make me stop drinking. As soon as the quake of anger came and went, I was scared to realize how much control the bottle has over me. That night I went out and got out-of-control drunk. It was pretty embarrassing, actually. I was supposed to meet with a prof the next morning at 9:30am for a one-on-one 5th level Japanese session, but I was still drunk. I called in sick that day. I spent the rest of the day horribly hungover. In my drunken revelry, I had badly sprained my ankle and busted up my knee. Mari was an angel and drove me to the ER that night. They gave me a splint, crutches, and a tetanus shot (for the open wound on my knee that I got when I fell down in the street). Probably didn't help that I kept running around on my sprained ankle after the fall because I was too drunk to feel the pain. I remember rolling around on the pavement, laughing uncontrollably.

I'm always a happy drunk. I've only cried or been upset once while I was drunk, and I blame that on wine, brandy, and half a bottle of Wild Turkey. And the fact that Taggart was there, being an ass. But except for that one time, booze makes me happy. It seems ironic that I never drank until I was 21. I knew I came from a long line of self-medicating alcoholics, and I didn't want to be one, so I put off drinking. (This is the same reason I don't do drugs--I know I would like it and develop a habit. So it's better for me to not try certain things at all.) I didn't really care about drinking much for the first several years. I was purely a social drinker. If you gave me a girly drink, I could probably down it.

It's probably been in the past two years that I've become dependent on it. The people in my family are like vampires--we age very slowly--but I've noticed my body start to age more quickly than it used to. It's not just getting older, it's aging at an accelerated rate. I know what's it's doing to me and what it'll continue to do to me, but I just don't want to give it up. Hence the title alcoholic. I've had a long, tiring day--I know what I'll do to unwind, I'll get drunk off my ass AT HOME ALONE. It'll probably save me from embarrassing myself like I did two weeks ago, and again last Saturday night, but it's not healthy. I don't want to get slobbering drunk, but I am tempted to just drink several beers instead of having dinner tonight. I know I'd feel better. The more I think about it, the more I want to do it. I've worked hard--I deserve oblivion.

Then again, alcohol could be like any of my other vices: they take hold, do their damage, then leave my system. Or it could haunt me from the shadows forever. Who knows. I used to be into sitting in the dark, listening to depressing music, cutting myself, and writing bad poetry with the subsequent red flood, but that urge doesn't possess me anymore.

"Experts" always tell us we have to get rid of our vices, but I disagree. I think there are some vices that are certainly better than others, but we need them. We're animals with the unfortunate capacity for self-awareness. As such, we need something to help us deal with reality. More basic animals simply exist on instinct without wondering about the "truth" of things, but humans are constantly stuck in the battle between mind and flesh. Why do I want what I want? Is it because I'm an animal or a soul? Am I just the sum of the chemicals behind my eyes? Or am I something more? These questions plague us, and we are forced to find other realities, other things to occupy our heads. You can only ask unanswerable questions for so long before it starts to eat at you. Basic animals don't question reality--they just follow instinct. Unable to simply do what nature wants us to, humans create explanations for the mechanics of life. And for all the questions we can't logically--or illogically--sort out, we need something to distract us. Hence vices.

Once we understand that we need vices to survive, we can control them. I think my best vice was Japanese drumming. I could be as passionate or crazy about it as I wanted and it did nothing but keep me in shape, give me lots of social contact, exercise the musical parts of my brain, and make me feel great. I didn't need any other vices when I had that. I thought about it all the time, drumming songs with my fingertips, and that was okay. Now that I no longer have that, I've moved to other things. Like ultimate fighting. And alcohol. For some people, it's food. Food seems to be a pretty common one. But I think the most important thing is this: don't get rid of all your vices, just pick ones that are good for you. I didn't drink during the anticipation of getting to do Japanese drumming again because I already had a vice, but the class I attended seriously disappointed me and I quickly returned to my old liquid friend. I wish I could do Japanese drumming, but that's not a fully satisfying option at the moment. Maybe I'll try to find a racquetball partner (that another of my vices). Anything to get me moving violently, athletically, like I love to.

Anything to keep me from slipping into that lovely oblivion I keep craving. Anything to keep me from feeling lonely. It's not that I don't have enough friends. It's that biologically my body wants to find a mate to assure the survival of my genes. I always start to feel lonely when I drink. Zeph was right--I am addicted to loneliness. There is something so elegant in a lonely girl with long hair, and I feel permanence in the embodiment of that image. At the same time, I don't want to be with anybody because that would be cruel to them.

I've been craving Shinya's company lately. The glamour of a new job, new school, new apartment has worn off and I'm ready to have him be with me. Even as just a friend. Someone to make me smile inside. But I know that's just chemicals following their paths around inside me. And I hate that.

So if I could just save up a little money and start exchanging my body parts for machines, everything would turn out okay. I would live longer, I'd be more productive, and I wouldn't feel pain.

Or maybe I could just replace my defective heart and stop suffering this chemical concoction we call love, or the lack thereof.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 8th, 2005 12:01 am (UTC)
Oh my god this is compelling.

It seems like it would be so easy to flip a switch and lose all desire for love, companionship, and reproduction. We could painlessly spend the next few years working as little studentmachines, researching tirelessly and collecting degrees. It would be so wonderful to remove the part of myself that can't sleep alone.

I can't do homework right now because I'm distraught over leaving Trevor and moving (yet again) and leaving my California friends behind for good and not knowing what is waiting for me in Tennessee. I've spent the past 3 hours mentally beating myself up for not doing homework. But I just can't make myself do it.

Doesn't it terrify you, though, to think that every triumph, crush, blush, gasp, and twitterpated sigh you ever emitted was really nothing more than a set of chemical impulses? That every sunset you've watched and every smile you've received was nothing more that sensory input your perceived (or didn't...), transmitted chemically to your brain? That maybe none of it was real? I can't handle that idea. It keeps me up at night.

I've always defended vices because I say they make us human. And since you DON'T want to be human...

Abby, I don't know how to touch the alcoholism thing. I know I should say something, but I don't know what or how. It threw me for a loop. Just... Um, follow doctor's orders, okay? And be careful. And make good choices. And if you need anything, even if it's just to rage, you can email me.
Nov. 8th, 2005 07:05 pm (UTC)
Yeah--the thought that we're just chemical puppets is really disturbing. Then again, the next logical step in that line of thinking is that since we are unable to overcome our chemical construction, we should just make the best of things and enjoy the ride. Indulge in the thrill of holding a crush's hand, the taste of a well-made meal, the relief of a good fart. The original Matrix movie really messed with me after I first saw it because I'd always been half afraid as a child that I was really just a brain in a box in some scientists' lab, and that they were watching everything I did, laughing at my mistakes and scowling at my sins. (Of course, this came from the mind of the same child who thought that God had a video camera that recorded everything she was doing so he could confront her with it in the afterlife, so she waved at it from time to time and wondered if her dead future self would wave back.) But even if we are just chemicals, it really doesn't matter because we're trapped. So we should just enjoy a good orgasm, not because it feels good for the purpose of making us procreate, but simply because it feels good.

Everybody's been reacting very strongly to the alcoholism thing. I didn't really think anybody would be that surprised. I've always half-joked about being alcoholic, so it seems natural that the joke-half of that statement should fall out of use. It's not the classic "oh I beat my kids every night and can't go a single day without drinking blablahblah" thing that everybody associates with AA dropouts, but it's definitely the beginning of that process. I only drink on the weekends (now, anyway), but I could easily see how that could change. The only reason I realized my drinking was out of control was when I got pissed that my doctor wanted me to quit drinking. I was SO ANGRY and that really surprised me. I rarely get that angry, especially that quickly or suddenly. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I was just angry that I was being told what to do (control issues again), but then I have to wonder if that thinking isn't just alcoholic rationalization. It's hard to tell when you're in the middle of things. Which sort of links back to my thing about just being chemicals: we're in the middle of a chemical world, and there's no way to escape it, so we shouldn't fight it. Interpreting everything as a biological function doesn't do anybody any favors (especially not the people you claim to be attracted to). "Hey, baby, you've got some kickin' genetic code. Wanna combine it with mine someday?" is far less attractive than, "I think you're pretty. Wanna have dinner?"

I don't think vices make us human; I think we are human, therefore we need vices. Thusly, anything with a vice must be human. I often don't want to be human, but I am, and so I think vices are important. It's just a matter of finding good ones. Since I've realized that one of my isn't healthy, I now have to power to work at changing it. I certainly don't want to never have another beer ever in my life, but I do want to start learning to drink like a healthy person again.

And, like they say, "Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!"

Nov. 8th, 2005 09:04 am (UTC)
Nov. 8th, 2005 06:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the love! (And I'm happy to see that you still read my blog.) How are you these days? Doing well, I hope.

Nov. 8th, 2005 10:37 am (UTC)
I agree with Jen, this was a really compelling entry. You are so smart and complicated and fascinating. I like when you lay everything out there honestly.

Best of luck with the alcohol issue... I'm not sure what to say, but I can relate, and I'm around if you need to talk. It may not be an easy thing to get under control, but I believe that you're tough enough to work through it.
Nov. 8th, 2005 07:15 pm (UTC)
You certainly know how to stroke a fellow scholar's ego! Thanks for the lovely compliments. I just think about crap like this all the time, and eventually it knocks around between my ears long enough that it turns into something more concrete.

Thanks for the encouragement. Now that I know I have a problem, I can start working on it. It's certainly hard, though. I'm going to tackle it in the same way I did to lose weight: start small. I'll start by limiting my drinking to weekends, and only then with friends. Then I'll give myself a inebriation limit. See if I can work it down to the occasional light buzz, not the "I have a crush on every boy!" drunkass party girl I turn into every night from Thursday to Sunday. Gah, I made out with some random black dude that night I hurt myself so badly. He was cute, but still. I remember him trying to pull up my skirt, and my drunkenly trying to keep it down. You know you're drunk when you depend on other people to keep you buoyant while you dance at a crowded club. I feel sorry for the poor people I kept bouncing off of. I don't like getting that drunk, though, and I've been getting better about not getting to be that bad. Baby steps. I have to be like Bill Murray in What About Bob? and think "Baby steps," and I'll be okay.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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