Archive for December, 2010

Zen and the existence of vending machines

December 20, 2010

Wherein the happiness assembly line seems more like a vending machine & furthermore wherein that turns out to be OK because vending machines are so awesome.

Vending machine, metaphor or both?

So I constructed this metaphor a while back about happiness being an assembly line — it takes work to build the life you want. It takes making deliberate choices to embrace what’s good in the world, while not turning away from what’s not so good like an oblivious jerk. Still true.

But it also turns out that life can be all devastating and stuff. I know we all knew that already. But let’s say you find yourself in the most painful, raw experience of your life. The gears of the assembly line get stuck. Actually, the whole thing sort of breaks. You still have to show up for life every day. But your heart might be busy for a while as you reassemble yourself. You might have to settle for a vending machine instead of an assembly line.

Know what I mean? You do what you can, in small pieces. You kick the machine when the things you want get stuck in there. Then you take the other thing that falls out instead.

Or so I decided this weekend when I saw this Santa vending machine. What I love about this temporary change of metaphor is that I love vending machines anyway. I mean, I love the weird ones. I’m assuming you know about the canned bread vending machines, the hot ramen vending machines and the Hello Kitty popcorn vending machines, not to mention the vending machines for unmentionables, umbrellas, fine china and what have you. And I’m assuming you also know that in Japan, you can get, like, tons of varieties of Kit Kats. Which would be an entirely different story except that I decided a long time ago to just go ahead and assume that a Kit Kat-only vending machine also exists somewhere. I guess I don’t need to mention that it’s probably shaped like a cat.

Anyway, it’s not as if I’ve been sitting around the last months waiting for another metaphor. I’ve been doing my best to summon happiness and to deal with my situation by such old standbys as…

  • Sitting with the pain and identifying patterns I see in my life, sometimes while curled under a faux fur blanket.
  • Deciding to be compassionate at every turn, no matter how hard that is.
  • Distracting myself by making art and by watching entire seasons at a time of Veronica Mars and The Wire.
  • Forcing myself to fill my car with gas (um, most of the time) and to walk into grocery stores even though I feel like boycotting life’s details as a way to register my protest with the universe.
  • Letting go of the pain, then picking it up and letting go again. Accepting things as they are, then not and then accepting them again. Repeat.
  • Remembering to live in the moment and appreciate it.
  • Listening to old favorites like Green Day and Spoon when my usual funk-world-hip-hop soundtrack sounds a little too happy to bear.
  • Meditating when I can sit still (brain science!) and saying mantras to myself when I’m about to careen off-track (even if it feels cheesy to admit) (which it does).
  • Wandering outside while appreciating the trees or the night sky.

And I guess it turns out that even if you’re struggling in a way you hadn’t thought possible, you can usually find some change in your pocket for whatever vending machine is in front you — you can muster some interior currency, even if it’s just the choice to get lost in the night sky.

So this particular vending machine that showed up in my inbox is a Santa that walks around with holiday presents inside. And when nothing else all season quite could, this thing registered as nice amid my distress-induced holiday ennui.

I didn’t write a charm-i-days gift guide again this year, but I hereby give you instead a vending-machine-Santa. I think you’re in good hands. Yes, that thing has hands. You’ve been warned.

Two other neat things I’ve recently discovered:

  • Yoshitomo Nara, one of my favorite artists, has a smartphone app. See?
  • A Mary Queen of Scots-themed restaurant opened in New York. See?