5 Labels I DEMAND You Never Give Yourself

There are approximately 75,000 dams in the continental United States, and I don't give a single one of them--not Hoover, not Bonneville, not Albeni.

There are approximately 75,000 dams in the continental United States, and I don’t give a single one of them–not Hoover, not Bonneville, not Albeni.

Let’s skip the part where you’re outraged over the fact that I’m making a list:

“This guy–what a sellout! I’m outraged.”

“Go ‘write’ for BuzzFeed, you hack!”

Yeah, I get it. Alright? I get it. But here’s the thing:

The thing (like I said): I also don’t care.

Listen, we all go through life looking for the ways to best describe ourselves both to ourselves and to others. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s just human nature; but sometimes in the rush to establish that we are valuable members of society, we wind up inadvertently choosing labels that reveal far more about our capacity for bullshitting each other than about our actual positive qualities.

Sure, quite a bit of that can be attributed to our tendency to think better of ourselves than we really are; but other times, it’s just calling a turd a candy bar and expecting people to eat it. Take the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” or the “Democratic Republic of Congo,” for instance–countries both that have laundry lists of political corruption and human rights violations longer than Atlas Shrugged (and way less boring). But hey, they have the words “democratic” (awesome!) and “republic” (double awesome!) in their names, so that must be what they are. I mean, those are facts straight from the horse’s mouth right there! Fox News says it’s “Fair and Balanced,” so it has to be, right?

(The horse is lying.)

(The horse is lying.)

While referring to yourself as any of the following terms may not be such egregious cases of lying to people through teeth you only pretend to have, they are certainly labels you, at the very least, should think twice about (unless you want me to send the minotaur after you):

Oh no, you do NOT want that to happen.

Oh no, you do NOT want that to happen.

1. “One Of A Kind”

You’re not. You’re just not. Sorry if I’m the first one who’s told you.

“But I’m a snowflake! I’m completely unique!”

No, you’re a human–one of seven billion currently living, out of 108 billion who have ever lived. If you can look at those numbers and still think there’s never been even one other person that acts, thinks, or looks like you, then that just makes you a stupid human. Seriously, how many “kinds” do you think there are?

Still insisting that no one has ever worn their Kangol hat at quite the same angle or taped up their wide-rimmed glasses (that you only wear for decoration) in quite the same spot? Okay, in the absolute strictest of terms, down to the very arrangement of your molecules, sure, maybe no one has ever been 100% identical to you. But they’ve been damn close; you, yes you, alongside each and every one of those 20 or so metric fucktons of people share over 99.9% genetic similarity–99.95% if we’re talking siblings.

That's right, there's only .1% genetic variation between you and that.

That’s right, there’s only .1% genetic variation between you and…that.

But by all means, continue citing bits of frozen water as the basis for your individuality. After all, even Snopes doesn’t dispute the “every snowflake” trope–though Fox News might if they ever realized that precipitation is essentially the socialism of weather patterns.

Clouds are communists.

Still, while lattice structures and the odd deuterium atom here and there do vary from large snowflake to large snowflake, the real difference is almost entirely in appearance–something you would do well to keep in mind, before claiming to be:

2. “Green”

Now before you go running through town rounding up all the hippies you know who have pitchforks and torches, let’s be clear on one thing: Preserving our natural resources and reducing pollution to a minimum are admirable goals. And make no mistakes about it, our planet is in dire need of saving right now. But let’s face it, the term “green” is every bit the marketing tool that “It’s A Woman Thing” or “An Apple A Day Keeps the Doctor Away” were.

Who doesn't like honeycrisps?

Who doesn’t like honeycrisps?

They all bank on you being just conscious enough of a social issue to care–but not enough to double check that the “picturesque beach house” in Florida they’re trying to sell you isn’t just a close up shot of a doll house in a litter box. Corporations are acutely aware, even if you aren’t, that really what you want is the image of being eco-friendly, even if those “green” products you’re so eager to buy aren’t actually “green.” In fact, inauthentic green-ness isn’t simply limited to products labeled falsely that way: As Freakonomics can tell you probably better than I can, there is a well-documented socioeconomic phenomenon in the affluent suburbs of L.A., wherein people will mount solar panels on the street side of their houses (where the sun never shines) just so the Joneses next door will applaud them for the appearance of being eco-friendly (even though they aren’t).

“But, I drive a Prius,” you say. Of course you do. And while the myth of Hummers being greener than Priuses (due to greater amounts of energy and resources necessary to manufacture them), has all but been debunked, what that Crown Toyota salesman probably neglected to mention as he was stroking your eco-ego is that the graphite and lithium for the batteries comes largely from China, which has a virtual monopoly on both and about as many environmental regulations in place as your chain-smoking great uncle has teeth. Not only have agricultural areas of China been utterly poisoned by the fuck-it-let’s-dump-tons-of-acid-directly-into-the-ground extraction technique, some regions are even getting acid rain from the pollution released by the refining process.

These guys may not have shoes, but their carbon footprints are also way smaller than yours.

These guys may not have shoes, but their carbon footprints are also way smaller than yours.

Not to mention the fact that in regularly driving anything with a combustion engine (yes, even hybrids), you’re still producing more greenhouse gases in a year than probably all the hobos huddled around flaming trashcans in the world combined. So next time you’re about to load the family up in your SUV with “eco-boost” and drive 20 miles to an organic co-op just to buy that godawful kale you pretend to like so much–ask yourself if maybe bicycling to the 7-11 up the block for some taquitos isn’t the greener thing to do instead. The sad truth is, you probably aren’t as green as you think you are; and to that end, you probably also are not:

3. “Brilliant”

This is another case of our aforementioned positive illusions getting the better of us. Studies have shown that people with average or below average I.Q.s not only have greater difficulty gauging the I.Q.s of those around them, they are also more prone to being utterly convinced that they are the smartest guys in the room. It’s called “illusory superiority” and at least half the world’s population tends toward it.

Thanks, George. However, it isn’t just stupid people who trick themselves into taking wholly idiotic notions as plain fact. No, even Descartes, the founder of rationalism and emcee of the age of enlightenment (my new stage name), believed that since his idea of God was of a perfect being, and that existing is more perfect than not existing, then therefore, he had proven that God exists. Think about that for a second–the guy who invented the scientific method, upon which all modern experiments are based, also happened to think that if you can mentally picture an all-knowing and all-powerful flying spaghetti monster, then obviously it has to exist.

"You think, therefore I am."

“You think, therefore I am.”

Entire countries have been guilty of this as well. Following World War I, the French were terrified, and rightfully so, of ze Germans attempting to invade their country again. So all the best and brightest military minds convened and eventually devised a plan of such unbridled genius, such unfathomable brilliance that surely the Germans would never even consider the idea of invading again. Their masterstroke? A line of defensive fortifications spanning the entire shared border that were so state of the art and so strategically placed, the line itself was thought to be impenetrable. And indeed it was. The Germans were never able to break through the Maginot Line…because the Germans never tried.

When World War II rolled around, so did the Germans–literally. Instead of going all Hollywood death-charge straight at the Line, they just went around it, invaded through Belgium and caught the French with their pantaloons down around their pasty white ankles. Meanwhile, France had invested such a disproportionate amount of their funds into the Line, that within six weeks they had no choice but to surrender unconditionally, and forfeit all of their stockpiles of croissants.

That’s right, this time around, it was the Nazis who went Indiana Jones all over somebody’s ass–which is as close as the Germans have ever come to being:

4. “Funny”

You may have told a few humorous anecdotes in your time–hell, maybe you’ve even made up a couple dirty limericks that your friends got a kick out of. But that doesn’t make you funny. It’s even remotely possible, but incredibly unlikely since you’re reading this right now, that you’ve absolutely killed in front of a crowd of thousands. But that doesn’t make you funny either.

As a general rule, very few people are actually funny, and almost none of those are comedians or humorists of any kind–certainly not good ones, at least. For it is not they who make you laugh, but their material. You see, “funny” is not a secondary character trait or tendency, but a primary state of existence. In other words, to be “funny” is to exist solely for the purpose of inspiring laughter.

The Trump Twins, however, are rare exceptions to the rule.

The Trump Twins, however, are rare examples of “funny” creatures–they exist only so that we can laugh at them.

You might be “humorous,” sure; maybe even “witty.” By all means, describe yourself as such. But avoid “funny” like the plague, and not just for the reason listed above. By calling yourself that, you are implying that your very existence is the basis for all that is comical in your material.

“But if I wrote the material, then obviously I am the basis for it.” Not exactly. Independent invention happens all the time and in matters far more illustrious than your stupid joke. Hell, Newton and Leibniz independently devised calculus–but clearly you are the only person who ever could have come up with “To get some Arr! and Arr!” as the reason the pirate captain took a vacation.

Moreover, if you go around proclaiming yourself a “funny” person, really what you’re doing is inviting people to not laugh at your material. Ever heard of hecklers? Why do you think they heckle?

They may say they were trying to “participate,” sure, and while to some extent that may be true, what a lot of them really want is to see you knocked down a peg for thinking you deserve to command the attention of the room. It ties in to a greater (and darker) aspect of human psychology regarding our conscious and subconscious desires to see each other fail. There’s a very specific term for it derived from a very specific culture. Three guesses what culture that–

What? The Germans? But how did you-? Damn, I was really hoping you’d fail to guess it, so I could feel better about myself by comparison. And that’s it right there: “schadenfreude.” And it applies to each of the terms I’ve demanded you not apply to yourself thus far.

Proclaiming yourself to be one or all of the above is inviting people to wish failure upon you. Why would they do that? Because they aren’t brave enough to be any of the above, and they feel bad about it, and want you to feel the same. By all means, disregard my previous demands–be one-of-a-kind, be green, be brilliant, be funny! But do it the right way: Do it knowing that you can’t simply buy your way into any of the above labels; you have to earn them. This isn’t a one time only membership fee; no, it’s one you must constantly renew and improve upon–because the very moment you stop and tell yourself, “Well, I’m here now, I’ve done enough” is the very moment those hushed whispers of everything I’ve just said, filled with schadenfreude, will grow to piercing whoops and hollers, and doubt will set in, and you will question your entire self-worth.

Which brings me to the final item. I beg you, please read this knowing that I am nothing but sincere when I demand that you never, ever, ever refer to yourself as:

5. An “Aspiring Artist (of any kind)”

Because you aren’t one. There’s no such thing. Being an artist–whether writer, musician, painter, photographer, actor, singer, dancer, you name it–is a zero sum game. Simply put, you either are one or you aren’t one. I happen to be a writer, so that is the form I’ll be using to generalize from here on out, but know that the sentiment applies to all forms equally.

There are no aspirations about it–you either write or you don’t. To say that you are an “aspiring writer” is to say that you are not a writer, but hope one day to be. It is a supremely unhealthy way of looking at yourself, for it encourages passivity, self-dismissal, and a “one of these days, I will” attitude.

If you write creatively as a primary function of your identity–if it is something you do as an extension of the very elements that comprise you, then you are a writer. Even if you’ve never been published, even if you’ve never had the courage to show your work to another living soul–if your chosen art form is your bread and butter, your passion, your means of justifying your own existence, then you are it. Period. Know that.

Achievement is the end goal of every aspiration. To simply be an artist is not an achievement, but a mode of existence. To be a great one, a successful one–that is an achievement. That is something to aspire to–to work toward without a guarantee that you may ever attain it. The harsh truth is that it takes the rarest kind of genius to hit a home run on their first turn at bat; it’s something I don’t have, and you don’t have, and probably no one alive has. There’s some good news though–great news in fact–there’s always room for improvement.

Everyone is shitty starting off; I sucked, you sucked, Shakespeare sucked, Bukowski definitely sucked–he started writing in his mid-teens, didn’t publish his first book until he was 39, and didn’t find mainstream success until his mid-50s! Let’s set aside the obvious potential for innuendo in the start of that last sentence (some unfortunate phrasing, but necessary) and admire the fact that Bukowski endured four decades of rejection before finding his success. FORTY YEARS! And boy, did he find success–his 50-some books of poetry, prose, and essays number among the most prolific outputs of any modern writers, and not a one of them was published before he was halfway through his life.

Make no mistakes about it: Even a shitty, unsuccessful writer (like yours truly) is still a writer; a shitty musician is still a musician–actors, painters, dancers, filmmakers: The same applies. The question is not whether you are an artist, but how much you are willing to improve and how much rejection and schadenfreude you’re prepared to deal with in order to find success as one. As Bukowski said of the great writers:

“if you think they didn’t go crazy
in tiny rooms
just like you’re doing now

without women
without food
without hope

then you’re not ready.”

And to that end, I will conclude by offering you this consideration:

Even Tobias was an actor. A shitty one. But an actor all the same.

Even Tobias was an actor. A shitty one. But an actor all the same.

He refused to give up on his dream. So why the hell would you?

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