An old woman came into the store one day
And she was very old
Me being young
My movements were all rapid
And to the point
But that old woman
Her movements were all soft and vague
My hands hovered at the ready
As if the cash register were a gun
But that old woman
She was soft and vague
I was ready to make a quick dispatch
Of consumerism's latest victim
But that old woman
She was soft and vague

Her face was soft and vague
Her eyes were soft and vague
The thin white hair floating above her pink scalp
Was soft and vague
The skin of her face was wrinkled
The muscles underneath
As mushy as a rotting apple's
And her eyes as I have said
Were soft and vague
But also I noticed that they were kind
Kind that is
In the same way that a rotting apple
Is kind

She bought a lottery ticket
Kindly, softly, vaguely
And said:  "I just a bought a million dollars
For a buck!"
Leaving the store she repeated this joke
Three or four times:
"I just bought a million dollars
For a buck!
I just bought a million dollars
For a buck!"
And I despised her
I hated her
That old woman
She opened the door
And stepped outside
And when she opened the door
I noticed it was springtime

And I noticed that the sunlight
Was soft and vague
I noticed that the blue sky
Was soft and vague
And the spring air too I noticed
Was soft and vague
But I wasn't
I wasn't soft and vague
I was hard and mean
Not clever
Not cunning
Not deadly
Not yet
But I was getting hard
And mean

One of the reasons why I empathize so strongly with the plight of animals subject to exploitation is that I feel my own position in society to be not all that different from theirs.  Such animals are treated as commodities; so am I.  Ideally, animals and humans should exist in a state of partnership, and the use of animals as commodities be rewarded, to a greater or lesser degree, by mutual benefit.  But while humans benefit in countless ways by the exploitation of animals (most obviously, by using them as sources of food and as tools for medical research), only a small number of animals, namely those which are kept as pets, receive comparable benefits.  Such benefits as exist are largely accrued through new discoveries made in the medical field as applied to animals, a field of expertise which itself exists mainly to increase the rate of satisfaction we may take in exploiting animals for the sake of our own personal enjoyment.  Similarly, I, and the society in which I live, are said to mutually benefit by my being made a "commodity" of the economic system that drives society as a whole, keeping it, and thus me, in a state of good health and functionality.  Society offers me a modicum of protection and care, but my right to this protection and care depends upon my willingness to be used for the purposes of exploitation by the socioeconomic system.  The value which holds primacy in this system is monetary:  I must pay in order to survive.  The valuation placed upon my life within this system depends upon the degree to which I am willing to offer up my personal resources of time, energy, intelligence, and creativity as a commercial resource.  Those individual animals held captive and treated as commodities by humans, including pets, are severely restricted in their life choices:  they cannot wander freely, mate freely, hunt, scavenge, play, or interact socially in a way that would be natural to them were they living in the wild.  My life choices are likewise severely restricted – restricted, that is, to those choices which the current socioeconomic system allows me.  Inside me there exists an animal that longs to be free, but my ability to exercise this freedom is controlled by a social system which, in effect, owns me.

Over the past several months I have been able to increase the number of hours I work at the newsstand to the point at which I can now run my life pretty much on a pay-as-you-go basis.  I work as few hours as I possibly can, making just enough money to cover my basic needs and no more.  I live cheap; I live poor; and I'll never have enough money to buy a place of my own, to travel, or to purchase many material goods.  To do these things I would have to hand over a much larger portion of my personal resources to the system than I am willing to allow.  It's an odd little conundrum to which most people seem to give little thought:  in order to purchase the kind of freedoms which are to be found in owning your own house and land, in traveling, in having more spare time, etc, one must first amass large sums of money, and this can only be accomplished by putting in many long years of service to the system.  If you decide to put a minimum of time into performing such service, you have more free hours immediately available to you, but what you are able to do with those hours is limited by a lack of funds.  Our world is a highly constricted one, and these constrictions are difficult to overcome no matter how you tackle them.  I myself live a lifestyle as restricted as that of any village dweller from the Middle Ages.  I inhabit a two-room apartment, the top floor of a small house that has been subdivided into four separate living units.  The house itself is located at the center of a small town; the newsstand at which I work is located only a few short blocks away.  In fact, every place that I need to get to in order to fulfill my basic needs – the grocery store, drug store, department store, the laundromat – is located within an area of space no more than four or five blocks wide, four or five blocks long.  The cemetery is somewhat farther off – perhaps a half-mile or so.  The farthest distance I ever travel is to my parent's house, which is all of a mile and a half away.  The fact of the matter is that I live a highly restricted life, and this restriction applies not only in terms of physical space but also in terms of the limitations imposed upon my behavior within that space.  I live more or less as a rat does in a maze.  I travel from building to building along specifically prescribed routes, and dare not stray from the gridwork of tar-covered streets and concrete sidewalks laid out for the purpose of public transit lest I wander onto someone's private property, for I live upon land that has been divided and subdivided into tiny plots, each one of which has a specific use to which I may or may not be entitled.  If I step into a building constructed upon property owned by a business concern, I may do so only during certain prescribed hours, and may remain in that building only for so long as I have a legitimate purpose in being there.  If the property and the building constructed upon the property have been purchased for private use, I may enter upon that property only by special invitation.  Aside from the streets and sidewalks, there is only a tiny fraction of land set aside for use by members of the general public, and none at all set aside for those who would choose to live a life separate from the dominant system.  My behavior is thus modified in terms of very specifically defined spacial limitations.  It is then further modified by the meting out of rewards and punishments according to my behavior within those prescribed limitations.  For instance:  if I do not show up at my job at specifically defined times I forfeit the reward of my paycheck.  Giving up this reward means I forfeit all the subsequent rewards that can be purchased via my paycheck – the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, for instance; also any additional material goods I may want for my personal use.  If I tamper in any way with the smooth operation of the social system within which I live, I am punished by having such rewards and freedoms as the system would otherwise grant me taken away.  Overall, my conduct is constricted by literally thousands of rules and regulations, the adoption of which are considered, by society at large, as a necessary regulatory force, without which civilization, it is supposed, could not function.

I live like a rat in a maze.  I live like a monkey in a cage.  It is only within the space of my apartment that I can be said to have a modicum of unrestricted freedom.  Like a monkey in a cage I have the chance, if I behave properly with regard to the system in general, to be rewarded with many stimulating amusements with which to occupy myself.  I can have a television set.  I can have a computer.  I can listen to music, or watch movies.  I can eat delicious foods, sweet or spicy or sour, as I choose.  I can get drunk if I want to.  I can bring another monkey back to my cage, and we can spend the whole night fucking if we want to.  There are so many treats to be had, so long as I behave myself, so long as I act the part of the good monkey!

But I am not a good monkey.  Though I recognize that the cage I have been given affords me protection and offers me many opportunities for comfort and amusement, I am bored; I am restless; I am dissatisfied.  My hands are gripped, fist-like, about the bars of my cage; and I am rattling those bars, shaking them with rage.  I do not want to be in this cage.  I did not choose to be in this cage.  I was put into this cage against my will.  I want to get out of this cage.

At the heart of my problem lies a conundrum; this conundrum lies also at the heart of modern-day civilization.  It consists of the fact that, as fundamentally contrary to nature as the artificial edifices which comprise civilization in both its conceptual and literal forms would seem to be, those edifices have been humanly created; and humans, being created by nature, cannot ever be said to think or behave in a manner entirely contrary to the will and purposes of nature.  Though our current state of industrial and technological advancement may well represent a particularly dangerous point in the development of our species – denigrating nature as it does to such a degree as to potentially endanger our own survival within it – it cannot be said to be anything other than the inevitable outcome of our natural evolutionary power.  Where, then, does this leave us?

There is always, of course, the salve of religion to apply to those wounds caused by the lapses and failures of human understanding.  Though this world may be difficult, and though we may all be subject to the consequences of that curious combination of ignorance and arrogance which so frequently hallmarks human endeavor, there is always the chance that the next world will be better.  Yet, when the sanctuary offered by the gods to humankind is itself seen as nothing more than another treat held out to the monkey in hopes of making it behave, and is, in consequence, discarded as a mere palliative, then we are faced with a dire realization indeed.  At this point, it would seem, it must be accepted that it is nature itself which has produced the conditions to which we are subject.  That is to say, nature itself is responsible for producing the underlying motivation, the psychological causality, which has resulted in the world as we currently know it.  Nature is constantly in the process of reformulating itself, of giving birth to itself; and the offspring of nature are bound to be at odds with their parent at some point in their development.  This view, at any rate, is bound to be the one which strikes nature's human progeny as being the most sensible, since we experience the same problem so often with our own offspring.  But it may also be that this view reveals an inherent fault in the human species, that it is representative of some basic flaw in our neurological wiring which will prevent us from ever learning how to live in a manner that accords with our ultimate survival.  It may be that the human species will kill itself off, or that we will disrupt nature to such an extent that we will be unable to survive our own self-wrought catastrophe.  On the other hand, it may be that the human species simply awaits further evolutionary development, that some future generation will produce a race of beings better suited to this planet's habitation than our own.  It may even be that human beings themselves, via genetic manipulation, will play a key role in this evolutionary transformation.  This question must, for the time being, remain an open one.

More and more often I seem to consider myself to be a sort of case study of the human condition, and (hopefully) of the human potential.  I seem to see myself more and more often as if through a second pair of eyes, eyes belonging to another, much more impartial being existing inside me, observing the world and my behavior in this world with a kind of scientifically detached interest.  What is it like to be human, I ask myself?  What is it like to have a human heart, a human brain?  What inherent possibilities exist to this life-form?  I observe all its potentialities with interest, and constantly probe and explore to discover its limits.  But, being that I myself am, so to speak, no more than a monkey in a cage, I see no reason why I should not attempt to manipulate the experimental conditions of this particular monkey insofar as I am able.  I cannot do much to alter my external conditions, but the internal realm remains open to exploration and manipulation.  Specifically I speak of the potential discoveries to be found in the intermixture of the dreaming and waking realities.  This potential, deeply confusing to me at first, is gradually gaining in clarity.  To a degree I may even say it has become simple:  if the reality in which I live may rightly be described as being both entirely "illusory" and entirely "real" – that is to say, both entirely subjective and entirely objective – then it may also be fairly described as being both "I" and "not-I."  If this understanding can be realized first intellectually, and then experientially – that is to say, if I can learn to live at the point at which the objective and subjective expression of both "self" and "other" intersect – then the ability to live more fully "awake" within the dream-like quality that living portends ought to increase in frequency.  For to experience reality as both "I" and "not-I" is to experience reality as it shapes itself to reveal specific meaning to each individual, while simultaneously maintaining its integrity as a separately operating entity; and to embody this experience is to embody as a living reality the experience of one who has awakened within a dream.