Sunday, April 03, 2005


The potentially alarming thing about receiving a higher education is that it could lead you to believe that knowledge, in all its forms, is only accessible at an insitution for which you've willingly handed over thousands and thousands of dollars a year, whereas I take the opposite tack -- that the truest forms of insight come from the people and places you'd least expect, and the wisdom gained costs less than the price of a large-size Coke.

Take Jack Nicholson. He was interviewed by Esquire a year or so ago, and he said something that's been rolling around in my head ever since. (Kind of like what the narrator of The Great Gatsby says in his opening line.) It went something like this:

"I want my kids to know that it's okay to be happy, that you don't have to keep creating imaginary problems for yourself."

A very simple statement. But it seems (to me) to point at something that is rarely discussed in popular culture.

I may have blogged on this before, and if so, my apologizes, but it may be worth reiterating. (Or, it may not. If you're bored by all or part of this latest diatribe, I am once again pleased to redirect you to or Always good times to be found there. )

The western culture, which is the most highly advanced and successful in the history of the known galaxy, giving even Superman's home planet of Krypton a run for its money, is also filled to bursting with the biggest, loudest, most whiniest whiners in the world.

Why is that?

Is it because we're conditioned to think that way? Look at the multiple assortments of TV talk shows that blanket the airwaves; dive into your local bookstore and head on over to the 'self-help' section and check out how many books there are that will tell you that there is something really, really wrong with you, and you better fork over twenty, twenty-five bucks to have the super-slick author on the back-cover tell you the real deal.

Do we have all of these endless neuroses simply because everybody is telling us that we do?

I dunno.

But here in Cambodia, there aren't any self-help books. There aren't any Oprahs. There are, in the entire country, twelve psychiatrist. Twelve. For a country that, within my lifetime, saw upwards of two million people beaten and shot and starved to death in forced labor camps that rival the Nazis for cruelty and human suffering.

I'm not saying this is a good thing, having only twelve psychiatrists; if anything, it's a little scary, the lack of mental-health facilities that exist here, in a place devastated by decades of war and oppression and occupation.

But you know what?

People are living.

They working.

They are getting married.

They are having families.

Life is going on.

I think we do what we're told to do, and our western media and culture tells us that we have a lot of problems, and we have to work through them, and we have to come to a sense of closure, and we have to identify this and that and this and the other thing before we do.

Maybe all true.

But maybe Jack Nicholson, wise old sage that this Joker is, has at least the thread of something more tangible and practical.

It's okay to be happy. It's okay to chill, to live, to move forward. You don't have to navel-gaze and invent reasons for why you should be depressed.

You can sing and dance and crack jokes and not be ashamed. You can shimmer.

If you want to.

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