-Things I've Heard Vic Say

Brian Shekeloff

A Perspective

by Kassy Shekeloff

The simplest concepts may be the most profound, for instance, the idea of freedom, freedom to have a good life or a bad one regardless of circumstances.

The value systems that each of us internalizes in reference to our culture, society and family are arbitrary, but they don't feel arbitrary. They feel as if they come from within (that could give you some idea of how internalized they are). The value system of our culture centers on the importance and power of bad. We are well informed of its presence and constant threat. We get a lot of information on recognizing, dealing with, and avoiding the bad in life and nearly none on adding to the good.

When I was a little kid, long before I went to school, I was rewarded for being "smart". All I had done to earn this recognition was memorize. Memorization was easy for me and a pleasure to boot. I could recite the little story books my mom read to me so, when I was three, I could pretend to read to my baby brother, turning the pages at the appropriate time.

It looked like it would be smart of me to cultivate this winning quality, or at least the appearance of that quality since nobody knows how to get smarter; you come with all the smarts you'll ever have. It appeared to me that people who were considered smart got that reputation by being critical, by developing their ability to seek and find the flaws. So I became a human magnet for information that damned even the most benign and accepted things. And life seemed to go very well on almost all levels. I got better at finding fault, people were consistently impressed, especially adults, so I got what I was looking for: acceptance, praise, attention and all kinds of breaks. But I hadn't figured on the side effects.

I was a dark and moody adolescent, which made me happy in a way because I knew that serious, artistic people, people of substance, are not chipper. So my gloom seemed to me to be further testimony to my value and certainly to my intelligence. There were good times and lousy times in high school, and sometimes I was really very happy. But that isn't how I would characterize myself in general or propensity during those years - I knew too much to be happy. I was a damsel in distress who dreamed that the future would hold the good circumstances to make her happy. Near the end of my second year of college I ran into an old high school friend at a concert. She lived up in Hollywood and had a "glamour" job in the pop music industry, which means that she got to rub shoulders with music stars for very small pay and random free passes and records (yes, vinyl records). This chick was the smartest friend I ever had. She read novels and plays in German and French when she was 15 just for the fun of it (or maybe to impress people with her smartness). An honor student, she turned her back on "higher education" and, after high school went to seek her fortune in the rock and roll biz. We hooked up at that concert and next thing you know I had a "glamour" job, too, and we lived together in a house in very hip Laurel Canyon up the street from Joni Mitchell, between Denny Dougherty and the Turtles.

We both loved philosophy and having intellectual conversations especially with each other because we were well-matched in terms of rhetorical ability. One night we had a heated discussion, a discussion we'd had several times before and one I had to win for my own reasons. My friend believed deeply and unassailably (so far) in Fate. It seemed to me that if she were right then there would be no point, really, to living. You'd just be Fate's puppet. Since neither Fate nor Free Will can be proven or demonstrated, a person's position on the question is one they choose and live with for reasons other than proof. If you have free will, you've chosen and if you don't have free will you believe as you were destined to believe. So far, our battles on the subject had been stalemates. My friend had said, by way of simple demonstration of the rightness of her position, that no matter how many times you mix red and blue together you're only ever going to get purple. And then it occurred to me that I might have come up with a way to prevail in this difference of opinion. Okay, I could concede that the circumstances and events of life may not be self-chosen, BUT what about value judgments! Isn't it up to me whether I say yea or boo to purple? (I had her, I had her, I knew I had her!) But no. She just said "no". I didn't realize until losing that argument how absolutely unassailable the basic premise of fate is. If that's what you believe then everything is an example of it. I may have lost the argument that night but I knew that I had no hope of ever being happy unless, somehow, I was free.

So, at 20, I had the viewpoint that each of us is free to make any value judgment we like. Not that I lived like that. I made my value judgments with just as much victimization as anybody. After all, I wasn't getting much agreement from any respectable source that happiness was truly within my grasp, it was just an idea I favored in theory. About two years later, when I met Vic, I got reality for the first time in a personally convincing way that the world of my perception is the world of my creation and the one I live in; that value is arbitrary and each of us is free to assign value in any way we want. Yahoo! I won. But I hadn't recognized the implications of freely placing so much positive value on smartness.

One time Vic said to me, "If you're so smart how come you're not happy?" It wasn't the first time, by a long shot, that he'd tried to get through to me that thinking that smartness is an asset that will get me what I want isn't really so smart. It was the time, however, that it began to dawn that my arbitrary attachment to being "smart" also attached me to focusing on bad and, what's worse, since the universe of my perception is the universe I get to/have to live in, I was destining myself to life in a bad place by my own version of "smartness".

I didn't suddenly flash and "get well" or live in a blissful universe of my own creation from that day forward. But it did become clear to me that life is a moment-to-moment proposition and at any time I can. According to Vic, it requires eternal vigilance to have a good life. Having "the good eyes" is a deliberate choice and one that must be made in opposition to a lot of cultural pressure to see bad. Just knowing of your own freedom doesn't mean that you automatically choose good or act in your own best interest. After all, what kind of freedom would that be?

Life is fair. You get out what you put in. Seek and you will find. Seek bad and you will find it. Seek good and you will find it. Find bad and it gets worse. Find good and it gets better. Reach for good, aggress on good, and it gets fantastic! Now that's smart.