June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
We focus so much on our differences. God or Allah or no god or who knows. This book or that book. This hat or that hat. This history or that history. But we forget about something fundamental that we all agree on: everything will end. We disagree on how it will come about, when it will come about, and what might happen afterwards – but I don’t know anyone who thinks that humanity as it currently exists on earth will continue in perpetuity. The world will end, and that’s something we can all get behind. In fact, isn’t it something we all secretly hope for? Hasn’t everyone who has ever died died a little disappointed because they didn’t see how it all ended? Don’t the Christians want to live to see Jesus return? Don’t the atheists secretly want to see the earth boil and the seas rise and the cities flood? I know I do.
To die in the throes of the end of the world would be to have lived a perfect life. If you were to live to see the end, it would be as if it were inevitable. It would confirm your long sense of solipsism, the sense that you are the only one that is real, that everything is just a story that has played out before you for your benefit, that no one has ever really lived or died except for you, and here is the climax of it all and now you can rest peacefully knowing that this strange dream has a definitive end. The most terrifying thing about death is not that we cease to be but that not everything ceases to be. If you could know that nothing would survive your own death, there would be nothing to fear, no unanswered questions, no sense of loss. Nothingness doesn’t give me anxiety, but somethingness without me does. Aren’t these the same? They are and they are not. Is that a paradox? It is and it is not.
One summer night some years ago I found myself in Indiana around a fire drinking whiskey with people that I love so much. Soon we were all naked and covered in paint and pressing our bodies against canvases. There was so much joy in that art. And I think back on that night and realize that it was the zenith of my hopefulness. It has been uphill since then, and it will be uphill from here with an ever increasing grade. And the summit we are climbing toward is not the sort with a majestic view, I am afraid. Yes, I am afraid.
June 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
It is hard to imagine what life must have been like in the pre-Copernican Revolution days. To believe that you are living at the center of the universe must have given you a terrible amount of anxiety. I no doubt would have panicked until I put stones in my pockets and walked into the sea.
Few things are as comforting as a major celestial event, the sort of event that happens on a scale of time and space that we can put our numbers but not our senses to. The sort of event that reminds you that the only things that really matter are gravity and light, the things themselves and not the objects that swim in and from them. The sort of event that is wholly indifferent to the fact that an entire generation of humans will live and die before it happens again. The sort of event that invokes the sense of sublimity Kant had in mind when he called it the beautiful and the terrible.
Oh to feel small! It is like being wrapped tightly in a soft blanket and laid supine on some warm sand during the gloaming. Or having a dark corner to yourself and something to suck on.
I tried to look at the sun with a sideways glance, to see if I could glimpse the Transit with my naked eye. How many ancient humans sacrificed their sight just so we could have this one bit of certain knowledge – do not look directly into the sun? And yet, I tried. How volatile it is to be a thing in which facts and actions are independent of one another. How unstable choice makes a system. Imagine if the planets had choice. I can’t imagine the universe lasting very long, a second, perhaps a day at most.
We believe we can choose and that our choices have meaning. And it gives us a crushing paralysis that sucks the joy and beauty from the universe. A sense of freedom and significance is a dangerous cocktail that leads only to sadness, anger, regret, loss, guilt, angst and suffering. The planets and their stars have neither and they seem quite content.
It’s funny how we call it “The Transit of Venus,” as if it had somewhere to be, as if it were on its way to a date. Certainly it moves, but not with purpose. To be going toward a place you must go much slower. When you reach a certain size and speed, you stop moving and become small.
April 5, 2012 § Leave a comment
No one seems to want to die alone. But of course we all do die alone, as dying is something, by its nature, prima facie, maybe a priori, you must do alone. And this isn’t just about assuming a sort of solipsism; there is something more isolated about experiencing death, even dying in the arms of your lover, than say going to the fair with your lover. Yes, you technically experience both of these alone in the sense that we can each only experience ourselves. But there is a togetherness in going to the fair, a sum somehow, that doesn’t translate to dying.
Maybe it’s because you can’t talk about it afterwards. The debrief is such a pillar of happy relationships. The ability to work out outside of ourselves the past, to process, to comprehend the odd thing that happened at the party or the good sex or the national crisis. If I were god or the first particle that set our present winds to gust and our atoms to swarm, I would have made death a two part ordeal – death and then death. A special gene perhaps, a physiological phenomenon. Maybe not even all of you would come back. Maybe only your brain and your face. But a bit of you would wake back up, if only for a few moments, just so you could say, “Wow. How about that dying?” And maybe have a scotch and maybe a laugh about it. And maybe one more hug.
If I were god I also would have given humans pockets in their skin, for storing things when we didn’t want to wear clothes.
March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
I was back in Portland for a week. The rain and the hipsters and the coffee and the beer felt like a warm blanket after a polar bear swim. I realized how much I had missed it.
I also noticed how quickly cities change. I noticed it in the way you don’t notice when you live in one. Like how your parents don’t really see how fast you grow but your Aunt Barb does. And we love cities not in spite of but because they change. Because they can change. Because they are like people that way.
Cities are like living, breathing organisms. Beautiful expanses of nature are eternal. And small towns are stagnant. That isn’t to say that stagnation is always bad, but it is somehow harder to love. You can love a person and you can love god but it is hard to love a stone. Not impossible, but the logistics are trickier.
As wonderful as it was to be back, to walk through the puddles along Alberta and grin at the scenes made of plastic green army soldiers glued to the dashes of cars parked on the street and run my fingers over moss covered fences, it was not without a twinge of disappointment. And disappointment is perhaps the most troubling of all emotions. Because it is born from a thwarted hope, from a dashed expectation. We are disappointed when we dare to find a happiness in a looking forward to. We expect to be sad sometimes, but to be sad when you expect to be happy, that is a melancholy all its own. What makes disappointment all the more troubling as a mode of being is that it seems to come necessarily from a situation with relatively low stakes. It is not how you would describe the way you feel after a devastating loss or in a moment of a great fear, even if neither was what you had planned on encountering at that particular moment. Disappointment is something smaller but somehow worse. And it’s seemingly cumulative. Like it builds up. In the way that great pain doesn’t seem to. Great pain or fear or sadness seem to come and go. But disappointment aggregates into a kind of despair. Perhaps because when you are disappointment so often you come to expect it, and then you are paradoxically disappointed whether you are disappointed or not. You enter a sort of infinite regress with the whole thing, and it is a regress that only descends.
And there was some disappointment in being back in Portland. Because I was once again reminded that a place qua place is not sufficient for happiness. I have deluded myself into thinking this so many times. If I could just find the right place, I tell myself, that is all I need to do. And of course that isn’t true. And of course I know that. But I don’t feel it. I feel like I could somehow find the right combination of lights left on in a skyline at night, or the right intersection at midday, or some certain happy hour in a place tucked away with exposed brick and the right lighting and a bartender who knows how to make the perfect Manhattan and ask me just the right number of questions then I could reach this place, this place I have no real sense about, of peace or tranquility or contentment. And while I love Portland, loving something is not enough to be okay, to make it through life, to be content. You have to be loved back for that, and cities, as much as it seems like maybe they just might, can’t do that.
January 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
The most difficult thing in the world is accepting yourself, being okay with yourself. Not loving yourself – just accepting yourself. Just saying okay this is me now. I have done many things that many might consider difficult – I’ve written symphonies and I’ve learned not to hate and I’ve forgiven and I’ve lived in a van and I even made chicken ice cream once. But God knows I have not learned to accept myself.
I should have been an architect, should have been a doctor, should have gone to graduate school. I should have broken up with her sooner. I should have never broken up with her. I should have never tried cocaine or cigarettes. I shouldn’t have cut myself with that Buck knife back then. I should have worn more suits. I shouldn’t have left New York. I should have never gone to New York. I should have said the other thing.
But I didn’t. I didn’t. Because I cannot wear a suit. Because I did not say the other thing. Because everything was what it had to be, in some sense.
I think about being late for the plane, the plane, so much, all the time. If I am three hours late for the plane or if I barely miss the plane – which one seems to hurt more? The answer is obvious. Why? Because you feel like you could have made it. But you couldn’t, because you didn’t.
I want to be Spinozan about the whole situation. His logic I get, I do. But it doesn’t really make it any easier, the way you can know pain is a chemical but still feel the hurt.
Inevitability, mind you, is not the same as a “reason.” Things happen for a “reason” only in the sense that something came before that thing. But there aren’t any “reasons” such that you should feel particularly comforted by them.
You want to say: I could have been someone. But of course that makes no sense.
January 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I am in Florida, with my parents. They wanted to vacation down here, and asked if I needed to get out of the cabin for a bit. I said yes, because, as weird as going to Florida with your parents might sound, the truth is I did need to get out of the cabin.
Two things happened today:
1) We went to the Kennedy Space Center, by my request. We spent the day hearing all about how 40 years ago we went to the fucking Moon, how we made the longest runway in the world with one long pour, how 400,000 people in the 60s and early 70s worked together to achieve the greatest thing that man has ever done.
2) Back at the hotel bar, I ordered a vodka martini (not my usual drink), and the bartender made it with Triple Sec instead of Vermouth and put a lime in it.
I wish it was the sixties I wish we could be happy
January 11, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have never understood how regretting can be an optional thing. When people say that they have no regrets I honestly assume they are either deluded or lying. How can anyone wish that they’d done nothing at all differently?
To regret is to have learned something about life. It hurts to learn things about life, for most of the truths to learn are painful ones. One might be wont to say then that it could be regrettable to not regret, and then we would find ourselves in a difficult regress, where regret might become its opposite. Maybe there is comfort in that, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way.
Regret is a sort of epistemological torture device. Because you want to think that if you’d done this differently or that differently, then you’d be happier now, or at least less miserable. But there’s no way to know, is there. You can see the rooms next to your memories, those rooms are well lit. But the rooms next to those rooms are a little dimmer, and the rooms next to those dimmer still, until eventually there is darkness. But even if you could see the whole thing clearly, even if you could know all the possible outcomes of all the possible choices, still there would be nothing to be done. Oh, but to wallow, yes. It is a sort of pleasurable pain, like tonguing a loose tooth.
The pragmatic thing to do in life is to focus one’s mental efforts on the future, on what is not yet, the idea ostensibly being that if one does this then one’s future memories need not be so painful or regrettable. And isn’t that the rub. That it is and will always be about memory, for memory is all there really is.