“When you feel perpetually unmotivated, you start questioning your existence in an unhealthy way; everything becomes a pseudo intellectual question you have no interest in responding whatsoever. This whole process becomes your very skin and it does not merely affect you; it actually defines you. So, you see yourself as a shadowy figure unworthy of developing interest, unworthy of wondering about the world—profoundly unworthy in every sense and deeply absent in your very presence.”
“When you feel perpetually unmotivated, you start questioning your existence in an unhealthy way; everything becomes a pseudo intellectual question you have no interest in responding whatsoever. This whole process becomes your very skin and it does not merely affect you; it actually defines you. So, you see yourself as a shadowy figure unworthy of developing interest, unworthy of wondering about the world—profoundly unworthy in every sense and deeply absent in your very presence.” ~ Ingmar Bergman
Sunday, early evening. Partly cloudy and cold, 35 degrees.
No snow. Not a drop. No galumphing for Tillie, and no snow photos for me. Oh well . . .
So I’ve been thinking about clouds, not in a scientific way but in a philosophical way. Let me explain:
When we look up at clouds in the sky, they seem to be buffeted along by the wind, without having any momentum of their own. They bump into other clouds along the way, sometimes just touching the sides, sometimes merging, sometimes completely obscuring. Clouds can be massive puffs (cumulus), multilayered (stratus), or wisps (cirrus), and all of the variations in between.
Now I know that in truth, clouds are propelled and formed by many factors: wind, gravity, moisture content, solar heating, etcetera. Yes, I know all about low level and upper level winds, jet streams, and all of that, but I’m keeping it basic as an extended metaphor for my life.
I realized that I am very much like a cloud: My life has moved along many paths, some of my choosing and others due to circumstance. Often I have felt as if I have had no say in the directions I seem to be traversing. Along the way, I meet people, some who seem to swallow me with their big personalities, and others who I tend to overshadow because consuming them is easy, and then there are the people who I meet in passing who may or may not leave me with any sort of lasting impression.
“After the cups of tea, coffee, public conversations . . . I want to sit down with someone and talk with utter directness, want to talk to all the lost history like that deserving lover.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Running in the Family
Now if all of that sounds like some kind of new age bullshit, well, what can I say? I’m certain that I’m not the first person to have used this metaphor for life, nor will I be the last. I can only say that it occurred to me this morning as my consciousness was coming into waking, and I decided to go with it.
As children, we put our heads on our arms as we recline in the grass, and we look up at the clouds and try to make out shapes—bunny rabbits, cats, dogs. As adults, sometimes we see other things in the shapes—an arrow, a mass like a mushroom cloud, Richard Nixon (okay, maybe that one is just me). When do the innocuous shapes we see as children morph into things more reminiscent of our waking nightmares?
I couldn’t tell you. I only know that at various point in my life I have been content to be bounced around by the winds, landing wherever and whenever. I suppose it’s part of the overall adventure. But at other times I have felt indignant at having so little power to control my path, which reminds me of a particularly crass simile that I have heard many times: It’s like pissing into the wind.
Fate. It’s tricky, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s somewhere in the middle.
“I go, we go. On the way we keep a log-book, the book of the abyss and the shores. Everyone does. My books are thus like life and history, heterogenous chapters in a single vast book whose ending I will never know.” ~ Hélène Cixous
I know. Pretty flaky, and I couldn’t really tell you where any of this came from. Just thinking about life, my life in particular, life in general, and the fact that no one really has control, no matter how much they may think they do.
Presbyterians believe in predestination, as in the idea that when someone is born, his or her life is already planned out, from start to finish, as willed by god. I always found that concept incredibly troubling. John Calvin contended that some people are born already condemned to eternal damnation, while others are slated for salvation. Think about this for just a moment: No matter what you do, you are damned if that is what god decided for you before you took your first breath.
I remember learning about this concept when I was about 10 or 11, and even then, it really bothered me. If one holds to predestination, then why try? I mean, if you have a run of bad luck at one point, is that god shaking the omnipotent finger at you, saying, “Tough luck. But this is your road, and you can’t do anything about it”? And if so, should you just give up because, well, what the hell? What’s the point?
“You know, maybe this is how your concerto ends. I mean, not a big end with trumpets and violin. Maybe this is the finish, just like that suddenly. Not sad, not happy, just a small room with a lamp, abed,a child sleeps, and tons of loneliness.” ~ Eran Kolirin, from The Band’s Visit
My awakening cloud metaphor stayed with me even as I read an article in Rolling Stone about Aaron Swartz (The Brilliant Life & Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz). You may not know the name, but Swartz was a brilliant Internet pioneer, helping to develop RSS and reddit, and he committed suicide in January of this year. Swartz was being charged with theft for downloading documents from the JSTOR system of MIT. JSTOR is an online repository of articles for which colleges and universities pay access.
Swartz, who was a child prodigy, was also plagued by personal demons, including depression and a sense of isolation. What does this have to do with what I’ve been saying? A lot.
Swartz, even though he could create code like others brew coffee, wanted to be a writer. He often felt as if he had no control over the direction his life was taking him. That he committed suicide is sad for all of the obvious reasons, but also because society lost a bright star, one who contributed to much but felt as if he had contributed nothing. When he died, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, wrote that Swartz was “blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good, a maker of things.”
What touched me about this story was how this genius man-boy was so self-doubting, so insular, so afraid, yet others saw him as this fierce fighter for access to information.
We never see ourselves as others see us.
“The time of departure is not mine to choose; I must find my way alone in this darkness. With the shadow of the moon at my side, I search for traces of wildlife in the white snow.” ~ Wilhelm Müller, from “Good Night”
I have spent so much of my life drifting aimlessly, it seems, yet you tell me otherwise. I have spent so many years lost, but not really.
I have had the pleasure and pain of encountering kindred spirits and malevolent spirits, all of whom have helped to build me up and chip away at my soul. I have merged, dissolved, grown layers and lost parts along the way.
I have been soldiered on by winds that were warm and comforting, and I have been tossed about without any ability to tether myself to something solid. If have felt spun, blown, thrown, carried, cajoled and heaved. I have lost my way and in being lost, have found other paths.
All of this is to say that in this third act of my life, I am older, wiser, and still thrashing about completely without a clue.
Just before waking, a woman in my dream said this to me: “Century, century, 25.” I had no idea what it meant, which is to say, business as usual. And all of this brings to mind that completely sardonic Yiddish proverb: “Men tracht und Gott lacht.” (Man plans and god laughs).
More later. Peace.
(All images are by British artist William Ascroft, who drew hundreds of pastel sketches following the eruption of the Krakatao volcano on a small island in Indonesia.)
Music by Mikky Ekko, “Feels Like the End”
His parents would sit alone together
on the blue divan in the small living room
listening to Dvorak’s piano quintet.
They would sit there in their old age,
side by side, quite still, backs rigid, hands
in their laps, and look straight ahead
at the yellow light of the phonograph
that seemed as distant as a lamplit
window seen across the plains late at night.
They would sit quietly as something dense
and radiant swirled around them, something
like the dust storms of the thirties that began
by smearing the sky green with doom
but afterwards drenched the air with an amber
glow and then vanished, leaving profiles
of children on pillows and a pale gauze
over mantles and table tops. But it was
the memory of dust that encircled them now
and made them smile faintly and raise
or bow their heads as they spoke about
the farm in twilight with piano music
spiraling out across red roads and fields
of maize, bread lines in the city, women
and men lining main street like mannequins,
and then the war, the white frame rent house,
and the homecoming, the homecoming,
the homecoming, and afterwards, green lawns
and a new piano with its mahogany gleam
like pond ice at dawn, and now alone
in the house in the vanishing neighborhood,
the slow mornings of coffee and newspapers
and evenings of music and scattered bits
of talk like leaves suddenly fallen before
one notices the new season. And they would sit
there alone and soon he would reach across
and lift her hand as if it were the last unbroken
leaf and he would hold her hand in his hand
for a long time and they would look far off
into the music of their lives as they sat alone
together in the room in the house in Kansas.
“Were you born this infuriating?”
“It’s taken me years of practice.” ~ Misty Massey from Mad Kestrel
A bit better today. It’s still bone-chillingly cold outside, and pretty chilly inside, but at least I feel able to get out of bed for a bit. You know that you are truly sick when you take a shower and then have to get back into bed to recover from the exertion.
Last night Corey and I watched more of the NCIS backlog on the DVR. One of the best aspects of our cable company is that they supply a DVR with the cable bundle service to which we subscribe. This means that I have the poor man’s version of TiVo, but it works really well. I have all of my favorite shows set up to tape, and I can rank them so that if there happens to be a conflict, the higher-ranked shows will tape.
Anyway, I have this incredible backlog of NCIS (my very favorite show) because Corey asked me to tape it for him, but it’s hard to get him to watch them. So we’ve been making a concerted effort to get caught up. I’ve been picking out the most important story arcs, but there is one problem with that: When a show is a repeat, it does not necessarily have the same name as the original. As a result, we’ve watched some shows out of order, and we are missing a few key shows.
Corey thinks that it’s a subversive plot on my part to drive him crazy: Let’s watch the shows about La Grenouile . . . Oh wait, that one is missing. Only to find the show under a different name later. Personally, the back and forth doesn’t bother me at all as that is the way in which my mind works—all over the place at once—and even though it isn’t a conscience plot, perhaps I am trying to make Corey less rigid in wanting things to be linear . . .
Oh well. At least it sort of sounded good.
“One of ennui’s most terrible components is the overwhelming feeling of ennui that comes over you whenever you try to explain it.” ~ Ingmar Bergman
We’re back to the very strange dreams again. Apparently, I’m waking up not screaming, but arguing, and then when Corey tries to calm me, I get angry with him, and I am so loud that Brett hears me from the other room. I hate that because when I wake up for good, I’m in a foul mood, which makes absolutely no sense. How very strange.
The dreams that I remember are strange as well. In one of them, I found out that Brett had shot someone, but my mother told everyone to lie to me about it. Obviously, I was distressed by this news, and then my dad (always disconcerting when dad appears) told me that he would take care of it and talk to my mom and Brett. The strangest part about this dream was that after the main dream, I then dreamed that I was awake and that I was going to write a book about what had happened. I even came up with the title of the book and the first chapter. Of course when I actually awoke, there was no book, and the title made no sense at all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I did that automatic writing thing in my sleep and woke up to find a chapter written?
In another one, I someone was shooting me, not near me but at me. I don’t remember a lot about this one except for the fact that I was being shot and that I was screaming at the person who was shooting me. Last night, I had a very, very weird dream in which there was some small-town high school event, and I was going to disrupt it somehow.
I know. Weird. Why can’t I have dreams about lying on a white sandy beach with an umbrella drink in my hands? Just that, nothing else, no confrontations, no conflict, just the ocean, the sand, blue skies. Probably too much to expect of a dream.
“Give me detached existentialist ennui . . . Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Okay, so the quotes about ennui? The word popped into my head while I was sitting here trying to figure out the best way to describe the past few days. Ennui: a feeling of listlessness for lack of activity or excitement . . . voila! My past few days. I have been so listless that I cannot even read, which is a very big deal, especially as I am in the middle of a book, but as I said, I am starting to feel a bit better, a little more energy.
I have an embarrassing story to tell about the word ennui: Many years ago I was playing Scrabble with my ex and some friends (for some reason, my ex always won when we played together, which really pissed me off as he was the scientist and I was the lit major). Someone put down the word ennui. Now, I should have recognized the word, but to give me credit, her pronunciation really threw me. She said en-noo-ee, not on-we, so I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, and I challenged her. Of course, I was wrong, but shouldn’t she have lost points for her dreadful mispronunciation?
I know. Poor sport. But I hate to lose at Scrabble, which is probably why no one will play with me any more. I think that it has something to do with my rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism . . .
“Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine and valleys of frustration and failure.” ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes
I do miss Calvin and Hobbes, as witnessed by today’s images. It was a genius comic strip, written for both the child and adult from a child’s point of view but with infusions of adult wisdom from the stuffed tiger Hobbes. I always viewed Calvin’s perpetual energy, zeal for life, and unabashed talent for reducing things to bare bones as being such a refreshing commentary on life. Watterson did with his strip what Shulz had done with Peanuts years before: used a popular medium to entertain on the one level and enlighten on a more subliminal level. I’m hoping that I can get the collection that hit the market a few months ago, perhaps for my birthday.
I want to share with you a wonderful passage I recently came across. It’s from Simon Rich’s Ant Farm: and Other Desperate Situations, and I think that it is absolutely priceless in summing up frustration:
“I still remember the day I got my first calculator
Teacher: All right, children, welcome to fourth grade math. Everyone take a calculator out of the bin.
Me: What are these?
Teacher: From now on we’ll be using calculators.
Me: What do these things do?
Teacher: Simple operations, like multiplication and division.
Me: You mean this device just…does them? By itself?
Teacher: Yes. You enter in the problem and press equal.
Me: You…you knew about this machine all along, didn’t you? This whole time, while we were going through this…this charade with the pencils and the line paper and the stupid multiplication tables!…I’m sorry for shouting…It’s just…I’m a little blown away.
Teacher: Okay, everyone, today we’re going to go over some word problems.
Me: What the hell else do you have back there? A magical pen that writes book reports by itself? Some kind of automatic social studies worksheet that…that fills itself out? What the hell is going on?
Teacher: If a farmer farms five acres of land a day–
Me: So that’s it, then. The past three years have been a total farce. All this time I’ve been thinking, “Well, this is pretty hard and frustrating but I guess these are useful skills to have.” Meanwhile, there was a whole bin of these things in your desk. We could have jumped straight to graphing. Unless, of course, there’s some kind of graphing calculator!
Teacher: There is. You get one in ninth grade.
Me: Is this…Am I on TV? Is this a prank show?
More later. Peace.
Moby’s “One of these Mornings,” just because it is so beautiful. Actually, couldn’t decide between two videos, so posting both. Let me know if you have a preference . . .