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Table of Contents
Preface Approaching the Cliff Flight: Part One Flight: Part Two Flight: Part Three Descent: Part One Descent: Part Two Descent: Part Three Balanced or Not Autumn Unfolds
Was Don Quixote serious?
Preface I enjoy the reflective essay. But there are many voices and mine is only one of them. When I began blogging I wanted to create a site where I could publish lengthy quotations from the books I read. Without being in graduate school, I live the life of the interdisciplinary scholar, always sifting through a different book and taking notes. Although these books have little to do with each other, I draw connections. I draw connections because I see connections. Many think I am mad. The art of linking is a mad art. Linkages can be found anywhere. Linkages between life and art, linkages between science and religion, linkages between architecture and writing. Because I do a lot of reading I’m constantly discovering tidbits of wisdom; and that’s what I had originally called this website, “The Philosopher’s Tidbits.” Since then, things have changed.
The first changes began to show themselves when I added to the pages my own ideas. It began with a short essay, and then a longer one. I continued to publish lengthy quotations in between my essays. The purpose was twofold. By typing the quotes into my computer, I learned the material of these great thinkers. And two, I suspected that I could increase my page views if I published a famous quote on the Net every couple days. I also have a long history of copying and recopying. My earliest memory of obsessive copying is during my sophomore year in high school. I was taking an AP European History class and it was impossible for me to remember anything without copying it down in small print. I was very meticulous and neat. My handwriting drew the attention of my classmates. Before the AP test, I had two stacks of ink-covered pages. And then in college I remember one of my professors gave us an assignment to keep a “literary theory journal”. While she only meant for us to jot down a couple definitions, I set about the Sisyphean task of collecting two volumes of notes and quotations on literary theory. These journals
epitomized my habit of overachievement; labors so absolutely unnecessary that they became marvels in their own right. Therefore: I have a tendency to write things down, especially the thoughts of others. The line between graphomania and reverence is a thin one. At times I copied down the thoughts of others because they inspired me. At other times I copied them down because I needed words to explain things about life. And there were also times when the physical act of copying satisfied a deep urge inside of me. Could I have been using the words of others to form a wall around myself? I am a writer. I am also afraid to write. Reaching for ready-made sentences relieves the terror of having to say something original. And the words great thinkers used seemed different from my own. Their words were more permanent. Their aphorisms like pieces of jade. I am an idealist. I will always look for the best, and try to achieve my best potential.
The pitfall of this thinking is that I am often mesmerized by what is esteemed “great”. And by fixing a perpetual gaze on others, I undermine my own abilities. Sometimes I’m just lazy and would rather quote somebody else instead of writing an original sentence. Whatever the value and greatness of another’s words, nothing compares to the freshness and originality of my own tongue. I have taken refuge in the words of others for too long; now I am ready to speak. I no longer want to be afraid. At a certain age, a person’s identity and purpose gains momentum— Until the direction cannot be easily averted. We are—one day we realize—exactly who we have longed to be. Whatever posturing we did in our youth blends indistinguishably into an essential personality and person—
This is then a symbolic and literal transition from the words of others into our own. Our own language. A prelude to the knowledge of our own being.
Approaching the Cliff The blank page is the only cliff I dare to stand
over, fathoming the abyss with the thrilling calm of an explorer. When did this fascination begin? At ten years old I recall carrying little notebooks throughout the house. I would situate myself in the living room and brood over the pages, making scribbles and poetry. My father once yelled at me for having too many journals. And that was even before I had more than two or three. Today my bookshelves are lined with journals. There is also a place on the bottom shelf for journals that are unfinished or not marked in at all.
My mother was an avid diarist. But hers was a sketch diary which was filled with quotations from the books she read and some passages of her own. She complained about my father in her diary. Perhaps beginnings don’t really matter. We look back in vain, as through a kaleidoscope, attempting to piece together the mica and glass fragments of life. Each of us has a history which dissolves into colored images when we refer to it. The past seems less like a cohesive narrative and more like a scattered photo album where the pictures are always changing places. Strangely I’ve made it my life’s passion to weave the images of my past into books. Life has the arc of a novel without holding the meaning inside. That’s our job, to give the novel of our lives structure and meaning, to organize the photo album and make labels, to develop the characters and the plot. But where do urges come from? I mean the drive we have to attain ourgoals, to satisfy our desires. How does this drive relate to personal history?
My life has a definite goal; and there is a drive in me to fulfill that goal. To tell you my goal would be to give away the secret. The secret I don’t even know. The secret I’m keeping from myself. It seems God has concealed my goal; and I don’t even know if I believe in God. If I could name this enigmatic goal, then perhaps I would be able to put down my pen, leave the computer alone, and stop checking email. But I don’t know what the object of my existence is and that’s why I keep searching. I accomplish trivial pursuits along the way. Occasionally I am gratified by my pursuits, literary or otherwise, but whatever I accomplish it never eclipses the desire within me to keep chasing down this larger, more luminous goal. The goal I have no name for. The goal I cannot even describe. The blank page holds infinite possibility. Now it occurs to me I can either fill the blank page of life with the words and descriptions of others: I can ventriloquize;
Or I can attempt my own language. And describe the world as I see it. And describe myself as I feel things. I don’t follow any religion. I am out of college and have decided against graduate school. The place where I work does not require me to perform mind-numbing tasks. I guess I have realized that I don’t have to be an echo anymore. I can be myself and speak in whatever words come to me. If I don’t describe myself, and my world, then others will, right? The Book of Innocence is a literal journey. I have many ideas, but ideas are mere and in life, things just happen, eluding our plans. I stand over a great cliff, and look far ahead; where I can see nothing but the blank space of air— the air I breathe which exhilarates me and makes me want to jump.
Flight: Part One When I dive from the cliff, nobody catches me
I can barely conceal the smile on my face as I glide-The joy of being able to launch myself at once into a separate sphere, gives me a supreme satisfaction, an indescribable feeling. Levitation is a consummate thrill. Floating is even wilder and more insane to imagine. And flight is beyond comprehension. While I’m flying over giant clusters of people just as if they were pixels on a vast screen, I realize that my secret ability to fly has come to me in the time of an emergency. Flying is not a part of my daily routine, you see. I realize that something was threatening me on the ground, and that’s why I suddenly took flight. An impression of the primal scene still haunts me, vague pictures floating restlessly in the back of my mind, distant as memories. The crowds on the ground are trying to keep up with me. They’re running after me as if they too might bolt into the air. They don’t look like pixels anymore. More like gazelles, running in loose herds;
the undulant rhythm of their hind-legs beats like a drum on the African plain. The beasts of the savanna are chasing me with delight. For the rest of the dream, I soar over the majestic sweeping continent. Thorny acacias and palm trees spread throughout the vast swathes of grassland and marshes. I look down at the elephants which appear pensiveand sad. They are monuments of sadness. Grey lugubrious figures with heavy-thick skin, brooding eternally over the land. Then: long-necked giraffes carrying messages to the tall trees, whispering all sorts of secrets to the leafy vegetation; they chew in serene selfpossession. White rhinos are transfigured into kingly creatures who command respect from the tribes. The striking zebras graze indolently on the pastures. From my birds-eye, their vivid stripes evoke a mesmerizing contrast to the dry, parched lands. Flying seems to be the simplest thing in the world.
Flight: Part Two
I have had this dream ever since I was a child. The dream has become a sort of refrain in my life, endlessly repeating and replenishing my interest in it. I am trying to pry into my subconscious; I am trying to decipher one of the many mysteries I hold inside me. Waking from my flying dream is one of the most pleasant sensations I know. Upon waking I am reminded of my secret powers, and I go about the rest of my day with a foolish grin on my face. The interpretation of dreamsmay be a provocative and stimulating pursuit, but one never arrives at a final solution—or the key—to his or her dream. I suppose I can look up the symbol of “flying” in a dream-encyclopedia and find a generic, albeit satisfactory, explanation to my night-visions. It might even shed some light on the variegated herds of animals that haunt my African savannah . . . But, on second thought, I don’t care to know the true meaning of this dream. I simply want to carry the sensation of flying. I want to carry it until I die, never knowing what the dream means or why I had it so often . . .
There is no doubt that our dreams are trying to tell us something. If you believe in the subconscious, then you’ll admit to the importance of this crystal bridge between worlds-The vaguest memory of our dreams suggests we have access to them; a doorway, a brief crack of light. In rare occasions, a person might awake within her dream, which is called lucid dreaming. Once I had a lucid dream. The world (of the dream) was totally fantastical, and yet I had some control within it, to move around and uncover things. I moved inside the dream as if I were playing a game, like a video game, but there were also some aspects I couldn’t control. Don’t tell me the meaning of my flying dream. You’ll reduce it to psychological mumbo jumbo. For life is greater than psychology and its theories. And interpretations, like judgments, reduce individuals to abstract concepts. If I were to accept any interpretation of this flying dream, the mystery would be gone instantly, and the dream would lose its power of enchantment. Sages continually remind us to “enlighten” ourselves. But the language of dreams is darkness and half-light.
What if I prefer my dreams to so-called reallife? What if I’m enjoying this ongoing hallucination, this overflowing stew of desires, dreams, and drives? Besides, I prefer flying to walking long distances. I will always vote in favor of dreams and darkness. I feel comfortable in the shade. I’m more likely to wander at night than during the daytime, and to follow my true desires in the wildwood. There are no pretenses at night. In your dreams you are never pretending to be someone; you just are. During the daytime I feel the burden to be someone. I’m playing a highly-skilled part with expectations to fulfill, and there is always something that mustget done. At night, in contrast, time loses its grip on me and my sense of inferiority melts away. What is commonly called “real-life” is usually a mere trifle. I get worked up about the smallest things. Items I label with greatest importance and greatest consequence turn out to have minor importance and minor consequence. All of my fears can be summed up: my reallife will fall apart.
What’s beautiful about dreams is that there’s nothing to fall apart because nothing has ever been static or fixed together (as we pretend to make life during the day). In a dream, the pieces are scattered to begin with. Dreams are wild, fitful, mutable, and delirious. Time does not exist, at least not in any ordinary conception of the word. And because of the emptiness and formlessness of this world, we tend to have more freedom. But really there is no difference between real-life and dreams. Real-life is also wild, fitful, mutable, and delirious. One can even argue that time doesn’t exist here . . .
Flight: Part Three Our daily lives have crystallized into routines,
patterns, and rituals. I want to hold onto these patterns because they reinforce the sense of a singular life—my life, which has to do with my goals, and my supreme sense of individuality. But when I scan the content of my dreams, I see that these routines, patterns, and rituals are like man-made barriers built to stop the flow of contradictory desires. Dreams will dismantle the notions you’ve carried along about yourself. Dreams will
deconstruct that seemingly indestructible idea of “me”. And here I’m not talking about the flying dream. My flying dream has done little to deconstruct me. Why? Because over the years I’ve integrated it into my personality. The flying dream serves a purpose now; it has become a symbol of my destiny. Before I told you that I wouldn't interpret my dream, but flight is also a universal signifier. Flight connotes the essence of superhuman power. Flight connotes another realm, a realm nearer to the heavens. Flight connotes the privileged position of the sky, the wide-embracing “bird’s eyeview”, the highest point to look down upon the vegetable planet. Flight connotes elegance, quickness, and lightness. It seems to me that this dream wants to inflate my ego. Could flight be my symbolic compensation? If I can fly over everyone and everything then maybe I'm not the anxious, worried person I feel I am. Unlike my flying dream, which inflates my ego, I had a particularly disturbing dream this morning which seemed to create a reverse effect. The dream involved a sexual experience— that I remember—the rest I recall only vaguely. If I
told you some of these loose fragments, these vivid though rootless images, it would be like offering a meal with the food on various plates. I was disturbed by the dream in the same way that I am shocked to overhear some of my darkest thoughts. I thought to myself, “How could I have ever dreamt that?” The night embraces inconceivable elements, frightening aspects of our personalities, and lepers of the mind. If real-life is assigned to day-time hours, then real-life is a cover up. During the day, I struggle to maintain so much damn control. Every hour is anticipated. As if a future moment, which is really just another present moment, will differ vastly from this present moment I am having now. At night, I’m not thinking about what will come next. After whatever I'm doing, I'm going to bed. The clock drops out of my mind. I'm not governed by time and its mathematical tables. I'm not goaded by self-consciousness. There are no passing moments, only eternal ones preparing me for flight.
IV. Descent: Part One Flights of grandeur. Flights of poetic inspiration. I’ve depended on flights for so long. The truth is I’ve never wanted to be where I was physically located. As a teenager, I recall spending vast lengths of time by myself. My parents were not around. My mother was busy painting or cleaning the house; my father worked in a hospital and didn’t get home until late. The house I grew up in was all white and we were forbidden to touch the walls. The first floor hallway extended the width of a soccer field, and the floors were marble. The living room had a fireplace, a white baby grand piano, and silver curios filled with figurines and crystals inthe shapes of animals. The house had a vacant quality which lent itself to dreaming. I used to look up at the sky light in my parents’ bathroom and watch the clouds sail over the house. At the foot of the Jacuzzi was a copper planter with bright redazaleas. Each side of the bathroom had a wall-length mirror with a marble counter. I came in there to dream and to be alone in the cold sunlight.
Or I would plant myself in the living room, curled over an art notebook I stole from my mother’s studio. She kept dozens of notebooks and journals in the bottom drawer of an antique desk. I would sneak the fresh white pages up to the living room, where I would draw and daydream until she came home. The living room was always the most pristine and secluded room in the house, despite being at the center of it. The room gave the impression of a museum-like display or a drawing-room held in suspension. Like the moment before a party begins and the guests funnel in with smiling faces. The cushions on the couches were firm. It was not easy to fall asleep on them. With the light coming into the room, one couldn’t fall asleep anyways. I would open the notebook and pause before writing anything. It gave me such pleasure to begin a clean notebook. I usually began with some arcane idea for my creation, as if I were a medievalist or a magician. I sketched the grotesque faces of the creatures of my imagination. I wrote scribbles of poetry. I brooded over the markings. By my side I would have The Three Musketeers, a book I didn’t read as much as I carried it along with me like a reference guide or a Torah. Occasionally I flipped through the pages and glanced
at the stories I could hardly decipher and only imagine. There was a bubble of alienation surrounding me—and I needed a place to go. My flights were often when I felt most connected to the world.
V. Descent: Part Two Despair comes when I feel like my work has no purpose. Despair comes from feelings of naught, I am naught, my work is naught, the world is naught. .. But what is despair? Despair is the conviction of the futility of life. Despair is all efforts signifying nothing. Despair is the abortion of possibility. Despair is a yoke that reads “Carry Me or Die.” My despair feels like the abrupt end to a good movie. I wish I could return to those beginning parts and relive the experience, feel those powerful
emotions. I regret having felt joy; it seems like a cruel reality, something that was given and taken away. Despair is my grandfather’s overcoat hung on the door when he comes back from drinking and gambling. The house is silent. My grandmother is crying up in her bedroom. My despair is a pit of solitude bullies throw me into so they can piss on me and shout jibes. My despair is the convincing reality that I am stuck forever. My despair is the inability to stay in one place, physical or otherwise. My despair is the absence of wanting to do anything. Nothing interests me anymore. My despair is a shopkeeper who scowls at me when I enter his store. I used to be a drug addict. I am still seeking respite. The Internet, like all multiform and ambiguous worlds, promises fulfillment. The type of person you are depends on what that fulfillment might be.
One moment, I feel like a king surveying his realms on a map of the world. The next, I feel like the king’s fool, making jokes about the king’s empty possessions. For three days, I am gliding through existence —every sensation a lubricant to positive emotion, every thought an expansive, intelligent connection. For two more days, I am shedding my charisma and beginning to walk in a growing fog of self-delusion. By the end of the week, lethargy and despair pour in through the levees. Cycles are part of nature right? The seasons are cycles, the day is a cycle, life is a cycle . . . I yearn for a place outside my constant seeking. I yearn for repose at the end ofthe wheel’s turning. For the first time, I am conscious of my despair. I am conscious of the cycle that drives me to act, or not to act. For the first time, I am interrogating my sadness.
I restrain myself from becoming too indulgent in my feelings of intoxication. This is the beginning of learning detachment. My tendency is to grasp positive emotion. Like a cunning alchemist, I will try to make joy into a fountain of ecstasy or happiness into glowing euphoria. Now I can see the problem with that. After euphoria, there is emptiness and only emptiness; after ecstasy there is pain. Flights of grandeur. Flights of poetic inspiration. Flights of high emotion. Nothing lasts. The water returns to the sea. The flight I expect to go on forever will at once make its sharp descent. Whatever is holding me, will let go.
VI. Descent: Part Three Life presents a paradoxical situation to each of us. Life asks us to both care and not careat the same time. My flight embraces one end of the spectrum: the extreme of caring. My descent embraces the other: supreme not-caring.
How to engage both at the same time? Maintaining a balance seems contradictory and impossible. The closed circle of flight and descent forms the essence of what it means to be human. That swingis life propelling itself forward and back through triumph and hardship, success and failure, gladness and sadness. Without this primordial movement, we would not know joy from misery, or pleasure from pain. The cycle is so familiar to me, and yet I hardly recognize it. Like spring, summer, fall, and winter, I relive the drama of every new season. With fervor I jump from the cliff and soon find myself soaring through the clouds. “Life is really this good . . .” What I never pay attention to is the subtle shift. If I knew that I was descending then perhaps I could prepare myself better, modulate my speed, extend my wings, maneuver my body, or look where I’mgoing—to assure a safe landing. But I plummet, as I’ve always plummeted. So this is the true character of life and I must accept it. The rhythm is bound to rise and fall. I’m impulsive about flying and I want to live there, up in the clouds.
But the descent is pulling me down, bringing me into closer harmony with the earth and her seasons, and I will be wiser for it.
VII. Balanced or Not? I've stepped back from making individual posts on my various blogs in order to gain a larger perspective. My goal is to fill these notebooks with rough drafts I will then use to make a series of blog posts. The Book of Innocence was originally intended as a nonfiction book, something in between a collection of personal essays, a book of digressions, a journal. I used a basic structure for the first seven chapters, which is "flight" and "descent," and I would like to maintain some pattern for the next section of the book although I don't know yet what my overall subject-matter will be. Flight, descent, then what? This book is a contemplation on my life, on my experiences, and on life itself. Recently I've come up against the rapid cycle of my emotions; anticipation, excitement, and then disenchantment and frustration, endlessly repeating. Because this experience was so vivid to me I had to investigate it. What I found was that a pattern lurks beneath the
surface of my life, a pattern based upon rising and falling emotions, and the ebb and flow of energy. Balance. Is there an inborn desire for balance in our species? Or is just the opposite true: our nature keeps us forever imbalanced and incomplete? Within me I feel there is a chemical reaction that carries me away from myself, just as there is a chemical reaction which draws me nearer to myself, closer to my center. Ever since Tess (my girlfriend) moved in, there has been a dramatic shift in my lifestyle. But of course I don't attribute all of my changes to her moving in. Another major change occurred during this time period. I began blogging . . . like mad. I stopped meditating. I stopped working out. I grew fat and addicted to caramel-flavored lattes. All of these instances are evidence enough for some sort of imbalance. It is almost impossible for me to have donuts or ice cream in the house without them disappearing in two days. But in other ways I've grown. That is, I've gained more balance in other areas. Such as working at the hotel. For the first time in my life, I'm working a regular job--with demands I've never had to cope with before--such as pleasing customers. Also, since Tess moved in, I've become less self-
focused. I'm learning to be with somebody other than myself. I can recall when I lived by myself and how that felt. Even in my happiest moments I was still utterly alone in life. Sharing my experiences with Tess has definitely brought me closer to a state of balance with others. Can a person be balanced and imbalanced at the same time? Can one be healthy and unhealthy? Sane and insane? And if so, how do these opposites mutually coexist? In any given moment, the human essence, that which I call "me", is in flux. For this reason opposites are allowed to mingle and exist side by side one another. The flux of the human essence refuses to be pigeonholed into an absolute state, happiness, for example, or total misery. Perhaps a suicide commits suicide not because of the certainty of his feelings, but the uncertainty, the flux. Being human means being incompatible with oneself. One is balanced in a certain way and imbalanced in another. We cannot just be this or that. We are all things, contradictory and inconclusive. The flux involves elements that are both in order and out of order. Nothing will ever be complete. Forget perfection. You are torn at the roots of every moment. Which gives us a chance to
renew ourselves if we are looking forward. But also a sense of disappointment and disenchantment if we are looking back. Maybe I won't write out all of these chapters ahead of time. Maybe I'll just come to the library every day and write a chapter in my notebook. Then I'll return home and transcribe it into a post as I have done today. Wow, it feels good to be writing again.
VIII. Autumn Unfolds Fall is my favorite time of the year. I live in Central Illinois where despite the cold winters, I enjoy the succession of the seasons. If I lived in a place where the seasons never changed, I imagine I would be stricken with a sort of grief. Change is inevitable, impossible to avoid, and fall over all the seasons demonstrates this to us. Why? Because fall is beautiful, more beautiful than the other seasons. In her bright burst before death, Fall heightens the senses, brings us closer to our bodies, refreshes the psyche. In the arts, autumn has been depicted by a hare, vine-leaves or a horn of Plenty brimming with
fruit. In mythology, the season is sacred to Dionysus, the god of wine. Every fall, I become super-sensitive to the two-day interim between the tail end of summer and the beginning of fall. I can remember the warmth of the final day, how the clouds looked, and how I felt; and then, I recall the arrival of the first autumn day and her cold breath on my face. I am rejuvenated in the cold air, my whole body awakens. As if summer were only a long slumber. The scents in the air come alive. I can smell the high school bonfires burning before homecoming. And the corn husk after the fields are cleared. The sky appears as if it has been scrubbed clean; provides a stark background for the range of colors in the leaves. Driving down the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, I think of golden apples, which is what the trees look like to me. The succession of the seasons punctuates the rhythm of life. The seasons reflect our own stages from birth, growth, maturity, and decline. If the leaves are able to move us, then perhaps it is because we see a reflection of ourselves in their beauty. Their beauty represents change, alteration, fragility. We sense our own fate in the changing of the landscape.
Really the only proper attitude to take toward life is to marvel at it. To marvel and to keep marveling and never to stop. When my energy returns (and I'll never understand how I lost it), I gain momentum in my thoughts and my emotions and once again I have a passion to accomplish things. When my energy returns, I feel alive again, throbbing with motivation and good ideas. This overflow of energy of course produces an excitement and a desire for more energy, more action, more accomplishment. Sometimes I get too far ahead of myself. If there is any "work" to be done in nature, I don't see it. What I see in nature is an unfoldment, a succession of events without effort. I wonder if my life can become like that. As an adolescent I swung between two extremes--an excessive, almost manic selfdirectedness, in school, sports and social life--or the opposite, which was undirected, amorphous, purposelessness. You watch the seasons and see neither one of these extremes. You watch the seasons and see how life occurs, how nature unfolds.
IX. Was Don Quixote serious?
I've been prompted this morning to wake up early and have my breakfast at a local bakery (Panera Bread). It's already the end of the week and I'm seized by that terrible feeling I could have gotten more accomplished. So I launch my morning in a final attempt to squeeze the juice to the last drop. At 9:30 a.m.--when I'm usually sitting at my computer and checking email in my boxer shorts--I'm at the library ready to work. Last night I watched a clip on YouTube with my girlfriend. I'd seen this clip the night before but because it made me think I wanted to see it again. In this short video, Alan Watts, a British philosopher and student of comparative religion, asks the question, "Is it serious?" By "it" he means the drama of human existence. And this is a question that has lurked in the back of my mind for some years now. I've wondered about the illusory nature of reality; I studied Buddhism for awhile. I've questioned my deepest struggles and asked whether they were basic or essential, or simply an involuntary creation of my emotions and my ego. Ask my girlfriend, I am not an especially serious person, and I can even be downright nonsensical at times. I am however very goaloriented and I take great pleasure in getting things accomplished. In addition, I'm a writer and it seems
that writers have to prove themselves before anyone takes them "seriously". Which means, by extension, I have to take myself seriously. Mr. Watts points out the distinction between work and play. Work tends to follow a linear path; we are working toward a certain end point, even if that end point is the beginning of more, perhaps different, work. In contrast, when we play we have no destination in mind, and the object of play is play itself. Where does my rigid mentality toward life come from? Was I taught this attitude of seriousness? At times even my play feels effortful and selfconscious. In the last chapter, Autumn Unfolds, I talked about how nature unfolds rather than works to become the different seasons. The leaves fall without effort, not a moment too early, not a moment too late. I've lost touch with my internal clock. It may be in sync with the seasons but I'm not in sync with it. The clock that I bow down to is the external one on my dashboard. I need to keep an eye on the hour so that everything gets done in a day. Should there be a point to everything? Should there be a destination?
I've forgotten about the journey. The journey has completely slipped my mind. Let me tell you a story. In my junior year of college, I dropped out of school. I was on drugs and my parents wanted to send me to rehab so I went to a fancy rehab center in Tuscon, Arizona. After twenty eight days in rehab, they said I wasn't done yet so I went to live in a half-way house in California. While I was supposed to be getting clean, I was fantasizing about a journey. I wanted to run away from the halfway house and travel around the South West. It depressed me that I was stuck in a house full of ex-junkies and that my day was strictly regimented, drug classes in the morning, work in the afternoon, AA meetings at night. It angered me that I had to sweep the floor, cut the lawn, pull the weeds, and clean the toilets. There seemed to be no end to these menial jobs. My life had become all work and no play. One afternoon I bought a bottle of whiskey and drank it in the parking lot behind the liquor store. They tested us for alcohol every week, and so I got caught. They asked me to leave the halfway house. Finally, I had the perfect excuse to go on my journey. Like Don Quixote, I set off to an unknown land. Instead of a skinny horse I took a battered
Greyhound bus; instead of chasing windmills I went to Las Vegas. During this erratic wandering, I didn't have a goal in mind. Without a destination or even a purpose for leading an existence other than to have adventures, I immersed myself in a sort of dreamworld. The people I met would enter into my Novel of Life and become instant characters. I traveled from Las Vegas back to Tuscon and then I hitchhiked through Arizona, where I was picked up by strangers on the highway, and on some nights I slept in the desert. Looking back it seems there was more "play" during this time of my life than any other. My undisciplined mind exulted in breaking the rules of a serious life and "playing" with the limits of reality. Doctors and psychologists had a hard time talking to me because I turned everything into a performance. I also suffered from delusions of grandeur. Today, almost ten years later, I find myself confronted with the opposite extreme. Too much work and not enough play. I am living the regime of the halfway house without the halfway house itself. My adolescent self understood something that not even my adult self can grasp. If somebody had played the Alan Watt's clip for me, I would have recognized the philosophy as my own. Back then, it was my job to undermine seriousness. I mocked
authority figures who seemed to represent a culture of goal-oriented freaks. While it's true I've become one of those goaloriented freaks, I do understand that play is not simply a wild rampage. Play is more nuanced than I once thought in my adolescence. The drama of existence may not be serious, but on the other hand, it is also no joke. Therein lies the paradox.
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