We use toxins to regulate our emotions. I use toxins to regulate my emotions.

I vacillate between knowledge of my own condition and boredom. There is a chamber I retreat to. I have learned to live with isolation, not in it. My friends are important to me but they exist at a certain distance. Meeting new people is exciting at first, but later less so. Your primary world is small, and in that world is you and nobody else. Your friends exist like rings around Saturn. You want to understand yourself, but you also want the world to understand you. Sometimes you want the world to understand you before you want to understand yourself. You want to be safe and yet you carelessly endanger yourself. You want to be loved and yet you create walls between yourself and others. Loving is something you do because you want to be loved. Your world is rootless, floating like a city beneath water; your world is rooted only in an illusory sense. Everything you find inside yourself, you find inside the world. Your reality is a hallucination that has been rehearsed so many times it appears fixed and stable. Nothing can be stated with any fixed meaning. Meanings will remain personal and therefore subjective. Your experience is whatever you say it is. Your experience is--after it happens--only a record of your experience. Told by you, this is any story you choose to tell, in any way you choose to tell it. Your friends reaffirm your stories; your parents always do not. As I grow into adulthood, I recognize the need to preserve my father's illusions about me. For his sake, not mine.

The past weighs on my father's mind. Stories weigh us down unless we are continually revising them and my father is done revising his ideas about me. I like to think of myself as someone who is re-drafting and re-drafting his life until it makes sense. Life, being irrational, never fully makes sense and so I am continually making up new stories about myself in a creative and naive way. But this is how children think. Nothing is absolute. Everything is provisional for a child. Tell the child one story, she will believe it, because any story to a child has the possibility of being true. Adults on the other hand conform to a rigid set of beliefs, true or untrue only according to their own reality. I write because it is a door I once opened and I continue to go back and forth through that door. I explore the byways and the tunnels of myself. Whatever I write always has the possibility of being true--at least to me--and to write down my reality is satisfying. The question of whether what I do is art or not. Sometimes I am intentionally creating art and sometimes I am just writing. The best writing comes out when I am not intentionally doing anything--in fact the best writing comes out when I don't know what I am doing or saying. But I think I like to write because it feels like someone is listening. It feels like what I am saying is not only true to me but true to others as well. In a way, I am a compulsive writer. I will write because it's a drive. Maybe I should stop. Sometimes I do. But when I stop writing, I read a lot and reading activates my imagination and soon I am writing again. Whatever I've been saying in the last couple pages, I'm not aiming at anything. I'm circling around the mood and the moment of my experience, gladly touching the borders and playing with the edges. Things are going to change.

For example, I am going to quit smoking. I bought a carton of cigarettes a week ago and it's almost done. I have one pack left. After smoking for two weeks straight, my verdict is I feel like shit. My body aches, my lungs can barely breathe, and I feel dirty. Worse I feel paranoid about being dirty. Maybe "paranoid" is too strong a word. I feel obsessive about cleanliness. I brush my teeth fifty times a day; I wash my hands twenty-five times a day. Right now my cat is sleeping and my notebook is resting on his midriff. The official time is 5:03 in the morning. I'm going to step outside for a cigarette, again and again, until I decide to go to bed. I will not go to bed until I am finished writing this. I'm back from smoking. I learned nothing new, only that I have to quit. Everyone has their own secret life. We all have minds which are islands--between those islands flow the rivers of our hearts, but the mind itself is lonely. Which is strange, because we retreat into our minds so often. We retreat into our thoughts, our ideas, our beliefs, and we find solace in them even though they are ridiculous. But there is safety in one's private mind, the thoughts of which no one can read. Because they are private entertainments of the self. If you have pets, then you known the comforts of having non-human company. The human-animal connection is unique, and for obvious reasons, animals are incredibly loved by humans. Ultimately, I think what we are stuck with is habit. Whatever habits you cultivate within your lifetime, those are the heavens and hells of your existence. Many habits fall between these two extremes and for that reason our lives are pretty mundane. Most of our habits are mundane in the everyday sense. We go to work, we eat meals, we tend to our homes and our families, we do chores. Perhaps that's why novelty is so interesting and stimulating. I seek novelty. If I am not seeking novelty in dramatic and bizarre ways, I am seeking novelty in the miniature sense. I do appreciate a well-ordered life, everything manageable and in its right place. This stems from the pure gratification of a sense of control. But as far as I can tell, control is something that most people try to exert over themselves and their environments.

My habits are deeply fulfilling mundane rituals that I carry out, such as going to Borders every morning to have my coffee and read the New York Times. To me, the New York Times is my mainstay to a normal, functioning adulthood. I am not saying the specific paper has the same magical affect on everyone. But for me reading the paper is very soothing and it reaffirms my sense of self. I admire the quality of the writing in the New York Times and I believe it improves my own writing. But there is something else about the ritual which stabilizes me. And yet, I seek novelty. Women provide men with an immediate burst of novelty and distraction. If you are ever bored, start a romantic relationship and you will find how interesting your life gets. But I believe that I ultimately retreat back into my own private mind, and that shared space between me and another person gradually lessens or dries up and dies. I believe in long-term relationships, I am cynical towards permanent ones. Right now I don't know where I am in terms of the opposite sex. Do I want to get married? Do I want to have children? Would I prefer to stay single? The opposite sex is delightful. Loving can also be a doorway to a higher potential for one's being, but in most cases, we are not mature in love for long enough. We stop loving and I cannot explain or understand that. Love gets degraded over time, diminished, and terribly distorted until it is not even love but something representing its opposite: hate. Now my cats are quiet. The heater has stopped humming and the only sound in the room is of my keys clicking. I think about my past life, my life in Spain and in Las Vegas. I think of the adventures I once had and now being here in this moment of early, untainted adulthood. I'm making the right choices now. Thank God. I am rational about things. I am aware of habit and how it has the power to lull me into a state of unconsciousness.

We grow ourselves. We grow our personalities and our behaviors. Like a garden, we grow ourselves--and once we were sick gardens but now we are growing healthier. Once we were patches of weeds over a dusty mound of dirt, but now we are seeking wholeness and fruit. We want to bear fruit. For ourselves, for others. We learn in time to survive, and even better, we learn to thrive. It is the unfortunate fact of being human that we are constantly working against ourselves. We like to be our own enemies. And I think it is better that we just accept this as a matter of fact, that we accept the demons inside of us which want to destroy us, even if that destruction is a slow-going poison. Because, ultimately, we must die and we know we must die. So the destructive force inside each one of us is familiar and close. We know the destructive side as much as we know the creative side. We know when we do good to ourselves and our bodies, and we know when we do bad. Good and bad are only relative to our own individual experiences. Doing wrong to others is doing wrong to oneself. But it is almost impossible to escape the cloud of unconsciousness that hovers over each one of us. And in an ironic display, we can see everyone else's flaws but not our own. It is like the inability to smell one's own scent. The smell is palpable to others, but not to yourself. I don't repress the mystery about myself; I form it. I also celebrate it. I have been called naive before, and after all, one of my blogs is called "The Blog of Innocence." We are all innocent in life. We are innocent to the radical mystery of it. No matter what we do, what errors we make, what horrors befall us, we are all human, we are all innocent. More essays . . .

Original essay here CRA 4/15/09

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