“Droll thing life is — that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of inextinguishable regrets.”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
At least one reader finds these musings I post here a window into a tortured soul. For me, there is no torture involved. When I write I experience a kind of peace as I sort things out, comb through things that may be hard for me to understand or digest. Taking enjoyment or some kind of sustenance from this kind of contemplation is, no doubt, an acquired taste. A friend recently told somebody he’d rather die than be forced to grapple with his innermost thoughts on a page. Me, I’d rather grapple with my innermost thoughts on a page than die. Just me, though.
My friend’s comment got me wondering. What am I actually trying to accomplish by writing things here? I don’t promote myself; I put my late beloved cat’s name as the author of these pieces. I don’t compile them and send them for publication somewhere that might pay me for this work. I am not connecting myself to a network of like-minded souls. What the hell am I doing here?
I realized the other day what might be at work, at least in part. An arguably unreasonable belief in the power of Reason to shine a light on an often irrational world. Seeing intolerable things, like a political party willing to de-fund the government and hold a nation hostage to an ideological demand while spending billions on a secret torture program, trillions invading countries that pose no threat to the U.S., murdering on a vast scale in the name of old saws like “freedom” and “democracy”, I feel I need to somehow put things in perspective, articulate my position. The powerlessness one feels can be overwhelming. So I put my best arguments for that puckish abstraction Reason here.
That the world is not run by the wise, or even the reasonable, is clear. In the realm of our personal choices, and in the face of the irrationality of human society, we strive to be smart, to learn from mistakes, to not repeat the unpondered lessons of our personal history. The most painful feeling is finding oneself in the same situation over and over, what a brilliant maniac friend tagged as the Repetition Compulsion. It is easier to see in others than in ourselves– doing the same thing over and over: trusting, helping, attacking, saying too much, too little — and finding oneself in the same regrettable place.
In my case, I was raised by fearful adversaries. Before I had any say in the matter, I was cast as a dangerous opponent. Puts one on ticklish footing, being cast this way as a child. After more than 40 years of battles to the death a dying father says “I deeply regret having been so impaired all my life and taking it out on you and your sister. You were right to try to reach out to me, as you valiantly did for many years; I was wrong to keep myself out of reach. I was afraid my whole life, seeing the world as black and white, and I see now how impoverished my life was by not fighting that fear.” You can’ t make this kind of shit up. The echoes of these painful disconnections reverberate through one’s life, influence our behavior, set our course in life.
So I use the time here to muse, to ponder, to make myself clear, to myself as much as to any reader. There is probably a line between “therapy” and “art”, I don’t know where it is. The tools I have are my willingness to muse and my practiced desire to express myself as clearly as possible. What these things are worth, I cannot say. They have always been with me and no doubt developed as I struggled to make sense of the senselessness I came up in, to become the capable parent I never had.
It has been shrewdly pointed out that work is the curse of the drinking class. If we do not work, and we do not drink, what is left, how do we spend our time here? If we work but receive no payment, what is our work worth? These are questions one does not often think to even ask, unless one neither works for pay, nor drinks. Work is the greatest and most universally embraced form of therapy there is– it takes up most of one’s time, sets a schedule, provides clear reasons for action and regular, tangible rewards. including a paycheck. Work allows one to prioritize things in an easily understandable way that makes perfect sense. Work first, play later. Work hard, play hard. If you work hard it is important to play hard, and one earns the right to do so.
Hard work gives meaning to life, a sense of accomplishment, a certain status. On a societal level, lack of meaningful, remunerative work is a main reason countries with massive unemployment, like L. Paul Bremmer’s Iraq, become powder kegs– men with guns and no jobs, no prospects for accomplishment except for raging against those who keep them from the dignity of a life of productive work.
Is it unreasonable to believe it’s possible to think one’s way out of a painful cul de sac? I don’t know. I only know it is worse to be in a bad situation without hope of an exit. We dream of a way out, we conceive of it, design it, take our best steps toward creating it — all better things than staring at a wall and seeing only our confinement.