An uncontrollable pressure relief valve for the questionably sane.

Posts Tagged ‘literature

This Mortal Spaceship

with 2 comments

I used to dream of piloting  a spaceship.  I still do.  Wait, that’s not entirely correct–I dream of captaining a spaceship.  The pilot just drives, I want to be in charge.  I used to think it was only a childish dream,  but I realized I already own a spaceship.  I have a vessel, christened with a name, that carries me around this universe as well as it’s able.  And I don’t really own it either,  I didn’t even have to sign a lease, it was a gift, but I will have to give it back.  It doesn’t move as quickly as a spaceship does, but it’s locomotive just the same.   The best part is I don’t have to learn many new controls, I have the operations manual pretty well memorized, although there is still room for improvisation and new tricks.  Its preferred fuel is spicy chicken burritos with extra guacamole, which can sometimes be hard to find, but it can burn pretty much anything just like my backpacking stove.  In a way I have what I always wanted.

Our thinking surrounding travel and exploration hasn’t changed much since we first settled The Crescent, (by “Our” I mean us dirty humans).  We’ve continually branched out in multiple directions, spiraling from our homelands, settling again and creating a new epicenters  for a new set of spirals and settlements.  It’s an instinctual drive that keeps me on the search for new space vessels.  If I never get one I’ll be fine with the limitations of this model, but the drive to explore, to see farther and discover something yet unseen, keeps me in the market for bigger, faster, more impressive models.  And I don’t particularly understand the drive.  I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a drive to “nest” or be satisfied with a little inertia.  Alas nature has decreed otherwise.  I am human, and until I become something different entirely, I will always have the drive to explore just as I have a drive to eat.   But it’s not exactly like feeding oneself with food, is it?  The drive to explore has come in pretty handy, but it is not necessary.  In terms of tangible existence, I could eat, stay put, and survive until death.  Exploration doesn’t sustain me physically.  Not to say living in a hole and feeding myself until death is a viable option, but theoretically it’s possible.  A life without exploration of one’s surroundings and beyond won’t lead to death.  Not eating will kill you.  So, in this modern life how do we discern the difference between “drive” and “indulgence?”

But why the hell am I worrying about indulging myself?  Who cares?  I am not a selfish man.  And I can’t help but compare myself to the quaking masses of over-indulgers surrounding me; they’re quaffing from the font of life with wild abandon and I’m just trying to find a comfortable space.

I’ve never known exactly what to do with my life, and I don’t believe I’ll ever figure it out.  I believe everyone else feels the same way– some catch a wave, others eternally wait for the perfect set…which never comes.  I would rather catch a million less-than-perfect waves and have spent my life surfing, than to wait a lifetime in order to catch one perfect wave.  Or is it a zero-sum equation?  Does catching the perfect wave soften the pain of waiting all that time?  I personally find all the waiting painful, but I know it doesn’t have to be.   There are no perfect waves, just as there are no perfect people.  Much better to ride every wave you can while you have time, rather than watch them peel by as you sit and spectate.  I’m not advocating riding every person you meet, but take it as you will.   This personal philosophy is why I’ve never had much time for televised sports.  Not that I’m constantly out playing sports myself, but when I’m watching a game on TV I feel a little bit like I do when I’m on a beach watching the waves break and peel back into the surf, wanting to rush into them and make something happen.  All the spectating makes me anxious.

I haven’t stopped obsessing about the rat race, which is why I’m given to surfing analogies.  To me surfing represents personal freedom and unity with the power of the universe.  Bank accounts and advanced degrees become meaningless while riding a wave.  I’m losing my desire for material things.   I still have desires, but my desires center a bit more around experience these days than actual physical “wants.”  I don’t want a Ferrari like I used to.  I’d still love to drive a Ferrari, but I don’t covet luxury goods the way I did much earlier in my life.  I’m more interested in moments of peace, enjoyment, quiet contentment, sunshine, time with loved ones, all that sap.  It’s mostly because I’m tired.  I don’t think I have the energy to truly enjoy a Ferrari  anymore.  Not that I can’t get the energy back, but I feel like I need a space very different from the one I currently occupy, inner space and perspective notwithstanding.   I would prefer a life lived outside, with a cozy little space, no mortgage or car payment, no utility bills or credit cards.  Just dirt, sun, fresh air, and time to enjoy all three.  A natural life is hard to come by in the suburbs, no matter how often you cut the grass.

Eckhart Tolle labels a person like me a contemplative (many Hyperchristians consider Tolle a heretic and usurper of Christian dogma, but he’s alright by me).  He said there are a good handful of these types in the world, often they seek out alternative living situations or start small businesses in order to afford themselves a degree of independence from the stresses of our modern world.  I am definitely one of these people, but I’ve found myself living a life that feels incongruous with my spirit.  And I still don’t know how to match them up.  I don’t want to be overly wistful, or worse, corny, but I can’t escape the feelings and the only way to figure it out is to get it written down.

My current spaceship has a few years and many miles on it now, we’ve had a good run–with a little maintenance it should be good for countless voyages.  I just have to make sure the captain stays sane.


Moriarty the Mystic

leave a comment »

           “I had never dreamed Dean would become a mystic.”   – Jack Kerouac, On The Road

I think things started going downhill for me after I read that line.  It’s the best I can do to remember an exact moment, but reading that particular line in On The Road might just be my ground zero.  Everything afterwards changed, took a new course.  I read the book first in high school, and honestly didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about.  I was fifteen and desperately trying to find and read “cool” books–all the books you know your average public school English teacher loves but isn’t allowed to teach.  The stuff they read in their free time.  Books with lots of sex and cussing.  Anything subversive, although I had no idea what “subversive” meant as a fourteen-year-old.  I barely had a grasp on the mainstream so there wasn’t much to feel subversive towards.  The Beats are where most of us start, the cultural watershed moments of the pre-sixties revolutions.  The anti-suburbanites.  They seemed free, poetic, and masculine in a way that challenged conventional masculinity.  They seemed like Americans with a hefty dash of American Indian.  Burroughs and Ginsberg were queer, and supposedly the glue holding the three founding Beats together was a quiet and competitive lusting over Kerouac.  Not exactly the quintessential macho American males of the 1940s.

I’m not trying to give a synopsis of Beat culture, you can do that on your own time, and if you’re anything like me you’ll get it all squeezed in soon enough and move on to other things, reflecting on them periodically as a modern genesis for American literature that colors outside the lines.  There are more intelligent people out there breaking them down into little, analyzable, pieces.  I’m merely trying to trace back my own weirdness, I’ve often wondered when it all started, and I’m pretty sure it was with that line.  I’ve read thousands of books since, but that one line remains engraved in my memory.  I remember reading the book in my bed at home, 40-watt bulb glaring on the page as I lay in rapture with what I was certain was going to be a life-changing event.  Everyone cool had read this book, and I was about to be initiated.  After finishing the book I remember not feeling any different.   Some dudes on a road trip?  Big deal I thought.  I was only fifteen but had had enough angsty teenage experience to avoid being overly impressed.  Despite my internal whatevers I had never shacked up with a migrant worker in California, or driven into Mexico, or New York, or Colorado.  My boundaries were pretty much Gwinnett County.  But I was infatuated with the idea that Dean Moriarty was a mystic.  What exactly was a mystic? And how did he get to be one?  Over the years I’ve  re-read the book a few times, and honestly my memory doesn’t seem to hang on to it the way it does with other literature.   I read it, enjoy it in the moment, put it down, and forget it.  Only the major details and maybe a few minor ones stick out.  Everything else is kind of a blurry back-splash,  like watching the world go by through a car window.

As a teenager I never spent much time figuring out what a mystic was.  At that point in my life I think I considered the Mystics in The Dark Crystal, the old, dwarfy, meditating ape-lizards that raised the boy-gelfling-hero.  I believe they were basically Jim Henson’s take on Buddhist monks of some sort:  the good guys, the earth bound aescetics in pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.  And honestly, that’s about as sincere an image as was necessary.  Moriarity didn’t seem anything like a monk.  But there are similarities if you compare the two:  unconventional, life-loving, spiritual, nomadic.  A good enough comparison for me at the time.  Retrospectively, much of my adult life has been spent casually researching different “spiritual” teachers.  No flakes please!

It was more the idea that Mystics existed, or exist, somewhere in the world that affected me.  Where were they?  Certainly nowhere near my middle-class subdivision, at least not that I could see.  Bringing this kind of stuff up only got a room full of rolling eyes from the adults I knew.  They knew I’d eventually grow up and get a job and stop thinking about all this fantastic garbage.  But I haven’t.  Not for a second.  I’ve met a lot of quacks, a true Mystic doesn’t advertise conventionally.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I had any idea what Kerouac was talking about.  Dean wasn’t a monk, or a messiah, or a religious anything;  he was intoxicated on life.  And many, many other substances certainly, most notably benzedrine, which ultimately caused the real-life Moriarty, Neal Cassady, to die at forty-two while wandering on railroad tracks in Mexico.  But drugs are not the issue here, they’re merely a small component of the larger idea.  Dean represented freedom, and the idea of individual liberty and the American road were forever merged.  The idea existed before, but popular (maybe “underground” would be more appropriate, but it’s mainstream now, right?)  culture now had an accessible anti-hero based on a real person.  All the names were changed in the book, and it was technically a work of fiction, but it was close enough to reality that it drastically affected the consciousness of the reading public.

So here was this dude, just this regular guy who was broke, unethical, jobless, and couldn’t sit still.  “Bum” comes to mind, but instead he’s labeled “mystic” by a successful writer.  He knew something, had something figured out, or maybe he just didn’t care.  And contemplating this throughout the course of my life has caused me a lot of heartache.  Never quite being able to figure out which circle I’m supposed to dance in.  One foot in, one foot out, trying to force a rythym between the two and failing miserably.  Knowing there are mystics out there but never being able to find them.  Or be them.  Maybe the mystic is in me. It’s certainly in there somewhere, but he’s all chained up and I lost the key. So how do I release him?