After this…

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Returning from the land of Pessoa some weeks ago, and now as I think about inertia and the desire to do anything/nothing, I can only borrow his words:

“From any trip, even a short one, I return as from a slumber full of dreams – in a dazed confusion, with one sensation stuck to another, drunk from what I saw. I can’t rest because my soul’s not well. I can’t move because something’s not right between my body and soul. What I lack isn’t mobility but the very desire to move.”

It’s always the statement, the promise – to oneself or to others – that “after this, I will do this…” or “once this is complete, things will go back to normal”. Is this just self-deception?

I crash into this promise again and again but have learned never to believe it. Usually, the chaos is the norm, and only in subsiding or disappearing would things feel abnormal. I don’t know if this approach is optimism or excuse-making. Either way, it’s not really my style, that is, being so out of touch with myself, my life and its patterns that I fool myself and others into thinking that things will be drastically different at some unknown point in the future “when things calm down”. Some people are not meant for calm, and they never will be.

I am not one of those people, even if I, too, find myself making excuses – as we all do. Some excuses more damaging than others. I reread Pessoa’s words, which he applies to returning from a short trip, but which could be any situation that feels like a “slumber full of dreams”. Initially it made me think of a moment in recent time, how someone else must have felt. Thinking that I could put words to or start to understand his confusion comforted me. Weeks later, I thought, though, that this was not entirely new to me: years and years earlier, the roles were reversed, and I was the confused one.

Even decades after a moment like that occurs, followed by the “dazed confusion”, the memory of the excuses that inevitably accompany the ‘aftermath’ sticks with me. Almost 20 years ago, a confessional evening spent with a friend, candlelight in a terrible storm: the moment, the evening, was “one sensation stuck to another”, sort of drunk from being caught up in the experience, in being enveloped completely by that immediate moment. But returning to reality from it, the very desire to move robbed from me – a swirl of conflicting emotion – including a kind of love and admiration for her, a guilty desire not to hurt her, but a much stronger feeling of needing to start concocting excuses for why this would never work.

In Gabor Maté’s book on addiction, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he writes: “if you want to find liberation in your commitments, your word needs to be freely given or not given at all. Don’t make promises to reform out of a sense of duty or to appease someone else. If you don’t know how to say no to other people’s expectations, howsoever well meant or valid those may be, your yes has no authenticity. This is what I have learned.” This applies not just to addicts but to everyone, myself included.

In trying not to disappoint people or making ourselves appear superhuman, to be all things to all people, most of us overpromise and underdeliver. But shouldn’t we be striving to make promises (not to reform, in the case of the addict of the quote) that we freely commit to keep? The expectations of others can weigh heavy, but that inadvertent and slippery giving of false hope that making empty promises creates weighs much heavier and hurts more in the long run – for everyone involved. Perhaps, though, it is that people are unable to be honest with themselves (maybe it’s where the optimism comes in: “we’re doing our best” and “maybe things will change”).

“He who cares least wins.”

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We talked for four hours straight – totally unexpectedly and probably with no intention of speaking that long. Neither of us had the time or wherewithal to manage, but we did it anyway. I heard a lot of fascinating things in that conversation and got some food for thought in addition to finding reason to worry. He had just endured a major and expensive disappointment and a pile of bureaucratic shit shoveled at him, so I think the whole purpose was just to vent. But it ended up being about everything: Japan, Rambo, emotional and physical abuse, China, Africa, Iran, Libya, Lockerbie, chain of command, whether life matters, whether politics matters, Machiavelli, James Spader, the value of therapy, identity crises and unfortunate events unfolding one after another, doing what is ‘right’, sociopathy, cars, morality, comedy, winning and… well, everything.

He told me he had asked a colleague what advice he gives his kids about the world:

“How do you prepare them for THIS?”
“I tell them everyone is full of shit. Everyone. Even them.”

He told me about the total BS and bureaucracy of his work. When he cared, of course he got shafted time and again. When he stopped caring at all and decided to just milk it for all it was worth, naturally they did not know what to do with him:

“You guys have already bent me over the table enough times and fucked me. You didn’t foresee that I have really big balls and I just don’t care. I’m gonna do what’s right.”

Somehow in all the hours of talk, the conclusion is the same: neither one of us cares. He cares even less than I do – there is a part of me that still invests and hopes. But not him. What is there to get all agitated and worked up over? What is there to be fearful of? It’s all entertainment leading to inevitable death, and in some ways, as we concluded in discussing humanity, all humans are just beads on an abacus. They don’t matter except in tallying results.

Photo (c) 2011 Toshiyuki IMAI

Extremely Disappointed: Tout de Suite

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Why is it that we place outsized expectations on things that only feel like they portend something amazing – but forgo the things we know will be amazing? You know, bundled up in hope, we impetuously run off to faraway cities, skipping seeing our beloved, warm and supportive friends there, for the remote promise of something else? Are we addicted to the almost inevitable disappointment?

As a near and dear darling said, the disappointment of whatever we tried to do is only the first layer of disappointment – the even bigger layer comes later – the disappointment in ourselves because we “Should Have Known Better By Now”. Oh, she is so, so right (right down to the all-important capitalization). We DO know better, but as she goes on to ponder: what is life, though, without hope? And I say, “Yes, you never know.” That’s why we keep beating our heads against a wall, repeating likely failures (insanity): we never know. We know better, but we never know at the same time. A fleeting chance exists that hope will lead us to something transcendent or real, even if ephemeral.

We do it, against better judgment, because we need to feel alive. As she said, to shake things up, to shake herself up. Maybe just going on a vacation would accomplish this, but sometimes we need a deeper shake. What, more than disappointment, makes us feel more alive (even if it briefly makes us wallow in wishing we weren’t)? We are almost certain before we even embark on these ‘adventures’ that they will yield visceral, howling disappointment accompanied by a self-walloping chastisement. But the hope! It might not disappoint at all. It might turn us around, lift us up, restore our faith!

Or not…

On Hope – Sándor Petőfi
Man, what is hope? …a horrifying whore
Who doles to everyone the same embrace.
You waste on her your most precious possession:
Your youth, and then she leaves without a trace!