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Guys, I Just Discovered Something! Diversity is GOOD!

In Epiphanies on October 27, 2009 at 8:41 pm

I am actively appreciative that there are people who see the world differently than me. This is weird.

This was something that really struck me two weekend’s ago at Portland’s regional Burning Man event. There I was, surrounded by bright lights, mechanized spider monsters, circus stuff, and lots of things on fire. It was all awesome, and most of it not stuff that would have ever occurred to me. A fair amount of it was stuff that wasn’t entirely to my taste, but I was glad it was there anyhow, adding to the general weirdness and eclecticism of it all. I wouldn’t want to live in the glowy/happy/hippy world that is Burningmanland, but I’m glad it’s there. I really am glad that there are whacked out hippies who sing heartfelt acoustic songs about love and shit, even though I make fun of it and don’t claim identification to that sort of “tribe.”

This, to borrow a well-worn phrase, kind of blows my mind.

When I think about ideas, I usually think about them as potential universals. I think killing is bad, so I want everyone to act accordingly. I think evolution is very, very real, so those who disagree are delusional. When I think about ideas and values, I usually think things that should work all of the time. You know, Kant type stuff.

This is not true of aesthetics or cultural tastes, though. Not only do I tolerate things that are totally unrelated to my personal set of aesthetics, but I actively like the existence of things that have nothing to do with my artistic preferences. This seems really bizarre to me, and also kind of profoundly awesome.

I’m trying to imagine the world if it wholly conformed to my aesthetic principals. It’s hard to do. I’m imagining everyone wearing black and listening to Joy Division. Also, there is a lot of sushi. I’m sure there would be more to it than that, but I know that the artistic diversity that I enjoy is dependent on the nonuniversality of Joe. That’s humbling. If I want there to be neat shit to gawk at, I have to accede to the fact that my principals will not and should not always carry the day. The freaks from Burningmanland should also be doing their thing, for instance.

How strange. How unsettling and liberating to admit that one need not always be right, that there is a realm of experience and ideas wherein subjectivity is entirely okay. How wonderful.

More Than Non-Negative

In Epiphanies on October 26, 2009 at 11:08 am

This post is long, personal, and perhaps with time could be better developed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I know I’ll return to this theme again.

In a recent Daily Show interview, Barbara Ehrenreich said “I am always opposed to delusion.” Even, she emphasized, when the truth was more painful. The audience clapped, and I greatly identified with this sentiment. I do not like deception. I don’t like it when others try to deceive others, or when people try to lie to themselves. Ignoring what is true make me very uncomfortable, and oftentimes has led me to cultivate a segment of myself that is founded in negativity. This contrarian personality-bit has often been prominent, wanting mainly to destroy deception but, troublingly, not wanting to replace it with something positive.

Being a contrarian, being one who points the finger at bullshit, hypocrisy, and delusion is in many ways only a beginning. One only has to say “There it is!” or “I see some over there,” and merely identify bullshit, drag it into the proverbial Harsh Light of Day and congratulate oneself on a Job Well Done. Moreover, the contrarian can utilize her emotions of reaction and disdain, can say to herself “my hatred of delusion and desire for intellectual purity is useful.” The contrarian imagines herself as a bristling guard dog, a vigilant protector and herald of truth. The urge to destroy and tear down seems like an asset, even like something that should be cultivated.

The problem with this, though, is that one may turn into a mere naysayer, one who destroys but never creates. My images of this are Christopher Hitchen and Penn Jillette, two men whom I consider immensely amusing and occasionally stimulating, but whose ideologies seem ultimately unfulfilling. Regardless of their probable complexities, they seem to be mere corpulent destroyers, bellowing overgrown juveniles who put the highest value on smug destruction and another glass of scotch.

In addition, having a standpoint of pure reaction leaves one with the unrewarding feeling that one may be a bit of a coward. If all you do is attack and jeer, you are in an unassailable position. What do you believe? What are you for? That’s unknown. That can only be inferred by your arguments against things. If you have not bothered to erect any kind of real position for yourself, you know, at the back of your mind, that you are acting in a risk-averse way. Such behavior patterns invite self-doubt and regret.

Irony, cynicism, and reaction will only take you so far. They are useful tools, and may be a bit too much fun to use. Ultimately, one will be left only with the corpses of dead delusions, and not much in the way of real value surrounding oneself. “What did I do? What did I achieve?” One must be positive, constructive. Merely being non-negative is not existentially satisfying. Irony, beautiful blade that it is, is a poor building tool. Sincerity must be let it. For ultimate satisfaction, one must, include, and create and experience the opposite of the contrarian’s prevailing emotions.

Recent activities that I’ve found most fulfilling have been those that are non-ironic. I prospered most in Japan when I allowed myself to be inundated with the ambient sincerity of the landscape and traveled with what I hope was a minimum amount of judgment. More recently, I attended Burning Man and was in a Flaming Lips video. These are activities that could have invited some ridicule, but are rewarding and awesome precisely because of the verve and unabashed sincerity that pervaded the proceedings. I feel much the same way about writing.

The problem is, once you invite sincerity into the room, self-doubt comes with it. You may very well produce or do things that invite irony-laced criticism. Also, being in favor of construction, inclusion, and creativity means that you will have to share a certain amount of space with hokum. Not everything created or fervently felt will be worthwhile. There will be waste and error, precisely of the sort that one who is formerly so contrarian will be tempted to bark and snarl at. Spirituality, conspiracy theories, and baseless emotions will be impossible to entirely weed out from the conversation- indeed, the former cynic might find herself espousing some of those things in moments of weakness or nonlucidity. I found plenty of these during my recent hippie-flavored wanderings, and had to remind myself that these things were the byproducts of what were largely worthwhile experiences. Indeed, quelling the urge to bristle and argue made the experience more rewarding.

Another problem is the worry that with all your newfound sincerity, you’ll become the prey of some other contrarian, some other wolf just looking to sink her acquisitive teeth into someone who’s gone soft. The newly sincere find themselves wondering whether they will suddenly be on the wrong side of truth, find themselves playing with delusion, fancies, and hypocrisy and will have to bare their throat in shame after some other critic reveals their inconsistency and surrender to unreason.

This will happen.

Anyone who attempts to be constructive, to be creative and positive, will find themselves straying somewhere where they are not rational, where they do indeed lie to themselves and others. When some other predator does find the wayward, does bring them back down to earth, though, it should not be viewed as a defeat. Instead, the quarry should look to her pursuer and say “Thank you. Thank you for keeping me honest, for bringing me back to what I know are my true values. The flight into momentary delusion was a necessary risk of the creative process, however.”

Having trained oneself to point a finger at bullshit, to shout down hypocrisy, inconsistency, and deception, it takes a certain amount of discipline to stay in constructive, creative mode. The urge to call out the idiotic or unrealistic for what it is must be suppressed a little, and that small amount of restraint can be a niggling worry at the back of the former contrarian’s mind. There is an urge, a strong urge, to wipe the field of play as utterly clean, completely free of hypocrisy and delusion. The cynic can often think of the truth as a sort of absence, a blank, white desert where no sort of bullshit can grow. Pure and apprehendible, objective and unmistakable, but such a landscape allows for nothing at all.

As bleak as this sounds, though, I prefer going from negativity to sincerity, rather than the other way around. Instead of being a jaded former romantic who gradually has lost his illusions, I like coming from a standpoint where (for the most part) my negativity has learned to accommodate the positive. This has been a process of growth and loosening rather than losing illusions. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I have gotten more positive, not less. This seems to be the opposite of the conventional wisdom, of young idealists having their visions crushed and becoming jaded cynics. There has been some of that, too, but for the most part I’ve found myself to tolerate the purely positive, which, in the end, is rewarding.

It is worth remembering that sincerity is not an inflexible master, that opinions and theses may be revised in the face of new evidence. Heartfelt belief in an error does not mean that one may not fix that error, nor that one’s decision-making capabilities are fundamentally flawed. With this in mind, one’s unabandoned contrarian mindset may be used as a kind of error correction mechanism with regards to whatever one is sincerely constructing. Irony and its attendant tools will not be used to create a flat, pure field of nondelusion, but rather as pruning shears of sorts, tools to make something positive prosper.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Horror Movies

In Epiphanies, Horror, Music on October 14, 2009 at 9:56 pm

As I write this, I’m listening to Manowar. It is not what I would typically call “good” music, but I’m enjoying it so I guess that counts for something. I’ve been listening to metal all evening. Earlier this week I re-watched From Dusk Till Dawn, which is not what I could call a “good” movie, but I enjoyed it a lot so I guess that counts for something. Both the Rodriguez movie in question, and lots of splashy metal, belong to a genre of camp that I thoroughly enjoy, and have historically had trouble enjoying.

My basic thought process (or lack thereof) was that an entirely well-adjusted person would not find any enjoyment in things like gore, spikes, vampires, zombies, blood splatters, dismemberment, werewolves, monsters, slashers, etc. I worried not so much that horror movies, etc. would turn me into a psychopath, but that my fandom of such a genre betrayed some inner werewolfian nastiness. (I think the term “guilty pleasure” is a bit overused, but in my case my enjoyment of this stuff really was steeped in guilt.) If I was such a good guy, why was I smiling at all of the guns and blood?

It is worth noting that if stuff like splatter movies and heavy metal actually did earnestly portray violence, gore, and death, then they really wouldn’t be that much fun, would they? And, when I do see honest, real depictions of violence, I do get kind of queasy. You know that famous picture of a guy executing a Viet Cong? That picture is honestly and horribly terrifying. Watching George Clooney and Harvey Keitel blast the shit out of vampires, though, is my idea of a “romp.” When just enough of the edges are off, when it gets a little “safer,” this kind of thing seems kind of fun.

In the end, though, I can’t completely explain it and just have to accept that I know for a fact that I’m a pretty good guy. I also know that I like watching the undead explode. Thus far, wringing my hands over the matter hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I might as well just acquiesce to enjoying what I occasionally do and tell the guilt to take its business elsewhere.

So: Fuck it. I’m through with making guilt-ridden judgments or having reservations about my own enjoyment about campy, cathartic, fun portrayals violence. I enjoyed every bit of watching Clooney & Co. blast vampires into bloody smithereens, and right now I’m enjoying obnoxious, shouty music without a shred of guilt. Halloween is coming up, and I know I’ll be in the mood for horror movies aplenty, soon.

If you don’t like it- fine. I have headphones.

"There is Grandeur in This View of Life."

In Atheism, Epiphanies, Religion on October 10, 2009 at 6:13 pm

I just saw Richard Dawkins speak. Pardon me, but I’m feeling inspired. I enjoy being an atheist, and am happy because of it. A few reasons why:

No external divine benediction is necessary for things to be beautiful, meaningful, of value. Being an atheist, I know that I must make my own way in the world, that I must pursue what I find rewarding, what makes me happy, what is good. No other force will deliver this. No god, angel or saint will come to my, or anyone else’s, aide and therefore I know that I must be active in my pursuit for satisfaction in life. The only life that I’ll ever have, wherein I know it is my duty to make it as good as possible.

Likewise, I know that things are wonderful not because hint at something larger or divine. They are wonderful because they are. Sunsets and reddening clouds need not be orchestrated by god to be beautiful. Beauty, in absence of director or agency, simply is. It springs up and presents itself out of literally the basic building blocks of the universe. With the intercession of absolutely nothing, the world is supremely amazing.

When I look at another human being, I know that I’m looking at one of the most complex phenomena that exists in the universe, a system like myself that contains depths and wonder. We are complicated. We are amazingly and wonderfully fascinating and beautiful, and it is intrinsic. If we attribute our higher emotions and impulses to the divine, we sell ourselves short. By saying “all good comes from God,” we severely discredit ourselves. Human beings are wellsprings of empathy, creativity, love and compassion. We are authors of profound goodness. No divine being interceded and to create the love between you and your family and friends. No angel is overseeing the connections so many make on a daily basis. That comes, entirely, from ourselves, and for that we should be joyful.

To those who say that such a view of the world is “mechanistic” I’d reply- what a glorious mechanism it is. How wonderful and amazing it is that such a mechanism, the universe, exists at all, and has managed to produce life, intelligence, and and wonderful phenomena all by itself. It is a “mechanism,” yes, and it is precisely because of that that we exist at all. It is precisely because of the mechanistic achievements of the cosmos that we have stars, planets, life, multicellular organisms, intelligence, and creativity. It is precisely because things are mechanistic- regular, predictable, systematic- that we have evolved here in all of our functional complexity. That mechanistic view of life itself, of the world itself, should not be dismissed as cold. Instead, we should see the system of the world for what it is, a glorious set of machinery so amazing that it encompasses love, humanity, and the whole spectrum of who we are.

It is all there is, and it is enough.

October: It’s Neat!

In Epiphanies on October 5, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Tonight I saw the huge, yellow moon low on the horizon and thought that yes, October is precisely the time when you expect to see such a gigantic moon, even though, really, you should be able to see them every month. There it was though, illusionarily large and round and bright and autumnal and I was happy to see and feel my absolute favorite time of year, all around.

I like October a lot. Of course, I’m biased since I was born in this month. I sort of like it by default. There are plenty of other reasons, though. This is the time when all of the leaves turn things get windy. You can now, if you want, wear a jacket. Or just a t-shirt. If you want to bust out a scarf at night, that’s perfectly alright. It’s a kind of equilibrium weather, warm and cool and windy and calm all at the same time so you can take your pick as to how you react.

There’s cider. Cider coming out of taps and in bottles that advertise the season, cider in heavy glasses on heavy wooden tables that are, indeed, around all year but seem at home in what is now unmistakably autumn.

In stores all kinds of nasty things are suddenly acceptable- toys and accessories that feature the weird and grotesque are no longer in contravention of social norms. For a bit everyone, a little, admits that they really do like the dark. They really do like, a little, things that are not exactly positive. It’s suddenly okay to revel in the strange, to enjoy the sight of blood and flesh, to admit that things that excite us and scare us are often the same. Horror movies and tubes of fake blood are consumed in record amounts, and if we are going to know anxiety and fear, at least we should have some fun with it and make sport of our own racing hearts.

Piles of leaves flurry all over the place in patterns and whorls that allow you to “see” the wind in a matter of fashion, and the really big storms that shake the trees and snap off branches start up. This is significant weather. This is not passive or monochromatic- this is not boring or endless. These winds are intent on changing the environment, bringing things down and snapping pieces of the world apart. They will make themselves heard and their presence known, and for that I respect them even if they are troublesome, because part of me prefers dynamism and action to peace unpunctuated.

Everyone gets creative. “What are you going to be for Halloween?” Ideas and hypotheticals are tossed around freely, projects are embarked on and things contrived, built, and shown off. There are parties. Often several. Portland is bedecked with advertisements for haunted venues, and I should take in at least one. This month people build personal contraptions of weird, display their own craftiness to an extent unshown otherwise, flourish their arms and say “look what I made!” (It is for this reason that my birthday party has a fanciful theme.)

October, though, seems to have this sort of balance about it. Equilibrium between the year’s other extremes and excesses. It is not summer, not winter, not cold, not hot, not anything that is somehow immoderate. It is all of those things, open to interpretation, democratic. It is transitory and therefore all encompassing (maybe I’m imagining that) and the month that I continue to love the most.

On Roman Polanski

In Epiphanies, Movies on September 28, 2009 at 10:58 am

I like Yukio Mishima. Confessions of a Mask is a great book about alienation and isolation in the face of societal expectations. I like Yukio Mishima despite the fact that he held deplorable, racist, nationalistic opinions. Moreover, he ended his life by first kidnapping the commandant of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and then killing himself in a grisly ritual. Yukio Mishima was a hideous, awful person. A horrible man, and eventually a criminal. This does not mean one may not read and enjoy his books. What this does mean though, is that he has to be read with a certain amount of conscious criticism. “This interesting work of neatness,” one must recall, “was written by a horrible, whacked-out lunatic.”

This isn’t just limited to individual artists. Most of the very shiny wonders of the world are the result of rather nasty absolute dictators doing fairly awful shit. The terra-cotta warriors in Xi’an, China, for instance, were basically a vanity project for a monarch. Qin Shi Huang decided that he wanted a fancy tomb, and poured an unreasonable amount of China’s budget into making a work of art that only his corpse was going to be able to enjoy. He so infuriated people with his monument to himself that after he was dead the place was burned to the ground out of (deserved) spite.

Think about it: One of the most iconic pieces of archaeology in the world started as a an act of extreme hubris, arrogance, self-aggrandizement and waste. And now it’s a well-visited UNESCO site. Think about the pyramids. Slave labor. The Parthenon. I doubt that Pericles was a union-friendly OSHA-following kind of guy. These are great works of culture and art that were also awful wastes of life, and we need to acknowledge that.

Which brings me to Roman Polanski. Here we have more good art from a bad place. If I had to summarize my opinions about the guy, they would basically be “Fuck Roman Polanski.” Allow me, though, to expand…

Roman Polanski drugged a thirteen year old girl alcohol and quaaludes and then raped her. There were witnesses, and he pleaded guilty to precisely this. Later on, he evaded the authorities and attempted to dodge the punishment that society would mete out on any similar rapist. He also makes pretty good movies. So good, that lots of people are embarrassing themselves by sympathizing with him.

The question is- can one watch his movies without guilt? Does watching, and praising, Polanski’s movies make the viewer a party to rape of a thirteen-year-old girl? If you like his movies, does that put you on “his side?” I’d say “mostly no.” Lots of people, like Nicholas Sarkozy, seem to be thinking “Oh, I like his movies, so therefore I’m in favor of clemency for this guy.” This line of thought is unnecessary and unfortunate.

First- If you try to limit your consumption of art and media to only stuff that was made by morally enlightened people, you will have a hard time of finding anything to fill your brain with. Sean Connery thinks its okay to hit women. He’s been quoted as much. Are you going to stop watching James Bond movies? Are you going to never watch Last Crusade again? Didn’t think so. You do have to separate yourself from the art, and recognize that deplorable, awful bastards can be capable of making things that are neato.

Second- I would posit, though, that since Polanski committed an extremely serious criminal act and has subsequently evaded justice, it is okay to watch his movies, but not to pay for them. Moreover, the world would do well to not burnish his reputation by throwing awards at him. I’m kind of reminded of Pete Rose, even though I don’t like baseball very much. Pete Rose bet on his own team to win, which I always thought wasn’t that bad a thing to do, and was shut out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Polanski raped a girl and got an Oscar. Even though I think that MLB erred on the side of harshness, they’ve got the moral edge over Hollywood in this comparison. If a guy doesn’t follow the rules, he doesn’t get the accolades.

In the meantime, I think that it’s perfectly acceptable to download Polanski’s movies and watch them without paying for them. If anything, I think that’s how the viewer can absolve themselves while watching them. Once he’s dead, though, feel free to pay for the things.

Third- Film is a collaborative art. I do admit that I want to see Chinatown, but it’s not just a Roman Polanski movie. It’s also a Jack Nicholson movie. The finished products contain the creative efforts of lots of people. Polanski was just the guiding force of all that creativity and work, and even though you are watching his stuff when you watch one of his movies, you are also watching the work of the writers, cinematographers, actors, editors, and guys who work the lights. One or two of them were probably alright dudes.

But, with all of that out of the way, the man should be in jail. Oscars are not reasons for clemency, and I believe that liberal, democratic, rule-of-law societies would do well to punish child rapists, be they famous or obscure. The victim has asked for the charges to be dropped, but mainly because she’s tired of the press attention. I can understand, really. If I’d spent the past thirty years best known as a victim, I’d want it all to go away, too.

But, when it comes to violent crimes like this it’s not up to private citizens to decide that everything’s okay. I like living in a society where rapists will most certainly go to jail. His awfulness does not change the status of his art. We can still admire, the terra-cotta warriors, the pyramids, the Parthenon, etc. However, we must acknowledge their bloody origins, and not fool ourselves as to how they came to be. Likewise, one may read a Mishima book or watch a Connery movie and know that the art came from someone who, really, was an awful sort, but who managed to occasionally spurt wonderful things into the world.

So, one may watch Polanski’s movies without being an apologist for the man. Hopefully, viewers will be watching them, though, while he only gazes at the walls of a cell.

The Joy of Lacunae

In Epiphanies on August 6, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Late last year, I thought to myself, “You know, I really should watch the original Dracula.” This thought came pretty much out of nowhere, but I acted on it. Short review: Dracula is pretty good, except for the guy who plays Johnathan Harker. He sucks. Other than that, give it a watch.

One of the things that bothered me prior to watching it was that I was familiar with so many of Dracula‘s peripherals: Bela Lugosi in the cape, the accent, the one-liner “I don’t drink… wine.” I had read the book twice, but so much pop culture ephemera and effluvia (from Count Chocula to Anne Rice) has been influenced by the movie that I felt like I had this glaring, weird hole in my pop-culture education. So I watched it, patched up that hole, and saw where so many of the cliches come from. It felt good to do, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time filling these gaps, these lacunae, in my knowledge/experience base.

New things are easy to experience. Friends may want to go see a new movies with you, or recommend a new book. There will be plenty of buzz about a current television show, but not much about one that has passed. Older things you have be cognizant about, you have to seek out. I’ve been doing just that, and it’s fun.

For example: I recently read A Brief History of Time. The book, the title, the cover, the personage of Stephen Hawking are all instantly recognizable. It’s an icon. (That said, I think that most people would probably be at a loss to explain what the books about. Maybe they’d say “black holes” or something to that effect.) I enjoyed reading A Brief History not only because it’s a well written survey of astrophysics, but also because I was conscious of the fact that I was digging into an icon while I was reading it. Going into something whose peripherals, image, influences, and cultural place you already know is weirdly satisfying. All of the ornamentation and latticework around the book was already apparent to me, but it was ornamentation that stood on air. Reading Hawking’s book filled that in, provided a core to a cultural construct that I was already familiar with. Seeing the contours of popular culture fill out and define themselves before your eyes is a particular kind of “ah-ha!” moment.

The downside of this, though, is that once you start thinking about all of the holes in your cultural repertoire, you get into a dilemma articulated by everyone’s favorite pederast, Socrates. “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing,” said the bearded kiddie-fiddler. Socrates was exaggerating a little, but was expressing the frustration of trying to be a generalist. He was a really smart guy, but he realized that he couldn’t actually be an expert on, or know, everything. I’m not given over to to such emo-laden statements (or pedophilia) as Plato’s tutor, but I can share his feeling. Trying to be well-read, as it were, can be frustrating.

Another example: I also read Notes From Underground a while ago, and was happy to do so. This was a seminal work of existentialism and while I’m a big Camus and Sartre fan, Underground has slipped by me. It was okay, but that’s beside the point. Reading it, though, alerted me to the fact that there are huge tracts of Russian literature with which I’m unfamiliar. I don’t think it’s fair to say that I’ve “read” Dostoyevsky, given that I’ve only read one of his books.

Similarly, at the end of A Brief History of Time, Hawking has something of a lament about the distribution of knowledge in the modern world. When a Grand Unified Theory of physics is finally articulated, he says, there will probably be perhaps a dozen people in the world who completely understand and appreciate it. That, he says, demonstrates how wonderfully powerful and knowledgable specialists are, but it also demostrates the difficulty of being a Renaissance man/woman. Back in Newton’s time, says Hawking, intellectuals were expected to be conversant in a variety of topics, from mathematics to literature to biology to ethics. (To be sure, this is probably an idealized version, but let’s go with it.) That’s not the case anymore. Being really, really good at something is what get’s you places. There is no place for generalists.

(At this point, I’m getting a little self-conscious about the high-falutin’ nature of my examples, so I’ll give another: Half Life. I hadn’t played through the Half Life games until recently. I loved them as objects in and of themselves, but was also aware that I was finally getting around to experiencing a key bit of geek iconography. Back to the matter at hand…)

At the crowded, dusty bookstore where I used to work, though, I derived no small amount of joy form the stacks and piles of tomes all around me. There are too many books here to ever read, I thought, and new ones are popping out all the time. Every day. I will be reading, finding things out, until I’m dead. That’s a wonderful thing to realize. The “ah-ha!” moment, the feeling of epiphany and satori, that is the goal. I adore understanding things, but when it comes to knowledge and experience, getting is just as good as having. There will always be things that I don’t know, books I haven’t read, cultural icons that I haven’t explored, and that’s great.

Unlike Socrates who lamented his inability to know everything I say: Wonderful. I’ll take joy in the lacunae, be excited about the gaps. Intellectual and cultural completeness is simply not possible, and one would do well to enjoy that. I will always try to understand more, to patch up the holes, to reach an ideal, but I know I will never get there. Which is fine. More than fine. When I finish a puzzle, give me another, when I walk out of a labyrinth, tell me where the next entrance is, when I close a book, I go to the shelf. Gaps and holes abound. Let them. Socrates lamented his ignorance, but I don’t want to run out of ignorance to obliterate.

Ten Years Later

In Epiphanies on July 20, 2009 at 3:45 pm

I was tempted to say “I freaked out, joined the army, and now I’m a professional killer.” Tempted to say it, several times, but I didn’t. Nor did I tell anyone that I was a male stripper. I was tempted to say that, too. I told everyone the truth- that I’d been in Japan and was teaching English, and that I’m leaving again, next year. That got good enough responses, I suppose.

When asked why I was going to my ten year high school reunion, all I could really say that it only happens once. Yes, there are twenty and thirty year reunions, but it’s the ten year that really counts. That’s the one that everyone talks about, that gets made into movie scenarios and is supposedly so jarring. The ten year reunion is where you see that everyone has turned into adults, where the ugly ducklings have all turned into swans, or where the former prom queen got fat. That, supposedly, is where everything is starkly shifted into dramatically different adulthood.

Except it wasn’t.

An old classmate of mine looked out over the dimly lit floor, sighed into his drink and said with bitchy wistfulness “no one’s fat.” There was nothing to pick over, no flesh for the vultures of pettiness. We’d gone to Lincoln High School, which in our time was the most academically successful, privileged school in Oregon. We were the snobs, the elite, and if this had been a bad teen movie, we would have gotten some kind of comeuppance, some ironic punishment for our privilege and advantage. None of that.

Smart, rich, urban kids, it turns out, grow into beautiful and successful adults. My experiences in Japan were not atypical to the gathering. It seemed like every other person had been abroad, and I chatted with old classmates who’d lived in Brazil, Germany, Tanzania, Lebanon, and Italy, to name a few. There were some people with spouses, yes, and some who had children. Mostly, though, people seemed themselves. We’d been intensely smart teenagers, strutting about downtown Portland with youthful arrogance and now we seemed to be basking in twentysomething cleverness and satisfaction, a natural outgrowth.

As much as I’ve changed in the past ten years, even in the past three, very much of me is still that seventeen year old boy who wandered around downtown Portland, reading Kafka in coffee shops, smoking through precocious conversations about Locke and Rousseau. I seemed to see him in stark relief at the reunion, as I searched for my classmates’ past features that I had known them by. Remarkably, I found those features. I did not find them because they persisted, though, but because they had grown into something else, matured, been fully realized. The successful little ducklings had turned into successful ducks.

That’s wonderful, I suppose, but I remember hearing a lot of people saying “No one’s changed.” Not intrinsically, not imminently. But we had become more refined, more well defined. I suppose that means we’d grown up.