Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chapter 17, from 1983

I knew that there was nothing to be found in physics --nothing that I was looking for. But I didn't know it in words. I only knew it by instinct -- by emotion; by vague memory. I had the vague memory that I already knew the answers to the physical problems. That I'd already solved all that. I had the vague memory of epiphany.

So I traveled, and I foundered and ...

I didn't know what it meant until I said it. I didn't know what it meant!! I'm scared. I'm excited. I have to go fast now. I can't sleep. I can't eat.

I floundered. I wanted to study some language. All I knew was English and a little Spanish. I remembered that my words were limiting my universes. I remembered that I wanted to break those limits. I was floundering in Buffalo. I thought of German. Wrong time. My friend suggested Chinese.

Of course. What more distant language? What could be more remote. We rode up to the University of Buffalo on my 550 cc Japanese phallus. My friend wasn't into the motorcycle so much. But I liked to go fast and had a black leather jacket and was starting to smoke Lucky Strikes. We were a little late. The poor professor looked over his glasses and suggested that perhaps we'd found the wrong room. Oh, no. This was Chinese wasn't it? Yep, this is it.

So he asked everybody why they were studying Chinese.

This is getting difficult. I didn't know it would happen like this. I have so many things I wanted to say and they're not going to get said. I'm not an artist. This isn't a story. This is real and I'm not crazy.

But how?


The question came around to me and I said, "I think the way you look at the world depends quite a bit on your language. I figure that learning a new language will change the way I look at the world. And Chinese is the most different langugage I know of."

I had happened upon Chinese by accident, yet my reason was honest. I don't know how I said it. Normally, I couldn't open my mouth in a classroom. But this was UB, and I'd been to Yale -- so I had confidence. And I had my new tough skin.

I guess the black leather jacket didn't go with my answer, because the prof. took a shine to me. I did well. I worked hard. And he convinced me to go back to Yale.

Why do you study Chinese? Well, trade's gonna open up there you know. It's a whole big market. One quarter of the worlds population. It's inevitable. Be where the action is. Bound to be in the world's future.

I gave those answers a lot. I play an act. I hide behind a mask. But the answer I gave that day was honest, though I wasn't quite sure when I said it. And it was unselfish. It was the truth. I didn't want to be famous. I was determined never to go back to school again. I didn't want to prove anything to anyone. I just wanted to "expand my mind." Well, I've blown it now.

It's easy to do. When I was a freshman at Yale, my purity went downhill quick. I pulled cigarettes out of people's mouths at first. I still didn't drink more than an occasional beer. Nothing made sense and I wanted my world to make sense. People sometimes told me I really seemed to have my shit together. And then the shit hit the fan.

I was jealous and I hated myself for being jealous and the world didn't make sense. My girlfriend who I knew loved me loved somebody else at the same time. I was torn between possession and trust. My pain was real, but it was only mine. Nobody had lied to me. But I lied. I told her I didn't love her. And I smoked and I drank and I got stoned. Same old thing. A few hits and I wasn't just stoned -- I was hallucinating. I saw music and I felt time stop and colors changed and tasted -- and I was really in outer space.

Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- made sense and I was ecstatic. I couldn't believe that I could function at all but it was ecstasy. I had shut up my rational mind. I had stopped demanding an answer. Stopped demanding that the world make sense, and suddenly it did, though my mind couldn't have known. Or rather, it wasn't a rational experience. My mind was involved. But words can't tell.

And then I came down and was depressed -- for days. I couldn't get out of bed. I was suicidal. And I wanted to get stoned some more.

Hy friends were afraid and reluctant. I was hurt when they smoked behind doors and behind my back. So I tried to get cool and show everybody I had my shit together. And they got a kick out of me. I was wild when stoned. Probably nice to see me lowered off my high horse. But I still managed to insult people. Now they were frivolous because they couldn't let go and be stoned. Now they were too up-tight, and once again my way was the only way. Let loose, man. It's great.

I made it through that year all right. I did well enough, though I managed to avoid the math and science courses. My advisor was sure I was wasting my life. But I was adamant about the diversion. "What can you do with it?" he wanted to know. I'd picked up a line at a party, "What can you do without it?" (philosophy, art, literature, ambiguity) The voice of authority was unsatisfied. I tried to make amends -- but I couldn't do it. I flunked out. I dropped out. I hated school. It hated me. It was definite.

During my freshman year, a kindly professor had kept me from flunking English. I was thrilled and excited, but I couldn't read the assignments fast enough so I always got behind. I had no training so I sat with my mouth shut all during class. He thought maybe I had a real problem. Not me, I assured him. I had my shit together. Trouble was, they'd placed me over my head for some reason and I just didn't have the background of a typical Yale College literary freshman.

Seems that I made out all right in literature over my head. I wanted to. I was excited. But, then literature's easy. There's no hard core evaluation. It's all wishy washy. Anybody can squeak through. I had read a handful of literature before coming to Yale. The first real book I ever opened was Plato's Republic. I'd been avoiding my assignments and we were only supposed to read a synopsis. But I was curious. And I never put the book back down. I read the whole damn Republic overnight. I was rather elated that I could understand it and by what it said. And rather angry that I should have somehow felt that it was beyond me.

I was a little embarrassed. I tried to keep it all low key. I was in high school. I didn't want anyone to make a big thing out of my staying up all night to read Plato. And I certainly didn't want it to be known in school. I got my good grades strictly without doing the work. I was smart. I didn't learn by rote. I understood the principles. But there was something in Plato that struck a chord too heavy. A memory of meaning lost or meaning yet to be found. I was compelled.

The only other real reading experience I'd had was Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. The high-school English teacher couldn't believe that I hadn't finished it. I started and never finished. Now that was really a crime. Almost anything else can be done but that! All you can do is shake your head. It makes no sense.

It made no sense to me. I was compelled by the book, but couldn't finish it. Too excited? I later redeemed myself and thoroughly embedded myself in the book. I can hardly remember a thing except that the protagonist is Roskolnikov. But that's the way I read. I shake. I shiver. I get excited, but I forget everything. Except the life. That becomes a part of me.

I recently re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. All I remembered about the book is that I'd read it while dropping out of school -- when I was supposed to be studying for exams and writing papers. Everyone knew I was crazy, but there I was excited about a book and nothing else mattered. I was bothered recently that I couldn't remember anything. How could a book have been so important and leave me with nothing?

Then I read and I remembered. It was a bit of a shock. I had become what I was reading. I had gone through my motorcycle -- but that's just a metaphor. I know about wrenches and saws and how things work. I've effected major repairs to this boat on which I live. I couldn't have known how well I read.

But nothing ever seems legitimate. I've always had lots of help. An old friend helped me with the boat. There was some money from my father. No matter how hard I've worked in my life -- chasing out gremlins and trying to fill the gap --it's never seemed legitimate. My American Protestant background tells me I've got to go it alone. I've read little parts of the Bible. I have a personal relationship to God. There's no ritual. 0nly Ego. A direct line. And if I can't keep sober -- maintain control and do things right --then I'm not legitimate, if not damned. I have to hold what I've read in my conscious mind now. I have to remember.

I learned something with my boat. I tried not to worry. I tried to deal with what I was able to deal with. And things came to me. The skills. The tethers when they were needed. The materials that I couldn't find or afford. My friend when I needed his help and love; and money. When I worried; when I thought I ought to get things under control, then everything fell apart. Nothing worked then.

There are plenty of ways to fix boats. But let's not lie to each other, OK? Sure, I'm proud of my boat. It's a mess, but I'm prouder still of how little I knew beforehand. I hadn't done fancy carpentry. I'd only sailed a board-sailer. And here I am in my boat which I've sailed through a good stiff breeze, and all the way to Block Island and backwards through the Race (which only a fool would do). I survived and I feel blessed. Sure, it's hell to let somebody see how I live. Downright embarrassing. But I try to hold my head up. So I live this way. I'm not going to feel ashamed that I don't have a house and lots of money and a big ego-pushing job. Oh, I make my gestures. I try here and there, but a little voice warns me away.

You get the answers you want. I feel proud when someone seems to be impressed. I feel embarrassed when someone seems critical. It's hard to feel good about myself, because somebody always seems to want something. I needed to be alone. I couldn't have known where it would lead. I have more confidence now. I hope I won't need to feel proud or ashamed or guilty. But that depends on how much help I get.

It's important to realize that I haven't been chosen. My boat is no major accomplishment. My life is no breakthrough. I didn't go out a fool to tempt fate and come back smelling of roses. I assessed the risks at every stage and never took any greater chances than I take on the highways. And I've never had a real accident on the road. I'm careful -- even when I'm drunk. I'm in control. But always it comes down to despair.

Now I know something about control, and I can't be sure about being in control. There is no choice for me but to relinquish control. I am prepared for it. I haven't been chosen. Just in the right place at the right time. Or wrong depending on how you look at it. We are all lucky. It just depends on whether you can listen to yourself. Or is there too much noise? But my choice is mine to make, and so is yours. I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything other than that you must be yourself. There is no choice.

Look, I say to myself, the world's fucked-up, right? It's either going to poison itself to death or blow itself up. This isn't going to be any goddamned apocalypse. That's only when God pushes the button. This time WE push the button. It's our fault. And it isn't fate. I'm not going to be a lawyer or a politician or rich or all those other things Yale and all other voices of authority prepare you to be. The world's changing. The steady sinusoidal curves, the oscillations -- whichever ones you want to follow -- are reaching for the asymptote. Geometric progressions don't occur in nature without explosion.

Malthus knew that. Anybody knows it. This isn't just change. It's accelerated change and it's cataclysmic. Why be a lawyer when lawyers won't have their positions forever, and forever is around the corner. Why be anything. Why not be myself.

But Malthus was wrong. He forgot that everything changes together. We have expanded the foundations. It can't go on forever without a change of consciousness, however. Gravity represents a geometric curve. Acceleration. Love. But there is always friction to slow the explosion. We can make it through if we care to. We can't pretend anymore that there are accidents in nature. It will be no accident if we blow it. It will not be the fate inherent in the other mind of God. It will only be our numbness. Our denial out of arrogance of feeling to a universe which has had enough of our stupid joke.

There is now, at this moment, only one true faith, and that is faith in oneself. Science isn't going to pull us through. That is BULLSHIT! And it isn't faith. That's blindness. That's rowing ot to sea in a storm with a leaky boat. Only we can pull us through, together.

So now I want to pull it all down. I want to take everybody's position away from them. But I won't. I can't. I have absolutely no power. But everyone will have to do it themselves. You don't need position if you can believe in yourself.

Nothing has changed. Nothing will change. I've made a leap of faith. Beyond that there are whole avalanches of meaning revealed. I've known it forever, but I finally decided to believe it. To accept the limits of my own mind. There is NO ANSWER. It's a matter of faith. If you believe in why. If you believe that there is a relationship between YOU and what is other. If you believe you are connected to the Universe. Then everything is possible. If you would simply have faith in meaning.

You don't have to smoke anymore to watch your breath and prove that you are in constant moving exchange with the universe. You don't have to play the lotteries and hope for your good fortune. To do that is to succumb to the hope that slipped out of Pandora's box. It is a cheap hope that is dangled in front of you to keep you from yourself. To keep you a slave. But pity the wealthy who give you the lotteries. Even as they steal your money and replace it with false hope, they are more enslaved than you. Don't offer your anger. Offer your love.

You don't have to find the cheap thrill of challenging fate. You don't have to suffer for your insecurities. You don't have to feel neurotic because you secretly know you are somebody. You are! And you are going to make yourself somebody. Not by taking control and making all the right decisions. But by remembering -- feeling, caring – knowing what you know and saying it. Shouting it! Being who you are by a simple act of faith!

And don't be misled. You have no choice. There is nothing else. It's too late.

Please don't make the mistake of thinking I've been chosen. I haven't made a fiction except for fear of hurting people. Now I know enough to tell the truth. This is all true. Details are left out. Some are combined. But you have no choice but to believe. Not the words. Not me. Not an answer or solution. But YOU.

I may be among the early aquarians or what Pirsig calls the Romantic-Classic blend. The male-female, yin-yang in one. Or I may be ignorant and proud and disgusting. I can't know. I know I can't truly feel. I had to put feeling back in the universe because I'd taken it out. Because every soul who betrays himself takes feeling out of the universe --drains the magic. And I have been the voice of reason and the king of control in my life. And I talk too much.

It's the Woman's turn. I've fought and I've made the leap and now there are no more questions. I know who I am and I know what to do. There's absolutely no time to waste. These words must be allowed to spill out. There's no time for control. There's only time for care. And there are so many words which must wait. But let's not wait for the answer. It's too final.

I flunked my English papers because I didn't know how to write. But I got some help. And when I returned to school to study Chinese I floundered. Some thought I was hopeless or nuts or just too eager and enthusiastic. Calm down. You can't have everything at once. Slowly and with pain I learned not to flunk courses. To receive grades of A instead of F. And to speak a little Chinese.

And I had been right. One does think differently in Chinese. I was excited and fascinated. But as usual, I was overexcited. When it came time to graduate, I had a paper to write and I couldn't write it. The summer dragged on and I couldn't get anything done. I don't know whether I wanted to say too much or simply didn't know how to write.

I took a bold step. Faith in science. I engaged a psychiatrist at the school. Another revelation. I was thrilled.

He hardly said a word. But I'd begun to read about self-help and finally to write about myself. At first I thought I'd publish what I wrote. Then, as I wrote, I realized how execrable was my style and how insipid was what I had to say. But I wrote and I learned about myself and science was vindicated. The psychiatrist was a hero. I wrote my paper for school and graduated magna-cum-laude with distinction though seven years and several months too late. But my parents were relieved as was I. I went off to graduate school for more Chinese. I'd found myself.

Now everybody's more concerned than ever, and I feel unsure. I seem to have slid back. When I finished the paper and the visits to the psychiatrist, I was certain that I have been deluded in my life. I had admitted my pride to myself -- that I had secret desires that nobody knew and which I expected to be validated only by fate. I had watched a movie on TV -- an accident -- about a gambler. This time my excitement was not for what I remembered about the fiction, but for what was revealed. Something I hadn't known before and have now forgotten forever.

I saw myself as the gambler -- the rider of the winds of fate who can't admit to himself that accident is accident and quite meaningless. It was a painful admission. But it was a release. I accepted my ordinariness. I made a connection to a time when I had nearly drowned. My life had passed before me at the instant that I knew I was doomed, and when I gulped what I knew would be a final gulp of water I had reached the surface. I gulped in air and lived. I ignored the coincidence of my survival. I might have drowned. But the night after watching the TV show, my life passed before me and I knew that some rotten part of me had died. I felt the old self who smoked and procrastinated and drank and would hardly let me breath; I felt the old self die and it was exactly like a real death.

But he's been back to haunt me along with his drink and cigarettes; cynicism and depression. I had made the connection to death but I had forgotten the accident of life. I truly did almost drown. But at the moment that I gave up, I found myself on the surface. Now I can make the deeper connection. I had forgotten that the problem with the gambler is not that he is expecting fate to be meaningful --but that he is trying to control it. He wants fate to be meaningful for him. Ail he really needs to do is to let go and stop worrying. There are much nicer ways to pass the time.

Now I've put my arms around him and assimilated him. It was a joyful and painful reunion. There were tears. But I'm whole and reborn.

Fate is not meaningless.

Exactly nothing is meaningless.

My life is meaningful. It's an act of faith. And so is yours if you let it be. Let it be. There will be an answer.

No comments: