Into the Void

17 Apr

VoidI realized pretty early on that life sucks. It is either:

1)      too hard and too long, or

2)      sort of pleasant and way too short.

Just turn on the TV news to discover how sucky things are.

Some would call me a half-glass full guy, or a pessimist, or a cynic, or even a misanthrope.  I don’t know. Maybe I am one of those. Maybe not.

I don’t know if it is nature or nurture that defines our view of the world. Are we genetically predisposed to wear rose colored glasses,  to find the positive amidst the war and human suffering? Or does our environment lend itself to our predilections? Are those who are witnesses to misery and horror more likely to view the world with their own myopic cynicism? Or, contra this, maybe those who have only known pain in life are more inclined to see the beauty in the world?

It’s probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B. I think that as a writer, one of my jobs is to discern the proper balance between What we are (nature) and Who we are (nurture).

***

I realized much later that life doesn’t suck. Life is actually pretty cool. It has beer and boobs in it. I’m not going to say that life is a blessing or a gift. It’s not. Life is an accident where sperm meets egg. I don’t know if we have souls or if after we die some part of our consciousness lives on.  Those are wonderful metaphysical questions, which I hopefully will write about sometime in the future. But who knows, maybe the North Koreans with nuke New York next week. Whatever happens happens.

So, life itself is cool. Existence is pretty awesome. Eating things is good. Drinking things is better. Being wowed by art or nature. Laughing together at the movies. Sex. Baseball. Staring up at the sky on a summer afternoon. Rock ‘n Roll. Pastrami. The Muppets. Pretty faces with sidelong smiles. Roller Coasters. Angry Birds. Falling in love. Missing your subway stop because you are too engrossed in a book. Diners at three in the morning with your best buds. Surprises.

But most of these things are fleeting. A movie is two hours long. We cannot eat and drink eternally. Sex can lead to cuddling, which in turn can lead to relationships, which in turn can lead to responsibilities. Baseball dies with the summer. Pastrami gives you agita. The Muppets are owned by Disney. Books end, and love fades.

When people ask me if I’m happy, I usually reply in the negative. Most of the time I am not happy. That doesn’t mean that when I am not happy I am therefore sad. It is a misconception to believe that those are the only two states in which one can exist. When I am happy I feel that I am in tune with the world, as if the goodness of others has infected me with hope and love and Life. When I am sad I can feel almost physically ill, like I’ve been sucker punched by that fuckface known as Life.

I find that those who think that happiness is the goal of life are some of the most miserable people around. Happiness is not an end result one can maintain, but a series of way stations along a road. Suddenly there’s a sign for a Friendly’s and you’re like: “Sundaes, bitch! Fuck yeah!!” Those who see life only as a proverbial pursuit of happiness are always: “Are we there yet?” and never satisfied when they finally are.

You’re probably wondering what this little digression into the nature of happiness has to do with anything. Well, as I mentioned, it is not life that sucks. Life occasionally brings happiness.

It is the world that sucks.

The world is trying to kill us.

The world may be beautiful and grand. It is awe inspiring. From a single blade of grass to the enormity of a supernova, it is all amazing. But it is also an eternal void of terror that is trying to kill us. From cancer to meteors to earthquakes, the world wants us dead. It’s as maddeningly beautiful as the Grand Canyon. But one false move, and….kerplunk.

The universe is like some crazy obstacle course that we run every day of our lives. I get up and go to work and assume that no one is going to push me in front of a train. I accept without question that what I eat won’t kill me. That crazies won’t blow up my city. That the pain in my side is just a bit of undigested pastrami and not something worse. We are in a constant never ending battle against Death. And no matter how much we fight the sonofabitch, he’s still going to win.

***

After the bombings in Boston this past Monday, there were a lot of supposedly inspirational quotes that made their way around social media. There was this one from Mr. Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

That’s okay for a kid, but to be told that as an adult makes me feel coddled. Children may not understand the whys and wherefores of horrors like this, but we as adults should. And frankly, I simply can’t look on the good side of everything. “Oh, look at all the nice people who ran into the flames to help people,” just doesn’t cut it anymore. It is a good thing that that happened, but it doesn’t make up for the reason they had to be heroes in the first place.

And then there was nice stuff written by Patton Oswalt that basically said the same thing.

None of that shit does it for me. It’s nice and fluffy. It’s all feel good hokum.  Once again I am told to look on the bright side of bad events. But I’m done with that.

Then I happened upon this quote from Leonard Bernstein:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Maybe that is why I write: to say “fuck you” to all the shit in the world. To fill the enormous void of the universe with something that is real and true. To create in opposition to destruction.

Like destruction, creation is an inherently angry act. When I write (like at this very moment) I literally pound the keys on my computer. I am not a gentle writer. It’s as if the words are poison to me and I must spit them out.

There is this necessity to writing, to all art. It fills up the voids in the lives of the creator; if any good, it also fills the lives of those who experience it. It’s the cartilage that eases our movements.

Another reason I prefer the Bernstein quote is that it talks directly to and about me. I do not see myself in the Mr. Rogers and Oswalt quotes. I am not a helper and am not a hero. I do not see myself running into danger to save someone’s life. Part of me is ashamed of this fact: I am not the good guy. But most of me has gotten over shame and now focuses on dread reality. I’ve accepted the fact that I am selfish and self-centered. That is one of the great clichés about artists, right?

Within us all is the desire for creation. It’s not art necessarily. Some people have no artistic talent whatsoever. But creation is not about painting pictures and singing songs. It’s anything that wards off destruction. It’s anything that tries to fill the immense void of the universe. It may not bring happiness,  but for a while it can stave off misery. It’s charity and teaching. It is people who go into service, be it those who put out fires, catch bad guys, or try to make laws that make even a glimmer of difference. It’s lawyers doing pro bono work. It’s toy drives and can drives. It’s people who want to find a cure to cancer and AIDS, and still others who want to go to Mars.

But none of the above is meant to make you feel better about anything. You should feel rotten unless you are actually doing something that fills the void. You should feel shame at letting what little worth you have wallow unused while the universe moves ever-forward. It doesn’t mean you should be running into danger or writing poetry or pounding nails for Habitat for Humanity. But it also means that changing your profile pick to an equal sign does not make you a difference-maker.

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