The ignorant eschew phenomena but not thought; the wise eschew thought but not phenomena.
Last night, 2 AM, November 4, 2012. Daylight Savings Time ended. And I tripped on my way to the top of the hill.
Tammy and I spent the day in Austin yesterday, a quickie outing, the only kind we really get anymore. These trips are almost preordained, timeline-wise. We head down in the morning, get an early lunch (eating is pretty much the only reason I go to Austin), do some vintage store browsing, basically piddle around until enough time has passed since lunch that we can justify eating again, and then, the crowning event of all trips to the capital, a final stop at Central Market to load up on the necessary extravagances of life (tea, in Tammy’s case; beer and coffee, in mine). But yesterday was different; it was special. There was an extra hour built into our day by the backsliding clock. We could party until our socks fell off. Hip Freakin’ Hooray!
Every year since I’ve been able to make my own decisions, there has been a ritual I have performed on the day Daylight Savings comes to an end. This was especially true when I was working in the church: Sunday was my main workday, so I could use (in theory) all the rest I could get. So, every year I swore to myself, tonight would be the night. I would finally take advantage of the extra hour and get a really good night’s sleep, be nice and refreshed for a hard day’s work. And, every year (predictably), that extra hour would instead become one more hour to stay up and accomplish the night owl’s usual nothing…and then spend the next morning yawning my head in two.
Why should this year be any different?
I woke up this morning to a harsh reality. I had turned, like a zombie at a fruitarian convention. From an hour and a half away, in one of the few places in Texas we can actually call enjoyable without triggering the gag reflex, Tammy and I had made it home and gone to bed by (time change considered) 9:30 at night. The argument I’d been having with myself for over a decade had been won, apparently by my aged self. Because that’s what it comes down to: I’m old enough now that the need for sleep trumps my nocturnal tendencies. I haven’t quite made it over the hill yet, but the hill’s getting steeper as I go.
Suspicions have been circling in the back of my mind for a while now. I turned thirty-five just one short month ago, and you might protest that this does not actually constitute old age as it is classically known. Granted. But tell that to the guy who tried to pull an all-nighter about two weeks before his birthday and discovered he was literally physically incapable of doing out of necessity now what he used to do for kicks in college. All the coffee in the world (or at least in my kitchen) wasn’t enough to keep me from collapsing under my own weight in the wee hours; super glue could not have kept my eyes open; rigor mortis would have failed to keep me upright.
So, fine, thirty-five is not “old.” It’s barely even middle age. But before all you sept- and octogenarians roll your eyes and tell me I’m exaggerating, stop for a second and remember how you felt when you were in my shoes–the day you realized you could not remain young forever. At least not by the clock.
It comes for us all, at different times and in different places. For me, it came at 7:45 on a Sunday morning, after a really good night’s rest. And the sad thing is, it made perfect sense. Maybe that’s the weirdest element of all.
It’s all sleepy-time from here…
I arrived at work this morning only to discover that I had been carrying around with me, attached to my newly-laundered shirt, a rogue dryer sheet, and it called to mind a favorite poem of mine:
To A Louse (by Robert Burns, 1786)
On Seeing One On A Lady’s Bonnet, At Church
Ha! whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie!
Your impudence protects you sairly:
I canna say but ye strunt rarely
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’ faith, I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunned by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her,
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner,
On some poor body.
Swith, in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle
Wi’ ither kindred, jumpin cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whare horn or bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.
Now haud ye there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rels, snug an’ tight;
Na faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right
Till ye’ve got on it,
The vera tapmost, towering height
O’ Miss’s bonnet.
My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ grey as onie grozet:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie ye sic a hearty dose o’t,
Wad dress your droddum!
I wad na been surprised to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
But Miss’s fine Lunardi! -fie!
How daur ye do’t?
O Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin!
Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin!
O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
And ev’n Devotion!
My advice to us all today: Let us not take ourselves too seriously, because the folks who are looking may not be looking for the reasons we think…
Everybody have a great day!
– Adam Lambert
For the last few years, I have forced myself to think outside of the box in which I was cultivated, to step out of my particular epistemology and evaluate the world through eyes other than my own. I have attempted to take stock of the nature of things as objectively as one individual is able (which, I believe, is merely a question of degree, since my objectivity is another man’s subjectivity). I have altered my vocabulary, I have shifted my view from the reality of heaven to the ideal of earth, and I have held all presuppositions guilty until proven innocent. And, in doing so, I have discovered some important truths about myself, my self, and what and who I am. Not all of them are pleasant, not all are foreign, not all are new. The status quo has, in some significant ways, been maintained, but it has also been questioned and called to account. But I am in the end refreshed–just as confused about certain things as I was when I started, but now more comfortable with that confusion than before. I know now (forgive the tautology) that there are certain things that I know, and certain things I will (and can) never know. That is as clear as I can be, and I am okay with it.
All along the way, I heard voices. It is truly amazing how persistently people will fight against those who search for understanding (even those who search for understanding merely of themselves), and the extent to which we fear a clearer view, lest it force us to remove some of those obstructions we have set up for ourselves. A friend once told me he listened to the radio at night because he feared the silence. This is natural, for silence is where truth resides–in silentio veritas. So the voices insist, filling up the quiet of contemplation with the noise of obfuscation, confident that volume makes right, or at least may serve to overwhelm the senses of awakening conviction.
We’ve all heard these voices. They come from all sides, friends, family, co-workers, even the occasional complete stranger. People who truly believe they have our best interests at heart, never realizing that their own interest is what they really seek to protect. Because if I change–if you change–more importantly, if we change–then they are faced with a standing challenge to the worldview they inhabit. Meaning, they protest, will be destroyed: there must be either conformity or chaos–there is no middle road. “If he gets up, we’ll all get up. It’ll be anarchy!”
What do the voices say? What do they whisper in our ears even when their echoes have died away? “You’re abandoning your principles.” But principles are not made only to be adopted; they are also made to be discarded. The act itself of re-evaluation, of deconstruction, entails principled thought: the person of principle is required by her very nature to set aside systems that have failed, beliefs that mislead or do harm. In doing so, she is not abandoning her convictions, she is living up to them. The pragmatist may pretend to see the emperor’s new suit, but only the fool goes out to buy one for himself.
“Don’t leave us behind–we made you who you are, and your acquiescence justifies our existence.” When the puppet cuts his strings, has Geppetto failed? Or has his work been fully realized at last? The creation of life is the formulation of dynamic possibility, of an option for better or worse. It is change waiting to happen, the ultimate journey from points A to B. As such, it predicates movement, growth, adaptation, and yes, even evolution. If I am at sixty-five who I was at thirteen, something has gone terribly wrong. If I remain nothing but the sum of my ancestors’ wisdom, am I really me, do I really exist, have I truly lived? Descartes might express an opinion on this subject–non cogito, ergo nullus sum. I think not, therefore I am rendered obsolete. We may stand on the shoulders of giants, but we walk on our own two feet.
In the final analysis, a little anarchy sometimes does a world of good. Sometimes meaning must be destroyed to make way for a new and a better. History is the tale of the destruction of truth in the interests of deeper understanding. It is also the tale of the voices, lifted in unison to bury the cries of the voyager and the musings of genius. Witness Galileo and the Catholic Church–those who would displace our egocentric universe are never safe from the weight of existing prejudice or the workings of fear on the human self-image. But be not silent. Do not, as Dylan Thomas urges, go gently into prescribed senescence. Don’t be afraid of sounding foolish, for the true fool is he who makes no sound at all.
Herbert Spencer said it best, and I leave you in his capable hands:
“Whoever hesitates to utter that which he thinks the highest truth, lest it should be too much in advance of the time, may reassure himself by looking at his acts from an impersonal point of view. Let him remember that opinion is the agency through which character adapts external arrangements to itself, and that his opinion rightly forms part of this agency–is a unit of force constituting with other such units, the general power which works out social changes; and he will perceive that he may properly give utterance to his innermost conviction: leaving it to produce what effect it may. It is not for nothing that he has in him these sympathies with some principles and repugnance to others. He, with all his capacities, and aspirations, and beliefs, is not an accident but a product of the time. While he is a descendant of the past he is a parent of the future; and his thoughts are as children born to him, which he may not carelessly let die. Like every other man he may properly consider himself as one of the myriad agencies through whom works the Unknown Cause; and when the Unknown Cause produces in him a certain belief, he is thereby authorized to profess and act out that belief….Not as adventitious therefore will the wise man regard the faith which is in him. The highest truth he sees he will fearlessly utter; knowing that, let what may come of it, he is thus playing his right part in the world–knowing that if he can effect the change he aims at–well; if not–well also; though not so well.” (First Principles, 1862)
How do we explain a split existence? How do we make those closest to us understand that a part of us will always be out of reach, living in a past we can’t ever leave behind, in a place we can’t get back to but can’t ever really escape? My name is Vance; my name is Eduardo. I am American; I am Argentine. I am everything and I am no one. I sing a song of myselves.
It’s an odd feeling, knowing that, in eighteen years of life, I experienced more than many people do in eighty. This is not a boast; it is simply a fact. I have arrived at the midpoint of my life with so much baggage that my overhead compartment is about to burst, and the question constantly on my mind is: How do I follow that act? How do I make the latter half of my life live up to the expectations created by what went before? Did I really peak in high school? I am globetrotter; I am multicultural; I am (somewhat still) bilingual. I am a bit schizophrenic. And I am surrounded by walls, ironically erected by the freedom of years gone by.
Melodramatic? Yes. Also sadly true. Everything I have seen thus far in my life pushes me always to see more, to take in a wider view, while at the same time whispering in my ear that it’s never enough, that I’m wasting precious time. No matter how much I accomplish, I’m driven to achieve more, to justify the content of my heart and soul by adding more and more pages, chapters, books to the story of who I am. I wonder if it really meant anything. Was I put where I was for a reason, or did I just happen to wind up there? Was it meant to define my future, or simply to qualify my past? Whatever happened to the “wide-eyed wanderer” I used to see when I looked in the mirror, and how do I get away from the jaded visage that stares back at me now?
Never fear! I am still in the game, whether or not I completely understand the rules. For those of you who know what I mean, life is like a game of Mau. There are no rules, and the rules are always changing. We make them up as we go. Life is too short to let others do it for us. So we struggle, together but alone, to understand our reason for being, and to figure out how to hold on to the bits and pieces of our lives and assemble them into a coherent whole (or even an incoherent one–sometimes that is the best we can do).
In the back of my mind, an Argentine memory: pitch darkness, a long, steep hillside, a trail made for stumbling, and a curfew chasing me home. At the bottom of the hill, a creek forded by two ramshackle bridges barely worthy of the name, logs placed parallel with slats arranged crosswise at uncertain intervals. More than enough to offer the incautious a short fall and an unwanted bath. The first time I tried this little path I was absolutely terrified. I knew I was on a clock (in the Woods home, a curfew was a curfew, little as I might like it) and I could not see a bleeding thing (never mind the possibility that I might soon be a bleeding thing). I staggered downwards like a blind man, hands outstretched, prepared to feel my way with my face at the first wrong step. Somehow I made it all the way down, after several close calls and near falls. That was the first time. The longer I walked this way, the faster and more surefooted I became, and two years later I was taking it at a gallop.
Such is life. Limited visibility, treacherous inclines, and a short time to get from A to B. The difference between “straight” and “strait.” But it’s all about the practice. Somewhere along this path, the boy became (proyecto de) a man. The man moves faster and with greater confidence, maybe, but strangely from time to time he misses the mystery and wonder of the stumbling child. Uncertainty and immobility are not the same thing. Then there was but one path to take and a willingness to take it, no matter the consequences. Now, there are too many paths to take and a fear of choosing the wrong one, because of the consequences.
How to remove the straitjacket that comes with adulthood and disillusionment? How to rid myself of the imperfection reached with practice and find my way back to the kid who hated practice and still believed perfection was possible? How to divest myself of the fool’s wisdom that comes with experience, and focus again on the experience itself? I strive to recover the belief that everything is an experience, and remember that experience isn’t everything…