Tag Archives: fate

The Weight Of A Thousand Ghosts

When I became the lead opinion writer for my college newspaper, my father suggested I call my column “The Road Not Taken” after one of his favorite Robert Frost poems. I thought about it but went in a different direction, choosing instead a title of my own: “Free Association.”

Five years later I instructed the cemetery director to add these lines to my father’s headstone:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by”.

I read recently that Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” with his friend Edward Thomas in mind. After an initial reading, Thomas thought that Frost, through the speaker in the poem, was lamenting the uncertain nature of making choices, suggesting his life would have played out differently if he had traveled a different road. Actually, Frost was poking fun at Thomas, who frequently complained about the routes they took on walks through the woods. Unaware of this backstory, many readers believe Frost is arguing in favor of the road not taken, praising independent spirits for forging their own paths.

We can’t imagine a life we didn’t lead—we only know the road we’ve taken, the one we’re on right now.

Wherever he went, my father didn’t travel lightly. He carried in his chest the weight of a thousand ghosts.

Naturally I inherited his nerves. I was hurting so bad after college I decided one day to disappear. Medicine works best in small doses. But it’s easy, when you think about it, to fit a bottle in your mouth.

There is no magic pill, I’ve learned, no invisible ink for writing goodbye. Once you’re born, you’re in the thick of things. Even suicide, Sartre reminds us, is an act of being in the world.

There were signs we missed, being caught up in our moods. I shared a poem with him once about my life being an arduous climb up a mountain that extends higher and higher with each step, death a slip within reach.

Our only hope is to keep climbing, he said, without looking down. “This is how you’re feeling now. The pain won’t last forever.”

These are the pictures I paint of him in poems, stories and songs. There’s an art to reproducing one’s father, recasting his shadows, repeating his sins.

Fate is genetic; it comes before and after us. Faith requires both a leap and a precipice.

It’s easy to get lost in the woods.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy, Poetry

Student Teacher

“I am not a writer, a philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life: I am a teacher.”—Michel Foucault

A friend said recently, “Maybe you just like to think a lot. It’s not a bad thing, just who you are. A lot of philosophers are writers.”

I found this statement odd at first. Am I a writer or a philosopher? Why can’t I be both? In fact I have been all along. It’s silly to separate the two.

Something’s going on beneath the surface when I’m writing and philosophizing. I’m teaching. In fact I’ve been teaching all along. This blog is full of questions. My book is an exercise in self-discovery and a search for meaning you can hold in your hands.

Foucault was a teacher, but he was also a writer, a philosopher and a great figure of intellectual life. He loved ideas. He had a tragic sense of humor, perfect for (post)modern living. Like all great teachers, he checked his ego at the door and listened before speaking.

I’m not a certified classroom teacher. Why can’t I become one? Because I assumed fifteen years ago I couldn’t handle it? Because running from a challenge was easier than taking it on? I’m in a different place now, but with the same personality, the same interests, the same worldview.

I haven’t written about my depression in a while. Have I learned (how) to live with it?

The universe is not impartial. The gods have no regrets. Fate doubles back to meet us where we’ve gone astray.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Meta-Blog, Philosophy

Manifest Destiny

vector-road-sign-arrow

America’s fate took a sharp right turn last week. Was electing Donald Trump our destiny? Or another random occurrence in an absurd universe? Or the logical result of intricate causal relationships that began with the Original Thought in the mind of the Unmoved Mover?

Baudrillard liked to write about destiny and seduction. It’s silly to speak of an individual’s destiny, he said. We have a collective destiny with every living being and every non-living object in the world.

But each life has a double life. “Each individual life unfolds on two levels, in two dimensions–history and destiny–which coincide only exceptionally” (Impossible Exchange, p. 79).

I have my biological life, the physiological stuff of my existence, which allows for the development and expression of myself as “subject” over time. But my fate lies beyond my individual choices, in the mysterious inner-workings of a destiny I can neither name nor change. Baudrillard calls this double life my “becoming-object” or my “becoming-other.”

Many folks see their lives in linear terms. They embark on paths they mistakenly believe are straight, their goals attainable if they stay focused and plow ahead. But paths diverge, lines intersect. GPS recalculates.

Seduction, in Baudrillard’s world, has little to do with amorous pursuits and more to do with our secret desire to be led astray. We seduce ourselves and each other. Objects seduce us. We long for a shove in unexpected directions.

Donald Trump seduced American voters. The election results seduced the pollsters. We don’t know where the county goes from here. History is a poor substitute for destiny, which is here before you know it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy, Politics

The Art Of The Heel

“Something in all men profoundly rejoices at seeing a car burn.” –Baudrillard

Trump is a car fire

He’s the death drive Freud warned us about. Our innate desire to self-destruct for the pure spectacle of it. Sometimes he’s the car, a vehicle for change in reverse. Sometimes he’s the fire itself, a burning in the body politic.

Trump is Moloch

Moloch is the Biblical name of a Canaanite god that demands a costly sacrifice. Ginsberg writes in his masterpiece “Howl”:

“Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”

In voting for Trump we sacrifice our children, the future, the promise of American ideals—in the name of security and (white) power.

Trump is part of the accursed share

From Wikipedia:

“According to Bataille’s theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which must either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring, in the contemporary age most often in war, or in former ages as destructive and ruinous acts of giving or sacrifice, but always in a manner that threatens the prevailing system.”

Trump’s platform stinks. It’s the waste of democracy. A spewing from the mouth we’re desperate to expel. His campaign represents “an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring” of hate we excrete in small amounts to keep the system flowing.

Trump is the sorcerer’s apprentice

Goethe’s poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was published in 1797. As the story goes, an old sorcerer leaves his apprentice with chores. The apprentice, not fully licensed, bonded and insured, enchants a broom to do the work for him, but soon he can’t stop its frenetic sweeping. He splits the broom in two with an axe, but each piece then splits in two, on and on. The old magician returns and breaks the spell, reminding his pupil that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.

Mickey Mouse assumed the role of apprentice in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia. Trump is neither Mickey nor sorcerer, but the magic itself. He will make people disappear, preferably back to Mexico.

Trump can’t fire Mickey, now a celebrity apprentice, because Mickey’s hands are twice the size of his.

Trump is a human being

The most frightening proposition of all: Trump is just himself. He’s you and I. Out of many, one.

Donald Trump is the fate we’re surprised to meet halfway down the path of our escape route. The brutal truth of our collective demise we couldn’t imagine during the primaries, but after November 8 we will come to realize was waiting for us all along.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics

The Thirst For Life Itself

Not long ago I was asked in therapy to consider my purpose. I thought for a moment, careful to select my words.

My purpose, simply put, is threefold:

  • To love and be loved
  • To be present for others
  • To accept help

I realize after years in therapy that I can’t discuss my recovery without touching on spiritual matters. Even without uttering “God” or “faith,” I’m restless for meaning in a mechanically operated, perpetually instant world.

Perhaps I’m a secret believer. A reformed cynic. Maybe identifying as agnostic spoke to my struggle with indecision and self-ambivalence. Maybe this mask no longer fits.

Has my writing taken a religious turn? Is my soul a desert wanderer? Or a longing to be nourished, the thirst for life itself?

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Great Scott

Last week I played Scrabble with my mom. We each picked a letter to determine who’d start the board. She got an “A.” I picked an “O,” which meant she’d go first.

“Hey, that’s like A.O. Scott, the film critic,” I said. A strange association, considering I hadn’t thought much about Scott since At the Movies went off the air five or six years ago.

An hour later we were watching a show about the ‘80s. Images from The Breakfast Club appeared. And who was in studio to discuss the iconic 80s film? None other than A.O. Scott.

Coincidence? Fate? The cosmos, in full Zen mode, winking a blind eye?

Nobody knows.

The mind imposes order on a chaotic world. Thinking about Scott didn’t cause me to turn on the TV and see him, I know. But, like most humans, I associate random thoughts, objects and events with other random thoughts, objects and events. I “see” cause-effect relationships where none exist. Outside human consciousness, does an effect recognize its cause? Does a cause anticipate its effect?

What does the world think of itself when nobody’s around?

None of this had any bearing on our Scrabble game. Sometimes I think too hard. Perhaps that’s why I can’t remember who won.

1 Comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

A Life Of Magical Thinking

I don’t remember exactly when it began. Maybe I was seven or eight. I started playing a game in my mind: tomorrow would be good, the next bad; a day later would be good, the next bad. After a two-week period, I’d have seven wonderful days and seven horrible ones. Thus began my life of magical thinking.

Looking back I realize this was me meeting my illness in its earliest stages. Feeling helpless, I convinced myself that I held the key to a hidden pattern governing my existence. It was all about gaining control over the uncontrollable, taming a world I feared would swallow me whole.

Most of us spend our adult years trying to reconstruct our time as vulnerable children. Often, in an effort to cope with traumas and hardships from childhood, we act like children, filling up voids with food, sex, booze and drugs—dangerous games of self-medication. Temporarily ignoring—or dulling—all the pain we endured, we see youth as a simpler time to avoid the fact that our entire lives are a struggle. Suffering comes in different forms at different times, but it’s always here.

Today I write lots of notes reminding myself of important tasks. But before moving on from writing down to carrying them out, I need my tasks to equal a multiple of three. Nothing bad will happen to me if I have four notes or eleven, but I feel at ease when six or twelve notes remain. It feels as nutty as it sounds, but the essence of obsessive thinking lies in its resistance to reason.

Every day we vacillate between feelings of comfort and discomfort. Often it’s not what’s happening right now that pleases or upsets us. Seemingly mundane events can summon yesterday’s demons. Our happiness hinges on our ability to accept the consequences of the games we play in order to outrun them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy