A bit of confusion, that adds clarity
The Wisdom of Keith Richards
Asked to give advice to people just starting to learn how to play guitar, Richards’ said, “My grandfather told me just keep picking, at the least you’ll have a lot of fun and at the best you might even make a living out of it.”
Asked about his history of troubles with drugs Keith answered, “I’ve never had a drug problem...I’ve had a police problem.”
My man Keith, outliving us all!
As a prideful atheist who prays most every day; as a self-proclaimed Buddhist who can’t/won’t/doesn’t meditate; as a Socialist living in large part off royalties paid to me by a major and arguably evil conglomerate; it may be argued that I have some explaining to do. Then again, maybe not because I’m claiming Untitled 2 in these matters.
I’m Still Learning
I know I’ve quoted this line other times but it’s such a great one that I must write it again: Michaleangelo, said it at 81 yrs of age. If that shit doesn’t incite you to keep plugging along yer dead already.
A Job Well-Done
Actually, at nearly 70, ANY job involving physical labor that doesn’t kill me is, in my exhausted view, well-fuckin’-done.
Ambition & Acceptance
Twin tormentors of psychic comfort
On the surface it seems to me that ambition and acceptance are on the same continuum. There are things we want and dream about and try for (our ambitions) and there are things that never quite come together, which is where acceptance comes into play. It seems obvious, which is which, especially looking backwards at the way our lives have moved from want/desire/hopes/goals in our past to where we have ended up: I mean, every day we wake-up, climb out of bed, look at the house we live in, think about the time we spend doing shit we don’t want to do versus the time we spend doing only what we want to do — herein would seem to be the proof and reality of where ambitions have gone unmet and acceptance seems required.
Yet, some people appear never able to settle on that acceptance part. They keep striving, trying, hoping, dreaming that if they just keep at it their ambitions will be realized and all their dreams will come true. Never mind the absence of talent, or the hopelessness and unrealistic nature of the dream. Here’s the real deal: life unfolds and your plans, hopes/dreams/needs/goals play little if any role in how you end up. No need to thank me for this: I get a kick out of writing inspirational shit. Still, you’re welcome.
“Yes, I want to have sex with my mother.”
The E-Lounge Memoirs: The Connor Imperative
Connor introduced himself sitting across the table in the E-Lounge of the local community college at the semester’s beginning, and Monday through Friday, an informal meeting occurred during three hours of free time we shared. Smoke billowed from his mouth while smashing a cigarette butt in the small, tin ashtray. “If you understand philosophy, then you know it’s a quest for the truth. Whether epistemological or religious, philosophy searches for ways to discern the truth.”
I nodded, watching the long, red mane float about his head, sometimes hiding coal eyes framed in the pale skin of his face. His style and look held a fantasy essence, not unlike the monster artwork in the role-playing game books he loved. When not discussing fantasy games, he spoke of philosophy: both topics we shared a common interest. He rested his hand on a pile of Dungeons & Dragons gaming books that juxtaposed a textbook pile. “Philosophy is a large assumption that truth is discernible from logic and rational argument. I mean, when you think about it, the whole discipline is kind of a big assumption of a truth that underlies everything. You know what I’m saying?”
I nodded and looked down in frustration at my textbooks juxtaposed with a backpack filled with self-help books. High school’s senior year passed in a voyage for truth accompanied by Tony Robbins on a twisting road through Dianetics and a heap of other texts meant to improve life. The journey ended in the summer after twelfth grade but restarted when a two-year relationship ended in the first semester of college. The relaunched quest for life’s meaning expanded into philosophy but still held no satisfaction or end. I looked up at Connor. “Yeah, I see that. Assumption or not, everything I read seems to fall short of containing truth, and worse yet, produces no change. If there is some order, rationality, truth, or god underlying everything, then shouldn’t it empower?”
A thoughtful Connor leaned back and lit another cigarette. “You’re assuming if there is a truth, that it matters in some way. People spend lifetimes meditating, praying, and reading philosophy believing their search will reveal the answers to the big questions or solve their problems. When you think about it, the meaning of something might be limited to itself, with no real meaning beyond what it is. And when you really think about it, that meaning is contingent on the present or the now since the future hasn’t occurred and the past no longer exists.”
I frowned. “That sounds sort of Buddhist, which I don’t buy into.” Memories of meditation classes and talking to Buddhists aggravated with time wasted counting breaths or relaxation techniques that induced sleep but solved nothing. The circular argument that the world is suffering, trapped in a rebirth cycle caused by an unattainable desire to be satisfied that causes suffering, held the absurdity of God sending his only son to be crucified for the ambiguous purpose of saving everyone from sin, since clearly, not everyone suffered from dissatisfaction, and clearly, Jesus dying for everyone’s sins compelled no one to stop sinning.
Connor lifted a pen off the table. “Nah, what I mean is this is a pen. It is just that. We can discuss its purpose and function but does it hold any meaning beyond what we assign it?”
I leaned back on the chair. “That’s sort of nihilistic, which I’m not sure makes sense either since skepticism of everything proves nothing. Perhaps a pen is too simple; what about people and emotions? It seems like love might mean something since people aim at finding it and securing it for life even if they can’t prove the meaning.”
Connor tapped his cigarette in the ashtray. “The irony of nihilism is the truth contained within its rejection of truth. Love might seem meaningful, but when you consider love as a state or thing, it still is just an emotion and holds only the importance of the meaning you assign it at the moment. My mother and I had a long discussion about this concept when I asked her to have sex with me. I was saying to-”
“Huh?” My interruption came fast.
“What?” Connor raised his eyebrows.
I started laughing, “Dude, I’m sorry. I thought you said you asked your mom to have sex with you.”
“Yes, I want to have sex with my mother.” He stared at me with complete certainty.
“What did she say?” I asked, feeling shocked but curious.
Connor leaned on his right elbow. “Well, we talked about it, and she doesn’t think it’s a good idea because it might affect our relationship.”
I shook my head. “Just out of curiosity, how did you broach this question? I mean, was there like some behavior or signals that led to this moment, or did you just sort of come out of the blue with it?”
“Well, my mom is attractive, and about a year ago, I just decided to explore the option with her. We’ve always been pretty close and open, so I knew she wouldn’t flip out or anything. That’s how we got on the topic of nihilism and after a long discussion…”
Connor’s conversations with his mom and the desire to have sex with her unspooled endless questions. He answered many questions, but more questions arose listening to him, later in class, on the drive home from school, and that evening drinking beer in the living room. Connor didn’t seem crazy. Certainly, he was articulate and logical and must know incest’s negative repercussions, but was there a negative end to his quest? Rumors of Nietzsche* wanting to have sex with his sister and Caligula having incestuous relations with three sisters swirled thought, blowing away old assumptions of period differences: as if the occurrence of these desires or acts in the past somehow made them more palatable. But perhaps they were acceptable in a similar proximity issue that makes the third-world starving kid meaningless until you place the emaciated girl at the dining room table. Connor’s thinking confronted me in a real, contemporary way. Was there some strange freedom in nihilism that allowed Nietzsche, Caligula, and now Connor to partake in incest unencumbered by social conventions? Had Connor somehow stumbled into learning truth held no meaning, and this meaning, or lack of meaning, empowered behavior and actions inconceivable to most people?
Drowning in nihilism, the need for a philosophic lifebuoy warranted an early return to school the next day to discuss the matter with Brooke, who spoke with me each morning before class. Brooke majored in some form of counseling and planned to work with deaf people using sign language, and while she held no working knowledge of philosophy or metaphysics, practicality abounded along with magnificent breasts. The entire first semester passed each morning in the E-Lounge with Brooke’s many novel critiques: Stephen King notably. Her curls bounced in harmony with her breasts as discussions of the Stand and other books articulated in hand movements and lively facial expressions. Her practicality, avid reading, and enthralling horror discussions inspired much poetry, long nights dreaming, and endless friction with my girlfriend. Although the ex-girlfriend had many redeeming qualities such as artistry and intellect, her breasts did not have the size or subtle spring of life that Brooke’s possessed. Breaking up with the girlfriend after the first semester ended the friction but now stalled life in a purgatory awaiting Brooke’s break up with her boyfriend.
Finding Brooke deep in a novel, I sat across from her. “You got to hear this.”
“What?” She looked up with an excited smile.
“You know that guy Connor?”
“Yes.” She closed her book.
“Connor told me he asked his mom to have sex with him…”
Brooke’s eyes widened in disbelief and gossip’s eagerness as she leaned forward, revealing much cleavage while listening to the tale of Connor.
“What do you think?” I finished the story.
“What? Besides him being crazy?” she laughed.
“No, like maybe Connor discovered there’s no meaning in anything, and by learning there’s no meaning, perhaps he found meaning. You know what I’m saying?”
She leaned back, and her breasts bounced slightly in a perfect motion that emphasized her words. “I think you’re overthinking this. Even if something has no meaning other than what we assign it, doesn’t that make what we assign meaningful, if for no other reason than being forced to live with that meaning? I mean, you can argue gravity’s meaningfulness all day, but I wouldn’t jump off a building to prove it.”
Wise and beautiful, her conversation wound through life’s nature with the sensibility that barred killing myself to prove an afterlife exists. Brooke soon left, and while watching her sashay from the table, a sight that challenged the aesthetics of her breasts, I decided to skip class. She was correct. All this talk of nihilism held the same emptiness as other philosophical arguments, self-help, and religions, especially since it solved nothing except maybe to get Connor laid by his mom. Resting my head on the table while formulating an argument against nihilism led to a nap, ending in the sound of Connor’s voice. “Hey, man. What are you up to?”
Looking up and opening eyes revealed Connor and a beautiful girl. “Not much. What’s up?” I yawned.
They sat in the chairs across the table, and Connor pointed to the girl. “We just got here, and Missy’s class canceled. By the way, this is my girlfriend, Missy. I’m not sure if you guys know each other.”
“Hi.” She extended a dainty hand that felt like cotton and enticed in a soft, fragile way which contrasted her dark, ripped-up clothes born of the Grunge. Unable to hide the symmetry of features and shapeliness in the thrift-store style, Missy exuded intense sexuality that caused much fantasy. As we shook hands, Connor lit a cigarette. “I was telling Missy about our conversation concerning nihilism, and she agrees with my mom and me. The only real meaning of something results from what a person assigns to the thing in question at the moment.”
An awkward pause in the conversation followed with Connor reassuring me with the wave of a hand. “It’s cool. Missy knows about my mom. We’ve discussed it, and she supports me.”
Missy smiled and nodded. “I don’t think I’m completely sold on the idea of pure nihilism. I mean; there’s definitely some importance arising out of the purpose of things and…”
The conversation lulled in the background of Connor’s philosophy that not only freed him to explore a desire to have sex with his mom but also provided a girlfriend with the understanding and compassion to support this desire. Thoughts of chanting Sanskrit and wasted trips on inward self-discoveries conflated with self-help book wisdom in a fury for having overlooked the simplicity of meaninglessness. The inarguable results of nothing being justifiable clarified in Connor’s beautiful, understanding girlfriend who helped sculpt his nihilism while I returned home alone to drink beer and confound myself in meaning’s search. Barely able to talk to my parents, who were about to disown me, I became vexed thinking of Connor’s honest, albeit bizarre, relations he discussed with his mom. Somehow, scaling the meaning of life’s mountain spiraled life into an unhappiness abyss. The Connor Imperative now sat before me and extended the lifeline that dictated: Act only according to that maxim that you assign meaning at the moment. Simplicity’s perfection.
Skipping class and going home to consider the Connor Imperative, I sat on the sofa listening to the stereo and drinking beer. Calls from my parents filled the answering machine with virulent messages that inspired no return call. The ex-girlfriend called, leaving no message, followed by a concerned anatomy instructor whose class seemed an inevitable failure. The discovery of life’s meaninglessness shed new light on my problems and motivated changes starting with Brooke. The ex-girlfriend didn’t matter because the relationship no longer meant anything since it was in the past. I broke up with her because I wanted to be with Brooke at the time, and that desire’s meaningfulness still held. Like Connor asking his mom to have sex, I would ask Brooke on a date come Monday.
About to go to bed, needing to work the bank teller job early in the morning, I shut off the light but flipped it back on when a knock came from the door. Finding my best friend beyond the door holding a case of beer and vodka bottle brought much happiness. His attendance at an out-of-state university limited visits, so taking advantage of the moment, we drank, discussed nihilism, and debated the Connor Imperative as the night devolved into an invented drinking game, never to be played again, of Guess the Next Song on the Radio.
“I love Brooke! I love her!”
I violently pointed to my friend who, believing himself in the bathroom, vomited on the wall before I passed out to awaken an hour late for work.
Languishing in the bank’s drive-thru window, throbbing temples caused much consternation for the job. Caught in the murder hole between aspirations to be a philosopher and novelist, nihilism’s sword drew against the bank, slicing through its unjustified financial purpose as angry, half-drunk fingers pounded keys of the computer ledger with debits and credits from checks cashed and deposits made. Hatred of the profession did not go unanswered. As though the machine of meaninglessness heard and responded to my cries, the day’s end came, and the till revealed a two-thousand-dollar shortage.
Informed of the pending termination from the bank, I returned home, cracked a beer, and listened to the answering machine scream in my mother’s voice, “We’re not paying for your college anymore after this semester!”
Fuck them. The Connor Imperative unlocked the job manacles, and now, meaninglessness unjustified the need for college, ending the war over education, freeing me to be a novelist.
The weekend passed in beer drinking and planning. Fully prepared to steer life’s ship into nihilism’s headwind, I drove to school, found Brooke at her regular table reading, and sat across from her. “Hey.”
She looked up. “Hey.”
“We should go out.”
She looked to the window. “I don’t know it’s kind of chilly outside.”
“No, I mean us. We should go out.”
She leaned back, turning her head slightly towards me, examining me with her left eye. “You know, if you asked me last semester, I probably would have gone out with you, but since the semester break, I’ve been trying to work things out with my boyfriend.”
I stared. “I love you.”
She let out a slight laugh. “You don’t love me. I think you’re just feeling lost right now. I have time this afternoon, why don’t you meet me in the cafeteria, and we’ll get lunch and talk more.”
I nodded as she collected her books and left to go to class. Staring out the window, a touch on my shoulder turned my head to find my counselor. “Vince, I’ve been calling you for three days. You’re on the verge of failing your classes. You started so well; is there something wrong? Is there…”
While nodding, explaining, and agreeing, meaninglessness unraveled in abstract possibilities leading to degrees, jobs, a happy life, and a wife or girlfriend, maybe even Brooke. When finished, he left with an agreement from me to use the time remaining in the semester to improve grades, and I returned to staring out the E-lounge window until Connor’s voice recaptured my attention. “Hey man, what are you up to?”
“Not much.” I turned to Connor.
“Why don’t you blow this place and come back to my house. Me and some friends are planning an all-day Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and I think you…”
The moment wound in the meaning assigned to it, following the Connor Imperative, a great day ensued with drinking beer, killing dragons, and hoping curiously to meet Connor’s mom instead of meeting Brooke to eat lunch and talk.
*At the time of this writing, the controversy concerning Nietzsche’s affair with his sister was less widely known outside the study of philosophy. The book My Sister and I continues to be a controversy as of January 2, 2021, the updating of this story.
A Brief Consideration of Life
God, yourself, the world, everything . . .you know, shit like that...
Man, life goes by fast...TOO FAST! Okay, don’t act stupid — you know there might not be any afterlife, any living forever, any heaven...maybe not even any God — no baby Jesus in the manger with a virgin mom out there resting up from a tough labor and delivery with cows and goats and wise men and stuff, trying to explain how, if she was a virgin, she had this kid!!! You know that there might not be any life after death and you know that to think there is, doesn’t make any more sense than to think there isn’t. Come on, don’t act stupid; you’ve been told a lot of lies in your life, and you know it — tons! Not you? Oh really? Do Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and ‘don’t worry this shot won’t hurt’ ring any bells? If what I’m saying here doesn’t make sense to you, put this down and stop reading right now, ’cause you’re either too young, or too stupid to get it anyway! Here’s the deal, we all wish that some of the things were true. We wish that life didn’t go by so fast, too fast, and we wished that the whole God, life after death, ‘this shot won’t hurt’ stuff were real, because it makes us feel better. All kinds of lies or half-truths or maybe even whole truths can make things feel better: ‘I love you more than anybody in the world.’ ‘You’re incredibly special.’ ‘There is a real way that things work, and you can figure this out if you’re brave, lucky or smart enough.’ Since life goes by really fast, too fast, this story is like an introduction to an instruction manual about how the universe works; it’s a way for you to understand everything you’ll ever need to understand and to get everything you want out of life. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Decide for yourself, unless you’re still placing crusty baby teeth under your pillow, hoping for chump-change — in which case, forget about it.
A Brief Pep-talk to Boost Your Spirits
Maybe...we call the lies we tell ourselves the truth because we experience things and need to shape what happens into a form where we can remember it and make some sense of it. Used to be that we’d watch a ship sail out to sea and disappear as it fell over the edge and know for certain that we could see the shape of our earth. Some of us decide it’s all pre-determined, written by God or some power and that it all happens for a reason. Others of us find that ridiculous. I suspect most of us know in our bones, that there is more order and sense to what happens to us than we can fully grasp; luck, timing, pure, simple randomness, play big roles as well, but in spite of knowing this some of us need to believe that there is some higher power counting sparrows that fall and every hair on our heads and such.
If that is how you understand your life, be my guest. You’re no more a fool than many others who have decided to look at the world that way also.
There is something so comforting in thinking you can figure it out. But just so you know it’s bullshit and saying “Have a nice day” doesn’t make much sense either unless you think that there are folks out there committed to having an unhappy one. I think we call the lies we tell ourselves “the truth” because we lack the courage and imagination to consider the impossible puzzle of existence and to accept our infinitesimally minuscule role in all of it.
A nod to the importance of timing—for good AND for ill
So it’s the night before Patti and I are planning to leave the big house in Spokane for our five month stay in Tucson. The night before: our car is packed, the 101 plus details have been accounted for and re-accounted for a dozen times because leaving for five months means leaving life in the north behind and driving four long days to live in our home in Tucson for five months. I know, I know, white people’s problems but still…
At 9ish the phone rings and it’s Michelle, Patti’s Down Syndrome sister Donna’s care-provider for the last four years. Patti and I took care of Donna for the twenty years prior, but reaching our sixties we finally found a great group home and that’s where Donna lives thriving and happy until this moment… because now, well into the evening of our last night in Spokane, Michelle is calling to tell us Donna keeps peeling off all her clothes, sitting around naked, refusing to eat or drink, belligerent, hostile, retarded, and being a general lunatic pain in the ass, as Donna has always, at times been, and Michelle insists that Patti and I must, “Do something!” “Like what? We’re leaving tomorrow morning for Tucson. Besides, what can we do, anyway?” Michelle’s tone, volume, attitude — all of it is filled with demands, expectations, insistence that Donna is suddenly NOT her responsibility any longer — despite the fact that Donna is exactly that, Michelle’s responsibility. No need here in a poem about timing... to go into what unfolds next and finally: Donna’s 102 degree temp, her severe respiratory infection, (aspiration pneumonia) or any of the myriad more disastrous details of Michelle’s histrionic and historic dropping of the ball and the fallout from that. I’ll just say Timing in life isn’t everything but it is significant. We can’t control what happens to us but we can try to control what we do with what happens when the timing of a hit is perfectly wrong.
When bad shit hits at the exquisitely worst moment is when we later can look back and laugh at people who say “Everything happens for a reason — the good Lord only gives us what he knows we can handle and… Blahblahblahblah.” Life teaches us otherwise, teaches us that the wind blows from north or south, good or ill and we can be slammed or caressed at any moment based on nothing more and nothing less and nothing other than Timing.
Photo by Jerzy Bednarski, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Copyright Vincent Triola & Terry Trueman