Reasons to Live

IMG_0110I was listening to an episode of Fresh Air recently wherein Terry Gross interviewed Louis CK, mostly about his TV show Louie and his recent Beacon Theatre performance. It included a clip from the TV show, depicting a confrontation between Louis and a suicidal friend of his. The friend demands that Louis give him a reason to live, if Louis is going to try and talk him out of killing himself.

“No,” says Louis, “I got my reasons to live. I worked hard to figure out what they are. I’m not just handing ’em to you. You want a reason to live? Have a drink of water and get some sleep, wake up in the morning and try again like everyone else does…You know what, it’s not your life. It’s life. Life is bigger than you.”

Most of the time, we just sort of drift through the day to day, taking care of tasks and running errands and doing the things we need to do to remain alive and fed. But it’s worth stepping back, every now and again, and evaluating just what the hell it is you think you’re doing, and why. Especially when you’re coming out of (or think you’re coming out of) a depression that paused more or less everything in your life for almost two years. One of the problems with depression is that, in trying to hard to get yourself well, you do all kinds of things not because you want to, but because you feel that you should. You no longer go to parties or concerts because you want to or because they’re fun. You go because you recognize that these activities were fun once upon a time, so clearly, to continue to do the things that you once enjoyed is good for you. And even if they no longer bring you joy–even if you end up sitting in the back of the music hall crying for reasons you don’t understand and hoping that nobody notices or tries to talk to you–certainly, staying home isn’t going to make you better. Watching entire seasons of The Biggest Loser in one go and not getting out of bed for entire days clearly isn’t good for you. Compulsively playing Solitaire on your iPod isn’t good for you. Failing to sleep and not finishing school assignments isn’t good for you. So you force yourself to do things that are good for you. Fake it till you make it, right? You can act your way out of depression, right? If you keep doing the things that you used to love to do, someday they’ll regain their magic.

Right?

I don’t want to jinx myself. I think it’s finally getting better. I have a new job (well, two new jobs, which will hopefully someday be one complete job) with people I like, that pays almost enough to live off of, and sometimes I will pause and realize I’m enjoying myself. It’s like the first deep breath you take after an asthma attack, or after holding your breath underwater for too long. Or riding my bike and realizing I’m having fun. Feeling proud of myself after I’ve ridden for 20+ miles. Do you know the last time that I felt proud of myself for something? I don’t either. And sometimes I catch myself hanging out with friends and realizing that they do, in fact, want me around.

And oddly enough, that’s enough for now. Those single breaths where I feel okay. At the end of everything, it really doesn’t take much, finding your reasons to live.

Looking for Narnia

lucynarnia.jpg“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe! thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more moth-balls?” she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.

Next moment she found that what was rubbing against her face and hands was no longer soft fur but something hard and rough and even prickly. “Why, it is just like branches of trees!” exclaimed Lucy. And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.

Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glipse of the empty room from which she had set out. (She had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe.) It seemed to be still daylight there. “I can always get back if anything goes wrong,” thought Lucy. She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood toward the other light. In about ten minutes she reached it and found it was a lamp-post. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of the wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming toward her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post.”

The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe. Chap. 1, “Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe”

Getting over something, processing something, working something out in my head, is a little like being lost in the wilderness. Not that I’ve ever been lost in the wilderness, but being lost, waiting for something to happen, waiting for something inside your head to change, waiting for something in your heart to heal, sometimes it feels like that’s all there is. When you don’t know which way to go to get out of the forest, all around you is infinite forest.

Sometimes, I manage to find a spot in my head where things feel okay. Where I’m not fighting against everything that Is, trying to make it into something it isn’t. Where I can let go of grief and expectation. Buddhists might call it Enlightenment, these little flashes of acceptance. Maybe it’s like finding your way back onto the map. Maybe it’s like finding Narnia. Most of the time, you open the wardrobe, and all you see is the back of the wardrobe. You try to tell people about it, but they can only see the back of the wardrobe too. And then one day, without even trying, without expecting it, you open the wardrobe, and there’s trees, and fauns, and Lions that aren’t quite Tame.

Most people think of being lost in the woods as a bad thing, a life-threatening thing. And it is, of course it is. But it’s not always losing an arm under a rock or getting chased by starving wolves or failing to start a fire. Sometimes, you find Narnia.

facebook-dislike-button.pngI deactivated my Facebook account, and I haven’t been posting on Twitter. Or I’ll post, and then delete it. Recent events have rendered me uncommunicative. And Facebook makes me uncomfortable.

Do I want my mom (FB friend) to know how depressed I am? Do I want Marilyn to know? Do I want random people I only know from shows, classmates, aunts and uncles?

What is this supposed benefit, this advantage, to being “out” and “complete” on the internet? To not withholding pieces of myself? What do I get, besides exposure and violation of my own personal privacy? Not any guarantee that others will accept me or treat me compassionately, that’s for damn sure. Mark Zuckerburg’s argument that we should post our entire lives online, under our own names, presupposes a just and compassionate universe that I just don’t think I see.

I’m writing more now that I’m not reading Facebook.

Facebook is predicated on this idea that our whole lives, attached to our real names, should be open books. How profound can Facebook really get, in that situation? How far are we willing to risk our true selves on a website?

Open and honest Facebooking is predicated on the assumption of an open and honest (and compassionate) society. Why should teachers be honest, when they could be fired for admitting they drink beer? Why should public officials? Why should husbands, knowing their wives will read what they post? Children, in the view of their parents, and parents in view of their children? How much are our relationships really built on honesty, and how much are they built on discretion? Does Facebook make society more tolerant, or less?

Is this why so many people do nothing but post pictures of lolcats and articles from cracked.com? What would they say, if they knew people were really listening? (Or maybe they know people are really listening, and that’s why they keep quiet about everything except the new Twilight movie.)

I am so much more open here, where nobody reads what I write.

In order to be honest with others, I have to first be honest with myself. And really, this fall, I’m just not there.

What Would I Send Up Into Space? (orig. published Oct. 16, 2010)

One of my favorite shows is Radiolab, on NPR out of WNYC.  During one of their early seasons, they had a piece on the Voyager space craft, these probes that were launched into space with two gold records on board, containing sounds and images from earth.  They are intended to be a greeting to any extra-terrestrial species who happen upon them, assuming they can decode them, and divine some of our aspects as humans (see Wikipedia).  The probe even has a map on it, so the aliens can find us (and destroy us, no doubt).  Radiolab went around to various scientists, authors, public figures and asked what they would put on the craft.

 

I had a lot of trouble thinking of what I would send up in space for aliens to find.  I mean, it’s deliberately creating an archeological cache, and that’s so impossible–and has never been done before.  Almost everything we have from ancient cultures, we have it by accident, or by sheer luck.  Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates never wrote anything down.  What we have from them was written down by their students.  The only major founder of religion who did write anything down, now that I think about it, was Muhammad (and he only did it because the Angel Gabriel commanded him to, and even then, he didn’t write it–those around him took notes).  Did the ancient Egyptians ever intend us to go rummaging around in their graves, trying to figure out who they were?  If they had had a say in the matter, what would they have left us?  What would they have put in the Voyager?  What if the artifacts that we have are not the artifacts that they would have found important for us to know about?  If Demosthenes was here now, what would he want us to know about him?

There’s simply no way to send context aboard a space craft.  Okay, so I send up a photograph album with faces from every single country on earth.  What would an alien who has never seen a human face make of them?  What would they make of an iPod?  of a dildo?  of a book?  It’s the old problem of how to explain blue to a blind person.  I don’t think that anything I send up into space is going to be accurately interpreted by the aliens.  I almost sided with not sending up anything at all.   The only reason we can read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics is because we found the Rosetta stone, which translates hieroglyphics into another ancient alphabet that we were able to decode because we could compare that alphabet to yet another later one, until we traveled down the alphabetical family tree to our own present-day languages.  We have no common alphabet or manner of communication with aliens; we don’t even know if they have anything like our own sensorial input structure, so how do we tell them anything with the assurance that they’ll be able to understand it?  (Carl Sagan says math, but as someone from Earth who doesn’t understand math, I don’t know.)

So then I took the aliens out of the situation entirely.  I have no way of divining what would be important or meaningful to them, so fuck ‘em.  What would I want to send into space?  Not what do I think is representative of Earth’s culture for the benefit of some other being, but what is important to me?

My grandparents were married for sixty-some years before my grandfather died.  They had their fiftieth wedding anniversary when I was in about first grade.  For that anniversary, their kids (they have six) made a quilt.  Each kid made one panel, sent it off to one of my aunts who is handy with such things, and she sewed it together into a quilt.  It sort of has the story of our family sewn into it.

During Katrina (my grandparents lived in New Orleans; well, my grandfather died long before Katrina), my grandmother evacuated.  She left pretty much everything except a change of clothes behind.  The quilt was in a closet, wrapped in plastic, but when one of my aunts found it after the storm, it had gotten infected with black mold.  We spent several hundred dollars trying to get it cleaned, so that we wouldn’t have to throw it away.  I think the people who had it had to cut out some fabric and replace it, I don’t know the exact procedure.  So we still have the quilt (it’s one of the few things that made it out of my grandmother’s house, which took on six feet of water), but it’s scarred.

Given the chance, I’d send the quilt into space.  It’s the story of my family, it’s a symbol of my family’s love for each other, and especially the love my grandparents held for each other.  They were the kind of people who ate dinner holding hands, every night, for sixty years.  I don’t want to overstate its symbolism, but it’s a precious object in my family.  One of the few.

Space is a vacuum.  The Voyager probe won’t even reach another star cluster for 40,000 years, much less be in danger of hitting anything.  And because there’s no air, no bacteria, no anything, all that’s in the probe will still be in the same condition as it was the day it was sent away from Earth on the day the aliens find it.  Anything up there, as long as it’s not alive, is safe.  I could send the quilt up there, and it would be safe, completely out of harm’s way, out of the reach of mold and hurricanes and time.  And probably aliens will never find it, and that’s fine.  The Voyager space program is more about us than about them, anyway.  For this symbol of my grandparents’ love for each other to be floating about amongst the stars?  There’s something almost religious about that, for me.

Part of me wants love to be a tangible thing, something that leaves something physical behind, like dust.  Maybe the aliens who find it would see the scars from the mold, and the way it was mended, and be able to make sense of the abstract panels, and say, “Ahh.  This was important to somebody.  These people care for each other,” because when the picked up the quilt and shook it out, the love scattered like coins.  This is impossible, of course.  Aliens will find a ratty old piece of cloth and divine that this probe is clearly nothing but a trash receptacle with stuff in it that somebody wanted to get rid of.  And that’s fine, I and all of my descendents will be long dead, and we’ll have forgotten about the quilt, but I’ll have died knowing that it’s safe.