“What happens when things stop being cosmic and become something you can hold in your hand in very real sense?” – Douglas Coupland, Eleanor Rigby

The last 24 hours have been just – remarkable. For the first time in days, definitely, but in a greater sense years I feel at peace. I have struggled for so long and now – now – now there is the beginning of understanding, the beginning of love, the beginning of something so terrifying I am conscious of consciously holding myself back. I want to talk about it because it’s all I can think about – and yet I’m afraid to because I don’t know if you’ll understand, or want to understand, or think me foolish for wanting to surrender to this.

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From the drawer of my bedside table I took her journal and opening it at random, under a date last January, I read: ‘O God, if I could really hate you, what would that mean?’ And I thought, hating Sarah is only loving Sarah and hating myself is only loving myself. I’m not worth hating – Maurice Bendrix, author of The Ambitious Host, The Crowned Image, The Grave on the Water-Front, Bendrix the scribbler. Nothing – not even Sarah – is worth our hatred if You exist, except You. And, I thought, sometimes I’ve hated Maurice, but would I have hated him if I hadn’t loved him too? O God, if I could really hate you…
I remembered how Sarah had prayed to the God she didn’t believe in, and now I spoke to the Sarah I didn’t believe in. I said: You sacrificed both of us once to bring me back to life, but what sort of a life is this without you? It’s all very well for you to love God. You are dead. You have him. But I’m sick with life, I’m rotten with health. If I begin to love God, I can’t just die. I’ve got to do something about it. I had to touch you with my hands, I had to taste you with my tongue: one can’t love and do nothing. It’s no use your telling me not to worry as you did once in a dream. If I ever loved like that, it would be the end of everything. Loving you I had no appetite for food, I felt no lust for any other woman, but loving him there’d be no pleasure in anything at all with him away. I’d even lose my work, I’d cease to be Bendrix. Sarah, I’m afraid.
–Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

some thoughts – hang in there, this is going to be a long one…

The temperature needs to stop fluctuating in this house. It was freezing in the basement, cold on the main floor, and cool upstairs. So I turned on the heat. Now it is cozy in the basement, cool on the main floor, and warmish upstairs with the windows open. The heat is off. Damned strange thermostats.
Finished Life of Pi just now – more thoughts on that in a second, but first some musings on Amazon. I clicked through to look at some of the reviews on Life of Pi and was amused at a lot of things.

One: the other recommended books – specifically Middlesex and The Lovely Bones. Middlesex? I suppose these associations are fairly arbitrarily chosen based on purchase history – but seeing these three (somewhat) recent reads lumped together was odd. Also odd to see my old friend Chuck linked as a similar and recommended author. Never would’ve seen that one coming.
Two: the review by Alex Constantin. He comments that while he immediately understood why, say, The God of Small Things won the Booker, he didn’t have that same experience with Life of Pi. I’m still puzzling through that myself – a lot to process – but I can definitely understand the comment because I had that experience with Middlesex and the Pulitzer. Haha, a connection! I finished Middlesex and said – what? I suppose it’s one that bears a rereading because the inherent value of the work didn’t occur to me until much later – but I don’t think I can bring myself to do it. I’m still puzzling over Life of Pi but as there isn’t as much, well, bizarreness, I think it will merit a second read. Again, still processing.
And I suppose my thoughts on Pi can be divided into two parts – the religious and the fictional aspects. I think maybe that’s why I’m confused about the award-winning – because (at least in my mind) the book starts off as one thing and ends as something entirely different. Pi’s conversions were wonderful and thought-provoking, especially having just finished And It Was Good. In And It Was Good, Madeleine L’Engle embraces her agnosticism:

“I reply, joyfully, that I am still an agnostic, but then I was an unhappy one, seeking finite answers, and now I am a happy one, rejoicing in paradox. Agnostic means only that we do not know, and we finite creatures cannot know, in any intellectual or ultimate way, the infinite Lord, the undivided Trinity. Now I am able to accept my not-knowing – and rey, in a completely different way, in the old biblical way, I also know what I do not understand, and that is what my agnosticism means to me now. It does not mean that I do not believe; it is an acceptance that I am created, that I am asked to bear the light, knowing that this is the most wonderful of all vocations.”

Compare that to Pi: “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” Hmm. I understand both sides – and where they intersect. I’m wondering if I’m more attuned to this portion of Pi because of just finishing L’Engle. Either way – I found that interesting. Pi’s confrontation with the “three wise men” also reminded me of L’Engle – he and his parents meet with a priest, an imam, and a pandit – Pi has recently become a devotee of all three religions. Rather than discussing the ways this faith – this beautiful love of God and God alone, no matter the name – is admirable or unique or even just weird – they attack each other. Rather than admitting that this boy sees the ways that loving God intersects, no matter the name you’ve chosen for him – they resort to name-calling and finger-pointing – which only proves Pi’s faith as being the more authentic. L’Engle discusses faith and the nature of faith in terms of scientific knowledge, stating that the more we argue a point, the more we’re sure we’re right and are intractable in that belief – the more we are limiting God, God’s truth, God’s love and infinity. We do not need to prove God – or protect God – from or to anyone, any more than Pi would have benefited from arguing his “case” to the wise men. Faith just – is. Beautiful.
But the fiction? I don’t know. I read Pi quickly – in a few hours over the last two days – and perhaps I missed something. Back to Constantin’s review – I found the end unsatisfying, though surprising. What is real? What was real? The pedantic answer is, duh, none of it’s real – but characters this invested with life possess some reality, even if it ends when you close the book. The other story? It is much easier to believe – but it also divests the narrative as a whole of its weight while raising questions not easily answered (see above). If the other story is the true one, the psychological ramifications are more interesting but the survival aspect is lessened. It will be interesting to reread Pi with the knowledge of the other story – to see how it influences interpretation the second time around.
So – I liked it, but I’m dissatisfied. I enjoyed the religious discussions at the beginning and was disappointed that this particular element was not carried through to the end – though I suppose agnosticism is. You’re given a brilliant narrative – and then at the last moment, the rug is pulled out from under you – and you’re given a choice: faith or doubt. At least you know that bananas float. If you’ve read Pi, I’d be really interested to hear your comments on this and the novel as a whole.

the philosophy of e

Some things crystallized while talking to Sarah this morning – what I’d like to call “The Philosophy of E.” I’ve spent a lot of time thinking these days – these two weeks off work – all the hours of the sleepless nights, the time spent alone, the time spending in longing and reading and inquiry. I guess my worldview at this point boils down to two basic tenets:
1. We’re here for such a brief time – our lives are so tenuous – why the fuck not do the things that bring joy?
2. No matter the decisions you make, no matter the course your life takes, that is the way it was meant to be and it couldn’t be any other way.
The first one is pretty self explanatory – our lives are so short; why waste time doing things that don’t make you happy? Or that don’t keep you happy? Obviously we all have to do things that suck – bills have to be paid, toilets have to be cleaned – but those are necessary evils on the path to what brings joy, what brings meaning. The second is a bit more complicated.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I believe in both predestination and free will. I believe – I know – that the choices we make in life determine who we are. I also know that who we are is determined by all sorts of factors we can’t control – our parents, our upbringing, our fragile bodies, our “natural selection” or predilections. And if the last two weeks have taught me anything, it’s that worrying about how life might be different had certain choices been different is a futile thing. It will drive you mad. Things are the way they are for a reason. I firmly believe that. The choices we make might not make sense – they might be difficult and intensely painful – but they are made for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is – I think we don’t know a lot of the time, which is why life is so precious, so enigmatic, so full of doubt and questioning and joy.

We are here – in life, on this Earth – for a reason – for some brief, undetermined amount of time – and then we’re gone. I don’t know why we’re here. I don’t know the meaning or the measure of my life. All I know is that I want my life to have meaning. I want joy. I want peace. I want the peaks of ecstasy and the depths of despair – and have had both in these two weeks. I want life at its fullest, its richest, its most powerful. And I know – in my heart, in my soul, in the fundamental parts of me that I can trust beyond my reason or my intellect – that I will have these things, that I am in the process of having these things. And it can’t be any different. I may not understand the path I have chosen – but I know it is the only place I could be. And if things are meant to be different, they will be. I have firm confidence in that.
In The Hours, Clarissa relates a story about her youth, how she walked out one day and thought “This is the beginning of happiness.” In her middle age, relating the story to her daughter, she realized that it wasn’t the beginning of happiness, it was happiness. I think that is at the heart of what I’m thinking and feeling and trying to express – that awareness of purpose, of happiness – of celebrating the moment without over-thinking or worrying about how it could or might or should be different. I think just being is enough.

friday five, paparazzi style

Friday Five:
1. Who is your favorite celebrity?
Jack Black. His eccentricity is charming – and my friend Rachel met him at a wedding and said he is everything in person that he is on stage or on TV.
2. Who is your least favorite?
Umm, I don’t know. The guy who played Bob on Twin Peaks still creeps me out – is that good enough?
3. Have you ever met or seen any celebrities in real life?
Depends on your definition of celebrity. If you’re talking movie or TV stars, then no. If you’re talking bands or authors, yes. Oh and I saw Richard Simmons hugging Barney at BookExpo 97. That was weird.
4. Would you want to be famous? Why or why not?
I don’t think so. I’d like to be well-known, but not necessarily famous.
5. If you had to trade places with a celebrity for a day, who would you choose and why?
Can I pick the celebrity AND the day? Halle Berry on Oscar night. Mmm mmm mmm Adrian Brody. 🙂
Answering these questions makes me feel like I read too much People magazine – which I used to do at the bookstore but not any more.

Jen and Amanda and I had a long talk in a half-drunken state last night about religion and relationships and sex and education. One thing that struck me out of the convo is that we all identified our times of the peak of religious (and by religious I mean Christian) fervor as coinciding with our most self-destructive times. During the times I was active in church and praying and reading the Bible and feeling very close to God, I hated myself. I wasn’t eating. I was crying all the time – and that was interpreted by the people at church as being a sign of God moving in me. I guess I just find it so hard to believe that a loving and benevolent God would want his “children” to suffer, to hate themselves, to choose misery over happiness for the sake of being holy. I don’t know. I have a lot of soul searching to do before I can return to church whole-heartedly.

But I have a job interview in 45 minutes, so I really should be getting ready….