Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Went To

I went to the university and said, "Listen, I don't want to be get back into that bottle." I had put in all the hours necessary for the degree; all I had to do was write the goddamn thesis. They wouldn't let me move into another place and continue my education, so I said to hell with it. I went up into the woods and spent five years reading. I never got the Ph.D. I learned to live on nothing. I was free and had no responsibilities. It was marvelous.

- Joseph Campbell

* * *

This past year was a time of no risk for me. Zero. To others looking in it might not have looked that way, but I knew better. The efforts, the motions, my words and deeds were meant only to comfort my fuckedness, not undo it. Risk always means letting something go, choosing one thing over another and saying good-bye to what has to be left behind. I had no such interest. Everything was done with an eye to keeping it all, to not choosing one thing over another, but holding onto flowing waters.

The equation was happiness exists in my memory, not in the present, so I will remain in the past. Simple.

But it was a lie, a sweet, sweet lie that meant no harm, but was worse than any outward circumstance because now I'd lost my balance and could not withstand, bear, or overcome any circumstance. I'd put myself in irons.

Campbell's story of leaving his Ph.D. behind so he could pursue his education is a stunner. This is the Depression and he walks away from certitude, from a decent job, and instead spends the next five years of his life reading in order to become who he was.

Fucking brilliant.

How many times have you been told, or in fact have told others, to get a degree as a fallback - "You can always teach." Bullshit. Only teachers should teach. It is hard work and nobody needs a bunch of panty-waisted losers who can't make up their mind about what they want to be when they grow up at the front of any classroom.

The fucked life is a hedged life, the bet always being covered by an opposite bet - no losses, no victories.

* * *

Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell,
About those woods is hard -- so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring - death is hardly more bitter.
And yet, to treat of the good I found there as well

I'll tell what I saw, though how I came to enter
I cannot well say, being so full of sleep
Whatever moment it was I began to blunder

Off the true path. But when I came to stop
Below a hill that marked one end of the valley
That had pierced my heart with terror, I looked up

Toward the crest and saw its shoulders already
Mantled in rays of that bright planet that shows
The road to everyone, whatever our journey.

- Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Canto I, trans. Robert Pinsky

* * *

The fucked life is an old story. It is the very stuff of all our stories. Something must always be left behind, let go of, destroyed in order for what's next to emerge, in order for life to proceed, to fulfill itself. Resisting the call of life, clinging to the past out of woundedness, out of longing, is an immature response - one not worthy of the breath you draw.

You act as if your trials and troubles and crosses to bear are the sum total of what life affords you. They are - until you set them down and set out for the woods and spend the next five years reading, or whatever it is you have to do in order to live your name.

All you have to lose is your fucked life.


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