It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true. The only thing that's capital "T" True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
- David Foster Wallace, "This is Water"
* * *
Several months ago, a reader reached out to me to tell me she was going to have something I wrote tattooed onto her body. As a man with no tattoos and as someone who never considered the possibility that anything I wrote could be tattoo-able, this news knocked me off my pins. It was terrifyingly humbling and all I could think to say was, "Make sure the tattoo artist knows how to spell." It was the most useful thing I could think of to say. I mention this because I have been thinking of inking someone else's words onto my right forearm: This is water. It will remind me, because I often need reminding, that I don't know a goddamned thing.
* * *
The deepest truth is that we don't know anything. We want to make things knowable. We want the life spread before to make sense - not only in the immediate, day in and day out sort of making sense (the work we devote our time to, the people we devote our love to, how dinner is going to be paid for and made), but also in the colossal, impossibly huge sense of our place in the cosmos, the hand of God, if there is a God, gods, deities, djinns, or the mindlessness of biology writ as all we are or can be. We want to know, so we take it in bites, portions we can manage and over time - the length of a life, the length of generations, skipping back to an eon - we have mistaken these bite-sized portions for the mystery they were once part of and so reduced ourselves to certitude, knowability, and the ugly smugness of having an answer.
Into this we fucked fuckers are cast, the dross to be burned off because what is knowable is useless to us. It doesn't work for us and we assume, incorrectly, that the fault is ours. We medicate our unease out of existence. We take on the yoke of others' expectations as to what can and cannot be done with a life, our life. Eventually we settle like dust into the corners of our existence. We do this because we make the mistake of believing what we know is all there is to know. If your life has brought you betrayal or abuse of any kind, that is the filter you view the world from and the world tends to conform to your sight. If your life has been one of frustrated ambition, false starts and the gnawing sense that you are not ever going to find your footing, then so it is. And so on regardless of the experience you have encountered. This is an internal caste system of which there is no escape because you have made the mistake of presuming your experience is the only experience available and that even acknowledging the possibility of other people having other experiences does not move you to see that you, too, could live otherwise. No, your default setting is a type of narcissism that fucks you up: this is all there is.
This is the hell of living. This is the wasteland. This is our default setting because we experience our life as disconnected from the multiplicity that surrounds, supports, connects and ignites every form in every world.
* * *
The groundfloor of our existence is not suffering, nor life, nor death, but is, instead, a mystery unsayable, but entirely possible to enter and experience for it swims above your bed, on the street, in the darkest possible wood, in the gift of your lover's body, the meal you make, the child you raise, the love you give to your time, your place. It is here, now, and always has been. It is our self-importance, our arrogance at presuming to count the number angels on the head of pin, at extracting the last of fossil fuels, at assuming every one else is the asshole that blinds us to the possibility that our lives are greater than our imaginations currently allow, that we ebb and flow into and out of gradations of understanding just as we ebb and flow into and out of existence.
No feeling is final.
Your certitude is what is fucking you.
The world is not organized for your convenience. Every hardship, every pain is still life presenting you with the opportunity to choose how you will respond to the circumstances of your life. By withdrawing, by casting about for blame, by internalizing your victimhood, you cut off other possibilities. The world is reduced to the knowable, the bite-sized, the narrow, the small, the fearborn, the lifeless. This is what fucks you.
Listen, life is more than your misery, loss, unhappiness, joy, contentment or ease. It is present, pregnant, pulsing with variations on the theme. This is water, love. This is our milleu. It is larger than all of us, but needs each of us to be awake to something other than ourselves.
You get to choose. So do so. Refusing it wastes the one thing that is certain: being alive right now.
* * *
This is water.
This is water.