Friday, October 5, 2012

Not So Sweet Emotions

Emotions are weird. It’s like having weather inside you. Strange, erratic weather. Lows, highs, pressure gradients and heat lightning.

The reason I find drugs so seductive is because I don’t like the way I feel most of the time. My emotions have a tendency to migrate toward the dark. I know euphoria. I have felt euphoria before. I love euphoria. But finding euphoria as a feeling that I can have inside my body whenever I might want it to be there is as elusive as finding the Hope diamond in a Crackerjack box. It just doesn’t happen. Not like that. Not like turning on a light switch. If it happens it happens and I’m thrilled and surprised and hope it lasts but it doesn’t. When it goes it goes and I can’t bring it back like changing a light bulb.

The emotion I’m most familiar with is dread. Angst, and its close cousin despair. But is this a feature of my personality or the product of a realistic view of things? A predatory, sociopathic, treacherous and completely unregulated criminal class of bankers and investment brokers are stealing money from the American public while the President and the Attorney General stand by and do absolutely nothing. There is a large group of people passionately committed to the removal of Medicare and Social Security. The president, who promised to end war, perpetuates war. There are thousands of weaponized drones murdering and surveilling innocent people in the name of fighting terrorism. Glaciers are melting. The oceans are rising. Drought and overpopulation are creating impossible conditions for people to survive much less live happily. Potable water is disappearing. The environment is full of toxins. Fascism and illiteracy are on the rise in the United States. And so on.

I don’t like feeling anguish and despair. I really don’t. They're ugly emotions. This is why I like it when, on rare occasions, I might be prescribed codeine or given an injection of morphine. I find all the woes and evils of the world much easier to accept. If there is a way to induce these feelings naturally, I am all ears. I’ve heard that meditation and breathing exercises help. I’ve tried them. They don’t. Vigorous exercise helps, but it’s still not quite the same as 25 milligrams of Valium, or the sweet persuasions of codeine.

I have no control over my emotions. I don’t know anyone who does. The Dalai Lama, maybe, but I don’t trust him, not since seeing him shake hands with George W. Bush with a big, fatuous grin on his face. What would the Buddha have to say about this? Show compassion for all people including war criminals? For obscenely wealthy elites who contribute to the destruction of the environment, the loss of social support networks, the health of the economy and exploiting the health and labor of those who are less fortunate? Probably. The Buddha would probably smile beneficently with a hint of underlying sadness and acceptance of evil and say, Yes. Show courtesy and compassion to people who do bad things. I’m not sure I’m on board with this. I’m definitely not on board with the Pope. His idea of showing compassion is to ride around in a Popemobile waving sagely to the madding crowd.

Whatever happened to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? He passed away in 2008. He may have been the real deal. David Lynch, who is no stranger to the weirdnesses of evil, remains enthusiastic.

One thing I have noticed about holy people. Their concern is directed outward. They might meditate, or live ascetically in mountain retreats, but there is always evident a willingness and visible effort to help other people. The sick and dying. The hungry and abandoned. You never hear of saints committing suicide, getting drunk or shooting heroin. They’re generally to be found among the suffering, working in hospitals in desperately poor countries. So there is an answer to the crippling effects of anxiety. Go help other people. It’s simple. Unless, of course, you’re a selfish asshole addicted to writing.

I hate regret. Regret is one of the worst. I have thousands of them. The practice of writing promotes the illusion of going back in time and correcting things. This is because revision is a natural part of writing. But you can’t do that in real life. There is no time travel. There is memory, but that’s not the same as time travel. That’s not the same as going back to undo a stupid thing you did, or unsay a stupid thing you said. How nice that would be. Show up right after you said something gauche or just plain hurtful and awful and erase it. Delete it. Or say you insulted someone but the insult was weak. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back and sharpen it up. Put a little more wit and edge into it. A little more steel. And then twist.

Imagine having the opportunity to go back and rectify a bad decision. Get a law degree instead of a useless bachelor of arts degree. Become a radiologist or heavy equipment operator. We inherit the decisions we make in our twenties. This is clearly fucked up. Maybe at one point in history people were able to admit to themselves that they’re not going to become a script writer for a popular TV sitcom or the next J.K. Rowling and at the ripe old age of 45 go back to school and get a degree in medicine or law but you sure as shit can’t do that now. I can already hear vociferous disagreement in this quarter and I hope I’m wrong but I know of few people, no one in fact, who was admitted into graduate school in their late 40s, incurred a massive debt, but then went on to get a tenured position teaching contemporary literature at Harvard or Princeton. Besides. I’m 65. That clearly ain’t gonna happen.

It’s hard when you discover that someone else is leading the life you had mapped out for yourself. For me, that person used to be Richard Brautigan. He wrote a quirky, highly eccentric and imaginative book which sold millions and made him millions. But that didn’t last. The person currently leading my life is named Tom Robbins.

I could not be a J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. I can’t write like that. I wouldn’t want to. It’s just too stupid. The money is a lure, but there are limits.

My favorite emotion is resignation. Resignation is as close as you can come to codeine. Or Valium or Xanax or Ativan or Seinfeld reruns. It is non-addictive and has no side effects, but it can take some effort to obtain. Sometimes it’s easy. There are certain inevitabilities that are easy to accept and for which it is easy to relinquish all pretense to control. I can easily resign myself to winter. I can’t control the weather. I can argue with the calendar and refuse to flip the pages forward to December, or go around outside in a T-shirt and shorts, but I can’t argue with the cold. I’ve tried arguing with the cold and it doesn’t work. I just end up looking like some old vain crazy person, a shaggy-headed King Lear shaking his fist at the heavens. There is drama there, and possibly some catharsis, but King Lear and his fool can tell you there is nobody up there who could give a flying fuck what some disgruntled mammal on earth has to say about inclement weather, treacherous family members, or gout.

The kind of resignation I find most useful but hardest to obtain is when something foul or untoward occurs on a personal level. I publish a book, but the book is a flop. The book doesn’t sell. No one reviews it. It is ignored. I must, then, resign myself to the fact that the book is a failure and let it go at that. But how? I must admit that I’ve either written a bad or mediocre book, that despite my hopes of stunning the world with my literary genius the actual work might have merit, but just ain’t that great. Or, the book really is a stunner, but hardly anyone reads anymore, and those that do read or already overburdened with material and suffering from a bad case of option fatigue. In which case it is vain and silly to write anything with a view toward publication. Just write, enjoy writing for the sheer pleasure of it and nothing else and then stuff your products in a drawer à la Emily Dickinson. Or post it on a blog.

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