THE LEFTOVERS: LIFE, DEATH, AND AUTHENTIC BEING

I’ve pondered the meaning of death many times. Let me rephrase this statement: I’m always reflecting on the meaning of death. What does death tell us about life? Should it mean something in specific with regards to life? If so, why should death be shrouded in mystery and taboo?

Approaching the question of death raises a set of issues. The immediate reaction in one’s head is that something is incredibly wrong. The very thinking of the question indicates, according to social discourse, that there is an underlying issue in the person: Why am I thinking about death when living is the most precious of things? Is thinking of death part of the anxiety-related symptoms of the mentally ill? Or, am I not willing enough to be happy?

Talk about death is frowned upon and seen as something relegated to the depressive, to those who cannot enjoy life, sick. So, would my thinking constantly about death mean that there is something deeply wrong with me? I would have to argue that, ‘No, thinking of death is a defining quality of human nature’, as thinking of death raises the question as to why living is so damn important. But this answer raises a further set of issues. Is there a particular logic to the question of death? Can we explain death away? Either we conjure the poetic and religious, or accept nihilism in the face. It’s a mystery, and speaking about it from the outside, as someone who hasn’t been dead, is pure speculation. This is the answer that resonates to me the most. Death as ultimate mystery. And vice-versa: If death is the ultimate mystery, then life is as well.

Death points toward sheer mystery, a point of no return, to which we are all walking toward, in acceptance or negation, and about which ‘nothing’ can really be said (Wittgenstein comes to mind, Camus, Dostoevsky, etc.; and more optimistic thinkers, Plato, Tolstoy, Spinoza, who treat the question as a matter of philosophy, conquerable in the abstract and through the power of reason). While death is taboo for social discourse, it isn’t for our inner lives. For society death is similar to pornography—death as the subject of abject discourse, which can’t be named. We pass over it in silence, tip-toeing, censoring our anxieties about the topic and setting them aside, in the back of our heads, lest we perish to a psychotic break during our confrontation with mystery, and become abject ourselves.

We share in this mystery. But the mystery, as I have suggested, confronts us in every waking moment, in the spectacle of what has so neatly been demarcated with the word, ‘life’. Life is something we think we know; but at the moment of perplexity, when examined by its counterpart, death, it becomes unknowable to us. So, life-death is taboo, and not taboo, a dynamic we think we know, yet don’t. It’s the ultimate paradox. But the interesting thing about this paradox, is that there can’t be death without life. Society and culture forces us to try and forget it, as quotidian life in the manner of the philosopher, so goes this numbing kind of discourse, is an unlivable life. However, there is Socrates, the philosopher king, who once dictated that, ‘All I know is that I don’t know’, which means that I’m part of the unknowable that I pretend to know, and that such condition of unknowability leads to the spirit of awe and wonder, as in his Cave Allegory, wherein he demonstrates that dispelling the chains and shadows that keep us blinded, lead us to greater and more complex truths: Nature, in its sheer mystery, is amazement in its possibilities.

These perennial issues are raised in The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof’s and Tom Perrotta’s 2014 HBO supernatural-mystery-drama television show. I want to discuss some themes in the show related to the significance of the dynamic of life and death. My aim is to show one possibility embedded in science fiction narratives, as vehicles of complexity and wonder, and of deeper understanding of the self.

We meet the chief of police of Mapleton New York, Kevin Garney, who is picking up the pieces of an unexplained event: About 2% of the world population vanished into thin air. Those who were left behind are torn apart by the mystery of the cataclysmic event. The impossibility of what transpired during The Departure turns the world upside down, as the nature of the world we thought under control, abruptly reminded us of its mystery. A cult that goes by the name of the Guilty Remnant (the G.R.) take to the streets. Members of the Remnant dress in pure white, chain-smoke, and don’t talk, they face this new world through the lens of nihilism. Nothing can really be discerned about their behavior and what they represent, they symbolize nothingness as the logical consequence to absurdity. The Guilty Remnant seek to communicate, through their silence and inaction (a small wink in the direction of H. Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener), that the world ended. They don’t want people to forget the significance of The Departure: That life is meaningless.

The nihilism of the G.R. plays a pivotal role in the Leftovers. They are the radical consequence of the post-apocalypse, anarchists preaching that life is void of meaning, all of its symbols and signifiers. They spread like a cancer on-screen and, as we learn more about them, we experience their rage and feel sympathy for what these people have lost along the way. Kevin’s ex-wife is G.R. Laurie Garvey was a successful psychiatrist, an exemplary mother and wife. But something in her broke. Something that perhaps was already broken, but found a way to manifest itself through the philosophy of the Guilty Remnant. Laurie feels guilty for being broken, for being unable to give to her family what they need of her. In her brokenness, she discovers that the appropriate answer to life’s mystery, is giving oneself fully to self-destruction.

Kevin’s own manifestation of the consequences of The Departure is his increasing incapability to grasp his mind. He sleepwalks. During his raptures, the chief shoots dogs with a bolt rifle, in the company of a man who could very well be a figment of his imagination. K. Garvey’s enigmatic companion tells him that, ‘Their dogs are no longer their dogs’. Perhaps John Doe has a greater grasp on what is happening. Kevin is incapable of denying that something is happening, as he, too, is incapable of letting go of Laurie’s madness. (Let alone come to grips with his own.) There is something broken in him, too. This brokenness leads him to undertake an odyssey to the Other Side, a place beyond death, a place embedded outside time. On the Other Side awaits an all-too human struggle for meaning, as Chief Garvey wrestles with his demons, realizing authentic love, conscience, and resoluteness, are the redeemable qualities of humanity. I won’t go into detail on the chief’s journey: You’ll have to take the ride for yourself.

But I will leave you with a line of possibility. The show’s thesis is that death makes sense when confronted with life, a philosophic diagnostic that has shades of what the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, explored in his magnum opus, Being and Time: The simple yet perplexing thesis that being is time and that time is finite, that being authentic beings is the task of ‘coming to terms’ with our mortality. While Heidegger did not have the privilege of HBO, his suggestions are apropos. We have to take a step back and embrace the freedom of ‘being-there’, of being beings thrown into the world. It’s up to us to take the reins of existence in authenticity: Heed the calling of our conscience to turn away from inauthentic being. Kevin Garvey is Heidegger’s da-sein (roughly translated from German as ‘being-there’), an entity that subsists in spite of absurdity. The chief’s search for authentic being consists, as Simon Critchley neatly puts it, ‘In understanding the call, in wanting to have a conscience’, and also, in making the choice ‘To become resolute’ in spite of his broken condition.

SO LONG, BOURDAIN

It came as deeply sad news to learn of Anthony Bourdain’s passing, it felt as if a close friend died. I must imagine many of us are experiencing the blues after the loss of such a beautiful human being. It is tragic. And as is often times the case with deaths by suicide, we are left with questions that will remain unanswered. Anthony must have had his reasons; but why did he have to go like that?

His shows and writing, his style and voice, his gentle yet powerful character, all reflected the passion of a sensitive, intelligent man. I keep with me memories of his monologues and dialogues, as he restored a sense of wholesomeness to an increasingly confusing, and nihilistic world. In his travels, we saw Bourdain become an icon of counterculture, and an archetype of the mindful skeptic. He left us his oeuvre,  and with it, a recipe to follow in his stead.

While the world has become less irreverent and human with his loss, I have lost another one of my heroes. My prayers go out to his family and friends. But specially to him… may he have found rest in his final hours, and may there be something beyond mortality, as it would be terrible to imagine a reality in which I won’t get to share a cold beer with him.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

 

IN COLD BLOOD, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

The joy of reading the modern piece, In Cold Blood, and the period piece, Sense and Sensibility (Truman Capote, Jane Austen), both which masterfully depict two completely different worlds, came from their exploration of the psychologies of two pairs of antithetical characters—two women, two men—and their respective stories. Capote and Austen offer accounts on the odd limits of gender.

On the one hand, we have Marianne and Elinor, on the other, Dick and Perry. Marianne and Elinor operate in the morals of nineteenth-century Victorian England, while Dick and Perry in those of Modern twentieth-century America. Marianne, a rebel resisting the conventions of courtship in Essex, and whom allows her sensibilities to dictate her passions, defends her spirit against a society obsessed with misogynistic norms; Elinor, fully in sync with the norms of the time, has to make up for her sister’s ‘wild’ behavior, and builds up her status through traditional means: status, she is convinced, is the ultimate goal for a woman living in a patriarchal world wherein men have the first and final say on the topics of marriage and the heart.

Dick, a mammoth of a man, a brute, wholly deviant and perverse, unravels in the sadism of his abuse of women, and finds himself reaching the heights of his fractured manhood by overpowering the body of the female form; but, in his perverse ascendance, this sociopath realizes just how much of a coward he is, and how far he was willing to go to justify, however hypocritically, his perversions. Perry, more akin to the sensibilities and intelligence of a man capable of analyzing his existence beyond the mores of society, but in possession of a fractured mind (due to the unwavering punishment directed at him from those closest to him during his childhood and young adulthood), breaks up into pieces by commiting his own brand of punishment, alongside Dick, by pulling the trigger of a shotgun at the faces of the Clutter family (mum, dad, son, and daughter), in Holcomb, Kansas.

The tensions which these two pairs of characters inhabit, demarcated by the expectations of their conscience, and by the expectations of their societies (however void of congruence with the appetites of the human spirit), pave the way to a deeper understanding of the complex contradictions existing in gender. Austen shows his audience through the line of satire, a vision beginning to reach the surface, veered against the suffocating patriarchy of the eighteenth-century, and in so doing, adding a voice to the substratum of womanhood demanding to be heard. On the other hand, Capote depicts with realism the rise (if one can be thought of) and downfall of two men, products of the indigenous American berserk, whom in an attempt to reach the apotheosis of manhood (however terrible, violent, vengeful and sullen), die by the ropes of the very society they waived their fists at, but which, curiously enough, sow the seeds for their violent means.

The advent of womanhood, then, connects with the downfall of manhood in these novels, as terrible reminders of the too often ignored war between the sexes. One such battle has now sprung to the fore with the incessant claims of sexual harassment in Hollywood, and it is leaning toward toppling some of the powerful. The battle has to end, these authors seem to say, if there is to be any hope at redemption for our crimes: and like Dick and Perry’s swan song, the end is resolute and terrible.

DIARY ENTRY #5

My focus this week has been to giving thought to the question over the role of writing as an activity in which we open up ourselves to those who read us. (This meditation came to life after researching Grigori Perelman’s life, reading Notes from Underground, Into the Wild, Sense and Sensibility, In Cold Blood, and the first hundred pages of A Little Life and The Bone Clocks; in coming close to these stories, all of which influenced me in some personal regard, I developed a sense of doubt over my intentions, my too human intentions: that I tend to be to too hopeful and idealistic about my ideas, that perhaps I should keep my diary entries private; that I needed to shut up and stick to trying to be a better writer and produce something of objective value, like a well composed piece of fiction, a worthy research paper, something of the sort, before pressing the ‘publish’ button; but the one line of thinking that was the most worrying, was that perhaps I was quickly becoming the sort of writer I despise; the writer who writes for attention.)

I think everyone who has written for a public, has wondered whether sharing their writing, be it personal or otherwise, is a pompous activity, that it serves no other good than filling up an emotional need for the writer. Another piece of doubt runs like this: only good writers should be allowed to write, and those of us who are inspired to write, amateurs, should keep quiet; that we should know better, than to write to pretend we are writers. We think these things to ourselves, as ghosts within us, haunting us, stopping us from doing what we love doing (like dancing on the dance floor, self-consciously, albeit we look beautiful so doing). Funny thing is, we are seldom told these things by anyone in particular (we have all been criticized, sometimes bullied; but when has this stopped us from doing what we love, when has it kept us from taking a chance?) these doubts come to us, intimately. So, intimately, to me, blog writing, so the thesis ran, was beginning to cross the line between being personal so as to offer something intimate and valuable to an audience, and being personal so as to fill up my need for attention, to fill up an emotional lack in me. I was anxious because this has never been the reason for my writing.

Then something happened that changed me, and that I would like to share as a piece of evidence as to why opening up to writing personally can change us by changing others. I had a person have the kindness and the open heart to open up to me about her experience with a particular post in this blog, how it struck a chord in her in a positive way. The piece, she said, gave her insight into her demons. (I felt lucky to have had a person share something personal with me; in today’s culture, it is hard for a woman to open up to a man, to take the first step in making a connection, for, so the ignorant and inhuman discourse of gender relations goes, women cannot open up to men or approach men in something personal, emotional, sweet.) Not the reviews, not the academic writing, not the ‘formal’ pieces of writing, but the most personal, have been the ones from which I have received the most comments. My goal has been to be authentic and I feel I have been the most authentic in these pieces; my goal in these, has been for my readers to listen to me without barriers. I open myself up as a means to connect with others and the only way I know how to, is my writing.

This is what I wanted to say when I first made a draft for this post: the greatest gift for a writer is to have a person take the time to read their writing. And the most precious gift for an introspect, for those of us who are called by some ‘shy’, ‘strange’, ‘awkward’, ‘silent’, etc., is to connect to others by the means that make sense to us, and to have others see the things that exist within us, that we find so hard to share in speech or in the venues of the extrovert, for opening up through the venues of the extrovert, are extremely difficult for us. At least for me. This is, and I will be naked about it, one of the main reasons why I choose to write. So yes, perhaps my original thesis was right, but not so in the manner I had originally articulated it, for it acquires a different color, a different sense, if understood in its proper context.

I know there are many of you like me out there, who understand me, who know how it feels to be mute, to not be able to be heard or understood in the manner of the extrovert, to stumble in our speech because so much is happening in our heads; to feeling misunderstood and to feeling strange for overthinking everything, everything we say and do, everything others say and do, everything within us and outside us; it may be something abstract or something concrete, but there is always something, something pulling us inward. People like me have a fundamentally different way of opening up to others, for the things that exist within us, are best expressed in other ways, not in speech or extroversions, but in our own idiosyncratic ways of connecting to the people we so long to connect with, even when we think we are complete failures at connecting with others in an extrover’s world. We were brought up in an extroverted world, and this can be an incredibly painful experience when growing up; at some point, however, we begin to feel comfortable in our bones, and begin to choose carefully who to allow in. My way of opening myself up, has been through the written letter.

(In Alias Grace, the remarkable show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel by the same name, Grace Marks, the protagonist and a woman in the patriarchal world of the 19th century, charged with murder, and under the analysis of a male therapist whom begins to take a peek into the wonders of womanhood, and more personally, whom begins to fall in love by the figure of Grace’s humanity, as a woman who has suffered enormously, says apropos the subject of this entry: ‘I would never judge a human creature, for feeling lonely’.)

The wonderful thing about blogs, is that you never know who may stumble upon your writing. My heart’s desire is to keep this connection open. Thank you, to whoever is taking the time to read me, it is truly a gift to have you take a walk with me; for an introvert, it is the same thing as being heard. With this in mind, and in thinking long and hard about continuing posting entries in regards to my personal life, my opinions about culture, my opinions in general, I have decided to keep doing it, for it has been a joy to share it, to connect with you.

 

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

(303), Emily Dickinson

 

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is an excellent piece of sf that details man’s conquest of Mars, and the consequences of such invasion; particularly, how it brought about the demise of an entire species and its culture, and why horror, pain and loss, are the only products of the machinery of war.

Bradbury is capable of drawing up imagery and moods with few words and sentences, a style that is refreshing after having just read the fiction of authors of the likes of Dostoevsky, authors whose prose are both heavy and complex, extremely gratifying, but slower paced and needing of time to fully unpack its significance; I am still figuring out Notes from Underground, and I think I will never fully grasp what Dostoevsky wanted to say through it. Ray’s writing, on the other hand, arrives simple to the mind, it neatly unpacks different routes for the reader to take, and unravels the kind of deep meditations that sf can conjure. In the case of Chronicles, the American author explores the violent attraction of human nature for control, for normalization, for imperialism; in the existential end, the reader is burdened with facing up to mankind’s longing to surpass its limits, its longing to reach transcendence, however horrifying the method. To name a glaring example that stuck with me, Bradbury depicts the manner in which Earth’s military invades and murders the entire Martian population, by spreading chickenpox, and then picking off the survivors with guns: in one such case, for instance, one human soldier falls in love with Martian culture, and defends the ruins and dignity of a once sophisticated and proud species in a shootout with troops from Earth. Spender, the rogue soldier, dies by the hands of a fellow man; but in so doing, I find him reaching his own form of transcendence, in his attempt to touch the heart of the troop’s Captain, in asking him to reflect on why they did so wrong in destroying the Martians. The Captain, having found the courage to follow Spender’s line of thinking, orders Spender’s death to be ‘clean’, for he sees in him something much more than betrayal.

Much could be said of the manner in which sf weaves critiques of mankind, our politics, culture, and nature; and, most importantly, how it draws out these meditations by juxtaposing fiction with reality. In the landscapes of the nonlinear, namely sf’s ability to conjure entire worlds that reminisce our own, we are left to ponder the impact such scenarios might have on our lives. Ray Bradbury’s lessons are many, but I want to share my personal reading of the book: The Martian Chronicles is a reminder of the effects of war, but most importantly, of humankind’s capacity to deny itself the wonders of things we do not want to understand.

 

INTO THE WILD

Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, his reporting of the tragic story of Chris ‘Alex Supertramp’ McCandless, a young man who died while pursuing his dream of living off the land in the Alaskan bush, is a cautionary note of the dangers of doing things too hastily, of giving oneself fully to idealism, and believing too much in one’s power to tackle adversity.

Having read the way in which Chris starved to death after more than one hundred days in the bush, felt like a grave warning, given that I feel much identified with what was his spiritual pursuit. I have at times dreamt of escaping into the wild, as an attempt to ‘find myself’, as a means to find purity outside of society, but the dream comes crashing down the minute I think of what I would be leaving behind. I find respite in his final picture, which he took of himself in what could very well have been the final hours of his life, and as Krakauer opines, ‘He is smiling in the picture, and there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God’. Jon notes that in the final hours of death by starvation, the mind enters a state of clarity and rapture. I hope such was McCandless’ experience of his twilight.

Many have been critical of Chris’ downfall, which came about after two years of adventures hiking, a journey in which he crossed paths with marvelous people like a man late in his life, whom took Chris as the son he never had. McCandless notes in one of his last cryptic scribbles, ‘HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED’ (the uppercasing is his).

The tragedy of this story is thinking of what could have been of his immense spirit and idealism, had he not given himself fully to his hubris; of what he could have had discovered in sharing his spirit to others, particularly to those who loved him in their  imperfect ways (his family comes to mind), and those who awaited behind the door of time (perhaps a significant other, with whom he could have had opened up the mysteries of his heart). Perhaps in his days out in the bush he came to bear the harsh truth we seldom want to accept, but that nature reminds us of; the truth we are so desperate to escape, even in our most paradoxical attempts at giving it meaning: we are extremely fragile beings.

To close, here is a quote that I wanted to share, this one in particular from the collection Krakauer curated for his book, because it resonated the most with my own experience with his writing. Its message, I think, is self-evidently true; ’tis an axiom of the heart:

There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times. 

ANNIE DILLARD,

HOLY THE FIRM 

 

GRIGORI PERELMAN

I want to share the curious and fascinating case of Grigori Perelman, the contemporary Russian mathematician who cracked the poincaré conjecture. He declined the ensuing Millenium Prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute (a million dollar prize), a Fields Medal (the equivalent to a Nobel in mathematics), and prestigious positions at universities worldwide. The manner in which he submitted his solution is another piece of wonder. Perelman put his solution on the internet for the public to see, instead of going through the official venue of submission to a peer reviewed journal. It seemed that he just wanted to be left alone, and that he did not want the glory, nor the recognition, nor the attention, nor the feeding of the ego, that seems to plague academics worldwide; that seems to have rotten to the core what higher learning ought to be (suffice it to say, soon after he posted his solution, which turned out to be correct, another group of mathematicians tried to take the credit for it, and in so doing, accused Perelman of plagiarism; this turned out to be false.)

This story, if anything, is an example of true counter culture, of humility at its most pure, ethereal form, of going against the status quo and the double standards of academia, of any institution that wrestles with its own self-importance and survival, of ego, of teaching us all a lesson without the protagonist in the story necessarily wanting to teach a lesson; so far I have been trying to answer this question, did Grigori do things this way out of a higher sense of himself, or did he do it because his values drove him to do so? The answer is the latter.

Of what little is known of Perelman, and of what I have managed to read so far after becoming fascinated by his story (cf. Masha Gessen’s Perfect Rigor), it seems to be that his love for mathematics, for the rush of living within mathematics, of reasoning, of having the proper influences and people to make him value in thought, action, and word, the values proper to discipline and the just, in the intellectual pursuit of the intrinsic value of using the mind, is what lies beneath Grigori’s genius and his subsequent actions in handling his historic achievement. It is not just talent, as Gessen suggests, but a series of other variables, that makes a mind reach its fullest potential, and for that mind, to know itself its own value and to produce the kind of revolutionary ideas that will push humankind forward, for its own sake; but the part he had to do to reach that plane, he did so without turning backward, in fully giving his existence to that pursuit and in honoring the highest values of that pursuit.

I am at awe at this man and I feel particularly identified with him because I have always been embattled with the political side of knowledge and the institutions that regulate knowledge, with dealing with the obstacles and egos preventing knowledge to just be knowledge, to just be value by itself and for itself, for anyone and everyone who wants it, and not just another rat race in which to measure ones value to others, and make others smaller by having their ideas diminished, to cut them off from their path which is equally as valuable and potential in kind to those of the geniuses that have walked among us; for the constant guilt we feel when we have no other choice but to betray our integrity when we have to become political animals in order to sought the social prestige to be considered a teacher and an academic, to be allowed the venues to think, to be deemed worthy of sharing to the world our ideas, whether they be the stuff of genius, whether they be your own form of expression and connection to yourself and the world.

Grigori Perelman, I believe, thinks for himself; he needs not the recognition from others to know the beautiness of his pursuit or the way he chooses to live his life, for his love of the abstract, for the beautiness intrinsic to pure thinking: this is enough for his heart. This is the way I feel, too. I want to pursue my own voice, to see where it leads me, to never sell my integrity; I hope I can follow in Perelman’s footsteps. Having the luck to cross his path , proves to me people like Perelman exist, as once did people of the likes of Emily Dickinson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Socrates, and so many more, who pursued the beautiness of knowledge just for its beautiness, and did so without the necessity of recognition. It can be done.

THE MARK OF CAIN

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is an epic on the themes of family and the mysteries of human nature. In it, I have found brilliant depictions of the workings of the mind and the weight of the past. It is joyous when characters in a novel speak to you almost as if they were alive and breathing. All of the characters spoke to me as teachers in some respect; Cathy, a narcissistic psychopath, reminded me how it feels when you stare evil in the eyes, its attractiveness and at once its bottomless sorrow; Samuel, an aging man with the depths of a philosopher and the sincerity of a loving father, brought back memories of people from my past who have taught me the lightness of genuine love, of how it feels to be protected and cared for by their warmth; Lee, a loyal servant with a fountain of everlasting commitment, gave me a glimpse into the soul of a human who has reached transcendence in the saintliness of his or her humility; Adam, a man tormented by his passions and the weight of his innermost search for freedom, felt the closest to my own spirit.

Steinbeck’s characters have unravelled in my mind in the form of a series of lessons about human nature, as different dimensions of the mystery of life. The thesis is this: we all bear the mark of Cain, yet we all have in us the choice of honoring that mark (to inflict pain in those who have hurt us), or of turning our heads away from it; to forgive our tormentors, and to search for freedom from the weight of our histories. It takes courage to break the chain of suffering; we have to see into our own sins to forgive those inflicted upon us. We have all sinned, we have all inflicted pain sevenfold, we have all wanted to find justice for our pains, however violent our revenge. As I read through the crossroads of these characters I saw my sins play out in flashes of memories, an abyss made up of grudges and obsessions; but also my virtues, the times I have done good because of the redemptive love given to me by the Samuels and Lees of my life, who have taught me in their figure to look away from Cain’s legacy.

I will forever keep in my heart the scene wherein Adam, in a final confrontation with Cathy, finally liberates himself from the weight of her torment: ‘it doesn’t matter’, ‘it doesn’t matter’, says Adam as he turns his back on a screeching Cathy, whom realizes she has lost her control over him. What does not matter is whether he can redeem Cathy, albeit she is his love and passion; what does not matter is whether Cathy wants to change her evil nature; but more particularly, what does not matter is that Adam cannot change her with his love. Cathy is the only one who can look into her sins and stop lying to herself that her sorrow is her own making. He has let go of Cathy, and in so doing, Adam Trask realizes that one cannot redeem or love evil that does not want to turn away from itself, that does not want to see how its own brand of abuse, will not break the chain of its pain. I think, after reading Steinbeck’s genius study of human nature, that evil is born from its own hatred of itself. It faults others, but not itself, for continuing to inflict pain on others due to its own pain.

I wish I could have a conversation with Adam, back in his farm and his sons, and see how the light in his eyes is newborn; to share a glass of robust whiskey in Salinas Valley, as the midnight breeze and the starlight fills me up with hope.

DIARY ENTRY #4

There is a strange allure to Alaska. My fascination with the place dates back to White Fang. The symbolism of the lone wolf is precious to me, because it underscores an attachment to solitude and melancholy. Thinking of Alaska makes me feel part of something greater, spiritual, as if reaching its destination will lead me to something I need to understand, but cannot in my present context. It is a place I need to go to, a place to which I feel a special attachment to, albeit I know so little about it. Perhaps it is the call to the wild, the cold snowy weather, the landscape of a place unscathed, pure. This is why I am saving up my money and planning ahead so that I can go for a long period of time in 2018, maybe a month or two. I hope that one day I can share my own adventure in the Alaskan bush.

2017 was a difficult year. But the difficult parts of life are the ones that push us to become something entirely different to what we are. For a person educated in philosophy, the question for spirituality is a difficult one. What is spirituality? To my mind, spirituality is the search for something greater, it need not be transcendent, it just need be something which inspires connectivity to something else. To what, it really does not matter, as long as it matters to you. Which bring me to think that there must be something growing in me that is asking for that trip to Alaska, I cannot really put a name to it or describe it except for a yearn for peace. Maybe the hole in me that became so evident in 2017 was there from the very beginning, maybe I am starting to see that I need to understand the hole, not fill it up as I have felt in the past couple of difficult days. I want to be at peace, and something about the cold snowy weather, the symbolism of the lonely traveler, the romantic metaphor of the explorer trying to understand his struggle, makes me think that I am on the right track to finding out just what that hole really means.

For now, as I commented before, I have a flight ticket to Paris booked for the 14th of December. My ticket home is booked for the 5th of January, and something in my gut is telling me that this could very well be an important 3 weeks abroad. A rehearsal of sorts for the trip next year. This could be a spiritual trip if I wanted to make it so, or it could be a cultural trip full of fun and discovery. Maybe the two, we will have to see. I am torn between planning a schedule or just winging it. The allure of the latter is giving oneself to the moment, no attachment, no control; let life be life. The comfort of the former is also a good thing. But as I have been discovering about myself, I feel a deep need for discomfort, for finding myself at the center of the storm, and remaining calm on my own.

I am beginning to find that I feel thankful for 2017. I have grown so much stronger. Yet I feel so tired, burnout. I need peace to rebuild my heart, my mind, my body. And I must admit that something resembling conviction in myself is beginning to blossom in the broken foundations that I have sown this year. I promised to myself to seize life in one of my diary entires, to keep pushing forward by placing value on the things that do matter, and to keep pushing through by letting go of things that were hurting me; and in having let go of these things, in word and action, I have also in the past days embraced Yoga and meditation, cleaned up my diet, have stuck to sleeping in early, and started reading voraciously again. It is up to us to change our ways, and pave a road toward a meaningful existence. As my mother reminded me, there is little humans can achieve if they use their power of discipline and focus for the greater good; but first, she says, one needs to find peace within. Walk the walk to talk the talk.

It takes a little bit of focus, a little bit of discipline, a little bit of love in oneself and others, a little bit of thankfulness for the present (whichever that present may be), to begin to water the seeds of inner peace.

MOVING ON

I have not written in some time because I have been dealing with some emotional baggage. I want to try to unpack it in this post. I want to use writing for its therapeutic effect; to bare myself naked in writing and allow my expression to blossom into meaning.

First off, the transition from young manhood into full manhood is a difficult one. I have been struggling with making sense of my job and my career, and I have been struggling with making sense of my professional purpose. It seems to me that I have reached a point in which all of my preconceptions about life have vanished and turned into the full on realization that not all is what it seems, even my job and career. Similar to when you learn as a kid that you will die and that your loved ones will die too, realizing that your job is not the guarantor of meaning to your life, that your career will be a very hard road, and that if something, a job and pushing through a career is more frustrating and involves a lot more discipline than your education, is a pill that I am finding hard to swallow. A very good friend of mine spoke to me about his own experience with this: ‘you need to learn to locate yourself in the right context to see that it is not personal, a job is just a job; very few of us get the opportunity to make a living out of the things that make us intrinsically happy; you need to learn when to think with your head and when not to think with your heart, for always doing the latter will break you; and you also need to learn to be thankful for what you have; albeit things are not exactly as you imagined them they would be, there are always good and bad things in life, so you need to learn to be thankful for the good ones’. Words of wisdom, Fer.

So my impression of full manhood is that you need to learn how to stop taking everything personal and to focus on the few things that give meaning to life, and, also, to stop seeking for things that arrive randomly in life; like the one true love you dreamed of while growing up, or the one amazing professional project that you wished would just appear at your doorstep—I thought that I had found my one true love, as well as my one amazing professional project; but both have been been very far from being my one true love or my one amazing professional project; instead, they have been the hardest lessons in my life; I should be thankful for them. (Learning what you do not want out of life is perhaps the hardest of lessons when it comes to love; realizing that not matter how hard you try, a bad relationship is just bad, or that a job is not a place where people are looking out for your best interests.) These things do come along with life at some point, I guess… or I hope they do, at least in the form of healthy experiences that will help me to keep growing up, but I would rather not have them destroy me in order to grow; I really wish I have the maturity to not allow my next lessons to destroy me. (Perhaps by having already been destroyed so many times, I will not allow myself to be destroyed again.) We cannot obsess over finding them immediately and that should not be the goal. Perhaps the goal is to stop looking for them and be the best version of yourself in your life endeavors; maybe then you will be a healthy minded individual who will be able to be with your person when s/he comes along. Ditto with the one job opportunity you were seeking; perhaps in being the best version of yourself at your job, when the opportunity does come along, you will be prepared to seize it and not look back, and you will be ready to be thankful for pushing through so much stress for so long.

The picture I seem to be drawing is one of life as a long chain of lessons that become increasingly harder to learn; each rung the harder to climb. (I maybe exaggerating a bit with what I have been living in the past months, but as a person close to me told me, you need to allow yourself to express yourself and not be scared of what other people think of you; if writing is one of the things that makes you feel meaning, do so without regret or self-editing; so fuck it, I really have been in hell and I am really trying very fucking hard to climb out of it.) Maybe the harder lessons come later: when real things with real consequences that cannot be undone, come knocking at your door. These are not simply a broken heart or a shattered mind; you can heal a broken heart and a shattered mind. In the latter stages of my life I know that reality will hit me with real consequences—a death in the family, a death in my circle of friends, the deterioration of my own health… just to think of some—and these will be even harder to deal with. I just hope I will be prepared to be the best version of myself during such times.

I have decided to seize my life and move on. It sounds very abstract but I have been delaying the choices that I know I have to make; I need to become responsible for them and stop ignoring what is right in front of me. Which hurts. A lot. I thought that time could fix the things and people that are troubling me. But, this is another lesson, sometimes you just have to let them all go. Sometimes the hardest thing in life is to let go. I need to let go of the former image of who I was (the big ego that I had before having a proper job), the idea that I had of my former relationship (embracing the truth that that relationship broke me in more than one way), and the idea that things will just come to my doorstep (I need to actively seek meaning in my life). In sum, I need to start being responsible, caring and thankful of the real things that give meaning to my life: my family, the few friends that have never abandoned me, my mind and health. I want to rediscover the love and hope I once felt for the world; the innocence I felt when dreaming of my adventures in the world.

I was inspired by Jacob Bannon to make a ritual out of the feelings I have been experiencing. Perhaps in putting my struggles on paper, I will find the strength to fight even harder. Thank you, man.

‘I am still motivated; I am still angry; and I still want to shake things up’.