If you were alone when you were born, alone when you were dying, really absolutely alone when you were dead, why ‘learn to be alone’ in between? If you had forgotten, it would quickly come back to you. Aloneness was like riding a bike. At gunpoint. With the gun in your own hand. Aloneness was the air in your tires, the wind in your hair. You didn’t have to go looking for it with open arms. With open arms, you fell off the bike.
What I am telling you is that you do not need to know to love, and it is right that you feel it all in any moment. And it is right that you see it through—that you are amazed, then curious, then belligerent, then heartbroken, then numb. You have the right to all of it. You must want to own all of it. We will try to ward you away. We will try to explain to you that we have already walked that path. We will try to tell you that we have made your mistakes. We will claim that we are trying to spare you. But you will see our greed and self-service hiding behind our words. You will see us ward you away with one hand, while the other still shakes at the memories. Here is the thing—you have the right to every end of your exploration and no motherfucker anywhere can tell you otherwise.
The culture of our world, right now, is crafted by little boys who only recall being stood up on their first date, and nothing they got after. They don’t remember the sand they kicked in other people’s eyes, only their own injuries. Our art is cynical and bad-ass and made by people who will not be happy until you join them in the church of “everything is fucked up, so throw up your hands.” This is art as anesthesia.
Our art is made in cities like New York by people who are running from other places. They feel themselves as misfits who were trapped in dead-end suburbs. They hated high school. Their parents did not understand. They are seeking a better world. And when they realize that the world is wholly a problem, that the whole problem is in them, they make television for other people who are also running, who take voyage in search of a perfect world, then rage at the price of the ticket.
I wish they’d conduct a national poll to find out who feels out of place and who doesn’t. Just to get the numbers, you know? To get a feel for how many of us there are. Sometimes at work I get the feeling that it’s got to be right up against 100%. I’ll head out to the register to help out during the lunch rush and the new cashier will look so confused and lost, and then I’ll look at the customers she’s supposed to be helping, and they’ll look lost, too, and then when I sneak a glance toward the tables there’ll be all these people staring at their food or at each other with blank looks in their eyes. And I’ll think: Is this just me? Is everybody else actually fine, and I’m just trying to imagine that they’re like me? But I don’t think so. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’m pretty sure that some ridiculous percentage of the population is walking around feeling like aliens.
It’s to do with knowing and being known. I remember how it stopped seeming odd that in biblical Greek knowing was used for making love. Whosit knew so-and-so. Carnal knowledge. It’s what lovers trust each other with. Knowledge of each other, not of the flesh but through the flesh, knowledge of self, the real him, the real her, in extremis, the mask slipped from the face. Every other version of oneself is on offer to the public. We share our vivacity, grief, sulks, anger, joy… we hand it out to anybody who happens to be standing around, to friends and family with a momentary sense of indecency perhaps, to strangers without hesitation. Our lovers share us with the passing trade. But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What’s left? What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a pack of cards? Carnal knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that. Having that is being rich, you can be generous about what’s shared – she walks, she talks, she laughs, she lends a sympathetic ear, she kicks off her shoes and dances on the tables, she’s everybody’s and it don’t mean a thing, let them eat cake; knowledge is something else, the undealt card, and while it’s held it makes you free-and-easy and nice to know, and when it’s gone everything is pain.
As an atheist, I feel very strongly about the iniquity of attaching shame to our food desires and our sexual appetites. There are only two things that we actually KNOW we’re on this planet to do: eat and fuck. Go forth and be glad.
The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.
For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.
I had been looking toward the Encouragement above the TV, a drawing of an angel with the caption Without Pain, How Could We Know Joy?
(This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.)