Monday, December 29, 2003

Waking from a nightmare. That's what it's like. I've always hated vacations, for many reasons. For one thing, I'm a reclusive creature of habit, and cafes close, traffic patterns alter, crowds surge in places I like to be alone in. I feel exposed, unsafe. And then I have to go to alien houses where I feel thoroughly unapproved of, or -- worse -- approved of for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with me. Approved of because of the university I went to, because of the company I work for.

Terrified by my own lovelessness. Why don't I love these people? All I desire, devoutly, is to escape them. Yet these are the people who nurtured me, fed me, cleaned me, taught me. Or who did the same to Martha. But I find no trace of gratitude in myself. Only the panicky desperation of one plunging for the lifeboats, or trampling people underfoot in my rush to the firedoors.

I lounge in chairs, smile amiably, eat cheese-squares and cashews. I'm silent. I wait. I open packages, presents to me and mine, a feast of unwanted objects that my house will slowly and uncomfortably digest over the coming weeks.

I think the worst thing about vacations, though, is that I'm supposed to enjoy them, and they're supposedly for me. They're not for me. They're the time when the parasites close in to eat my flesh.

And yet the vacations are for me, and that's part of what makes me so unhappy. I focus on myself. What can I do today that will make me happy? What can I do today to avoid unhappiness? That's all I think about. No wonder I'm miserable.

There are people for whom "living for others" is itself a trap, a snare of ego. But for me it's a wildly liberating notion. To think, "I don't have to pour my efforts into making myself feel good. I don't have to endlessly plan and orchestrate my next pleasure." For among the ironies of the season is that there is almost no relationship between the effort I put into procuring my happiness and what happiness I obtain; and such relationship as there is is largely inverse. What finally makes all this focus on my own well-being so absurd is that it doesn't even work.

So I painfully climb out of this hole. Moria gave me a lovely book by Richard Holmes, a sort of autobiography of a biographer -- Footsteps, I think it's called. He's the man who wrote that extraordinary biography of Shelley, The Pursuit. For better and worse, Shelley's life is the vivid illustration and exageration of my own. Except that I have lived too long. Shelley was fifteen years drowned by the time he was my age.

No comments: