Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Or: some of what I have not been saying for the past couple months.

All that anxiety. Peel back the habits, and there it is, right where we left it. I realize now that it will never go away. When I was younger I might indulge in the fantasy that I'll do something -- find the right lover, exercise, eat right, meditate -- and escape that anxiety. Make it go away. But two thirds of my way through life's journey, it's time to accept that this is simply one of the conditions of this life. I'm dangling over a deep rushing current of anxiety. This is not temporary. It's not circumstantial. It's just life as I know it, life as it's going to be.

So. I'm not going to make it go away. I will never feel the solid ground of confidence under my feet. Which is all right (because it has to be all right.) I will just have to go on without it. Cope with it, as anyone might cope with any disability. Find workarounds, accept assistance; make peace with the fact that some things will be forever beyond my reach. That's all right. An anxious person can still have a life worth living.

I can limit the collateral damage. I can unlearn some of the self-contempt I harbor. I didn't choose to have this condition -- who would choose such a thing? So I needn't feel guilty about it, or think it should be some other way. People who don't have it, of course, think I could make it go away by an act of will, just as people with no weight problem think people with weight problems could make them go away by an act of will, and as intelligent people think stupid people could become smart by an act of will, and so on. We give ourselves moral credit for our abilities, and accept shame for our disabilities. Foolishness. We didn't choose either.

It was, in a way, the last hurrah of the delusion that I might be something else underneath it all. Such an intoxicating fantasy. Something or somebody might strip away the facade, and, in a glittering moment, I'd stand revealed as my true self -- now and forever a different man. Someone I'd admire rather than wince at, cover up for, apologize for.

Love is supposed to do that. It doesn't, of course. But it seems like it will. It starts to. But there are two problems. One is that I really am the person I am. And the other is that I find that person so distasteful.

A strange eruption of wounded pride. Was it for this? To suckle fools and chronicle small beer?

So long as I don't believe it, I suppose I can just wait it out, let it dwindle. Surprising how strong it can still stand, though, even though the scaffolding has all been undone. I don't believe in glory and distinction; I have no business even beginning to step that way, let alone to walk down that path -- liberally reckoning up my deserts and finding fault with their reception. That's the quick way to a bitter life, short but too long: I've seen too much of it to mistake it.

Sure, on imagined fields I can contrive extravagant victories, notable routs, brilliant coups. So can any man. But the work in hand is to set my house in order.

The hardest thing is holding other people to their work. Because I can't do it alone. And that means convincing people that it's in their best interest, getting their commitment to a certain amount of work, and supplying the impetus. None of them things I'm very good at. I've crippled my life, though, by only being willing to do things I'm good at. It's time to spend some time doing things I'm bad at.

All phenomena are empty, I'm told, and I believe it readily of bicycle tires and apricots, pleasure and pain, nations and species; perhaps I always did. But not of habit. Habit is not impermanent. It has an essential nature, a wicked one, and it will still be afflicting me when America is no longer mentioned in history books and cockroaches are extinct.

The trouble is that I am so tired, and only habitual routines promise rest: but it is precisely the habitual routines that render me incapable of rest. And so it runs, over and over, the wheel of exhaustion, my own personal twelve nidanas.

Used to be, I would sometimes believe that something could break the sequence. Requited love. Excercise. Meditation. Yoga. A new career. The Scarsdale diet (yes, my memory stretches back that far!) Something would violently break me free of the wheel, and from then on habitual virtue would establish itself, a self-supporting sequence of overflowing energy and profound rest, just as tenacious as the wheel of exhaustion.

It seems to me now, that -- a few months shy of my fiftieth birthday -- it's time for me to concede that it's not going to happen that way. Not that things never change; of course they do. But even though radical shifts do in fact happen, they are moments of extreme vulnerability; and just-this-once-ness applies not only to brave departures but also to one-time indulgences. The departures never become habitual, somehow, but the indulgences do.

I know. I've said all this before. This, in fact, is a habitual lament, for me. When I listed out for myself habitual wheels I've gotten free of in the past four years, the list was impressive. I have wrenched my myself free of many things that have afflicted me all my life.

But what doesn't change is the sense of being bound to a wheel, of being just one transformation away from having a real life.

I am violently sick of compromise, of just-for-now, of buying vices with virtues in a sort of carbon-emissions program of the heart. The whole thing is wrong.

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