Saturday, January 19, 2008


The moment comes of a sort of false balance, when the forces of clarity are matched against those of confusion. False, because it must topple one way or the other. This is not homeostasis. It's more of a standoff. But perched up here on the rail, uncomfortable though it may be, I have a pretty good view of the disputed country.

I can see especially, how the two modes of being feed each other. Sitting for half an hour, at four in the morning, rather than getting online -- surely that operates for clarity? Well, yes; but it also wakes up the impulses of confusion. My virtue, I find myself thinking -- doesn't it earn me some indulgence? Is it to be all work and no play?

And of course, it is the indulgence that brings me to grief, and the grief to clarity. And so it rolls along. Sometimes writ large, sometimes small, but it has been the rhythm of my life.

No point in this cycle is unmixed. The closer indulgence gets to love, the more it looks like clarity. The practices of clarity can turn into indulgences (though not so often as those looking for excuses not to practice would have us think.) In a way perhaps prudence is the enemy here, because it slows the rhythm down, and makes the alternating ways of being seem both like forms of sanity. Neither, perhaps, is. The more rapidly I'm flung from one to the other, the more vividly the fundamental insanity of my life appears.

But. A suspicion that the whole thing needs to be dismantled, that a deeper subversion must be fomented. This subversion must happen, not in the heady landscapes of esoteric practice, but at the kitchen sink, the checkbook, and the bedroom. I have been both too patient and not patient enough.

I live in a welter of confusion. I always have. In the physical world, I mean. My home. My bedroom, when I was a child, was always an almost unbelievable chaos. And now my whole house is. My own room, the shrine room cum exercise space cum massage studio, is perhaps the least so -- but only because it is, in a way, the most public space of the house, the space where adults I don't know well come and spend time when they get a massage. So my pride is involved in how it looks, and I tidy it regularly.

"Going into Dad's room is like going into another dimension," said Alan. "It's like it's not even in the same house."

There's another space like that. The gable Martha designed and had added to the house, which she made partly with her hands, and entirely with her mind. It stays orderly, more or less.

I wrote the above some time ago. The conviction grows in me that it is all about the house, the space in which I live. I have always camped, not lived, in my houses. Always ready to leave; always more concerned to make sure that there's a path of escape than to make a home.

I could psychologize it: speak of my childhood, of shuttling from one house to the other, after my parents' divorce; of always needing only to stick it out for a determinate amount of time before entering the new dispensation; never putting all my eggs in one basket. If there are discomforts -- well, one need only wait, one isn't staying long. If the persona pinches, well, it's only a temporary one. This is only the face I wear for Dad; I can take it off when I get home to Mom.

But I don't take much stock in psychologizing, with its cosmology of the soul that grows into existence at birth, and vanishes, like a candle going out, at death. If that's true, and if history is the matter of mechanistic determinism that cosmology suggests, then my childhood is of overriding importance, and it would make sense to parse it out in excruciating detail -- in one sense, it would, though if volition and freedom are illusions, it hardly seems worth the time to parse anything.

In the Tibetan cosmology -- which I find equally improbable -- I chose my family to be born into precisely because it was what I was already used to, because it already expressed my propensities; and at death -- if I'm so fortunate as to be reborn a human being -- I'll choose another for the same reasons, and do the whole damn thing again. There's considerably more space, in Tibetan cosmology. The Dalai Lama, visiting Merton's monastery, was deeply struck by the Christian cosmology (the third player here, more improbable still) -- "they have so little time," he said. One life, one chance to get it right, and that's all. No wonder they were so serious and so desperate.

And the psychological cosmology is far more cramped even than that. If you don't get it right by middle age, you might as well give up; there's not much life ahead of you anyway, and it will be largely taken up with managing the disintegration of the body, to no particular purpose but that of stalling the final annihilation.

In any case. Whether my propensities were written by circumstance on the blank slate produced ex nihilo in 1958, or were created out of infinite love and obscure intention by the Lord God at the same time, or have been shaped by the endless rolling of this pebble in the surf of millions of lifetimes, since beginningless time, they're here now, observable now. Hidden in plain sight. I need not inquire of the past. I need only look at the panic that rises in me, when the sky grows light and I'm not yet out the house. I might be caught: caught in the web of others' desires and expectations. I might be held to commitments. I might be confined within the persona that lives at home, that mild-mannered, unambitious soul that vanishes into game and blogland, into endless repetition and gnawing hunger. The idea is intolerable to me. I must, must get out.

What would have to happen for the house to be place I didn't have to escape from in the morning? That's the question I'm turning over in my mind, now.

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