When I was back home last year, winning a $3000 scholarship for writing, my sister’s response to that achievement was not surprise or pride. Instead, she said she expected it. She said she expected it because her entire young life, I was the guy who won trips to Washington DC and got published and had a credit on a TV show. She said that she missed that guy, her brother, and was wondering where her brother went.
I have been searching for him myself ever since.
My fear is that there is a simple answer to why I can’t find him that I do not know how to reconcile. I remember my therapist pointing out to me once that the reason people like Rush Limbaugh are so effective is because they have the illusion of certainty on their side, that even though the things they say or believe tend not to stand up to even the most basic of intellectual scrutiny, the fact that they believe them so wholeheartedly and more, proclaim them so loudly is the reason why people tend to follow them. She didn’t say this, but I realize now that this is the reason why the bad guy always seems to get the girl – he never hesitates. He doesn’t stop for more than a second to plan what he does, or as a friend of mine put it while describing why her mother picked her father, he never shares his plan with her. Whenever my friend’s parents wanted to do something, like have a picnic or go to see a show, her mother never had to hear the process – her father just showed up, and they did it. That’s how she knew he was the right one, baby (Uh huh. Sorry, couldn’t resist). He never hesitated, always seemed certain, and win, lose or draw, he just did.
That’s the opposite of me now.
Today life reminded me of how uncertain everything – and I mean everything – really is. We don’t know how long we’re going to live or when exactly we will die. We don’t know if any economic system works, whether any decision we made, no matter how much we researched it in advance, was the right one. In a relationship, we don’t know how long or if it will last, and we don’t truly know why the other person picked us. Nothing in the world is certain. It just kinda is.
Two areas of life that don’t buy into this? Artistic interpretation and religion.
I am probably the most book smart people I’ve ever known, and the reason for that, I believe, is that I excel at pattern recognition, the most basic definition of intelligence. This was honed over years of studying literature, which I fell in love with once I learned to read clearly and smoothly ahead of most of my classmates in school, and developed through my love of storytelling, the basis of movies and TV. I never got any good at dancing, which is a natural process, being able to “feel” beats, and though I do excel at interpreting poetry, I am so so at composing it. Writing poetry entails letting your feelings just flow through you at random, while I am constantly on a quest to tame mine, because when I let them go, they rage out of control.
Ten shows in, I’ve finally found an episode of “Last Man on Earth” I actually like, because, among other things, in it, Todd, the big, fat nice guy, whose girlfriend January Jones plays, feels threatened when a character played by Boris Kojoe enters their little community, right after Todd tells Melissa, Jones’s character, that he loves her, but she doesn’t reciprocate, leaving at the fact that she doesn’t “use the l word lightly.” Having been there with my ex, I know that if Todd just lets go of his fear of loss, that he can’t control how Melissa feels about him, and just continues to behave as he always has, she’ll stay with him and say it eventually. If she doesn’t, she really was never his to begin with, so he’s better off (although on “Last Man On Earth,” the stakes are much higher, admittedly). It reminded me that if I could just learn to be me, and not have any expectations of how “this will turn out,” or “what it all means,” I might have a better experience of life. As we learned in my American Lit class, founding father Ben Franklin was a jackass, because he really believed you could turn life into a series of aphorisms, or in his case, POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC, and it would all make sense and you would always know what to do. This is what religious people believe too – follow the Qur’an / Bible / Torah / Vedas / Gita, and your life will be just fine. They don’t see (or maybe admit or even want to) how they are interpreting what happens to them through their presupposed belief in their holy book. If you stop presupposing, however, like Atheists do, there’s no reason to believe anything except that with the strictest one to one ratio of cause and effect (i.e., if I drop this it will hit the ground). And that’s scary as Hell. But it gives you a lot of freedom.
See, when I believed I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, I succeeded like crazy, because I tried more, and didn’t give up when I failed. When I believe the Atheists might be right, and that only action produces results, as an old friend would say, I meet a girl and start apologizing for my every behavior out of fear that any wrong word or action could be the mistake that causes her to lose interest in me, which ironically is what causes her to lose interest in me. When your greatest or perhaps most basic strength is pattern recognition, you try to see and understand the pattern in everything so that you know what to do next. If there is no pattern, however, now what?
I would give anything to know. Because then I may have a motivation to keep going. What’s scaring me is that right now I don’t. All I want to do is curl up into the fetal position and wait for my life to end. But I can’t even do that because too many other people are depending on me not to.
And I hate it.