The Man on the Beach

I talked to a crazy man at the beach on Thursday at 9:15 in the morning.  Since everyone is a little crazy in their own way I’ll provide you with the operative definition I’m using for this particular man.

He disclosed too many personal details in the first three minutes of conversation.  He used horoscopes as a main anchor point for his worldview.  He made a joke about giving my son a cigarette as he lit one and started puffing away.

Normally, I try to extricate myself from these conversations rapidly since they make me uncomfortable.  They involve a lot of nodding and listening to inconsistent logic and highly suspect accounts of previous (morally questionable) doings.   However, Ethan and I were waiting for others to join us – I thought that would provide a natural cease-point to any conversation.  Unfortunately our friends were late.

So the conversation moved from dumpster diving, to Christianity, to Jesus and Muslims, to technology taking over the world, to the desire for a following, tingling in one’s spine, and trips on acid within the space of ten to fifteen minutes.

There is also, of course, something really fascinating about these types of crazy people because of their boldness too.

He told me that we were both on the quest for truth, but I was taking the long way through Jesus and he was taking the short way through trips on Ketamines where he could experience spiritual highs like the one he had last Wednesday.

Because there’s a little bit of truth in every statement I smiled at the realization that he was right.

It is true –  following Jesus is a long path.  I’m in it for the long haul, a lifetime and beyond of listening for His voice and doing His will.  And the process is the point, working out my salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul would say.

There are a lot of little phrases in life people have to remind them that the journey is what matters –  such as “Getting there is half the fun” and “Inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

So get to it.

And don’t do drugs.  Seriously.

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Rereading Kurt Vonnegut

Interpreting Dystopian Literature in light of Christianity

In high school my favorite authors were Kurt Vonnegut and Orson Scott Card.  Science fiction and dystopian literature seemed edgy and profound at the time, and I’m still drawn to those categories.  I was fairly good as suspending my belief in reality, something my teacher impressed on my freshman English class saying it was necessary for reading Animal Farm.  He emphasized that we must overlook the implausibility of talking animals and he repeated this every day for about two weeks.  A bit of a priggish ninth grader I concluded that because I understood him the first time, I must be smart.   Also because I had read the book in only two days.  I suppose I was priggish and an overachiever.  This also bolstered my view that reading Vonnegut (as well as Heinlein, a little Asimov, Atwood, and Huxley) was my duty to my intelligence.

This year I’ve reread some Vonnegut – Welcome to the Monkey House, Man without a Country, and latest, DeadEye Dick.  I’d like to make it known that I wasn’t actually as smart as I perceived myself.  For all my knowledge that pigs couldn’t talk in Animal Farm, I also literally accepted the concept of Ice Nine in Cat’s Cradle, unaware that it might be a metaphor.  I often confused the man Vonnegut with his narrators, who spoke from the first person perspective.  A great deal of this confusion was due to the straightforward tone of the narrators as well.  I still operated under the assumption that people who could look you in the eye probably weren’t lying.  All of his narrators looked you in the eye, therefore they must represent Vonnegut.

So this time when I reread DeadEye Dick, I paused with a chuckle at the introduction in my (Dell, $3.95 US 1982) copy, a chapter full of disclosure, containing a few paragraphs explaining the main symbols.  Afterward I went on to read a tale of woe and sadness about a boy who commits an accidental murder in his childhood and doesn’t outlive the ignominy until the whole town is destroyed by a neutron bomb.  As Vonnegut himself said, “The crime he committed in childhood is all the bad things I have done.”

Freud would have had a field day with Rudy Waltz, protagonist.  Practically every psychological trauma he had could be chalked up to mother, “a cold and aggressively helpless old bat” or his father “a fraud.”   Psychologically though, I’m pretty sure it’s accurate to say that what we do, whether with intention or not, follows us around our whole lives – defines us, names us just like Rudy Waltz a.k.a. DeadEye Dick.

Why would a teenager like this book, me at 14 or 16 or whenever I read this for the first time?  Emotionally something must have resonated with me; after all at 16 I read emotionally first and foremost.   It’s somewhat easy to feel alone as a teenager, to feel as though already you’ve made a mess of things if you aren’t the most popular,smart, or athletic person. But Rudy has made a spectacular mess, a mess he’s always figuratively cleaning up after.   It’s nice to think there are people who have mucked it up worse than you have – that social comparison thing again.

But I’m not 16 anymore (thank God), and there’s more to reading comprehension than emotional identification with the main character.  There is understanding, interpreting, and evaluating. So I understand that Rudy committed a crime he can’t seem to walk away from, and that it defines him.  Rudy’s conclusion has then been to hold everyone at arm’s length, to become a neuter.  Neuters make no impact on anyone elses life; they live invisibly.  Although Rudy operates almost wholly under this paradigm, I can’t.  Although he holds that some people live a full life, and then die figuratively…

THE END

…meanwhile literally existing, I can’t accept this either.  Yet I can agree along with him, that simply by living, harm is done ecologically or relationally.  Yet we must strive toward good. I love life, and want to see good days, therefore I turn from evil and seek peace and pursue it.   The evaluation I make, that Rudy doesn’t, is that this pursuit of good is done through people and through community, and that it outweighs the bad being performed simultaneously.

Beneficial lies and Non-Beneficial lies

There are a whole lot of lies I tell myself.  You probably have yours too.

Mine are lies that mediate between what I know is best, and what I want to do at the moment.  They are lies that depress my scrupulous perfectionist streak, and they are lies that soothe my sense of immediacy.

I have lied to myself for a long time  saying “everything will get done eventually.”  That in some distant time I will have the ability to combine every hobby of mine with a job and social life.  And keep a clean house, garden and manicured nails.

That lie soothed my frustration when I wasn’t able to make a lunch for work the night before, and when I couldn’t mop the floor of my classroom everyday, and when the brilliant essay I wanted to write about my experiences playing intercultural soccer still languished in my brain.

I don’t think that lie is one of the beneficial ones I tell myself anymore.  I think that lie is harming me.  It’s distracting me from the perfection of when I DO manage to study 2.5 hours straight, and when I do manage to read three or four articles about A Science Discovery.  Because that lie has told me I can just make unlimited stores of “you should, could and will do x,y,z things that you NEED to do.”  That lie hasn’t pardoned the relentless sprint of time; that lie has pushed me to run with time on my heels always nipping my ankles with passed deadlines.  I’m living with the past and future taking chunks out of my brain.

Chances are, I won’t do everything.  At the very least I won’t do it all, not with the frequency, and regularity that that sentence has made me think.  So it’s time to search for a new sentence.