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Don’t Blame The Winter For My Discontent

February 9, 2010

[Dedicated to the Drs. Morrison .. especially Ron]

Sometimes I think I would have been better off spending time in university libraries rather than attending universities.  Besides the debt, which is colossal, I spent so much time catering to the expectations of others that I subjugated myself. My daughter’s mother wanted me to have a marketable degree so she could have that upper middle class life she coveted as a child; my parents wanted me to be successful so they could be proud and so they wouldn’t have to worry about me.  I fell in love with universities at a very young age, when I used to go to school with my mom. But it was never the classroom I fell in love with. It was the life and energy on campus; the energy of people talking about ideas and the energy of college girls bouncing in tube tops and the tight short skirts they would have never worn when they lived at home. 

It happened that literature took my fancy, and in spite of the fact that my undergraduate education nearly drained my love of literature the way Stoker’s vampire drained blood, my love of words prevailed. I still love literature, even if I dislike most of the writing I read. This, of course, is an unpopular honesty; writers nowadays are supposed to like everything and judge nothing and treat all of life like a badly run creative writing class. When I have (what some would call) the temerity to openly dislike some work by Thomas Pynchon or Don Delillo, or to claim that Marlowe was a better playwright than Shakespeare (I prefer Willie’s sonnets) I get called out on it. When I proclaim my dislike of Faulkner, I am met with incredulous looks and incredulous words. (To be fair, though, most of the people who give me those looks and who say those words forgive me because I am, after all, from Ohio, which technically makes me a yank.)  These people are generally educated people; people I sat in classes with, who read the same shit I was forced to read and who may have talked themselves into liking it because somebody with a Dr. before their name told them it was good. I think, though, that beyond the beer conversations, the only times I ever felt like I LEARNED anything in college was in the library – when I was pouring over books, making decisions without the “educated understanding” of professors.  

I should have been smarter. I should have done what I saw the true geniuses doing and calling bullshit what it was and going at it alone. But my love of the university – or my love of what I thought was a safe place – prevented me. And even when I left the university, that love – turned into regret – always took me back.

I look at myself in the mirror, nearly 37 years old, and I wonder what it is that makes me so different from most other people my age. Most people my age have steady jobs, mortgages, gaggles of children running around. Their lives are made up of parent-teacher conferences and quiet moments early in the morning and late at night when the kids are (finally) asleep. They pay their bills, save for retirement, worry about things they have no control over like the national deficit and whether Kristen the Administrative Assistant is fucking her boss’s boss and whether or not White Sox will one day dig their way out of the regular season for a moment in the sun. They hate their jobs, but are afraid to leave them because… well… so much DEPENDS on them having that job. They live lives, not so much of quiet desperation (as the sage says), but of willful discontent. In a more innocent age – the times we live in are such that no one, including the truly innocent, can afford to be innocent – we might chalk this up to having no choice. Misery, if you read enough naturalists, is like taking a shit; like it or not, it’s an inevitable part of life. When I was younger, I blamed the Puritans. But the Puritans are dead; they are dead and gone and we are here and there’s no point in blaming the dead for our fuck-ups, no matter how large or small.  

I look at myself in the mirror and think about my fuck-ups on a regular basis. Regret has always played a significant role in my life, whether I had anything to regret or not. Before I had actually DONE something that merited regret, I felt regret. Regret that I was alive. Regret that I wasn’t coordinated enough, or smart enough, or athletic enough, or popular enough, or cool enough. For as long as I can remember, I was always not enough of something. Not healthy enough. Not brave enough.  Not a good enough husband.  Not a good enough father. Not a good enough son. Not a good enough brother.  Not a good enough friend. 

And then I tell myself that I’m not so different; that the things I feel and notice are not unique; that everyone feels the same things I feel. I tell myself that there’s nothing new about discontent with the self. That life and literature and music and art is full of it. And then I regret that I’m not enough of a genius, that I don’t have more to offer other than the same old shit. This regret is more than often supported by somebody or another who, full of faith in their own genius – or maybe just posturing – reconfirm my lack of genius and tell me to stop. Stop writing. Stop talking. I think about my ex-mother-in-law Barb – who is dying and beyond blame – who told me my poetry was too personal and that nobody would understand. I think about professors, like the Drs. Morrison and Dragon Lady Bouisseau, who wanted me to regurgitate their opinions back to them in order to justify their thoughts and give purpose to their discontent and misery and regrets – none of which, I might add, I have absolutely no control over. 

And then I think about the people who believed in me: George Eklund, the only writing professor worth a damn; my friends, who, whether they still write or not, still read my shit and have the good grace to not tell me to stop; my wife, who believes in me and my work more than anybody. I’m pretty fortunate in that I still have a few people who think I can put words together.

And yet, I am still wrestling with regret. If I were more like a Buddhist, I could let it all go. If I still believed in the metaphorical god of my youth, I could blame the devil and pray for all my little impurities to be washed away in a sea of Welch’s Grape Juice and acid tab sized pieces of cracker.  But I like my vices too much to be a Buddhist, and I am so far flung from any denomination of Christianity that only those sorry bastards who mistake me for the child I was assume I still hold onto those old myths.

If these lines were like most of the movies I watch, there’d be a kick at the end… a nice happy upbeat feeling that would (re)confirm the generally positive view of things people need to get up and go to jobs they’re “okay with” so they can pay the mortgage and put away for a geriatric retirement. I don’t know what to think about other people most of the time; they’re strange to me and I think they will always be strange, even if they’re not difficult to fathom. And don’t get me wrong; I’m pretty close to happy. Or, I’m as close as a guy like me gets.  When I was younger I blamed alcohol, or chronic depression, or anger at death of my father. But I’m past that bullshit now. People look for reasons and play what ifs because those are the things we do to justify the fact that the universe has no interest in us or in what we do. People do what they do mostly because it was taught to them. Certain things never change, though. Enlightenment is always painful. Tragedy is never malicious. Happiness is never bestowed.  No one or nothing is to blame for our success or our failure. Regret is the most human (and humane) of feelings. And in the end, none of it matters. I generally hope for a decent night’s sleep and one or two good words when I sit down to write.  Sometimes I get them both. Sometimes I don’t. Mostly I get one or the other.  And whenever I have a good day, I take it … because I have too many regrets to take one more.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jose permalink
    February 9, 2010 5:05 pm

    Nice man.

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