[the palaverist]

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I have been struggling of late with the question of purpose in life.

This is not a new question, or unique to me, but sobriety has thrown it into a new light. I am making an effort to live a life of rigorous honesty, which is a pretty radical departure from what I've done up to now. I am no longer masking reality with drugs, and I am faced with accepting — deeply accepting — that certain long-cherished fantasies are nothing more than that.

I think most of us carry around an idea of Eden. Mine is a sort of amalgam of Weetzie Bat and the forest of A Midsummer Night's Dream, set in the Northern California redwoods, with a Noe Venable soundtrack, and populated with beautiful mysterious girls who fall in love with me and lead my on psychedelic adventures.

This is, of course, not a place I have ever actually experienced, but I have touched at its tantalizing edge often enough to cherish the dream and even half believe in it. I think of certain warm summer nights with Amber and Kim and Ashley-Jayne, drinking borgias on the back porch of Caffé Nuvo in San Anselmo and taking over poetry night for ourselves. I was very young then, but old enough to have confidence and sexual experience, and there was so much money and so much time.

And yet this memory is a lie, or at least a highly edited version of what really happened. Yes, those nights were beautiful, but much of that summer was spent in Amber's apartment, wallowing in the stench of her mother's chinchillas and arguing over how to fill our empty days and waiting, always waiting, for Amber to relent and let me fuck her. I did finally manage to find sex later in the season, with others. First there was that one night with Ashley-Jayne, which was not enough and left me lonely. Later there was my week-long adventure with Olga the Russian scientist, which felt naughty and daring, and was the first time I had the now familiar experience of simultaneously wanting sex and wanting to escape from the person I'm having it with. These were not terrible experiences, but I have given them the rosy glow of romantic narrative — indeed, I gave them that romantic narrative as they were happening — and that is a deep dishonesty that has colored my whole life since.

There are other moments that I cling to in my past, often involving some kind of erotic or drug-related adventure, that are similarly falsified and glorified in my memory: the summer I was a counselor-in-training at camp and fell in love with the beautiful girl from Israel, and better yet, was somehow suddenly attractive enough that she fell in love with me; the night in New Orleans on my Green Tortoise trip (that's all you get to know); the evening on the Green Tortoise farm in Oregon on my first trip with them, in the company of the most beautiful woman who's ever talked to me; the trip to Covelo with Robert and Ashley, when we spent the whole weekend stoned out of our gourds; taking ecstasy with Ashley at raves; going to certain concerts by bands we loved.

These were all mixed experiences, with all the wash of positive and negative that usually goes on in reality. That great summer at camp was also the only time I ever really hit someone. The night in New Orleans was exciting but also weird and tedious and uncomfortable. The dusk in Oregon triggered my old fear that I'm not helping enough, which back then was probably still true, as we prepped for dinner and later scraped and washed dishes. The weekend in Covelo involved a great deal of heat and boredom. The raves were crowded and noisy and felt great and were exhausting. The concerts were fun and crowded and sweaty and too loud and full of boring breaks and pushing and shoving and distraction.

This doesn't mean that I can't remember these episodes positively. They were positive. But I have never been willing to tell myself the truth, which is that nearly every moment in my life has been mixed. Eden is a false dream. Even when I've been there, I've simultaneously been elsewhere, and only told myself that what felt at the time like boredom and mosquitoes was actually Paradise.

But now here I am, 32 years old, wearing a suit, sitting at a desk in a Manhattan office building, staying sober and trying to accept that I will never fall in love with a beautiful girl in the deep dark woods. This is surprisingly hard to do. I don't know what to dream instead. I don't know what to hope for. I don't know what my goals are, except to stay sober and try to hold my marriage together. There has to be something more than that.

Each day I have been praying to my Higher Power to reveal its will and give me the courage to carry it out. I will keep praying, and I will keep looking, and I will try to live in the present moment. Because ultimately that's all Paradise has ever been: it's the moments when I have felt alive and present and connected to the world.

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Anonymous Phaedra Lari said...

I have decided that purpose in life isn't something I will find, or have revealed to me, in a blinding insight. It's something that I will grow into, or craft, or stumble onto through a series of small insights that build upon another over time. I feel only a dim sense of purpse so far, though I had a gleamingly clear mirage as a teenager. But I have faith that if I keep looking for the truth of my own heart and the potential within me and act according to the best parts of myself to the extent I can, my purposes in life will grow clearer and clearer in time.

In the meantime, I ponder, act as best as I can and like you find purpose in the moment and in what purpose I murkily sense in the patterns of my life so far.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

Hey, you. Miriam just pointed me here after you found her on LJ, and I'm getting caught up. Giving you a lot of credit for what sounds like a good start so far on the recovery road. Through my work in the world of mental health, I have come to find that people who really do the one day at a time of 12-step recovery are some of the people I like and respect more than anyone else I've encountered. Here's one more voice to hold up the hope that doing what you are doing now *will* lead you to a much more free and joyful and purposeful place than where you are now.

A random thought, on the different lenses you've been using to look at your memories. It sounds like you're saying that in the past you needed to only see the aspect of the situation that was paradise-like, and now you are trying to be honest about acknowledging more complexity. Which is definitely important. There are precious few moments in life that aren't a mixed bag of good and bad. But I think I'm maybe also hearing you grieving for the simplicity of the way you interpreted things before, grieving for the hope of having times in the future that you can experience as unambiguously paradise-like. I would like to suggest that you do NOT have to give that up.

One of my mentors in the Wiccan tradition I've adopted talks about different states of consciousness as different channels one can tune into by turning a radio dial. This is true of differences like intense-work-concentration vs. zen meditation vs. lost-in-a-good-novel, but it's also true for the differences between functional everyday realism and occasional delirious ecstatic delight. Knowing and fully integrating the parts of life that suck does not actually make it harder to experience ecstasy in the long run. To the contrary, most folks I've talked to have found that the more they're honest with themselves about the hard stuff, the easier it is to choose to turn the radio dial to focus on joy, and the deeper the joy they are capable of. I certainly believe that is true for myself.

8:41 PM  
Blogger [the palaverist] said...

Hey, Rebecca! Thanks for the comment (and thanks also Phaedra Lari).

I may well comment on this further in a full post, but tonight I went to my first meeting in a week (in-laws were in town), and it helped a lot to pull me out of my imaginary past and my imaginary future and put me back in the present.

Life is ambiguous, and it would boring if it were anything else. Letting go of the fantasy of pure bliss does not mean letting go of the hope for joy, or the memory of joy, or the experience of joy in the present moment. Thank you for helping me to remember that.

10:10 PM  

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