I thought I had something deep and moving and significant to say, but I don’t.
At the end of the day, I just miss my friend. Perhaps Worley says it best:
I’ve been mulling over this one a lot lately — over-dwelling on it, perhaps, belaboring the point, and cyclically turning it over and over again in my own mind:
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness…We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it. What I know about love and believe about love and giving one’s heart began in this.” ~C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”
“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness,” writes Lewis, for “if our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.” The cynic in me is tempted to question: does anyone in their right mind actually believe this? Did Lewis himself believe it while watching his adored wife Joy dying of cancer mere months after he penned those words? In the end, is this radical position a sustainable — and survivable — paradigm by which to live? It’s certainly a difficult doctrine to swallow, particularly in the teeth of personal suffering. If, in the end, Lewis is right — that there are no safe investments — wouldn’t it be easier, less painful, less gut-wrenchingly traumatic in the long run to not invest at all? Wouldn’t it be more conducive to one’s all-around emotional and psychological well-being? When you have reaped the consequences of a lifetime of being too invested, of staking too much, of, like Othello, loving “not wisely but too well,” then a self-invited and self-protective loneliness starts to look a lot less like selfish escapism and a lot more like good business practice.
As best I recall from my World Religions textbooks, Buddhism takes as its central tenet that self-effacement, the eradication of desire, is the lofty goal to which we should all aspire — that desire lies at the root of all human suffering. In other words, it is the philosophical embodiment of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes)’s snark-filled observation that the secret of happiness is to “lower expectations to the point where they’re already met.” While this stands in stark contrast to Lewis’s P.O.V., there’s an undeniable appeal there; there are obvious benefits to just not wanting stuff. Namely, that you don’t get hurt. Nobody likes getting hurt, and whether you’re at the receiving end of a “let’s just be friends” talk by someone you hoped to have a future with, or whether you’re facing down the death of a spouse after a long and fulfilling fifty-year marriage, love hurts. Nobody except maybe a real masochist wants to white-knuckle through those sleepless nights of agonizing heartache and hot streaming four a.m. tears. And no matter how you romanticize it, no matter how beautiful love’s scars may be, the pain-to-happiness ratio calls into serious question whether the whole endeavor is worth it in the vast scheme of things. After all, Lewis’s whole platform seems to be that love sucks, but the only thing that might possibly suck more than loving is not loving — a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of equation if ever there was one. Anthony Hopkins, who portrays Lewis in Shadowlands, even notes that “the pain then is part of the happiness now; that’s the deal”.
But isn’t it kind of a shoddy deal? Wouldn’t most people think twice at the roulette wheel if the croupier told them that no matter where they placed their bets, there was virtually a 100% guarantee that they would lose all their money? And to top it all off, most of the assholes you encounter who will quote Tennyson’s In Memoriam at you (“‘Tis better to have loved and lost /Than to jam a rusty icepick in your eye”, or, whatever), are either happily married themselves or self-indulgently single. So once you’ve witnessed a seemingly endless revolving door of significant others coming and going, vowing undying love and promising to lasso the moon for you only to shortly thereafter retreat into vague memory and maybe merit a footnote in your memoirs, Lewis’s proposition starts to ring a bit hollow.
But what’s the alternative? “The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
It all comes down to risk, I think. One is reminded of Eliot’s question in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: Would it have been worth it, after all? At the crux of it, I think we love, not just because we’re hard-wired to love and be loved, but because we have an innate understanding that any gainful venture involves a certain amount of risk. A favorite scene of mine from Good Will Hunting serves to illustrate this principle, as Will (Matt Damon) inquires about Sean (Robin Williams)’s now deceased wife:
Will: So, when did you know, like, that she was the one for you?
Sean: October 21st, 1975.
Will: Jesus Christ. You know the fuckin’ date?
Sean: Oh yeah. ‘Cause it was game six of the World Series. Biggest game in Red Sox history.
Will: Yeah, sure.
Sean: My friends and I had, you know, slept out on the sidewalk all night to get tickets.
Will: You got tickets?
Sean:Yep. Day of the game. I was sittin’ in a bar, waitin’ for the game to start, and in walks this girl…
Robin Williams then proceeds to describe in glorious living detail the play-by-play of game six, to which Will responds…
Will: I can’t fuckin’ believe you had tickets to that fuckin’ game!
Will: Did you rush the field?
Sean: No, I didn’t rush the fuckin’ field, I wasn’t there.
Sean: No – I was in a bar havin’ a drink with my future wife.
Will: You missed Pudge Fisk’s home run?
Sean: Oh yeah.
Will: To have a fuckin’ drink with some lady you never met?
Sean: Yeah, but you shoulda seen her. She was a stunner.
Will: I don’t care if Helen of Troy walks in the room, that’s game six! Oh my God, and who are these fuckin’ friends of yours they let you get away with that?
Sean: Oh… they had to.
Will: What did you say to them?
Sean: I just slid my ticket across the table and I said, “Sorry guys, I gotta see about a girl.”
Will: I gotta go see about a girl?
Will: That’s what you said? And they let you get away with that?
Sean: Oh yeah. They saw in my eyes that I meant it.
Will: You’re kiddin’ me.
Sean: No, I’m not kiddin’ you, Will. That’s why I’m not talkin’ right now about some girl I saw at a bar twenty years ago and how I always regretted not going over and talking to her. I don’t regret the 18 years I was married to Nancy. I don’t regret the six years I had to give up counseling when she got sick. And I don’t regret the last years when she got really sick. And I sure as hell don’t regret missin’ the damn game.
Nobody wants to suffer the pain of loss; that’s a given. Nobody wants to miss game six of the World Series, or to spend a decade watching the one you love suffering from an incurable illness. Nobody wants breakups, betrayal, divorce, disillusionment. Nobody wants to watch a love that once was ablaze with life go out in puttering sparks of pseudo-glory like a 90’s rockstar. Nobody wants to be left all alone with nothing to do but stare into the big black hole at the center of your own sorry soul. But it distills down to this: in any given situation, is it worth risking any or all of those things? What do you stand to gain? Are you willing to make that calculated gamble? Sure, I think Lewis oversimplifies and muddies the equation by presuming that love is always worth the crapshoot; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes your mangled-to-a-bloody-pulp-heart gets run through the nearest paper shredder. You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you lose a whole lot more than you win. But I find myself inevitably coming back to the same position, which is that there’s really no way out and no way around but to give it a shot. It’s not so much that the glory of love always outweighs the pain — we live in a fallen world, after all — but rather that the pain of regret is infinitely worse than the pain of loss. Prufrock’s question — would it have been worth it, after all? — is the one question you never want to be left asking yourself as you reminisce about that chick (dude) you saw in a bar once twenty years ago.
There are no safe investments, but we invest anyway. Because heartbreak is transient, but regret is eternal.
…yeah, so I’m having a really awful day and definitely needed this reminder, so I thought I’d share.
by John Henry Newman
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.
Excerpt from Elizabeth Wurtzel’s confessional piece in Elle Magazine. Ouch.
So here’s what I’m getting at: I was, at least at some baseline, a pretty girl, the kind that boys were supposed to like and sometimes did. And because I was cute all along—it’s not like I blossomed into honeysuckle after adolescence—I was given to believe that love would be easy, men would be elementary, and I would have my way. I was meant to date the captain of the football team, I was going to be on a romantic excursion every Saturday night, I was destined to be collecting corsages from every boy in town before prom, accepting such floral offerings like competing sacrifices to a Delphic goddess. It was all supposed to be to the tune of some glorious Crystals song from the early ’60s, when everything was still innocent, and my life would be a wall of sound from “Then He Kissed Me.” Love would be simpler than tying a string bikini, the kind I wore a lot while waiting on the beach for my ship to come in.
Alas, love has been complicated.
The men have piled up in my past, have fallen trenchantly through my life, like an avalanche that doesn’t mean to kill but is going to bury me alive just the same. There’s really no point, this late in the day, in picking through all the boys in order—alphabetical, chronological, epistemological—but looking back, I have been in far too many scenes that could have happened in a John Cassavetes movie or an Edward Albee play, if only they rose to that literary level. I attract…bottle throwing, foot stomping, door slamming, pot clanging, hair pulling, and, above all, a lot of loud screaming and walking out in a huff—usually leaving me crying, wondering what just happened, or, more often, too astonished to cry.
Tracy Lawrence perhaps says it best — cheezily but truly — when he noted that in adversity,
You find out who your friends are,
Somebody’s gonna drop everything
Run out and crank up their car
Hit the gas, get there fast,
Never stop and think “What’s in it for me?” or “it’s way too far”
They just show on up with their big old heart
You find out who your friends are.
Or, in the words of a beautiful Steve LaRocque one-act I worked on last year, “Life is largely a matter of who shows up” — and, as a very important corollary, who doesn’t show up. When everything’s not coming up roses and life does rain on your parade, who’s going to rally to your side instantly? Some of us have many — hopefully all of us have at least a few — of those people.
I look back on the last, oh, quarter-of-a-century, and I think, like Whitman, that I no doubt deserve my enemies, but I don’t believe I deserve my friends. When I think of all the spontaneous embraces and the four a.m. phone calls and the crazy manic road trips that have carried me through the worst when things have been colossally shitty, I am overcome with a sense of proper gratitude and circumspection for how fortunate I have been to have such an incredible network of friends. It has never been so abundantly manifest to me as this year, when I saw friend after friend bolster and buoy me through a very difficult time, selflessly offering of their time, money, encouragement, support, and most of all, of themselves. When we’re tempted to dwell on the negatives — who in our lives has let us down, who we’re disappointed by, who we feel abandoned by, who we wish was by our side — sometimes it behooves us to remember that for everybody who doesn’t stick around, there are a dozen who will. All of us are battered, broken fuck-ups in some regard or another, and none of us are ultimately deserving of the love we have so freely been offered over the years, but for some reason unbeknownst to us, a few kind (or crazy) souls will go on offering it anyway. You’re never really alone, even when you most feel like it. So don’t worry about who’s going to show up; the people who are meant to, will. Some people will only make a cameo appearance in your life, but the ones who count will be treading the boards with you from the opening entr’acte to the grand finale.
Walker Percy once wrote that we love those who know the worst of us and don’t turn their faces away, which encapsulates my philosophy nicely. At my worst, I can be pretty damn icky (I’m sure I’m not the only one). I can be flaky and indecisive. I can be dishonest. I can be a drama queen. I can be impossible to handle. I can (and do) have the emotional lability of a manic-depressive on speed. I’m not always a good friend myself. I have hurt some of the people I love most in the world — especially in recent years. But at the end of the day, the people who love me have forgiven me for my stupidest stunts, weathered through my best attempts to drive them away, and refused to leave my side in spite of my flaws, my shortcomings, my failures. That’s what real friendship looks like. And I have some damn fine friends.
The funniest thing about all of this is that in the fullness of time, we become the person our friends see. We become worthy of care by being cared for. We become worthy of trust by being trusted. We become worthy of love by being loved. Our dearest friends thus become a mirror held up to ourselves, showing us the truth amidst all the distortions. In Russian literature, there’s a concept called the “unfinalizability of the human person”, which basically upholds that the only person you will ever truly know is yourself, and that your own self-perception is the most accurate one. I would dare to challenge that in a court of law; I think our own eyes have prohibitive scales obscuring our vision, and that it’s the vision of those who love us that is the true one. Identity crises become impossible when you recognize that you are loved, that you have a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable spot in the cosmos and in the hearts of those who love you. And when we love and support one another, we plumb through all the bullshit and create a transtemporal symphony of our truest selves.
So, the country canard is right: when the rubber meets the road… you find out who your friends are. Disappointing, sometimes, disillusioning, absolutely… but the ones who matter will stick, no matter what. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, be who you are and say what you feel, because the folks who mind don’t matter…and the folks who matter don’t mind.
Lest we forget.
“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth, and now there’s gum in my hair, and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running, and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
With these words one of the most iconic protagonists of modern-day literature, Alexander, begins his diatribe in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Within the story, Alexander undergoes a number of harrowing challenges and setbacks, including his mother forgetting to pack him dessert, being forced to watch kissing on TV, and having to wear his railroad train pajamas to bed (he hates his railroad train pajamas). His reactions to each of these obstacles are similar: he thinks he’ll move to Australia. But by the end of the book, he grudgingly concedes that his mother was right: “some days are like that. Even in Australia.”
Truer words were never spoken. I have weathered two degrees in English and have read more works of theology, philosophy, and spirituality than I care to mention, and in my 26 years on this planet have yet to encounter more grounded workaday wisdom than Alexander’s: some days are like that, even in Australia.
At the moment, I have no job and about thirty cents in my checking account, my housing situation is tenuous at best (the last two weeks I’ve been indulging in the fine and ennobled tradition called “couch-hopping”), and I have no car, as some douchebag totaled it Memorial Day Weekend and my insurance company has yet to pay out for my new one — not to mention ongoing (though improved) health issues, interpersonal issues, and family issues. So, to shamelessly plagiarize the Rembrandts, my career is stalled, my love life’s D.O.A., it’s like I’m always stuck in second gear, and it hasn’t been my day, my week, my month, or even my year. (Friends theme now stuck in your head for the rest of the day? You’re welcome.)
In other words, it would be fair to say that not much in 2011 is going my way — whatever my way is. The universe has seemingly conspired against me through a series of cosmic ass-whoopings which I probably deserved in some kind of karmic retribution but which have been nonetheless unpleasant. But some lessons learned along the way have been pivotal ones — that it’s not so bad to be dependent on the kindness of strangers (a la Blanche DuBois); that you can survive just about anything given the proper balance of tenacity and flexibility; that the worst day can always get worse — and can always get better; that if you’re not living in a cardboard box and you have two dimes to rub together, you’re doing all right; and above all, that “no man is a failure who has friends” (atta boy, Clarence!)
But more importantly, the last six months (of which I spent two in eating-disorder rehab) have taught me that some days are like that, even in Australia — that, to borrow a phrase from Hemingway, “you can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.” The endless barrage of challenges you’re up against remains to be reckoned with no matter how desperately you seek escape. Moreover, some days are like that, and it’s not the end of the world. The sun will come out tomorrow, as our favorite redheaded orphan tells us; the cosmic pendulum will swing back again; the pangs of disappointment will give way to the curious advent of joy. And so it goes, and so it goes. Alexander was right. I have to believe that or I’d go out of my mind.
“Everything really is going to be OK (and if not OK, then at least comic).” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
If there is one thing I am not, it’s a social conservative. As far as I’m concerned, we should legalize marijuana, tax the shit out of it, and solve the national debt. I firmly believe in amnesty for illegals and in government-subsidized health care. I’m a rabid proponent of first-amendment rights and don’t condone censorship in any way, shape, or form. I don’t endorse discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation (Constance McMillen had every right to go to her damn prom). I would shake hands with Ann Coulter only in my nightmares. My own parents have branded me as an irredeemable left-wing commie pinko, although my actual political views are probably closest to classical liberalism.
That being said, the Casey Anthony case has got my dander up in a very real way. In mid-June 2008, 2.5-year-old Caylee Anthony of Orange County, FL, disappeared, although her disappearance would not be reported to the authorities till her grandmother finally called 911 on July 15th. This angel-faced missing toddler captured the hearts of a nation:
Her mother Casey alternately claimed to have pawned her off on a nanny and not seen her for a month and that her daughter drowned in a swimming pool accident at her grandparents’ home (after which she…put duct-tape over her mouth and stashed her in a plastic bag in the trunk of her car rather than call an ambulance? Right.) Little Caylee’s remains finally turned up in December of 2008 and Casey Anthony is possibly facing the death penalty if convicted of charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, and four counts of false statements to law enforcement.
With the civil trial set for this August, the tragic and horrifying case raises some interesting questions. People get murdered all the time; there were 122 other murders in Orange County, Florida alone in 2008. Can you name a single other victim besides Caylee Anthony? Probably not. So what is it about this case that has so tugged at our heartstrings and embedded itself into our collective cultural consciousness?
Because she’s a freaking baby — the very picture of purity, of unadulterated innocence. When you imagine her own mother in that ultimate act of betrayal — matricide — duct-taping her mouth shut and snuffing out a life whose potential had not yet been fulfilled, and you picture the “Why, mommy, why?” look that must have crossed over those big baby browns in the moments before Caylee Anthony gasped her last breath and gave up her life, you throw up a little in your mouth, revolted — as well you should be. In every civilized society since the dawn of time, child murder has been consistently seen as one of the most repugnant acts imaginable from both a civil and moral standpoint. These are society’s weakest and most defenseless members; it is at every adult human being’s moral imperative to protect and defend them. When we fail to do so, we shrink to something small and mean and soulless.
You can probably see where I’m going with this, so if you’re easily offended you might want to stop reading now.
Why is this baby entitled to our care, protection, compassion, and righteous indignation —
…but not this baby?
Look, like I said, I’m not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a fan of the Constitution, which as I understand it is pretty much there to protect every citizen from being “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. I’m also a Catholic (albeit a crappy one) and believe in the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death. I’m an equal-opportunist; civil rights are civil rights, as far as I’m concerned, and everybody deserves them — whether that’s the African-American community, the LGBT community, or the preborn community. And wherever you hang your hat on the abortion issue, it’s demonstrable fact that if Casey Anthony had opted to end her child’s life in 2005 rather than in 2008, we would have endorsed that decision in the name of choice and protected that choice with full force of law. Yet somehow, we’re surprised when she appropriates that right unto herself three years later.
The issue at hand is not whether what happened to Caylee is unspeakably tragic; it is. It has been posited that Caylee Anthony was an unwanted pregnancy, and mountains of her mother’s IMs with her ex-boyfriend have been entered into evidence referring to Caylee as “the snot nose” and explicitly stating that she’d rather work a 12-hour shift than be stuck with Caylee for a single day. At the crux of it, Caylee wasn’t wanted and she wasn’t loved. The Supreme Court of this land made a decision in 1973 that instructed Generation Y that if you conceive a child that you don’t want and you don’t love, you have a constitutional right to terminate that child. Say what you like about Casey Anthony — if I weren’t so opposed to the death penalty I’d say she deserves to hang higher than Haman — but you can’t deny that her actions were totally consistent with a cultural ethos that has permeated our society for 38 years.
I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, left-wing moonbat or right-wing nutjob: it just doesn’t make any damn sense that killing babies is sometimes okay but sometimes not.
But wait, you say, Caylee Anthony was a born child. An unborn child is a totally different story and certainly not protected under U.S. law…right?
Oh, wait. Remember this guy? Convicted in 2002 for murdering Laci Peterson and currently on death row in San Quentin State Prison? He was convicted for the first-degree murder of his wife Laci and the second-degree murder of their unborn child, Conner Peterson. In fact, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-212) is now on the books in U.S. law thanks largely to the Scott Peterson case, defining the “child in utero” as a legal victim if he or she is killed during the commission of a violent crime. The law (often called Laci and Conner’s Law) defines the “child in utero” as “a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” (It does, however, specifically claim an exemption for acts of abortion, clarifying that a voluntary abortion undergone by the mother is not a punishable offense.)
Even if you sift through the legal mumbo-jumbo, this is still utterly ridiculous. The only consistent pattern I can see emerging is that in modern culture, killing unborn babies is okay only if they are unwanted, and that killing born babies is never okay.
…except in the highly publicized case of Joseph Maraachli, a Canadian infant born in January 2010 with a deteriorating neurological condition called Leigh’s disease. Canadian doctors refused to treat him and volleyed to remove his breathing tube and hasten his death. Due to his parents’ unceasing efforts to save him, he was eventually transferred to successful treatment in the U. S. and returned home in April of this year. So much for it not being okay to kill born babies.
Essentially, there is absolutely no underlying consistency in our attitude toward these disparate — but not altogether that disparate — cases. I’m not positing that I have all the answers, because I don’t… but I do have to question why?
Why do we cry only for Caylee and Conner?
If there is one profound falsehood that the movies have taught us, it’s that love is easy. Sure, there is the standard screwball boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back sequence of complications endemic to the musical comedy genre, but as a rule, some enchanted evening, you looked up when he came through the door, and though you’ve never been in love before, you got lost in his arms and you had to stay, because it only takes a moment to be loved a whole life long (there’s a chance I may be mixing my musical metaphors here just a smidge. You are an irredeemable theater geek if you managed to pick out the five different shows I just referenced).
The point is, it’s time you jettisoned that sweet old canard that the whole world will light up in some sort of ecstasy-induced phosphorescence when you meet that one special person you’re destined to spend your life with, because it doesn’t work that way. Why? Because…brace yourself…
There is no such thing as the perfect person.
Let me say it again, because I think it bears repeating.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE PERFECT PERSON.
In the words of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, “You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other. That’s the whole deal. That’s what intimacy is all about.” Intimacy isn’t easy, it isn’t immediately gratifying, and most of the time it’s a bit squidgy around the edges. Moreover, intimacy is — call me a cynic — something that, given enough time, love, and effort, you can cultivate with just about anyone. If that makes your warm fuzzy romantic pink-loofah of an aortic pump shrivel, I’m sorry. But it’s the truth. Love isn’t a feeling, a fantasy, or a cosmic mandate; it’s a personal choice. It’s a personal choice you get up and make every single damn day, and some days are harder than others.
There isn’t one magical, mystical, foreordained person out there for everyone, and anyone who tells you otherwise has been freebasing the fairy-tale crack for too long. Sure, since the beginning of time God has known who that one particular person is that you will choose to settle down with and make your spouse, but the decision — ultimately — is all yours. It’s up to you to look at a universe full of nice people, all of them (well, half anyway) prospective mates, and determine, with a steady head and heart, with carefully weighed subjectivity and objectivity, that all other things being equal, this is the person most likely to make you happy for the rest of your earthly existence. I had a professor once who, upon marrying his wife, was asked by a friend, “Why are you marrying her?” When he gave his truthful answer — “Because she makes me happy” — he was accused of being a Kantian, a self-interested user espousing a dangerously anti-Catholic philosophy. This is, of course, patently ridiculous. I can think of no better reason to marry someone than because (s)he makes you happy. If the simple act of watching TV, of cooking dinner, of fighting over taking out the garbage, is sanctified and transmogrified (thank you, Calvin and Hobbes, for destroying that word forever) by being with this person — on the monstrously sophistical grounds that you just can’t imagine wanting to watch TV or cook dinner or fight over taking out the garbage with anybody else — then you’ve made a good choice.
It doesn’t mean you’ll never struggle once you make that choice. The complexities of being in — and staying in — love make an M.C. Escher print look straightforward by comparison.
Love is not a magical fix-all: you will still carry your own woes and pain, as will the other. “We both knew this,” writes C. S. Lewis, “I had my miseries, not hers; she had hers, not mine. . . We were setting out on different roads. This cold truth, this terrible traffic regulation . . . is just the beginning of the separation.” No matter how much you love each other, you can only bear one another’s burdens to a certain point. After that, you will still carry enough baggage to ground a 747: the baggage of former loves and former losses, of former attachments and heartaches and emotional entanglements. When you make one life choice, you de facto exclude every other life choice. As a dear friend once told me, “We always have our options open — until we find the one option too good to pass up.” And once you find the option too good to pass up? You seize it. But it is perfectly reasonable for this to be difficult. If you’re signing on board for a lifelong journey through the stormy seas of “for better” and “for worse” and you haven’t lain awake at night agonizing over the decision at least once or twice, you probably haven’t thought it through enough. “The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these,” writes Chesterton, “first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.” If you’re even considering marriage without a healthy regard for this twin-pronged principle, you’re a colossal idiot.
At the end of the day, you choose the person you want to make a life with and you, a la Nike, just do it —but with the awareness that love is messy and it only gets messier with each passing year. It’s not like it looks in the movies — it is hard, and it is real — and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
But the internet killed, well, pretty much everything else.
I am not a technological Luddite by any means. I am supremely grateful for DC Cupcakes and Say Yes to the Dress, for the guilty-pleasure Katy Perry tunes on my iPod, and for the sociocultural phenomenon that is youtube. I will defend to the death the situation comedy as social commentary, consider it a global crisis when Facebook is down for ten minutes, and sent and received at least 160 text messages last night alone.
That being said, sometimes I wonder what life was like for those of previous generations, before modern technology transformed doing nothing from a weekend pastime into a way of life. Having entered the scene smack-dab in the middle of Generation Y (b. 1985), I do vaguely remember a time before the internet (we first got AOL, dial-up of course, when I was 11). It was a simpler time. I played outside with real, live friends — hide-and-seek, T-ball, Capture the Flag. I remember playing a lot of Operation, Battleship, Twister, Taboo, Balderdash, and Trivial Pursuit. I seem to remember reading books (and I mean real books printed on real paper, damn-you-to-hell-Kindle). Lest I wax too nostalgic, let me hasten to add that it’s not exactly as if I was walking uphill to school in the snow both ways in in the early nineties — there was still Oregon Trail, of course, and a little something called Super Mario Bros. on the NES, and I definitely planted my little hiney in front of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Inspector Gadget every single damn afternoon. I even seem to recall my dad, engineering nerd that he is, trying to teach me to program in BASIC on our old Commodore 64 when I was about eight.
But I do remember, before my introduction to the Web in 1996, spending more time throughout the day interacting with real people and participating in real creative endeavors. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a dynamic personality who could interact with and befriend the dead — but in 2011, having 1100 Facebook friends enables me to give just a perfunctory nod to each of them on a semiregular basis without having to sustain any meaningful adult relationships. Similarly, I have always been a writer — but what does it say about me that my output from 1992-1996 was vastly more prolific than any body of work I’ve produced since — including when I was in graduate school for English?
Perhaps I’m just looking for a smoking gun, but I blame the internet.
Sure, if you wanted to be an expert in useless trivia as a kid you could always go to the library and check out armfuls of books on the Titanic or the Battle of Gettysburg or the Salem Witch Trials or whatever it was that happened to catch your fancy. But it took a sustained, concerted effort to plumb the depths of the Dewey Decimal System, usually an encounter with a mean librarian or two, and the likelihood was high that you would stick with your given obsession for at least a week or so.
Not so today. I’ve been on medical leave since early March, so I am painfully, acutely aware of how much time playing on the internet saps out of my day and how little profit I actually derive from this wasted time. This isn’t primarily because there is nothing of interest on the internet, but rather because there is too much of interest on the Internet. “The internet,” Eric Schmidt opined, “is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” Personally, I can’t even trace the linear connection between one topic of interest and the next in my Web ramblings, but I do know that in the last week, I have read about depictions of McCarthyism in the American theatre, the lives of Shel Silverstein and John Nash, the criminal trials of Andrea Yeats and Marie Noe, the filmography of the guy who played Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the dating history of Matthew Perry (Chandler on Friends), and common tropes used in 1990’s sitcoms. A search through my browsing history reveals that I have Googled the following in just the last 24 hours: Higgs Boson, Stephen King’s The Body, Romper Room, Alec Guinness gay?, Nurse Ratched, An Officer and a Gentleman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez short stories, Girl Interrupted, “Bill Mumy kid from Twilight Zone”, Mary Jo Kopechne, “Demi Lovato and Wilmer Valderrama breakup”. There is simply no rhyme or reason to this erratic lineup — it reads like it was compiled by either a serial killer or a schizophrenic on meth. All my spastic browsing serves to provide me with is a deceptively superficial amount of information about a wide smattering of subjects… which may serve me well in getting phone numbers, but “Mary Jo Kopechne Enthusiast and World-Renowned Expert on Sir Alec Guinness’s Sexual Orientation” is not necessarily what I want engraved on my gravestone.
“Dost Thou Love life? Then Do Not Squander Time, for That is the Stuff Life is Made Of,” Ben Franklin once observed (and a quick imdb search will reveal that it’s also written on the gate of the plantation Twelve Oaks in 1939’s Gone With the Wind!) At what cost have I obtained all this cocktail-party pseudo-wisdom? (And even that designator is generous, since much of what I do online — *cough*watching deleted scenes from no longer syndicated TV shows and horror-movie remixes of romantic comedies on youtube*cough*- does not even qualify) When I was 10 years old, I used to have long discussions about moral theology and Charlotte Bronte with my friends. Fifteen years later, I have long discussions about… cracked.com? Retrograde motion, indeed. It seems to belie the truth of evolution of the species.
Many have recently lamented the death of literature, the fact that there has not been a “great” American novelist since Hemingway (or since Steinbeck and Kerouac, if you’re feeling generous). The fact that Stephanie Meyer is the best we have to offer an entire generation is as deplorable as it is sickening. But while literary critics have scratched their heads about this phenomenon to no avail, I should think the answer was pretty mindblowingly obvious —
The people gifted with the passion, talent, imagination, drive, and attention-span to create world-shaping art are now watching this crap all day long instead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he5fpsmH_2g