Monday, July 29, 2013

Adrenaline Junkies

If you want to see some relaxed, happy people, get a bunch of fortysomething couples (most with young kids) and stick them in a house together for a weekend (sans kids). We just returned from such a trip to a condo in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Some people explored their wilder sides on zip lines, airbag jumps, and alpine slides in the area. The craziest I got was a leisurely chairlift ride up and down a mountain, a $10 build-my-own root beer float at the Mount Washington Resort, and an ejection from said resort's pool area for not, technically, being a guest of the hotel. The biggest rush was simply hanging out together as adults (children make it very easy to lose track of yourselves as individuals), playing Apples to Apples. Otherwise, I mostly satisfied my goal of sitting around. I also finished reading my old journals (1993-2001). They were mostly filled with the Manufactured Angst of youth. But a few entries jumped out at me, and I thought I would dictate them here (hopefully, you won't tire of the sound of my voice as I did):

This first one shows how long I've been grappling with the kinds of existential matters I tend to ponder in this blog (though, as my friend Tess pointed out, the blog is another animal; since it is written knowing it has somewhat of an audience, whereas my journals were written only for myself (even if I never read them until now):

April 17, 1993 [at the ripe old age of 23]

Contrary to popular belief, old people were never young. And young people will never get old. And anyone who thinks otherwise couldn't prove a thing: Photographs are easily doctored, eyewitnesses bribed.

Although the name on the front of this notebook may resemble that on 14 others, although the Roman Numerals following the ever-pretentious title – Life – may suggest a chronology, I can assure you that I am associated in no way with that other personage. I've never met the man-boy before in my life.

While I'm at it, I might as well disassociate myself from the guy who may write on the next few pages in the next few days, weeks, months.

I dismiss the notion that we are as individuals an accumulation of our daily experiences. Each day we are born, we live, we die. Then another mind takes the helm, and another, until the body gets tired of the game. It is the only memory that exists -- the physical record of the journey -- the vessel's chips, cracks, burns, scars, and scabs.

We  live under the delusion of continuity. We have instincts and desires – the basic programs – which smell faintly familiar; but it's just an illusion, just a way of giving us purpose.

[While that interior monologue may feel like an aside, I then continued with an actual aside...]

That [diatribe], by the way, was a randomly-accessed attempt at sagacity. It may hold a little truth in it, but very little. That's  the duty of a cynic. And I am a cynic, clothed, cloaked by social acceptance and liberal open-mindedness. Deep down I don't buy any of it. Go ahead, say something true; I'll tell  you that you're naive to believe it's so. I am a rock. I am an object. [my childhood mishearing of Simon and Garfunkel.]

[When starting a new entry, I would often see where I "left off" and respond to it...]

June 1, 1993 

Though I dismiss the bulk of what my predecessor composed, I also dismiss his dismissal of what he spoke. Perhaps we are not accumulations of experience. But we are aware of them. Families of many people within a single physical form. All continue to live until the body ceases to do so.  But a new one is born each day -- the product of those who came before.

[It was not uncommon for me to go long periods without writing in my journal, depending on the therapeutic need. This next entry, a year later, was composed during a visit to my grandmother in Florida, relatively soon after she'd suffered a stroke. It is especially prescient now.]

June 3, 1994

I don't think my grandmother has ever looked better. She's thinner than she's ever been in my presence. Though not wasting away. The shell is only the half of it. It isn't as though she's entirely fit – what with perpetual back and hip pain. She stays in bed with her eyes closed most of the time. I shouldn't presume, but a good day for her is when a relative, like myself, is visiting. Otherwise, her life consists of routine -- meals, pills, exercise (a hundred-foot walk down the catwalk outside, a couple of pedals on her pedal machine), reading the daily paper, trips to the bathroom (the fewer, the better). She hardly speaks, though there are days when something clicks and she goes on a rampage of calls discussing anything and everything that comes to mind.

I don't see myself as much of a help. She's not in a talkative mood today, though I find if I hit the right topic, (like Irving Berlin), she will participate. Otherwise, I try to free associate. She may appreciate that. It's hard to tell. Sometimes she smiles and nods; sometimes she closes her eyes. I'm told I should take no offense.

I'd always counted on her to lead our conversations, though that was a long time ago. Now that I'm capable of forming a complete sentence, I find that my mind goes blank in her presence.

This is about a vibrant mind left empty -- my grandmother's that is. Her stroke stole something, that's for sure; or at least misplaced it – leaving routine behind. But I can't speak her innermost thoughts. I should go sit with her. That's why I'm here. But when I do, I have nothing to say.  Right now she's listening to an evangelical talk show. I have no idea whether it's because she likes listening out of intellectual curiosity or because she just finds the sound of voices comforting or because she suddenly found Jesus.

One comes to Florida as a young person under the pretense of visiting relatives; but, ultimately, it becomes this pilgrimage to one's own mortality.

The body deteriorates and reinvents itself. It doesn't do what the other body did. It doesn't want what the other body did, doesn't remember what the other brain did or thought. Doesn't think what the other brain did.Or maybe it does. That's hard to gauge, depending on what the new brain decides to express.

We don't talk about death with my grandmother. My Aunt Libby [her sister]is starting to worry about her own. She has heart trouble. My cousins Morty and Magda discuss it in terms of wills and cremation and others who have gone suddenly.

It makes me fear aging more than death -- doing nothing with however many years or days or hours I have left [is terrifying]. Fear of death probably isn't the best reason for living life fully. I guess it depends how overtly one fears. Whether one confronts the fear by mocking. I know it makes me want to quit my job (which I haven't even started yet) and run off somewhere. Makes me want to fall in love.

I wonder if my grandmother believes in God. If so, I don't know that it matters, certainly to me, whether it's a Jewish God or Jesus or Allah or Buddha or Brahman. Seems to me that the line between atheism and worship is a much broader than any between organized religions. Once you've decided to believe in a supreme being, everything else is semantics, which I suppose is why fundamentalist anything bothers me. To have the nerve to believe that any scripture is the be-all and end-all is absurd, as if all other religions made terrible errors. So inane. Preferring one form or style of faith is one thing, but believing it's the only one for everyone or that all those not born into it are essentially damned is about as self-centered as the human race gets.


  1. Really enjoying your stream of consciousness and look-back journal blogs. You inspired me to pick up my journals from the early aughts. I couldn't find too much inspiration, but there was sure a lot of cringe-worthy prose. EFS

  2. It was a glorious weekend...although I could have used another day to do more sitting around and reading. :)

  3. Next trip I might be more of an adrenaline junkie; this time I, too, enjoyed a more leisurely "adventure." Apples to Apples ROCKED! So did your journal mining! Thanks for sharing, Ken!