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I sit down to write.
My fingers move slowly, as if bitten by the cold that lingers in my tendons. I can’t think of what to say. The ideas used to free-flow, fall onto the page as if the computer wrote them itself.
I made a cup of coffee, set an alarm to give me an hour before my next task beckons me. The classical music I listened to when I wrote every other piece is playing, but still…nothing.
I’m not sure what I expected. I don’t know what I wished to write about. My mind felt empty and potentially overused. I imagine this is how the oil workers on the North Slope feel. They find a great vein, using it for months to years. They make a living off of this resource, trusting the consistency of the oil day in and day out. Then, as the sun rises and they lug themselves over to the drill, they find it’s tapped; the oil is all used up, and nothing will bring it back.
It is possible that the mind ceases to respond to high intellectual need when we are no longer facing a crisis.
During my whole upbringing and young adult life, I was in crisis. I raged the war between the two parts of myself, and I always lost. In response to the turmoil, my mind ran double time, churning out thoughts unforeseen to me before. I reflected and wrote, stewed and imagined until I settled the war, calming the crisis within me. And now, now with peace, it seems complacency has come.
I was told that times of peace never made strong men, and so it also seems that existential peace never made strong artists.
What makes the artist linger? What makes the artist need? Where does their pendulum swing? Are they painting the shadows on Plato’s cave’s wall, running circles in a falsified existence? Or are they ruminating over the release of their chains, and the subsequent realization that everyone else is living lives of demented illusion?
Is the artist so broken that they leak their mental angst all over a page, or so further along, so truly awake that they can’t help but feel pain in response to a true reality?
If consciousness and pain exist on an inverted-U, we are all numbed from our pain by a lack of consciousness. We contract out our thinking to the phones, to our TVs, to our cars. Everything is smart, and so therefore, we don’t have to be. We can now exist in a purely physical, Epicurean world where the consequences of forgoing intellectual and moral transformation are all but ostracized by society.
Why reflect when we can just turn on the TV? Why tear ourselves apart? Why go through the painstaking process of building anew, a new creature who can think, act, and reason without being burdened down by a lifetime’s supply of moral insufficiencies, of childhood traumas, and of personal burdens, when we can build our day around a mindless job, build our recreation around a mindless hobby, and live just fine?
Why, when we, as a society, have removed the consequences of being mindless (one will rarely die the mindless death our ancestors faced), would anyone be mindful? Especially if becoming mindful meant leaving the cave and foraging on your own?
Although society can bolster us against the consequences of living an unexamined life, we can never escape the natural consequences. He who doesn’t understand the why is destined to repeat the same mistake until he does. Therefore, he ruminates in the marinade of the consequences of the actions he repeats, never fully learning how to avoid them, but never fully feeling the full effect.
We act as if we are too safe, as if we are sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. We protect our children from tragedy, shield their eyes from the malevolence of the world in an effort to protect them. We create spaces that are safe, words that are harmless, ideas that are shallow, and lives that are meaningless, all in an effort to protect them; and then we question how we went wrong. As if protection was the path of virtuosity.
We want to create offspring stronger than us, wiser than us, braver than us. We want children who refuse to blink in the face of the tiger, and so in our efforts we removed the tiger. Do not shelter me from the harsh realities of the world, but force me to confront them. It is only in the confrontation that I grow stronger.
I sit down to write again.
My fingers feel freer, as if making up for the molasses that pumps through my brain. I sit, mental silence again. Maybe I am not a writer, or maybe I shouldn’t be a writer, if what I do makes me one. Why is it that I drag my hands to the keyboard, my body out of bed, and my mind to this proverbial hamster wheel? Why do I force myself to write? Is it because after purging the confines of my soul onto this piece of paper I feel better, which I would assume is similar to the expected health benefit from blood letting, or to the pride a butterfly must feel when he sheds his cocoon?
Do I feel better after I write? Or do I write so I can view myself as a writer? Do I write large words such as proverbial and malevolence so I can justify the life I’ve laid out? Do I write to mimic thinkers who write? Thinkers who were confident in their decision to run counter culture to society?
Do I write for confidence, for confirmation in the hopes that I was too right? Do I write to convince myself that college wasn’t made for people like me, that I won’t be a spiraling mess, that maybe I can be like Thoreau or Emerson? That maybe I have enough gusto and intellect to offset this decision?
Do I write for confidence? Do I write to mine and scour the fields of my brain in the hopes of finding something worthwhile, something that justifies my existence, something to quiet the wrecking doubts that lay waste to my soul, that rob every free moment, every chance for peace?
You see, fear and regret leach through my veins as I move further and further away from expectations. How do I become someone I am proud of being?
I sit down to write again, though I must blow off the dust that lies between the ridges of the keys before my fingers can find their familiar groove.
I attempt to prime my brain to think thoughts worthy of finding themselves written out, permanently emboldened across the page. The choke stutters, and it refuses to turn over. Why am I like this?
Why do I feel the need to hunt for the inconsistencies in my soul and dissect them, reveling in every painstaking surgery of the self? I feel at a crossroads, an intersection of two distinct paths that will forever alter the man whose eyes meet mine when I look up in the mirror.
Do I accept that I am not whatever I thought I was, that inside of me are not the materials to forge from the fire a life I envision? A counter-grained, tightrope walk of a life? Must I accept that I was foolish and naïve in my thinking? Write wrongs to those I doubted, those I questioned in their unwavering support for the norm?
Must I give my soul to the gods, my mind to the culture, and my heart away, give it away to whoever is foolish enough to pick it up and try again down the path I sought?
Must I accept that I have failed? That I have spent my years running not to, but from? That I am truly nothing in the face of the world, in the face of the great men whom I have read, watched, and lived in the shadow of? That my mind is not what showed flashes of greatness, that my soul is not made of purity, that my heart is foolish, that my eyes lied, and that I could never be my own man?
Is it a stout resilience, or a dangerous pride, that holds me back from accepting the well-trodden path? Is it a true outlier, or a stubborn ego that whispers into my ear that I am different?
Why do I feel so drawn to the life of an exiled sage? Why do I fight conformity? Why do I, on one hand fight cultural norms, while on the other, hold them up as unquestionable? Where do I get the right for this dichotomy?
All of these questions don’t lead me anywhere toward an answer.
I feel unable to see past the week, unable to forge an idea of how I want to live in this world. I want to have a life that comes with being a part of society, without being part of society, as if I could reap the rewards without sacrificing the necessities of my being.
There’s a world inside of me that I am unaware of—a distant, flowing source of eternity. A grave hand that reaches up, grasping, tugging, pulling. A longing, an itch that can never be scratched. There’s a beating in my chest that aches with every step and echoes through every muscle, reverberating off of every bone. There is a silent scream that comes out of every yawn, a string that leads into the unknown just waiting to be pulled.
I am a leaf, a perching tree peering over the edge of the cliff. I am a cool wind, a dove perched on the branch overhanging. I am the fire and water. I am the sun and the moon, the ocean and the beach, the sky and the clouds.
I am limited, and invincible. I am nothing and everything at the same time. I am a glass of all of the tears I have shed, and a basin of all of the ones others have shed because of me. I am a river of letdowns flowing to an ocean of potential. Or, maybe from the ocean of potential. I am a fascinating twist, a crossbreed between what could have been, what only once was, and what lies ahead.
I long for something more, yet I find comfort in what I have. I aim at the unknown and cower in the shadows. I thrive in chaos but hunt for peace within.
I feel pressure, as if the knowledge that whatever is coming to me soon looms over every day. I often am lethargic, unable to think at times, overcome with fatigue. I sleep and I sleep yet to no avail.
I sit to write, yet no words come…
What has taken over me?
The feeling of being lost, I am no stranger to. It has always been there, peaking around the bend every time I lay down my head or close my eyes. I recall feeling its spiny fingers around my throat as I waged battles with my youth.
How do we overcome this feeling of being lost, in an effort to make a decision that isn’t just a decision to postpone making a real one?