Chapter 1 Two Piles
There are two piles of laundry in my house. One is on my bedroom floor. It was created and is constantly being renewed by the fact that I always come in and kick my clothes off and leave them wherever they fall. On most Sundays, not all, I will pick up parts of the pile and take them downstairs to the laundry room and wash them.
The second pile is on a small sofa in the downstairs den. This is where I dump the clean clothes after I remove them from the dryer. More times than not, I get dressed for work out of this pile. I don’t quite know when I suddenly decided to start skipping the middle steps, the part where you fold clothes and then put them away. I know it was after my wife Jennie left me, and my dad passed away. He was about the fourth person close to me who had died in a very, very short span of time. Wasting all of that time on intermediate things started seeming kind of pointless.
There is something I read somewhere about Goethe’s play Dr. Faustus wherein a commentator said that the main point of Goethe’s masterpiece was to prove that God, above all things, hates sloth.
I don’t know if that is true or not, but it is too bad if it is. I could think of a lot of worse things , for example, being depressed. Why wouldn’t a kind and just God hate that more than being lazy? Or, just acting mean and crazy, a person with any kind of common sense would say that acting mean and crazy is a lot worse than sloth.
I do however sort of get the point. When a person is starting out traveling on this pathway that leads inevitably to a home in the graveyard, the person has to set out with a sense of purpose. He (I’ll use the male pronoun for the sake of simplicity) can’t just keep mindlessly walking down the path. This becomes especially true when he starts getting closer to the end.
From the first moment that a human being fully embraces the idea that there is only one real final destination, he has to develop a tougher mindset to complete the journey. Goethe was just saying that you couldn’t lie down on the side of the road because life, at times, can seem kind of pointless.
Most times, especially when they are younger, people have a tendency to whistle a jaunty melody, avert their eyes, and pretend to themselves that they don’t know where they’re going, or that they are going somewhere else fun like on a vacation. At other times, they hang their head and drag their feet, kicking up small dust clouds as they trudge along.
Then as the faces on the road begin to change and those who started out with him start dropping off, it gets to a point when a person with any kind of self awareness has to dig deep down and create some resolve in order to stay upright and keep the feet moving forward.
He seems to me that Goethe was just saying that the whole point of life is about keeping active and resolute in the face of knowing you are on a treadmill to oblivion.
I also don’t particularly give a damn. There are many times that I feel like being slothful. I also sometimes feel that hanging upside down from a tree limb and pissing all over myself might be a somewhat interesting way to pass some time as I regroup my thoughts. Well, OK, maybe not the pissing all over your myself part. That might be what God actually hated, the image is kind of disgusting, and a sloth has to smell strongly of urine. Maybe God just hated actual sloths and Goethe got it all wrong. No matter, it was a hell of a story.
I think it would be especially nice if the tree I was hanging from is set along a path where many people are walking by, so that I could observe the others making their way, some of them skipping and whistling, some with steadfast gaze, and others whimpering and moaning as their eyes mournfully drag along the ground.
It also seems like it could be an very interesting way to learn about life without getting blisters on my feet, tiring myself out, and breathing in too much road dust. Of course, I would have to flip everything over my head, on account of hanging upside down.
Recently, my two daughters called me about a worrisome dinner that they had with one of their most beloved friends.
My oldest daughter Holly cried, “ Dad, Billy was very manic sounding. It was terrible. You remember how Lacy’s friend Victoria sounded before she suffered that last Bipolar episode? That’s how Billy sounded tonight. He told us this long sad story and said that he was seeing signs and having weird premonitions.”
“I thought he was doing good after that last relapse.“
“He was doing well for a little over a year. Then Alan his brother died. Billy was going through his belongings and found a card that Alan had written for Billy. It made Billy go on another one of his benders. The police arrested him while he climbing the flag pole at City Hall. Get this. The lock on the device that prevented people from climbing the pole was still locked., and he somehow managed to past it.
“How the hell did he do that?”
“It was like he had superhuman strength. Anyway, he spent six days in jail in Stockton and got beat up a couple of times. He worries me so much, Dad? He’s going to end up dead in an alley somewhere.”
I could tell by their voices that they were both very worried about their friend. I was worried a bit too. I had coached Billy in basketball a couple of years; he was a great player and was very bright and full of promise. That was before the demons that had plagued his brother’s life jumped ship and settled in on him.
While I listened, I wondered what my daughters would feel, if I told them that understood a lot of what Billy was saying. He was talking a dialect I was very fluent in, the language of depression to which Billy spoke with a heavy accent of saintly suffering.
I knew it because it was the language that I sometimes used in my own internal dialogues, and if I was not very careful, in some of my public discourse. Being able to speak it is not necessarily all that bad, for it can also be a language of opportunity. It can be a language used to wake up sleepy sinners and to raise the dead up out of their easy chairs.
I wanted to tell them to have Billy give me a call, for as they recounted his words and actions that troubled them so badly; I knew instinctively what I would tell him. I don’t know why or how, but the words were forming in my brain as they were talking. It was only my not wanting to add more worry to their night prevented me from telling them so.
I could tell from what they said that the fragile wall between Billy’s subconscious and conscious had suffered a serious breach, and that the waters of his subconscious had started to leak through. He immediately needed to put his finger in the hole to help buy some time.
The waters of the subconscious are truly wondrous and if channeled correctly can be used to irrigate the fertile fields of this material world to produce an abundance of joy and wonder, but if their flow is not carefully controlled, they can also drown a person in an flood of madness and despair.
I wanted to give Billy some advice about how to staunch the flow. First thing, he needed to sit his ass down somewhere quiet and just practice deep breathing. The first, most important lesson was simply to learn how to sit still.
This modern world we live in treats life like it is a just a bunch of random jolts of electricity. We have been brainwashed since our birth to move, jostle, scream, shout, make noise, cry and jump about. On top of that, we are inundated with commercials that tell us that if we do something as seemingly benign as drinking a Coca-Cola we’re participating in one of humanity’s greatest and most sacred rites of passage, and that we should shout and dance in total ecstasy. This stuff does strange shit to our heads. Learning to sit quietly and breathe should be really very easy, but it is not.
Then, he needs to add some headphones and put on Miles Davis’s jazz masterpiece Kind of Blue. Some people might think that I am pretty arrogant to suggest the exact music as if it was just personal taste that determined this choice. They might tell me that Billy, being considerably younger, might have his own musical taste including something just as calming and therapeutic, but I doubt it. Music doesn’t work that way. We need to get rid of this nonsense that everything in life is somehow culturally relative.
If I were an aging Pacific Islander depressed because of my waning powers, and that my canoe had a hole in it, and several of my wives had ran off with my younger cousin because he was better endowed than I, Kind of Blue would still be the prescription. It’s the kind of music that plugs into your spinal cord and wraps itself gently around your spinal column while it winds itself up into the command center and starts sending vibrations that drives away the thick fog and dark, heavy clouds of confusion.
Above all, he needed to completely avoid most of what passes for music nowadays. That shit is poison. It is really not music at all; it is more like the existential whining of a bored human race driven crazy by all of the things we can’t explain. Too many people claim that it is music that calms them down or gives them the hope they desperately need, yet then they listen to the crappiest bullshit on the radio seemingly unaware that music companies put songs on the radio for one reason, to sell records.
This is just to put a plug in the hole. For a complete recovery, he will also have to learn to detach from most of the mainstream media with its endless blathering about nothing and it’s almost complete lack of meaning.
There’s no two ways about it; we Americans exist in a culture that greatly contributes to our madness and inability to find truth. Life is hard enough, but life with twenty-four hour news and sports is a soul destroying schizophrenic bitch.
At some point, Billy will also have to come to recognize the simple truth that he has been placed on this planet to create line and form in this world by utilizing those very waters of the subconscious that are now testing both his stamina and his swimming prowess.
It will be necessary to start very small. Clean the kitchen. Wash and fold laundry. He needs to do anything to put his mind firmly on the task at hand. Watch the movie the Karate Kid. All that “wax on, wax off” stuff that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel was really about learning to anchor oneself in the material world. This will help him to learn how to limit and restrict the flow of the subconscious into this conscious world.
He will sooner or later need to find something to be passionate about, or at least something to drive him forward on the road toward evolutionary growth. He has to create something tangible. To begin with, it could be something as simple as pile of folded clothes.
Then later, he will have to build something larger, a life in which he doesn’t succumb to the demons in his head. And if the winds of chance should come and tear down the thing he has constructed, he will need to understand the need to rise up and rebuild. The only real sin is to sit down amongst the weeds and rubble and surrender.
I was once struck by the beauty of a single weed growing by the side of a highway. It stood about a foot tall and was slowly waving back and forth in a slight breeze. It stood upright, erect and positively defiant. I thought to myself, “My God, it’s just a damn weed, but it’s standing so tall and representing so well.”
I think that this is what Billy was saying about seeing signs. The truth about life is not so much hidden, as it is standing right before us. It is the fact that our senses are numbed and our eyes glazed over because we prefer to stare at television screens and listen to the mindless blathering of highly paid know-nothings instead of facing up to the truth contained in the vision of the open grave. it is also because we only focus on what we desire and are blind to what we need.
I know that earlier I said that God, according to Goethe, was too hard on sloth. I know that I said that there were a lot worse things than being slothful. I know that I also said that it is okay to want to hang upside down in a tree and piss all over your self as the world parades by in a never-ending funeral procession.
I admit that I do that a lot, but it’s not really because I want to.