Saturday, November 12, 2011

Idle Thoughts!

I think I've been going through my version of a mid-life crisis off and on since I was about 23 years old.  I've been thinking extensively about death lately, most particularly my own.  Not because I get some kind of macabre satisfaction out of it, and not because I'm suffering from acute fear of it, either.

Right in the tit hole, John
I've been considering my own demise because I consider a lot of things, and I've always been drawn naturally to those subjects that other people just don't, or more to the point won't think about.  Denial is for pussies.  Give me the rough stuff, every time.  One of the better ironies of life is that nobody gets out alive, and as for the rest, well...I have my own theories.  Theories being all we have, of course.  If you value your safety, you will not approach me with any "but Colton Burpo knows what happens after death" kind of gibberish.  Fuck him and John Edward in the tit hole.  Charlatans and sideshow barkers are anyone who tells you they can pierce that veil. 

Nobody knows, which is simultaneously disconcerting and wonderful.  Your life would lose a great deal of its luster were it not in question.  Trust me on that.

No, I'm not going to last forever, which is fine.  Or is it?  On the Myers-Briggs chart I come out as an "NT", or Rational.  That means a lot of things, but mostly it makes me one of those assholes with his head in the clouds, looking at the "big picture", and finding microscopic faults with everything and everyone.  I'm a prime source of irritation for those around me, but if it's any consolation, nobody feels the cuts of my own analytical blade more than I do.

So I've been under the knife all day, pruning thoughts, comparing where I've been to where I am.  Wondering if it measures up, "it" being my accomplishments, I suppose.  Wondering if "I" measure up, meaning my practical positive impact on my environment, I suppose.  I don't know that I do measure up, but the good news is that (a) there is still (a continuously depleting cache of) time, and (b) it could be worse.  This is my version of health, hope, and optimism by the way.

Sometimes it's difficult to even know what one is.  If you dissect yourself logically, there isn't a cell on you that was there even seven years ago.  I'm not the same man I was, no matter how you approach the concept.  Attack the physical or the ineffable, I make decisions now that would be inconceivable to 23 year old Ryan, whom I now consider an idiot of the highest caliber.  I admire that kid's stones, though, I'll tell you that.

As I dug deeper, though, something of a core emerged.  The machine may have gotten more complex, and it might operate differently, but it's possible I've always been the same machine.

Let me tell you who I am.

We used to take trips down to New Ulm every couple of months to visit my grandparents.  It was a two hour drive or thereabouts, it felt like it took a week to get there.  It was the 1970s, mind you, I didn't have a phone that could download cartoons or a television housed in the headrest in front of me.  Mostly I just had motion sickness to entertain me.

I did bring some toys with me to pass the time once we got there.  When I was a young child, I loved to do jigsaw puzzles.  I quickly outgrew the simple puzzles with the fat pieces and moved on to the colorful 100 piece puzzles featuring cartoon characters by the time I was three years old. 

Puzzles were attractive because they were simultaneously creative and scientific.  Puzzles have rules, and strategies.  Ultimately, they always make sense - the corresponding shapes will fit together.  If it's not fitting together, it aint the puzzle that's broke, it's you. There are clues in the colors, or the borders.  If you know what you're building, (if you can see the picture) you can use that information to make productive choices.  If you have discipline and can perceive correctly, you can take a giant goddamn mess and create a picture of Pink Panther besting Inspector Clouseau.

I remember one particular trip I brought a Pink Panther puzzle with me and set up my puzzle board in a side hallway near the spare bedroom so I wasn't blocking the path to the bathroom.  My dad custom built my puzzle board, and it was one of my prized possessions.  I don't know what kind of wood it was, but it was super smooth on the puzzle building side, and had a little texture on the floor side.  Knowing my dad, he did that on purpose because a little friction on the floor side would help keep the board from moving if place on carpeting.  Holding still is a plus when doing puzzles.

My puzzle board was also covered with Star Wars stickers.  I think you got one sticker in each pack of Star Wars cards, and I had a lot of those.  If I got a "double" of a sticker, it went straight onto the puzzle board.  Bam!  I wish I had that puzzle board now, actually.  But I digress.

So I finished my Pink Panther puzzle, and then I decided to do it straight away again.  I turned it into a next-level game.  I had done the puzzle a number of times, so my "victory" wasn't in question.  Completing it wasn't the goal in more - I decided to absolutely master it.  So I put myself on an internal clock, and vaguely began timing myself, and testing to see how quickly I could finish.

I'd been at the same puzzle for hours, though, and after awhile folks started to notice that I wasn't a dumbass kid taking forever to do one puzzle, but instead was a psychotic dumbass kid rifling through the pieces like a frenetic compulsive, and was getting to the point where I wouldn't make a wrong move and was assembling the thing inside of five minutes.  My aunt began to time me, and begged other folks to watch.  Which they did.  And against their better judgement, some were mildly impressed.  But underneath that, they thought I was a bit odd.

And that's who I am, and who I've always been.  Trapped in my own little world, marshaling my own pocket of skills into some kind of scientific/artistic nirvana.  And a little weird.

The good news is that I'm mostly OK with that.  There's something to be said for branching outside of one's pocket nirvana and affecting a better change for those around you.  I heartily endorse that concept.

Not important, but it's what we got
But here's the deal - you can't fake it.  You can branch the nirvana out of the pocket, if it allows, and you're able.  It's more important that you find that "one thing" that Curly was talking about and run with it, for you.  Because the truth of the matter is that we are living on the ass end of the Orion-Cygnus arm in the ass end of a low rent galaxy.  If the universe were a party, we would not be dancing.  We wouldn't even be a discarded plastic cup.  We would be a tiny sliver of a tiny speck of dust on the door jam. 

So even if you cure cancer for all humans for all time, I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is, you cured cancer for all humans for all time.  The bad news is that there are about 200 billion stars in this galaxy, and about 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe.  There is nothing going on here that is meaningful in the big picture. 

Now, that can be depressing, if one is overly tied up in ego, and drama, and selfishness.  We're just not that important.  The silver lining is that such a realization can also be quite liberating, because it takes some of the pressure off, doesn't it?  And in the end, even if you are on the ass end of the Orion-Cygnus arm of the Milky Way, sometimes the most important thing in the universe is whether or not that hot chick you really clicked with last night will call or not.  You've got the best of both worlds if you want it.

This has been a very long way of rationalizing my largely irresponsible and socially awkward interest in comic books.  It's just another interest, another pocket nirvana for me to explore.  There are more than 100 pieces to factor in, and they don't always fit.  But it's still fun, and there is a sense that I might master the concept if I show discipline, and there are certainly colorful characters involved.

It's my thing, (for now) and I'm not faking it.  And I'm a little weird.  When I die, I suspect that a small handful will remember me fondly, and also probably lament that I didn't spend more time with more prudent pursuits.  And that's fine.  I also bet that many of them will wish that they had spent a little more time in their pocket nirvana on their own journey, instead of marching to some other's orders. 

And that's life.

- Ryan


Nick said...

Thanks for giving me a chance to known you a little better. You've given me some stuff to think on.

And now the smart ass comment. I too have been thinking lately on how you will die. I picture your DNA splattered pillowcase coming to life one night and smoothering you in your sleep and then doing unspeakable things to your body while crying out "How do you like it? How do you like it?"

Miracle Keith said...

I always enjoy when someone goes on a self-reflective rant like this one; especially the bit where you start conjecturing on the “worth” or “shabbiness” of our planet/galaxy. We all know how Ryan has an almost religious fervor for the Almighty Overstreet Price Guide, which he pores over and studies like a Yeshiva Master’s Degree student cramming for his Talmud Studies oral exams . This weird compulsion to categorize, list, value and compartmentalize is a quiet but desperate defense mechanism meant to quell anxieties and fears about the unknown, inchoate thing called life (electric word, “life” means forever and that’s a mighty long time). There is no price guide for the universe or life! Outer space is mostly just that…space. The collections of dust, gas and metals that make up the spinning and floating objects are just…well…there. What we make of all of it is just a small part of that huge picture, sure. But life and what we do with it (and who we share it with) has, for the past million years or so, proven to be a big fat fucking deal to those of us who live and breathe. While it may not mean shit to a single-celled organism floating in the breast sweat of some porn star in the Andromeda galaxy, it means a buttload to us. My son does not look at me with indifferent eyes when I come home from work. I do “mean” something to him. No matter how big the universe is around him, he always only sees the real world right in front of him. Somewhere along the line, his view of the world will expand, and the little street he lives on will seem smaller and smaller; I will be exposed for all my faults and weaknesses, and he will become a man. Like you, he will have anxieties and fears about the unknown. His parents are charged with the responsibility to teach him how to live in the “now”…to enjoy the moments of his present life and realize that love and sympathy are the keys to discovering his own self worth. I’m not telling you to get married or have kids; that decision comes (or at least should come) organically just like the choice to fall in love. But I did notice that you mentioned your dad for the first time in who knows how long (you’ve mentioned your mother quite a bit), and I also noticed a little “Rosebud”-type meaning you attributed to that puzzle he made you. The Rosebud sled meant a great deal to C.F. Kane because it brought him back to a simpler time. Comic books do that too. Just sayin’.

P.S. - You should watch Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”….your blog made me think of a line from that film: “BROOKLYN is NOT EXPANDING!!” See it and you’ll understand. It also happens to be a great film.

P.P.S. - It also made me think of a great Roger Waters lyric: “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English Way”.

Chronic Insomnia said...

Keith -

Of course the problem with my philosophy is that it performs a barrel roll very near to nihilism, and the problem with nihilism is - if it were true, what do you do with it?

Better to go the Miguel Cervantes route and dream an impossible dream. Same problem with Dr. Manhattan in the Watchmen - nobody can really say that he he had it "wrong", but would you want to be him? He's a tragic figure, maybe the most tragic figure in the book.

So yes, you're correct. In some ways, it's a self-fulfilling correctness. If it matters to you, (or your son) than it does matter, and the mattering is a good thing. But at the same time, I've watched a toddler scream bloody murder because they weren't allowed to get a bag of Skittles. You can't convince them that their valuation of those Skittles is WAY off base....but it is.

But yeah, we should all continue to tilt at windmills, insofar as its helpful. I'm with you there.

I find it interesting that you consider falling in love a choice, which is not the same as saying you're wrong. Maybe it is, but I never experienced it that way. If I was choosing....I'm exceptionally BAD at it. Ha!

Thanks, as always for chiming in, Keith. Nice Prince reference in there. I think that puzzle board is my Rosebud, too.

Nick - if my pillowcase ever does gain sentience...I'm in BIG trouble.

DJ said...

So if you're willing to share something like this with the vast information highway that is the internet what's all this jabbering on about with intamacy issues? I believe the next skit for the podcast should be a hilariously freudian dissection of Ryan since public knowledge of the inner workings of his noggin' seems to be at least to some extent a pleasurable experience.

P.S. WTF? I thought you had an English degree not a Philosphy one, this seems to be overly thought out for someone who went to college to learn ta write real good.