Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leviathan; or, Life is Gut

I am at once a dreamer and a realist; an optimist and a pessimist.

I claim — and rather earnestly, in fact — to expect the worst out of people and yet still find myself disappointed time and again. This, I realize, is proof that I've failed in my darkest objectives.

And it is this contradiction — this duality of my nature — that led to the purchase and subsequent use of a polished metal "Life is Good" keychain.

It is small, and subtle: the brand etched on one side of the nickel-sized medallion; and a solitary daisy on the other. I have long been a customer of this brand, an admirer of the expressions and graphics that mark their attire.

I own, for example, a t-shirt with a rendering of hiking boots on the front. And underneath those: "Not all who wander are lost."

And there's the one with a rolled up sleeping bag and a campfire ("Bed and Breakfast") and another with a lone individual hiking a cartoon mountain with a sun setting behind it ("Entertainment Center").

I like these images; these expressions. I like seeing my hobbies and perceptions plastered onto a comfy t-shirt or cute (but practical) handbag. And yet: I am entirely and undeniably conflicted by the mark that defines them.

Life most certainly is not good, I think, reminded immediately of the tiger philosopher (if I may take him out of context for a moment).

Life, he said, is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

And that, I think, is more like it.

And yet: I won't hesitate to claim that, at times, life is beautiful beyond words.

Precious, even.

And others: it is precisely as Hobbes defined it in the natural state.

It is solitary. Poor. Nasty. Brutish. And — perhaps most importantly — short.

Because no matter how difficult our lives or numerous our troubles in this world, few of us want to leave it. And not because we've just been enjoying ourselves so damn much, but because for so many the known misery is better than the unknown hereafter.

And there is always the promise of tomorrow, we think. Yes, tomorrow! Tomorrow I'll treat my family better; I'll wake up first thing and run three miles. Tomorrow I will eat healthy. Tomorrow I won't waste a second. Tomorrow I will start looking for a new job. Tomorrow I'll start my novel. Tomorrow I'll volunteer.

Tomorrow I will seize every moment, and tap to the living, breathing dance of life.

And that, I think, is the crux of our quandary. We can't stand the idea of leaving this life before we actually start living it.

But how can we, when there is traffic? When there are bills and middle fingers and scowls and unreturned phone calls?

And how, for the love of God, can we look up

where the mere force of gravity is pulling us down?

No, no. Life is not good.

But it does, I admit, have its moments. And regardless of how long I exist on this planet, the fact remains that I will never have enough of them.


Unacademic Advisor said...

I also love the "Life is Good" brand, but I don't own anything bearing their wonderful slogans. Did you know there is an entire store for it at the Mall of America in Minneapolis? Ironic, eh?

You are right, but it is not so much that the known misery is better than an unknown hereafter; it is more that we always hope the known will become less miserable.

And herein is the key to your angst. It is those who are the most optimistic, the biggest dreamers, who feel the pain of reality more poignantly than other, less hopeful people. These latter ignorant beings ignore much that does not fit into their esoteric concept of happiness, but the dreamer will not look away. She must face life in all of its ugliness so that she can wish for more beauty... and sometimes she finds it in the tiniest pedal of the daisy, in the fragile laughter of a child. Other times, she dwells on the sorrow and injures herself, her pessimism merely a facade, a shield, her feeble attempt to tell herself that she knows... she sees... she will not be deceived. But that is the true deception. Because she does know. And that knowing cannot be banished because it is unpleasant. Something known cannot be unknown by will alone. It changes the knower, becomes a part of her soul.

But you do not really wish to be otherwise than you are. You do not want to join the blind masses. Certainly, they may appear happier in their banality, but the depth of your pain allows you the height of hope, the belief without evidence, in fact in the face of all evidence to the contrary. It allows you those moments when life is indeed good. And even the pain is sweeter for it.

Pathetic and sappy, but true.

Jonas said...

Yes. Life has its moments. That's it, in a nutshell.

Franki said...

Beautifully said, in both words and pictures. Goodness!

Anonymous said...

"Life is a sucking, swirling eddy of despair where false hopes and dreams are soon crushed by the ever blackening universe." But it's the only life we have.

People who say they will do things "tomorrow" are engaging in wishful thinking. Nothing ever changes unless you make it change today. Because no matter what, we live right now.

What makes you happy? Figure that out and figure out how to maximize it. You aren't going to be able to change anyone else around you. (The idiot flipping you off in traffic or the person you customizes your car with theirs.) But you can change how you deal with it.

What is the best part about banging your head against a wall? It feels so good when you stop.

Shannon Erin said...

"Not all who wander are lost."

I love that.

Stacy said...

Cloud gazing at the 4th from the bottom (all are amazing as usual)I see a person walking in the clearing above a giant open palm, godhand? Love it.
I have these paradoxical feelings from ecstasy to despair in seconds flat. I wondered for a while if that made me bi-polar or something, but who cares? It changes so quickly. Happiness is only perceived as a memory I am pretty sure.

M@ said...

Suspect you've been to REI recently. Nice photos!

disgruntled world citizen said...

here's the reason i get out of bed every day: its because of the word in the middle of life: "IF."

Woodrow said...

The first one is my favorite.

Pamela said...

your words left footprints in my soul

ds said...

(near) bookending of the statue image is very good.