You walk outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. Nowadays, you breathe and you risk your life. You don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.
My friend Chad benefited from the kind of disorder that is less and less prevalent thanks to the modern disease of touristification. This is my term for an aspect of modern life that treats humans as washing machines, with simplified mechanical responses — and a detailed user’s manual. It is the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness from things, trying to make matter highly predictable in their smallest details. All that for the sake of comfort, convenience, and efficiency.
What a tourist is in relation to an adventurer, or a flâneur, touristification is to life; it consists in converting activities, and not just travel, into the equivalent of a script like those followed by actors. We will see how touristification castrates systems and organisms that like uncertainty by sucking randomness out of them to the last drop — while providing them with the illusion of benefit. The guilty parties are the education system, planning the funding of teleological scientific research, the French baccalaureate, gym machines, etc.
And the electronic calendar.
But the worse touristification is the life we moderns lead in captivity, during our leisure hours: Friday night opera, scheduled parties, scheduled laughs. Again, golden jail.
This “goal-driven” attitude hurts deeply inside my existential self.
The Secret Thirst for Chance
Which brings us to the existential aspect of randomness. If you are not a washing machine or a cuckoo clock — in other words, if you are alive — something deep in your soul likes a certain measure of randomness and disorder.
There is a titillating feeling associated with randomness. We like the moderate (and highly domesticated) world of games, from spectator sports to having our breathing suspended between crap shoots during the next visit to Las Vegas. I myself, while writing these lines, try to avoid the tyranny of a precise and explicit plan, drawing from an opaque source inside me that gives me surprises. Writing is only worth it when it provides us with the tingling effect of adventure, which is why I enjoy the composition of books and dislike the straitjacket of the 750-word op-ed, which, even without the philistinism of the editor, bores me to tears. And, remarkably, what the author is bored writing bores the reader.
If I could predict what my day would exactly look like, I would feel a little bit dead.
There’s a fable about returning Roman generals who rode in victory parades through the streets of the capital; a slave stood behind them, whispering in their ears, “All glory is fleeting.” Nobody does that for professional athletes. Jordan couldn’t have known that the closest he’d get to immortality was during that final walk off the court, the one symbolically preserved in the print in his office. All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. Maybe he realizes that now. Maybe he doesn’t. But when he sees Joe Montana joined on the mountaintop by the next generation, he has to realize that someday his picture will be on a screen next to LeBron James as people argue about who was better.
I can only hope that I have loved the people closest to me more than I have harmed them. This is something, however, that I don’t think anyone can know for sure.
People will say a lot of great things about your business, and a lot of nasty things as well. Just remember: you’re never as good as the best things they’ll say, and never as bad as the negative ones. Just keep centered, know what you stand for, strive for new goals, and always be decent.
We also eventually had two perfectly healthy children, miraculous creatures that I couldn’t and sometimes still can’t believe Renn and I created out of nothing but two fifteen-minute acts in a darkened bedroom, an act repeated millions of times over throughout the country on any given day. We were hardly original in anything we did, but for a while it all felt so fraught and urgent and specific.
Sir Richard Carlisle: Do you enjoy these games? In which the player must appear ridiculous?
Dowager Countess of Grantham: Sir Richard, life is a game where the players must appear ridiculous.
Sir Richard Carlisle: Not my life.
Consider the life of Winston Churchill. He was born in 1874. Men still lived who had fought Napoleon. Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term as the American president and Karl Marx was just then in the British Library writing the Communist Manifesto. Mark Twain had written none of the books for which he had become famous. Electricity, radio, television, and telephones were still unknown and only the year before Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgets universities had met to draw up the first rules for a new game. It was called “football.”
When Churchill died ninety years later in 1965, men had orbited the earth, walked in space, and sent a probe to the surface of Venus. An automobile had already driven over six hundred miles per hour and sex-change operations had been successfully performed. Nuclear power had already come of age. Lyndon Johnson was the American president at that time and though he was considered an elderly man, he had been born when Churchill was already thirty-four. The year Churchill died, the Queen of England gave the Order of British Empire to the Beatles. It was an honor Churchill had also received, yet for a far different contribution in a far different age.
How does one life absorb such change? What must it do to one’s moorings, to that sense of connection to the flow of time and how a man experiences the rhythms of the world? Clearly, this was an ever-present challenge in Churchill’s life and it frequently filled his thoughts: “I wonder often whether any other generation has seen such astounding revolutions of data and values as those through which we have lived. Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted. Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.”
How would you feel if you killed another person? And if, further, you were a seventeen-year-old girl and the person you killed was the boy you thought you were in love with? Of course I wished it had been me instead. Of course, I thought of taking my own life. Of course I thought I would never know peace or happiness again, I would never be forgiven, I should never be forgiven. Of course.
To open the oyster shell – it is an agonizing pain. I am haunted by what I did, and yet I can hardly stand to think about the specifics. There were so many terrible moments, a lifetime of terrible moments, really, which is not the same as a terrible lifetime. But surely, surely, the moments right after it happened were the worst.
If I said now that not a day passes when I don’t think of the accident, of Andrew, it would be both true and not true. Occasionally, days go by when his name is nowhere on my tongue or in my mind, when I do not recall him walking away from me toward football practice in his jersey, his helmet at his side. Yet all the time, the accident is with me. It flows in my veins, it beats along with my heart, it is my skin and hair, my lungs and liver. Andrew died, I caused his death, and then, like a lover, I took him inside me.
During the years Dena and Andrew had been together, I’d often marveled at both the swiftness and randomness of their coupling. Ostensibly, he’d had no interest in Dena, and hours later, he’d become hers. It seemed to be a lesson in something, but I wasn’t sure what – an argument for aggression, perhaps, for the bold pursuit of what you wanted? Or proof of most people’s susceptibility to persuasion? Or just confirmation of their essential fickleness? After I’d read Andrew’s note, was I supposed to have immediately marched up to him and staked my claim? Had my faith in our pleasantly murky future been naive, had I been passive or a dupe? These questions were of endless interest to me for several years; I thought of them at night after I’d said my prayers and before I fell asleep. And then, once high school started, I became distracted.
We contain chords someone else must strike.
It was a shot Battier could live with, even if it turned out to be good.
Battier looked back to see the ball drop through the basket and hit the floor. In that brief moment he was the picture of detachment, less a party to a traffic accident than a curious passer-by. And then he laughed. The process had gone just as he hoped. The outcome he never could control.
Brief is the growing time of joy for mortals and brief the flowers bloom that falls to the earth shaken by grim fate. Things of a day! What are we and what are we not. Man’s a shadow’s dream.
Vanity of vanities: all is vanity.
It’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman…
And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed and there he is; without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book of clippings.
But you’re not a woman.
“…losing everything overnight would not seem so strange to me. Y’understand? Y’understand me? I can go back to the Midwest. I can work in the mills. And if I have to, I will. Anything but to become a rabbit like this guy. That’s what you are not politically,” he said, looking at last at Goldstine – “not a man, a rabbit, a rabbit of no consequence.”
My life is, in a sense, trash, my life is only that of which the residue is my writing.
Everything all at once filled with possibility, everything in motion, everything imminent – Ira in the drama in every sense of the word. He has pulled off a great big act of control over the story that was his life. He is all at once awash in the narcissistic illusion that he has been sprung from the realities of pain and loss, that his life is not futility – that it’s anything but.
In the midst of life, death is a misstep away.
He was bad at the business of life, which is letting go.