July 15th, 2010
Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad lasts very very long
(Douglas Coupland, Generation X)
Way back (circa 1994), I had finished reading a number of Douglas Coupland books and aggregated some quotes together. I recently dug this up (it's sort of amazing I still have them) and have reconstituted them below, by book:
Several of these still resonate with me today (and have me feeling a little nostaligic), while several others have me sort of scratching my head wondering why they resonated with me at the time.
"I firmly believe," Dag once said at the beginning, months ago, "That everybody on earth has a deep, dark secret they'll never tell another soul as long as they live. Their wife, their husband, their lover, or their priest. Never."
"I have my secret, you have yours. Yes, you do - I can see you smiling. You're thinking of it right now. Come on: spill it out. What is it? Diddle your sister? Circle jerk? Eat your poo to check the taste? Go with a stranger and you'd go with more? Betray a friend? Just tell me. You may be able to help me and not even know it."
But then Claire stopped in midmotion and came back to the bar, where she lifted up her sunglasses and confided to me, "You know, I really think that when God puts together families, he sticks his finger into the white pages and selects a group of people at random and then he says to them all, 'Hey! You're going to spend the next seventy years together, even though you have nothing in common and don't even like each other. And, should you not feel yourself caring about any of this group of strangers, even for a second, you will feel just dreadful.' That's what I think. What about you ?"
"Very well. But ne dump pas on moi, okay? I've got my own demons and I'd prefer not to have them trivialized by your Psych 101-isms. We're always analyzing life too much. It's going to be the downfall of us all.
Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad lasts for very very long.
Mom sighs. "I really did have such high hopes for all of you kids. I mean, how can you look in you little baby's face and not feel that way? But I just had to give up caring what any of you do with your lives. I hope you don't mind, but it's made my life that much easier."
Andy's mom (p139)
Page 143 - Generation X:
My friends are all either married, boring, and depressed; single, bored,and depressed; or moved out of town to avoid boredrom and depression. And some of them have bought houses, which has to be the kiss of death, personality-wise. When someone tells you they've just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer hve a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they're locked into jobs they hate; that they're broke; that they spend every night watching vidoes; that they're fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It's profoundly depressing. And the worst part of it is that people in their houses don't even like where they're living. What few happy moments they possess are those gleaned from dreams of upgrading.
Always keep your mouth shut with a drunk. You can never win with piss tanks. The most you can hope for is to break even. The tactic of choice? Preemptive boringness. Being one-dimentional is the most satisfying method of coping with out-of-control people -- with any situation that's out of control. Keep your face like a screen-saver software program. Don't let people know the ideas you love, the games you've played, the places you've visited in your mind. Keep your treasure to yourself.
Okay. I like you because you brushed your teeth and drank grapefruit juice before we went out to drink wine. I like you because when I think of you as a young boy you are walking over big fields and there are no skeletons in the dirt on which you walk.
...I like you because you have never been in love before. And when you do have love, I know you will survive such pain when it ends. You will always recover. You are the New World.
"You just wait, young man. Around thirty you'll start losing interest in meeting new people. Just mark my words. The thought of creating a new history with a new person will seem so exhausting you simply won't want to be bothered. You'll become too lazy to invent new memories. You'll rather hang around people you don't like simply because you already know them. No suprises."
"I am going to give you a piece of advice Tyler - advice I wish I'd been told in guidance class back in high school, in between the don't-do-acid and don't-drink-and-drive films. I wish our counselors had told us, 'When you grow older a dreadful, horrible sensation will come over you. It's called loneliness, and you think you know what it is now, but you don't. Here is a list of the symptoms, and don't worry - loneliness is the most universal sensation on the planet. Just remember one fact - loneliness will pass. You will survive and you will be a better human for it."
Hmmm. I wonder if people who accuse you of not revealing enough about yourself are the people not actually doing the divulging.
Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life's cruelest irony.
My mood has changed now. And the sun has gone behind the clouds. I'm in this mood I feel occasionally ...this mood where there's a very good friend nearby who I should be phoning. If only I could reach that friend and talk, then everything would be just fine. The dilemma is, of course, I just don't know who that friend is. But in my heart I know my mood is merely me feeling disconnected from my true inner self.
"Stop" But I can't stop. ...I am no longer fueled by clarity. I am fueled by eruptions of memory. Memory of the toxic locomotive engine buried out by the Plants that cannot simply remain buried but must be chopped into little bits and cast into the center of the earth. And I am fueled by the awareness of all the badness in this world- badness I have tolerated because I had never chosen to see it for what it was. And I am fueled by my embarrassment at my profoundly mistaken belief that simply living in freedom in itself guarantees the continuation of that freedom.
Time Baby - so much, so much time left until the end of my life - sometimes I go crazy at how slowly time passes yet how quickly my body ages. But I shouldn't allow myself to think like this. I have to remind myself that time only frightens me when I think of having to spend it alone. Sometimes I scare myself with how many of my thoughts revolve around making me feel better about sleeping alone in a room.
I thought she had seen a bear or had pulled a gun out of her purse. I turned around and she had froze in mid-motion. She said, "I bet if we froze right here and didn't move and didn't breathe we could stop time."
And so we stood there, deep in the woods, frozen in mid-motion, trying to stop time.
Sometimes I think the people to feel the saddest for are people who are unable to connect with the profound - people such as my boring brother-in-law, a hearty type so concerned with normality and fitting in that he eliminates any possibility of uniqueness for himself and his own personality. I wonder if some day, when he is older, he will wake up and the deeper part of him will realize that he has never allowed himself to truely exist, and he will cry with regret and shame and grief.
And then sometimes I think the people to feel saddest for are the people who once knew what profoundness was, but who lost or became numb to the sensation of wonder - people who closed the doors that lead us into the secret world - or who had the doors closed for them by time and neglect and decisions make in times of weakness.
Donny showed up nearer the end of my stay at the hotel - a period when I was wondering if I would eventually be exhausted by the effort it was taking to cope with solitude. I think it takes an amazing amount of energy to convince oneself that the Forever Person isn't just around the next corner. In the end I believe we never do convince ourselves. I know that I found it increasingly hard to maintain the pose of emotional self-sufficiency lying on my bed and sitting at my desk, watching the gulls cartwheeling in the clouds over the bridges, cradling myself in my own arms, breathing warm chocolate-and-vodka breath on a rose I had found on a street corner, trying to force it to bloom.
Time ticks by; we grow older. Before we know it, too much time has passed and we've missed the chance to have other people hurt us. To a younger me this sounded like luck; to an older me this sounds like a quiet tragedy.
I left the hotel shortly thereafter and, very soon after that, I fell in love. Love was frightening and it hurt - not only during, but afterward - when I fell out of love. But that is another story.
It is cooler here, too, and it is quiet. And we are changed souls; we don't look at things the same way anymore. For there was once a time when we expected the worst. But then the worst happened, did it not? And so we will never be surprised ever again.
Being alone here now, all of my old fears are erupting - the fears I thought I had buried forever by getting married: fear of lonliness; fear that being in and out of love too many times itself makes you harder to love; fear that I would never experience real love; fear that someone would fall in love with me, get extremely close, learn everything about me and then pull the plug; fear that love is only important up until a certain point after which everything else is negotiable.
For so many years I lived a life of solitude and I thought that life was fine. But I knew that unless I explored intimacy and shared intimacy with someone else then life would never progress beyond a certain point. I remember thinking that unless I knew what was going on inside of someone else's head other than my own I was going to explode.
And yet in the end did we ever really give each other completely to the other? Do either of us even know how to really share ourselves? Imagine the house is on fire and I reach to save that one thing - whtat is it? Do you know? Imagine that I am drowning and I reach within myself to save that one memory which is me - what is it? Do you know? What things would either of us reach for? Neither of us know. After all of these years we just wouldn't know.
I am a quiet man. I tend to think things through and try not to say too much. But here I am, saying perhaps too much. But there are these feelings inside me which need badly to escape, I guess. And this makes me feel relieved because one of my big concerns these past few years is that I've been losing my ability to feel things with the same intensity - the way I felt when I was younger. It's scary - to feel your emotions floating away and just not caring. I guess what's really scary is not caring about the loss.
I am kicked in the gut. She says that one of the cruelest things you can do to another person is pretend that you care about them more than you really do. I'm not sure if she means this about me or if she means this about herself. I ask her and she says she doesn't know.
Why is it so hard to quickly sum up all of those things that we have learned while being alive here on Earth? Why can't I just tell you, "In ten minutes you are going to be hit by a bus, and so in those ten minutes you must quickly itemize what you have learned from being alive."
Chances are you would have a blank list. And even if you gave the matter great concentration, you would probably still have a blank list. And yet we know in our hearts that we learn the greatest and most profound things by breathing, by seeing, by feeling in and out and in and out of love.
You are old enough to enjoy stories, now, Baby, so let me tell you a story. Let me tell you a story about Gettysburg - honey-moonland - of a man from the town of Gettysburg itself, called into duty days after the battle, to clean up the remains - rolling up his sleeves and gathering the slain bodies, row upon row, digging graves in an endless line, building bonfires of broken horses and broken mules, breathing clouds of flies and the stream of blood and soil, burying and exhuming the rows of bodies and limbs, all day long for many days in succession.
He returns to his home and he is unable to speak, and he sits by the fireplace. His daughters surround him but are silenced to a hush by their mother. They know that this is not the way he used to be. The children whisper, "Why won't daddy talk?" and the mother says, "That is a father's choice, children," but Mother herself is worred, but then what can she say to him, either?
She wisks her daughters off to bed, their toys left behind them on the floor, and then goes off to bed herself, taking a long look back into the main room at her husband, still seated by the fire, still silent.
The night passes and the children awaken. They run downstairs and there, while the birds sing outside and a wind blows through an open window, they find their father lying asleep in his chair hext to the fireplace embers. They are happy that he is resting and they go to their breakfast. It is only later when they go to play that they realize that something is different, but they don't know exactly what, and so they give the matter no second thought, laughing with each other and reaching for their dolls which they find lined up in neat rows up against the side of the dolls' house.
It was my birthday - I remember that - 31, and I also remember that I wasn't feeling lonely even though it was my birthday and I was alone and I was in the middle of nowhere. A few years previously, a similar situation would have had me sweaty with anxiety, but loneliness had of late become an emotion I had stopped feeling so intensely. I had learned loneliness's extremes amd had mapped it's boundaries; loneliness was no longer something new or frightening - just another aspect of life that, once identified, seemed to disappear. But I realized a capacity for not feeling lonely carried a very real price, which was the threat of feeling nothing at all.
Here's what was on my mind: I had recently begun worrying about my feelings disppearing more and more - noticing that I had seemed to simply be feeling less and less. These worries became more focused and stronger while I was driving.
And then I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can't ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it's already happened.
My body grows old, it turns strange colors, refuses orders, becomes less and less a part of the me I remember I once was. I read what I have written here and realize that I am not a happy person and maybe I never will be.
But I talk too much here. Yet how often is it we are rescued by a stranger, if ever at
all? And how is it that our lives can become drained of the possibility of forgiveness
and kindness - so drained that even one small act of mercy becomes a potential lifelong
memory? How do our lives reach these points?
It is with these thoughts in my mind that I now see the drifter's windburned face when I now
consider my world - his face that reminds me that there is still something left to believe
in after there is nothing left to believe in. A face for people like me - who were pushed
to the edge of lonliness and who maybe fell off and who when we climbed back on, our world
never looked the same.
He said our curse as humans is that we are trapped in time - our curse is that we are forced
to interpret life as a sequence of events - a story - and that when we can't figure out what
our particular story is we feel lost somehow.
But this is all getting too absract. Let me talk about real things. Let me talk about then
things started togo wrong with Laurie, more than ten years ago, back when I used to believe
in the concept of rescuing people.
Over the next few years, Laurie began systematically going through all of the family members
and her friends, finding some small slight the person had committed, whether real or imagined,
then magnifying the slight out of all proportion, then cutting that person off forever. It
wasn't too long before everyone had been axed, my mother being the last to go.
Our conversations are never easy, but as I - we - get older, we are all finding that our
conversations must be spoken. A need burns inside us to share with others what we are feeling.
Beyond a certain age, sincerity ceases to feel pornographic. It is as though the coolness that
marked our youth is itself a type of retrovirus that can only leave you feeling empty. Full
I think of hard it is to reach that spot inside of us that remains pure that we never manage
to touch but which we know exists - and I try to touch that spot.
One of Kristy's bigger worries is that she'll continue her pattern of desiring only the
unattainable and then one day, well, in her own words: "My ability to fall in love will
just sort of atrophy and the I'll replace my capacity for love with sentimentality..."
Maybe you have been lucky enough to never have inner voices question you about your own path - or
maybe you answered the questioning and came out on the other side. I don't feel sorry for myself
in any way. I am merely coming to grips with that I know the world is truely like.
pg 311 Life After God:
Other thoughts: sometimes I wonder if it is too late to feel the same things that other people
seem to be feeling. Sometimes I want to go up to people and say to them: "What is it that you
are feeling that I am not? Please- that's all I want to know.
And then suddenly I realized that I was feeling - well, that I was actually feeling. I spent
the rest of the day walking around this strange and beautiful city, remembering myself, what
it used to feel like to be me, before I switched myself off, before I stopped listening to my
...and this feeling passed through me - this feeling of what a gift it is that people are able to speak to each other while they're alive. These casual conversations, this familiar voice heard through a Las Vegas hotel room telephone. It was strange to realize that, in one sense, all we are is our voice.