Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Speed of Life

If you can get passed Roger Waters's egomania, the guy has a few resonant messages (for me, at least). The art snob in me would never cite The Wall atop any High Fidelityish list, except perhaps the top five albums about walls, but he develops a pretty great metaphor over the span of said double album. Young lad experiences some incomprehensible experience, one that probably will forever remain sealed away in his subconscious, locks himself away inside himself, seeks comfort in all the wrong places, finds emptiness in those pursuits, and eventually breaks free out of sheer nowhere left to turn. I don't think God was quite my last option; compared to many people I know, I have few regrets--unless you count missed opportunities, but most of those I consider blessings in hindsight. The album ends with sounds of a dawning day, and the character's outcome isn't expressed musically. (Probably because Waters had no idea what fate would await him.)

Before I revert to my old writing style of speaking in code, let's put some of this into perspective:

1998: I graduate high school in June, get hired to my first ever job (travel counsellor), and head off to university in the fall. I completely exploit the freedom of not having concerned high school teachers to proverbially thwap me with a ruler, and I spend more time exploring the city of Halifax than my assignments. I also dabble with alcohol for the first time. Miraculously, I pass 3.5 of my 5 courses.

1999: My grandmother, mentioned in a previous post, passes away. Aside from witnessing her strength, I observe as my grandfather spends virtually every possible moment he can at her bedside, which amounts to six months of him neglecting his house chores, and, trust me, this wouldn't sit well with him were it for any other reason. So that's definitely my new standard for how a man ought to live.

I get hired again for the same position and agree to work until a few days before school starts again, so my parents go apartment hunting on my behalf. They find virtually nothing but a room in a professor's house and have the option of taking a very nice unit upstairs (requiring me to filter through the house) or a low-ceiling bugaboo of a board in the basement, but it has its own entrance. They chose the former, and I subsequently moved in. A few weeks later, I learn that, although it wasn't mentioned to me, the landlord was clear about the fact that for the duration of my stay (or anyone's), house guests are forbidden. Now, for someone who is introverted and has precious few friends, this is just salting an already unhealthy scar. I live a generally solitary life for the rest of the academic year, seeing a few people on weekends but generally wallow in my own mess. With little to entertain me but schoolwork, I made the Dean's List that year. What a larf that was.

I also got to see my favourite teenage band in concert a week into school, thanks to my Dad's generosity and willingness to travel to Boston with me. (Yikes, those were simple times, looking back on it.)

2000: Another school year starts, and I maintain my focus for the first half. Try my hand at love, and that falls flat. I decide to dabble with drugs the night before a HUGE exam in a course that is mostly graded by TAs, and they find nothing special in my assignments. (Art snob thing again? Heh.) Anyway, I ace that exam, at least in the eyes of the head honcho professor. Incidentally, if I would have completed my BA, this would have been a mandatory course. My other exams, for which I studied more, produce lacklustre results, but I resume classes in...

2001: The professor who scored me highly decides that he's going to mix things up. We have some intense reading assignments on the horizon (and some immediate ones), but he doesn't want our assignments to revolve around the content of these things. Instead, we need to exercise our research abilities, and our first job is to not interpret anything about a Jane Austin novel; no, he wants us to do studies on one of the novel's (three?) settings. It would require us to more than familiarize ourselves with the Dal library, and, as I said, I can't imagine any urgency to even read the novel until exam time rolls around again. On the premise that I can further my own studies myself, and that I would do so in a much more fulfilling style, I gradually start missing more and more classes.

I shack up with the wrong lady, and that relationship will endure an on-and-off cycle until what Tim Booth would call the arsehole end of November 2002.

2002: I'm suddenly thrust into living by myself in one of the city's most dangerous areas, and I now need to pay twice as much rent. I would have gone hungry but for some very welcoming and empathetic neighbours, people I still visit quite frequently when I visit the city. Like me, they had their vices, but true friendship transcends such things.

2003 (January to April): If you want to compound the issues I mentioned that began in November of the previous year, you might consider how I was working one of the most stressful jobs of my life: making cold telemarketing calls to Qu├ębec in attempt to complete a credit card application, often with seniors who didn't seem to understand what the heck was going on. We needed to record a verbal agreement after gathering all their personal data, and, in accordance with my ethics, when they sounded quite uncertain I would ask them point blank if they wanted a new credit card. Most said no, and I would lose a sale credit, but that was fine with me. We were encouraged to gather info from other outstanding debts so the balances could be transferred to our cards, and I seldom offered that. For some reason, I always got the credit junkies who would have applied regardless, so my performance was usually in the top three, which secured my income for the time being.

By the time April rolled around, the company I worked for decided to nix the credit card stuff and use their facilities to host a much more lucrative and prestigious client's needs. Having no perceivable alternatives (I didn't look), I was hired again, and thus began a month of intense training.

Throughout the above transition, God sent me many different people of many different viewpoints, and they introduced me to new ways of thinking, as well as a new type of commitment to Christianity. Life would soon sweep them under the carpet, for reasons too complicated to describe herein, but I see in hindsight the attempts God made on my behalf. As training began, there was a lottery with everyone's name to determine whether they had the luxury of learning the same information between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or in my case: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. That utterly sucked until that first night, when I found myself in a shuttle ride home seated next to someone who, through no real effort I could understand, somehow washed clean every single piece of baggage that I had carried with me to that point. My freak self as a child, complete with epilepsy and asthma and ugly skin conditions? Obliterated. Awkward teenage after thoughts and everything mentioned in this post so far? Vapourized. I found many intellectual compatibilities with this person, but I realized in hindsight that at no point had I detected an ounce of selfishness in her. And what did I do about it? Why, the same thing I had done for 23 years, except once: nothing.

2003 (July): As is usually the case when one does nothing, nothing happens. God had ventured the first gift, and it surely became clear to Him that I had no willingness to part with my vices. When things seemed to be taporing into oblivion, that was when Miss Wrong re-entered my life, and for reasons I will never understand (probably an intense desire for a companion), I did what I can only describe as explicitly stepping into a bear trap. Given the complicated history and my incompatibility with her, I left the city behind in August of that year.

2004 to first week of October 2007: Some noteworthy things. I took a creative writing course at the local community college, during which I started what would evolve into a five-book outline. I also got hired as a magazine editor in 2006, but that would prove to be just as much a quagmire as it was a blessing. I spent most of those years locked away in my room, mostly procrastinating but always thinking about the books I would write, waking at wee hours to scribble things and whatnot. It wasn't until recently that I finally catalogued those scraps so I might refer to them in proper sequence. I recently bought a second computer so I can set my other one aside and have my work out of the reach of computer viruses and any other malicious content that might leech at them. And all this stuff left me empty. Whether as a result of my action or striving for the wrong thing, I had never as much as glimpsed happiness.

Second week of October 2007: It came to pass that my friend Matt invited me to a church service at the Yarmouth Wesleyan. I'd long held the belief that God was real, but I didn't trust some of pop culture's depictions of the Bible, which I falsely assumed were more accurate than they've turned out. And I certainly wasn't comfortable in a church environment, at least none that I had ever attended. I did, however, see this as a chance to hang out with my best friend, a recent father of twins who understandably has less time for people like me. So I went. It spoke to me. I felt a strange hope stir inside me. Up to then, God had seemed like a pretty benevolent Creator, but I wasn't ready to submit to the will of another. In fact, in a silly little Facebook quiz, I had recently completed a survey question like this: "I feel naked without my..." I wrote this at the end: "opinions."

Later that week, after the only service I'd ever attended, I found myself chatting with Matt again, this time overlooking the harbour and chatting over coffee. My mind refused to relinquish its grasp on what had happened on Sunday morning. It was so intellectual. So astute. So unlike the holier-than-thou condescention I had been familiarized with. Where my childhood church left me with an air of that church's dependency, this one left me with a feeling of fellowship. Compassion. The list goes on. I found myself mouthing the words: "I have a willingness to submit to God. I don't know what that means, but I can't walk the same dead end streets anymore." (So sue me, I might have prettied that up for the blog.)

Since then, I've received a lot of clear signals. They vary quite drastically. Like most of my life, I've made many discoveries through introspection and reflection. I've read books about Christianity. I'm trying to ingest scripture. I'm finding peace in moments I shouldn't, that, would never have before that day in the car. I've experienced some appointments that I would have previously thought coincidental, but that must be of divine origin. And, if you want to call it progress, I've responded to most of them. Last night I even told a fellow music snob from Venezuela how this past month has been the most critical of my entire life. Quite understandably, he didn't believe me. I mentioned that even my post-2003 baggage had been lifted, but that could be maturity. I spoke of a sense of completeness I never had before, but, perhaps in his mind, it was just time replacing one distraction with a newer one. It's hard to substantiate such a grandiose statement as I would have to use in order to describe Christ's influence.

But as time passes, I'm realizing something: by surrendering my will to God, it means accepting vulnerabilities. It's not that God would lead me to harm, but He has more than proven an insistance to purge me of my comfort zone. I previously had the authority to sit idly and observe life. It was unsatisfying, no, utterly aggrevating, but it was safe. Without trying to venture excuses, I hope it's understandable that I have some serious reservations about projecting things outward. And still, I've been doing it, in my own way. I never thought myself a great writer, but I've always thought of writing as a great outlet for everything I held dear. Evidently, I was just hiding behind a pen or a keyboard. Without speaking, I made it clear to God today that I want to remain in that environment until I get stronger. It seems to conflict with the idea of posting these things, as I haven't really struggled to do so. Whenever I felt week, I turned to scripture or prayer. But when asked to have a voice today, I acted like a deer in the headlights. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I really felt the Spirit leave me; it wasn't an unfamiliar feeling, but it was strangely devastating. The Spirit won't be trapped inside brick and mortar, the figurative kind that Roger Waters sings about.

I'm just a little perplexed at last month and how much happened in so short a time. Matt was very insightful when he noted that a relationship with God, much like human relationships, takes a lot of work. It's certainly more than I imagined. It's a self-enforcing pact that will break if you let it. Ironic that, on the same day I speak out against war, I find myself entrenched in my mind's battlefield. In spite of my unspectacular history of sitting on my hands and vicariously experiencing the mistakes of others, I am well acquainted with Satan. He's every unhealthy thought I've ever had. As I've had to acknowledge quite suddenly, he laid the foundation for my comfort zone. This makes me very unsure about how to be. Not who to be, but how. I'll end this with the copywritten words of Joanna Newsom. I guess "Sadie" will have to apply to me a little bit longer, if not forever.

In case it's unclear, I haven't given up. Instead, I have a new appreciation for not becoming a pillar of salt. Life is so silly, so simple. That's an adjustment for me.

Joanna Newsom: "Sadie"

Sadie, white coat
you carry me home
and bury this bone
and take this pine cone

bury this bone
to gnaw on it later, gnawing on the telephone
and 'til then we pray and suspend
the notion that these lives do never end

and all day long we talk about mercy
lead me to water, Lord, I sure am thirsty
down in the ditch where I nearly served you
up in the clouds where he almost heard you

and all that we built
and all that we breathed
and all that we spilt
or pulled up like weeds
is piled up in back
and it burns irrevocably
and we spoke up in turns
'til the silence crept over me

and bless you
and I deeply do
no longer resolute
oh when I call to you

but the water
got so cold
and you do lose
what you don't hold

this is an old song
these are old blues
and this is not my tune
but it's mine to use

and the seabirds
where the fear once grew
will flock with a fury
and they will bury
what'd come for you

and down where I darn with the milk-eyed mender
you and I and a love so tender
stretched on a hoop where I stitch this adage
bless our house and its heart so savage

and all that I want
and all that I need
and all that I've got
is scattered like seed
and all that I knew
is moving away from me
and all that I know
is blowing like tumbleweed

and the mealy worms
in the brine will burn
in a salty pyre
among the fauns and ferns

and the love we hold
and the love we spurn
will never grow cold
only taciturn

and I'll tell you tomorrow
oh Sadie, go on home, now
and bless those who've sickened below
and bless us who have chosen so

and all that I've got
and all that I need
I tie in a knot
and I lay at your feet
and I have not forgot
but a silence crept over me

so dig up your bone
exhume your pinecone, Sadie

Incidentally, it's a good thing I taught myself to type improperly. Even my sprained finger won't silence me. (Ish)

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