So, I recently read The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, it’s about the folks who colonized New England in the 1630s. They were a bunch of well-meaning, but often destructive, ultra-religious book nerds. Their book of choice, the Bible. They were mostly Puritans. You work hard, go to church, read your Bible, you go to Heaven, that’s the gist of Puritanism. Some, however, were Calvinists. Calvinists make Puritans look like a bunch of happy-go-lucky, easy going, fey spirits.
Calvinists believed that before you’re even concieved, before your soul even enters your tiny new body, God has already decided whether you’re going to Heaven or to Hell. There’s no finding Jesus and getting saved, death-bed repentance doesn’t mean anything, God had it all figured out and He wouldn’t change His mind. So, why be good and study your Bible more rigorously than any Puritan, why be flawlessly pious if God has possibly already written you in His Going to Hell book? Well, they believed that people who “seemed” like good people, read the Bible, went to church fervently, raised kids to be pious, those people had souls that displayed all the signs of goodness and were PROBABLY scheduled for Heaven. Folks who were lazy, who couldn’t quote the Bible chapter and verse, who stole firewood during a hard winter, they behaved so because they got a Hell-bound soul. So, you ended up with a bunch of uneasy, sometimes terrified religious zealots desperately trying to “look” good.
One woman in town was particularly terrified. She was depressed a lot, didn’t like raising lots of kids, or practically living at church. She didn’t feel “good,” but tried really hard to conform. She was so scared of the not knowing which soul she was given. She couldn’t sleep, was nervous all the time. She asked the church for help, guidance, but the Calvinist Church wasn’t exactly a loving church. She didn’t find any help at church, or anywhere else. She probably suffered from mental illness, probably needed therapy and loving support from family and friends, but in the 1630s, mental illness wasn’t mental illness, it was that you had the Devil in you. You were evil. She felt evil, but wasn’t certain. She wanted to be certain, she wanted to know whether or not she was damned, just so she could finally sleep at night. To that end, she took her youngest child, a baby, and she threw it down a well. That settled things for her, she finally knew what kind of soul God gave her and that she was absolutely, without a single doubt, damned. She actually felt a bizarre peace.
I don’t want to throw any babies down any wells, I actually love babies. Whenever I see a baby out and about, I always end up transfixed, I watch their little hands, their little eyes, searching, learning. I always think about how that baby could grow up to cure cancer, or write some spectacular novel, or hit liquor and heroin really hard and be dead by thirty, or whatever. Babies are possibility, they’re the essence of potential. Not being a Calvinist, I also see that baby’s soul as perfectly clean, I don’t believe in that born sinful stuff, Jesus got screwed over so babies don’t have to worry about that. I always look at some baby and think about how they’re not all fucked up yet, unlike me they’re completely perfect. So, yeah, no killing babies to figure out what kind of soul God gave me.
Still, I’d like some certainty about some things. Where am I going after I die? I say that first, but it’s actually pretty low on my Worry List. I just don’t want to die, I want to avoid the dying. I died once, it didn’t stick, I don’t want to go again. Sometimes I get really dark and want to go vertically open my wrists, but that’s more about not wanting to feel sad than actually wanting to die. It’s also different when dying is this circumstance that’s forced on you. If you’re accidentally drowning in pineapple juice (that’s what killed me) or the hose on your vent breaks while you’re trying to buy a four hundred dollar Tumi bag, the absolute last thing you want to do is die. You beg God not to let you go, you beg to be with one certain person one more time. You’re all, “I’ll be good, really, I promise.” At least, this is how I am.
I worry about the when and how of my dying, mostly the when. I’d really like to know the when, then I could quit worrying about whether or not I have enough time to make up for the bad things I’ve done, enough time to have what I want. and feel happy. I worry I’m going to go out like Kurt and Elliott, sad and fucked up. I don’t want my story to end that way, the way it is right now.
That’s what I worry about most, running out of time, I’m constantly aware of time. I feel time, like it’s something tangible, rushing over my skin. I feel this constant sense of urgency, especially now, because I know I’m not where I want to be, and I know I’m one breath closer to to not breathing with every breath I take. I wonder if I have enough time to find my way to someplace bright. I’d like to know because living with the mindset that every day could be my last day is actually really exhausting.
I wonder how many of those Tony Robbins, motivational, “Live like there’s no tomorrow” types, I wonder how many of them actually walk that talk. Living like that, really believing the words, it’s not easy to carry. When you want something, you want it like there’s a gun to your head, like, at any second that trigger could get pulled and you won’t ever get to that kiss, that I love you, that waking up somewhere beautiful until you quit waking up. People don’t understand why spending time together is so important to you, because your clock feels so much faster than theirs. For other people there’s always tomorrow for walking under stars or curling up in bed to watch some movie about a talking fox, and to you, both experiences are more important than winning a million dollars. Loss hurts more because you don’t believe that chances are unlimited, in your head, chances are like a pack of used bar matches, you only get so many lights. Sometimes it all get so heavy that you look for ways to stop thinking, to stop wanting, just for a few hours. Liquor bottles and drug needles do that trick, but they’re exactly that, a trick. They just make it so the clock disappears behind a curtain, but just like any magician’s assistant, the clock always comes back.
Once you actually know about these things, once you stop seeing the end of your time as some kind of fiction, well, there’s no not knowing them. A bunch of Nirvana songs end up making perfect sense. Like that Calvinist woman, lack of certainty makes peace hard to find. Such is true in my experience anyhow, but like I said, I’ll never toss a baby down a well for answers to questions that’ll probably come when I don’t answers anymore.5 comments
Today I was actually very sad. The nice lady with the puppy was hit by a BIG truck running across the street after her puppy. What does d-e-c-a-p-i-t-a-t-e-d mean? Daddy lost his job and said we can’t afford to feed my tabby kittens anymore, so he drowned them in the bathtub. The nice ice-cream man was going to give me another free ice-cream sammich, but I had to go in the truck to get it, then he touched me in a BAD place and I ran. I told mamma and she told a police-man who took the ice-cream man away. I didn’t get my sammich. An older boy at school was making fun me and I told him to stop because Jesus loves me. He said Jesus is burning in Hell because He let Himself get crucified and that’s suicide. I don’t understand what that means, but I cried and cried because I don’t want Jesus burning.
I’m very sad.8 comments
Today I was so happy. I got to pet an adorable puppy and I adopted a basket of six tabby kittens from the nice lady walking the cute little puppy. Then, the ice-cream man gave me a free ice-cream sammich just because I’m SO nice and Jesus loves nice people, he said. I believe him because mamma tells me Jesus loves me all the time.
Nothing makes me sad, nope. Not ever.6 comments
I recently finished Quarantine by Jim Crace, a novel of harsh reality and spiritual surrealism. The novel takes place during the time of Jesus, in the desolate wastes outside of Judea. A merchant, Musa, lies dying of fever in his tent. Despite being abandoned by their caravan, mostly made up of Musa’s uncles and cousins, Musa’s wife couldn’t be happier. Miri’s six months pregnant, left to do “women’s work,” left by the caravan to tend to her husband with the most meager supplies, but for the first time in years she’s filled with hope. She’ll be absolutely glad to be widowed. She’s glad to be rid of his family, she’s happy to dig his grave. This is because Musa is a drunken, disgusting, abusive, poor excuse for a man. He’s abusive in every way possible, verbally, physically, sexually. Miri would rather endure birth alone in the desert than suffer her husband any longer. She does her duty, says her prayers, anoints him with the proper salves, but she knows it’s pointless. She leaves Musa to die alone while she digs his grave. Meanwhile, five travelers walk toward nearby caves for their “quarantine,” forty-days of sun-up till’ sundown fasting. Each has personal reasons for their quarantine, but they’re all seeking spiritual rewards. However, one is far more ambitious than the rest. A young man from Galilee, Jesus. Jesus seeks an audience with God Himself. He’s bound for the most isolated cave, with faith as his only sustenance unless God personally sends angels to feed him. It’s Jesus who stumbles upon the tent while Miri’s away, hoping to find some hospitality and potentially, his last meal for forty-days. He finds stale dates, a water skin. Assuming no one is around, nor that they would mind, he helps himself. Of course, Musa is there, feverish and near-death. Near-death, until Jesus finds him…
While reading, I really wasn’t sure that I liked the book. It’s mainly a book of description and third-person narrative. There’s very little dialogue, which made for a… dense read. It rather reminds me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in that it’s short, but the prose are spectacularly lush, and very heavy. Still, he’s ultimately excellent at painting images with words. While reading, I also found it difficult to “like” any of the characters, especially Musa. Yet, as I’ve had a chance to think about the book, the fact that I feel so strongly about the characters is proof of Crace’s skill as writer. They’re all very real, very flawed and very alive. Jesus is not perfect, the quarantine does not treat him kindly. He might be God made flesh, but he’s just as imperfect as any human being. Crace renders Jesus in a realist’s perspective. In the end, I feel that Quarantine shows that one cannot exist solely on faith, yet we do not survive entirely alone. God exists, but our fate is more our own than we might want to believe. It’s very worth reading.No comments
So, it’s been an odd week, capped off by the death of one of my more important external hard drives. Granted, it’s a drive that potentially had me Hell-bound, but I miss it just the same. One might wonder how a hard drive could hold sway over my immortal soul. Well, back when I was in the hospital, becoming what I became, I was talking to God a lot. He’s not much of a conversationalist, but He’s the easiest to talk to when one can’t talk. So, I was quite desperate not to die and I figured God was a good way to prevent it.
I’m not religious, but I’m also not one who only believes in God sometimes. No, I believe in God all the time. I believe that God is constantly watching and looking for reasons to take me downtown to Chinatown. Our relationship is a little dysfunctional. On the one hand, I totally believe that He has watched out for me on many occasions. I mean, my heart stopped last year, by rights it shouldn’t be beating right now, but it is. The odds were incredibly against me, but here I am. I chalk that up to God. Yet, at the same time, I totally believe that I do things to earn His wrath and wrath I get. For some reason, He always seems to make sure I ultimately end up okay. No, I don’t blame God for every single problem I ever had, but I don’t cross him off the list of usual suspects either.
Anyway, back to the hospital and the hard drive. During one of my talks with God, grasping at straws, I told Him I’d never rip another DVD I didn’t own or download any kind of entertainment I could legally buy. I got rid of everything I had at the time. God was Martin Blank with a gun to my face and I was the guy in bed saying, “whatever it is I’m doing that you don’t like, I’ll stop doing it.” I just didn’t want God to pull that trigger. Well, of course, a year and a half and hundreds of torrent files later, I had over 200 GB worth of movies and tv shows completely contradicting every promise I made. I lost all of it Thursday night. Hopefully, I won’t end up going to Hell.No comments
I’m not a religious person, nor am I an Atheist. I believe what I believe and let others do the same. Lately, for some reason, I’ve felt like going to church. I’m really not sure why, it’s just something I feel like doing. There’s an absolutely gorgeous Catholic church here, Sacred Heart. It’s just a beautiful place to sit and think for an hour.
So, that is what I did today…7 comments
So, I spent most of today at the hospital testing out a new ventilator, the ultra sophisticated LTV-1200. For such tests, you get admitted into the ICU as an outpatient. I’m kind of a small fellow, so I usually end up in the pediatric ICU, their hardware is just better suited for me. You know you’re close to the peds ICU when you look up at the ceiling panels and see what I imagine is meant to be cheerful artwork. However, in reality, these hand-painted works of “art” are often astonishingly creepy. For instance, allow me to present the Crucifix of Comfort +12.
Silence takes a great deal of fortitude, and I don’t always have it. I’m not even talking about having to type or spell everything I want to say, that is difficult in an entirely different way. Right now, I’m talking about being in a room full people and hearing the perfect moment for the perfect remark over and over again, but not being able to do anything about it. After awhile, I just quit listening, I get too annoyed, too frustrated. I get lost in my own head, it’s just Mike and Mike’s thoughts, and they’re not always good. The longer the silence goes, the more a certain degree of claustrophobia sets in. I start to wonder things like, “if I actually died, how long would it take anyone to notice?” Then, “No, that’s just stupid, you’re paying someone to make sure you’re okay, and Sara loves you too much to let anything bad happen to you. Also, you fucker, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. If your BiPap spontaneously stops, that’s God’s will and you’d deserve it.” Right after which I think, “But I really don’t wanna’ die.” The inner monologue never stops, my mind is never quiet. Being a silent observer for long spans of time is extremely difficult for me sometimes. I try to think about good things, cheery things, but I inevitably drift through dark places. I think that is my nature, I’m just prone to wander down roads of reverie and melancholy. I don’t see that as bad, it’s just how I am. How I’ve always been. I wonder if that is a cop out. Could I change if I wanted? Do I want to? I have plenty of time to think about it. Silence affords much time for thinking.2 comments
I recently finished reading Whitechapel Gods, a decently entertaining fantasy novel with a hint of fabulism. Victorian London’s Whitechapel district is tormented by not the Ripper, but rather two mechanical Gods, Mama Engine and Grandfather Clock. After coming to existence on earth, which is never fully explained, we just have to accept it, Mama Engine and Grandfather Clock seal Whitechapel off from the rest of the world making it a soot-filled mechanized nightmare. The sky is hidden by a vast canopy of steel, and monolithic metal towers loom haphazardly, casting ominous shadows over everything. The air in Whitechapel is thick with factory smoke, barely battled by dimly lit street lamps. Some citizens voluntarily give up their bodies and souls to the Gods. Their hearts are replaced with coal-burning furnaces, their limbs torn off and replaced with mechanical facsimiles. Other citizens are afflicted with “the clacks,” a disease in which mechanical parts grow spontaneously from human tissue, usually resulting in death. The book does an amazing job of creating a dark and truly claustrophobic atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t anything spectacular, even a little muddled at times. A group of rebels banding together against impossible odds to topple their malevolent oppressors, we’ve read it before. The book’s characters are a little flat and not particularly engaging. While definitely a fairly fun read, I see Whitechapel Gods as a great deal of wasted potential.1 comment