Ten years ago:

I came a little unglued.

My boss at the store had once again taken a week off, leaving me with series of open-to-close shifts. Eight hours with no support, no cigarettes, and no conversation. I tried to imagine myself as a retail machine: turning incoming shipments into shelved inventory, making a sale, dusting a display case, lather, rinse, repeat. While this kind of work schedule would not have bothered me normally, I was not in the proper state to shepherd the numbers the way I should have. I zoned out a lot behind the counter, waiting for a part timer to arrive so I could smuggle myself out to the loading dock and have a smoke.

I saw Allie that week, but things were kind of weird. It could have been all in my head, or maybe I was the source of all the weirdness that week. Honestly, I was too far wedged in my own head to be able to make an objective assessment. We kept things so incredibly light that we barely referred to each other as people with feelings or thoughts about anything at all. I would go back to the store feeling like shit, and then stand there and break down the entire conversation while the shoppers passed by in the hallway.

When the shift finally did come to an end, a wave of disappointment would wash over me as I realized that I would be heading back to my apartment by myself that evening. Allie would still give me a ride after work when she was there, but always ending in my driveway without a word said one way or another. And then I would be there in my kitchen, wondering about what had actually happened.

Evenings started with some horrendous television, and then a pot of pasta for dinner. I would stand over the stove-top and watch the water boil one little baby bubble at a time, crawling their way up the side of the pot before escaping. I stood there and stirred the pasta the entire time it was in the water, as if somehow stepping away from it would cause some cataclysmic string of events to occur and the entire evening would crash around me. I washed everything after dinner, leaving the kitchen exactly as it had stood when I got home. And then I would sit on the couch, chain smoke, and try not to think about Isis or the brewing situation in New York. Even though I could do nothing about either, they still flooded my thoughts, and made me cringe.

I am a creature of routine by nature, but even this was extreme for me. Every action was parsed down to the barest detail, with as little change between moments as possible. Every thing I did was mapped out and mechanized in order to formulate a defense against my own thoughts. It is because of these moments that I can identify this behavior as somewhere in the middle of a descent into a very bad mental place.

Since my brain was already running a downward trending scatter plot, I took the opportunity to quietly beat the shit out of myself over several other things:

Despite the year and a half that had transpired by this point, I was still dealing with my now ex-girlfriend's suicide attempt. Yeah, yeah, people said that it wasn't my fault, but I knew the truth. I had been the one that let things drag on for so long that the event became inevitable. I was the one that didn't tell anyone about the little things that I knew were bad. I was the one that sat there and tried to talk her down while things only got worse. I had accepted that maybe it wasn't all my fault, but I certainly didn't help prevent the event from happening.

I was still upset about dropping out of college, even though there was little I could do about that when it happened. Colleges won't let you take classes unless they get paid, and I simply did not have any money. I tried a variety of schemes to generate cash to go back for another semester, each scheme becoming more and more morally and legally dubious. But everything still went south at the end despite my struggle. I don't know what it is, but I still feel like I could have done more somehow to prevent it.

I was angry at myself for creating a situation where I could feel so isolated from everyone. I felt like there was no one there for me to talk to, and no one who would bother to understand what I was going through. I felt very alone, and thought that this was merely the result of my fucked up actions toward other people, or my inability to truly connect with them, or my consistent pattern of driving away anyone who got to close.

Eventually all of my self-criticism fell around me in a ring on the floor, and staring at it was all I could manage to do. Everything within me was sadness and confusion.

 


 

I've done my share of mind-altering drugs. I've spent time floating alone in the middle of secluded lakes in the small hours looking at the stars. I've been in sensory deprivation tanks, trying to ignore time. I've sat in churches at night listening to the air move around me. I've had panic attacks, and I have flirted with full-on nervous breakdowns.

But I am still unable to truly understand what happened to me on the evening of February 20, 2000.

I had been close to losing my shit for the previous few days, and the confusion of the events of the last several months was weighing on me very deeply. I had not been sleeping, opting instead for smoking at the computer and trying to distract myself. I was trying to write anything that would take my thoughts and get them out of my head, but the words would not form. I was jammed up, frustrated, and frantic to find some kind of strength.

I don't remember exactly when I dozed off. It was somewhere between reruns of old sitcoms on some cable station, sound echoing off into space while I was huddled there. It was another night where I was deep in my mechanized pattern of living. The sun went down while I slept, and I was alone in the glow of the television.

I woke up and saw the shadow of the trees outside projected on my ceiling by the street lights. The wind was blowing the branches around, which was throwing the light around in its little frame. Something felt different, and I didn't know what it was.

I could feel that the world was so much bigger than I was, but it had opened up to me. I was both completely irrelevant and critically important at the same time. Where there was the need for self destruction before, there was a feeling that I was wasting very valuable time. I realized then that my emotions were not a universal truth for me, and that they were prone to exaggeration and deceit. It was best to apologize for wrongs I had done and try to move past them, rather than beating myself with them over and over again. There was comfort, maybe even love in these new thoughts. What had been empty was not empty in that moment. I was not blameless, I was now willing to be free.

I felt loose and alive, and in the glow of something that was definitely larger than I. How is it that I could feel so large but know that I was so small? Even though I was fully awake then, I went to bed and huddled under the blankets, and let these new feelings sink in for me. I wept, trying to figure out how badly I had hurt myself, how badly I had hurt others, and how I was going to prevent both from happening ever again. Under those covers late into the night, I took the first steps to becoming someone different.

I eventually slept again, exhausted and twisted into my sheets.

 


 

I am trying right now to use words to describe a set of feelings, so of course these words don't feel right to me. I've tried to describe it several different ways in the time since: epiphany, moment of clarity, revelation, insight. None of these are right. I learned a lot about myself that night, but even today I still have not learned all of the lessons.

I don't know what caused those events to occur. Some people I have talked to about this have said that it sounded like I was touched by something spiritual, or that I had somehow stepped outside of myself. I had a girlfriend once that suggested I had lost my sanity that night, and that I am living in the ruins of my previous reality. I previously thought that my brain had somehow conjured up a distraction, so that I could think about something other than my current misery for a while. Today, the only thing I am sure of is that I will probably never know what happened, and that maybe this is another part of the same lesson.

Whatever it was, I think that the ideas that came to me that night were all things that I needed to hear. I needed to reevaluate myself, and how I related to things. I needed to apologize to people, and learn and grow. I needed to know about the balance between right and good, and how I was going to handle my future choices. I felt that I had a better understanding of myself in those moments, and it was a comfort that I was yearning to have.

I have felt something close to that one time since, nearly four years to the day after that night. I was in the hospital waking up from from my first vasectomy, and I discovered I was weeping with joy and I didn't know why. I felt soaked in blessings and light. There was a nurse in the recovery room with me and I tried to get out of bed to hug her, tears streaming down my face. She managed to convince me to stay on the gurney while the drugs wore off. The entire time I was mindlessly euphoric, saying "thank you, thank you" and patting her hand while I cried my eyes out.

I eventually calmed down, and I asked the nurse what the hell all of that had been about. She said that drugs do weird and unpredictable things to to the brain. Anaesthetic can affect people differently: most people wake up perfectly fine, but others are angry or confused or happy. I happened to be one of the lucky ones that woke up to bliss.

That is exactly what I am. I am one of the lucky ones.

 

Notes on a life in exile: A retrospective
Previous: February 15, 2010 <|> Next: March 1, 2010

So for those of you that don't know, I dropped out of college. At some point after dropping out I started answering the question "What did you go to college for?" by saying, "I went to college because that's what Valedictorians do."

Of course, "What did you go to college for" really meant "What did you study?" But that is kind of the point. As I approached high school graduation my dad put a lot of pressure on me to decide on a major. Decide what I wanted to do with my life. My poor father. If only his sperm count were higher.

He can't have children, you see. Had to adopt my older brother, had to adopt me. Couldn't just have a big family the old fashioned way. The story was that they didn't have enough money to adopt more. I won't get into that now.

The point is, if my father had been able to send more children off to college maybe there would have been a more gradual easing up to a child who had no clue what he wanted to do with his life. As it was it was just my brother, who had been in love with studying animals his whole life, and unsurprising went to Florida to study Marine Biology, and me, who didn't really want to do anything.

So I eventually put down psychology as a major. I have always been far too cynical to buy into the idea that it would be worth someone's money for me to talk to them, but even if it wasn't going to be a career, I figured I was at least interested in the subject.

I won't go into the exact reasons I dropped out. I'll focus instead on if I regret the decision.

Yes, and no.


Yes I regret it and anyone dropping out of college should just suck it up and finish. ESPECIALLY if your parents or anyone else are paying for it. I feel I was far to influenced by a phone call to my brother in Florida where I heard my father say, "We didn't send you down there to play volleyball and get a tan." I didn't want my father holding anything over me. I didn't want to owe him anything.

Now I find myself with the policy of "accept all charity" and no one has enough to give. We are living in the economy my father warned me about when I dropped out of college. He sat me down and tried to show how much I was throwing away monetarily. Then I got a job waiting tables and was able to make my rent in a week. That left 3 weeks a month for what? Saving and entertainment. Real life was just as easy as school ever was.

But when you're 20 you can't begin to imagine your life at 36. You can't know what it's like to voluntarily kick your own ass running around a restaurant bringing people their pancakes so that you can pay your mortgage. You can't know the irony of wishing someone could adopt you and send you to college, being willing to do anything they want, just for an easier life, when that is EXACTLY what you were offered before, and you threw it away. You also can't imagine that even if college is just some stupid set of hoops your degree only shows you are capable of jumping through, that you might feel compelled to jump even stupider hoops later.

The best reason to have done something with my life, however, comes from the movie Lions for Lambs. I spent my life convincing people not to look to me to do anything great, not to lead them. I reject society and it's silly rules. I'm a rebel. I succeeded in stopping people from looking up to me. Now, I don't even feel like a success to myself.

Do not drop out of college.


No, I don't regret it. My financial situation I'm in now is not about dropping out of college. Not to mention how much I loved my life after I dropped out. There's a good argument to be made that I shouldn't get through college, that it's just too painful, that you shouldn't participate in something you don't believe in.

If I had a job dealing poker, do you really think that I'd be happier in some job I could only do if I had a college degree? I am not my job. Yes, I feel underused, but mostly that comes from this increasing suspicion that my brain chemistry is just different from a lot of people's, and that society has no real systems in place to use people like me, only change us. And *I* have structured my life to keep people and especially drugs from changing my precious little brain. Why? I am guessing I fell in love with how everyone praised the ever loving shit out of it when I was going through school.

I am who I am and that isn't someone who joins a lot of activities so I can put it on my college transcripts. I'm certainly not the type of person who lies about joining those clubs and what not. I do not hide my feelings well. It is very easy for people to look at me and know I don't give a fuck.

Go ahead and drop out.

There is good evident in the world. It is good for a tree to grow from a seed, for a dog to grow from a puppy, and for these things to grow old and die. It is right for an animal to frolick in green fields, and it is right for men to work. Now, the good always aims toward some end, and the good progresses nearer and nearer this end as time progresses. Therefore, there is such a thing as a highest good. And if there is such a thing as a highest good, we expect there to be a highest entity as well. For the good is an order that exists in the world, and the height of an entity may be gauged by where it stands in this order. So there is a highest entity.

Now what is the highest entity? Nothingness. For we have said that the good always aims toward some end, and the highest end must be the highest entity, and the highest entity must be the final entity, and the final entity of the universe is nothingness at the hand of entropy. To serve good, therefore, is to serve the void. It is preferable to be evil, for to be evil is to act in contradiction to this final end of all things. It is preferable to act out, to attack what is authoritative, to destroy for the sake of destruction. Therefore there is a war between the good and the preferable.

The war between the good and the preferable is really a war between two parts of the mind. The preferable is determined by reason when it regards the idea of participating in the destruction of the universe. The good is determined by the subconscious tendencies which incline us to pursue certain ends and not others. The fundamental moral question, then, is to make reason bear on the idea of the destruction of the universe, or not. To be good requires us to stifle our reason somewhat.

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