Secret Pop

Dec 7, 2004

A disappointing answer to life's riddle

I've been reading a lot of psychology, and I hear exclamation points popping in my head. "I agree!" "I disagree!" "I must remember this!" "No way!" How narcissistic I am. That my excitement in a book or a film or a song surges when it seems to be addressing something unique to my existence. I underline the words in books that mean the most to me, and then I laugh and think, "How foolish am I, that I only thrill to the art when it seems as if it was made expressly for my peculiar circumstances." In that statement lies the profound irony that the things I consume -- the public things, meant for many eyes, sung for many ears -- these things only exist because of their...broadness? Because of their relatability to the "peculiar" circumstances of nearly all who confront them. If I was the only person who could gain some message from a book or a film or a painting, certainly that thing would never have been made. Unless it truly had been made expressly for me, and those items in the world are rare. And among my favorites.

Whoops. Look at me typing words and meaning them.

Here's something I noticed. Pain does not seem to exist. At least not for very long. It's there. And then it immediately becomes the memory of the pain. Or even the written account of the memory of the pain. That's how women explain the desire to give birth after experiencing the excruciation of a first birth. They say you forget the pain. And then apparently you actually want it again. Survival mechanism? Or naive glitch that will be rubbed out in future evolutionary phases of us? I wonder.

I bring it up because I noticed that I write about what I feel almost as soon as I feel it, never really giving myself a chance to feel it properly. When I hit my knee on a table edge and hop up and down and contemplate the bruise that will come, I am almost immediately transported to the way I'm going to phrase it when I write it down. And by the time I get the journal out or the page up, I'm too busy trying to remember the way the phrasing sounded best to me to even notice that blood is still rushing to the wound. And, yes, there's room for a metaphor here. I'm just saying that I remember the suffering longer than I ever feel it. And maybe in my memory I do more than dignify the actual hurt. Maybe I embellish it and dress it up and put whipped cream on top. Maybe I make more of it than need be made.

In any case, there are a lot of sensory experiences that I can remember acutely. But when it comes to pain, I find that I can only remember the response I had. The measures I took. The fever pitch of my complaining. The pain itself is a wraith. Easier to let go than you would ever think. Even when there's blood.

This next non sequitur is like a musical montage about getting the gym ready for the prom in a movie about the Louisiana Purchase.

There are a number of pictures of you that I love. I don't know how to look at them. I don't know how to like what I see and not feel foolish doing so. There is the challenge of balancing out the desire to prevail over my weaker self and the desire to sink freely into the indulgence of my weakness. There are things that were given to me that I don't throw away. Instead I put them in a box that I never open. And then I put something heavy on top of it.

I feel as if I get it. Finally. Maybe. You would object, if I scoffed at your simple wants. If I assigned them simple values. You would shake your fist and insist that I don't know what I'm talking about. And maybe you would be right. Maybe you had the answer all along. Maybe I was the foolish one believing in anything. Goodness. Symbiosis. String theory. Maybe it perpetuates because you express the things I am ashamed to admit lurk within me. The same ego -- the same narcissism -- impels me. The same fears limit me. The same desire to keep what little I have close in and safe from the grasping hands of greedy frailty and hungry decay -- it lives in me. I see it. I know it. I can almost laugh about it when I see it now. I can almost breathe a sigh of relief and shake my head and wonder how I ever let any of that get me down.

There that's over with.

Maybe it's because I was once a copywriter, but when I see's email entitled, "Perfect gifts for everyone on your list," I'm inclined to shake my head. What about my friends in a 12-step program? What about the Mormons I know? Or the severely judgmental fun-haters? What about the surprising number of people in my circle of friends who just plain don't like the magic that comes from boozing it up? What makes think they can just phone this one in? Marketing is an important part of our culture. If you get careless, suddenly marketing becomes just plain lying. And suddenly my professional resume looks specious.

The Lion in Winter was apparently Anthony Hopkins' first film. How do you like that? So many stars these days got their start in Slim Fast commercials or Leprechaun 4 or some embarrassing movie about the dangers of huffing. And there's SIR Anthony Hopkins, getting his start in an Academy Award-winning classic (that bandies innuendo about sodomy with far more regularity than I recall, having watched it as a young girl). I guess it would be hard to try and embarrass him with that. Fortunately, he also made Magic.

It warms my heart when I see my dog sniffing the wildflowers on our walk. I try to put it out of my head that what she's really smelling is the remnant pee of a dog who was tall enough to drizzle it all over those flowers before we passed by. Sometimes you have to look for ways to be inspired. And sometimes you have to keep one eye closed and the other sort of squinted when you do it.

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