There is nothing like a traumatic upheaval to reveal the limits of introspection. You can spend years journaling, meditating, walking, talking in therapy, putting your life under a microscope. Then you get in one good solid train wreck, and suddenly this rush of new revelation comes effortlessly, like luggage tumbling out of an overstuffed overhead compartment.
This one realization above all others, buzzing like neon signage over a gutted high rise: for almost 20 years I have been trying to bring my life to an end.
Not an end in death. But I have been seeking and building towards stasis: the cessation of of forward motion.
I wanted to tell a story and draw it neatly to a close.
I knew how I wanted it to end, too. Big family. Big house in the mountains. A place a little out of the world and above it. Homeschooled kids running free and wild in the woods. A vocation that gave me freedom to structure my time as I saw fit. Contemplation, study, a place and time for long thoughts. Deep roots. New traditions, growing into old traditions. Rhythms and seasons.
And who could blame me for wanting these things? What shame in pursuing this particular incarnation of the American dream?
But it wasn’t a life I was trying to build. It was a still-life; a tableau.
I wanted what I felt I had been denied: An amalgamation of the dreams of my father (and perhaps, at one point, of my mother as well); of an idealized picture of families I knew and envied as a child; and of the stories I grew up with.
I wanted to build the Eden I felt cast out of as a child. And I wanted to fix it in place. I was Lord Business, just itching for the day everything was perfect and I could Krazy-Glue it for eternity.
Along the way I discovered ambition. Which would seem to be at odds with stasis. But I subverted it. I told myself I was only ambitious toward this singular goal. After that, I would rest. And in truth, I was so, so tired. All of the time. This too I took as confirmation that I was Not The Sort Of Person who could deal with change, with constant motion, with uncertainty. It was too exhausting. I needed to build my happy ending, and then rest. Quickly now, before I ran out of steam.
I’ve told myself this story until I’ve internalized it completely: that it is the pursuit of the goal which has driven this aching fatigue deep into my bones. But what if that’s not it at all? What if I’m tired because I’m afraid; because every day I struggle against change, I grit my teeth and brace my heels and will my world to halt?
I learned early that change is bad. Change is loss and loneliness and pain. I took up arms and made myself an enemy to change.
I would build, yes. But only in the pursuit of stasis in my little corner of the world.
Sure, I could pay lip-service to Heraclitus: the world is a fire; never the same river twice. I could make my intellectual bows to the obvious unavoidability of motion. But always inside, this secret religion of solidity. Always this gritting of teeth every time someone forced me to change plans; every time something broke; every time I was reminded of entropy.
But change found me anyway; batted aside my bulwarks like a storm surge through a supposed-safe neighborhood. Now I find myself looking for new stories to tell in the aftermath. I know, pragmatically, that learning to roll and flex is the only sane response.
And what I find is this: I have no way of conceptualizing myself as a dynamic personality. Always improving? Yes. But on my terms. On my schedule.
I think about the future and all I can do, all my mind knows how to do, is make up new rigid narratives about how things go from here. Sometimes optimistic, sometimes bleak. But always goal-oriented. Always moving towards a new fixed point. A new end to my life.
I have spent years reading on Zen, meditating on the changeability of things, counseling friends to embrace the mutability of the world. I even called myself a Discordian once upon a time. But in myself, when push comes to shove, I can’t seem to bring myself to it. Every new wrinkle scares the ever-loving shit out of me. Angers me. Tires me. Gets my hackles up.
I don’t want to be exhausted by the motion of the world. I want to be excited by it. I can’t even imagine what that would feel like, let alone figure out how to get there from here.