Friday, January 05, 2007

Never Drove a Carmengia OR Do You Believe in Anything?

Can we talk about God? Specifically, I want to talk about the people who make these outrageous claims that God has spoken to them. I don't want to mock them so much as just try to understand some things. I have always wondered two things about these people: first of all, when these people say things along the lines of, "I was lying face down in the gutter, in a pool of my own vomit and that's when God spoke to me and said I was headed down an evil path but I could save myself..." are these people saying, "I had this feeling--like an epiphany--that I had to get my shit together, and the only way I can describe it is by saying some greater outside force was giving me clear thoughts in a time when I was incapable of thinking clearly" or do they mean, "some little dude with a beard came down and I physically had a conversation with him." I'm not trying to be curt here, I am seriously interested because if it is the former, then I can empathize. I think we have all had moments of "epiphany," but if it is the latter, these people should seek help, right? And, going back to the former scenario, if it is just an epiphany, why do these people insist it was a god-figure, let alone the Christian God, who "spoke" to them? I just don't get it. Somewhere in the world I guess there must be born-again Jews and born-again Muslims. Just seems odd that the vast majority imagine this sensation to be the Christian God.

And why am I talking about this? Well, I think I talked to God. Not really, of course. Certainly not in the way that I think these people mean it. I just mean that I had a mystical (god I wish there was a better word) experience last night. How hippy of me, right? Here is what I mean: last night I was running in Liberty State Park right around dusk (6ish?) and ran deeper into the park than I ever have before. I was on a trail coming around a marsh, which had tall brush I couldn't really see over, and suddenly I make a turn and am turning onto a boardwalk that runs along the hudson with perfect views: of a shadowy and ominous Statue of liberty; of a dimly lit, but empty Ellis Island; and beyond that, the blazing lights of lower Manhattan. I was all alone in a cold, dark part of the park, caught somewhere between an eerie fear, and a comforting connective feeling with the large world in front of me. It was odd, right, to feel the loneliness that is inherent, first of all, in running, and secondly, in doing so in a dark and foreign place. Then, at the same time, to look past historical and cultural iconagraphy like the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, into a microcosm of society like New York, where, beneath all of those lights, a million vignettes were playing themselves out. So many of them: vignettes of loneliness; love; heartbreak; joy; celebration; anger; violence; addiction; prosperit;, deceipt; betrayal; vindication. All of this is going on in front of my eyes, somewhere in New York, right? Somewhere in the world, right? And yet, there I am, observing it, acting as a voyeur to it, when in actuality, I can not see it, I can not but imagine it.

These things always recast themselves in our minds--these moments--to make them more perfect, more surreal, perhaps, then they were at the time of their being. So, I recall now, that I was thinking--before turning that corner--about work, what else? And how little satisfaction I get from it; how if I had done something else in school--i don't know, pre-law, maybe--I could at least make ends meet, and perhaps more. I was thinking about--well, I was wallowing in self-pity, quite frankly. And then I turn a corner and all of that splendor exploded into my field of vision like a blossom. That's not a reach for an image: it really felt like watching something blooming. And as I was caught up in all of this, I began to think of my father's Carmengia, of all things.

My father drove a Carmengia when he got out of college. It was as close to a sports car as he could afford, and, apparently this is how dudes in the sixties got tail: showing off volkswagen convertibles, and being the proud owner of quality dope would be a good alternative, I'd bet. My dad used to know alot about cars, it was a passion, I gather...sort of like baseball cards for my brother and me. I mean, he'd tell me stories about knowing cars by the revving of their engine, and so on. So this car was a precious piece of machinery, but he loved it moreso, I now think, because it was a piece of his childhood, something to collect and salvage from the innocence of middle-american-50's life, before shit got complicated with war, civil rights conflicts, assassinations (but I digress.) The point is, I think, for my Pop the Carmengia was his last memento to cling to that spoke to him of being young, the last shred of youth. He sold the car away a summer after he bought it with all of his savings, so that he could enroll in Seminary school where he met my mom. My mother attended seminary because she had some serious spiritual beliefs, a religious background, and probably because it was a free graduate degree. My dad attended because he needed "consciencious-objector" status to avoid the draft. He couldn't bring his car to school. And so he severed that last shred of his innocent youth.

Well maybe I am babbling, or maybe the reason I was thinking of the Carmengia in the first place is because here I am, the same age my father was when he sold that car, so he could attend seminary to avoid going to a war where he would inevitably end-up either dead, or permanently fucked-up. And for all of the faults of the '60's--the blind idealism, the divisiveness of political extremes, the everlasting pat-self-on-shoulder arrogance that the BabyBoomer Generation has suffocated us with--for all of those negative aspects, there is an inherent truth to the fact that this generation (mine) has been a greatly priveleged one. This is due, in large part, to the struggles of the two generations before us. There is a negative aspect to this: namely, the cynical, self-obsessive nature of being a generation of babied "adults" who have the privelege of using detachment as a shield from needing to believe in anything, or worse, as an actual belief system: the religion of disinterest. But there have been benefits, too: namely, people like me live in a world where we don't have to be held at a proverbial gunpoint and forced to grow up. (And I know there is a larger issue here about the people who are not priveleged the way that I am, and are held at this proverbial gunpoint, but in case it isn't already clear, I use my blog to think about issues that tend to be more local than global, and by "local" I mean "me.")

I certainly don't mean to preach, but it just seems that people my age are quick to fall back on cynicism or detachment as a tool to avoid serious debate or consideration of an issue, an artist, an institution. The common reaction to things that don't immediately gratify or please us seems to be: find something at fault, or at least fallible with it, and rip it to shreds in a sardonic manner. We hear a band we don't like: how derivative ("totally never heard that before. Sooo unique!" wink wink) or how cheesey, etc.; we roll our eyes at Literature we don't think is up to snuff; we mock those who dress differently, or disagree with our political tendency. This way there is no need to even attempt trying to understand where others come from, why others do, say, feel, different than we do. In a way, it's become a belief system of its own: a crutch on which we can rely when we don't know how we should feel about something, whether we should believe in anything.

This isn't just self righteousness speaking: look, I am guilty of it, too. It's just become ingrained. We are constantly absorbing information: new music; new clothes; breaking news; voyeuristic gossip; personal blogs; art, culture, television...all on demand. How can we not simply scoff at some of it? This has been the gift and the curse of my age group: the ability to mold our world to function as a "pod" of ourselves. Surround ourselves in music we like on our Ipods; dress in clothes we like; live in neighborhoods we like; read (or choose not to read) the news coverage we like; drink when we like; obsess over ourselves when we like; peep into other's self-obsessions when we like. It's all about me, and all about you. Shit, YOU were the Time Person of the Year! And yet, you and I can be caught at moments where our minds are practically moribund with self-pity, and look up to see the world (the REST of the world) unfolding before us.

And so maybe these are or aren't the thoughts I was thinking, when I ran beneath the dark silhouette of Lady Liberty, and looked upon the emptied grounds of the station where so many boatloads of people, who sacrificed to make our lives thus, first came upon these shores. And no, I did not, at that moment--looking onward to the greatest city in the world--feel thoughts of Patriotism, or even complete sentimentality for my heritage. What I felt in that solitude was an inexplicable connectivity to things past, things future, things present, and taking place beneath the lights of so many streets, covered by tall buildings, or lonely rowhouses. As some might say, I felt the presence of god. I say I felt a different presence--my own--in relationship to the rest of the world, for the first time in a while.



At 7:18 AM, Anonymous H.H. Asquith said...

Brilliant man. The death-throes of empire, brother. We're britain pre-wwI. Too busy stickin our noses in each other's bums to smell the storm coming.


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