MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPER
What a drag it is getting old
Counting flowers on the wall,
That don’t bother me at all.
Playing Solitaire till dawn,
With a deck of fifty-one.
Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.
Now, don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do.
The epidemic in opiate painkiller use is easy to understand. I sometimes think that the only true vacation I get is when I am devastated by illness or in enough pain to warrant prescription painkillers. Days off and actual vacations aren’t a trip off the wheel, no. I have to shop, clean, garden, cook, do laundry, pay bills, schlep the kids, dispense wisdom and advice, and defend myself. The phone rings, email arrives, money is short. There are books to write. And then there are the chores of metaphysics, the utter meaninglessness of the whole thing, the spiritual burden of being the illusory guarantor of another’s happiness, of being the scapegoat and font of wisdom, of being a friend, a lover, a companion, a brother, a son. And the personal failures and ambitions, and all the stuff that I haven’t read, haven’t done, travel to other countries, novels, histories, poems. One day I will take a boat out on the lake I have lived next to for 26 years and maybe even fish. One winter I will buy cross country skis and spend a Sunday in the woods.
The only way off this wheel is to lie in bed swallowing pills and drinking wine and watching TV. Gum surgery, the flu, a bad injury: I can’t drive, don’t have to cook or clean, don’t even have to make sense. In a blear of pot, Vicodin and Sauvignon Blanc or bourbon I can watch television dissolve into granular textures of melodrama. Yet why should I want to escape from all of the pleasures of life? Drug induced pleasures are fleeting and ultimately destructive. The pain it cures returns tenfold the next day. We all know this. But it is so manageable then. At least some of the pain is solved immediately and predictably. And you just don’t care if everyone in your life hates you.
Cleaning a house, shopping and cooking are a drag, yes, but living in a clean house and eating good food are pleasures. And work to the extant it pays anything at all will allow me to lie on the porch, sober, with a cup of coffee, watching cardinals splash in the birdbath, goldfinches peck at thistle seed and reading Scottish ballads. I love writing. But this is the world of meaning, and escape is into total meaningless, extirpation of mind. I’ve never been a fan of opiates, never been tempted by heroin, but I find now that these pills put in me in a place that is very tempting, a bower of bliss, which, like Spenser’s, is delusional but also delightful, seductively so. The very emptiness of the show is a pleasure. Most American lives are much more difficult than mine, more unmanageable. We are mesmerized by the prospect of crap TV, a toilet and a bottle of pills.
Meaning and meaninglessness are not binaries, There is an analogic continuum between the high synthetic integrations of meaning and the atomized state of meaninglessness, or rather, quantum state of meaningless. I think of meaning as cellular, complex, a product of our relations, physical and mental, with the world and ourselves. Despair is not meaningless, no, it is a measure of our belief that it all makes sense, that life is important, divinely sanctioned. It is doubt that produces despair. I have no belief so I have no doubt. But atheism aside, I have massive mangroves of belief, coral reefs and rain forests of belief, entire ecosystems of belief, that it all adds up to something. But it doesn’t add up to anything but the present moment. And the present moment is often stress and horror and depression. Or so it seems contemplating it all in this moment of tranquility. Wordsworth does NOT use the word Serenity! If meaning is cellular and meaninglessness is a quantum state, then it is the slow tearing apart of the fabric of existence, of its loving connections, that is so painful, as one heads into extermination. Vicodin every 4 hours and a couple of double shots of bourbon sure smooth the way.
The fact is, after a day or two of chemical vacation I’m ready to come home. I get bored with not writing, not interacting with the family, not being useful, not reading, eating, schlepping, caring. But I consider the membrane between the desire for total nothingness and the desire for connection to be thin indeed.