Difficult, Important Questions


OK, the thing is, realistically, barring illness or accident, I have 30 years of fairly sensible, satisfactory consciousness left to me. If I'm lucky, I have 40 years. And if I'm really lucky, like my awesome redheaded great-aunt Stella, I have 50 years of consciousness left to me. Fifty years in which I can (like Aunt Stella did, even when she was 90 years old) drive myself to my hair appointments or the grocery store. Fifty years before I start weeping and begging god to let me die because the pain from the horrible terminal illness I've got is worse than the thought of eternal unconsciousness or even never-ending suffering in hell. (Stella, the star, the beautiful, upright, generous devout Mormon I will admire till I die myself, succumbed to a ghastly, grisly struggle with esophageal cancer the day after Easter 1994, at which point she was 93, almost as old as the twentieth century, having greeted the world a few months after it did. Before she died, she was weeping in agony of spirit and body, wondering, "Why won't God let me die? Am I not good enough for him to let me into heaven?")

So, what the fuck am I doing with the consciousness I've got left? Whether it's 30 years or 50 years, what am I doing with it? How am I going to spend it? I like you all quite a lot, really I do; but I just got a new Frank Sinatra cd (it's playing as I type) and what is a better use of my time, really: writing blog entries about eight people will read, or listening to Frank, thoroughly, carefully, devotedly?

This is the thing. I'm smarter than a hell of a lot of people I've met in my life, but I'm not going to solve any of the major mysteries of the universe. Still there are times when I want to ask myself basic questions like, "Why is there something rather than nothing? And why, for god's sake, does the something that exists rather than not existing, include me? Why am I here?" There have of course been times when I've said to myself, "THAT is not a useful question. That is not, to use the language of the Buddha, a skillful question. Go formulate a skillful question and come back to me when you've got one that won't embarrass me."

A long time ago, when I was less crushed by the weight of my own ambition and the price I'd paid for it, a student wrote on an end-of-semester course evaluations one of my favorite things ANYONE has ever said about me:

I don't know what to say. The woman is an enigma. She asks difficult, important questions.

Yes: Used to be, the questions I asked were difficult AND important. Now it seems they're only difficult.... not particularly skillful, just difficult. Oh, and embarrassing to boot. Way embarrassing, at least to a sober person. But that's the thing about alcohol: your embarrassment threshold falls right through the floor, so far it's not even in the basement but another 40 million yards below it. That's right: a friend stopped by around 6:30 p.m. and we enjoyed queso and tequila. And the effects of the tequila have hung around much longer than the cheese.

So right now, at an hour just shy of midnight, when I'm thinking about all kinds of things, including the death and demise of people I loved and admired, I'm not embarrassed to ask the unskillful, difficult question important to no one but me: WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING WITH MY CONSCIOUSNESS AND IS THERE ANYTHING I SHOULD I BE DOING WITH IT INSTEAD.

Last week I went to see a psychic in the hopes that she could give me a decent answer to this question, or maybe help me reframe it. She could not. She could purport to tell me, for instance, that my paternal grandmother, who has been dead since 1936, watches over me. But she could not avoid boring the neon green snot out of me nor convincing me that however able she might be to hear the whisperings of spirits and angels, she can't tell when a living person sitting four feet away from her is bored as all get-out and doesn't want to hear another fucking word about her favorite tv show. And really, when it was all said and done, she should have paid me forty-five dollars for sitting still and listening to her politely for an hour instead of the other way around.

Because honestly, I could have told her myself that I'll be moving in the next two to three years, that I'm destined for better things than what I'm dealing with right now, and that at some point I'll get so fed up I make some changes, quickly, quickly, without the slightest provocation or warning.

So whatever.

My cat is on my lap, calm and purring and marvelous, and my stereo has stopped playing not only Frank, but anything at all, for reasons I can't discern without disturbing my cat: a problem that creates a further problem. I really don't want my cat to get out of my lap, but I want to know what's going on with my stereo downstairs.

Life is fucking like that.

OK. I haven't solved a fucking thing but I'm feeling annoyed, trouble AND self-indulgent, so can I just say that I love all of you who have been my faithful friends for any length of time (as in, even a few cyber weeks), and that I still HATE Scott B, the mean-spirited self-loathing miserable FUCK with an unflattering nose-job (courtesy of his equally self-loathing father, the very expensive NY plastic surgeon who hated his son's semitic profile and thus performed free cosmetic surgery) who broke my heart in ways no one else has ever broken it, a decade ago on Super Bowl Sunday 1/26/97 when, let's see, Green Bay beat New England?

So if you're not Scott, thanks for reading this. And if you are Scott, hey mother-fucker! You still suck! What have you done with your life since not finishing your PhD?

p.s. Happy Birthday, Spike, since I know that's happening today.


One of the things I have always admired about you, Holly, and indeed envied and aped, is your ability to live with grace, integrity, morality and decency in the face of these difficult, important questions that you/we cannot answer (and sometimes not even skillfully ask). There may not be an answer to these questions (and both of us being raised Mormon, have to face the fact that an answer may exist but still be very unsatisfactory) and sometimes it's more than ok to say "I don't know" (as you have taught me) and leave it at that for a while... So I can't answer those questions and I won't try to think of what you should do with your consciousness for the next 30 years... but what I do know is that if you stopped writing your blog I would miss it; if you stopped writing altogether I would see it as a catastrophe. If you stopped thinking about those difficult, important questions and sharing your insights with me, I would certainly be mourning the loss of one of my primary compasses for life. Now being a compass for me is perhaps not life's greatest ambition, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who is happy to follow you in your exploration of these difficulties and reflect on the insights you share.

I guess we're all stuck with these same sorts of hard questions. It would be nice to be immortal and be able to contemplate such questions as a detached observer instead of being dreadfully concerned by them.

p.s. This post kind of reminds me of the last time I broke my (normally very strict) rule about drinking and posting... ;)

You do ask difficult and important questions, Holly, and I appreciate you (and your blog) for that. Nobody here in my face-to-face world poses questions like yours. Whatever you do, don't stop writing; you've got the groove but just haven't found the audience yet.

My dear Holly. Yes, today was my birthday. I’ve completed forty seven revolutions around the Sun and now I have just enough alcohol in my body to help cloud my judgement. Just enough: forty seven is middle-aged and no looking back, so I worked on my birthday. Would your great-aunt Stella mind if I borrowed her hair appointments for a metaphor and said that today was a day with highlights, one of which has definitely been your birthday greetings?

And would Matt be bothered if I follow him, and say that much of what you are and how you are in this world is an aspiration for me, an aspiration even for my middle age?

I have to struggle against a typically masculine tendency to express empathy by offering unwanted advice. I’ll find a way to win the struggle, at least eventually. And I do empathize. I’ve had my heart broken as well, though not in the same ways and with very different consequences to yours. Indeed, I need to count myself lucky. But thirty years is a long time: it’s a generation. Thirty years ago, I still did not understand that the best use of my consciousness was perhaps not to try to obliterate it at every opportunity with whatever drug was on offer. I had not yet understood or even felt the joy that comes from discipline, practice, and craft. I hadn’t even had my heart broken, not really.

Does it make any difference to change the question and ask instead: what shall we do with our consciousness for the next thirty minutes? It’s not really a more skilful question but it is one with good answers at hand, or at least purring on our laps. For me, thirty minutes is long enough to try to be disciplined, to practice, and that’s part of what you’ve shown me: to take the care to do things well. It’s been a gift and today, it’s been a birthday gift. And however many more times I get to see summers and winters, I will always have something to do with my consciousness – or, maybe better, my consciousness will always have something to do. And I’ll always have a harbinger of joy, and a little delight will leak out of each thing I manage to do well.

So, thank you! Thank you for the gift, for the greetings, and for each happy return.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on January 31, 2007 12:16 AM.

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