We Read, We Think & Sometimes Tell The Truth

Month: June 2021 Page 1 of 2

Eugene O’Neil

I watched a special on Eugene O’Neil recently. It was good to see. It was serendipitous. I don’t think I had read one of his plays since I was 20 years old, but revisiting his books was special. You forget sometimes how much influence an author has on your life. And I never got into knowing his personal biography- maybe his works seemed so biographical, I thought I didn’t need to. But what a hard life- it’s one of those lives so difficult in its very inception that you’re surprised he amounted to anything at all. But what really struck me was how many of the details of the plays I’d forgotten- I couldn’t quote a line, recall a character’s name or give anything more than the vaguest of plot descriptions- and how familiar it seemed nonetheless. I read nearly every one of his plays probably in a year. And as the commentators and actors were going over his works, the “truth” of what he was saying then, hit me now: That death is a relief from life; that we live a life of illusion to hide from reality. That if we didn’t have our “pipe dreams” the banality of our existence would be crushing.

But more than that- and I didn’t get this then, I missed it completely- is that he continued to produce, work after work, play after play, even though his inner psyche was screaming “all of this is worthless, all of this means nothing”. I love that, I love the fact that writers live with a duality that, to me, is never contradictory. It’s because they know they believe even when they write that they don’t. I don’t know if its god they believe in; I don’t know if their belief in life is that explicit- I do know they are writing about something greater, bigger than themselves. So they deny god, they deny meaning; they deny permanence, when the works themselves to prove the very things they are in the midst of denying. I suppose when you’re as damaged psychically as Eugene O’Neill, you may miss that point.

He had a good quote in there too- Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic. I believe that- as a lapsed Catholic, it left a permanent mark. The religion’s too strong, too steeped in tradition, too mystical for a writer, especially, to shrug off. I can’t consider myself a “catholic”- there are too many illogical, crazy requirements and rules for someone like me to follow. I always sat in church with a sense of conflict- whether I believed (and I don’t even know if I do or don’t), why am I here? If I’m not truly “rejecting Satan” and “Accepting of one holy and Apostolic Church”, isn’t sitting here hypocritical? And should I enjoy the experience of church at all (which I often do) if I don’t believe? All of these very adolescent meanderings and ruminations run through my mind.

But then I realized that the church is like a worthy adversary, or a forgotten friend. It is unique; it has powerful, if sometimes maddening, opinions that it will never shake. And, if you’re a person like me, who loves a good story, it has intrigue, conflict, overwrought symbolism and paradoxes locked within contradictions. It preaches humility and practices arrogance with seamless ease.

Not My Fault

The fact you get comfort, solace and inspiration from your religion doesn’t serve as proof of its reality just as it shouldn’t serve as a source of ridicule for a non-believer. It’s a personal choice that gives meaning to your existence. At the same time, the fact it brings you solace doesn’t make my non-belief shallow or narcissistic. Where you get solace and comfort, I get claustrophobia and restriction. I’m not bothered by homosexuality or birth control or women’s right to choose. In fact, I am perplexed by those who are. So what is it exactly I am getting from religious belief other than conflicting signals? Do I think the 10 commandments are a good set of rules? Sure (although after listening to George Carlin, not all that sure). Do Jesus’ proverbs make sense? Actually, yes, they do. But in my mind, after those few examples, there really isn’t too much else to talk about or get worked up about. The Apostles creed is a mess; the pope looks like a cheap prop at a costume party, the concept of a bachelor priest is an outdated caricature of misogyny shattered by sexual scandal.

My problem with religion really isn’t focused on its overall value in the world (i.e.; does the good it provide outweigh the bad) but is entirely personal. Religion, for me, makes the world more confusing, not less. For example, I get confused by the idea of an all knowing God that may or may not know our future or may or may not have a hand in everyday events.

If god is a creator of the universe and he gave us Free Will, it’s something he could just as easily take away. It’s an artifice just like any rule in sports. What is the point of giving people free will if the rate of success in using it is so abysmal? Maybe He should just get rid of it. To me, belief in God makes life less interesting, not more. And if that’s wrong, if my thinking is flawed, then that’s not my fault. It was the faulty wiring I was born and bestowed with by God, the Great Creator. If I’m a dumb, shallow creature and there is no God, then I’m fine with that. But if there is? Now I have a problem. He could have made things different so I didn’t go around fucking things up with my really dumb, shallow ideas.

Relationships-Everyone’s Favorite Pastime

I think it’s interesting that so many people have such an investment in “understanding” other people’s relationships. Now, mind you, I have as a prurient interest as everyone else and like the gossip, sordid goings on, murky beginnings or questionable motives of relationships as much as the next US Weekly reader. But beyond those schadenfreude-styled motives, I don’t feel nearly as qualified as my peers in assigning motives (mostly bad of course) to other people’s spouses or deciding who is or is not a “right fit” for the “right reasons”. Don’t get me wrong- its human nature, when socializing, to speculate on these things and as inevitable as commenting on the weather. It is one of our many social lubricants but, strangely, taken much more seriously.

I mean, I could not begin to deeply care about a friend’s relationship vis-à-vis his or her spouse/ significant other. Here’s the thing, in the vast universe of relationship possibilities, what are the odds that my friend’s relationship is so broken or unhealthy its worth commenting on in other than a completely superficial, farcical way? I live in a middle class hetro-sexually driven world where everyone is cut, pretty closely, from the same cloth. Same Judeo-Christian upbringing. Similar socio-economic class; similar ethnic background. If the underpinnings of relationships are so banal in their similarities, what is the possibility that something truly unique is going to set them apart? I can’t even think of a good analogy to compare it to.

So when people start making comments (serious comments) about other people’s relationships, the hypocrisy is mind blowing because they do it with such facility, never stopping to recognize how fucked up their own relationship likely is.

The beauty and specialness of each relationship is that the inner workings of why two people are together are secret and unexplained to the rest of the world and quite likely, the couple themselves. Is Joe with Suzy b/c he loves her? Or b/c she likes his money? Those are objective questions we ask ourselves, playing detective, about a completely subjective topic. I couldn’t begin to adequately explain my wife’s motives for caring for me, so what weight, what degree of understanding would I give to a third party? It’s utterly meaningless. It’s a fun parlor game but it is objectively meaningless. I guess I have more respect for people’s private lives than most because I’m not afraid to acknowledge that none of us really like to be alone and that, plain and simple, dictates the foundations of all relationships, romantic or platonic. Once you admit that bit of frailty, you become more tolerant of your spouse’s foibles, more tolerant of others seemingly incomprehensible choices and a little more humble in your expectations (of your relationship and everyone else’s). The key isn’t so much to understand the motives of a relationship but the basic principle that people don’t like to be alone and will pay a fairly steep price to avoid it.

It’s not so much that I don’t think relationships are special (for the record, I do), it’s just that I don’t feel qualified in deciding who’s is and who’s isn’t. And, quite frankly, they all have an equal chance to be special or disastrous.

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