The Pleasure of Nothing
I would like to talk about something personal.
Relax, it’s not going to be about my secret fetish with honeydew melons. Some things shouldn’t be discussed in any forum. Leave alone this one.
Mmmmm, sweet honeydew melons…
Right. Where was I? Something personal. Okay.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve found that my mind has been drifting into a funk. I’m not sure what it is. I do have a few pressing financial concerns, but I’m working on a plan to resolve those. I have the standard concerns for a work/life balance in a COVID-19 world and I count myself lucky that I am currently working with a stable employer and for the first time in a long time, I actually have benefits.
Little things are bothering me, though. I haven’t been able to cut my lawn in a few weeks because my Toro slipped a belt and I need to take it to a repair guy as they have the proper tools to fix it. The lawn looks horrible and the overgrowth is embarrassing.
I’ve also been eating vegan for the last eight weeks. I miss the variety of eating anywhere I want. While my health is okay, there seems to be an absence of culinary pleasure. That with my diabetes makes eating into more into an obligation rather than something to anticipate and enjoy.
I understand there’s something detrimental to a life of quarantine and isolation that makes an extrovert like me antsy. I talk to friends. I do time on Facebook. I also have my writer’s group where we share our creative talents. It’s not the same as being with people, but it is better than nothing.
I can’t put my finger on what I’m feeling. The depression is mild but not overwhelming. It’s like having an itch you can’t scratch. After a while, it makes you crazy.
Earlier today, I went out to Staples to buy a fountain pen. Part of my writing process is pen on paper. I wanted a real pen. Something with weight. I wanted my magic pen that will trigger my mind and give me the subliminal signal that when I use it, it’s time to write.
They had nothing I wanted. They were out of magic pens. For now, I’d settle with a good ballpoint gel. It does the job. Plus, I realized that so long as I had a pen, paper, and my imagination, I’d have enough.
Next door to the Staples is a pizza parlor. With my new dietary restrictions, I can’t have pizza anymore. I decided that a bottle of cold water would tide me over until I could make something at home. However, my life was without a fountain pen and it was without pizza.
“What’s going on?” The pizza guy asked me.
“Nothing,” I said – because nothing was going on.
“That’s good,” he said. “Nowadays, if you don’t have any real problems, you’re ahead of the game.”
“Good point,” I said almost mechanically with a smile under my mask. I didn’t know why I smiled; he couldn’t see it – but I did try to make my voice a little brighter.
I went back to my car, opened my doors wide to let the hot air out of it, and got in. I didn’t start my car. I sipped my cold water and thought about what he said.
He was right. Technically, there was nothing wrong. But, there were a lot of things that weren’t right.
I meditated on this while I drank.
One of the things that I hated about growing up Catholic was getting some of the stupid platitudes that would always come from my parents. The “it’s always darkest before the dawn” one increases my blood pressure almost immediately.
My screaming arguments with people after hearing “when God closes a door, he usually opens a window”, gets attention in restaurants. However, this is good news if you’re looking to burgle God’s house. He closes his doors but keeps the windows open for easy entry. Often, I wonder what’s in God’s DVD collection and whether there’s anything I’d like to steal. I’m sure it’s a waste of time. How many copies of “The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” would anyone want?
My mother’s favorite platitude has always been “there’s a lot of people worse off than you”.
There is a key difference in platitude-giving with my parents. My mother sticks to the one-sentence phrases while my father goes in for the full ironic jokes. It’s all in the approach. The quick one-liners are jabs in a boxing match. The jokes are not really jokes. They are false advertising as they start with the expectation of humor and they end with exquisite disappointment.
My father tells Catholic jokes. This one usually springs to mind. You’ve probably heard it.
There was a woman who was stuck on the roof of her house during a flood. She prayed to God to be saved. An hour later, an old man with a rowboat came to her roof and said she could come aboard, and he’d row her to safety. She declined, saying “My God will save me.” Meanwhile, the house sunk a little bit more. Another hour passed and a man in a raft came by to rescue her. Again, she declined, saying “My God will save me.” The house sank and the woman was now treading water when a helicopter came with a rope and offered to take her away. She declined and said again, “My God will save me.” She drowned. When she got to heaven she went to God and asked Him why He didn’t save her. He answered, “I sent two boats and a helicopter.” (Cue laugh track.)
The long winter nights just fly by at the Peruzzi household.
It’s what my mother says that always gets me, though.
“There’s a lot of people worse off than you.”
For me, it’s hard to understand how I can get consolation from the knowledge of other people more miserable than myself. I find comfort in Buddhism. I have a hard time feeling better with more suffering in this world. My immediate reaction is outrage. I don’t have a weird sadistic streak that gathers comfort from others who have it worse.
Who thinks like that?
I Should Feel Good Because Nothing is Wrong
The reality is that other people do have it worse.
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t hear about someone in the hospital with COVID-19. There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t hear of someone losing his business because the quarantine won’t allow people to work or they have non-essential jobs that don’t require their presence.
I was lucky. I lost one position in February and got another within a month – which between you, me, and the lamp post is the shortest interval I’ve ever had with unemployment – and then the quarantine started. I’ve literally never been to my current office. All my work has been from home since this started. No one will be going back until June of 2021.
If at all.
I’m paying my mortgage. I’m paying my bills. There’s food in the fridge. Plus, it’s that magical time of the summer when the air condition can go off and the oil isn’t on.
My wife and I are healthy. There’s not a night where I’m not grateful either of us has not been struck down by the coronavirus. We social distance. We wear masks. We wash our hands.
Nothing is wrong.
I Should Feel Bad Because Nothing is Right
Yes, I know. I sound like an ungrateful bastard.
I am not ungrateful. What I think is getting me right now is the difference between existing and living. With my last hospital stay, I found out I had Type-2 Diabetes. It happens. My diet was crap and I am overweight.
It happens to men after they turn fifty unless they have an active lifestyle. I don’t.
What I long for is more. More life. More people. More pleasure. More joy.
Maybe I’m just stir crazy.
This enforced temperance from diabetes, mixed with seclusion, combined with the fear of a pandemic, plus everything else in the news, make life hard to bear.
Steve Martin joked that a day without sunshine is like night. That’s why he starts out the joke saying, “laugh once a day”.
Part of the reason why I’m writing is it’s a distraction. I must get into my own headspace and run around in it with scissors. We all need self-discovery and meditation. Why? The unexamined life is not worth living. Robert Fulghum always weighed that against “ignorance is bliss”.
But here’s the thing, when we start on a path of settling for less and every curve of joy and emotion flattens, we must ask, “what’s my life about” and “where am I going?”
Part of the tragedy of the character of Pippin in the musical Pippin is that he was cursed to drive himself to be extraordinary. The author, Stephen Schwartz, marked this as a sign of immaturity. The genesis of the show was to be a light musical with some naughty bits in it, but the final product was something much darker.
The protagonist’s search for identity and fulfillment falls into something from Blade Runner. The genetic designer, Eldon Tyrell, spoke of the replicant, Roy, as “the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long… And you have burned so very bright”. With Roy, it’s a five-year lifespan. With Pippin, it’s the promise of the “finale act” where Pippin would set himself on fire for the blaze of glory he’d always wanted.
Only Pippin turns away from fame and “immortality” to live as a married man who is “trapped – but happy”. This would imply the morality play’s message is aspirations for greatness lead to tragedy and people must be happy with an ordinary life.
I’m not sure I agree with that.
Don’t get me wrong. I married a wonderful, beautiful woman. We have a great life together full of love and happiness with the kind of bliss that comes from having a magic fountain pen. My motivation to be great comes from a hardwired need to make her life better and stress-free with a legacy.
Personally, if the devil came to me with the standard contract of fame, fortune, and an immortal legacy of literary greatness, I would eagerly sign on the dotted line with ink made of my very own B-positive warm protein scarlet life-juice.
What we all wonder is if money and fame are the ingredients to happiness and whether there is any joy in that pursuit. My long-standing opinion of people who say, “money can’t buy happiness” is they just don’t know where to shop.
I don’t think material wealth and things are solely the keys to happiness, though – although I will say this – money does a lot to relieve stress when it is sorely needed to take care of things that matter. Thus, we lower the bar from materialistic overindulgence to having a bit more money than what we require.
Buddhists would call the fruitless chase for excess to be the legacy of a hungry ghost. The endless pursuit of this is when you try to fill an unfillable hole in your soul. (There are public political figures who fit this bill who shall be nameless.)
It is also the reason why many Buddhists forsake a life of possessions.
So, what does this say about me?
It says that I’m not perfect. In my life full of trials and tribulations, I have learned the value of money and the consequence of not having enough of it when I need it. Hence, I have security issues.
My motivations to build a successful life are laced with my compassion to see my loved ones not suffer. My experience tells me the path to this goal is to build an enduring legacy. Whether it comes through my talents as a writer or through just making wise financial decisions to provide security for my wife, is no concern to me so long as it happens.
There is a lot to say about the pursuit of peace, joy, and compassion. After all, it was the theme of George Lucas’s Star Wars. Boiled down he would say that people who are loving and compassionate will live better lives than people who are selfish and hate for no reason. And while the former may not have a material payoff, it is better than the latter who have an unfillable hole in their soul.
Unless, of course, they can find some sweet honeydew melons – because they are just delicious.
© 2020 Christopher Peruzzi