I Had Fulfilled All My Desires, So Why So Empty (plus 1st flashback-Castalia)


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Nova Scotia Beach

June 23, ‘77

Campfire coffee and toast put some life into a morning of mist and dampness. After breakfast, and back on the highway, the rain started coming down so hard that I couldn’t continue biking. I stopped and looked at my map for a possible campsite. There wasn’t any. I was about to enter a town, though. In the gas station where I bought a candy bar, I saw a sign that read: “Scallop shockers wanted,” with an attached phone number. When I called the number, there was no answer. I needed that job, not to mention a place to get out of the weather, too.

I spent the rest of the day walking around Barrington, N.S.—coffee, cookies, anything to keep me out of the rain. At each stop, I would read a few pages of my book. I finally found a laundromat. I must have called that scallop guy seven times before I gave up. I was in a rotten mood and my common sense told me to get a hotel room, but, instead, I got on my bike and started peddling in the rain. I pulled off on the first gravel road that I came to, and started walking my bike. There were houses all around me. I hadn’t really gotten away from town. It didn’t look good, and then I walked by an abandoned house. Behind that house, in a garage, I found shelter. It kept raining, but the garage was comfortable enough. I watched the rain fall until the end of the light.

June 24

When I’m lonely, I tend to write more in my journal. I guess that’s natural. I don’t generally feel lonely, or at least I don’t admit to it, but my frequent journal entries have made me aware of it.

The morning started out fine, no rain, and around 11 a.m., lots of sunshine. Biking was excellent, but for some reason I couldn’t get into it. The road was mine. The sun was warm, and the forests were extremely friendly. Everything was saying to me, “Come on, get into this day!” But I couldn’t do it. At first I thought I might be bored, but then I realized it was my loneliness that was disturbing me. It was not just my separation from friends and family that made me miserable; it was a loss of “value” also. I felt like I had lost sight of my goals. That wasn’t altogether true. I was doing really well on the material side of things. I had my job. I had money. I had time to bicycle. Actually, I had fulfilled all my desires, so why so empty? Maybe that was the problem. I was too successful. There was nothing to look forward to anymore, and quite frankly, maybe I was beginning to have second thoughts concerning my own success. Was it really what I wanted, what I expected? I was confused and lonely, really lonely.

I knew depression, serious depression, was just around the corner. That happened when I let myself get too serious. I didn’t need that, so I decided to pull over and set up camp. It was hard to get depressed while sitting around a campfire. When I came to a spot, I pulled a soda from my bike pack. Nova Scotia wasn’t that commercialized. Sometimes, you had to think ahead. Unfortunately, at the spot where I had planned to camp, I was greeted by some of Canada’s finest. I found myself in the middle of a black fly hatch. There was no stopping the little critters.

They were in my eyes, under my clothes, and, every time I got bit, it was like a needle poking me. I wrapped rubber bands around my ankles and wrists to keep them from getting under my clothes. I set up my tent and crawled inside. I felt safe until the flies came through the tent screen. They were that small. I held my own against mosquitoes, wind, and rain, but there was no defense against black flies. I packed my gear and hit the highway.

The woods had become out of bounds for camping. What was I to do? Maybe the flies would settle down after sunset? The ocean beach was always a refuge from bugs. The constant wind was a savior. But I hadn’t seen a beach since I arrived in Nova Scotia. The beach wasn’t good in the rain, however. I was running out of alternatives. If it came down to it, there was always a train heading for home somewhere, but not here. Bike till I dropped, that was my only available option. It was after 8 p.m. when I finally came to a sign that read, “picnic area.” I had reached the ocean, and there was even a beautiful two-foot high surf breaking off shore.

I’m writing at a picnic table, just on the other side of the dunes, which separate me from the beach—a perfect place to camp. The sun has set somewhere behind the trees. I’m safe from the flies for now, but still itching all over. It’s getting a bit chilly, so I think I’ll put on my jacket. I want to read a couple more paragraphs in my book before I go to bed.

June 25

Sunshine in the morning, what a great experience! Last night the sky was full of stars. It was the kind of sky that begged me to sleep outside my tent. It was cold, though, and my bones ached. I reluctantly climbed into my tent. In the morning, the sun heated things back up again. I had found the perfect place to camp. I was eating my raisin toast and drinking hot coffee away from the Parkman’s eyes behind a concave sand dune. I decided to stay. I needed the rest anyway.

It was a great day to be on the ocean, but I couldn’t shake my negative mood. I wasn’t sure where that mood was taking me, either. It became mo
re intense when I finished Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was such a good book; why then was I left hanging? I expected the author to tie up the loose ends, but that didn’t happen. Instead, in the end, there was some kind of reconnect between the boy and his father– Phaedrus. After that, father and son rode off into the sunset. I can’t explain it, but that ending devastated me. It was awful. I guess I expected the bells and whistles to ring, but that didn’t happen. In fact, I’m not sure what happened. Maybe nothing happened, and that nothing sent me straight into depression. Maybe I read too much into the book. Maybe I wanted more than the book could give, more than any book could give. Maybe that’s the way it had to end. I’m beginning to think I hate endings.

There was an open-air canteen down the road. For lunch I had chips and clams. That was my second hot meal since I began this trip. The clams were delicious. After lunch I washed my clothes down at the stream and then jumped into the ocean to wash my body. Up here, off shore, it’s the Labrador Current—that means cold, cold, water. There were two girls on the beach watching me as I took my very short swim. They told me about a river not far from the picnic area, where the water would be warmer, and offered to take me there. I agreed, and the three of us enjoyed a nice swim in “regular cold water.”

I ate four hot dogs for dinner. I liked them fire-blackened and I wasn’t disappointed. An old man strolled by as I was eating. After we exchanged greetings, I gave the old man a hot dog and the two of us sat on the picnic table enjoying the ocean view. We sat there for about an hour without speaking. It was not uncomfortable. When I picked up my journal and started writing, he said, “Time to be moseying on,” and walked away. I felt good vibes from that old man. Tomorrow I will be pushing myself down the highway. I would like to use a different word to describe leaving this place, but I can’t. I’m too close to Cape Briton and Prince Edward Island to think about heading for home. If push is the word that will get me moving again then so be it. If I have to push to get to see the rest of this beautiful island peninsula, then so be it, I will push.

This blog, for the most part, is a rehash of my old road journals, but I started this blog six years into those journals. In order to clarify some of what I’m describing here, I’ve decided to introduce the flashback. Although the events I am describing represent snapshots of my past life, when these events are viewed a whole, they are meant to describe a journey, the end goal of which is/was to better understand who “I” am and why “I/we” are here. Throughout this narrative a good deal of philosophy will be discussed and I will end this blog with an imaginary (and/or metaphorical) reading of what I take to be “judgment day”. For me, judgment day is simply a measured reading of the judgments made over the duration of one’s life span. With this goal in mind, the end of life perspective “judgment day,” becomes the last opportunity to better understand who “I/we” are and why “I/we” are here. When deemed appropriate and/or necessary, other flashbacks will follow.

Take care,

dave

Flashback 1:

What A Simple Solution-A Simple Job For A Simple Person

Castalia

Jan. 1971

Back at school, I took The Politics of Eastern Europe, Peace Seminar, Political Philosophy, and Political Thought and Theory. I needed to build confidence; so I figured twelve hours of classes wouldn’t be that tough. I ended up, as was usual with me, putting my time in just one class, Political Philosophy, at the expense of the others. It used to be that my favorite class would be in Biology, then it was in Political Science, and now I guess its in Philosophy. I had no idea how philosophy was going to help me get a job though. After university, what would happen to me job-wise was beginning to bother me. It bothered my parents too. They didn’t care what I studied, as long as I was able to get a good job and be happy.

I had nothing against happiness, but I knew my parent’s world just didn’t work for me. It probably never would work either. I never liked competition. The flip side of winning was that somebody loses. I’ve never been comfortable with that either. Growing up, I got used to loosing, my brother (five years my senior) made sure of that. Even in sports, if I played hard and well that was enough. Winning was just the icing on the cake. The business world didn’t work for me. Achieving wealth was not an option. Money was good for providing immediate sense gratification, but after that its accumulation was not worth the hassle. Achieving wealth was more of a class thing anyway, sustained and promoted at the top, usually to the exclusion of the poor underclass. When it came to figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, I was at a loss.

While taking classes at CMU I tried to join the Peace Corps, but failed; likewise with Vista (the domestic Peace Corps). In both cases I got the same reply, “Sorry, you do not qualify”—meaning that these volunteer organizations did not accept people with mental problems. One look at my 4-F draft status and one could conclude I was either insane or a communist.

One day, while sitting in CMU’s Student Union, I was feeling a bit more depressed than usual. I was taking a break from writing a philosophy paper when I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation that was going on between three CMU janitors. They were sitting at the table in front of me. I was not drawn to the content of what was being said. It was just that I found the overall humor of their conversation interesting. They were laughing and carrying on as if they did not have a care in the world. Just when I was beginning to feel guilty about eavesdropping, I asked myself, “What’s wrong with this picture, and the answer came at me like a blazing meteor. “What a simple solution,” I thought, “a simple job for a simple person; no more problems, no more debts.” As I chewed on that thought, it felt like the ground gave way under my feet. I felt like I had fallen straight through the floor into an indescribably beautiful place—the self-sustaining, lifetime environment of a college student.

Marvin Gaye’s song, What’s Going On was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. In fact, a couple weeks earlier, the quote propelled me to the bookstore where I bought Hesse’s last and most important novel, Magister Ludi. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read, so I went out and bought his most famous book hoping to find it there. I haven’t found it yet, but it didn’t matter because the book was excellent. It was the novel that won Hesse the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In the book a place was described—Castalia—that was devoted entirely to the pursuits of the mind. The possibility of creating a Castalia out of CMU energized me. As I sat drinking coffee, I knew that the first step toward creating my own Castalia was to get hired as a CMU custodian. The more I thought about the plan, the more I felt I was onto something big. Written in 1943, Magister Ludi was set in an unspecified future, after the chaos and horror of the 20th -century wars. In the book, Castalia was a place devoted to the more spiritual dimensions of life. Castalia remained separate from society except when both Castalia and outside world came together to celebrate the skills of the game players, the champions of the Glass Bead Game. Hesse gave no instruction on how to play the Game, but the goal was to bring together the spiritual values of all ages in an act of mental synthesis. All Castalians, on some level, participated in the Glass Bead Game, but only a few became Masters.

The thought of creating Castalia out of CMU excited me. The reality of getting paid to enjoy music, theater, literature, lectures, and participate in academic discussions excited me even more. Actually, university culture and the Castalian lifestyle had a lot in common. Maybe the game aspect of both cultures was what they had most in common? After all, a large part of what we called “education,” the “life of the mind,” the “pursuit of the truth,” was only the machine tooling of the young to meet the needs of various bureaucracies, bureaucracies whose purpose was to insure that wealth was concentrated at the top of society, with vanishingly small shares at the bottom. In Hesse’s Castalia, even if it was only a game, at least the goals of the game were a bit more humanizing. I guess you can’t get away from hierarchy thing though. Even in Hesse’s mythical society, the good game players got rewarded, while the losers dropped out.

As I was thinking about what to do next, I remembered reading a book back in New Orleans that I wanted to reread now. Roszak’s book, The Making Of The Counter Culture, was about thinking differently and acting differently. I needed to get back to my philosophy paper, but I told myself, “This is Friday. If I pull this off I will have many more Fridays to work on any number of papers, for the rest of my life.” Comforted by that thought, I left my coffee on the table, and went over to CMU’s library where I checked out Roszak’s book. I needed to know if he, Roszak, held out hope for a better future, one not compromised by material values and greed. I needed to know whether Roszak thought that a “Castalia” represented hope or desperation. In a slightly different context, this is what he said:

“But you are twenty-five…and there are forty or fifty years ahead (if the bomb doesn’t fall) and they must be shared with home and family, and be buoyed up by dependable subsistence, or that future will be a gray waste and the consciousness of life you want to expand will shrink and become bleak. So how do you grow up? Where is the life-sustaining receptacle that can nourish and protect good citizenship?

The answer is: you make up a community of those you love and respect, where there can be enduring friendships, children, and by mutual aid, three meals a day scraped together by honorable and enjoyable labor. Nobody knows quite how it is to be done. There are not many reliable models. The old radicals are no help: they talked about socializing whole economies, or launching third parties, or strengthening the unions, but not about building communities.

It will take a deal of improvisation, using whatever examples one can find at hand…Maybe none of them will work. But where else is there to turn? And where else can one any longer look for the beginnings of an honest revolution except in such “pre-revolutionary structure-making.”

Among all the urgent tasks that need to be done in the next month and the one after that, this especially needs doing for the next decade and the one after that: that the young who have greater expectations of life than their elders and who are more intolerably sensitive to corruptions should find an enduring mode of life that will safeguard those expectations and sensitivities…And who besides Goodman is offering much help in that direction?

From Making Do, the man considering the unhappy boy he loves: ”…for him—and not only for him—there was in our society No Exit. When he had asked his germane question, and fifteen experts on the dais did not know an answer for him. But with ingenuity he had hit on a painfully American answer, Do It Yourself. If there is no community for you, young man, young man, make it yourself.” (p. 204)

It appears to me at least that Roszak and I agree that Castalia affords hope, not desperation. It will take more than hope, however, to make Castalia real.

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2 Responses to “I Had Fulfilled All My Desires, So Why So Empty (plus 1st flashback-Castalia)”

  1. Beverly Says:

    Dave, What a fascinating look into your heart and mind. It is courageous of you to share it with others. You used the term “Mental problems” as applying to yourself. The only mental state you’ve mentioned that seems to fit that would be depression. It so happens I am very intimate with depression. I became depressed in 1992 following some health issues. Between medication, counseling, education, peer support and giving back to others, I am coping much better now than then, though it was the darkest period of my life.

    I have many friends who also have a mental illness. I sometimes wonder if we don’t all have a mental illness of some kind, only some are better at concealing it than others. Most of my friends, especially those with Bi-Polar disorder, seem to be on the whole, the most intelligent, creative people I have ever met. Intelligence with a sensitivity that sets them apart from the masses. Intelligence that to me, borders on genius. My own personal theory is that when someone is born with superior intellect, it can sometimes create a short circuit in the brain which leads to a chemical imbalance. There is a gentleness in their soul, a humility that is lacking in most regular folks and there are insights into human behavior that are beyond the realm of most people. It is almost as if the brain that is so gifted also traps them in a separate place that ordinary people don’t even know exists. A beautiful yet lonely place, a place where the brain never seems to stop thinking. My friends with mental illness love and accept unconditionally. My life would not be as rich as it is without them in it.

    I agree with you, simplicity is the best course, yet somehow seems the hardest to maintain. It takes a lot of conscious effort to maintain simplicity. Or at least, I have found it so.

    I’m looking forward to your next post Dave. I hope you have a great week!

  2. dave Says:

    Thanks for sharing that with me and anybody else who happens by Beverly. I don’t know if any label fits me, but having one foot in this world while, at the same time, being connected to another, although it may not be considered “normal”, may be the only healthy state available to some people, especially in this country where Bill Clinton gets (almost) impeached while our sitting President continues to be celebrated for his strength and convictions. Thanks again for sharing, and I hope your week goes well also.

    Take care,
    dave

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