Digesting The Leftovers.

When The Leftovers was first suggested to me, I was hesitant to watch it, as its synopsis sounded suspiciously like a “Left Behind” kind of rapture story. Turned out I was wrong. I immediately became absorbed in the show and even bought and read Tom Perrotta’s book of the same name. And while a descent book in its own right, this is one of those relatively rare cases where the television show proves to be infinitely better.

I’m also one of those weirdos who enjoys watching YouTube videos that subject movies and television shows to detailed analysis. It’s become a bit of an obsession of mine, really, and when I began watching The Leftovers for the second time within the last two weeks or so, I fell down the rabbit hole in that respect.

The story deals with the aftermath of one October 14th, when 2% of the global population suddenly and inexplicably vanished — an event known as the Sudden Departure. The show explores how those that remain strive to cope and make sense of not only the disappearances but the strange experiences particular individuals experience following the event. In other words, it explores how we deal with the unknown.

Not coincidentally, this show was created by one of the creators of Lost, a television series full of mysteries that many (myself included) felt were not sufficiently explained by the series finale. I ended up almost as frustrated with it as I was with The X-Files, and for the same reasons. Both series also had inconsistencies that irritated the living shit out of me.

Also not coincidentally, October 14th is allegedly the day the Lost creator closed his Twitter account, having had enough of the fan backlash in response to the Lost finale and the mysteries left unanswered. In that light, one could see The Leftovers as sort of an answer to the response Lost generated. From the start, I believe, he had said the show was not so much about the mysteries it contained but about how the characters deal with them.

The characters adopt various coping mechanisms and employ numerous narratives in the attempts to deal with and explain their circumstances, but each are forced to evolve them or discard them for new ones — though all invariably fail. One of the show’s messages seems to be that people have a need for a narrative, and that a false one is better than none at all. Laurie’s experiences in season two in which she strives to save people from the Guilty Remnant cult she was formerly a member of herself seemed to drive in the message. Trying to help them escape is a noble pursuit, but you must replace the narrative you take away from them. In that sense, it reminds me of Nietzsche’s writings.

Despite the fact that he is a husband and father with a respectable job, I quickly found myself identifying quite strongly with Kevin Garvey, and not just because he’s essentially the main character. Though he, like the others, are effected by the Sudden Departure, he lost no one to it directly (save for an unborn child, or so it is implied), though he suffered well enough in a secondary sense. His wife (and soon enough ex-wife) joined a cult, his son left college for a different cult and his relationship with his increasingly cynical daughter, his only remaining family, is strained at best. Perhaps most relevant to him, however, is the fact that his father lost his mind and voluntarily put himself into an institution — and Kevin seems to have a variety pack of utterly weird issues himself: synchronicities, exceptionally vivid dreams, sleepwalking (or becoming possessed by an alternate, shadow personality), seeing the dead (or suffering from audiovisual hallucinations), entering into alternate realities (or having lucid dreams) and developing a suspicious inability to die and stay dead, at least with respect to being drowned, poisoned, buried, suffocated and shot. Needless to say, fears that he might be going insane quickly began to creep up on him. Kevin constantly questions whether he’s sleeping or awake, whether an experience is real or some elaborate illusion. Some of what he’s experienced does seem to be best explained as hallucinatory, such as seeing Evie in the final season, while others are more questionable, such as seeing Patti after her suicide, and still others we at first assume must be fantasy or paranormal but ultimately reveal themselves not to be, such as “mystery man” Dean, who’s objective existence was finally verified when his daughter and her friend saw him on the doorstep, holding a six pack and talking with Kevin.

A lot of it is all too familiar. Certainly not all of it, but in general, I really identify with the character.

Stress induced by this and shit in general lead Kevin to trying to cope through alcohol, cigarettes, prescription medication and jogging — that is, literally running away, with the other coping mechanisms perhaps constituting a figurative means of doing so. Though he is offered religious interpretations of his experiences, he largely resists them for, as one YouTuber put it, the notion that he might have a purpose in a grand, divine plan conflicts with his core desire to gain and remain in control of his life. At the same time it offers some sense of relief, as it offers a narrative that presents himself as a sort of prophet — and as a consequence it would mean that he is not truly going bat-shit insane.

I’ve never considered a religious significance to anything I’ve experienced myself, but I understand the urge to adopt a narrative and have spent a great deal of time trying to assemble my own to explain the crazy fucking shit in my own life. To consider, in my case, that the aliens exist or that, on the other hand, I’m bat-shit insane itself are both narratives I pingpong between, never able to settle into either. Neither offer a sense of control or even the comforting illusion of it.

I’m always left with ambiguity and failing coping strategies. My objective is to gain authentic understanding, an accurate narrative, which is not something offered in the universe of The Leftovers — unless you accept as fact the story Nora tells in the series finale.

I have my own pet hypotheses for my own experiences, of course. My own attempts at a narrative that explains. My pet hypothesis for the show, however? It stems from an idea I believe I heard of at least once before, but which I also read some time ago in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Lullaby. One of the characters described how sailors used to leave goats or pigs or whatever animal they liked to eat on deserted islands, where the animals, in a fashion not atypical of invasive species, would consume all the islands resources and their populations would grow out of control. This technique, evidently called “seeding meat,” ensured that when the sailors finally returned to the islands they’d have a plentiful food source. In the aforementioned book, the character references the Adam and Eve myth and suggests that one day the gods might return to earth with some barbecue sauce in hand.

Given our continuing population explosion and our manner of behavior towards this island earth, it doesn’t sound entirely unreasonable, either. And maybe that’s what happened during the show’s October 14th. Food was harvested.

And those that remain? Well, they’re actually the leftovers.

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Nora vs Holy Wayne.

“Do you want
to feel this way?”

Lost too much.

Enough agony
in a moment, in a blink,
than most endure
for at least a lifetime,

yet when the pain attempts
to slither away,
she grabs its tail,

pulling,
drawing it back,

inviting
these venomous
serpent fangs
to lay root
in her precious flesh

for another taste.

In all her bitter, loving,
resistance, becoming:

so rebellious
towards a deep urge
to transcend
in self-overcoming,

in her refusal to forget,
holding onto memories
in passionate hope:

a hope so intense
that it would have to fight
for its life to escape,

and a part
of her wishes
that it would turn out
that way,

for she is convinced
that even
if it is not all for naught,
she has by no means earned

some vague semblance
of hope: no,

she deserves
this pain
of loss.

She had it coming,
this grief:
this is payday.

Just give her a chance
to cash in.

To her, this suffering
means something.

All I Loathe and Envy.

No matter how deep
you press that barrel
with tension into my temple,
rest assured:

I’m not bleeding.
Push and I push back.
At best, you only bruise me.

I’m over that period
of hypersensitivity, of feeling
so damned lost, fucked up and alone…

Just bait for you soul-suckers.

So far passed that state
of cold and calloused now.
I’ve grown fucking hard stone,
so rest assured:

I’m not cracking.
Pressure-cooker soul here:
you can’t break me.

Done with the chapter
of reactionary empathy and mistakenly
identifying with what I feel,

leading to loosy-goosy
philosophies
and pushover tendencies,
now I’m half you.

I am
currently some unholy lovechild

of all I loath
and envy:

sorry,
you can’t touch me.

Life and the Art of Dramatic Writing.

There is a need for focus, structure, motivation, all of which sprouts out of the seed of premise. Or so the book says.

No premise, no destination.

Devoid of a destination, you have no sense of the right road to take and you become nauseatingly familiar with dead ends and dizzying circles. Like a hamster on a wheel or an analog clock bound to the wall you might keeping moving — all without getting anywhere. You might pull over and forfeit the game; set up camp in the land of the lost, exhausted by your uncertainties. In any case, you still have no sense of where you are or how to get out.

You are still lacking a premise and you know it. However highly you might value self-awareness, you keep up the battle to achieve and maintain high spirits and fight against the tendency for such self-awareness to breed that abysmal self-loathing.

I need to write better. Live better.

Eyes Wide Shut.

Laughing, slipping
into the blue, embodying
her Shadow,

sharing shameful secrets
with you, destroying all
you hide in the light
and your sense

of moral superiority,
sending you in a tailspin,

obsessively chasing
down the darkness
for just a taste
of the monster hiding
within, donning

the masque, dangerously
dancing with the primal
on the edge of the blade,
peering into the conspiratorial

to know thyself,
to find your way
back to her once again,
each now whole on your own,
both now wide awake:

trading in illusions
for honesty and trust…

No Pressure (Ode to Hank & Karen).

All mine.
Body and soul.
Or, with respect
to the flesh:

as much
as I’m yours,
anyway,

which now
finally exceeds
the heart
that you stole
so long ago. Finally,

I’ve got you.
No escaping now,

unless,
of course,
you want to

so much you’re willing
to destroy
me once and for all.

The Nature of Child’s Play.

“Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid, the ones that I never wanted old girlfriends to see… well, they’ve started to give me a little pang of something — not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret. There’s one of me in a cowboy hat, pointing a gun at the camera, trying to look like a cowboy but failing, and I can hardly bring myself to look at it now… I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.”
— Nick Hornby, High Fidelity.

“Well, then get your shit together. Get it all together and put it in a backpack. All your shit. So it’s together. And if you gotta take it somewhere, take it somewhere. You know, take it to the shit store and sell it, or put it in the shit museum. I don’t care what you do, you just gotta get it together. Get your shit together.”
— Morty, Rick & Morty.

Towards the end of my high school career, when I finally went to see a psychologist regarding the strange memories and experiences that had come to envelop my life, I did so with some trepidation. My limited experience with social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists had suggested to me that they could have just as easily been patients, and I feared this guy may just serve to reinforce my opinion. It turned out I was wrong. He was intelligent, passionately interested in the subject matter, and seemed to have a firm footing on more than one reality at a time. Though part of me was quite happy that he wasn’t judgmental, he seemed very careful about revealing any thoughts he had on my experiences. I knew I had to corner him, and I did, insisting that he tell me what he thought my flashback regarding the Doctor was all about.

This was a flashback that occurred somewhere on the bridge between 1994 and the following year. By that time I had remembered a wide variety of strange incidents and odd dreams, but it was nothing like what happened that evening. Unable to get any shuteye, I had been staring at my lava lamp while in bed and it suddenly seemed to have almost psychedelic effects on my vision, which was waving like the surface of a pond. When my eyes landed on a book on the shelf attached to my bed, a book I have yet to read — War of the Worlds, by HG Welles — I was instantly somewhere else, somewhen else. Later, when I would read Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse Five, I was instantly reminded of the intense flashbacks I began having that evening. It wasn’t just remembering, it was reexperiencing.

Despite the length, this is the most condensed version I can muster. In this flashback, I had re-experienced hiding beneath my bed around five or six years of age. This I determined due to the leg braces I was wearing and the fact that I had worn them for a little under a year when I was a kid. From beneath the sheets and blankets hanging over my bed, I watched these creatures, some of whom had three toes, as their feet pitter-pattered across the carpet. They seemed to be going through things in the room, picking things up and examining them. Afraid they would eventually find me, I tried to scoot myself even further under the bed, but one of my braced legs hit a large box my parents had my sisters and I always keep there. It contained our drawings, report cards, and other such things. This not only made my leg abruptly jut out from beneath the bed, but made a loud noise for added effect. I winced and the silence in the room was deafening. When I finally opened my eyes again, I saw the feet and legs of one of the creatures standing by my braced leg, reaching down three, long, tan-colored fingers to touch it. Instantly it reminded me of the closing scene in the 1950s film War of the Worlds, which was my favorite movie at the time.

Certain for some reason that they would make me forget, with determined eyes I scanned this creature from his feet to his face so that one day, when my talents were good enough, I’d be able to draw him. I have in the years since, but I can never seem to get it right. I do know that he had eyes akin to those of a human’s, which is to say a white sclera, a yellow or brown iris, and a black-as-death pupil. His had a pug nose and his face was etched with deep wrinkles. His most memorable feature, however, was a long, deep-set, almost cartoonish frown.

Upon meeting his eyes, we were suddenly communicating mind-to-mind. They were scientists, I understood, and he was The Doctor. He was very old, very wise, and in some way served as a grandfather to me. After this, which seemed to be a form of internal yet interpersonal dialogue, I next found myself in a setting that seemed to be my room, but not quite. I was sitting down by my bed, looking up at the Doctor, though now he was different. He wore glasses that magnified his eyes instead of bearing eyes that were naturally that size, as was the case before. He wore a long white lab coat, had a stethoscope around his neck, held a clipboard and his cartoonish frown was inverted into a Cheshire grin. He told me that they just needed to run some tests, that this was just a check-up.

As he said all this, he seemed to be standing in front of me in a way that suggested he was purposely obscuring something, but all I could make out from behind him were bright lights, indecipherable chatter and a lot of activity a short distance away in my room. I also couldn’t ignore my growing suspicion that this was all a sort of dream we were sharing, one that he was sort of shaping into a false memory or cover-story.

It was an incredibly real experience, somewhere between a memory and mental time travel into my younger body. I experienced this formerly-forgotten event as if for the first time, and it was only the first of two such flashbacks I’d have that very night at sixteen. As my psychologist and I had been talking about the Doctor flashback, however, it was this that I so desperately wanted his opinion on, so I kept badgering him.

Finally, he let out a reluctant, “I think you had a confrontation with your Shadow.”

Though I knew what he meant, I had but a limited understanding of the concept. Before I had met him I had come across references to Carl Jung in my reading but had never read the words of the man himself. Around twenty years of age, I became rather obsessed with the ideas I found in The Portable Jung, however.

Jung referred to the total personality of an individual as the psyche, which he then broke down into three levels that constantly interacted with one another. The conscious mind, sensibly enough, would constitute everything we’re aware of at the moment. It’s the only sector of the psyche we ever experience directly. Regardless as to whether we have a present sensory experience, remember something or have a dream, we must experience it through consciousness. The personal unconscious is the basement or attic of psyche, the graveyard of the forgotten and repressed or dissociated. It is the giver of dreams and memories, shaper of perceptions, keeper of habitual behavior, passions and tendencies.

He saw yet another level to the psyche, however. Having studied myths from across the world, he saw recurring stories, themes and symbols, and in studying his patients, he saw many of the same themes and symbols manifesting in their dreams, fantasies and behaviors. In an effort to explain this, he posited the collective unconscious, composed of what he referred to as archetypes.

There are two ways of explaining archetypes that make some sense to me, and the first is a useful metaphor. Say that consciousness is a sheet of paper and all of our thoughts, emotions, and memories are iron filings sprinkled atop it. An archetype would constitute a magnet below that paper, arranging those iron filings in a pattern. The pattern of the iron filings provides the only evidence we have of the magnet, however, which we cannot perceive or interact with directly.

Another way of explaining archetypes is to compare them to instincts. They may, in fact, be extensions of them, but even if that’s not the case they serve as a useful metaphor. Upon reading The Portable Jung around twenty years of age, I remember Jung describing how a particular insect was driven to enact incredibly complex behaviors devoid of any training, which was essentially what he saw in his patients. Archetypes may then be seen as a bulk of instincts shared by the species that not only organizes behavior into specific patterns but also governs psychological forms and processes. As a consequence, they manifest not only in our behaviors and relationships but also in the realm of the imagination as well: our personal dreams, projections, hallucinations and delusions as well as in our literature, artwork, myths and religions.

While the manifestations differed from culture to culture and from individual to individual, they did so under certain constraints and in accordance with certain guidelines akin to how instincts function. Like instincts, archetypes are not learned but inherited, not personal but the legacy of our species. Like instincts, they cannot be directly observed, only inferred by their influence, their manifestations, how they arrange behavior and symbolic imagery. Unlike instincts, however, at least as popularly conceived, they influence not only behavior but psychology. It seems to me, as it did when I first read it, that archetypes are really the logical extension of instincts. Why wouldn’t they structure and animate the mind as they inspire and structure behavior?

In any case, Jung argued that these archetypes had a huge influence on the life of every individual and we must gain an understanding of them. To grow, to evolve as individuals, we must make the unconscious conscious, we must expand our consciousness. He warns us not to ignore the archetypal manifestations or to identify with them, but to become aware of them, to subject them to analysis.

All archetypes have a bipolar nature, which is to say they have within themselves what we might categorize as positive and negative qualities. Each archetype is also paired with a polar opposite, or shadow, and their relationship is one of interdependence. Whatever archetype we embody and personalize becomes our Ego, then, which casts its corresponding Shadow into our unconscious minds. The Shadow is essentially the anti-ego, serving as a collection of all we have repressed or have failed to bring out of latency in our conscious personality. We all bear both archetypes, but the degree to which each influences us varies in each individual and over time — and to have an excess of either is to live a life out of balance.

If the Doctor really was my shadow, then, at least at that point in my life, what kind of shadow was he — to what archetype did he correspond? If he constitutes an archetype at all it would by necessity be the Senex, which is Latin for old man. In his positive form, he often manifests as a mentor, wizard or shaman. Merlin, Obi Wan and Yoda are all often-cited examples. Disciplined and wise, he has often come from a distant, foreign land to offer knowledge and guidance. In his negative form, he takes the form of a tyrant, hermit or ogre who is bitter, brutal, greedy and stubbornly resists change. Rigid thinking, strict rules, harsh discipline and hierarchy are emphasized. He’s concerned with time, tradition and science. Prone to taking things seriously, he seldom if ever laughs or seems to enjoy himself. He is cold and distant, associated with depression, winter and death. With his frown, his interest in science, his status of a doctor, his claim that he was both wise and old to the extent of centuries and his clearly alien nature, the Doctor fit the negative end of the Senex polarity a bit too close for me to ignore.

Whether I was projecting the Senex onto the creature or the creature was purely a manifestation of my diseased mind is up for grabs, but at the archetypal level it doesn’t change the insight this might offer me about myself. Nimi, the female alien who used to come and visit me, typically at night, once told me that I was an Artist, that art was my “work.” If I am an Artist, it makes perfect sense that the Doctor, leader of his team of Scientists, would have served as a manifestation of my shadow. I am more creative and emotional; he is more logical and intellectual. As I said earlier, opposite archetypes attract — and Senex would serve as the shadow or antithetical archetype for the archetype Jung called Puer Aeternus, or the “eternal boy.”

Appropriately, the Puer is the predominant archetype when we are young and it focuses on play, as it is through play that we experiment, explore, and ultimately discipline our mind, develop our imagination, master our body and adapt to our environment. The Puer also has a bipolar nature, of course, and at the positive end of the pole you have the Divine Child, reflected in the mythical birth stories of figures such as Heracles, Horus, Cupid, Zoroaster, Moses, Christ, Krishna, and the Buddha. It can manifest as an adult with childlike qualities like Raymond from Rain Man, or a child with adult-like qualities like Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic, Linus of Peanuts fame, or Allie Keys from Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, Taken. Despite coming into this world weak, vulnerable, and dependent on others to satisfy his needs, the Divine Child is powerful in that he attracts the attention of others, inspiring them, bringing joy, wonder and hope for the future. In its positive form, the Puer brings joy and wonder. He is optimistic and fun-loving, curious and creative, idealistic and insightful.

He is also fertile with possibilities and rich with potential, but this is but a temporary condition in our youth by necessity. Jordan Peterson explains that we have more neural connections at birth than we do at any other time in our lives, but that in that state we are essentially low resolution, latent potential. We contain possibilities and probabilities but are nothing for certain at all. Just within two years, however, we lose most of those connections, which he describes as akin to dying into your childhood personality. This is just the first period of neurological pruning we will experience as we grow, a process in which neglected associations are snipped away and only those that have been repeatedly reinforced remain. Use it or lose it: this is evidently how the brain develops what Huxley referred to as it’s “reducing valve.” With each brush-fire of the brain, the dead wood is burned away and our perceptions and character narrow further, specializing, adapting to the specific environment at hand.

As we develop, we come to see things increasingly less as objects and more as “shadows,” as Peterson puts it, though I think Colin Wilson hit closer to the mark when he used the word “symbols.” These symbols are only complex enough to let us do what we need to in order to survive and achieve our goals, little to nothing more. They are mental maps of sufficient detail: no more, no less. In terms of personality, our character becomes more solidified, which is why the hands that mold us when we are still soft are so influential. We further develop a relatively narrow set of unconscious and automatic programs triggered by familiar stimuli, or what Wilson refers to as the Robot Function. It happens again at the end of adolescence, between sixteen and twenty, where you die into the specialized, adult personality into which you are reborn with senses fine-tuned to your surroundings. When approaching adulthood, you settle on one role to the exclusion of all others. You adopt an apprenticeship, and so enter into an extremely narrow and limited training period that develops the appropriate skills. You become more competent at a specific set of things but become largely blind to all else.

Once we’ve adapted to life, after we’ve died to ourselves to do so more than once, we achieve the last half of life. We become the Senex. It is here that Carl Jung thought the proper path in our ongoing development was to come out the other side, that the head of the serpent had to swallow its tail. To adopt the positive qualities of the Senex, the old man must rediscover the child he once was and left behind and reintegrate him into his character. His work now involves opening old doors and rediscovering the world again, accessing new possibilities and regaining his capacity to play. He finds his source of enthusiasm, peace, creativity and joy for life. He not only gets to be what he has earned but regains the potential of the child he was forced to abandon in the process.

In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept known as Shoshin, or “beginner’s mind,” which is essentially a state in which you regain your lost sense of virginity to experience. Free of preconceptions, you approach something in a very present, open and enthusiastic manner. A much-quoted line from Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, summarizes it nicely, explaining how “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” This has clear ties to the positive aspects of the Divine Child and how an adult may integrate that aspect of themselves back into their personality.

This is not, however, the only form and path of the puer, nor is it the one most familiar to me, as I shamefully discovered months ago and has finally begun to set in. It was unnerving to watch a YouTube clip of Jordan Peterson profile the Peter Pan personality type. With every following word, I felt my wince tightening, my heart dropping further, my body sinking deeper into the sofa. My hand went to my forehead as if I were attempting to hide my face from someone in my empty apartment. With every following word, it became increasingly freaky, increasingly clear that he was talking about me. It was the story of the immature man-child, the old infant.

Pan is Greek for “everything,” which is appropriate enough, Peterson tells us, as he is the boy who refuses to grow up. He passionately strives to maintain the latent potential of childhood and resist the actuality of adulthood. This is largely due to his only available adult role model, Captain Hook, who is being chased by a crocodile with a clock always tick-tocking away in its belly. This Peterson refers to as the dragon of chaos, time and death, residing beneath everything. It has already bitten off his hand, in which place he has put the hook that earned him his name, and now the tick-tocking croc has got a taste for him. This, he explains, is a metaphor for what happens when you get older: time keeps biting off pieces of you and sooner or later, it will fulfill its destiny and devour you entirely. Just as a sense of mortality can spawn in some people, this circumstance with the croc traumatizes Hook so much he tries to increase his sense of control over everything, exerting power through cruelty, and so becomes at once a coward and a tyrant.

Seeing Hook for who he is, Peter Pan understandably refuses to end up that way, generalizes Hook as a characterization of adulthood as a whole and so naturally elects to extend his own childhood indefinitely. He flies off to Neverland, a place that doesn’t exist, to become King of the Lost Boys, which Peterson describes as a band of losers who can’t get their act together. Then one day it seems that his Shadow (which Peterson never seems to mention, despite being a fan of Jung and despite some clear correlations with the archetype of the same name) has somehow become detached from him and led him to London, into the bedroom of Wendy. She proves to be a mature girl that accepts her mortality and wants to have children one day. He sacrifices a potential relationship with Wendy, a real girl, however, and continues to content himself with Tinkerbell, an imaginary substitute, essentially the Fairy of Pornography, as Peterson suggested.

Though I’ve never read or heard it serving as an example, I think Rob Fleming, the lead character in Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel High Fidelity (and the subsequent 2000 film), certainly qualifies as a puer. There were two lines in that movie that articulated what Peterson’s saying here in a different way. One involved keeping options open to ensure you can always back out and never get trapped in something; the other, his realization that committing to nothing constitutes suicide by small increments.

A man in the grips of this shadow aspect of the puer aeternus detests restriction and oppression and values liberty and independence. He covets individuality and personal liberty. Individual freedom to the fullest extent. Unrestrained instinct, chaos and intoxication excite him. Limitations, restrictions and oppression are intolerable. He refuses the call to adventure into maturity, shying away from adulthood. Fearing commitment, this emotional adolescent forever extends his “temporary” life because he fears that in making a move he might lose himself and be caught in a trap of a career or imprisoned in a marriage.

Peterson emphasizes the fatal flaw in Peter Pan’s presumptions: you grow up whether you want to or not. Though you can postpone maturity in our culture without suffering an immediate penalty, Peterson stresses, the penalty accrues, and then when it finally hits, it hits much harder. You can be lost and clueless at 25, as it’s acceptable that you’re just trying things out at that age. When you’re instead in your 30s or 40s, people tend to be less understanding. You a have become a 40-year-old King of the Lost Boys, a man-child, an old infant, a living corpse of a child. So you might as well manifest some of that potential in a particular direction and choose to become something as opposed to nothing.

I’m 39. I’ll be 40 this November. Many who know me would undoubtedly say quite confidently that this is me in a nutshell. Since shortly after my high school career came to a close in 1997, I began referring to adulthood as the 13th grade and arguing that adults did not, in fact, exist. What we took to be adults were just children wearing masks, putting on costumes and trying to play the roles the culture tells them to play. They aren’t mature adults, they’ve just achieved that state of “seizure” a child experiences when playing a game of “as if,” as Joseph Campbell has put it, though not in this context. They mistook the game for reality, their masks for their true and original face, their roles for their souls. I always refused to do any of that. I opted out.

My most recent experience on psilocybin mushrooms seemed to communicate, among other things, that reality was a sort of multifaceted illusion, sort of a system of games, and the appropriate response was not to forfeit but to play. This resonated with the “child” theme that has followed me throughout my life and took in a rather life-like quality in the context of my strange experiences just shy of two decades ago. The ultimate message in the psilocybin experience was to play the game we call society or culture, to try and make this ride a meaningful one, to take these games seriously while simultaneously keeping in mind that it was all illusion and was ultimately of no consequence.

Now I find that the observations of those such as Jung and Peterson seem to suggest that it is futile to forfeit the game anyway, for in doing so you turn into precisely what I have become: an old infant, a man-child. Peter Pan in the flesh.

As additional reinforcement, there remains the fact that I’m still not convinced that a single, actual adult exists on earth. I still think our game is essentially stupid, but I am beginning to regret not having taken the game seriously, not choosing a role to play and having time force me into a rather pathetic and meaningless one. I’ve resisted intimate relationships, kept friends and family at an arm’s length, and have remained in an extended “temporary” job more suitable for high school kids. Fast food should serve as a sort of “scared straight” program to inspire kids to go to college and make something out of themselves so they don’t have to suffer this fate into their forties. For some, it’s worked out just fucking dandy; evidently, it has failed to work for me to this point. I’ve forfeited the game and remain here in a fast food McNeverland just because I’m afraid to play the role of the adult.

I should have identified an appropriate adult role for myself right out of high school, but I was too wrapped up in the craziness of what had happened, too depressed and anxious, too damned undisciplined and unstructured. I thought that of myself even then. I could have finished college when I finally went in my thirties, but the crippling anxiety that shot through the roof when I again attempted public speaking paralyzed me and I fled. I could have been a master of the visual arts and writing by now, translating what is in my mind more effectively. I might be living off my passions and expressing myself through play as a way of life.

I fucked up.

After enough sessions, the aforementioned psychologist gave me a homework assignment: to master the mundane. He told a tale of students going off on a vision quest, receiving a profound one, and returning to their master, excited for the next step, invariably disappointed when the master told them to chop wood and carry water. I needed to have my feet planted firmly on the ground, he told me. I needed a career, friends, a girlfriend. What he was saying makes more sense now than ever: I needed to go through the process Peterson described. And I didn’t, not really, and here I am, two decades later, with an inner child deserving of an outer adult to nurture it — an outer adult I have I have utterly failed to develop and provide.

Sex, Religion, and Thought-Tracks.

For the last few months, I’ve been keeping up with the daily samatha meditation. I’ve noticed that my mind is back on hyperdrive lately, perhaps an effect of the meditation and the fact that I’ve stopped drinking. Again, I’ve noticed that much as I keep a bare minimum of three folders open at once on my laptop, I keep at least two distinct tracks of thought going on in my mind at once and hop between them. Today my mind’s been bouncing between the subject of religion and the subject of sex.

With respect to the religious track, it has a definite source. Monica came into work last night, though it was her day off. The live-in boyfriend and her had gotten drunk and she left before they got into another fight, and now, clearly inebriated, she sat down in the dining room while I was cleaning and began spilling to me. It didn’t take her long to bring up the subject of a god, though this is not a conversation she’s had with me to any extent before.

Since she can’t believe in people, she explains, she believes in god to get her through life. She just talks to “him” and asks if he’ll help her get through the day. If she didn’t believe in god, she confesses, she wouldn’t be able to take it. She’d kill herself.

Just try it, she tells me. Just wake up and decide to believe.

As I try to explain to her as gently as I’m able, I don’t think I’m wired the same way, because it just doesn’t work for me.

When I realized I didn’t believe in a god back in high school, for a brief time I saw it’s lack of existence as a bad thing — until I subjected it to analysis. Then I realized it just fucking wasn’t. In addition to the fact that there is no convincing evidence suggesting the existence of such a creative, cosmic intelligence, I also see no evidence that believing despite the lack of evidence has any real, practical utility as a coping mechanism — at least for me. I know it makes her and others feel comfortable, fills them with hope, but I was never able to understand why. A totalitarian, cosmic father figure that draws the lines between right and wrong, dangling the carrot of forever-heaven in front of us and hovering the whip of eternal hell just behind — well, it just doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

If such a god did indeed exist, he would, in my humble opinion, be the biggest asshole conceivable. I wouldn’t support him anyway.

Talking to her, though, I leave that part out.

She tells me it doesn’t have to be that, but that I should just “believe in something.” I never understood it when people said that. What do they mean? That we all have to invest uncritical certitude in the notion that a creator of the universe exists? That we all should have blind, unquestioning servitude in some external force? Neither seems necessary to me. Neither seems healthy. Any way you slice it, no god — not even The God of the Infinitely Vague — seems attractive to me.

I tell her I see evidence suggestive of reincarnation and that consciousness is but a resident of the body, that there may be other planes of existence or parallel universes our consciousness can access — that I am an atheistic dualist. But her god, her Jesus, the concept of original sin, the notion of heaven and hell? I can’t, don’t, won’t swallow it. And the notion that this singular book — anthology, really — is a guidebook for life? I don’t see it. That shit just never made sense to me.

I can cherry-pick stories and lines from Dr. Seuss that are as relevant to life. The bible doesn’t stand out as a book, let alone a guidebook, sorry.

I don’t say all of this to her. I like her. And if it keeps her from killing herself, let her have the crutches. I’m thankful something is keeping her alive, even if it’s bullshit. But I can’t stomach it. And my mind and my soul relents as well.

So that religion was on my mind makes sense given last night’s conversation, but the thought-track dealing with sex? That’s another matter. The memories just sprung out at me from nowhere; jumped into my consciousness from the seeming void, unprovoked.

Once, when Claire and I were going out during high school, I was with her at night in the front seat of a large vehicle. It may have been my old Celebrity, my first car, but for some reason, I remember being higher up, as if in the front seat of someone’s truck. In any case, we were parked at night in the dirt lot beside a house just around the block, where her cousin went to practice in his band. I wish I remembered how it started, specifically if I actually had the balls to initiate it, but my hand was down her pants. Fingers worming around. It was warm, moist, wonderful. I was working away as I watched the illuminating expressions wash over her beautiful face. She seemed to be enjoying it, but I was forever uncertain, and I remember getting incredibly nervous, certain that I was doing something wrong, and ended up stopping. I later confessed this to her and she stated the obvious: that if she seemed to be enjoying it I should have just kept the fuck at it.

I never had sex with her. I had better get the chance and take it before I die. At least once. Bare minimum.

Even after I lost my virginity at age twenty, after it blew my mind, I didn’t do that again for five years. It seemed to establish a pattern of sorts, one in which I would suffer enduring periods with no sex (I’m on a seven-year-stretch right now, as a matter of fact, and it stands as the longest period of inactivity yet), punctuated by short periods where I make up for lost time. Anne, the complex gal who took my virginity, probably fit the profile of a nymphomaniac, but it always seemed to me that she just liked sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that. During the last time we were together, I remember her telling me that our sex drives were similar, and how, based on that, she didn’t understand how I could go so long not having any sex at all. I reminded her that I was a rather chronic masturbator, but its true, it’s not at all the same thing. So am I a self-denying nympho, then?

I also remembered when Anne came back from Texas, how I had sex for the first time in years, and out of nowhere, in the midst of me doing the ol’ in-out, she spanked me on the ass.

I stopped a moment. She then asked, and I confirmed: Indeed, I like that.

Over time, she was interested in letting me try out new things. I bobbed in the muff for the first time, we had sex while we both watched porn, had sex in a chair until her greyhound tried to cut in.

I thought to myself how I haven’t had sex since I started smoking pot, and given that it makes masturbation infinitely better, I’m really eager to do the real thing in that state of body-mind. I need to find an interesting, pothead girl who wants to stone-bone rather than simply continue to engage in my nightly, solo weed-whacking.

Why has the desire suddenly flared up like this? Is it because I’ve stopped drinking and my sex drive isn’t buried by the haze that it’s been on my mind again lately?

And why am I ping-ponging betwixt sex and the religious issue in my head today, specifically? As I chewed on that for the latter half of my work shift, it struck me again that there’s probably a link between our romantic feelings for a significant other and their religious feelings for a goddess or god. To me, this helps explain why conservative men talk about Jesus in a manner that in any other context would, to their ears if no one else’s, sound blatantly homosexual. It also makes sense out of the hypnodomme thing, as they seem to strive to link sexual, romantic and religious feelings through hypnosis in order to condition some heightened sense of drooling worship and control in their subjects. I’m glad I got out of watching those videos at the same time that I kicked the booze: once I blew the nightly load, and certainly after I sobered, the thought that I was watching those videos made me feel nauseous.

I am more apt to deal with Pagans and Buddhists; their concepts are more attractive to me. Eastern religions in general, and Native American beliefs, they fascinate me. Even Satanism seems to have some merit, at least one form if it. Not that I could be certain I’d ever call them my own.

Maybe I need to have sex with a Pagan stoner with Buddhist leanings or something. Let today’s mental tracks crisscross, let those trains of thought collide.

Three Cheers for Andy.

After having watched Weeds over the course of two weeks or so, I really came to like the show. While the dialogue can’t beat Californication by any means, it was still damned good. In the beginning, I was of course taken by Nancy — sexy, caffeine-guzzling, naughty in numerous respects — but as the series wore on it became abundantly clear that she was a deceitful, power-hungry, control-thirsty, manipulative bitch. I could never quite root for her like I nearly always could with respect to Andy Botwin, the brother of Nancy’s (first) late husband.

Between Nancy and Andy there was an all-too-typical circumstance: a caring though immature and altogether lost man-child becomes the rock for an intelligent, sexy, manipulative woman who appears to love or at least fuck every guy around her save for the one guy who actually knows and loves her. I was worried how the circumstance would turn out when the series came to an end, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was by no means a “happily ever after,” for which I am thankful, nor did it go out with a bang in the sense of death and disaster. Instead, there was a more realistic sense of closure — Doug reestablished a connection with his son, Silas refused to get in between his wife and Nancy, her other son vowed to get his shit together, and Nancy seemed to gain an unspoken realization about her own issues. Though we were not shown this to be resolved, such a realization given her character was a sufficient turning point — and it seemed to finally hit her like a ton of bricks through the wise words of Andy.

Nancy always said good things about Andy, but evidently, he was never good enough in her eyes to give him a chance in the sense of a romantic, intimate relationship. I got angry at her for him. I tend to do this often in real life, too, for the record — another tendency I’d prefer to exorcise. But the way it all ended for him was better than I had expected.

It all revealed his growth as a person, and how he had grown a backbone with respect to her specifically — no longer allowing her to emotionally manipulate him. Andy had finally built his own life, pursued his own passion, and while he confessed to her that he loved her and always will, he simply couldn’t be around her — and that he was unwilling to sacrifice the life he had built to be with her, or even have her in his life again, as he was finally happy.

Three cheers for Andy.

Brief the Blink.

Your eyes, wide
and narrowed
down on me. Knee-high

boots, black leather,
assorted kink
and occult, darkly

melodic
products of your lips:
it all draws me in, inspires
soul nausea, elicits

enantiodromia,
on into flashing
images, typed commands,
polyrhythmic voices

making their rounds,
pumping lead like a machine gun,
polluting consciousness

one way or the other:

submissive
or dominant,
either top dog or under,
whether oppressed or oppressor,

pulling
attention, narrowing
essence
towards psychological
absorption.

Release. Ecstatic. Peek
dead into my alien soul,
despite how brief the blink

between these two dual,
extreme states of madness.