Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quitting the Cardboard Life

I remember my cousin's wedding in Las Vegas. I remember being on a plane heading to Las Vegas. Close by is a man who wears the uniform of a motorcycle rebel: black leather pants, green beret worn backwards, a sleeveless black leather vest, and big fu Manchu beard that highlights his ruddy weathered skin. He flips with his graying brown hair like a woman on the make, and a declares life good and his need to party.and getting drunk. True to his rebellious stance he orders two beers for himself and two for the sun-beaten woman with him. His motto “Its not the destination, it’s the journey” broadcast from a patch on the back his vest, turning his back into a meaningless billboard. He declares his intent to take sin city for all its money and to party for the whole weekend. He wants to be rich, and do things his own way.

What I find is that “his own way” such a cliché. He’s a perfect P T Barum sucker and complete unaware of being a sucker. He strives to be a bad boy, flaunting authority, but he fully conforms to the “bad boy” role created for him completely out of the Harley Davis marketing department. While he would like to think of himself as a rebel who makes his own way, his real existence comes from powers wanting to sell him an image. He has sold his soul for this total prepackaged image. He will lose money in Vegas. He and is girl will go to a show or two. He will drink to excess, and in the end declare his time in Vegas was baddest time ever, and only give vague descriptions punctuated by What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas slogan. Life moves past him.

What makes a rebel? a yell? a stance? a uniform?

I think about the impressionists who lost in their battle with the academic painters. The impressionist wanted art to express life. The academic paints where about technique and history. Most of the Academic paintings played with an idealized history of France, and wanted to glorify the French republic’s self created image. Their paintings were lifeless even in the beauty. The impressionist revolted against the lifelessness in painting. They wanted to express life through their use of light and color. In the contest between the two, it would seem a foregone conclusion, the impressionist should win, even though the academics had the structural advantage of controlling the institutions of art. The life in their paintings would win over the lifelessness of the academics. Indeed, history claims that the impressionists won the day and art followed them. But the impressionists, like rebels that would follow them, really lost. In their reaction to being rejected, they created a persona of the rebel. Lost was the original impulse to capture life. The role of the rebel won over the wonder and the urge to capture the massiveness of life.The post impressionist history of art is full of artists that journeyed to Paris to play the role of starving artist rebel. The impressionist impulse to encounter life became a template to follow, a role to play and avoid  the act of living.

The urge to explore and capture life will put one at odds with the world that wants simple answers. The betrayal of humanity happens in the instant, when forced into a prepackage of a role without incarnating into living being. We are all husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters. Each of us see the world differently and there is no need to buy into a cutout of life. To forge out a life is to quite the expected role and live into life as it is. This does not mean a habitual breaking of conventions, like the motorcycle rebel, because today's rebels are tomorrow's conformists like the guy heading toward his prepackaged Vegas trip. Being alive, noticing the world around you, the earth you walk on, this will put one at odds with a world were image is king.

I have also felt the temptation to live into a preformed image. Being the good kid, or being the rebel poet. Yet, to find the good life or to be a poet is to awake to the world and see it new everyday. To pray and be transformed in the moment of prayer, to be open in being with another, these are scary and will lead to suffering as well of joy. Quitting playing the prefab roles takes courage. Sometimes I have this courage. Other times the courage is beyond me. I have learn to quit being the know it all guy, and being open to the grand mystery.

Martin Buber's I and Thou gives a view a humanity which has to modes of living. One in which the world and all that is in it, other human beings, mountains, and the rest, are seen as objects to be experience, manipulated, and controlled. The other is the world of relating to the world, open to be transformed in the moment of encounter with life, the other, and the scared. In one mode, to see the world as objects, has to simplify life. To live in the world of objects is both necessary and not evil, but only living in that world dries us out. Only be those moments of living in relationship are we fully alive. Living in relationship means the willingness to give up our beloved forms of existing each time love presents itself in the beauty of a landscape, the eyes of another, or when the world becomes an expression of the Divine. Life happens in the quitting of expectations.

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