A short piece written in 2008.
by Marcus Jonathan Chapman
This is the age of dissonance and divide, of fuck-you’s at school and prayers at home. The age of staring at girls. The age of exploring with fingers and untimely boners. The age of fantasizing about teachers and noticing mothers. This is the age of anger, of threatening teachers aids with a baseball bat. Of starting a reputation of unsportsmanlike conduct and hot-blooded tantrums.
Was it emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual trauma? A combination of all or any of the aforementioned? I don’t know. I hardly have any child hood memories. I feel stunted, less mature to deal with different stages of life and only until I’ve moved on to a new era or age do I feel all at once adept and inadequate all over again. Walking around pretending. An actor who highlighted the wrong parts of the script. Always wondering what it is that I am lacking and what it is so obvious to everyone but me. A theory, a specific method, a grammatical rule, a particular pronunciation, an author, a book, a piece of music or art, a historic event, an historic figure, the latest news, a cooking method, a social cue. So anxious and apprehensive about impeding my progress by misquoting, declaring a stupidity. I speak to strangers in a series or pattern of jests and facts; the language of the unconfident, the vernacular of the low-self esteemed. Sticking to things that are only true or saying things that are so over the top no one could dispute their falsehood, which is another type of truth. Steering clear of conviction or opinion or belief or individual truth. That isn’t easy. That is an un-lubricated trajectory.
What is my identity? What is my heritage? My background? My culture? I was born in the hospital of a city that was built around it. A mecca for Seventh-day Adventists wealthy enough to afford private schools but connected enough to get a discount. Long lines of last names trail the university’s history. New faces same names. A thriving enterprise in the middle of a decaying county/city. The navel-gazing institution growing to the tune of its own demand.
It’s a part of the story but not yet.
My mother was born in Spain. Emigrated to California at eighteen because she met my father. My father the son of an American soldier/missionary and a converted ex-catholic. He lived in Spain, Kenya, the pacific peninsula, and Oakland, California. From what he tells me, Oakland was tougher on him than the African wild ever was. Being the only white boy in a predominantly black school is the wrong reason to stand out. I was born the son of a teacher and a part-time hustler. My father taught Spanish, physical education and history at a small Adventist school in Redlands, California. My sister, four years younger was born the daughter of an attorney and a part-time hustler. In the time between my arrival on earth and my sisters, my father had quit teaching, moved us all to Canoga Park, Los Angeles and finished a law degree in two years.
I’m not sure how confident people are in their memories but I am not. I don’t know whether my active imagination recreated images to go along with the stories I was told so many times or if they are actual memories. In either case, none are very vivid. Foggy glimpses more than anything else. I’m also not sure if it’s my focus on the present or moving forward that makes me apprehensive about remembering things. What I do remember are emotions and lessons as they relate to this idea I have of the big picture. How things fit into the grand scheme. Exactly what or whose scheme it is, I don’t know. But I feel that I am constantly trying to zoom out, to view things from a more global perspective. When in fact I envy those who wear their hearts on their sleeves and keep the truth on the tips of their tongues.
A healthy amount of anxiety should also accompany the sudden thought of a memory. I become anxious because I have doubts that things actually happened as I remember them. And of course their are those vivid moments of drunken times that are ironically remembered. The moments of clarity that are the most clear in all the fog of the mind. Which I believe have to do with the reason why I drank. To come to terms with the way things are, to deal with life, to know that I live with a certain amount of privilege unearned brings a sharp dissonance. I do not call it guilt bit it’s a feeling of being the teacher’s pet, of being chosen first, of winning the lottery. It makes me think that god has less than pure motives for me if I am the teachers pet. But god and all the infinitesimal constructs that keep his wobbly frame standing have one fault. A fault that I will never be able to get over, even on my most optimistic days. Knowing that belief is a leap between two cliffs of knowledge or more often a leap off a cliff. The very fact that the idea of god was planted early and everything that comes with it, both good and bad are man made. Everything is man made. Our narratives put humanity at the center of the plot. Adam and Eve were to take care of the animals and the earth. But who would take care of Adam and Eve? Save for our meddling, the animals seem to be getting along fine. I will never be able to move past the thought that men continue to be confident about god. I myself can be confident about love, anger, sadness, hatred, integrity, etcetera. But what does that have to do with god? If I create my own god who is serving whom? Because I wish not to drink alcohol anymore, there are some who say that a belief in a power greater than myself is the only thing that will save me. Again if I create my god, what is saving me? And another rickety construct is born and it climbs in a jagged fashion along with the rest of the thin, beams to support an idea. An idea we call god (or whatever name) with infinitesimal foundations.
I continue to struggle with these existential thoughts but then ironically Jesus comes to mind. He was mostly about people. There are people around me all the time and when this thought crosses my mind I get disgusted with myself for staring up at the sky and ignoring what’s around me. People in my family, the people I was born to and those who are in close proximity, the people who have similarities and empathize. The people who help me and the people who need help. So I help and then I notice all the people that need help. We are everywhere. The more I help the more I realize I need help. And because I was raised to love myself as I love my neighbor I stop helping others and turn the help inwards. Some people call this selfish. They can go fuck themselves. (Which we all do anyway but because no one likes to talk about it or even recognize that it’s a normal part of life, we are offended when someone says go fuck yourself).
My interpretation of the golden rule is a good example of the constructs. Someone might hear my belief and hold a similar belief, the pastor of a mega-church may share their belief and an entire congregation will send up thousands of supports to hold up their version of the vagaries we all seem to insist upon. While I might knock down some people’s constructs, some other constructs will rise in its place, directly as a result of my cutting others down. There is no action that adds without subtracting or subtracts without adding. The idea that one is good and the other is bad is simply another part of the same vagaries we all maintain. Every person in a giant sphere. Close, but no one exactly on the same plane. Each one of us with a slightly different perspective than the person next to them. Each perspective growing more and more different until you look up and see the person directly opposite you in the sphere. You will think he is above and you below. The problem, is he may think exactly the same thing about you. So we draw lines. Lines from person to person, creating understanding. Yet this mostly fails because each line has a motive, so in reality there are two parallel lines running from person to person rather than a two way exchange, back and forth. There is instead a line for one and a line for the other: while one person shows their perspective, the other person does the same, simultaneously. Neither one paying attention to the other.