*Editor’s note: This is the first in the series of columns by Brian Eckert, entitled “Dispatches from the Abyss.” We aim to bring these to you fortnightly.
People hear me people
Do you know what it means to be left alone?
I live by myself. I work at home. I should probably get out more, but almost nobody calls. The birds that come to my feeder and occasionally talk to me are beginning to wonder whether everything is OK. I am, without a doubt, more alone now than I’ve ever been.
Success at last.
After nearly a decade of wandering the world, seeking edification through experience, I’ve come to the following conclusion: finding yourself means losing everyone else. For the voyage of self-discovery is the beginning of a much larger quest for self-transcendence. It will take you to all sorts of far-flung places, provided you have the resolve to follow the path wherever it leads. Just don’t expect anyone to follow you.
The path has led me from West to East and back again…to so many countries and crash pads I’ve lost track…across borders and time zones and comfort zones…down blind alleyways and up mountaintops… through mud and shit, through shadows and sunshine…in and out of love, in and out of trouble, in and out of consciousness…over the edge, under the gun, between the lines, below the surface. It’s led me on a wild goose chase. It’s led me to question my sanity. It’s led me here, to a contractor’s-beige-colored room in a Denver apartment. In what direction it’s leading me I have no idea. I’m more confused now, more turned around and twisted up, than when I started.
It’s true what they say, that the more you learn, the less you know. I traveled the world in order to learn that the world is hopelessly complicated and getting more complicated all the time. Proposing any grand theory at this point seems absurd. Hypothesis non fingo. I feign no hypothesis.
Instead, I reserve the right to change my mind about anything and everything, to contradict myself completely, to swing from high to low, low to high, at each moment. This to me seems the only sane way to approach life, because let’s face it: things fall apart more often than they don’t.
Know thyself, as the Delphic maxim teaches, and you will know what Socrates did: that you know nothing. This Socratic paradox—the type of stuff that got history’s most prominent gadfly killed—is one of many paradoxes to be uncovered in the pursuit of answers to life’s most persistent questions (namely, what in the fuck is going on here, exactly, and what am I supposed to be doing?). Indeed, I would argue that anything not in the nature of a contradiction is not worth pursuing.
As you scramble after truth, each finding raises more questions, usually more difficult to answer ones. The mystery deepens. True enough is substituted for true. The believable and the unbelievable become strange bedfellows. Opposites merge and the veil begins to lift. But always just a peep. Enough to keep you going.
And keep going I will, despite the scarcity of light trickling down to the forest floor. Onward I march, even though it sometimes feels like all I’m doing is forgetting and remembering the same thing over and over.
At an age when most people are leading lives that increasingly resemble those of their parents, I am preparing to slog into terra incognita. Turning back now would be an admission of acrophobia.
Which is why, despite longing for them in moments of despair, I will not retreat to the bonds of family, friendship, partnership, the ties to places, states, ideas, that were necessarily broken in my ascent to desolate peaks. The next step is to explore the abyss.
Occasionally, though, characters from the past reemerge like ghosts. I have a love of the supernatural, so I always welcome their company.
The call comes from an old friend who I worked with during my days of teaching English in Korea. I agree to visit him at his apartment in a Denver suburb, where he lives with his Korean bride and two-year-old daughter.
Now out of the teaching game, the only employment he has been able to secure back in the States is for a fracking company. As he tells me this over the phone I curse the oil men sons-of-bitches and the crude, dirty work they offer to desperate Americans. I imagine a scenario in which he comes home after a long shift smelling of diesel fumes, his hands streaked with grime that never washes clean. He lifts up his daughter with his sullied hands, leaving black marks on her baby soft skin and fabric-softener-scented clothes. In this scenario that I create, his wife, scared and overwhelmed by life in America, lies silently, expressionlessly, on her back, wishing her husband didn’t smell the way he did, while he pumps away at her like a drilling rig.
The reality of his life could not be more different than the black thoughts I assign to it. He is clean, healthy, and quite likes his job. His wife and daughter are beautiful, smiling creatures. The three of them, in fact, share the sort of domestic bliss that I have ruled out for myself.
The further I go on this mission for truth, for freedom, for authenticity, for trying to find the words to express what very well might be inexpressible, or may not be at all, the further I am removed from society and the people in it and the things those people hold near and dear. To go to a friend’s house and see him with a beautiful wife and daughter, to know that he is probably as happy as he should reasonably expect to be, is to feel the heartbreak of acknowledging there is something inside of me that won’t let me enjoy that same reasonable standard of happiness.
The tradeoff—or at least what I hope will be the tradeoff—is the discovery in the immense space I have created around myself of a contentment unknowable in the context of the ordinary. Maybe someday I’ll even stop writing about my struggle towards the undefinable. Perhaps in the full light of consciousness literature will fall away like a vestigial tail. Until then, dear readers, I hope you enjoy these Dispatches From the Abyss.
My friend and I stay up late talking after his girls are in bed. At around 1 a.m. he joins them. I’m left alone to look up at the stars and backwards in time. From the master bedroom come moans of pleasure. The air conditioner compressor turns on, drowns the world in a soft mechanical hum, and I am glad for it.