Yesterday I applied to jobs in Chicago and Indianapolis. My dark suspicions have been confirmed. There’s nothing to do here, no way to make money other than managing a taco bell. The co-op where I worked for years is declining. The coffee here is godawful and no one is hiring. I thought that being around family would be enough. But I was wrong, as I so often am.
If I’ve ever been right about anything, it’s about being wrong. It’s a start.
The midwestern small town is a wasteland. I romanticized it. From a distance it seemed cohesive and comfortable. Up close it appears arid and hopeless. The people are portly and plodding. Poor whites are marginally better than poor blacks. Less murderous but still depressing to behold.
I’ve been thinking of tradition and continuity and rootedness but you can’t make up for what you never had. At some point you have to accept your condition, the real roots of your existence. And for me, those roots are individualism, cynicism and anomie.
My tradition is rejection of tradition. My history is discontinuous, jagged, subtractive, a project of the piecemeal. Succession without progression. Alternation without improvement. Serial but unserious.
I’m modern and postmodern, inconsistent, a product of my time, a solitary stream of consciousness. A natural deconstructionist picking through the scrap heap of a crumbling civilization. I grew up in a casually liberal, atheistic home, a secular island in a sea of holdover christianity. The west is no longer christian, they say. When I was a kid everyone I knew was a christian except for me and my parents.
I never decided to be faithless. There was nothing rational about my unbelief. It was always a feeling, a mood, a deep foundation I couldn’t examine or change. My rejection of religion was a reflex, not an achievement of reason.
When I contemplate death and nullity my soul cries out for god, for wisdom and redemption. I feel the vacuity of modern secular life and its sterile pleasures, its senseless sensations. And then my attention wanders. Distraction is a defense against terror. Entertainment papers over an abyss. But even knowledge is a diversion, and reading scholarly articles in american affairs serves the same purpose as hemorrhaging hours with netflix. It’s all to forget, to defer.
I remember reading Pascal, who berated early modern man’s dim disregard of his eternal destination. For Pascal, what’s unbelievable is unbelief. What’s absurd is the refusal to confront absurdity. I remember thinking his wager was bullshit because you can’t force sincerity. You can’t calculate your advantage when it comes to faith.
But I missed the point. It doesn’t matter how you acquire faith. What you feel is irrelevant but what you do is important. And when you kneel and pray you act from faith even if you don’t feel it. Over time the feeling will match the act, and then your initial acts will have retroactively come from a place of earnest belief.
Maybe I’m still missing the point and I’ll never get it. Maybe there’s something funny about that. Life can at least force a wry smile out of you.