"...My Barbaric Yawp..."
Steve and I have this late-night tradition that puzzles every one of our friends and hallmates. We fight. To be specific, we take up a vast array of weaponry (a lone sai, a pair of nunchuku, a Knights of Columbus sabre, and an assortment of hand-crafted implements such as a wooden bodken and several staves of varying length and density) and...beat the shit out of each other.
Usually the games end when A) all available artillery is shattered, B) someone acquires a wound that proves more interesting than the combat itself, or C) one or both of our girlfriends arrive and start shouting invectives at us. They don't follow our transition from abase to abuse to amuse. They don't know why we burn the ends of sticks until the embers glow and then hold the searing ends against our forearms. They don't understand much about us at all. Not many people do. I'm not sure I do, so I thought I'd try writing it out in the hopes that perhaps my fingers would see deeper than I do.
There seems to be two important components to all of our "questionable activities." The common denominator in all of our games is risk: serious, personal. Playing for chips or points just doesn't elict the competitive edge in us, because inside we know that we really don't care who ends up with the highest score; the taste of blood stirs a more primal excitement. That excitement, that drive is the second factor: sensation; hightened levels of perception and stimulation. I've been called a masochist enough times that the name has stuck, like "nigger" to an Afro-American. I know you're tired of us quoting Canadian drummers rather than thinking for ourselves, but it's Neil's words that echo in my mind when we try to "make each sensation a little bit stronger." How does Thoreau say it, "to suck the marrow out of life"? So we do these things, grapple like lovers in the cement tunnels and kick 'til we've no breath left to wheeze out, to ride "life on the razor's edge" and "make each impression a little bit stronger."
There are so few opportunities for either in this modern age of creature-comfort and seat-belts! How can you enjoy life if you never fear its loss? That's like love without jealousy: "take away the love and the anger...take away the stone and the timber, and a little piece of rope won't hold it together" (Kate Bush). Risk, danger, fear--these are all very essential things! When I went prowling down those dark alleyways last night, I was scared witless--but I was living, in the deepest and dearest sense of the word, because I had rarely been so close to dying. Take my driving: there are people in Florida and in Ohio who flat out refuse to ride with me, because they think I'm dangerous. They're right--I am. "From the point of ignition / To the final drive / The point of a journey / Is not to arrive." The point of the journey is to walk, to run, to careen down Heidegger's Holzweg; well, maybe not careen, but move in whatever manner keeps your eyes open and your senses awake. Because caution and painstaking care all too often engage your attention in such little details that you may as well be blinded to the deepest sensations of life. Love. Hate. Take these as examples or as imperatives, but take them.
Do you not wish to hate? It is a powerful force! Maybe it is destructive in nature and intent, but can you truly say there is nothing in this world worthy of despite? Maybe it damages too the one who harbors it overlong in his heart, but so does locking the doors of feeling. "We don't want to be victims / On that we all agree / So we lock up the killer instinct / And throw away the key;" but I would couple that line with another Rush lyric, one written over a decade earlier and in a much different context: "Use the key, unlock the door / See what your fate might hold in store..." I guess what I'm talking about is living according to your nature, even if such life contradicts the rules of "common sense." "Common sense"--what a wonderful phrase! Who wants to limit themselves to common sensations, mundane perception? I don't! If "common" sense suggests a long life of security while "extraordinary" sense entails an early and possibly ugly death, I'd take the latter!
Last year when I was "gone," Jay and Steve had a couple of "barbarian feasts"--meals of tough bread, strong cheese, hot wine, and rare meat, devoured in rough-hewn chunks torn by ready fingers and gnashing teeth--damn the cholesterol! They may have violated every rule of polite dining since Kubla Khan, but they appreciated the venison as what it was--the flesh of a young deer, brought to a crashing fall whilst targetted mid-leap in a hunter's sights. "Behind the finer feelings-- / This civilized veneer-- / The heart of a lonely hunter / Guards a dangerous frontier." I'm stepping out of my territory, out of pop theology into deeper waters, but isn't that a part of Kant's insistence that we recognize "the thing itself"? That we look at each particular of life, and see it, not for its colours or shapes or molecular structure, but for the essense that cries out from within. People compliment themselves when they make time to "stop and smell the roses," but how many will let themselves release their labels and preconceptions of "rose" to sense the reality of "rose-ness," feel the assault of its vibrant colours against their retinae, touch the terrible fierceness of its protective thorns, scent the tragic odour of its perfume, and see that all of those things and more conceal yet reveal the unique elixir that is "rose?"
I think Steve has written an entry or two on "Calvinball," the game of life as played by Bill Waterson's adorable six-year-old terror. The attraction of the game lies in its one rule: that it can never be played the same way twice. Making up new rules at random is at the heart of play, because it constantly reminds you that you're not playing for the rules--you play for the game itself, and the game is not defined by its rules. Rules only get in the way, make themselves seem important until they're all you ever pay attention to. Somehow, by divine revelation or a deeper sight within, Calvin knows this, and refuses to let life become subjugated by the rules adults endlessly try to impose on children. He even assumes a sort of emissary status as he tries to break his sweetie Susie away from the grip of the Enemy. I suppose I am endorsing Calvinball as a superior mode of living, as perhaps the only valid way to live. Steve and I have adopted it as a lifestyle, I think. It's the only game we play anymore, because beside it all others pale into dreary routine. No fear. No pain. No experience at all.
Have you ever played Dungeons and Dragons, or sat in on a session? Although there really is no way to "win" as such, it does contain a point system with which to rank personas and their relative successes: characters are awarded "experience points" for playing, living, according to their natures. Fighters are given points for fighting well; priests for following the dictates of their conscience and their deity; mages for academic and scholastic mastery; and bards for singing and swilling ale. Even thieves are honored for being dishonorable in accordance with their aptitude and profession. But the only way to progress, to make any sense out of the mad maze of the Dungeon Master's mind, is to live well, and live right. Right as rain, if you're a druid; but right as hell if you happen to be demon-spawn. Of course, D & D characters have the advantage of always knowing precisely what their nature is--it's printed right there in the Player's Handbook. In real life we're not always so lucky, but we can always strive.
I don't do conclusions; they always seem to be either redundant or unnaturally upbeat. This essay had a beginning, a middle, and an end, then repeated itself with several examples. If the moral wasn't clear in the text, I can't do anything about it now. So good-bye.