Sunday, January 29, 2012

Roget and Kierkegaard: Keep Moving Forward

"Continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" Philippians 2:12
**Van Gogh's "At the Threshold of Eternity"
"If anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to outcome, he should never begin." Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
"Keep Moving Forward" is the theme of Disney's animated feature Meet the Robinsons.  In this narrative, we meet Lewis the Orphan, a kid who is discovering, like most orphans do, that life sucks.  He's brilliant and adorable, yet, Little Lewis can't seem to get adopted.  After years of rejection from prospective parents, Lewis considers locating his birth mother (because that always turns out well).  Fortunately for Our Orphan, his future son fucks up his own life, travels back in time, picks up his dad, and embarks on an adventure which teaches young Lewis that his prospects are bright, indeed.  We're talking a Millionaire with a Nobel Prize kind of awesome.  After glimpsing his fabulous destiny, Lewis abandons the idea of finding his birth mother and Keeps Moving Forward toward fame, fortune, and a new family to boot.  So sanitized, so sweet, so bogus.  But what of the motto: Keep Moving Forward?   Can a Suck-tacular Existence transform into Fairy Tale?  If we, the Lewises of the World, simply abandon the past will our Disney dreams come true?  My Answer: Not really but freedom of choice, to act or not, is our only means of salvation and at least one historical example suggests hanging in with a miserable existence might earn you a door prize.
Peter Roget pretending to be sane.
Lewis Exhibit A: Peter Mark Roget, a Lewis if I've seen one, was a pitiable old Creeper.  Though Roget gained material successes as doctor, lecturer, and inventor, his personal life was hellish.  Old Pete's grandmother was mentally unstable, mommy dearest was "nearly psychotic" and both his sister and daughter suffered from severe mental breakdowns.  If that wasn't enough to make our Lewis go round the twist, consider that both his father and wife died young, and his uncle slit his own throat while standing in Pete's presence.  That's fucked up.  Thus, its unsurprising that all of this death and insanity affected our sweet Lewis and, with time, Peter became a crazy person among psychos.  (It sounds rather familiar doesn't it my Lewises?)  His contemporaries described Our Man Pete as "humorless," "judgmental," and wee bit paranoid.  As pressure and grief mounted, Roget attempted to stave off mental collapse with obsessive compulsive habits which revolved around organization and cleanliness.  The latter being a bit problem for a man living in London during the 19th century which had no clean water or toilets.  So what exactly did old Pete do to calm his mind and distract himself from the stench?  Well, from his early childhood onward, in times of trouble or boredom, Petey sat around making lists of words and phrases along with their definitions.  For Three Score Years, this Odd Pastime did nothing but mark old Pete as: "mad as a hatter".  But when he retired at the age of 61, with no pressing matters left to consume his days, Roget decided: "Hell!  Why not making one all encompassing list of words?"  So he did.  Twelve years later, in 1852, at the age of 73, Peter published that giant list of words as a book called: Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases.  Sounds familiar right?  Pete's Thesaurus was an instant success and to keep himself busy he continued updating his Master List of Mega-Cool Words until his death at the age of 90 in 1869.  
Bruno Amadio's "The Crying Boy"
Personally, I find little comfort and much distress in our Lewis Exhibit A.  If Pete's story is the best a Lewis can do then maybe we should just check out early.  Alright, sure, he had his Thesaurus and that's awesome and all <Insert Sarcasm Here>, but, his personal relationships, everything I'd consider of worth, ended in destruction.  Was there at least a couple of good years in there?  A few sane months before he lost his grip on reality and just settled into list making?  Dear Saint George, Patron Saint of Snarky Comebacks and Matters of the Heart, keep me from morphing into a Grumpy Germaphobic-List-Making Wacko.  Stay the transformation.  I want the cure.  Give me the cure!  Is that all there is for the Orphans?: Lewises of the World someday the paranoid and obsessive habits you develop as a means of preserving the last shreds of your sanity might turn into a something of worth in your old age?  My Answer: Maybe not.  There might be a Plan B and discovering it requires Fear and Trembling. 
Fear and Trembling: Crazy Expressed
"Dispute not with her; she's a lunatic" William Shakespeare, Richard III
"Plum puffs can't minister to a mind diseased and a world that's crumbling to pieces" L.M. Montgomery
Rembrandt's "Abraham's Sacrifice"
Exhibit B: Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and TremblingA Lewis, perhaps more than other individuals, looks to his past as a cipher for his future.  Yet, following this cipher too closely, in my humble opinion, strips a Lewis of his ability to take action.  The past suggests Orphans should stand very still and never give their hearts away.  But what does that have to do with Kierkegaard or Trembling you ask?  Well, hang with me a moment.  In a religious and philosophical treatise, Kierkegaard asks by what process individuals work through anxiety to create their own salvation.  To find this answer, he turns to Genesis and the Story of Abraham and Isaac.  At this point in the Pentateuch, God has given Abraham a son by his barren and aged wife Sarah.  Abraham in turn, bends to Sarah's will and casts his own First Born Son Ishmael, the child of Sarah's handmaiden, into the wilderness.  Thus, only Isaac is Abraham's hope and legacy.  Isaac is the child that Abraham and his wife dreamed of for so long but never had.  In the midst of his euphoria, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only Child as an offering.  Abraham now has a choice: Obey the God who gave him the Son in his old age or Disobey and risk God's wrath.  With a heavy heart, Abraham obeys and in the moment before He slaughters his Only Child, God stays his hands.  It was the Faith God wanted not the Sacrifice.  After considering the deep anxiety and heartbreaking sorrow Abraham must have experienced as he raised a knife to slaughter his Little Lamb, Kierkegaard concludes that its not the emotion but "infinite resignation" that exemplifies great faith.  In other words, its not denying the end results or stifling one's heart, but choosing to act in full knowledge of the cost.  Soren calls this resignation a "leap of faith".  For Kierkegaard, man's freedom lies in that right to act.  Choose God or Choose Man.  Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.   In this treatise, Soren is making a theological argument, yet, it seems to me, that this metaphor can be taken a step farther: The salvation in our personal lives comes from the right to act.  Its not freedom from Fear and Trembling but the Freedom to Act despite the Our Knowledge of the Past and Terror of the Future.  Herein lies the Salvation for an Orphan.

My favorite souvenir from Berlin
For me, a wild eyed and passionate type Lewis, this Freedom comes with literal fear and trembling.  My deepest adoration requires action but that action is not of my own volition.  Voicing my fears and my affection is not about courage.   Its about self preservation.  Shadows and deception, with anyone I love, widen the cracks in the armor until I finally reach my threshold for pain and cry out, a slow and steady twisting of my soul and crushing of my heart until I can bear it no longer.  Then, with "infinite resignation" knowing that my love for another person has stripped me of my general ability to transform into a Black Mamba, capable of terrible fury and revenge, my frailty shows itself most plainly.  I stand exposed, quaking, and unable communicate in the way I would like.  At my most devastated, I literally tremble.  My eyes fill with tears and my body shakes.  Normal people don't do that.  My best friend and counterpart, Maggie, doesn't quake in fear.  But for me, even something as simple as sending an email is a problem.  My communication mirrors my emotions.  Not only do I become redundant and explicit but I forget to include verbs, connecting phrases, and my spelling falls apart.  My words cease to forms linear, traceable ideas.  The page is soon splashed with the bright colors of my love, turmoil, fear, and grief.  Such a display is upsetting in and of itself.  It suggests I'm crazy.  Maggie might feel devastated but she would never say so.  If she suggested it at all, it would be after calculation and calm thought.  And I can be that way with most everyone but those I love.   A Black Mamba sits silent and calculating, waiting for her moment to strike, but, with the matters nearest to my heart, I lose my predatory nature.  Instead, I go all Jane Austen: "I can listen no longer in silence.  I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach.  You have pierced my soul.  I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you."   To be the Little Girl in the upper right hand corner calling Math an asshole and throwing onlookers the bird with 99% of the human population, only to devolve into a heartbroken and dramatic Lucy Maude Montgomery character with the 1% I love is beyond irritating.  Why can't I be balanced?  Isn't there a happy medium?  Like untalented Edgar Allen Poe, I am left to shrug and conclude: "I was never really insane except on occasions when my heart was touched." Working out my salvation with Fear and Trembling is horrific, but what other option do Orphans have?  We have one Freedom that of Choice.  Sit silent and let hope die or take the "leap of faith".  My frightened and battered Lewises we must leap forward because we have nothing to hold onto in our past.
Keep Moving Forward
"Life's under not obligation to give us what we expect." Margaret Mitchell 
"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes." L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Anne spelled with an 'e' being offered a plum puff.
 Now, back to Meet the Robinsons. I was pretty rough on it in the beginning wasn't I?  In my defense, such a happy ending in the mind of Lewis is ludicrous.  Why keep moving forward if, at best, we will become Antisocial List Making Creepers?  Well, here is Kierkegaard's answer: "why bother remembering a past that cannot be made into a present?"  Or put more simply: The answers to our future do not lie in our past.  Are you looking for a Fairy Tale Ending my Orphans?  Well, you won't get anything so simplistic or sweet from me.  Listen, my history suggests belief in Fairy Tales is both childish and self destructive so I try to make rules and to keep my distance from the people who hold my heart. But here is the problem: I break the rules.  I stand in fear and trembling.  My Lewises I cannot assure you of my confidence in the future.  When I pray to my Saint George and he tell me: "Whomever is winning at the moment always seems invincible," I reply: "But aren't they, George?"  The Truth is, at the moment, I'm frightened.  Voices around me fall into Two Separate Camps: The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which I am a Lifetime Member, and the Orphans.  The Deadly Vipers call for the Assassination of my Darlings.  My Snake Charmers hiss reproaches and prophecies.  But the Orphans ask me to take a Leap of Faith, let go of Fear, and allow my Inner Lewis to Shine Through the Pain.  With Infinite Resignation, I listen to the Orphans.  Teetering on the edge and knowing that a Leap often ends with Broken Bones and Terrible Scars.  But what else is there?  A Lewis has no freedom but that of action, to stand in Fear and Trembling offering up our souls.  Maybe someday, there will be a Family of Misfits in my Future.  I'd like that.  But, in reality, I'm just hoping for a solid 18 month stretch during the 51 years I plan to roam this Fine Earth in which I find a little shelter from the storm.  That would be enough.  And honestly, I can't claim to be a True Lewis character.  He's far too sane, too calm, too smart.  No, I'm more of a Franny, teaching frogs to sing, and loving a Lewis for refusing to think me crazy.  (See Clip Below)  So my Darling Orphans, Tarry Not, but Move Forward, and remember you "are not alone in this, as Brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand" but "we can't move the mountains for you."** Go forth with Fear and Trembling working out your own salvation.   

*On an slightly different note: Both Biological Warfare Engineers for those Meddling Joes and the Cobra Commandos should use the Code Name: SS.  On the Joes side, SS stands for Sandy Smallpox.  For Cobra, SS is Sarah Syphilis.  Its a Columbian Exchange.

**The link is for Mumford and Son's "Timshel".  In Hebrew, Timshel means "thou mayest" or to have a choice: You Are Not Alone In This

**Vincent Van Gogh completed his "Threshold of Eternity" in May of 1890 just two months before taking his own life.  Click here for the last segment of my favorite Doctor Who episode, entitled "Vincent and the Doctor," which was written by Richard Curtis.  You'd have to know about me to understand why I identify with it: "The Good Things don't always soften the Bad Things but, visa versa, the Bad Things don't necessarily spoil the Good Things or make them unimportant."

Chances by Athlete: "Like the poster of Berlin on my wall"

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