That Hideous Habit

It’s been two months now that I’ve been talking to myself in the Club.  This is a lonely state of affairs, but at least we have good port, yes?

Not that it matters, as I have left the Cockburn ‘96 untouched.  Though the bottles have settled again, that’s the sort of thing I’m unlikely to consume by myself.

Always drink in celebration, never in consolation; and if you must drink in consolation, never drink alone.

Always drink in celebration, never in consolation; and if you must drink in consolation, never drink alone.

I can only assume that my sister muses are all busily engaged elsewhere, or that the Prince of Stories has stayed far from them and thus they are uninspired.

Perhaps I should tell of stories I’ve read lately, but I tell you what: I picked up A Severe Mercy to reread it, and threw it down in frustration because I’m so irritated at how much delight Sheldon and Jean shared.  I picked up Gaudy Night, and though I love the writing, the storyline, and the honest exploration of what constitutes a woman’s work, rereading it tore at my heart just as much.  At present I’m working my way through That Hideous Strength for the third or fourth time.  I’m not convinced that its denouement will distress me any less, but at least the book prompts more general thoughts and questions about the role of science in society and the role of man in the universe.

One of the most ghoulish images in it is the bodiless face: a bit of skin, a horrible flap of mouth, a drooling tongue, carefully preserved by dials and tubes and various climate controls.  It is able, through the worst sort of manipulation, to speak, but none of us would regard it as alive.  It is not viable, not an entity on its own, unable to wipe the saliva from its lips.

Pausing in my reading and pondering this sad facsimile of a Head brought to mind a question posed to my Philosophy 101 class, years ago when I was a Hillsdale freshman.  “Say that you could be hooked up to a machine that would provide you intense, unceasing pleasure, for as long as you wanted it.  Your body’s physical needs for nutrition etc. would be taken care of.  Would you opt in?”  We all declined (with the possible exception of the class smart aleck; I can’t recall), stating that our lives were meant for more, yes, even if it involves suffering, that we wanted to accomplish things, that surely there is a difference between manipulation of the brain and the real deep delight of taking some sort of action and reaching some kind of result.  Our various arguments – some more reasonable, others more emotional in nature – all denied the humanity of a being attached to a dopamine dispenser.  We declared that such an existence, no matter how pleasurable, did not suit the dignity of a man.

All of which is to say that my freshman-year self is standing in judgment of my present-day self, since my present-day self has spent huge chunks of time – embarrassingly long chunks of time, really – reading and reading and reading fanfiction online.  “That’s not so bad,” you say.  “Fan-written stories?  Surely you’d get impatient with them if they were rubbish.”

Sadly, I don’t.  I click ever more furiously.  I go for the hit.  I keep clicking.  It is everything I admitted in my Obsession Confession Session, if not worse.  The Twitter account @VeryShortStory summed it up well:  I fed the King another story for his pleasure. It was his opium. He lived in my words, while outside, his defeated kingdom crumbled.

Study in Pleasure Receptors: a self-portrait

Study in Pleasure Receptors: a self-portrait

Sisters, please come back, lest you find the place in ruins.

Gnat-Voices in Unbridgeable Dark

The Jolly Company
by Rupert Brooke

The stars, a jolly company,
I envied, straying late and lonely;
And cried upon their revelry:
“O white companionship! You only
In love, in faith unbroken dwell,
Friends radiant and inseparable!”

Light-heart and glad they seemed to me
And merry comrades (even so
God out of heaven may laugh to see
the happy crowds; and never know
that in his lone obscure distress
each walketh in a wilderness).

But I, remembering, pitied well
And loved them, who, with lonely light,
In empty infinite spaces dwell,
Disconsolate. For, all the night,
I heard the thin gnat-voices cry,
Star to faint star, across the sky.

Reading this, I picture Bilbo looking up at the night sky where the Silmaril shines on Earendil’s brow as he sails alone.  Then I read it again and think of Yvaine and Tristan, lighting the Babylon candle to journey to the sky: shining forever, but always that distance apart.  Then I read it again and think of every creature that was lifted out of terrestrial distress to be set, forever unchanging, in the heavens.  There is a sharp poignancy there, in the unbridgeable dark between the stars.

But perhaps it is more sensible to pity those walking in their own hidden desert of despair here on Earth.

This post was some of a response to the Daily Prompt, though not really in answer to it, as I’m disinclined to say much of my last bout of loneliness.  

Ghosts

I have taught my heart to weep
Beside the grave of those long dead
I have learned to prize the sleep
Of soldiers with a hero’s bed.

Tonight I drink a bitter draught
Of sour pain and loneliness
And drink to love, to light and laughter
Now drowned in seas of  nothingness.

But ere I reach for my last drink
To bless their rest with heaven’s Lord,
My cup glides off  across the board.
It’s natural physics, so I think,

What phantom drinks this night with me?