Friday, June 10, 2005

Moon-shaped Blankness

Currently, I'm trying to appreciate emptiness, stillness, quiet and even boredom.
This is originally from last semester's Ethics of Ambition course, but it's what I'm thinking about now.

So what is it, this moon-shaped blankness?
What the hell is it? America is perplexed.
We would fix it if we knew what was broken.
-Alicia Suskin Ostriker, “Fix”

What is this moon-shaped blankness? We are searching for something, something that we can purchase, obtain, achieve. If we only knew what it was, that missing moon-shaped thing, we could jump up, map out a plan of action, and devise a mode of attack. We could organize, strategize, and mobilize. We could follow the already-laid-out instructions, the command for guaranteed success: six short steps to fulfillment. Or we could pay the required amount, in installments so you hardly even notice what you’re giving up: just twenty easy payments of $20.00! If only we knew what it was, then we could easily get there.

Is it money? Money would certainly make life easier. Rent could be paid when it’s due, the car could be fixed in a timely manner, and we could eat something other than ramen noodles every once in a while. We could buy as many books as we wanted, pay off graduate school loans instantaneously, travel to see our family whenever it was convenient. So, how do we fix this money-hole? A guaranteed success plan, a get-rich-quick scheme, or a surefire business venture? The solutions are out there, it looks like we just have to choose among them, work our way out of the rags and into the riches. We’ll fill this moony hole with banknotes and live happily ever after.

No, materialism isn’t the answer. Money won’t fill the void. Set your sights higher. What you need is an education! Now, it might lead to monetary success, of course. You’ll be paid commensurate to your inordinate number of degrees. But going to school, spending your young life hidden in classrooms and behind large books…that is noble. All you have to do is keep your grades up and round up a few people willing to say you’re smart. You can apply and get into the ivory towers. It will be great! You’ll fill your head with the thoughts of the great ones, the philosophers, the writers and the theologians. By the time you’re done, you’ll be so full of other people’s theories and words that you won’t even notice the hole within yourself. Problem fixed.

Oh it’s not true. The problem won’t really be fixed. The blankness will always be there, as long as you’re able to pull back the curtain of borrowed thinking to see your own mind, a bit wrinkled from the thought but still as blank as when you began. Maybe you’ll need to do something with all of that education eventually. Get a job? Make some money? No, we’ve already decided that money does not come in lunar shapes. We’ll just do whatever we do for the sake of doing it. Keep ourselves busy, always planning, running, doing. We’ll help people. Get to know people. We’ll make friends and build community. We won’t need money for it, the work will be its own reward.

But the blankness, I think, will remain. The hole is within ourselves. Money can’t fill it, education can’t, not a job and not other people. All those things are contemporary, are in the modern world, are disconnected from narrative, from history. Maybe that’s what we need – a history. We can be a part of a story, have a narrative framework. Yeah, we’ll understand ourselves in the context of what others have done before! We’ll incorporate it all, the good and the bad, the pride and humility, the success and failure of all who’ve come before. We’ll remember tradition. We’ll keep up with the ancient rituals and connect ourselves to time immemorial. We’ll fill the blankness with stories.

Or, maybe, what we need is the ultimate story. What we need is religion. Didn’t Pascal say that everyone has a “god-shaped hole” in their hearts? Is God shaped like the moon? There’s certainly a plan somewhere in religion, a promise of filling in the blankness. And maybe we’ll get some salvation thrown in during the process. We’ll go to church, read the Bible, obey the pastors, be in a small group, commit our lives to Christ, and have the solution all wrapped up.

But still, the blankness remains. A god-shaped piece won’t fit in the moon-shaped blankness. The blankness, it seems, will never be able to be filled. And yet we insist on attempting. We pursue money, education, activities, relationships, religion, all in order to fill up this hole that we find within ourselves. What would happen if we accepted the blankness as part of what we are? What would happen if we learned to live with the blankness, if we learned to appreciate emptiness and ambiguity? If we stepped back to admire the moon-shape instead of rushing to fix it, what would we find? Would we find an answer to our perplexity, or ultimately fall deeper into it? And which one are we really aiming for?

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