The Pantheon

Oedipus

When I’ve saturated myself too much, with certain elements of media, by zapping myself with electrons and oscillating waves, my skin becomes translucent, my mind reconfigures itself, and I forget who I am.

It doesn’t matter how I fall into this spiral. Maybe it has something to do with the dishes: cleaning them is a practical anchor of my routine, and when I neglect it, they become (dirty and inconvenient) a physical reminder of my lack of focus. At these times I am a cloth man filled with straw. The act of creating a direct sentence eludes me: orchestrating three or four, in rapid succession, is actually painful; when I have somehow managed to spin ten in a row, thanks to some Herculean effort of concentration, I am so drained that the rest of the composition peters out, and is abandoned.

So confused, I return to the pantheon. My pantheon is a collection of supernatural beings, and collectively, though known by their acts–ignoble and noble–they have no mythical powers save for the power of judgement. They are acquaintances and abstract concepts, and many become members of the pantheon thanks only to some trivial and fleeting encounter… An ill word offered up, completely at random, by a stranger on the street, may enter him into the pantheon. For days–maybe weeks, if my condition persists–I will wonder at these words and compare this or that action of mine with them as if, with every action after the event, I am vindicating or vilifying myself. By now Lisa must be used it: in this state of mind I frequently interrupt our conversations to spout context-less nonsense reassuring myself that I was in the right, and he, or she (or it) was in the wrong. Or vice-versa, though it’s more likely I keep that to myself.

Words of praise may enter you into the pantheon: if you are in a position of authority in relation to mine, and I am ripe (unsure) then there isn’t any doubt I will put you there, and think of your praise long afterwards, and applied to circumstances where your words have no real bearing. In this sense praise can be as stifling as the energy I spend counteracting jeers.

A director I once knew told us never to tell our fellow actors what we thought of their performances until after they were over, because otherwise their self-conciousness might derail them. If I could tell you to wait until the end of the performance I would, but there isn’t any such thing, because my performance, in this respect, is endless. Maybe when I am an old man, I will be peaceful. I look forward to the imagined self-assuredness I will gain at that moment with the same certainty I thought I would gain self-assuredness the day I became an adult, or the day I first had sex.

It’s interesting that I should mention being old, or maybe not, because lately the peace of the elderly has been on my mind. This weekend two men, a yin and a yang, entered my pantheon. Both are published authors. One praised my style, and offered help regarding the structure of a story. The other laughably and vehemently criticised this story–and, maybe because these critiques should never be personal–attempted to tear me to pieces as well. He did so with all the clumsy, direct certainty of a man who has learned one skill–how to read the dictionary–and applied this skill to his whole life, a life which is now nearly over, because he is the old man who has been on my mind.

The man was an editor and a freelance journalist, now he is retired. My introduction to him was overheard bragging: “he knew I could write circles around him,” a first impression that led me to believe he was arrogant and blind. No man should ever speak of himself that way, and yet this man invented ways to do so at every possible moment–sometimes interjecting his self-praise with more praise.

But there might have been–for all I knew–something substantial behind his attitude. From the way he spoke of me, and the way he spoke of himself, and the way he dropped the names of magazines he has been published in–and other magazines, I learned later, he only hopes to be published in–it seemed as if he might have been a big-shot. A quick look at his website confirmed that he isn’t, and he never was. His prose is as inelegant as a concrete block, as plodding and insipid as you might expect from a man whose main talent is reading the dictionary. As you can imagine, far from dispelling this man from my pantheon, this knowledge only entrenched him further. In the empty moments of these last few days I thought of him far, far, too often.

Peace and old age shouldn’t be in the same thought, when thinking of this man, and yet they are with him, because as obviously unhappy–and angry–a man as he is, he does have a certain cheater’s peace with himself, an ignorant peace that is quick to find fault with anything besides himself. He has become the lie. It doesn’t matter if he lost three million dollars last year–as he claims–because the fact that he had this money, and more where that came from, whatever his circumstances are, is so crucial to his idea of himself that it might as well be true. In the same vein, he is a terrific writer–one who, at every turn, was failed by the system, and by academia. The CBC won’t talk to him because of certain misogynistic views he holds, but that doesn’t mean the ideas are actually misogynistic, or that there are other reasons they won’t contact him, only that the whole rest of the world is wrong.

In short, there is nothing wrong with him, it’s the incongruity between his imagined self and his reality that causes his unhappiness. He doesn’t have the imagination, or the wisdom, to take this fantasy further and place himself in a world that he likes, only to make it a mirror of his own shortcomings, which he is constantly reminded of. In this sense–how convenient is it that I’ve been thinking of him? When I resort to my pantheon, I’m doing nothing less than this old man does, and sowing the seeds of my own future ignorance and insanity. Whenever I think of him, I think of what I did wrong by implication. Likewise, I think of how I was right. The more I am right, the less I will ever have to change, and the more I will become annoyed at even the idea of my being wrong.

I have to de-saturate myself as soon as I realise I am resorting to my pantheon, and to seek peace by turning instead to silent contemplation, quiet reading, physical activity, and close, intimate conversation, or maybe dancing, with my wife.

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