lost in the cosmos

One of the true pleasures of reading something interesting is to take the ideas in it and move them around, sticking them to another idea and seeing what happens. Trial and error. Stick it on this idea and it falls right to the floor, nothing happens. Stick it to this other idea and both completely transform, synthesizing into something new. Stick your new idea to this other idea and it gets ruined completely.

My sister has read Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-help Book. Something I said about my 2019 resolution (“It’s be brave!” I bravely tell everyone I’ve talked to so far this year) has reminder her of it and then she says something about “real life” —something like “…but, like, at some point you have to get back to real life, right?”—and it snaps me out of the conversation and I’m thinking about the way that the whole concept of real life can be weaponized against your state of mind. In love, optimistic, hopeful, these are all moods that can be disrupted by the idea of real life like a drop of dish soap breaking the surface tension of a pool of water.

I am a person who can throw hideous amounts of happiness away like this. One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, the 2007 adaptation of the musical Hairspray belongs to Edna Turnblad. Trying to convince her daughter Tracy that it’s a waste of time to audition for her favorite TV dance show, she shares that she’s a person who once had a dream: “Well, I had a dream that I would own a coin-operated laundromat, but I came down from that cloud real quickly!”

It makes me laugh and laugh and laugh because its so pathetic and because I see myself in it too.

“‘Real life’ is not a phrase I would use, though,” I replied to my sister.

“But you know how like you’re having those deep conversations or high or whatever and it doesn’t all make sense but you’re so open and positive, but then at a certain point…” she responds, because she thinks I’m being obtuse.

“Yeah, but I think a lot of spiritual traditions would say that that is the most heightened way of being. Like, maybe we can’t sustain that for very long, but you widen out what you can do in that state and for how long.”

But it takes me a couple days to figure out what I actually mean. I think what I actually mean is that true enlightenment is living each day like it’s detention in The Breakfast Club.

In The Breakfast Club, the sheer amount of time involved and boredom and insularity (or safety?) leads to social and class barriers collapsing. Violence and conflict still happen, but with total awareness of the subjectivity of victim and perpetrator. A visit to a trophy case connects the teens to an awareness of time, entropy, and the decay of all things. By the end of the movie, enlightenment has been reached with a total death of the ego, the self has dissolved and the students speak with a collective voice:

But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case a princess and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

In both the movie and in the real world, the real question is what happens on Monday.

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