It was about love, and making decisions when you know that this life is just a one-shot game, with no second chances or Magic 8 Ball; it was about history, and the fact that it does not actually repeat, at least not in a way that allows us to learn anything from it; it was about realizing that your life does not really possess dimension and weight, and the creeping emptiness that results from such a realization; it was about animals, and the argument begun by Descartes that allows humans to think of animals as unfeeling machines and abuse them, and it was about the horrible, inevitable extension of that argument to other humans; it was about a dog who died of cancer after a long life of love, and it was about her humans struggling to accept it.
I can't imagine a better book to have read last month, on the anniversary of my dog's death from cancer; at a time when life's choices are numerous and dissatisfying; at a time when love seems like something that just hurts us; at a time when I wonder if we will ever learn anything from our past, if anyone cares about people they don't know, the people in parts of the world they will never visit, the people who are suffering every day.
The book definitely converged with everything I'd been thinking about lately, and it set up a storm of new convergences. Driving home from my brother's wedding in California through Mt. Shasta, I remembered that the last time I'd made this drive it was in the rush to get home and visit my dog before she died. And reading about Descartes' terrible argument, I remembered a Propagandhi album that I wore out when I was 16. One of the songs on it was called "Nailing Descartes to the Wall / (Liquid) Meat is Still Murder." And then I suddenly remembered that one of my favourite songs right now by one of my favourite bands ("Anchorless" by the Weakerthans) was actually on that album. So I downloaded it. And, first off, realized that the singer for the Weakerthans was actually in Propagandhi (who by the way are from Winnipeg, Manitoba. How did I never notice that a band whose lyrics I loved were Canadian? They actually say 'Manitoba' a lot.). Convergence. I also got to re-hear some of the best lines ever uttered in punk rock: "Tell you what- I'll call you on your shit, PLEASE CALL ME ON MINE. Then we can grow together and make this shit-hole planet better in time." And I got that powerful feeling of deja vu that only music you loved in the past can bring. More than nostalgia, it's almost time-travel back to the very same emotional state you were in. And I remembered how angry I was when I was a teenager.
People tell me nowadays that I never get angry. And it's generally true. I think I exhausted my store of anger in the short, explosive period that we'll call high school, or 1994-98 if you need precision. I was angry at everyone and everything. I was angry about rape, I was angry about my dad hitting me and my brothers and about him leaving, I was angry at my mom for being so depressed, I was angry about small towns, I was angry about animals being abused. And you know there is nothing more dangerous than an angry vegetarian... fortunately I was mainly just a danger to myself. Self-destructive and completely untouchable -- that should have been the caption under my yearbook photo. Ever notice that the "cool" kids back in high school, the ones you knew were truly cool because they didn't need or want your friendship, were actually 'cool' because they were ICE COLD? That was me. I mean, yeah, people liked me because I was funny and mean (and smokin' hot) but it was really because I couldn't give a fuck about them or anyone else. For some reason sheer indifference has a magnetic draw for people. What they don't realize is that they will never get anything from the person they covet. Or maybe that's what they want: nothing, no feelings, but also no hurt. But you know what? That's just what they wish they wanted. They always do get hurt when they realize that they won't be different. They won't be the person who finally gets let in. To this day I'm not sure I've ever let anyone into my heart entirely. But reading this book last month and talking with old friends, I realize that I will, slowly.
I love a lot of people. I don't want to hurt them with my anger (I also don't want them to hurt me). That's why I hardly ever get angry with anyone over small arguments or whatnot -- I never want to have a short fuse. I want a very, very long fuse that allows ample time to consider how to fix the problem rather than just scream at someone.
Don't misunderstand -- I'm still angry, about some of the old stuff and some new stuff. But I've learned a lot from all of it -- I've learned that getting angry is not something I want to do very often. I've learned that being strong doesn't mean being unfeeling. I've learned how to explain to my friends that I've had enough violence and yelling in my life and so I can't brook it in voluntary relationships. I learned how to channel my general frustration with the world into peaceful and non-violent protest. And I keep re-learning that I am a vegetarian in my soul. I had a barbecue this weekend (after rediscovering my Propagandhi album) for which I had purchased sausage and steak -- I ate it and it was good, but I felt dirty, and like a traitor to my angry, damaged, teenaged self. Maybe I need to rethink my "steakhouse on my birthday" plan.