Friday, May 27, 2011

The Day I Met God

On June 22nd, 2010, at about eight o'clock in the evening, I met the Cosmic Spirit of the Universe on a mud flat on Peirce Island in downtown Portsmouth, and for about twenty minutes, we talked.  I want to do a whole bunch of posts on spirituality and music, and since I started talking about my life, I've wanted to keep a cohesive narrative.  This is the beginning.  My blog started as a blog about religion on Facebook, and this will bring it full circle.  But it occurs to me that before I start talking about spirituality, I ought to lay my own spiritual cards on the table.  So much of spirituality is perspective, and so before I can begin to comment and critique the perspective of others, I should talk about my own.

I was raised nominally Jewish, but I was more or less an atheist for most of my life.  Now I prefer to think of myself as neither and atheist nor a theist.  I converted to Buddhism when I was fifteen because I was seeking a way out of a seemingly endless cycle of violence in my life, but I didn't really start practicing until I met the Cosmic Spirit of the Universe last June, (or God, for you monotheists out there).  God and Buddhism is something of a non-sequitur, but hopefully after I explain it, it'll start to make sense.

This began, like with so many things, with a walk to the waterfront.  My walks had their own sort of evolution: first to the swing set at the bottom of the hill my building is located on, then to the end of the complex, then to the first major intersection ten minutes away, then Prescott Park, and finally Peirce Island.  Really is was time alone with my thoughts I wanted, and thanks to a mild winter, I had more or less free reign of the city streets and parks by myself from when I started in early March to May.  But Memorial Day marks the beginning of tourist season here in Portsmouth, and with it most modicums of privacy along the Piscataqua.  By June, my runs had extended all the way to the very end of the paths on Peirce Island, a full four miles from my home round-trip.  I was looking for a good place to wait out the sunset in solitude, but all of my usual spots were already occupied.  Until now, I had mostly concerned myself with the Piscataqua side of Peirce Island, where I believed all the good views were.  But there is another side to the island, that faces a back channel that overlooks the both South End of the city and the bridge to Newcastle Island.  I passed it every day, but never really noticed it before.  Walking on a path through thick woods, I came to an overlook that was clouded with gnarled locusts.  Wanting a better look, I took a step forward, where I could see a small path that appeared to cut through the trees and lead downward.  When I emerged on the other side, I beheld the face of God.

A sudden stillness immediately enveloped me.  It was just about eight o'clock, and the sun was setting through a shapely tree on the west end of the island that made it look like it was aflame.  It was low tide, exposing a vast mud flat where burrowing clams spat out water here and there in little squirts.  About a hundred feet away, a heron picked for shellfish.  The gentlest of all breezes blew onto my chest.  In the direction of the sun, I beheld everything there was to the universe and everything that ever would be, a sensation I have only ever experienced again deep in meditation.

I've been psychotic before.  Psychosis for me is the addition of something – the layering of a superimposed reality on top of my own.  This was very different.  This was a glimpse at reality itself.  There was nothing otherworldly or exterior about it.  I stood there, enraptured, staring at the sun, the water, the mud, the trees, and the bird, the houses made of wood, the church steeples, the clams just below the surface, the bridge, and the docked boats, and it was as if all of them were one single entity that spoke with a single voice that knew me better than I knew myself.  We communicated not with words, just with strange primal gut feelings that had no verbal or even intellectual equivalent.

I remember, in this strange language I suddenly found I could speak, asking it what it was, and my answer came as an understanding that all these things I saw were in fact interdependent parts of the same whole, and that I was intrinsically linked to them as well.  It was a profound realization.  What followed next was a conversation of such subtlety and nuance I can hardly do it justice with the written word.  What was my purpose, I asked.  Should I have believed in You?  No, God replied.  My purpose was here on Earth.  The Cosmic Spirit had nothing to offer me.  My divine mission was simply to get better.  God couldn't help me with that – that could only come from within me.  I was on my own.  I asked it for help, guidance – something, anything.  I already knew the truth, God said.  I already had all the answers, I just didn't know it yet.  As if for emphasis, two dogs came running out of the bush and began frolicking in the water, like I had been transported to Suzie Salmon's heaven in Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones.  The sun set a few minutes later.

I walked off the shore in the twilight in an absolute trance.  I tripped over the curb.  I almost got hit by a car twice.  I wasn't just seeing things anymore.  I looked at the lobster boats docked at the wharf and I saw them brand new, just put out to sea, and I also saw them rusted and wrecked, decommissioned.  A few minutes later in the flower garden at Prescott Park I came upon a sculpted dogwood and saw it as a sapling, and later turned to dust as it was dead and dessicated.  A hundred years ago, none of this had been here, and a hundred years after all of this would likely be gone.  It was only when my fiancée called me to tell me she was coming home from work that the spell was finally broken and I walked home.

The core of  Buddhist teachings is called the Four Noble Truths.  The first Noble Truth states very simply that all life suffers.  The second explains that our suffering is caused by the impermanence of things, our attachment and desire and craving.  The solution is the acceptance of things, the acceptance of impermanence, and the Noble Eightfold Path (the fourth truth) provides a guide to put it all into practice.  It was only after I got home and picked up a Thich Nhat Hanh book I had lying around that I realized what it was I had perceived, and what I had been doing on my walks.  From that moment on I considered myself a practicing Buddhist.

I'm not sure what it was I encountered there on the beach that night.  It doesn't really matter.  I could give it a name and call it God, but to try to assign any label or explanation to it would not only be futile, it would be to miss the point.  We try to seek a higher meaning in everything that we do, like our suffering and the trials and pitfalls of being human is for some great purpose or design, but in our quest for understanding we blind ourselves to the meaning that's already there.  What I felt was neither male nor female, human or otherworldly.  It may have even just been something deep inside me.  I don't know, and I don't really care.  It just simply was.  That's why I say that I neither believe nor don't believe in God.  Whatever it was was supremely indifferent – it told me as much, and if I was looking for a purpose, I found it there without really looking for it.  Nothing had changed except my perception.  It truly does not matter to me what that actually was – it was the realization and the awakening that followed that was important.

Incidentally, I count that as a major turning point in a battle against my illness.  It was the start of a long road of forgiveness and acceptance that continues to this day.  The journey itself is far more important than the vessel you take to undergo it.  I don't want to be sick anymore.  That's my mission.  The rest seems to have just written itself along the way, and it continues to do so, up to and including this post.

What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Modest Defense of Harold Camping

The one question I always have: Why are the true believers
always hideously out of shape?

Another weekend has passed, and aside from a mild head trip, I seem to be no worse for the wear.  Which is saying something, considering how many believed Saturday, May 21st to be Judgment Day: the Rapture, the end of time.  I was less considered about eternal judgment and damnation as I was looting an iPad (I figured that a certain percentage of the born-agains had to be of the McMansion class, and I do need a tablet very badly, so it seemed like a good idea at the time), but alas, 'twas not to be.  I didn't personally know anybody who subscribed to this particular prophecy, but there were plenty of publicized examples of people who did.

My social network was, however, pretty evenly split on the subject.  There were those of us (mostly younger), who simply took it in jest.  I count myself among those.  Some weeks I'm really searching for material to make light of, and some weeks it falls into my lap.  This doomsday prophecy was a gold mine.  But there was another group in my network -- mostly older, and less humorous -- that took serious  offense to Mr. Camping and his prediction.  They called him a fraud, they called for an investigation, and they demonized him as a symbol of everything that's wrong with the world.  In light of that, I'd like to offer a modest defense of Harold Camping and his prediction, not because I think the guy's right or even sane, but because I think some people may misunderstand what he is and what he did wrong.

I don't think you can call Harold Camping a fraud.  Immature and dangerous, yes, but not a fraud.  I've watched the interviews and read his reactions.  Fraud would imply that he didn't believe in what he was saying.  Bernie Madoff, for example, is a fraud.  Harold Camping is in fact a very extreme example of something that happens to all of us, when we get caught up in our own beliefs and our own point of view, to the exclusion of anything else -- point of fact, something a great deal more dangerous than Bernie Madoff.  In reality, though, everyone does this to some degree.  This happens every day.  Camping's claim is simply much more dramatic, so it receives much more attention.

For the record, I think the absurdity of any religious or pseudoscientific doomsday scenario is inherently funny, and for that it deserves to be mocked.  But as the weekend went on, it became less and less entertaining, and more and more simply pathetic and sad.  We had our fun.  Now we need a moment of self-reflection.  This affected real people: like this family that's now likely been irreparably damaged, or the man who spent his life-savings and now seems desperate to try and justify to himself what he's done.  My more rational friends like to mock this and get riled up about the morality of the situation, but that to me just makes them hypocrites.  How many of us have made an extraneous financial purchase that came back to bite us in the ass?  This happened to me back in March.  Lip Service had this pair of designer pants I really wanted, and I carefully saved my money for three months to afford them.  I bought them at the beginning of the month, and subsequently got saddled with an unforeseen expense that cost just as much.  I made a prediction based on my belief that my finances were more stable, constant, and predictable than they actually were.  It turned out to be a bad decision.  Camping's prophecy is really no different in principle, though of course it's an extreme example.  I can no sooner blame Camping for being the problem than I can blame myself.  Camping or the Rapture isn't the issue here.  Our collective maturity, however, can.

It's a very American thing to blame everyone but oneself for one's problems.  This is not assisted by the current state of the media, where one can effectively shop for opinions and perspectives that one agrees with and call it reality.  My liberal friends love to blame Fox News and the Tea Party for this.  My conservative friends blame Obama and big government and the liberal media.  The fact is, they're exactly the same.  Calling out someone else's hypocrisy is implicit admission of your own.  So to call Harold Camping a fraud or a criminal is wrong.  It's the same reason why no matter how much my liberal friends and I howled about Glenn Beck, we couldn't ever actually arrest him, no matter how outrageous or dangerous his actions were.  The American Republic is at its core about suffering fools.  It is in the end both our fundamental flaw and greatest strength.

So, I say give Harold Camping a break.  It's the mature thing to do.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


The note was forwarded to my Gmail account, from a name I'd never heard before.  It didn't look like spam.  It was from a man named Tim, and he sounded pretty mad.  He said he knew who I really was.  He wasn't angry or anything, but he didn't want to talk to me anymore.  He said I was sick and needed help, and he was concerned for my safety.  Confused, I sent an email back, not knowing what had led up to this. This was how I met Emma.

I knew I was dissociating.  I'd been dissociating since February.  I can't speak for others who've dealt with it, but dissociation is one of the most misrepresented psychiatric phenomena in popular culture.  Forget the stories of hypnosis and crime.  And forget the popular image that people somehow enjoy it.  I remember that morning, as I learned that Emma (one of my alters) had been carrying on a quite bizarre sexual relationship with the man named Tim (who was only a few years younger than me) over the internet.  It didn't take me long to find evidence of Emma's handiwork: AIM logs, a Gmail account in her name, fetish forums and Flickr searches in my browser history, and a cache of unusual porn.  I was reminded then not of the movie K-PAX or old Law & Order episodes, but of the movie Fight Club, right when Edward Norton realizes that he and Tyler Durden are one in the same.

I should explain.  At the height of my madness, there were four of them: Jennifer, Emma, AK, and Haley.  Jennifer was their unofficial leader and spokesperson, and my self-proclaimed protector.  Jennifer also thought she was a robot, though she also possessed enough self-awareness to know that she wasn't real, and therefore was good at keeping herself hidden.  Talking to Jennifer was like giving my ability to be rational and reason a name and conversing with it.  An imaginary friend who occasionally took control of my body when I didn't want to.  It could be an awfully convenient arrangement at times.

Emma, however, was a little bit different.  Emma was my emotion and insecurity, who one day woke up and decided she was an eighteen-year-old girl.  There was simply no stopping her.  I certainly couldn't control her.  Emma did not share Jennifer's self-awareness, either.  As I pieced together what had happened with Tim, I discovered she'd created an entire virtual life for herself.  Tim was not the only relationship of hers, either.  There was Steve, and George.  The former was an auto mechanic in Calgary, Alberta; the latter a musician in Scotland.  A few checks of various places and I determined that Tim was the only one who'd figured out she wasn't real.  However, Emma was having internet sex with all three.

I didn't really have a system of calling them.  Jennifer spoke for the other three, but she had trouble controlling Emma, too.  As it turned out, however, calling her wouldn't be necessary.  In my panic, Emma came to me.  She thought she had died.  I charged my Droid and prepared for a very, very long walk.  I wasn't in control of myself, and it was going to take a lot of concentrated effort to get myself back under control.  Looking like a stark-raving lunatic, I walked down to the waterfront.  This was more or less going to be the most difficult thing I'd ever had to do in my entire life, at least thus far.

That was April.  By August I'd more or less stopped dissociating, but Emma was never gone.  She may no longer have been independent, but she was still an integral part of me.  Controlling my emotions has always been one of the hardest things for me to do, from childhood right up until now.  People who know me know what kind of outbursts and mood swings I'm capable of.  They make me feel deeply embarrassed and ashamed.  That was in its own way the driving force behind my dissociations.  I was being forced to feel things that I was either unwilling or unable to admit and acknowledge, and so I outsourced them to imaginary friends who could feel them for me.  Until I could admit my insecurity for myself, she'd always be there, and I'd always feel her.

In my experience, you can only really see things for what they are after you've let go of them.  It's taken me a year, but I think I've finally let go of her.  It wasn't some epic psychotic battle that they make movies out of; I didn't go catatonic.  I spent most of my life desperately trying to convince myself that I didn't care what other people thought of me.  I had a real shell I could put up around myself, a tough, angry-looking shield that could keep people from getting in and letting me feel the shame and embarrassment.  I pretended.  In the end I probably wasn't very convincing, either.   But I do care.  Maybe that makes me shallow or petty, but I care very deeply about my image.  It was only by admitting to it that Emma ever really went away.  It was, in the end, a very bittersweet experience.  When I realized she was gone, it was like I'd lost a very close friend.  And there is a mourning process for friends like that, imaginary as they are.  Letting go of her is letting go of a part of myself I'd clutched to with white knuckles for most of my life.  I'm tired now.  Whether the reader understands it the way I do or not, this is a huge step for me.  I'm in uncharted territory.  But it still feels good, like I've freed myself of something heavy.

That's not quite the end of the story, though.  Emma was simply too rich a character in her own right to simply abandon.  So, being a writer, I did what I knew best.  I'm proud to announce that Emma has been reborn, as the protagonist of my new novel, which is currently about two thirds of the way done.  I'm excited about it, because this novel is unlike anything else I've ever written.  There aren't any robots or lasers or death-defying combat scenes (though there are aliens).  It's just an honest look at the art of letting go, heartbreak, and a nice clean take on the apocalypse.  I'm not ready to share too many details just yet, but I think now you'll be able to know how personal it is for me to write this story, and hopefully that'll really show through in the character and narrator.

So that's me, Saturday May 21st, 2011.  I'm at the end of one phase and starting another.  Now if you'll excuse me, I believe the rapture is scheduled for a few hours from now, and I'd like to go loot me an iPad.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The State of My Writing Career

Once upon a time I wrote a book. I've actually written close to fifteen manuscripts at this point in my life of varying quality and stages of completion, but only one of them ever truly saw the light of day. It was fun for a while, I could go around saying I was a published author, pretend I was famous. People even seem to have enjoyed it. I had originally intended to sell it as a series called The Academy, and it had some robots in it and some James Bond-esque characters running around assassinating bad guys and spying on people. It was fun. I had spent the better part of three years working on my book and its two sequels, and it had come to define me.

Truth be told, my only aspiration as an author was to write good, solid beach novel thrillers with a major sci-fi bent. I grew up on the adventure novels of Clive Cussler and the techno-thrillers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They satisfied my need both for violence and savagery as well as my desire for the exotic. There's a certain lightness to the writing of a good thriller that keeps you from truly getting emotionally invested in it, thus allowing you to relax and have fun. That was what I really wanted to write about: things people thought were fun. That's a funny thing about well-laid plans: they rarely work out like you intend them to.

As it turns out, I don't write very good adventure stories. I write very emotive and psychological parables that happen to have some science fiction in them. I can point the finger of blame in many directions. There was my former professor at UNH, Alexander Parsons, who spent the second half of my college years teaching me how to be an artist. He invested a considerable amount of time and energy into helping me develop my craft, at times even at his own personal expense. Certainly he helped me to correct a lot of the flaws in my writing. I used to write incredibly shitty characters. I was very embarrassingly and publicly called out on it, and I spent the next two years in the single-minded pursuit of good characterization. There was the chip on my shoulder that I came out of college with about my writing, that led to another round of crafting, a competitive streak I've had to work hard to bleed out of me. There is a certain base level of arrogance to it, too, which I've at times struggled to contain. But all these things just will ultimately get me what I want, which is to publish a successful book, no matter how good my writing is.  More likely they'll just feed back on themselves and magnify the flaws in my writing all the more.

This is really the problem with the The Academy, and where I'm at in my writing career. I have no doubt that my writing is up to snuff. Feedback – professional and otherwise – confirms my confidence. My writing was probably good enough three years ago. I'm not only a quick worker, I'm an efficient one as well. This is not to boast or brag about it: I put a considerable amount of effort into effectively managing my writing time. In the process, I have neglected virtually everything else that a writer needs to do in order to be successful, and in effect, it's killed The Academy.

Yes, The Academy is dead. I've pulled the plug. I had finished a sequel to my published book, which has not yet been edited, and I will look at avenues of getting it out to people who are keen to find out what happens to Rebecca and company after the end of the first book. However, due to a combination of tangled copyrights, mechanical difficulties with the story itself, and the nature of the business, I am unable to pursue this story any further in the market short of self-publishing, something I'm not keen to do. For what it was worth, it was fun, and I am very close to the character of Rebecca. Rebecca helped me through the past two years as much as anyone else. I am very close to my writing, and particularly this story. Too close, as it turns out. As Jim, a friend and mentor who is himself a major award-winning published author said to me “You've gotta break up.” That's just how it goes, unfortunately.

This is not to say that the story is gone. I've got two new universes, in which I am writing novels, short stories, and novellas, one of which was directly inspired by The Academy. I would not be surprised if my audience found some material that made it my Academy books in some of my new stories, though perhaps (or even probably) in some other form. This was not an easy decision to make, but I feel that it's for the best. In keeping with the original concept behind The Academy, I am attempting to tell its successor story entirely in the short form, though hopefully in a much less serialized way than how it originally turned out.

I also do have a new series, and I think it's one with a lot of potential. I'm about two-thirds finished with the first draft of the opening novel, and I have the outlines of several short stories to follow it. These stories may or may not ultimately predate the novel in publication, but that's dependent on a lot of things beyond my control. I won't say too much about it just yet, only that it's written in the first person, the narrator is a teenager, and there are aliens and my usual dark, brooding emotive passages. I can get all excited about it, and I am, and the people that read and like my fiction should as well. But already I can see the problem staring me in the face right back again.

Herein is one of the central conundrums of my writing career: I can't not care. My writing only works when I'm very close to my characters, feeling what they feel and letting them take the lead in the story. It's a fine place to be when you're writing fiction, but a very difficult and awkward place to be when you're publishing. I didn't want to put myself through the emotional wringer in the state I was in when I finished The Academy. I played it too safe, and accepted something I probably shouldn't have. Which is not to say that I'm totally to blame here, either. My publisher completely botched the PR for my book, and at the time I was in no state to do the legwork required to get the word out. Quite frankly, I'm amazed as many people found it as they did.

That's really all right, though. I learned a lot from the experience, and I can take that and put it into my next experience. So yes, The Academy is dead. Long live The Academy. It was a good story, but it was ultimately doomed. In addition to my own errors in marketing it, there were substantial mechanical flaws.  I've learned from my mistakes. It will be reborn in some other form in the near future, the flaws corrected, though not necessarily with the same cast of characters, and given a proper chance to be marketed. In the meantime, I can't wait to tell you more about my other story, but perhaps I've said too much already. I'm in that classic fluid first draft period where details are up in the air, and I don't want to state something for the record that gets changed. But rest assured, my writing career is not dead. I needed some perspective, and I needed a break from what I'd been working on. I've gotten both now, and now I want to get back to doing what I love: writing really good fiction.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Clara the Windup Doll

Note: I'm going to be doing a series of posts about my life and my struggles with mental illness over the next few months.  Though the people I talk about are real and everything I recount in these posts actually happened, I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of everyone who I write about out to protect their privacy.

Clara was a fairytale character transposed into real life: blond, sprite-like, with the body of a broken down music box dancer.  I met her on an online fetish forum in 2008, and for a few months last year, she lived with me.  Clara kept a necklace of several interlocking gears that was made for her by her ex-girlfriend in San Francisco: an affectionate reminder of what she believed she was: a windup toy.  Like with many of my friendships and relationships, this one began when she read my fiction, in this case a short story I had posted to the site.  She said she'd been a member of the forums since she was thirteen: for five years, then, as she claimed she was eighteen.  She was both astonishingly earnest about her troubled past and equally naive.  I liked her because we had so many diagnoses in common, and it made me feel like she could relate to me.  The time we knew each other consisted of the better part of a quasi-psychotic and emotionally dissociative phase in my life that corresponds to some of the sickest and most disabled I've ever been.  It was, actually, Clara herself (among others) who had suggested I apply for Disability in the first place.

I've told this story many times before, but never in writing.  Clara was, literally, a delusional drug addict who wound up costing me a lot of money.  Money, that universal solvent of human ties, was in fact what ultimately ended our friendship.  I have been quite harsh and critical of her behind closed doors in the company of close friends, perhaps unduly so, but that's not what I want to write about here.  Rather, I've come to realize, Clara's struggles are a reflection of my own.  It's those struggles that I want to talk about tonight, and I can think of no better way to view them.

People with a severe diagnosed mental illness generally fall into one of two categories, but in reality they're one in the same.  There are those who are ashamed of it and try to hide it, and those who do the opposite and celebrate it.  To the extent that she was aware of her own illness, Clara was the latter, while I was the former.  As I've come to learn, both methods are little more than a severe form of denial.  We were, at the time we knew each other, both fractured people: openly dissociating, psychotic, at times psychotically babbling incoherently.  The popular image of the mentally ill is the lunatic schizophrenic, but the reality is often more subtle.  Clara wasn't incoherent.  Her system may not have been on the level with everyone else's, but it made sense to her, and to those who were willing to learn it.  I too had a system of my own.  Like Clara, I had devised an ingenious method of escape: a fully-fledged virtual fantasy world of my own design.  I suspect that a lot of people do this, ill or not.  It's just that few of us are ever allowed to take it as far as Clara and I did. These places, and the thoughts, feelings, and people that inhabit them can lay undisturbed for years, even decades.  It is, in principle, a highly effective substitute for reality.  The catch is of course that sooner or later these sanctuaries, however elaborate or simple, do eventually collide with reality.  If and when that happens, it can be truly terrifying for everyone involved.

Last summer (the summer of 2010), I was out of my goddamn mind.  I'd walk to Prescott Park in downtown Portsmouth having visible animated coversations out loud with my alter egos.  Though no one ever seemed to notice, I spent a good many nights after the play let out in the outdoor theater bawling my eyes out as I hung over the railing that sat atop the seawall on the Piscataqua River.  Each night my dream world broke a little bit more, and each night I was dragged kicking and screaming one step closer into the real world.  I'm quite impressed I was never arrested.

I live about a mile and a half from the park.  I'd taken to going on long walks just to try and sort everything out.  It was as good a coping strategy as any.  From April to December of 2010 I spent literally half my waking hours either in the park, on the attached recreation areas of Peirce or Four Tree Island, or in transit to any of those places.  My fiancée hardly saw me, and she lived with me the whole time, too.  In contrast, Clara's strategy of choice seemed to be prescription painkillers and benzodiazepines.  As a result, she spent a lot of time sleeping.  Both our efforts were equally time-consuming.  But, in our own way, in the waking moments we had together, Clara and I were supportive of one another in a way that few others could be.  I trusted her to understand what I was going through in a way that I didn't really trust anyone else.  Most people have no idea what to do when someone else disagrees with their reality on such a profound level.  In the case of politics and religion, they become obsessed with correcting the other person, and with everything else the stimulus simply never makes it much past the input channel.  Which is why I can't truly fault Clara for her flaws -- they were my flaws too.  My only advantage over her was that I was aware my delusions weren't real.

Slowly, things seemed piece themselves back together over the summer, and this brings me to the lesson Clara taught me.  The truth of the matter is, which I learned over the course of that summer, is that there is no escape from reality, not even through death.  We exist or we don't.  I pick up a magazine or see a self-help book, and I see this all around me.  My life is equally painful and scary now as it was last year.  The only difference is that I've slowly come to accept it.

At the time, I called my massive walking/running/meditating/generally-acting-like-a-crazy-person routine self-improvement.  And maybe I learned some skills.  But the pursuit of self-improvement is ultimately no different than Clara's and my delusions, or her drug use.  I never started to get better until I accepted my weaknesses.  It's a life-long struggle that never ends.

But the reward for all the effort is a chance at real peace, something I really don't think Clara ever knew.  what else are muscle cars, gym memberships, and expensive jewelry?  Clara would make me drive her to the drug store on a nearly daily basis so she could buy new brands of blond hair dye.  Hers is only an extreme case.  Our desire for escape is only the reflection of our deep dissatisfaction with the way things are.

I try very hard day by day to accept this.  It's neither easy nor glamorous.  But, it ended my dissociations and
ended my dependence on fantasy, and let me focus on what was in front of me: a woman who deeply loves me and for whom I feel an equally deep love, the thrill of watching the sun set over Portsmouth and the Piscataqua, and even just the freedom that comes with being unburdened with keeping track of it all in my head.  In the end I discovered that that's all I need.  We have the world, and each other, as fucked up as it is.  Why would we want anything else?