The Agony of Being
Connected to Everything
in the Universe [what?]

by Andrew Boyd [who?]
jan '02 • w.w.norton

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[ LOST in St. Louis | atheist post-alcoholic | emotional masochist ]


December 8, 2002

Brother Void,  

Are there signs, and if so, what are they saying?

In the depths of a recent bout of limit testing, 13 year-old foster son raising, and divorced and self-employed male foster parent chaos this past summer, I heard a brief interview of yours on NPR's To The Best of our Knowledge. I laughed, I cried, you know the rest. I quickly purchased a copy of Daily Afflictions, turning to it in fits and starts, as whimsy and hopelessness directed me to do so. I was uplifted. I was saved...albeit briefly. I came home to find the book in tatters. Someone once said: "The light that burns the brightest also burns the shortest." What does it mean when the thing that saves you is then itself sacrificed? Why was this book the sole victim of canine horseplay in a home previously full of books? I humbly ask you, dear brother, for counsel in this matter. Do I buy another copy, or is there a message in there for me?

-- Lack Of Sign Translation, Saint Louis, MO


Dear LOST in St. Louis--

"Canine horseplay" is an interesting word choice, provoking several philosophical questions: First, does your dog often act like a horse? And, more generally, is a dog qua horse more likely to chow down on a small-format genre-bending philosophical humor book than a dog qua dog? Speaking of animal essence, I've met more than a few cats who have an uncanny sense for knowing exactly which object in the house is most valued by the occupants, and then pleasantly curling herself on top of it. Maybe a dog has a similar sense, but instead violently rips into it as if it were the delicate neck of a young doe. Furthermore, if you so treasured this volume why didn't you leave a handy decoy -- say, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Brother Void arch-nemesis Deepak Chopra -- in the dog food bin?

As to whether this is a sign: yes it is. The question is: "What is it a sign of?" As discussed earlier, it could be a sign of your dog's evolutionary programming. It could also be a sign that some supernatural entity or universal matrix of signification is trying to pass you a cosmic note by wantonly commandeering the slobbering jowls of your strangely horse-like dog. More likely, however, the whole episode is a sign of your own proclivity for signs, your very understandable and very human hunger to bring poetic (and, in this case, also ironic) meaning to the random whirl of pedestrian events that is the self-described chaos of your life. In fact, if you turn to p. 70 in your saliva-caked assemblage of shredded cellulose, you'll see exactly how "Everything happens for a reason that you make up." If there isn't a shred of page 70 left, you should buy another copy. In fact, buy two -- just in case you receive another sign.

ps. A cognitive psych koan on dogs and signs: "What is the difference between a man and a dog? : When you point at the moon, a dog will look at your finger."

--Brother Void

January 3, 2003

Brother Void,

I am a recovering alcoholic who doesn't believe in God. Why does a life of contented sobriety, spiritual progress, and serenity seem possible only if I abandon the dark truth about the meaninglessness of existence? In other words, how can I square my dogmatic atheism with A.A.'s inherent theism?

--Principled Existentialist, Toronto


Dear P.E.T--

Here are some quick fixes until I can give this the proper thought and attention it deserves:

1. shift responsiblity: they should square their methodology with your
atheism, no?
2. switch providers: check out Rational Recovery
3. pragmatic substitution: in place of "Higher Power" substite some other
term, like: "glorious entropy" or "awe of the Infinite" or "sacredness of
human solidarity" or "the big inscrutable Wow" or "the utterly bizzare
heart-rending mystery of 10-dimensional superstring theory" etc.

--Brother Void

Date TBA, 2002

Dear Brother Void,

I plead to you for guidance. I think I am an emotional masochist.

Here is one episode out of hundreds that illustrates the dynamic:

He stops by at the usual time (after bar close - which, in this Lutheran Police State I live in, is 1 am). I have guests over. In order to entice him to stay, since my friends apparently aren't 'cool-artist-types' enough for him, I discreetly give him a hand job in the bathroom and throw down a few lines. My friends eventually leave and the two of us commence to ride the waves of mad passionate amphetamine copulation. At one point he decides to carry me to the window, busts out the screen, and I'm dangling backwards out of a three story building while we're still doing our thing. In retrospect, I don't think this was very wise - to be held in such a potentially fatal position by someone not very sober and whose main attraction for me could very well be entirely due to his seething contempt for me. The problem is, I loved it. It was excruciatingly exhilarating. I've failed miserably at normal, everyday, healthy, stable relationships based on honest communication and ordinary love because I crave experiences like this. At the same time, I wholeheartedly believe that the grass would be greener on the other side of the razor's edge if I could ever make it over there for very long.

15+ years of therapy only leads me to this question: Should I heal my masochistic tendencies or just let them get worse in a more esthetically pleasing way...somehow raise them to an art form for which I could be revered?

Please help.

--arsmoriende (the art of dying)


Dear the-art-of-dying,

Damn. I'm working on it...

--Brother Void