Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pleasure Pleasure Pain

I wonder if I am in a real sense exempt from pleasure and pain. I know I do not take it into account. I do what I must do, or I do what I am capable of in response to my life's mandates, and I accept pleasure and pain as some portion of the experience of response.

All my feeling, or what I experience as feeling, seems to be focused on impressions preceding my doings: am I drawn to or repulsed by the mandate? Now, you would think that being drawn to a thing (a day with my son) that I am drawn chiefly by the intense pleasure I derive from being with Jackson, but this is not so. The mandate to be a good father is in fact stronger than any pleasure I might experience in satisfying the mandate. The requirements of serving the mandate far outweigh an personal consideration. And even my feelings toward the mandate, or whatever specific actions are required that day to fulfil the mandate, for the mandate is constant and not a temporal or local occurrence, are only experienced fleetingly, and barely heeded. I know what I must do; what difference does it make how I feel about it?

I find myself doing things which, as a younger man, devoted to pleasure, I avoided. I go to social gatherings. I attend meetings. I pray. I read the New Yorker. I wash my hands before dinner. I listen and ask questions. I do things that I must and should do, willingly or no, and I am the better for it. But I cannot say I derive pleasure from all these activities. If anything, the pain I derive from exercising patience and civility is a sure indication of value. I know I cannot trust self to do what I want and live well, and so I trust myself in pain. At what point then does pain suffice for pleasure?

Writing poetry surely is a pain, a necessary pain. Writing however is the only possible response to the mandate to seek relief from the pressures that arise when, as a writer, you have not written. I sometimes wonder how it matters what I write, though it is clear one must write well, and to a sort of purpose or emotion, or nothing is relieved. Having written, the pressures build again, and the mandate renews itself. There is no pleasure in this, only a lesser pain obtained (writing) in deference to the unbearable pressure to write. One gives up, in time, the notion of accomplishing any one set goal that would give real pleasure or sustained relief. The writer finds him or herself exactly as he or she always has been: a vessel for conduction.

Pleasure or pain. Pain or pleasure. I don't know I see a difference. I seem to recollect writers who, it seemed to me, held out for pleasure, even as they lived in pain. But that may have been mere pleasantness writ across their features. And I can sympathize with the urge to be pleasant, to acknowledge pleasantness. It seems to me also that pleasantness, contentedness, used to be a great goal for adults. Now, we are harried to feel all the pleasures of youth even into old age. Well, I for one say that's impossible, and no thanks, besides. I do not want to feel what I felt when I was twenty, or thirty, or even forty. I want to do well what needs doing, right here and now, regardless of the pleasure and/or pain that swirls about me. And if I am granted some greater happiness, then so be it. But I'm not looking for happiness per se.

Why should I?

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