I finished the story arc of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman recently. It took a little more than a year to get through the 75 issues, and as I mentioned once, I can’t help wondering what my reaction would have been to The Sandman had I read it when I began reading comics in my preteen and teenage years. It would have been quite the challenge, far more direct an assault on my nascent religious awaking than the X-Men or Spiderman. The themes of Spiderman can fit pretty neatly in a Judeo-Christian worldview, while the realm of Sandman in the hands of Gaiman deftly blends the myths of all religions into an amalgamation rooted in our subconscious needs, while anthropomorphizing metaphysical notions as the Endless gets rather deep in the philosophical waters of the human consciousness, myth making, and our need to understand the world around us; to create stories that help us come to grips with a world that often makes no sense.
Over the course of the year, some of the storylines enthralled me with the inventiveness of the world crafted by Gaiman. Others veered into fantasy and horror realms that were a bit more sludgy for me to get through. Though, as so often with genre fiction, even in the stories that I wasn’t as interested in, Gaiman offered insights into human nature, fears, hopes, and most appropriately dreams. But often, I found myself frustrated and angry with Morpheus.
Not to conflate myself with a significant literary figure, but I have to think much of my frustration with Morpheus was a result of the mirror he presented to me. His capricious nature, particularly to those around him. I’ve been prone to realize just how significant people are to me only after they’ve exited my life. A point eating away at much of my brain’s free processing time for the last couple of months. I hated how distant and withdrawn he could be. The the gothic romantic sensibilities of aloofness and so on. It just bugged the hell out me at times. He was a dick for lack of more subtle language.
And so too am I at times. It’s not enough to say that I’m moody and difficult (again, very much share with Morpheus). Acknowledging that fact doesn’t make it go away, or make it more bearable for those around me. It just highlights how little I’ve done to work it out, resolve it, or try to see things from a partner’s perspective. More specifically though, the times he would court a lover, spend time with them, seemingly grow bored, and allow the relationship to wither, or worse yet, punish those that loved him, burrowed under my skin more than anything else. Back to those shades of my personality I hate. And haven’t found the power to exorcise yet. Again, the specific things gnawing at my brain recently. The mirror of my behavior. It stung.
Then, the conclusion of the story arc. A gut punch. I’m teased quite regularly for my insistence on adhering to rules. Whether necessary or not. For having a rigid sense of what needs be done. Perhaps to my detriment at times, others just amusing… like following the queue lines when no one is there rather than just walking around them to the register. It’s quirky, but harmless. But on a deeper level there is a resistance to change, an adherence to order. I’m sure I could write a thesis on the myriad underlying causes from my childhood, genetics, whatever. But the desire for order. Rules. Habits. It runs deep. And it causes conflict.
So I find myself, after a year of reading, struggling with a relationship, watching it unravel largely as a result of my actions, regretting those actions, seeing my underlying behavior mirrored in a comic book that I started reading because of the relationship, reading as the character faces a final conflict. One in which he must choose between change or death. And he’s so unwilling to change, to break his commitment to rules, that he chooses death.
Change is inevitable. It can be read as a simple truth, cliché, whatever. And though I’ve not faced a decision as stark as change or die, I’ve repeatedly faced the decision of change or let something else die. And I’ve refused to change. I can look back over the years and find times and situations when that was the right decision. But I can also look back on so many instances where I regret those choices.
And I face a sentiment that struck me recently. I know nothing.
That may sounds like negative thing to say, a self-deprecating cut. But that would be misreading the intent of it. I put things together in my mind like puzzles. I like to find systems. Patterns. It’s what I do daily when I design things. I’m good at that. I’m also intelligent. Perhaps to a fault, and I get trapped at times believing that I know more than I do, beginning to categorize things, and frame the world through a perceived understanding. And I’m resistant to changing that framework. It allows me to fall into a trap of rules and reinforced habits that make it difficult to relate, and often create an internal conflict when things don’t square.
Case in point. I’ve always thought I was rational. Logical. Pragmatic. Truth be told, I am far more emotionally driven than I’ve ever wanted to admit. Just one of many self truths that were not evident in my blind spot.
I know nothing. It’s a liberating thought, one to encourage opening myself up. I hope that it will help open me up to others as well.
A couple of weeks ago I attended a recovery graduation ceremony. The program is very religious, in the same vein as my teenage years. It was hard for me to sit through the worship service without picking apart the sociology of what was going on, or dissect what I perceive to be the pretzel logic of christianity. But I could not dismiss the power of the statements the graduates made. The struggles they’ve lived through, and the accomplishments. Who am I to disagree with the system if it’s helped them out of a darkness I can only imagine in most of their cases. I might no longer believe in that theology, but beyond myself I know nothing.
I’m sure there are people have no idea how to relate to running a marathon, or running in general, but many have listened patiently and openly when I’ve described the role running has had in my life. Is it so much to ask of myself when others relate these things to be a bit more open. To admit I know nothing of their experience, whether it’s a 12 step program or Tarot. I need to listen to people with a little more compassion and a little less disdain.
After all, I know nothing.