“It’s because you’re not trying to be happy or wondering why you should have been made unhappy, because you’ve stopped thinking in terms of happiness or unhappiness. That’s the enormous stupidity of the young people of this generation,” Mrs. Quarles went on; “they never think of life except in terms of happiness. How shall I have a good time? That’s the question they ask. Or they complain. Why am I not having a better time? But this is a world where good times in their sense of the word, perhaps in any sense, simply cannot be had continuously, and by everybody. And even when they get their good times, it’s inevitably a disappointment – for imagination is always brighter than reality. And after it’s been had for a little, it becomes a bore. Everybody strains after happiness, and the result is that nobody’s happy. It’s because they’re on the wrong road. The question they ought to be asking themselves isn’t: Why aren’t we happy, and how shall we have a good time? It’s: How can we please God, and why aren’t we better? If people asked themselves those questions and answered them to the best of their ability in practice, they’d achieve happiness without ever thinking about it. … If you’re feeling happy now, Marjorie, that’s because you’ve stopped wishing you were happy and started trying to be better. Happiness is like coke – something you get as a by-product in the process of making something else.”
-Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point
It’s not just because I ran across this passage in my train-reading this morning that today’s been a good day, but that certainly didn’t hurt anything. I’d long heard about the brilliance of this book, written at a time (1928) when the West looked a lot like it probably did in 2008. It’s shockingly modern for a book of its era. I’d put off this Huxley classic for ages over a misunderstanding that it must be a book of essays given the dryly factual title it bears. But at current paces, it’s in the rarefied air of Brave New World, Island, Eyeless in Gaza, and Crome Yellow. Most impressive.
I was on the train to head to New York for my second interview there in about six weeks, though this one was directly for an organization rather than for a placement agency trying to slot me into a job that had already sailed. We’ll see how it goes. I’d be very excited to do the work and get involved with a really dynamic and important non-profit and I think the interview went rather well. So keep your fingers crossed or whatever superstition you adhere to going in whatever fashion you see fit.
Going into New York still feels like a major investment each time, so that’s something that would hopefully lessen with routine… it’s only been twice going in since adopting my new life, but it’s felt like a significant excursion both times. At the same time, I’m sure the first few BART rides into SF felt that way. And while this is certainly lengthier and on a more substantial train, it might offer the opportunity to bring back the much-beloved Strangers on a Train category with my random insights about fellow riders and their transport-bound habits. Chaff, I tell you, but you all seem to tell me otherwise, and thus so be it. Who am I to blow against the wind?
The wind was chilly and verging on frostbitten as I trekked the brief two and a half blocks from Penn Station to the venue of my ‘view. New York is a cold place in so many ways, but today it felt palpably terrified of terror as well. Constant reminders droned through Penn Station about random searches that may be conducted and concluded with an admonition to not “pet the [bomb-sniffing] dogs.” The men’s room facilities are temporarily port-o-potties in an alley just outside the station. A man barked at me for entering the wrong waiting area for my ticket to go home at one point. New York City always feels like it has an edge, but today was especially intense. Maybe something about Election Day, though I fail to see how that makes Penn Station an abnormally likely target. Then again, train stations have long proven to be a vulnerable but somehow unstruck target.
Election Day makes me feel like a target, what with the barrage of bunting all over Facebook and the deep-seated passion on display from so many politically-minded friends. It makes me tired. I don’t exactly begrudge anyone their commitment, but I fail to see why it’s so much greater than the commitment to so many other important matters in our society. It doesn’t matter who you vote for in this country at this point in history. They are all corporatists. There is one party in America and it is The Corporation. When someone hits the campaign trail speaking not just against big business, but against the idea of business, give me a call. Then it might be time to get invested in politics. Until then, the interests being defended are those of the moneyed profiteers. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a big dollar bill stamping on a little dollar bill, forever.
Sorry, George. It had to be said. As did the answers to my interview questions, which felt much better than they did four and a half years ago when I last sat in a group interview at a non-profit I was excited about coming to work for. That was a significant political day too, May Day 2006, the rallies all over the country and especially the Bay to defend the rights of immigrants. Not a lot’s been done about that one since that day, nor particularly on any of the rights and freedoms issues facing America, at least not at the ballot box. Arguably a little has happened in the courtroom. We’ve given a lot of money to corporations and called it a rescue or a reform or a renewal. Laundering cash has many names.
The man across the way from me in the (correct) Penn Station waiting area had no cash as far as I could tell, and maybe not even a ticket. He was unseemly looking at first, unwashed and underbitten and prattling away in the hyperspeed manner of so many of New York’s outcasts. But rather than move away to better concentrate on Huxley, I briefly used that latter as a foil for paying attention to the former without showing overt interest. A demonstration of interest could lock me a month-long discussion, but bearing stealthy witness to a monologue yielded a remarkable bounty. The man was a savant, a true rhetorician, his words were perhaps a bit fast (an import from policy debate?), but well spoken, extremely well-crafted, and made intelligent points. He spoke of a detailed history either lived or imagined, one in which he’d not been the soliloquizing soul on the taut foam seats of Penn Station’s NJ Transit waiting area. He’d known people and interacted, been accepted and then ultimately beaten down by the caprice of life and its callous inhabitants. He drew analogies to politics, analogies to the future. Yes, he delved occasionally into the “out there”, hinting faintly at crazy before reeling himself back in to something interesting and eloquent. I need to learn to start taking tape recorders with me to the train station. Or maybe at least Rutgers Debate flyers.
Plenty of time for that if I get the job. For now, we wait. See what winds blow into the country, what bluster and hyperbole is made of them. I’ll be on the sidelines, with Aldous, George, and my anonymous beleaguered spreader. This is one for the books. It’s all for the books.