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Isolation And The Streetarticles Effect
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Isolation And the Streetarticles Effect

When I was ten, I decided that religion was nonsense. At the time I didn’t see that as a huge controversy, particularly since my announcement of same at the dinner table met no marked response from either parent. Stranger still, they looked uncomfortable. I get it now—they were a ‘mixed marriage’ of the 1950s, father Catholic and mother Protestant. Back then the only way they could be married in a Catholic church involved my mother promising to raise the children as Catholics. But they couldn’t have had any strong religious convictions, or they would have been likely to seek mates within their faiths. So that night, at the dinner table, they probably were just worried that the other kids would chime in too and, while they expected weirdness from me, they weren’t eager to become the Atheist family in our neighborhood.

As I got older, I learned about all the religions I could find—I was willing to be convinced that only my inherited Catholicism was an illogical tangle of unsupportable dogma. But at bottom I found that a religion of any kind (as opposed to a personal, private belief) was rooted in belief in the unknowable.

In my teens I studied the historical story of religions throughout the millennia of civilization—coming upon Fraser’s “Golden Bough” and articles and books concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hamadi. Other information, including living through the Catholic Church’s revamping in the early 1960s, and a childhood love of mythology, brought to me a clear picture of religion as a phenomenon of historical human development. Its use as a carrot and stick, as an answer to the questioning of authority, and as a reassurance that to die in glory will be a good thing—all these uses make religion a powerful spell to cast on a populace.

As a young man, I felt a need to argue religion with others—partly because I had come to view religion as a scam, not unlike Karl Marx’s pronouncements on the subject. Repression, guilt, delusion—these characteristics seemed to me, then, to be the main attributes of organized religion. But I no longer see things that way.

My current attitude is this: I have had no benefits from being an atheist—and I certainly have none of the security and faith in the rightness of things that a religion can offer. I can’t believe in a God—it doesn’t make a lick of sense. However, I see no reason why I should try to challenge the faithful—if religion makes them happy, I have no right to try to destroy their belief. I will still, if asked by a confused young person—or attacked by a zealot—give anyone who wants it my full thoughts on the subject. I do not feel lessened by atheism—I feel something more like exclusion. There are so many people who are quite happy in their delusion (what they would call ‘faith’) and if I cannot attack them, then there is no real reason to interact with them at all, at least as concerns matters spiritual.

So a solitude walls me in on that front.

I have brain and nervous system damage from liver cancer, but in my youth I had a voracious mind, I read an average of 1.5 books a day, and was generally seen by my peers as the smartest person they knew—and frankly I had met few people that struck me as ‘smarter’ or ‘better-read’ or ‘more imaginative’. Of course, some of that attitude was ego, but not so much as you might think. I can be honest about this stuff now—because those days are gone, along with my memory, sharpness, problem-solving, and bottomless reading habits.

But back then, there was a real divide between me and others. I couldn’t hide my intellectualism and it was a great obstacle to social interaction. Plus, I had the usual social ineptness of the bookworm. Early on I became practiced in translating my thoughts into simplified words—and holding my tongue when simplicity wasn’t enough. Everyone I knew was comfortable asking me to settle a debate, spell a word, name the historical figure, or event—but just hanging out with me? Not so much.

Another wall I couldn’t bring down.

Then there was the ‘classical music’ thing—most people could forgive me for that, but very few shared that mania. It was hard for me to accept, since I enjoyed popular rock n’ roll music as well—I saw no reason why others couldn’t enjoy both. Even more frustrating, I found the rapture of classical music so powerful that it was almost impossible for me to believe that others wouldn’t or couldn’t share that interest.

Another moat between me and my peers.

Running was a natural aptitude of mine—no one could outrun me—literally. And I loved to run. But no one else thought a daily run of a few miles was a fun idea—again I was puzzled by the obstinacy of my classmates and acquaintances. My siblings, all four of them, seemed to see me as that one normal person in the Munster’s family. My teachers did not seem comfortable with being corrected when they misspoke or misspelled or miscalculated. The ones that were comfortable with this imp in their classrooms usually put me to work helping the slower students in the class.

It may seem that school was a breeze for me—why should I complain? But it was only the knowledge that came easily—my place in my surroundings was always a mystery; making and keeping friends was an unknowable process. The only people I interacted with were those who were kind enough to try to draw the super-nerd into the group, out of sympathy.

I won’t go into detail about my relationship with my parents or my siblings except to say that there, too, I was a separate entity—included in things more out of obligation than from any sympatico. My grandparents were a different story—but their approval took the form of favoritism, which caused more resentment from my siblings than could be made up for by the occasional doting of my grandmothers.

I wasn’t lonely so much as walled out. People would pass the time of day with me, but no one seemed to want to ‘hang’ with me. The few close friends I did make always seemed to reach a saturation point (probably from my neediness) and eventually broke off any contact at all. I have no friends that have kept in touch with me from school days—high school or college. Nor did my decades in business bear the fruit of any personal relationships or contacts.

My wife seems like a miracle to me—she’s the only person I ever knew that thought I was worth the time of day. And our son and daughter both love me. So I am not alone. I am loved. But I’m not socially active. And with being disabled and virtually housebound, I see very little of my wife, who has a very full schedule and many irons in the fire (mostly due to having to be the only useful or profitable adult of the two of us). The kids are grown and at school (my son) or busy with a career (my daughter).

The genius that caused me so much trouble in the past, is just that: in the past. I can seem fairly coherent in writing, but in person my speech is halting, my memory unreliable, and my focus nearly non-existent. How cruel, to make me live my early life as a smart-aleck and my later years as an idiot. Now is the part of my life when I could really benefit from being studious and well-read, but all that knowledge is lost in the short-circuiting, memory-challenged mind I’m now stuck with.

You wouldn’t believe all the adjustments I’ve had to make after becoming used to a lifetime of always having the good idea, the clever solution, the broadest knowledge base, and a facility with all the arts and sciences. It’s not easy for me, now, being ‘not-smart’—I sympathize with the rest of humanity—this sucks. And to top it off, my physical health is permanently compromised. For a few years after the liver transplant I walked around the block once a day—but I stopped being able to do that a couple of years ago.

I find Time is more important than we realize. I used to draw and paint so well that my family and friends assumed I would become an artist. But I didn’t love drawing as much as my talent led others to believe. Nor has my incessant reading ever turned into an aptitude for writing. I wanted to be a piano player. But that presented a problem—when drawing one can stop and think, walk away and come back to it—but music demands a constant beat, a steady rhythm.

Rhythm is one gift I was not blessed with. Neither could my talented fingers display alacrity at the keyboard. Consequently, I’ve spent forty years happily learning how to be a lousy piano player. Ironic that my preferences are so mismatched to my abilities, isn’t it? And this was not the first run-in I’d had with Time. When I was in grade school, we were given a big list of math problems. After grading the tests, the teacher announced, “So-and-so did the most questions in the set time, but Chris was the only one to get all the correct answers for the questions he answered.”

So, despite being seen as an egghead, I actually thought more slowly than most. I could never hold my own in clever debates or swapping insults or snappy comebacks—in this area I was a functioning idiot. But give me a minute and I’ll bring better-than-average thinking to bear on the problem. Or, at least, that’s how it used to be.

Nowadays, I’m perceptibly slower-witted than others. I love to write because I can do my thinking very slowly and nobody can tell. But in conversation timing is everything—the way people talk, stepping on the end of the others’ sentences to interject sentences of their own, bringing in new concepts outside of the specific subject, and generally having a linguistic rumble—this activity I’m forced to sit out. I can’t concentrate and I can’t absorb nearly as fast as the other speakers. Whenever Time is a factor, I’m virtually useless.

But boy do I have patience with myself! If only I could have that patience with others. But Time is precious, especially when one only has a handful of productive hours each day. My hands shake like crazy when I try to draw (or do anything useful with them). Claire tells me this are ‘tremors of intent’, as opposed to the ‘tremors of relaxation’ one sees in Parkinson’s patients. Interesting, but no help—now that I know, I tremble even more from being more conscious of my intent causing the trembling—a little knowledge is a dangerous thing…

So, yeah, Time is the reaper, health is beyond price, life is actually harder to bear when one has no business (think ‘busy-ness’). In that context, playing bad piano (instead of not playing at all) makes sense—but it will never lead to anything profitable. Poetry I’m a little better at, but who the heck pays for poetry? Absolutely nobody, that’s who. I went searching the internet for Agents that handle Poets—slim pickings, and all requiring that the poet have some stature in published literature to be eligible for their services. It’s one of those “experienced applicants only” catch-22s.

I used to be too busy—I only had time to read other writers—now I have nothing but time to write, but not enough focus to write anything more substantial than these idiotic, self-involved ‘essays’. I used to be too busy for politics (or for the News in general) but now my extensive TV-staring inundates me with the psychotic babblings of self-professed truth-benders. I saw one guy, for a second on Bill Maher’s show, as I surfed the channels, and he said, “It’s ridiculous to make a big thing about a monthly job report when the problems of our economy have been slowly growing over decades and decades of time". I agree with that guy—why wasn’t he the first speaker at both conventions? Because politics is more interested in anything than it is interested in common sense. I wish my cable box had a ‘politics-filter’ to protect me from all that frenzied, meaningless chattering.

Well, music is still a thrill greater than most things. And I spend a good amount of time listening and playing. So I can’t complain (if you don’t count all of the above typing, that is). And I have all you wonderful StreetArticles folks to commune with—what I think of as the “Ainsley Nexus” (referring, of course, to our fearless leader, Rob). Don’t think I’m joking. You folks are a god-send (said the atheist) and have improved my life and gladdened my heart. Keep reading—and if you can’t keep reading, at least keep writing. I certainly will. What else am I gonna do?


Street Talk

Very good,, as usual Chris

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thank you shawn--we aim to please.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Great article Christopher, enjoyed it very much , a good reminder of how important our health is, and the inability to enjoy your jogging or walking around the neighbourhood are the benefits of the past.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thank you, Alfred. Yep, Health and Time--the things that are wasted on the young and envied by the elderly...

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Really well written I enjoyed it, grew up in a Catholic household, although I am spiritual rather than religious

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thanks Gayle. I've always felt that there is a subtle, shared esprit between all us lapsed Catholics--kinda like the Marines, but for children who lived through Mass, Confession, Nuns, CCD, and the big Slap In The Face (Confirmation)--but at least I'm not among the preyed-upon. I was always deathly afraid of Priests--now I know why.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

I like your article. It takes some gut feelings to write the way you do : ). Thank you.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

Thank you, funny Industry--and thanks for reading.

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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