I'll Be Back to Poop Jokes and American Exceptionalism Tomorrow; But First...

When I was in Joyce Carol Oates' creative writing class for the first time she said something totally crazy to us that I've been turning over in my head ever since.

It was a story apropos of very little, as though she had wanted to tell us this tidbit and had been waiting for the slimmest excuse to do so.

Someone had written a short story with a passing mention of marijuana use and its effects, and so off she went, listing off all of the drugs she had and had not tried, and the long-term repercussions of each, on her friends or scientifically or otherwise. And so she came to heroin:

"I have a friend who was a heroin addict," she said mysteriously. "And do you know what he told me?"

We did not.

"He told me never to do heroin. Do you know why?"

We had ideas.

"He told me never to do heroin, because the first time you do it, it is the best feeling you have ever had or will ever have in your life. And after that, you are just trying in vain to return to that best feeling. But you never can, and so your life is downhill from that first time you try heroin."

Alone, in context, it was an absurd story to be telling, especially while workshopping this poor kid's writing, whose story was not about drug use in any larger, and who had only mentioned marijuana in passing, somewhat flippantly if I remember it correctly.

But read and remembered away from the classroom setting, I think Joyce's story is (intentionally or not) sort of brilliant when understood as a metaphor for life, and the search for constant happiness.

An attempt at impossibly permanent happiness and satisfaction is a motif in most artistic movements of the past two centuries--the Romanticist's and Transcendentalist's hike into the woods towards truth and the sublime, Matthew Arnold's quest for "Sweetness and Light," the Imagist's attempt to distill one moment into eternal beauty, and especially the two dominant movements of the late 20th century: the Beat Generation's restlessness and dissatisfaction with the status quo (the status quo being the now and the here) and--okay, Google, give me my American Apparel targeted ad--the nascent stages of the Hipster, when "Hip" was neither mindless musical snobbery nor a fashion choice, but the idea that the closest one could come (mark that word) to permanent happiness was to always be shifting one's life experiences to whatever was new and previously unexperienced.

Making one's life like a never-ending orgasm was a goal of hipsterdom. And to that end, hipsters had a lot of sex. Probably more sex than can be convincingly justified by an intellectual movement, but, uh, no philosophy is perfect.

Here's what this has to do with me, and Thailand:

The first three days here was the orgasm: the flood of new experiences, the sugar-rush of culture shock, the excitement and fascination of first being in and seeing a new place.

Now, another metaphor:

Perfect books of singularly memorable settings are either perfect in their brevity or perfect in their length. You are either there for just long enough to be transfixed, or you never want to leave. The charm of Invisible Cities (I still have your book, Jon) is that you never become bored or dissatisfied with any single city; you never want to leave any of these page-long cities because by the time you would want to leave, the city description is over, and you are gone.

On the other side are places like Yoknapatawpha and Hogwart's, which pull you in deep and which you never want to leave.

Now here's the point:

I'm in the middle right now. The novelty is gone but I am not yet in love. I feel adrift now--no more a wide-eyed Westerner excited by everything new I see, not yet a local with roots and attachments to buildings or people.

I guess it was hard to leave Princeton where the latter was true. But I look forward to falling in love again.

That's all.

Tonight I am going out in earnest for the first time. Hijinks to ensue, I promise.


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