Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: life


You want purpose? You wouldn’t know what to do with it. But, fine, I’ll show you what purpose you may grasp.

You are the mind, consciousness emerged from an intricate mass of cells because said mass survives longer and procreates better with a mind caring for it. You are a shepherd for the flock you ignobly call “body.”

Probably you’re already fulfilling your purpose, then. Or maybe not. But if you are, there’s a delightful side-quest to work on until the flock returns to dust. Someone called it “Procreation in a  beautiful medium.”

Get to it.

Can’t Save the Game

I was starting up the nightly Minecraft game. I flicked through the options and asked which texture pack we should use. Asha asked for the Plastic pack.

“Can’t use that one,” I told her.
“Why not?”
“It’s just a trial pack. We won’t be able to save what we build.”
“I don’t care.”
“But anything you make will be gone when we exit. Forever.”
“That’s okay,” she said. She was willing to spend her unredeemable time building something awesome, and then walk away and let it cease to exist. It reminded me of a couplet from the Bhagavad Gita:

You have the right to work,
but never to the fruit of work.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

At the end of the day, though, that’s just how it is. And not just in the obvious sense—that often we work really hard for something we don’t get. That’s how it is in a bigger sense.

I want my life to matter. We all do, I bet. We work hard to matter. We draw attention to ourselves and train long hours and take crappy jobs to make our mark. But no mark we can make will last. A billion years from now, nothing that I have done will remain anywhere at all. I build my castles, but when it’s time to quit, I cannot save the game. Seems depressing, eh?I-have-arrived-I-am-home

But not to Asha. She isn’t concerned about the fruit—saving the game. No, the game is in the building. She hasn’t learned that she’s supposed to suffer and strive and sacrifice today for a tomorrow that never seems to come.

I hope she never does.

The Subway

I look up and down the length of the subway train while we are still in the station. There are no partitions between the cars on these newer trains. I’m able to see all the way down in both directions. I’ve never been able to do this before. It’s nice to be able to see to the ends of the train.

And it stays that way for little bit as we pull out of the station. But then, suddenly, everything goes wrong. The cars ahead of me veer off to the side. I look behind me and those cars are also twisting back and forth, crooked and foolish. My car is the only one that remains straight, as far as I can see. I’m fortunate to have walked onto this particular one, I guess.

But then I walk a little, just to see what’s going on with the car next to me. It does not seem quite as crooked as the ones beyond it. Funny, when I get there and look back, the car I was on now seems a little crooked, and this one seems straight. And when I stand on the moving hinge between them, everything seems to be bending and twisting.

Then the train stops. I can see all the way the train again. I wonder if any of us really were crooked. I wonder why I judged silly subway cars on how straight they seemed in the first place.

The thing about annoying people

The thing about annoying people, is that they don’t really exist.  Only annoyed people exist.

Normal people turn into annoyed people for lots of different reasons.  Loud noises.  Funny smells.  Hearing ideas we don’t like or seeing facial gestures that rub us harshly.  Certain perceived attitudes in others can do it.  Songs and styles and the ways people walk down the street — all these arbitrary things can turn us normal, happy people into annoyed people.

But not annoying people.  Because they don’t exist.  When I call someone annoying, I’m talking about myself more than anything.  I’m laying out the weaknesses I have in my personality that make it so when my son turns on this video for the eighth time, something yucky happens inside of me.

But it’s not the video.  It’s not my son.  It’s not anything at all but me.

And I think that means something.

The thing about university and family

Life is what goes on.  Life is what I’m doing.  Right now, even.  Writing this blog is life.  It’s not something I do in life.  Right now, it’s life.

My family is life.  Because it’s what I do.  When I roll around on the floor with Joseph, it’s life.  When I build Lego spaceships and princesses with Asha, it’s life.  When I crawl out of bed at 3am to feed Deva, it’s life.  When I slump into a chair beside Ruth for a pleasant moment with tea and anime, it’s life.  It’s not something I have to do.  It’s what I do, and that makes it life.

University is life.  Because it’s what I do.   I feel bad for these teens who have been stuck in school for twelve years.  University is just the next grade for them and I can’t imagine how hard it must be.  But for me it’s easier.  The essays and papers are not obstacles.  They are what I’m here to do.  They are life.

I have a whole lot of life going on right now.  It’s a totally different game from the one I’ve been playing.  It’s a harder game.  The controls are a lot more complex and the levels are tougher to beat.

But who wants an easy game, anyway?

Memorizing Mondays: O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman

Oh me!  Oh life!  of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring–What good amid these, O me, O life?

That you are here–that life exists and identify,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Who taught me?

Something convinced me that everyone was watching.  I was inhibited every time I wanted to sit on the grass by the path to eat my lunch.  When I wanted to wear clothing different from my neighbour’s.  When I had an idea different from my friend’s.  Someone, something, convinced me that they were all watching me, judging me when I stepped out of line.

Of course, they weren’t.  They were too busy worrying that I was watching them.

But maybe they do watch.  Maybe when I sit under the maple to eat my lunch, alone while crowds mill by, maybe they are watching.  Maybe they are judging and disapproving of my hair, my clothing, my strange ideas.

Who taught me to be ashamed when I make a choice that my neighbour has not made?

Thankfully, I have become very skilled at forgetting the things I have learned.

The Great Collaboration

There is an invisible collaboration between the artist and the consumer. The band does not make the music. Your mind does. They encode their message in vibrations in the air, markings on a page. You decipher them.

I once asked a painter about the meaning of one of her paintings. She asked me what it meant to me. Because the making of the work—the coding of an experience onto a medium—is only half the art. The rest lies in the power of the beholder.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, it doesn’t make a sound.  Sure, it vibrates the air, but with an ear to sense the vibrations and a brain to convert them into noise, there is no sound.

In a real way, by hearing and seeing and touching, you are calling art and creation into existence.

Gulping Life

I go to bed with a shot of Dr. Mcgillicuddy’s Peach Schnapps. Ever tried it? I don’t know much about liquor, but I know I like it. It’s smooth and bursting with sharp peachy juiciness. It’s always a little sad when the glass is empty.

I tried making it last longer the other day. Instead of taking my shot and letting it go its merry way down my gullet, I held it in my mouth to prolong the pleasure. It didn’t work, of course. It quickly turned harsh. It wasn’t a pleasure that was meant to be prolonged.

This is a picture of a cat.

This is a picture of a cat.

Do you remember how much you loved juice (and life) as a kid? There is no passion in the world greater than a child’s passion for juice (and life). Juice (and life) gave you an exhilaration that made you believe everything was right with the universe. And when you got your tiny hands on that massive glass of deep purple, you gulped it as fast as you could, relishing the holistic sensation as the precious liquid rolled down your throat. But, inevitably, someone much taller than you would come by, notice all that fun you were having, and tell you to knock it off.

“Slow down and enjoy it!” they would tell you, as if you weren’t already in the raptures of juicy bliss. “You can’t even taste it!”

Of course I can taste it! But taste isn’t even the foundation of the joy of juice (or life). It’s the wild abandon of gulping. It’s the excitement of consumption. There is a hidden passion in the purple stuff. But adults don’t get that. They forgot that juice (and life) is meant to be gulped.

And when you forget a pleasure, the most annoying thing is to watch someone else remembering it. That’s why kids aren’t allowed to gulp. That’s why kids aren’t allowed to sing in public or be loud or laugh at crude jokes. Not appropriate. Bad deportment. Get in line, wipe that grin off your face and be serious, because somehow seriousness is better than levity.

Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

– Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

Into the Thar

I took a drive into the Thar.  The sun was hot and dry and beautiful.  Sand stretched around as far as our eyesight would carry us.  We stopped the car and got out in a place without any memorable landmark.  We walked around and looked at the nearly nothing that surrounded us.

Tree in the Thar

My son was two or three.  He was enthralled by the endlessness of it.  A place without walls or horns or people.  A place where you could run without watching and fear no accident.  No ditch to fall into.  No traffic to be wary of.  Endless surface just begging to be played with.

We crouched own on the ground together and looked at the sand.  It seemed like any other sand at any beach or children’s play pit.  We picked it up in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.  Eliot was able to see fear in a handful of dust.  We saw beauty in a handful of sand.

TharDespite its playful novelty, the desert was an obviously hard place.  Everything alive had to fight to keep living.  Every dry and thorny bush.  Every skittering lizard and scorpion.  And every tree. You wouldn’t think there would be trees in the desert–and deeper into the Thar there wouldn’t even be these grasses, let alone trees.  But here there were a few daredevil khejri and neems that had managed to beat the odds to stand alone in vast fields of sand and sparse grasses.

Night fell and we were still out in the open desert.  We wandered as the stars burned against the night sky.  There were no clouds or city lights to hide them.  I had seen stars before–I had been raised on constant trips into the Canadian wilderness.  But even the vibrant stars over Temagami could not compare to the lights above the stark emptiness of Thar.

We looked up at a menagerie of flame and void.  The Milky Way scattered itself across the scene.  One Pakistani folk tale says that the Milky Way is made by the spirits of dead youth who spend eternity scattering grains of salt across the sky.  I believed it that night.

We stayed for a long time, walking, praying.  The void of desert and sky brought out something within us we all had forgotten.  A certain mysticism that all religions try to stumble toward and none really manage to grasp.  A sense of the immensity, beauty, and absurdity of existence.  An understanding of the cosmic power of love.  A yearning to fly into the waiting arms of the universe herself.