Back on the Mainland
I spent the past four days on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, doing my part as a groomsman for the blessed union of Jesse Austin Dean and Gina Maria Long. Everything went off incredibly well. Weddings are sometimes occasions for people who don't see (or really want to see) one another very often — e.g. divorced parents — to clash. But there was zero drama, many kind words were said — my man The Girth burnishing his credentials as a first-rate orator — and a good time was had by all, not least the bride and groom.
Most of my experience was (rightly) about these other people, but it was pretty good for me too. Not a vacation, but a chance to decompress for 72 hours. Touristas aside, my cliche expectations are much exceeded by the reality of Hawaii. The North Shore felt like a place to spend some more time without a schedule or obligations, and I enjoyed being an out-of-place bum in Waikiki for a day.
Also got a lot of reading done. Finished the Žižek without uncovering significant further revelation, and then slurped up the much less dense Geography of Bliss, which was a good pick for a quick pseudovacation. Eric Weiner, a foreign correspondent from NPR and self-professed "grump" with an overdeveloped sense of irony, travels the globe to very happy (and unhappy) places, in search of what makes them so. Occasionally strenuously clever tone aside, the content is good food for thought. I was particularly struck by this passage at the end of his visit to the recently-ultrawealthy Quatar:
I keep thinking about something Abdulaziz said. When he's feeling down, he said, he talks to his God. Not prays but talks, that's the word he used. I liked how that sounded. Talking comes naturally to me. Praying does not. Of course Abdulaziz's God is Allah. Not exactly my God. I wonder: Who is my God? No obvious answer springs to mind. Over the years I have been spiritually promiscuous, dabbling in Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and even occasionally Judaism. None however could qualify as my full-time faith, my God. Then, suddenly, his name pops into my mind and His is not a name I expected. Ambition. Yes, this is my God.
When Ambition is your God, the office is your temple, the employee handbook your holy book. The sacred drink, coffee, is imbibed five times a day. When you worship Ambition, there is no Sabbath, no day of rest. Every day you rise early and kneel before the God Ambition, facing in the direction of your PC. You pray alone, always alone, even though others may be present. Ambition is a vengeful God. We will smite those who fail to worship faithfully, but that is nothing compared to what he has in store for the faithful. They suffer the worst fate of all. For it is only when they are old and tired, entombed in the corner office, that the realization hits like a Biblical thunderclap. The God of Ambition is a false God and always has been.
It was doubly interesting reading for me as the book was a pass-on from Rina, and had some of her notes in the margins, which she found embarrassing but made me smile continuously, being connected in a world of ideas. It was a particularly nice 21st-century romance moment to bask in the morning-after-wedding feeling of hope and optimism, "talking" with a beautiful woman via gchat, me from my phone on the edge of a volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific, and she in Amsterdam (world cup fever!) on her eventual way to London.
I'm back on the mainland now, setting in to what might turn out to be again-temporary quarters at the Cornell Club — landlord called the day of the wedding to tell us he's selling the joint — and it's "back to life, back to reality." I'm joyful for my friends, and grateful to have gotten this bit of respite which I must confess was pretty sorely needed.
Now onward into the summer. To greater glory, and possibly some happy return to that island paradise.