Look, Matisyahu, I don’t know what your deal is, or why the Reggae and not something less awful,1 or what that accent is, exactly,2 or why you decided to shave your beard or how I feel about that, but I do like that one song that was on the radio forever ago, because damn, how many times has a love song aimed directly at God gotten that much radio play?

Not since the heyday of U2, probably, I mean Joshua Tree era stuff, when God was all they wrote about even while pretending it was women, before they traded it in for all this Paolo-Coelho-style dime-store aw-gawrsh-feel-goody quasi-mysticism.

Where was I? Yeah, Matisyahu. I was thinking about him because I was thinking about addiction and suddenly remembered his song Youth, which may be totally forgettable but does have that one line about

beer and cigarettes
To fill the hole in they chest!

which is pretty good.

I don’t know what addiction is like — I mean, I’ve never lived in that black hell of staggering from fix to fix with just enough self-consciousness to be able to glimpse what a wreck you’re making of everything. The closest thing I’ve got is cigarettes and gayness.

But gayness-as-an-addiction I never really got into, for whatever reason: as Fr. T said a long time ago, as a homosexual, I’m a total failure. Because I don’t do the sleeping with men thing, and I don’t do the dating men thing, and I almost don’t do the porn thing; I mean in theory I don’t at all, only nobody is perfect, are they?

And I’ve never done the truck stop thing or the Craigslist thing. Those are life-ruiners as surely as anything you can smoke or mainline; I heard one story from a dude in one of my groups about this guy that he almost ran off to Wyoming to go stay with, but decided not to at the last minute, and then it turned out later that the guy in question was a real live serial killer. Neat!

Cigarettes I was big into for about twelve years, before giving them up last May. I miss them a little but not much.

But I understand addiction the most whenever I suddenly, chest-piercingly, miss all the cigarettes I ever smoked, and all the boyfriends I never cuddled and sex I never had. That moment when, Oh God, what does the next moment look like, and the moment after that? What can I put into myself, or what can I put myself into? All that space in me, all of a sudden, it’s like a warehouse in there, a whole abandoned factory, it’s a planet-sized emptiness.

Occasionally I’ll get a moment like this, maybe while driving down the highway. Good Lord, I will say to myself suddenly, here I am in this moment and here I keep on being, with nothing to do and nothing to regard.

I try switching on the radio but that just populates the void with anxiety. I try focusing on the landscape, penetrating it with my gratitude-vision — thank you Lord for the trees, thank you for their intricate leaves — but it is just boring, boring. How could anything not be boring?

Should I call a friend? But who will I call? I have nothing to say, any time, ever, to anyone. I do not like anything and I do not feel anything, and all of the things and people that I used to pretend interested me are useless.

But it is a fit, and it passes. What is that? Is it just the real-life version of the Total Perspective Vortex? Is it a glimpse of my own utter contingency, the total poverty of what it means to be anything that is not God?

And if so, if that’s what it feels like to see straight, how can anybody stand it? Why isn’t everybody smoking crack every second of every day? I think there are only two possible answers. Everything depends on which one you find and cling to.

The first answer is to become more and more skilled at forgetting that you are nothing — sex, drugs, rock and roll, political activism, religiosity, science, whatever does it for you, man. When one well dries up, find another, on the run till you die. One form of noise after another; anything to drown out the crying of the wind.

The second answer is to learn, finally, that you are the beloved one of God, the one he would give up everything for, sell his blood for; and that therefore, after all, beyond all logic — like the clay the potter picked out of the mud by the river and turned into something beautiful, but less than that because unlike the clay you didn’t used to be anything at all, and more than that because you are destined for deification — you are, after all, something.

1 I like Reggae perfectly well! It’s just that it’s a single, perfectly competent song posing as an entire genre.
2 Jewmaican?

10 thoughts on “Total Perspective Vortex

  1. Sasha

    Joey, honestly, I just want to tell you how much it lights up my day when I click into Feedly and see a new post from you. Our lives are so phenomenally different, and yet I love to read whatever you have to say, because you tell the Truth. Thank you for that.

    And of course, the reason that we are all clawing, groping emptiness is so that we can be filled by God. But by God, it is painful and terrifying at times, isn’t it?

    Reply
  2. Karen Pullano

    And the cool thing about Truth, you found it via homosexuality and I’ve found it through tragic loss of my children. Our paths probably couldn’t be farther apart but we end at the same point. United. In Christ. Cool.

    Reply
  3. Joseph

    So many of your posts resonate deeply within me because I’ve felt the exact same thing (or something quite like it). Though I’d never wish many of these experiences on others, it’s comforting to know that I am not alone in the struggle. Thanks for your witness, Steve!

    Reply
  4. Sheila

    I was just talking with a client tonight about this feeling, how we all experience it (even though we often think we are the only one experiencing it) and how it drives addictions….and then I come home and find this. But I had never heard of the Total Perspective Vortex till now. Wow. Maybe I need to read Hitchhiker’s Guide….At any rate, your writing may be blessing even more clients of mine in the future.

    Reply

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