The entertainment unto death

Crossing the Spree Canal, Berlin

Crossing the Spree Canal, Berlin

I hadn’t gotten sick like that in seven years, with my head in a toilet, and it was the same toilet seven years ago, the last time at my mom’s in 2009, I had to ask Dawn if she could scrub it first because it was too nasty to put my head in, as if toilets shouldn’t be that way.

But I felt renewed as you sometimes do, and got back into bed, and thought about that first scene in The Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges gets his head put in a toilet, and has to pull his sunglasses out, and how the movie tries to say more than it appears to on the surface, it makes you think about bigger things, like why some things are entertaining to us when they’re really disturbing, or how empty and useless we all might be.

And I stopped on the way back home to say hi to my mom’s neighbor who was out pruning with a ladder, and told him I was going back to the States to see my grandmother, and we spoke mainly in German and he asked if it was a birthday and I explained no, she was really sick and this could be it, and he said it was normal; he didn’t say he was sorry and I’m glad he didn’t, because he wasn’t.

And on the plane I judged the woman who sat next to me for all the time she spent on her phone before we took off, and I guessed she was from New York and like all the rest, and when it was finally time to stow our things, to wrench ourselves away and just be, she addressed me for the first time by saying sorry, thinking she brushed my elbow but she didn’t, she missed.

After we got in the air she sat for a time doing nothing, like she was thinking, and at last used her finger to pull up some music on the telemonitor which made me feel sorry her, for having to succumb to that, and I thought about offering her my iPod but didn’t.

When our food came we talked, and I realized how much I missed other Americans — she was working for the UN assigned to the refugee crisis, had flown from Jordan to Frankfurt and now home to New York — and we made what we could of it flying over the ocean, above the clouds, and I knew I was wrong judging her because most times you are, and turned to a guy across the aisle who’d been watching movies since the flight started and fixed on his phone, dancing on apps and games with his headphones not even connected to the film, and he started a new one with just 45 minutes left in the air and didn’t even watch it, just looked up now and then — and I wondered why so many of us are like that, why we can’t just sit there looking at nothing — or looking at a different nothing, a real nothing.

I’m no different and probably worse. At night I put the iPod on and it plays while we sleep. I’ll play ambient music that all sounds the same, a droning, sometimes bovine electronic sound blooming and whining in the dark, probably afraid of what my mind will think about given the chance, or like I’ll miss out on something.

And maybe this is why we should read hard books like Infinite Jest that tease out real themes, like how we stuff ourselves full of entertainment that’s empty and reflects back on our own emptiness like a feed bag that leaves no memory, just the crunching desire to consume more — and why is it we can’t look at a blank screen and think about nothing, or sit in the quiet of a room — are we afraid of what we’ll see if forced to sit too long looking inside ourselves, and not through a stick? And if we sit long enough waiting for something to come, and nothing does? Then maybe we’ll be left with ourselves, outside anyone’s understanding and where we really belong, for better or for worse.

 

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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38 Responses to The entertainment unto death

  1. poshbirdy says:

    Wow! She scrubbed the toilet for you to puke in it? That is real love

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      It is a real level of perversion, that is love, and that my wife loves me, still. Not only is it blind but maybe dead and dumb, true love.

      Like

  2. So many nuggets of truth in this post, Bill. Unplugging has been my new practice – you never realize how strong your dependency has grown until you stop and sit in that echo chamber that is one’s own mind. My recurring thought is usually “ah, yes, I remember you, weirdo.” Perhaps this is why I gravitate towards mindless distraction!

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      I’m a Denver Omelette of truth nuggets, all locally-sourced. Glad you enjoyed it Michelle; I’m looking forward to hearing some thoughts on the book when you have a chance to send me a note. Please do…! Bill

      Like

  3. byebyebeer says:

    I’m definitely a phone junkie, though lately find such pleasure in the momentary panic of thinking I’ve lost it just because it’s been so long since I looked at it. Isn’t a book still an escape from ourselves? I’ve been reading a lot more lately and looking less at my phone, and I feel happier. Except when I’m overwhelmed and worn out. There’s this dumb bubble-popping game on my phone and sometimes I just need a quick hit. Before apps, I was big into daydreaming but used to get letters sent home about that. Everyone is a critic.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      It’s hard not to be a phone junkie. I cradle with the thing or clutch onto it like it’s my car keys, my passport, my woobie. Sometimes I just think what the hell is going on, and wonder why others don’t seem to think the same, which is probably better they don’t, because we don’t need a world of me’s for however much I think we do sometimes, which is another problem that can’t be solved for by an app. Just had a nice discussion about it with my dad over breakfast in a diner here in Whitehall, PA — not far from your hood I think. Got a dusting of snow in these parts, this morning.

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  4. Becky says:

    I’m sitting in a train reading this and although I’m no better for a second I thought… Wow he’s so right 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I need to upgrade my gizmos. I still have an ancient iPod Nano that doesn’t hold nearly enough songs to get me across the Atlantic!

    I think you’re right though — we don’t want to look at “the real nothing.” There’ll be plenty of time for that later …

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Dude I have a 80 GB iPod with no wi fi. Only hot spots I get are in my feet first thing in the morning, touching down. The real nothing is likely bleaker but more interesting to me in theory than the other nothings. So many of them everywhere sometimes!

      Like

  6. Tish Farrell says:

    This is so well put: “like how we stuff ourselves full of entertainment that’s empty and reflects back on our own emptiness like a feed bag that leaves no memory, just the crunching desire to consume more.” Sums up 21st century life and death in the privileged world. Your journey, though, to see your grandma is big stuff, Bill. Thinking of you in transit – and in many senses. Tx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. walt walker says:

    I don’t know what happened, but I typed out several sentences with my thumb on my phone while not working at work in response to this. They went poof. I sent them. I saw them go, and they were good, and now they are so much digital vapor. I am pissed at technology for sucking me in and them pulling the rug out from under me. Anywhoo, I will catch up with you later. Lots of good nuggets in here. Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Puddy stares at the seat back in front of him on the plane. Elaine asks, “Don’t you want a magazine or something?” Puddy says, “Nah, I’m good.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      You’re getting old. Technology is pulling you down, the undertow….but thankful for this, you taking the time to do it twice. And giving me Seinfeld references, oh Lebowski sage you.

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  8. ksbeth says:

    love the love of the pre-puke toilet prep and the lebowski reference. that’s quite a mash-up.

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  9. We all need to go to nothing school. To learn how to sit and be. Do nothing. Maybe someone could make a show about nothing? Like a TV show with four friends, who never do anything and one of them is called Elaine… oh I am getting distracted with screens again. Nothing. I”m going to try it today for a couple of minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      Amen to that. “Let’s start an anonymous club.” Thanks for checking in Angela, with my distraction here. Off my chest onto yours.

      Like

  10. You asked her to do what? How’d that go over?

    I STILL haven’t seen The Big Lebowski. I remember you yelling at me once for it already.

    What a spectacular take on death. It’s normal. It is!

    People are afraid of quiet. They’re afraid of solitude. They don’t want to be left alone with their thoughts because they’re afraid of what they might hear. That’s why we constantly bombard our senses. To drown out the silence. There are so many good lines in this, you son-of-a-gun. What a post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. alesiablogs says:

    I on purpose put tomes alone on my vacation to do just that nothing. I am in my hotel room in Hawaii writing. I am glad I did this so I could see what it would feel like if I ever decided to move here. Its been great. I am also enjoying the heat on my arthritic riddled body. It has helped. Maybe we can catch up in real life for coffee upon my return to Seattle. Let me know. Sometime in April might work for me if it dies for you. Sorry about your grandma.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. jacqueline S says:

    ‘How we stuff ourselves full of entertainment that’s empty and reflects back on our own emptiness like a feed bag that leaves no memory, just the crunching desire to consume more …’ So much truth here. I have to admit, I cannot watch films one after the other. Like food, I need time let it ‘go down’. To digest it. My brain gets full. However, I have been guilty of waiting for the next pleasure on a screen in front of me, whilst holding my iPhone and gazing at my social media interactions… by this means I miss the true joy and anticipation of both ‘entertainments’. I worry my mind is fracturing. Too many pieces, and I never really understood or experienced the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      That’s a great comment Jacqueline — thank you for it. We could probably both write 10,000 word essays on this. I’m often put in this mindset flying because I normally don’t buy ‘in-flight entertainment’ yet can’t stop myself from watching everyone else’s, which is its own madness, looking at segments of different movies everywhere with no sound, unable to turn away. It’s why there are many bars I can’t go to, if they have too many TVs or position them such that you can’t look away. Yet, like you it sounds, I love my addictions (wouldn’t be a proper addiction otherwise, would it?) even though I’m a pretty light user in the social media realm, with no FaceBook or other feeds, and not a ton of contact on here, but yet I yearn for it and it’s become its own moment, social media, even though you’re physically in one place you kind of put yourself elsewhere too, and many places, and that leaves me tired. Just like you say, I need space between films. Last night we started ‘binge watching’ House of Cards at my dad and step-mom’s, which is something I don’t do anymore w/o TV or subscriptions to video. And after I think three episodes I was wrung out and felt almost mind-reamed. I really often just need to look out the window at some trees. And I think there’s many interesting rabbit holes one can go down into to ask questions like why, and what next, and what’s it doing to us, and does it matter…reminds me of that Dylan line, somewhat similar context you could argue: “something’s happening but you don’t know what it is, do you — Mr. Jones?” Cheers, Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • jacqueline S says:

        😀 You put this so well. I once watched a full-on BBC Dickens costume drama followed by a few back to back episodes of The Sopranos. My mind was bloated. Like I’d force-fed it 10 roast dinners with gravy and all the trimmings and then binged on loaded pizzas.
        Time to stare at a wall. At a tree. Out of a window. Even time to be bored. To wait. To stretch our minds. To take our imaginations for a little walk. Is this the new luxury us 21st century writers are denying ourselves?! Many thanks for your kind words. x

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Lynn Love says:

    Your mum’s neighbour was very wise.
    I truly understood the normality of death as I watched my dad die – we all know it, but it’s only when you watch it happen to someone you know well, someone who’s always been in your life, that you can’t envisage life without, that you really know.
    You make such great observations on the way we all have to fill our heads and hands and eyes with images and sounds. I’m very guilty of this, not just on WordPress (which is truly addictive) but even if I’m cooking in the kitchen, the radio has to go on – I don’t want the silence and being alone with my own thoughts has not been healthy for me in the past. A modern disease perhaps?
    A great post Bill – always great posts. You manage to tweeze something important from the seemingly mundane – quite a skill my man 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      I can’t cook or do anything really without music playing — especially driving. I can relate in a sense to your experience of losing your dad, and what that must have been like, and how you put it. I’m glad you used the word “tweeze” (!) and the observation about pulling it out of the mundane; I’m actively trying to do that with this blog to help me with my other writing. Wouldn’t that be great, to find active ways to use all this day-to-day living ‘stuff’ to elevate ourselves through our writing? It elevates my life, for sure — as having your thoughts here to volley back and forth Lynn, thank you. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        It’s definitely one of your strengths as a writer – turning a microscope in the everyday until it reveals a truth. It’s quite a skill.
        It’s something I’d like to learn – to have some depth to my writing. So much of my stories seem to skate on the surface only. Maybe I need to turn that radio off more often and actually think deeply!
        Love the word tweeze 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • pinklightsabre says:

        Two things, trust and perseverance. Took time for me to get there and often it evades me still, but you’ll get under the surface and it will come, if it hasn’t already. Thanks for the kind words Lynn. I still have a long way’s to go myself, we can take turns helping the other along.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Perseverance I seem to have – thus far 🙂 We’ll see if the rest comes in time. And I guess every writer should feel they can still improve, no matter how accomplished they are – and you are 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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