I recently watched in it’s entirety “Arrested Development“. The simple critique: the first season is an elaborate set of “jumping the shark” story-lines that quite ironically move the story toward a surprisingly humane treatment of of the species Americana (dysfunctional) familia circa 2001. Even as good as the first season is, I found the second season to suffer from an ailment other such similar species share: a loss of self-reflection upon the very internal processes that once moved me. And in so losing touch with this core defining element there is nothing that remains but what is crudely writ large. And without a healthy dose of self-awareness and even self-deprecation, the patient transforms into a caricature of itself. Whether it is swift or prolonged under this malaise, death nonetheless comes in the form infinite loop of banal parody: Americana (dysfunctional) auto-parodic familia [sic].
But it is not only the churned bastard children of Hollywood that is susceptible to this disease of the soul. This particular virus is equally found, and more tragically the case may be, in we Homo Sapiens. We suffer, too, to become a parody of our image of ourselves. We no longer are able to grow as human beings, and instead from one day to the next we repeat ad nausea our yester-self. While this disease manifests itself often in the twilight years of life, the vector for infection finds ample opportunity during times of comfort-ability. But before I go too far in trying to claim more than you might infer from reading what is to proceed, permit me the small courtesy of inoculating you from any inductivist claim of universality and with similar severity of a surgeon general inform you, dear reader, to remain calm and not panic as the disease I have is not transmittable by any means other than via auto-inoculation. I am sick and have lived a life in a state of arrested development for much of my life.
I have found in my own life that the best diseases, as it were, are the ones that progress you rapidly out of good health; with these diseases I know I am sick. I know all too well with aid of softened memories what it feels to be healthy for it was only yesterday I felt spritely, this weakness now in my limbs an enemy to be despised and fought off. But what of degenerative diseases, those sicknesses that grow slowly so that their shadow goes unmarked by us under our noon-day sun? You believe you are healthy and everyday you grow sicker you merely re-normalize yourself to this new state of a gradual decline toward collapse. I only now find myself recovering from one such degenerative disease, one that started farther back that I might wish to admit. But like a lot of diseases there is no known cure, only remedies to tide you over till the next outbreak. My apologies to be the bearer of this news, but to be honest, I suspect we all suffer from arrested development. The only distinction without any real difference is that we suffer it to different degrees along different dimensions during different times in our lives.
For myself, this disease had an innocuous enough beginning. At a very young age I was indoctrinated into the belief that I was a “young man”–an adult living inside a child’s frame but with all the mental and emotional capacity attributed to someone much older than myself. I grew to and grew up to believe I was a mature as the adults around me. I saw myself equal to adults both in intellectual and maturative terms. This was, of course, the farthest thing from the truth. I was a child with all the fears, uncertainties and ignorances that are natural to being a child. I may have been at times precocious, but more so I was supremely naive. This ailment became enforced in large part from an upbringing epitomized by hearing (too) often: “What I do is wrong, Ward. Find your own way.” And so I found my own way. And while I am largely reticent to say my way was wrong in so much as there is no other way I can attribute to where I am now expect for the path I took; nevertheless, the way I did ultimately take lent itself to arresting my development in my mid-twenties. It was not that I was a child, but I was a child believing he was an adult.
Let me jump to the end of this story and work a bit backwards. While my second marriage was a great gift and one I still cherish, I levy–for wholly selfish reasons–the greater merit upon it is its demise and eventual dissolution. The second divorce gave me solidly what I needed, which in the great lexicon of our times is summed up as a “massive, earth-rending kick is the arse.” And kick in the arse–and ass, too–I needed. I needed it because my first divorce decidedly kicked me in a different way: I allowed it make me into a victim. Granted, at the time it seemed like the perfect cocktail to pour myself at night along with the real cocktails I gulped down: I, a man, who gave up his dream job in order to remain in Seattle to support a wife going back to school only to have her deliver my “Dear John” via an AOL IM while I was away for three weeks on a business trip. And I returned home a week before Christmas, a day before my 30th birthday to an empty house. Yes; it seemed a great tragic comedy and I worse treated than King Lear’s own coxcomb fool. I did not stop to reflect on the hows and the whys of where the water went or that I was the one who drained the water of trust; I only remembered that final swan-song dive of a belly-flop into an empty pool. So I sat, quite literally, on weekends on the edge of my bed with my empty-headed pals Benny and Jerry and three-buck Chucks convinced of a truth whispered to me from childhood and now found deep root: I was a fundamentally broken human being. Not even really human, something less; a devolved form, a Darwinian step backward or sideways in the genetic nature of things.
When I married the second time we were both escaping from failed marriages, two victims grappling hands together as we ran from the bombed-out cities of our past. But ironically, we did not have the foresight to see far enough into the cockpit of those bombers bombing us to see our own grim faces sitting in the pilot seats. So we married each other and built ourselves a new city convinced that invading armies would never overcome us. We knew how to build our walls against the sieges from without, never understanding the enemy was already within, waiting. We had only had to be patient; our city would be razed once again to the ground, consumed by forces beyond our comprehension but sadly not beyond our control, albeit I would not understand this till too late. When I finally walked from the ruins of the second marriage there were no such illusions as to who the enemy was, though. And on the way to gallows to commit my own execution I found the courage to forgive my oppressor and even to love him in all his imperfections and mistakes. They very auto-inoculation that spread the disease was also the remedy albeit the cure: love thyself.
It is not that I am happy to have divorced a second time. For the record, I do not believe in divorces albeit I recognize their necessity in the extremes. But regardless of this tempered principle, I also recognize that more than the second marriage I needed the second divorce. A second thorn to dislodge the first thorn: one divorce as parry to the first divorce. And once the first thorn was removed I threw away the second thorn. I am only warily trying to connect the allegory of thorns and “all is illusion” in Buddhist text, but there is maybe a worthy footnote in paralleling my illusion to myself that I was a whole and complete adult by the time I reached my mid-twenties. I set myself up to fail because I no longer had the capacity to allow myself to fail. My ego was both too fragile and rigid as to not allow myself the chance to just admit I did not have it all together. We all make mistakes–some of them fairly egregious. But without a sense of imperfection as an adult, I left no room for myself to grow up and into. I victimized myself by believing that I was fundamentally broken as a human being as it allowed me believe my mistakes were a priori unavoidable. How can you blame the sinner when the sin is itself its existence? I sought pity in my victimization and effectively removed myself from my most important role: forgiver; which is to write “healer.”
In the past year I have found my sense of myself and my own age changing, too. I no longer feel like a person in their mid-twenties trapped in the body of person in their mid-thirties. My sense of my internal age is growing quickly to match my physical age. My second wife was ten years my junior. And while I have dated people my own age both recently and in the past, it seems I am often attracted to people in their mid- to late-twenties. Some of this I attribute to the simple fact that I feel I am (still) at a point in my life where all my options are still worth exploring. I do not want to settle down (yet); the world is a place worthy of discovery and exploration with a soul-mate at my side. I am attracted to the idealistic energy that one (mostly) retains till your thirties when life’s realities temper your wild-eyed determinism to change the world toward a more pragmatic (and sadly at times jaundiced) outlook. But I also attribute some of this attraction to the simple fact that my current emotional development is more closely akin to someone in their mid-twenties than my actual age of 36. There is another matter of some mild amusement to myself as look back on myself even a year ago and relive those memories wondering how I could be so immature. But even to wonder at my immaturity is a form of immaturity, is it not? There is maybe another way to look at the matter, though. It is not so much that I am more mature, just less immature? And I raise a statement as a question as I honestly have no clue what it means to be mature. I worry that it is just another glass ceiling I am hanging over my head: like the excuse of being fundamentally broken absolved me from growing, believing myself mature is just an opt-out clause for admitting I am subliming ignorant. Because the entire point and lesson (I believe this is the fifth time I have relearned it in recent times) is that we are never done learning; we are never done growing; we are never done “maturing.” And if that is the case there is no meat behind being mature (or even immature for that matter); that we might believe there is any importance laid to how mature we are is itself the ultimate in arrested development.