Because Peggy (to give my lovely friend a name) says her life sucks. At nearly 56 she's all dried up (I'll leave it to you to interpret the meaning of that expression) and lives in a neighborhood filled with meth-heads and gang members who routinely steal packages from her doorstep. Yet she clings to the house in this shady neighborhood despite still owing hundreds of thousands on her mortgage. I remind Peggy that she could sell her home for several hundreds of thousands more than she owes and, I dunno, move back to her native Canada. It's beautiful there and the people are friendly; she could be near her 80-something mom and her brothers. In the serenity of nature her blood pressure would drop naturally, and her money problems would dissolve. Sure she'd see her kids a bunch less but her son wants nothing to do with her anyway, while her daughter is very involved in a romantic relationship of which her mother strongly disapproves. Who needs the stress! And maybe in Canada Peggy might even find the mate she is looking for, because she says there are no marriageable males her age in LA.
Why she's looking to get remarried is beyond me. We hadn't spoken for nearly a month and she joked that she wouldn't have been surprised if this past Valentine's Day I'd gotten hitched. "Wouldn't that be ideal?" she asked. "Wouldn't what be ideal?" I wondered. "Marriage." "What do you think of when you think of marriage?" I queried. "Two committed partners who love and trust each other completely."
"I see," I said, adding: "Was that what married life was like for you and Bob?"
Bob is the father of Peggy's twins. He is also her ex-husband of over 10 years. Peggy left Bob because she found him boring and his habits irritating and the sex not nearly as frequent or fulfilling as she wished. In other words marriage to Bob didn't accord with her vision of the ideal.
Because the ideal is not real. It exists in some rarefied realm, in the ethers, as it were. It is an illusion, a mirage. A chimera, which is my new favorite word. In Greek mythology the Chimera was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of the parts of several animals. It is usually depicted as a lion with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that ends with a snake's head. Chimera has also come to signify a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve. Because chimeras don't exist. Nor do perfect marriages.
Marriage is a lot of work. I have yet to meet a person who says otherwise. Most married persons intimate to me that they are itching to get out of the arrangement, and perhaps would if not for the kids and the legal battles they'd have to face. Take the actress Scarlett Johansson. I don't pretend to know the Golden Globe nominee personally, although I'm a fan, and her views on the subject of marriage are fairly typical. She says: "I don't think it's natural to be a monogamous person. I might be skewered for that, but I think it’s work. It’s a lot of work. And the fact that it is such work for so many people -- for everyone -- the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing."
Scarlett speaks from experience. The mother of one has been married twice. And divorced as many times. Call it the myth of monogamy, which has a ring, don't you think. And so many of us are seduced by it.
Marriage is not natural, and I am not averse to work. If I were at all lazy, I wouldn't have gone out yesterday and covered 12 miles on foot just because. Or continue to write screenplays that nobody cares to read. I engage in these pursuits because they are enjoyable to me. Work is enjoyable, or can be. Physical or mental exertion can invigorate, and when it does it flows naturally from us. But marriage doesn't seem to fit the category of a constructive endeavor, unless what you're building is resentment. Sure there are the kids that come by way of connubial union. And what would this world be without the next generation to carry the torch and divorce? But there must be a better way of going about procreating than a process that involves so much ranting and raving and fierce debating. It can get ugly. I'm no Mel Gibson - and excuse me, kind sir, for rehashing the past; I stand corrected, since most arguments between lovers involve just that: rehashing the past - but even a lover of equanimity like me has been known to get riled up in a heated argument with the one I'm with. And so I go it alone.
And so I corrected my friend, asking Peggy please not to wish marriage on me, because as one half of a partnership however harmonious I would no longer be me, I wouldn't be happy. But am I happy? Back to her question about depression.
Depression is my baseline these days, I told her. Maybe I'm overstating the situation, or understating my mood. It's not that I'm unhappy, really, but there is often little zest for life. All the verve and gumption, the panache, seems to have drained out of me around the time I hit 40. I used to wake up to embrace the day, now I crawl out of bed and try and get through the next 14 hours without thoughts of suicide. Because I sleep 10. Is this what middle age is like? At least it is for me, and for Peggy, who loves to put us in the same age-range even though she has 12 years on me.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. When I read about the saints and sages, their day to day was also pretty unremarkable, if not a downright slog through the blah. Being joyous and blissful sounds like fun, but it represents excessive emotion, and what swings one way, swings another. The lows invariably follow the highs. Buddha himself preached a lot of nirvana, which has come to be synonymous with bliss, but he didn't seem that joyous himself. Not if joy be equated with a roaring flame. Not one to jump for joy or bounce off the walls, Buddha burned with a steady glow instead. Just like Jesus Christ, who with his constant chastising of the Sadducees could come off like a pedant. Or Ramana Maharshi, who when people died urged the bereaved to rejoice that their loved ones were finally liberated from the shackles of the body. Or finally like Shirdi Sai Baba, a holy man worshiped by hundreds of thousands as an incarnation of Divinity. And who was also a celebrated curmudgeon.
These individuals were also unmarried. Except for Buddha, who left his wife but didn't divorce.
But the good news is that once life is drained of its magic and sparkle, you turn your attention from outward events that have lost their appeal, to the inner world that is even more fascinating. You watch your thoughts, and witness your emotions. You inhabit the infinite realm that exists within, and this is pretty fascinating. Introspection is often the terrain of the elderly, and it won't bring you acclaim or win you a hot husband or wife, but when you reach the point of inward-directed focus, you won't mind doing without these accouterments.
So choose the middle ground, the happy medium, and consider going it alone, even if it's not all that exciting. The fact that I may have to face another lifetime in this blase state, that is to say 40 years or more living in blah-blah-land, never fails to amaze me. But then I'm just happy to be amazed. See, life's not all that bad.
If Peggy wants a way out that doesn't involve Canada, all she has to do is let her blood pressure continue to skyrocket and she's gone to the hereafter. I really hope she feels better though.