This Is All Absurd
This is the second article in a series. Read the introduction here.
I genuinely didn’t know—or care—to whom or what I’d surrendered in my bed that night, mostly because I hadn’t talked to the God of my Christian Lutheran upbringing since college.
That’s when I discovered that many stories of the Old Testament were not originally in the Bible, that the Genesis story of creation, Noah’s Ark, and most of the others I learned along the way were borrowed or adapted from the earlier texts of “pagan” people I’d been taught to disdain—for not believing in the Christian God.
The irony was too much for my 18-year-old mind; surely someone could have mentioned this fact in 15 years of Sunday sermons, five years of Sunday school or three years of Wednesday night confirmation classes.
Surely, I couldn’t be expected to believe the Bible as the One True Word of God—and not just any god but the one, true Christian God—when the stories weren’t even theirs from the beginning. So while I think it’s pretty common to turn to your god for help when life gets tough, before the desperation of that night in my bed I felt hypocritical asking for help from any God when I’d ignored them all for years.
Nevertheless, I woke up the next day and life was better. The world looked distinctly brighter, pinker and yellow, and crisper than the previous day. I felt lighter and happier, like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I felt joy for the first time in months, just looking out my kitchen window at the mountains across the plains. I went about my business. I went out to run some errands and that’s when I heard the voices.
“What should I do now?” someone asked in my old SUV.
“Write a book,” answered another. I checked the backseat in the rearview mirror.
“You should get a job,” the first one said. I checked the radio to see if it was on.
“You don’t want a job; you want to write,” the other responded, and on and on the two of them went, bantering back and forth in my car, until we pulled into the driveway and they finally stopped.
I sat there for a moment in the silence without opening the door; quite sure I’d finally lost my mind. The conversation was familiar since I’d been having it in my head for some time. Part of me always thought I’d write about working in the bowels of capitalism for the infamous Frank Quattrone, an investment banker with an uncanny ability to push the legal and ethical limits of banking during the dot-com boom to line his pockets and those of his friends.
While working for Frank, we took Amazon.com public; we threw extravagant conferences every summer in Cannes; I added stories to my journal about skinny-dipping in the Mediterranean, riding a moped on the French superhighway, and waking up in the Nice airport without my luggage and no idea how I’d gotten there.
Another part of me thought I’d write about working for South African entrepreneur Elon Musk. He’s a billionaire building rockets and electric cars, and working on serious plans to colonize Mars, among other very cool and impossible sounding things. It’s often repeated that he’s the real-life inspiration for the Tony Stark character from Iron Man, an ultra-capitalist with an obsession for fine cars and high-tech gadgets.
But when I met him Elon was 28, had just sold his first startup for $305 million, and was starting a new company called X.com which eventually became known as PayPal, the online payment service.
But the part of me that always won was the part that said I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t deserve to get what I wanted, that I was a sinner for wanting anything for myself in the first place. I’d been fine working for other people’s dreams, but when it came to believing in my own, well, that seemed completely impossible. So the stories just circled in my head for years and years, until they were so old that who would possibly care?
Elon had gone on to do amazing things and become a household name in the business world. Frank’s bio expanded to include descriptors like “indicted by the SEC,” “embroiled in a four-year legal battle,” and “initial conviction overturned,” but even he rebounded and is back better than ever in the capitalist game.
I figured I should just go back to what I knew and get a job because clearly I was going to run out of money while I’d wasted my opportunity by being trapped in self-doubt and paralyzed by the voices in my head.
But in the truck that day, the voices were clearly outside my head, completely separate from me. I didn’t feel like I was thinking the thoughts or participating in the conversation. It didn’t feel like the normal running of my mind. This time I was merely listening to the voices going on somewhere in the truck, observing the conversation as an innocent bystander. I was not involved whatsoever with either side.
I felt a little crazy. Because voices inside your head is one thing, but voices outside your head is completely different. Inside the house I washed dishes at the sink and tried to work it out.
Maybe one of the voices was me, and one of the voices was God, or god. Maybe I was having a conversation with God. But which one was god? The one that wanted me to write a book or that said I should get a job?
That would be pretty neat, I thought, to have a conversation about my career path with God. This surrender stuff works pretty well.
Eventually, I remembered that both of the voices sounded like me; they were just further away than inside my head. So how could one of them be God? Does God sound like me? Do I sound like God?
You, dear elephant readers, will understand much more quickly than I did that this experience in the car was God, god, and the universe’s way of making a couple of points:
A) There are voices in my head running nearly every waking minute of every blessed day, and B) the voices in my head are not me. I am not the voice in my head.
At the time I didn’t really know what to do with this. I’d been listening to the voice in my head, assuming it was me, for my entire life. I’d noticed that the voice –the incessant chatter in my head, the monologue of thoughts and questions and decisions had been getting stronger, louder, and faster since I left my career behind to stay at home. However, I assumed it had something to do with my general internal conflict about staying at home, instead of doing something the rest of society considered valuable.
Without the distraction of my daily work routine the voice had become increasingly critical and paranoid, and by the winter of my discontent, when I’d pushed everything and everyone else away and was finally, completely, alone, I could see that the voice was gloriously spinning in unprecedented crazy, replaying my short life in Silicon Valley.
It was chastising me for leaving it all behind and destroying my marriage, and providing a daily recounting of every stupid thing I’d ever done or said. Over and over and over it went until there was seemingly no escape. Until one day in my car.
That day in my car was a start. It was a first glimmer of light in my self-created darkness, the beginning of a recognition that we all have voices running in our heads, and most of us mistakenly assume they are us. But we are not the voices in our heads.
I didn’t really get it that day, but I loved that something so weird happened while I was simply driving down the road. It was enough bait to begin the journey out of my pit of despair and back into the light. Do things like this happen all the time? But I’m too busy thinking to notice.
Coming next: The bedroom disappears. (Link coming soon.)
Editor: Ian Riggin