People often come up and ask me, “Hey Stew, what’s the goal of life?”
I always hunker down on the sidewalk, scratch my chin, and say, “Hmmm, that’s a good question. I’ve never thought about it before. What do you think it is? I guess, since you’re putting a gun up to my head, I’d have to say it’s to live. So here’s my wallet. Thank you for not shooting me.”
“Any time, Stew! Thanks for the cash and credit cards. Now all I need is your ATM PIN.”
As a non-religious man, I’d have to say that I agree with the above assessment, that the goal of life is in fact to live. But these days it seems as if it boils down to humdrum, no-frills survival. Keep in mind that I’m married to a ludicrously frugal woman–although she’s also inconsistent (who isn’t?). She’s better with money than I am–which isn’t saying much–but lately our collective cash, which she manages, my wallet being little more than a conduit of dust (especially what with all the hold-ups), has been disappearing in a flash.
And now we’re broke again. Not that we’re living on the street and fishing for dinner in Dumpsters yet. If I were more of a go-getter and a hustler, I might look harder for other jobs to supplement our meager joint income (we run part of a small school together, teaching English instead of math, which neither of us is qualified to do, thank goodness), finish doing the criminal background check instead of dragging my feet like a congenitally lazy fuck-wit, and make us some real money for a change.
But it’s hard to get motivated when you’re married to a control freak. The incentive to earn money evaporates when you realize your money will vanish into her vacuum cleaner-like hands. Despite its occasional charms (and I can of course only speak for her and my marriage), I’d have to agree with Woody Allen that “marriage is the death of hope.” Human beings–at least men–are not monogamous by nature. When you’re both as unmarketable and as unskilled at budgeting as Jina and I both are, reproduction is not an option. And when you live in a big, expensive city, in order to have any kind of social life, or compensate for the doldrums at home by committing life-saving adultery, you need what little money you make to have fun, even if it is the kind that will land you in hell.
(I’ve yet to explore the latter option, which, as an American, I’m morally opposed to, not that I condemn anyone else for resorting to it, as I can understand the constraints of a confining, claustrophobic marriage, and share the insatiable horniness of many other men. It might be easier if I were bisexual, which–to quote Woody Allen again–“doubles your chances of getting a date for Saturday night”–and would pay off in the bedroom too, since most men don’t have the same sexual hangups as certain women I know, who will go unmentioned by name since it’s perfectly obvious whom I’m referring to.
And yet, men’s bodies are pretty disgusting when you think about it, and I certainly include my own. I have no right to judge anyone else’s sexual preference as either laudable or icky, but women are so goddamned attractive, I just wish I had the freedom to go out with them again. Unfortunately, adultery is illegal in Korea. This is a shame, not because I want to cheat on Jina; I just want to “grow a pair,” as a friend of mine put it, and get divorced so I can get back into the game again. The reason it’s a shame that having an affair can land you in the wrong kind of slammer is that such a stressful society needs to permit people–women as well as men–to sin more freely if they’re to survive the bleak prospects of their lives at home.
Of course, I’m sure there’s plenty of cheating going on anyway. And I doubt it’s doing much of anyone any good, since it necessitates duplicity, contempt, and heartlessness. “These are a few of my favorite things.” Just kidding.)
The other day while I was sweating it out in church to humor Jina in her life-long delusion, I took a break from forming anagrams for a few minutes, took off my glasses, and squinted at the passage from Philippians Jina foisted on me. After giving it a perfunctory reading, my eyes drifted to something inscribed a little farther down the page, Verse 3:3. It read:
“Put no confidence in the flesh.”
It irked me to no end to read these words, not only because I disagree with them in principle, but because Jina has so clearly been brainwashed by them. [She’s read the Bible from cover to cover, which is more than I can say for myself; I noticed she’d underlined verse 3:19:
“Their mind is on earthly things.”
The surrounding context made it clear that this was a bad thing for “their” “mind”–the plural pronoun for the singular entity suggested that the bilingual Bible’s translation was the product of a Korean scholar, since the concept of the individual is less impervious, at least at a conscious level, here in Seoul than it is in the West, with an emphasis instead on the collective.
Well, shouldn’t people’s minds be on earthly things? This planet would probably be a hell of a lot better off if they were, as would we all. On the other hand, rampant materialism is one of the things that’s doing us in in a hurry.
No matter: a certain brand of materialism involves the appreciation of concrete reality and the desire to preserve it, whereas more dogmatic strains of many organized religions, especially the more extreme, patriarchal, monotheistic ones, encourage a focus on otherworldly matters best left to astrophysicists and other stoners.
I’m inclined to agree with poet Richard Wilbur, that “Love Draws Us to the Things of This World,” and that’s as true in the realm of the body as anywhere else. We may be disintegrating mortals whose lives ultimately lack substance or enduring meaning, but we might as well do what we can to make ourselves and one another feel good while we’re here. That means being open and honest with our loved ones, but it also means sharing ourselves, including our bodies.
Jina frequently gripes that I don’t engage in conversation enough with her, which is probably true. I just don’t see the point in talking about stuff. What is there to talk about? Our lives are remarkably boring.
And although I disdain her for wasting time and for groveling to her made-up deity and speaking in tongues like a maniacal imbecile, I have no excuse for my own forays into procrastination (I’ll admit that I’m a foray eel). The word “forays” doesn’t even go with “procrastination,” since a foray is supposed to be something novel, and I procrastinate all the time.]
This in spite of being convinced that life is short and death is long, and that this moment is all there is.
So I guess the goal of life is (or might as well be) figuring out how to live, and live well. I’ll let you know if I do before it’s too late, but don’t hold your breath, as it kills brain cells.
Maybe you’re better at doing this than I am. Feel free to pass along any tips you have.