I have a problem, but I don’t know how to describe it. I need to talk this out with you so I can make a little forward progress. Hopefully.
In years past, I wrote on here about purpose. More specifically, I wrote about my need to find purpose. I don’t feel that I have a purpose anymore and I’ve eagerly searched for one since my last one ended.
My identity, for many years, was wrapped up in being a soldier. For two decades, starting at 17 years old, I was an enlisted soldier in the Army. Before my enlistment, my purpose was pleasure, as it is for most teenagers trying to define the world around them. I found pleasure in sex, drugs, and stealthy incursions into my father’s beer fridge. (Yes, he had a refrigerator in the garage whose sole purpose was to keep his beer cold.) I also found pleasure in reading the poetic works of Edgar Allen Poe, William Wordsworth, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The latter was my favorite, and his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is still my favorite poem of all time.
A soldier’s life is far from easy, but my purpose was definite: Fight. Every waking moment was dedicated to the singular outcome of warfare. Training in weapons, tactics, leadership, and history served only to advance my purpose in life. I was trained to fight and win wars. Or, at a minimum, to fight and die in a war. There were only two outcomes to my singular purpose. Life was easy.
War eventually came, and I fought an enemy selected for me by the government. I espoused an artificial hatred for this enemy, my government’s enemy. Deep down, I did not hate any of the men on the other side of the sandy arena. We were all warriors and we traded blows for many years. They killed my friends, and we killed their cousins. We were all pawns.
Please do not misunderstand. I loved my service and the soldiers with whom I served. I hold any government at a wary distance, knowing that no government will save mankind from our self-inflicted ills; although, some governments are better than others. I love my country, and I served her proudly.
My time as a soldier ended abruptly when I was medically retired. I did not want my purpose to end, and I felt betrayed. I was wounded and, after extensive testing and evaluation, I was found unfit for continued service. I was no longer allowed on the battlefield and my heart was broken.
So, what is an abandoned soldier to do? Find a new purpose.
My first choice was education. In 2014, just days after I retired with little fanfare, I enrolled in college. I was not a particularly good student, but I was tenacious and accepted every failure as a opportunity to improve. My original major was Theology. Just before my departure from the Army, I became a Christian and naturally felt this subject was the most appropriate. I didn’t know what I would do with such a degree, but I didn’t really care at the time. Didn’t Darwin hold a degree in Theology?
In 2016, something changed. I had failed the same class twice, a class required for my degree. As a result, I had to change degree programs. After a few semesters studying Business, I graduated with a multidisciplinary degree. I was not particularly proud of that accomplishment, but I was the first person in my family’s history to ever get one. That was something, I guess.
In 2018, I studied Biblical Hebrew in seminary with the purpose of learning to read the original texts of the Old Testament, along with the other histories and writings of ancient Judaism. Once that program was complete, I moved on to another. Being a student, it seemed, had become my purpose in life.
In August of 2020, I finished a master’s degree in composition. I selected that program because I thought it was more about learning to write professionally. Instead, the program’s focus was on teaching other’s to write. While that was a let down, I was most enthralled with the many courses in Rhetoric that were required for the degree. In fact, those courses were the only reason I stayed in the program.
For the first time in my life, I was reading Plato and Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian. I labored over the writings of Ramus, Bacon, Locke, Blair, Burke, and Derrida. I was exposed, finally, to people who expanded the universe of possibility. I was no longer stuck in the same mind-numbing ruts, thinking only in a vacuum like a good warfighter. These rhetoricians and philosophers were prying the nails from my intellectual casket, giving me the option to escape. But only if I chose to.
I decided that I wanted, more than anything, to be a writer. And not just a writer who publishes entertaining stories, but one who pushes the limits of social assumptions and beliefs. A thinker. A researcher. A tormented academic.
I had my chance once. I was a doctoral candidate, and briefly a student. With the onset of the pandemic, and the schools for my six children moving to a remote-learning format, my studies were postponed so I could facilitate their learning. I hope that at some point I can return to that path. Only time will tell.
The problem I mentioned at the beginning is none of the things I’ve discussed thus far. The problem is my dissociation from all of those things. When I was kid, I was always reading. I was a nerd and, by all measurements at the time, I was a gifted student being raised on a farm in southern Ohio. I once read a book about multiplicity, and for the life of me I cannot find that book again. The book left me bewildered, but it is one I cannot forget. It spoke of the dissociation I now embrace, and I wonder if it is the cause.
I firmly believe that the quantum computers of our minds change with every input they receive. The things we read, watch, listen to, and learn, alter ever so slightly the trajectories of our thoughts. We cannot, I believe, go back to a point before we learned something and recalculate our thoughts from that same point again. So, I cannot go back to a point before reading about psychological multiplicity and remake all of the decision that were impacted by it. Just as I cannot go back to the war and unsee the death and destruction borne in the battles.
So, where does that leave me? I’m floating at this point. Not in an elated, euphoric state of being; but in a bubble of arbitrary confusion. Everything I read is somehow connected to everything else. I can’t explain that, really; but it’s true. I’m pushing forward with no idea what direction “forward” is; but I’m pushing for progress.
I read many posts on your blogs, and I think I’m looking for a connection. Some of you teach me about the universe, while others of you teach me about myself. Both are equally confusing. There is a community, all of us strangers likely never to meet, in which ideas are shared, shredded, and reborn. A community of thinkers and fighters we are, reluctant to admit our dependency on the thoughts of others.
For now, it is finished. I’ve not accomplished what I ought to have done here. Maybe next time…