By Christopher Cudworth
While waiting for a birthday party to begin at an eatery in downtown Naperville, Illinois, I ordered a beer at the outdoor bar. My vantage point was pleasant, sitting at the corner of a marble-topped bar with just enough view of the other patrons to make things interesting if the wait got long.
I had the laptop propped on the bar to once-again proof the manuscript for my book The Right Kind of Pride. Today the first printed proof version is supposed to arrive in the mail. There are always a few glitches that pop up during file conversion and those are the responsibility of the author and publisher to find. That’s the obligation. To readers these glitches are a distraction. They undermine the quality of the manuscript as a whole.
But there is no such thing as perfection in the human realm.
So much of life is like that. We present our best faces to the world, but our flaws still pop through. So we edit, and we revise. We gain weight. We lose weight. We run and ride and swim and attempt to fix our form and write our own active story of better performance and hopefully, a better person is the result.
So much philosophy mixed with the physical. The things we do like running and riding almost exist in the metaphysical. But let’s define that:
a: concerned with abstract thought or subjects, as existence, causality, or truth.
b: concerned with first principles and ultimate grounds, as being, time or substance.
Yes, that’s it precisely, isn’t it? Running and riding and swimming truly are metaphysical acts. We draw greater significance from them. They are not mere acts, but meta-acts.
We live in a near Meta culture. The movies we watch now flirt with the idea that everything is an abstraction. Even an abstraction upon an abstraction. The song Reflektor by Arcade Fire captures that notion.
The recent Meta-flick This Is the End starring Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill and James Franco (to name a few) addresses the idea that modern movie actors are a Meta commentary on the act of acting itself. When the characters in the movie lampoon their own acting careers, the audience is in on the joke. We laugh at Michael Cera being harpooned by a streetlamp because his career is obviously at the end of that long arc where he played a certain kind of character over and over again. His innocence is skewered and we watch him gored by the power of the devil himself. That’s a very Meta moment.
We’re all Meta characters in some sense. The person we are now may not be the person we will be in an hour, a week or a year. Soon enough we’re gone entirely. Our memories remain.
Which is why living in the moment is both so important and so difficult. We crank those pedals and measure our cadence and get home to look at the cyclometer or Strava and sum it all up with empiric data. And yet still we ask: What the hell did I just do? What does it matter? Did I just run 8 miles? Swim a mile? Other than the fact you are tired, you can hardly tell sometimes.
It’s been an interesting year working for myself and working on the book and trying to sum up a shitload of things that have happened. It’s hard to even call any of them Good or Bad. They just are. I’m just here. So is everyone. Anyone. All of us. Meta People.
We are concerned with First Principles and Ultimate Grounds. What is the metaphysical’s role in defining who we are? Our first principles may be that we run or ride or swim. That’s the only way to cut through the crap. Pull back the veil. Feel and be.
These activities actually exist outside the bubble of abstract pursuits for money or success or whatever measurements society uses to measure its respective cultural values. Some chase religion or God and come home screaming that they’ve won. Salvation. Hope. The Lottery.
Meanwhile other people are so convinced they know the mind of God they are literally heaving bombs at each other from every angle. Others are packing weapons in defiance of the Christian tradition of turning the other cheek. They conceal their ugliest, fearful motives instead, just in case they get into a situation where someone else might shoot at them.
It’s like denying the calculated and calibrated intent of the Rhythm Method while simultaneously denying women the right to use real birth control. One tries to justify fucking for pleasure within the confines of religion while the other actually makes it possible. The intent is the same. It’s only the method that’s different. Metaphysical sex. First principles. Ultimate grounds. Hypocritical.
They drive Meta vehicles too, proudly ramping their Escalades down the boulevard as if that makes them somehow better for owning them. They view themselves as existing uphill from everyone else without recognizing that going downhill is not that impressive a feat. Everyone can do that. It doesn’t matter if you do it in style or not. In the end, you can’t take it with you.
The potential abstractions grow so thick they become like giant gnats against which the hand swishing in front of our faces feels like the windshield wiper of our soul. The words mix. You Meta boy. You Meta girl. You Meta person that could help you in business. You Meta person that could change your life. You Meta friend for a long ride or a long run.
And then you look down and see your own reflection in the lens of your sunglasses, and you sip your beer and look around one more time to see if the people you are supposed to meet for the birthday party have arrived as yet. And you wave, and they wave back. You put on your sunglasses and carry your beer to the table you’ll occupy. And the Meta moment shifts. The abstractions have to wait for a moment, or an hour, or until the next time you sit with a beer at a bar with light clouds floating over head.
And you think, “How far should I go tomorrow? The weather’s supposed to be good.”
Earlier in the day you rode through two different rainstorms. You wondered if they meant a damn thing. Was there something metaphysical you were supposed to learn from coming through the rain. It hurt when it hit. The white lines were slippery and the tarsnakes obscured. But you rode and you rode. And then the sun came out again. It really did. Through sunglasses the world looked amber and sweet.