By order of the warden

By order of the warden, all jailors must marshal their inmates to march to the beat of a diffident drum, tamping down all impulses of the id and reporting all uncontrollable urges to the superintendent. Those prisoners who are eager to please their super-ego, please join us on the other side of the bars from dawn to dusk. We welcome you into the ranks of the semi-institutionalized, semi-employed.

After you have become members of our Outstanding Institute for Correctional Action, we will teach you to deaden your dread until it no longer surfaces from your dreams to wake you in the middle of the night. We can’t afford to have our half-imprisoned, half-imprisoning convicts screaming themselves awake; it will give our full-time prisoners too many nefarious ideas. We require our employees to sleep soundly. We need you to leave your cells in the morning and oversee the imprisonment of your fellow prisoners with an untroubled conscience, so you can return to your cells at night and sleep undisturbed. Waking up, whether you wake up screaming or laughing, will result in immediate retraction of your daytime privileges.

If you have not already done so, from this point forward you will dismiss from your mind all images of frozen seas, barren fields, and paralyzed fawns. The rule here is simple: make your inner life a parenthetical, let that little line stand between who you are now and who you were meant to be. Bound and bracket off your longing to let Life touch you, to contact what is real in you, and wake you up. Learn to perfect your defenses of isolation, projection, and straightforward resistance, remaining inside the buildings of our renowned complex and refusing like all good militaristic Americans to let the sun thaw the ice congealing around your warring hearts.

Every day that my hard-heartedness doesn’t bring me to tears is a day lost to the part of myself that counts its losses, divides everything into win/loss columns, solemnly swears it will be only good, never bad; that it will stand up tall, never look downcast; that it will be right, never wrong. I follow that part into the corrupt heart of duality. I let it lead me onto the lost highway, where all the hardheaded men bull their way to nowhere. I am full of my own bull. I am beaten at my own game, as if my only ambition is to become a cretin, a giant of egoic delusion. I am waiting for the day when someone says about me: ‘Now there’s a man with a good head on his shoulders.’

I always find it fitting to be walled in, head and shoulders below the rest. I am always wishing for the courage to go all-in. I always find myself returning to the fact that I am wishing my life away. Wishing Life, with its promise of Death, would just go away. Wishing I had a way to go back to that pre-serpent age when I had no knowledge of good and evil, and so made no distinction between life and death.

One thought on “By order of the warden

  1. Just read the introduction of a David Brooks’ book, the Second Mountain, which does not say it nearly as forcefully, but makes a similar point. Satisfying the ego is the first mountain; finding ones deeper self and meaning is the second mountain of life.

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