"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
Stephen King, The Gunslinger
My blogging hiatus has been over a year. There are several reasons for that, but I won't get into it here. Mostly it has to do with dissertation recovery--2014 was so fraught with anxiety-ridden writing, that crafting anything other than an email was just plain ol' scary. I still get the chills when I think about all that writing, but it feels like a fallen world ago, so I bounce back pretty quickly.
During the dissertation writing I escaped by doing something completely abnormal (for me)--I read science-fiction; Stephen King to be specific. The Dark Tower series was complete and absurd escapism, and it was just what I needed. Cowboys. Aliens. Gangsters. The past. The future. Multiple dimensions. Fiction. Biography. All melting together to form the craziest piece of literature I've ever read. I realize there's crazier stuff out there, that's just not my cup of tea, so for me it was super crazy.
The epic journey of the gunslinger and his band of lost world misfits comes to a conclusion at the Dark Tower. That was the prize, the explicitly stated, single-minded goal. The Tower. Everything was the Tower. During the read it's tough to figure out what the Tower is, and what the gunslinger's relationship to it is. Is it god? Is it heaven? Is it gravity? I was annoyed by its presence at times, completely obsessed with it at other points during the read. And then, purposefully probably, I fell into the trap that was surely intended (on some level) by the author. I didn't care about the Tower. I only cared about the journey and the people who were on it. The Tower pulled them along the way, but it was merely an object; the meaning was created during the journey. The Tower could have been a rock. It could have been a statue. It didn't matter. What mattered was the assignment of meaning and the pull towards the Tower which simultaneously sent the characters crashing into one another.
Then the gunslinger got to the Tower. He climbed to the top, the pinnacle of this completely focused objective, and without warning, he was thrust back to where he started. Back to the beginning of his journey. All the pain, all the joy that propelled him towards the Tower were not merely means to end, but the end unto themselves. And after grasping this most glorious of achievements, he was on to the next journey. The book ended there with questions about where the gunslinger would head off to next; perhaps towards another Tower, chasing another cast of characters, building and maintaining relationships, hurting and getting hurt.
The end was so dissatisfying in a way, even though I had come to the conclusion on my own. But then, as I reflected, as I reached into that top room of that darkest of Towers at the end of my own dissertation journey, it made sense. This parable is one of life's richest. It is a constant journey, a constant pull towards some Tower, either constructed for us or by us, but always defined through our own experiences and perspective. Its pull is irrational, and yet is it perfectly beautiful. It sends us crashing into one another as vanity and charity hash it out, hopefully becoming a better version of ourselves as we inch our way towards that final (?) angle of repose*.
I'm now in the desert. The man in black is not yet in my sights, but I'm enjoying the respite. I am not chasing for the time being. I am building. I am repaying. The Dark Tower is somewhere in the distance, no doubt, but for now it doesn't haunt me. I am happily content several mirage pools away, enjoying some time in the sun.
* Angle of Repose is the book I'm currently reading, which is much different than Stephen King's style, but which has a similar message and has me absolutely transfixed. Thanks to William for the recommendation.