I always had trouble in English classes with assignments to write a story about a personal experience, mainly because I feel like I’ve had no experiences that would be interesting to others. Of course the response from the “teacher” was always, “Your job is to make it interesting,” then send me on my way. Now that I think of it, I think every year of my education thus far can be summed up by the relationship I had with the English teacher. I don’t really know why one person could affect a whole year, and actually every year after that.

Sometimes I think that I’m bipolar or manic depressive. I have no real idea what the symptoms are, but I seem to have highs and lows. I sometimes think that I have no interesting experiences, but other times I realize that I have experienced a lot. I think this has a lot to do with a quarter-life crisis (assuming I’ll live to eighty). I just turned twenty, and I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ve been and where I’m going. I don’t know what the facts are, but the truth is I have little more than a bigger body, a couple of cars to pay for, and a deeper voice to show for twenty years of life.

I suppose it depends on who you listen to. The main point of most spiritual messages seems to be that life shouldn’t be defined by what we have attained, but rather by how we tried to attain it. This is a wonderful way to live if you’re a monk, but in today’s world one needs material posessions in order to meet Maslow’s needs. Perhaps the only bastion of true spirituality left is the homeless. I’ve always thought that anyone who wears a WWJD bracelet should give up all their posessions and gives sermons on mounds. I think Jesus was a pretty cool guy, and a lot more relaxed than most modern Christians are. After all, he did hang out with the lowest dregs of society: alcoholics (he could turn water into wine, who else would they follow), whores, the diseased, children. But I digress.

So sure, I’ve had some pretty great experiences, but after twenty years I’m right back where I started. I’m out of work, living with my parents again, back in my self-imposed isolation. Is this the way it’s supposed to work, going in circles until death ends it? That is pretty much the basis of Buddhism. I think it’s also what Mark Twain was saying with the end of Huck Finn. In the end, even after all he’s been through, Huck goes back to how he was at the beginning. I don’t think people change, they just try. Stevens, in The Remains of the Day, wants to change after he meets the old butler on the pier, but I don’t think he ever did.

So where does that leave me? If I can only go where I’ve been, what’s the point of going there three more times? Perhaps life is like a great movie; every time you watch it you catch new things. I think a better analogy might be driving through California in different seasons. Every season here, at least in the mountains, looks completely different. In spring everything is blanketed in lush green; I expect to see Mel Gibson riding a horse in front of a bunch of scraggly guys in kilts any day now. In summer it turns into a desert. A vast sea of light brown broken by the occasional butte or cow-buoy. Fall brings with it a landscape reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. Winter signals a death of the landscape. Another desert, but this one a frozen sheet of blinding white (now and then).

I think what it comes down to in the end is that the end doesn’t matter. The destination is irrelevant; the journey must be appreciated. It doesn’t matter if I keep going to the same place, as long as I get there a different way every time. Thats great in an idyllic world where one can reject all responsibilities. So does this mean that the only people who can be truly happy are those who don’t worry about money: bums and the extremely wealthy (with good financial managers). Basically yes. So what does that leave for the rest of us?

Moments. Our current culture tries to convince us that everyone can be happy and do what they’ve always dreamed of doing. That is simply the ridiculous degeneration of capitalism. The rich have to convince everyone else that if they keep grinding away at their job they’ll be able to be constantly happy some day, because if they don’t everyone would put down their tools and go home. The truth is not everyone can have everything they want. If that ever happened our society would collapse. Who grows up wanting more than anything to work in a headcheese factory, or be on vomit detail at a theme park? As Marx said, society could not exist without blue-collar workers. It seems as though the majority of people have a foggy view of happiness at best.

But what if we look at the acquisition of material wealth not as the journey, but as the means to prolong it? Then life, at least the part that matters, comes down to a series of moments. I guess the tough part is recognizing and holding onto the right moments. I’m still trying to figure that out myself.