So, it really is 30° cooler today. Just as well, since debilitating heat in addition to the Blue Angels roaring across the sky would be more than I could take. It is Fleet Week in San Francisco, and for the next three days, the Navy’s finest pilots will be flying as fast as 700 mph and as close to each other as 18 inches in Boeing F-18 Hornets and Lockheed C-130 Hercules for the bedazzlement of the Bay Area public. It is awful in both senses of the word–awe-inspiring and terrible.
On the one hand, you can’t help but admire their skill and the beauty of the formations against the sky. It’s like watching wonderful, death-defying trapeze artists performing without a net. On the other hand, this is the glorification of militarism, and the world really doesn’t need any more of that. Besides, it scares my cats. Every time the planes fly over, the cats dive for cover under the bed. They know this is about killing.
Besides Fleet Week, San Francisco is hosting the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, two division playoff major league baseball games, a 49ers football game, the Italian heritage parade, the Arab cultural festival, the Castro Street Fair, Litquake–the city’s biggest literary festival, and the America’s Cup World Series sailboat races this weekend. Oh, and two mega-giant cruise ships will be docking. Over a million visitors are expected. We locals are putting in supplies and hunkering down. Do not, under any circumstances, drive into San Francisco Friday through Sunday. You have been warned.
Meantime, I am reading Marc Lewis’ Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, which is fascinating, repellent, and full of information about what every conceivable kind of substance one can abuse does to your brain. I’m glad I didn’t read it when I was first sober. He writes a little too vividly about his highs, not exactly glorifying them, but for those of us so inclined, some of them sound pretty tempting. I haven’t gotten to the part where he crashes and burns yet, though he’s had one overdose that brought him close to death.
It’s an interesting concept for a book. Lewis finally got straight and became a neuroscientist, so he really can describe in detail what we’re doing to our brains with the substances we abuse:
For starving animals, dopamine makes the brain a vehicle for seeking food; for addicts, it sends the brain hunting for drugs. In fact, dopamine-powered desperation can change the brain forever, because it’s message of intense wanting narrows the field of synaptic change, focusing it like a powerful microscope on one particular reward. Whether in the service of food or heroin, love or gambling, dopamine forms a rut, a line of footprints in the neural flesh. And those footprints harden and become indelible, beating an intractable path to a highly specialized–and limited–pot of gold. (p. 156)
No wonder it becomes our default position, even after years of abstinence. It seems like a good reason to keep sobriety as the top priority in our lives. There’s more than one kind of angel of death.
One of the many things Lewis does well in his personal history is to link his discomfort with himself, his desperation to get out of his own body and mind, with his cravings for drugs. It’s not the only thing going on, but it’s what initiates new periods each time he tries to pull back. Because he learns, from his very first high school experience, that drugs can change how your feel about yourself. He’s a lonely adolescent in a military-style boarding school, far from his family, the target of bullying and Jew-baiting, and when he gets drunk, he is happy and unafraid for the first time.
Of course there are consequences. We all know that. And as the scale between transcendence of self and consequence to self weighs heavier and heavier on the side of consequence, and we become robotic seekers after the pot of gold, the illusion that drugs can provide happiness comes apart like rotting silk. There is no answer there, no solution. We have to look somewhere else.