August 28, 1998

The Experiment

My life feels like an experiment, sometimes grand, sometimes foolish. Here is the experiment: give a man sufficient income so that he does not need to work and can do whatever he wants with his time. What will he do with it?

I have been working on this experiment for about ten years. One problem is that I wonder what part I am playing in it. Surely I am the rat. But am I also the person running the experiment? Am I the one deciding what experiences to give the rat? Or is the world or some other force conspiring to affect the choices and actions of the rat?

I feel a little like Thoreau sometimes. He went to the woods “to live deliberately.” He wanted “to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” He hoped he could then report if life was “mean” or “sublime.”

I too wish to live deliberately. I wish to live in a way that I can step back and look at my actions and look at how I am living in the world. I wish to determine if the way I am living is consistent with what I value and hold as important.

But for my experiment I have not left to go to the woods, and that is a big difference. I have chosen to live in the middle of a typical environment in America today. I have a wife, children, a dog, friends, a home, a mortgage, two cars, a lawn, credit cards, high speed internet access, cable TV, malls nearby, stadium seating movie theaters, vacations, restaurants to frequent, a doctor, a dentist, a therapist, clients, the Red Sox, and the Sopranos. I have chosen not to escape life like Thoreau did. I have chosen to live life deliberately in the midst of the best and the worst that Western culture has to offer. And I am not just sitting in the midst watching. I partake of it.

Can I live in the midst of this culture, be a part of it, and live a life consistent with my values? Or must I reject and condemn a large part of the way of life of this culture in order to do so? Must I reject TV as a wasteland or can I enjoy “American Idol?” Must I eschew James Bond type thriller movies and frequent only art house movies with subtitles? Can I follow my Red Sox passionately or must I do something “constructive” with my time like read “important” books? Can I be “productive” if I do not have a job?

I could have chosen the woods. There is a lot to be learned out there too. But I have chosen to stay in the midst of the messiness. I have chosen a different laboratory for the experiment of my life. Or I have been chosen. It is not as neat as the cabin and pond of Thoreau. Distractions, illusions, and obstacles abound.

In the laboratory of life, there is no maze to memorize. The lab rat can work hard and eventually learn his maze. When he reaches his bite of the cheese, he is set for life because the maze will not change. Life in our culture is much more fluid. Just when I think that I have found “The Way,” the maze morphs into something new and unknown. It is easy to get lost while trying to find my way home.

Through Zigzags I plan to report the findings of my experiment. They will not be conclusion statements, such as “the world is mean” or “the world is sublime.” The reports will be the day to day adventures, catastrophes, learnings, unlearnings, and relearnings on my journey. My hope is that there will be pieces with which you can identify and which will help you on your journey home.

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