Ghost Rider

In 1998, Neil Peart, the greatest goddamn drummer of all ti- er, I mean, the drummer and lyricist of RUSH, lost his daughter in a freak accident as she was driving to college. Shortly after that, he lost his wife to cancer, though he maintained that she died from a broken heart. His dog died; his best friend went to jail for marijuana trafficking; and he gave up his greatest skill, his passion for drumming, retiring completely from public life to deal with the crushing burden of his grief.

His life was, for all intents and purposes, over.

He was left with just the barest spark of desire to continue living, and that is what spurred him to take his BMW touring bike and ride. And ride. And ride some more.

He rode for some 60,000 miles, throughout Canada, the United States, and South America, until he finally found peace and absolution in the arms of his second wife, Carrie Nuttall. Today, Neil is happily married; he is widely recognised as the greatest drummer of his, and perhaps of any other, generation; and he recently became a father again when his (much younger) wife gave birth to a little baby girl. Neil's story of tragedy and redemption, written in the book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, is a powerful and moving one, and I highly recommend reading it regardless of whether or not you agree with what I write in this post.

I read the book several years ago, and the song that Peart wrote about his travels has stuck with me ever since I first heard it on the album Vapour Trails. While this is not a review of either the book or the album (both of which are very good- the book more so than the album, though), Neil's writing and his song have been on my mind more and more often of late now that I've come back from my trip home. Neil himself is a very interesting character- he is by his own admission highly introverted, a high-school dropout who is also a voracious reader and whose lyrics range from thought-provoking to whimsical to outright stupid (often all on the same album- sometimes in the same damn song!), and who is often deeply uncomfortable with his own fame.

When I first heard "Ghost Rider", it struck me that Neil wasn't just writing about the way he coped with his grief and his pain; he was also telling his listener about what it meant to live as he did, cut off from the living world around him, living a ghost-like existence travelling a road seemingly without end, trying simply to stay alive. He was writing about the struggle of a deeply introverted man to stay alive in a world that did not seem to need or recognise him.

And in the process, he taught me something very important:
The reality of the deep introvert, particularly the red-pill-aware deep introvert, is that he is, and will always be, a stranger to everything around him.
Such a man travels a very lonely road. There are few who think like him; fewer still will understand his desire for solitude; and almost no one will understand what drives him. As his mind develops and matures, he often finds himself adrift from the rest of society- invisible to it, never truly belonging anywhere, incapable of forming lasting attachments with all but the rarest and most precious of individuals.

I know this perhaps better than most. I was born half a world away, but when I went back to my homeland this time, there was no mistaking the fact that I was a foreigner in my own country; I did not speak like them, I did not dress like them, or act like them, or even eat like them, and I certainly did not think like them. My parents live in Singapore, and for me that is my beloved home- but I am not and will almost surely never be Singaporean. I live and work here in the USA- but I am not American, and as I watch this country that I love destroy itself through its own stupidity, I know that I could never call myself American. I work for a large corporation, but I do not define myself by my work- I define myself by my skills, and those are largely independent of what I do. My friends are few and far between, though deeply cherished for that. And my beliefs are as odd and as eclectic as everything else about me- I fear and respect God, but I am not a Christian, even though I believe that the Gospel of Christ comes closer than anything else to explaining both human nature and God's Will. I am a libertarian, yet I openly reject certain doctrinaire assumptions of the libertarian creed.

In every way, I am as different from those around me as a man can be and still call himself human. Indeed, during my most misanthropic moments, I have often wondered whether I could even reasonably be called human, as my capacity for dealing with other people beyond a certain point appears to decrease with the passage of time, and Man is nothing if not a social animal.

I am not alone in this regard. As far as I can tell, most of the readers of this blog are introverts to varying degrees. All of us know what it is like to be outcasts, to be without a real sense of home, of belonging, of security. As Tempest put it, we know what it means to be at the fringe.

We know what it means to be alone.

And oddly enough, most of us like it that way. Most of us would not change even if we could.

Being a ghost rider means travelling the path that few others have the strength to take. It also means having to face certain very hard choices. It means that you'll pay a fearful price for choosing to live life on your own terms. And it means that you'll have to face up to the possibility of hurting those you care about the most, simply because you choose to live as you please.

I had to face up to this reality during my recent trip home to visit my family. Overall, it was a wonderful trip and I had a great time; most of my colleagues talk about going on vacations to exotic places like Costa Rica or Colombia or parts of darkest Africa, but as far as I am concerned, my favourite vacation spot is the couch in the living room of my family's apartment in Singapore. However, this trip also had its fair share of frictions, and two of them in particular caused so many issues that we had to have a sit-down discussion with all four of us to talk through them.

As I've noted on this blog many times, I've long since taken up eating Paleo and living, to the extent that I can, in accordance with primal principles. That means that I hardly ever eat rice or bread any more- and these are staples of the Asian diet. I like my vegetables green and leafy and raw; I like my meat in large quantities and often still bleeding; and I eat huge quantities of both. So you can imagine what happened when I went to Calcutta, where vegetables are turned into this horrible sort of mush and otherwise tasty river fish is either deep-fried in vegetable oil or turned into a curry, and people's idea of a good desert is essentially pure sugar, eaten with sugar, with more sugar as a side. I simply could not eat very much, and I undoubtedly offended people by refusing to eat certain foods. I made occasional exceptions, simply because I had to, but overall that one week in Calcutta was pretty miserable from a culinary standpoint (and for other reasons besides), and it was with a profound sense of relief that I left to return home to Singapore. (Things didn't necessarily improve there, particularly from my father's perspective, but at least I could actually eat a full meal with proper food.)

The other issue that came up was the question of settling down and getting married. My views on marriage are simple: don't get married unless you really know exactly what you're getting yourself into. After a few days, my parents sat me down and asked me whether I planned to settle down. I didn't really have a good answer for them, mostly because I didn't want to hurt them more than I have to- they're my parents, dammit. My refusal to give a real answer sparked off a long discussion; I pointed out, repeatedly, that men today face extremely unpleasant choices when getting married and no man should ever enter into marriage lightly. My parents dinged me repeatedly for refusing to compromise on certain key aspects of my life, such as my insistence on staying fit and strong, and what they consider to be my highly inflexible dietary habits. (Though I didn't say it, I find this deeply hypocritical considering that my father used to be a consumer of Herbalife products for many years, and that is about as inflexible a dietary approach as one can find.) In my turn I pointed out that marriage today is in many ways a massive losing proposition for men, from a legal, social, financial, and (though I didn't mention this to my folks) sexual standpoint. In other words, I put forth as much red pill wisdom as I could without making myself sound like a complete lunatic.

It didn't go well even then. The discussion lasted until 1am, didn't generate any kind of outcome, and generally left me wondering why the hell I'd even bothered.

My parents now insist that I need to find someone with whom to settle down, even though I've told them both repeatedly that I don't really know exactly what it is that I want in a wife and am not going to risk myself in a relationship, much less a marriage, without knowing what I'm getting into. And in many ways, this makes me an outcast from my own family. My eldest cousin is married- has been for about ten years. In fact he is a perfect illustration of what I was talking about when I said that marriage is a huge risk for men who are not prepared for it- he has never held down a job properly for very long, his wife is a bit of a harridan, and my niece, who for whatever reason absolutely adores me, lacks both a strong father and a nurturing mother in her life. Most of the children of my family's closest friends are married or are getting married soon, and I've not the heart to tell my parents or these family friends that most of those marriages are likely doomed to loveless, sexless, miserable existences where the woman lets herself go fat and the man becomes a sackless, shrivelled husk of his former self. I have little doubt that sooner or later, the cost of the red pill will need to be paid in full.

Some of you have undoubtedly had similar experiences. Most of you probably have your own stories to tell about how the red pill has fundamentally destroyed your ability to fit into the rest of society. When a truth like that hits you between the eyes like a freight train, there simply is no going back. A great many men choose to try to ignore what they've seen, to return to their former sheep-like existences, but those like us, who choose to live with our eyes open, know that we cannot unlearn these things. Sometimes, in your moments of deepest loneliness and even of outright despair, you wonder whether it might be best to simply conform to what everyone else expects of you, to give up what you are and what you have become; and then, sooner or later, you realise that you can't- that going back would diminish and demean you as a man. And you realise that even if the road before you is all you have left, it is worth a great deal more to you than you realised at first; travelling down that road is your fate, and you cannot escape it no matter how hard you try.

Whether you were born a ghost rider, or you become one with time, take solace in one thing: you are not completely alone, as I discovered to my very pleasant surprise last year. There are others like you out there- others who have become outcasts from their workplaces, their societies, even their own families. (I am greatly relieved to say that despite my deep disagreements with my parents on a number of subjects, I am still very close to them; with the good Lord's help, may that long remain so.)

You may feel that you travel this road alone and in solitude, and that you may never truly find peace, but know this: we are out there, all of us travelling the long road, all of us trying to find our way through the shadows.

And in time, with hard work, perseverance, and no small measure of faith, we find that the price we have had to pay was worth the treasures that we have found along the way.

(No, I'm not a big fan of ICED EARTH- beyond the Night of the Stormrider album and the work they did with Tim "Ripper" Owens, anyway. I just really like a few of their songs. Otherwise I generally think of them as being a tenth-rate IRON MAIDEN/MEGADETH rip-off band.)


  1. I have been meaning to post a comment for a couple of days now. However, I can't find the right words. *Standing ovation* Best post you have done to date Didact!

  2. We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone. ~Orson Welles


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