We gave it a C
There’s nothing like spending a few years at a groovy magazine interviewing stars, dishing with celebrities, and whiling away long, hysteria-fueled hours working with publicists, art directors, and editors as high-strung as spooked Chihuahuas to send a soul screaming for salvation even while the body hollers, ”Time for a new pair of Gap khakis!” In Sex Death Enlightenment, Mark Matousek’s wandering in the spiritual desert took place during the boom-boom-snort-snort ’80s, when, for three years, he worked at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
Back then he was a nimble, pretty, young, gay man circulating in a self-absorbed universe that worshiped the same, and life was, on the face of it, essentially fabulous. ”How could I complain about lunches with movie stars, film screenings, free tickets, invitations to parties, constant solicitations from publicists who treated me like a VIP?” he ponders. Hey, babe, I feel your pain. And yet, and yet: All was vanity and sealed-over emptiness in his heart. He had weathered an awful childhood filled with sexual abuse; one sister had killed herself; he was sleeping around a lot; he saw a lover die of AIDS; and he wasn’t feeling too good himself. Eventually, in 1988, he tested positive for HIV.
Through a series of exotic coincidences, Matousek, who was raised a nonreligious Jew in suburban Los Angeles (”God was a nonissue in suburbia, a myth no one cared about, like Bigfoot”), experienced a spiritual conversion in Germany, where a charismatic holy woman called Mother Meera filled him with awe, rocked his world, and became his guru. Then it was on to India and Spain and back to New York, where more friends died. All the while, Matousek’s hunger for soul food intensified: At various times, he tried Zen, meditation, yoga retreats, meetings of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, and living by himself in the woods reading Thoreau. Today, an enlightened, asymptomatic, 39-year-old Matousek does his dharma-bum thing, excited to spread the good news that ”all things in creation [are] holy, even those that [are] ugly, violent, incomprehensible.” Om, etc.
Sex Death Enlightenment is a meandering, distracted book — touchingly self-involved for a handbook in the service of selflessness. After two readings I still don’t know what, exactly, Matousek believes, or how he got there. But I do know that the author feels changed — born again, if you like — and I accept his word sincerely, support his search, and find inspiration in his willingness to drink yak tea as part of the deal.
I file Matousek’s confessional addition to the bibliography of spiritual growth next to my old, beloved copy of Ram Dass’ Be Here Now and my new, undigested copy of Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. I house it near my copy of the easy-to-sample guidebook Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen, and not far from the fascinating nonfiction chronicle The Jew in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz, about a group of Jewish scholars who met the Dalai Lama in the early ’90s. In fact, my shelves are jammed with books about how to find enlightenment, and I know I’m not alone: Religious books constitute one of the fastest-growing division of the publishing industry, probably because one man’s go figure is another man’s guru. We’re a nation of samplers, and I’m always up for a taste of grace.
If Warhol were alive today, he might blink with pale dismay at the idea of a member of his Interview inner circle forsaking Bianca Jagger for Buddhism. I, on the other hand, cheer Matousek on as he walks his solitary path — gaily decked out, in my imagination, in lime green Hush Puppy Loafers. His way may not be my way, but I’ll bet his footwear looks divine.