June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
I sat by the water reading something by William Faulkner. I was easily distracted, not because it is sometimes hard to focus on Faulkner, even though it is, but because Faulkner makes me think of you. Not because you like him, even though you do, but because sometimes when I read Faulkner I find myself reading one phrase or one line over and over and I forget what is happening in the story. If I even knew what was really happening in the story to begin with. Give me just this one curl. I have forgotten you for this curl. What were we talking about? Oh yes, the story. But this place where your belly slopes from your hip. I must kiss it now. I am forgetting, forgetting.
And I could hear the water dreaming of what it was making, violently sculpting. The knife of nature, the river. But somehow peaceful, inviting even. Tempts you to put stones into your pockets. Take me with you, you want to say. Smooth my edges. I have so many rough spots.
And it became dark and I could no longer see the Faulkner so I just sat and listened to the water dreaming awake. And I thought of you in a sad and longing way, the way the river mourns the mountain that it cut those eons ago. Cut despite itself. It misses the mountain of course. But oh, look at this canyon. It too is beautiful. Not the end but the change that hurts so. But yet you do not always want the winter.
My owl-eyed fantast! Why did we not move to the coast and buy that fixer upper and make love in the late mornings and let the rain carry our thoughts to worriless pages. To have mixed my books with yours. I could have made peace with the possible. I could have learned to swim in time like a cold stream instead of just dipping my anxious toe. I do know how to swim. But to resist breathing underwater. The enticing whisper that beckons you to a dark place.
I regret everything. What I do and what I don’t do. The water and I, we know that this course was both inevitable and stochastic. But this does not dam the water the way it does me. I have collected into a large pool. When the wind is high, bits of me drip slowly onto the other side.
Give me just this one curl. I have forgotten you for this curl. My owl-eyed fantast. Come to me on this stony beach. It is very dark now. The rush of the river will drown our sighs of relief. The rocks, worn smooth from travel, will welcome our backs. Time is so present here. But we don’t have let it get to us. Come. Come now.
June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Rumor had it that B.’s dad owned 24 Pizza Hut franchises. B. and his brother and their parents were all fat and they lived in the biggest house in town, so if the rumor was just a rumor it was a plausible one. There was speculation about their house. They had two pizza ovens in their kitchen, people said. They had a maid, people said. They had TVs on that hung on their walls, people said.
B. and I were not friends. He was, in fact, the first and only kid I ever hit. In the second grade he used to put me in a headlock at recess and he wouldn’t let me go. One night I told my dad about it, and he said that next time I should elbow him in the gut. And so the next day at recess, B. approached me near the foursquare quart as he always did and wrapped his arm around my neck and pulled my head down until he was squeezing it against his fat belly. I took my left fist in my right arm and I elbowed him in the gut as hard as I could. He cried out and let me go. “Sonofabitch!” he yelled. I ran. He never put me in a headlock again.
In the third grade it was announced that there would be an art contest. Students could submit paintings, poems, stories or songs and a winner from each category would be picked. Only two kids from my school submitted songs – me and B. Mine was a tautology-inspired pop tune with lyrical moments that referenced the Inuit and metaphysical dilemmas of personal identity entitled ‘I Am Me.’ B.’s was a very slight variation on a work by the Jackson Five which he called ‘123.’ B. had bad handwriting and the notes on his score were clearly not drawn by him. Still, he won. I cried.
No, I certainly did not think we were friends. But then one day in the fourth grade he invited me to his house.
The rumors about B.’s house were largely true. They had two pizza ovens in their kitchen. They had a maid. They had a drawer in their kitchen that held nothing but fruit roll-ups. I ate many fruit roll-ups because my parents never let me have them. After ten or twelve fruit roll-ups, we went to the basement, where he revealed his true reason for bringing me to his house. The basement was filled with toys and junk. B. looked out upon it all and said, “Okay, I need you to build me a robot that can go to the Titanic. Hurry.” This seemed perfectly acceptable to me. Also, I wanted to impress B. So for the next two hours we attached various things to a Power Wheel car, which was the base of our underwater robot. We attached a robotic arm, some wings for flying underwater, an oxygen tank (?), a camera, a control module. Satisfied, B. said we should go outside and play a game.
We went to the shed and B. pulled out a big net, the kind you use to clean a pool. Then he led me to the rabbit cage. In the cage there were two rabbits. “Okay,” B. said, “I’m going to let the rabbits loose. Then I’m going to let the dogs loose in the backyard. When they get too close to the rabbits, you put the net over them.” I said, “Okay.” I did not want to disappoint B. And so B. let the rabbits loose in the yard. At first they just sort of sat in the grass, stunned by their freedom. Then he let his two large greyhounds out of the house. The dogs wasted no time going after the rabbits. The rabbits ran in vain. I threw the net over them. But I was not strong enough to keep the net over both rabbits. The frantic dogs quickly got under the net and, each taking a rabbit, ran off with them, shaking the rabbits in their mouths. The rabbits made squeaking noises.
B. panicked. He ran after the dogs screaming and waving his arms. He cornered the dogs and yelled at them and hit their mouths until they dropped the rabbits. He picked up the rabbits and ran with them inside and yelled for the maid. The maid came downstairs and he showed the limp rabbits to her. She filled the sink up with water and put them in the water, saying that if they floated, that meant that they were dead. “I’m pissed off!” B. said. “You killed my rabbits!” I wanted to cry. My mother came and picked me up.
“How was B.’s house?” my Mom asked. “I pissed him off,” I said. “What did you say!” my Mom said. “I pissed him off,” I said.” “You are not allowed to say that!” my Mom said. “Say what?” I asked. “The P-word!” she said. “What does it mean?” I asked. “Ask your father,” she said. When we got home, she put liquid Dove soap in my mouth and I held it there for five minutes.
I never went back to B.’s house.
June 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
We focus so much on our differences. God or Allah or no god or who knows. This book or that book. This hat or that hat. This history or that history. But we forget about something fundamental that we all agree on: everything will end. We disagree on how it will come about, when it will come about, and what might happen afterwards – but I don’t know anyone who thinks that humanity as it currently exists on earth will continue in perpetuity. The world will end, and that’s something we can all get behind. In fact, isn’t it something we all secretly hope for? Hasn’t everyone who has ever died died a little disappointed because they didn’t see how it all ended? Don’t the Christians want to live to see Jesus return? Don’t the atheists secretly want to see the earth boil and the seas rise and the cities flood? I know I do.
To die in the throes of the end of the world would be to have lived a perfect life. If you were to live to see the end, it would be as if it were inevitable. It would confirm your long sense of solipsism, the sense that you are the only one that is real, that everything is just a story that has played out before you for your benefit, that no one has ever really lived or died except for you, and here is the climax of it all and now you can rest peacefully knowing that this strange dream has a definitive end. The most terrifying thing about death is not that we cease to be but that not everything ceases to be. If you could know that nothing would survive your own death, there would be nothing to fear, no unanswered questions, no sense of loss. Nothingness doesn’t give me anxiety, but somethingness without me does. Aren’t these the same? They are and they are not. Is that a paradox? It is and it is not.
One summer night some years ago I found myself in Indiana around a fire drinking whiskey with people that I love so much. Soon we were all naked and covered in paint and pressing our bodies against canvases. There was so much joy in that art. And I think back on that night and realize that it was the zenith of my hopefulness. It has been uphill since then, and it will be uphill from here with an ever increasing grade. And the summit we are climbing toward is not the sort with a majestic view, I am afraid. Yes, I am afraid.
June 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
It is hard to imagine what life must have been like in the pre-Copernican Revolution days. To believe that you are living at the center of the universe must have given you a terrible amount of anxiety. I no doubt would have panicked until I put stones in my pockets and walked into the sea.
Few things are as comforting as a major celestial event, the sort of event that happens on a scale of time and space that we can put our numbers but not our senses to. The sort of event that reminds you that the only things that really matter are gravity and light, the things themselves and not the objects that swim in and from them. The sort of event that is wholly indifferent to the fact that an entire generation of humans will live and die before it happens again. The sort of event that invokes the sense of sublimity Kant had in mind when he called it the beautiful and the terrible.
Oh to feel small! It is like being wrapped tightly in a soft blanket and laid supine on some warm sand during the gloaming. Or having a dark corner to yourself and something to suck on.
I tried to look at the sun with a sideways glance, to see if I could glimpse the Transit with my naked eye. How many ancient humans sacrificed their sight just so we could have this one bit of certain knowledge – do not look directly into the sun? And yet, I tried. How volatile it is to be a thing in which facts and actions are independent of one another. How unstable choice makes a system. Imagine if the planets had choice. I can’t imagine the universe lasting very long, a second, perhaps a day at most.
We believe we can choose and that our choices have meaning. And it gives us a crushing paralysis that sucks the joy and beauty from the universe. A sense of freedom and significance is a dangerous cocktail that leads only to sadness, anger, regret, loss, guilt, angst and suffering. The planets and their stars have neither and they seem quite content.
It’s funny how we call it “The Transit of Venus,” as if it had somewhere to be, as if it were on its way to a date. Certainly it moves, but not with purpose. To be going toward a place you must go much slower. When you reach a certain size and speed, you stop moving and become small.