July 10, 2012 § 1 Comment
I couldn’t help myself to you. Your love had a mysterious mass. I was not not in an orbit. But the orbit I was in was irregular and I had only a very wavering hold on the tides I was affecting. For all I know in fact the tides were holding me. They were not the in and out sort. They made shifting and unusual patterns. I lived in constant fear of the oceans becoming still. Some days I could have sworn I felt the heat of the sun grow hotter.
I have spent so much of my life two steps away from the situation, watching myself watching myself. So many days have felt cloudy though it was clear enough. A lingering hunch it was cloudy even when it wasn’t. Events unfolding without regard to my will though they pretended to be. Dreamlike, sort of, but less like watching something. More like being a very heavy thing stretched very far and floating above some kind of race where the stakes were quite high and you were affecting it somehow but how exactly you did not know. Things just happening and happening, or not, which is a sort of happening. The general pervading sense: bewilderment. If I reached out to set a thing to motion it was in spite of me and if I didn’t it was in spite of me also.
It is a sort of drowning in the air while your life passes by at exactly the speed of life. You flail while you try to do so many other things also. You would have a better chance at surviving if you could concentrate wholly on the flailing, but alas, you are somehow not permitted, as if there are rules here you can’t not follow but can’t know. You reach. So much reaching. Or you exhale. To somehow try and lower yourself back down onto the same plane that existence seems to be going on on. It is an uncomfortable awareness of physics happening to everything but you. Maybe it is thing with your brain, you wonder. Maybe it is a thing with the universe, you wonder. Maybe it is a thing with everyone else’s brains. Maybe these are the same sorts of things, you wonder. Maybe it isn’t even A Thing.
And I was trapped there for so long, in that strange hinterland where nothing is quite tied down and though there is gravity it too floats. You brought me back, to The Place, the existence, the quarks and the photons. To hardness and to the smell of earth and rot. You plucked me from my place. I had nothing to do with it; I couldn’t have had. You hugged me when I came down. I didn’t know you.
This, I remember thinking, is what love is. Love is a sort of gravity, a sort of sobriety, a sort of pair of good boots. Suddenly I could push a thing and it would retreat from me. It was like landing on a familiar shore. I wanted to kiss the beach, eat the sand. I could not wait to walk. I felt like a child again, in a world made of real things that I left when I broke.
That is not what love is, though. Love is not a pair of good boots. Because love is not a tool. Love is not a cure. Love, like me, is a broken thing. It doesn’t have a use. It isn’t good for anything outside of it being what it is. Like Heidegger said a hammer becomes art when it busts. See, love is like a hammer that never was a hammer. And that is what makes it such A Thing.
And so I went back to my drowning. I was going there anyway. It was only a matter of time. And love would have brought you with me. Drowning people always try to drown the people that try to save them.
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.
May 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
Contessa de la Luna aired on Sunday nights at midnight. She was a former he I think and her show was a mix of call-in confessionals and Paris remix type house music. 90.7 it was on, KBOO, the community radio station in Portland, ostensibly named after a strain of marijuana. She thought I was still asleep when she called in to the show from our kitchen. But I was awake.
We had gone shopping that day. We bought frames. We went home and framed things. Then we ate nachos and talked about opening up a nacho restaurant, a place that only served nachos. “You really have to get that nichey these days,” I said, “like that store on Mississippi that only sells light bulbs.”
It was the day before her birthday. She wanted to have birthday sex that night to ring it in. I wanted to try to try. But I was barely holding myself together. She took the radio into the kitchen. I wrapped my arms around the cat. A low four on the floor and a little white noise hummed from the other room. Then I heard her voice. “Contessa? Yes. Hello. No, this is my first time calling in. Yeah, my first time. I’m scared. I live with my partner. I’m scared. No, no. It’s just, he’s sad. He’s so sad. He used to be silly sometimes, but now he’s only sad and I’m scared.”
April 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
The sound of an owl in the daytime. A pulled muscle in the chest and the fear of heart failure. The difference between an expected melody and an expectant one. The paradox of an obscure word experiencing popularity, like tittle or skeuomorph. The wonder whether a tittle is a skeuomorph. The wonder weather. The desire to be named a verb and the question of if that would make that verb a noun or a gerund or what. The fear of being alone and the anxiety of not. The endless quest to not be bored which is itself boring. The way that depression can occur as a wave like a nausea. Wanting to be taken seriously but the wariness of being serious. The wariness and the weariness and the worriedness. The technology that gets in between you and I. A half-hearted craving of something fleeting but pleasant and possibly bad for you. The soporific effect of the words ‘bad for you.’ The feeling that when you are sad you are the only sad person in the world and that makes you sadder still. The want to be anywhere but here except for there. The despair of knowing that even remembering a happiness cannot bring about the feeling. Loss. The inability sometimes to tell if the top of a mountain is snow or cloud covered. The site of an ancient sacred something. The feeling that there is nothing sacred but ancientness. A death by television. When your thoughts seem a miasma moved by a very slow wind.
It was an island, in a way, more of a mass, a swamp, still it sustained trees, out there in the middle of the Mississippi. It was called Beaver Island but there were no beavers there. We would boat there and swing from a rope out into the river and we would play a dangerous game where we would swim out just far enough to feel the undertow start to tug at our toes before we would swim back. Was it youth or the certainty of heaven or the quotidian nature of drowning in the river when you lived on it that drove us to play that game? Perhaps if I could just answer that question, I could learn to be braver now.
April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
Tell me again about the skies over Elko. Yes, I meant that in the plural. And how you bought whiskey at Wal-Mart and a sandwich at Subway, the special of the month, because you should always get the special you always say. Why? Well, because it’s special. Of course. QED. And you paid for all of it in change. Granted, the whiskey was cheap. And how you missed everyone. But you were not yet lonely. Not quite yet. Because the wind was so high. And the sky so large. Yes, I meant that in the singular that time. And the check-out guy at Wal-Mart so nice. Even though you were buying just a bottle of whiskey with change. Maybe that’s why he was so nice. Because people in Elko understand that kind of thing, you told me. Because the wind there is so high. And because of the skies. The skies change everything. They can’t make you smart but they can make you empathetic. Wind-weathered and sober-kind, that’s how you described Elko.
There are towns you talk about and towns you don’t. How did you decide which was which? Did you? Hartford, for example, how come you never talk about Hartford? It doesn’t have the Elko skies, but I know it had the girl that would kiss you. I know you took the bus there just for those kisses. Isn’t that worth talking about? I know you used to eat minute rice back then. Is that it? Are you embarrassed because of the minute rice thing? You shouldn’t be. I haven’t been to Elko, but I too have an empathy and a sober-kindness. The only thing you’ve ever told me about Hartford is that you went to the Mark Twain house and at the gift shop they sold Mark Twain brand bottled water. You said you’d like to know what Mark Twain would have to say about that. Or rather, how he would say what he had to say about that.
No, we don’t have to talk about Hartford. Tell me again about the skies over Elko. Tell me about the clerk at Wal-Mart who said that in Elko you could touch the sky. Tell me about how you wanted to say that aren’t you always touching the sky no matter where you are, aren’t you always in the sky? But you didn’t. Because sometimes there is a difference between a fact and the truth.