There are things I wish I did not have to know about this country. Is blindness a sin?
Does writing–or any expressive art–grow more challenging with age? It seems to me that the older one gets, the heavier the weight of experience that saddles each word, each brushstroke, each note. How can any sentence avoid the force of the existence that gave it birth? How is this not overwhelming?
All I want to offer the world is beauty, and yet I feel so incapable. Beauty is a terrible and cruel force, and I am too timid, and uncertain.
(I wish I did not so abhor the tangible; I wish I did not so love it.)
I lost track of the miles I walked today, and what I saw. Today was sunny, but in a minor chord–a sunshine tempered through cloud–and this among more made me want to cry. I walked along the Sound–that strange body of water that is both ocean and not ocean, somehow partialled from the Pacific, and of it–until my soles blistered and my shins stabbed, and until, in the lowing light, I stumbled home.
These words are weighted, and these words will never be heavy enough.
At the end of today’s walk I stopped in at wineshop a mile or two from home. I’d never noticed it before. The sign out front offered tastings on Saturdays, and who am I to decline a gift of fate?
The bespectacled old man behind the counter–the owner, as it turned out–was a wizened caricature of Frenchness; his heavy accent was accented not only by a beret, but a black and white striped shirt. He poured as generously as he talked.
I left with two bottles, both old and storied. Walking back, the bag balanced precariously on my hip, I wondered into whose bellies–or cellars–the rest of each Italian barrel had been tipped. (I wondered this at yesterday’s dinner, too, over a plate of veal: who had the rest of the calf fed? Who else had it become?) It is strange what connects us.
What does one do with wonder?
I walked for miles today through a city misted over by ocean and fall, past girls running in high black boots and bearded men singing in riddles, and all beneath a low and smoke-grey sky. The leaves were dying in auburns and golds, and the air pulled my breath from me, and I walked. The dark and the coming cold shoved me stubbornly home; I did not want to go.
How does one translate beauty? What does one do with something so perfect that description is ruinous and cruel?
October has fled so quickly.
On the flight back from California I sat next to a grey and corpulent man, the same man whose distracted bulk had slowly preceded me down the aisle to our seats, with me containing a quiet sigh at our assignments. I squeezed in next to him; he ignored my apologetic smile. I made myself small against the window and retrieved my book. I read.
After we took off, my seatmate pulled from his bag–instead of the usual laptop or iProduct–an ungainly sheaf of scribbled-upon and heavily marked musical notations. I slid my gaze and read these too, or tried; the lyrics beneath the bars were in Italian, and although I could cohere in my mind the melody, the meaning was opaque. The man retrieved a pencil, added a few notes, and then proceeded to sing, beneath his breath, from the beginning of the manuscript.
I feigned absorption in my book, but spent the next two hours listening, entranced, to the newness of a whispered opera.
I have a hard time trusting people who don’t evidence some sort of tendency toward self-destruction, if only because it is a flaw so deeply knitted in my own being that I have a hard time understanding what it would mean to exist without the drive. And this is a problem, because I know full-well that self-destructive sorts are impossible to fully trust; if anyone would–either willfully or helplessly–commit injury after unnecessary injury upon themselves, it seems foolish to expect they could be trusted to care and protect another. And yet.
It’s been nearly a year since the last time I was CPRed out of an unwitting suicide (only a year, and already) and that episode was certainly not the first. I do not know whether the number of times I’ve slipped into the welcoming purgatory between my life and something else, and then returned, is evidence of a snarling attachment to this world, or a carelessness about it; I seem prone to a clumsy and sweet unwariness toward fatality, and yet… I am still here.
In any case, I find more comfortable the presence of others who hold themselves warily, and those who know what it’s like to carry inside oneself an easily-triggered grenade–be it one of depression or starvation or addiction or abuse–and who are used to the inner extremes of kid-glove and cruelty. Sometimes I think this is everybody, though. I find it easy, inevitably, to trust.
. . .
Tonight it rained here, sleeting and thick. Tonight, on the way home from a distressed post-midnight walk, I had to traverse the tarp-covered bodies of dozens of sleeping homeless; on the sidewalks outside a nearby foundation, hundreds of people had huddled to protest, with the warmth and weight of their breathing selves, the closure of a dozen local shelters. The night was cold but the heat from their staggered stillness warmed the air, and I breathed it with an open mouth as the rain fell hard and I picked my way around them. Tonight I am warm, and I cannot sleep; tonight on the sidewalk others dream. Is suffering so comfortable? Is comfort not? I will never understand the world.
Some people–perhaps most–join a group and then graciously proceed to conform even more to it. I have an irritating and opposite pattern; I’ll ingratiate myself to some crowd or another–be it a writer’s group, a women-in-business consortium, some volunteer / activist project or another, even (and sometimes worst of all) an academic department–and instead of taking notes and learning how to be a good version of the demographic in question, I’ll find myself acting as the local contrarian, questioning not only the surface decisions, but the very values around which the group purports to organize.
This is frustrating. It makes me not a good belonger. It makes me skittish about joining anything, because I’ll invariably end up condemning it. I over-empathize with opposition.
“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Groucho famously said, but it’s not quite that. I think I am just against groups in principle. I can’t even wholeheartedly align myself with humanity, for god’s sakes, or even life writ large. I wish I could be happier being in-between, or perhaps more whole-heartedly give myself to distance; I am not proud of this form of participation.
We’re exploring fairy tales in one of my courses, and it is amazing to me not only how many of–and how vividly!–the more peculiar original Grimms’ I remember, but how differently I experience them now. I remember as a child accepting with a pure and unquestioning mind the bizarre universes in which the stories took place, and the absurd whimsicality of the tasks to which the various heroes and princesses would qualmlessly set their lives. When I was a child, there seemed something utterly reasonable about the prospect of a golden forest, or a maiden mysteriously compelled to dance each night until her feet were bloody and raw, or a land enchanted by a terrible spell. Certainly these tales seemed no less strange than the inanity of the given world around me; if anything, they were arranged in much more internally logical and clearly defined patterns. If anything, they then made much more sense.
It makes me wonder if that was what once made them so appealing. It was not that they were magical, or promised a stranger and rarer fantasy than the everyday world provided, but rather that, in them, everything was clear. Here was the kingdom; here was the king; here were the tasks laid out for completion; here was the reward. It was less that there was magic, and more that there was no mystery. Or perhaps that was the mystery of it–that in this self-contained bubble, the world made sense.
Rereading them now, they stretch the imagination. Unlike, say, the fables of Aesop, or various cultural tales and myths, they seem without moral, without message, without a clear ethic, without the remotest of links to the everyday world. The motivations of the characters are alien in their amoral simplicity; the lands they explore as circumscribed. Their foreignness is complete, and tantalizing. As stories they epitomize an impossible. It feels somehow cruel that they should be so familiar, and remind me so much of home.