There comes a time when even nostalgia can’t make you ache for the past. Then again, every reference to the past seems like an indictment of the subconscious realm. I try to see myself in my two young children, but the exercise is futile, and results in a sort of clumsy signaling between us—I’m here! I exist!
What else should I tell you? A dwelling is more than a place to shelter from rain. Our deck houses a BBQ. The porch—a collection of day-glo boogie boards, strollers and broken car seats. A broom lists in the corner. We call it The Spider Hut. The fascias form the outer edge and have a groove in them to receive the soffit lining sheets.
Of course, now that I’ve finished typing, I’m not sure if any of the preceding statements are actually true.
I will say this: Despite all of its negative connotations, the word established is surprisingly well-established. Not only that, there is a particular heartbeat from a particular person at a particular time every morning. Fracking happens here, but I don’t know much about it. On the other hand, I do sometimes believe I can sense the amount of electrical current being absorbed by another person. I guess it’s true what they say—There shall be skeptics even in the face of sensory evidence.
In case you were wondering, national poetry day in New Zealand is August 26th. I’ll be lying about my whereabouts, no doubt.
The heart is enlarged and works harder than it should,
In Oklahoma—which is the name of a musical I have never seen, and the name of a state I have never visited—the shattering of deep subterranean rock formations in the disposal of wastewater produced by fracking recently resulted in a 5.6 magnitude earthquake—an earthquake that was felt “from Texas to Illinois,” or so they say.
If I don’t think about it too much, the smoke begins to clear; when being myself means I’m in character, that’s when the fiction becomes most tangible, and my thoughts most coherent, almost prescient. For every question, answers.[As an aside: Thinking of your comments, I can’t help remembering some absurd answers I used to imagine myself giving to people—“You can’t make a narrative without breaking some eggs,” etc.—spoken in response to questions nobody would ever ask me. I liked to imagine my answers spoken in a voice that was not mine, but that spoke my thoughts. The voice I imagined was rich, authoritative, imposing—the voice of a learned scholar, harmonizing with that of a great broadcaster, for example—half Vin Scully, half Judith Butler.]
I have heard that we have our own voltage—that sensations travel the nervous system, a series of electrical signals—but I don’t know anything about the current I’m absorbing, or anyone else, for that matter.
I remember someone telling me any paragraph could become its own narrative, or seed of narrative—but I don’t remember who, or when. Is the phrase seed of narrative gender-neutral, or would it be more apt to speak, for example, of an egg of narrative? “Which came first, the narrative or the egg?”
I have no way to record the context in which these statements were made; I have only the statements themselves, which (I fear) do nothing to answer your questions.
Here’s to things we don’t know, notwithstanding evidence to the contrary,
I’ve visited many of the states in the continental US, but Oklahoma is not one. If pressed, I’m not sure I could name the others. Regardless, I can still recite their state flowers. Camellia. Mistletoe. Tickseed. The Rocky Mountain Columbine. Despite the sensation I get when I place my hand on a heavy object, the samples of physical contact are non-representative. Perhaps, I’ve been imagining myself as somebody else all along?
Anyway, while we are on the subject, I have a few questions for you: Did you have freckles as a child? Are your summers spent pining for the return of interiority? Do you see the color black correctly?
It may or may not be true that I’ve been living on borrowed time. People who make assertions about the past often have an unspoken agenda for the way things ought to be in the future. Still, if you’ll allow me to reminisce for a moment, I’d point out that touch leads us down fresh and unexpected paths—but the sensation is easily confused with short circuits.
Although, that doesn’t stop anyone.
Even the person I live with is a cipher, a figment of my imagination. They inhabit a primordial space of nuclides and half-lives. Surely, these descriptions must apply to most of the people we know.
In the end, us dreamers, we do not congregate at the edges,
I’m just reaching out to see whether or not you received my last response. It was the one in which I incorrectly predicted the election using a series of impenetrable data maps. No, It wasn’t that one. It was the one where I described four different channels of discourse, each one with its own attraction to the moon. No wonder earthquakes happen in the middle of the night down here. Wait. It wasn’t that one either. Actually, there was no response at all. In fact, I had a dream in which we walked underneath the cliffs of Malibu at low tide, turning over rocks and poking at the various crustaceans and molluscs who lived there. What’s the difference between a periwinkle and a pop-eye, you asked. I let the question pass. We were both tanned and quite trim. Later, we shared a meal, but the meal did not have meal-like qualities.
Since we last spoke, it’s been raining biblical proportions down here. Plus the earth is constantly moving. Well, you already knew that.
And like they say at the five-and-dime, “Reciprocation involves polymorphic forms of exchange, but none of them return the favor.”
My bandwidth is low and my pace is glacial but I’m still keen,
I received your email, and this one, and I have just been under it, in which “it” means almost anything anyone might imagine. There are also facts. (“Remember facts?!”) It might be best to think of facts as memories. Perhaps geography can still furnish some common ground: I live in Brooklyn, and my children live in Los Angeles. It turns out that Los Angeles is a long way from Brooklyn, and that travel between the two can be more taxing than one might have hoped.
Anyway, somehow I agreed to this arrangement; actually, I know the how and the why, not to mention the what for. My ex-wife is independently wealthy and she wanted to move; she also pays for all my travel, and for my apartment in her city of choice. Plus, she has a powerful legal team, and a budget to keep them engaged; in this context, to say that one “agreed” to anything means that, otherwise, one would be royally fucked.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” as they say at the five-and-dime; at any rate, I regret any gaps—especially gaps in correspondence. Reducing distance between thought and action, that’s what makes the television chef so effective. I’m glad that we were once tanned and trim. Malibu: actually, I walked the cliffs overlooking Malibu with my children a month ago or so, feeling neither trim, nor tan. Practically hiding from the sun, that’s how I travel in California. There’s a trend now, to carry a speaker blaring pop music, and thereby to sweeten your outdoor experience. We didn’t partake—and yet, we did. This all happened before your election prediction came true, when the Pacific could still hold all the fantasies it does on the cover of US Weekly, as backdrop for a celebrity dyad.
I remain keen, however bedraggled, dispirited, and the like.
Some say that memories are explosive. Others claim that they accumulate a momentum and centrifugal force all their own. Let me circle back. The last time we spoke I was convinced we had a shared history, with a number of separate narratives, three of which I can share with you now.
In the first narrative we were gender neutral and believed our desolation was bound to us through a collection of natural and unnatural events, whose sequence we struggled to piece together. You asked, Aren’t all earthquakes the same? Isn’t there an inherent stiffness in our posture?
We’ve already discussed the second narrative at length in this correspondence, but let me recap it for you. The ocean in front of us is a series of gloomy blue and black boxes. The blood of most species who live there is not red. Whenever we pass underneath sulphury cliffs we are overcome with a feeling of déjà vu. Things we used to take for granted momentarily disappear but then they are miraculously returned to us in a refurbished form. Someone, we can’t say who, tells us that some birds can’t fly.
Our third shared history is neither shared nor something that occurred in the past. In it, we take our kids to the beach only to realize that the kids we’ve brought with us are not the same kids we’d put in the station wagon back in the driveway at home. It is an upper middle class neighborhood; not exactly an exurb, but in a sort of no-man’s land where the value of productivity is indistinct and disregards the notion of spare time. The way the streets are designed is abstract and vaguely outlines a world far more apocalyptic than we could imagine. Anyway, for a time, we seem to be overcome by panic (Where are our children? Are our minds playing tricks on us?), but eventually we develop intricate bonds with these new “imposter” kids. It turns out they can tell us much more about ourselves than they can illuminate about themselves. Which was all we were really looking for in the first place.
I’m sorry to hear about your overly long commute. Even though you claim it is something that can’t be made up, in this case I’m hoping “it” obliterates facts in the same way that we modify other items; almost casually and without any thought whatsoever.
I know I’m getting older because I keep dropping things. Occasionally I find that I have forgotten how to tie my shoes. The cuffs of my sleeves dangle haphazardly off my wrists. I shuffle from one place to the next.
Still, I suppose we can blame the sun for our lack of total darkness. Like my lawyer once advised, “Pain is most acute when the light is brightest.”
This is where the scope of my assumptions will end,
Circling back is my only move, which might be why I don’t understand narrative. We took a serpentine thoroughfare to a park overlooking the city on one side, and on the other, the ocean. We still like to think we can learn something from vistas, as from wind. Airplanes in the distance, container ships. Some hikers passed along a trail somewhere below us. “A song shapes the air as much as wind does water,” someone said. Laughter. Later, we drove back over the mountains into the desert, bringing with us a lighter and a bag of clothes.
Everything happened in a town I don’t know, far from where I live, where there are almost no children. I paid with a ten-dollar bill, but the clerk gave me change for five dollars, and then seemed to expect gratitude when I corrected the error. Retirees, aging couples, vacation homes. I drove to a gas station near the freeway, parking in what seemed to be an inconspicuous spot. To my right, an elderly fellow wearing spectacles and a Baker Boy sat in an older model Lincoln Continental—a driver, it would seem, for a car or limousine service.
I’m interested in transactions, that’s why I’m telling you everything I can remember. I waited for a few minutes, and then went into the gas station convenience store and bought a twelve pack of Diet Coke, which I don’t drink, then went back to the car (a borrowed car, I might add, with, as it happens, expired registration—a fact I discovered later, by chance) and waited. The elderly fellow in the Baker Boy answered his phone, spoke briefly, and drove off. A few minutes later, a battered white SUV pulled into the station and parked next to me. The driver got out of the SUV and knocked on my window. I rolled it down and he smiled and said something before dropping a plastic bag in my lap. I gave him the cash and we shook hands.
The next day I took a walk down a wash, as they call them here, an oasis that catches rain when the rare cloud runs up against the desert mountains that surround us. No rock climbing, said one sign; another sign marked a hole in rock, a mortar made by humans hundreds of years ago—Cahuilla Indians, the sign said—who ground with pestle acorns and other staples of their diet. I wanted to pray to their gods, but I didn’t know the names, I didn’t know if to pray would be more respectful, or less, coming from an outsider, not to mention a non-believer. I compromised by trying to give ample time to the cliffs, beautiful as they were; and to the earth, some reverential thoughts. By the time this reaches you, the events described above will have been long past.
Nearby, tourists climbed a rock and took turns posing for pictures.
Here’s to stars—some of which, I am told, died long ago, but whose lights still shine for us.
Because our mastery of language is yoked to the updating of our public status, there can never be an overlap between our itineraries. Turns out, the person in my dreams was a poet, but did not play the part very believably. These days, the cultivation of language is profitable again. It’s like what the person behind the counter says, before doling out my change, “We’re all constantly expanding our frame of reference.”
Some transactions can only be conducted by setting up a delicate ecology; or through the insertion of gory details.
When I wake up I’m covered in blood. My body is suspended from wires, which are connected to thin metal tubes that have been inserted at all sorts of strange angles underneath my shoulder blades, and also around the socket of my hip joint. It’s difficult to move and the space feels surprisingly cramped. If that’s not enough. I’m still dropping things with my left hand. The other hand is reflected in the mirror but doesn’t justify itself by its actions. I can’t recall its name.
Like you suggested, I tried to be more arty-crafty than I was before, but everything dissolved in an ashy light. Even dreams need a foreground. Even narrative needs foreshadowing. Even turning around means facing forward.
I bring my children to an orchard and let them loose. I bring them to a dense rainforest and follow a mossy trail occasionally besmirched by interpretive panels and distance markers. When it gets dark, I say—How bright the moon looks! How forlorn the light as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere!
That isn’t to say I didn’t follow your advice. I underwent several textural modifications. I chained myself inside a box and didn’t open the lid for clean, dry air until I achieved peak beard. I deployed my poems like pollen spores across this city of bridges and harbors. I yelled my name into the wind until blood ran out my ears in ribbons. I hid in the memory between meadow and field.
To summarize, aphasia is not the only way to coincide. As you said, coincidences are not merely a concurrence of circumstances or events.
Until the wind deserts us and we grasp the utensils gently,
I can’t help thinking that desiring mastery of language is its own yoke. If there is a connection between us, perhaps it concerns the heavy weight of that abstract wish—an albatross, an immeasurable burden, untold, untellable—but a shared one, and therefore perhaps somehow bearable. I’ll gladly shoulder that yoke alongside anyone else who wants to feel its weight, itineraries be damned.
How marvelous, the meteorologist says, how marvelous! All this rain. Amazing. Just amazing. Can you believe it, can you believe all this precipitation we’re getting, I can’t believe it. Can you? Unbelievable! Behind her, the radar displays a yellowish orb, encircled by a pale corona; as she talks, the orb melts and stretches, becoming an oval that continues to flatten out as it extends westward, until it springs back again.
Can you believe it, folks? Seven years of drought, and then what happens, it keeps raining and raining, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about floods. We’re talking flood warnings, folks. Look at the radar: this egg is the storm. At its center, the yolk. Look at that yolk, folks, that’s the center of the storm, and when we look at this egg, we see possible flooding, that’s the yolk, and if we have flooding, it’s going to happen where we see that yolk.
My seven-year-old son explains to me that cancer leveled Matisse. “That’s why he had to use a wheelchair. That’s when he started cutting out shapes with scissors.” Months later, I realize that when he was telling about Henri Matisse’s struggle with cancer, he was also thinking of my father, who had died of cancer not long before. On a flight to visit my children, I listen to a podcast on the history of philosophy: “The road up is the road down,” or so said Heraclitus, they say.
At the height of the storm represented on television as a fried egg (sunny side up), a sinkhole swallowed two cars. We drove to what they call the fun center, where video games reward good play or luck with tokens. What are flowers but tokens, the values all uncertain. Still, it would be worse to know what they’re worth, what anything is.
The sun, they say; more sun, please; but as soon as there’s sun, everybody’s running for the shade. Umbrellas never go out of style.
Once upon a time I believed the world only extended as far as I could see. The land was bordered by water on all sides and those closest to me always seemed just out of reach. Great drifts of snow were created each winter. The lakes froze. In the summer, everything melted and for a few glorious weeks the whole world came alive.
I’ve always lived near oceans or inland seas. Even now, I write to you from a remote island. Across the world, my mother scolds me for identifying flaws in the town where I grew up and where she still lives. Now, every time I see it, the town is housed within a distinctive Skype wireframe. There is a small playground with a swing set and an old tangle of monkey bars outside her window. I used to play here when I was young. Nowadays, I never spot any children on this playground and I’ve begun to think that its sole purpose is to illustrate how obsolete the concept of nostalgia has become. Something you said reminds me: Back then, we used to get 8 tokens for a dollar.
My youngest son uses my body as a crutch to stabilize himself as he puts his shoes on in the morning. I find it very easy to imagine what my friends’ children will look like as grown-ups, but my own children still seem only partially formed and prone to branch out in any direction. It’s hard to feel content when I think of them as adults; perhaps this is due to the fact that it’s become harder and harder for me to retain my own self-image.
I’ve heard it said that ours is an era of self-reflexive criticism. Then again, reflections on contemporary literature are best left to expert practitioners and those who take the time to authenticate details.
Thunderstorms are rare here. Tornadoes don’t exist. I’ve never run across a blizzard. Because we don’t really get any serious weather events of our own, we attempt to co-opt the leftover catastrophes from other parts of the world. The residue of a cyclone from New Caledonia retains the naming convention of its former self, if not the same potency. First Cyclone Debbie, now Cyclone Cook. Some people bury their dead nearby only so that they can dig them up and move them to a better place at a later date. Only that “better place,” apparently, never reveals itself.
Do you remember the day we drove by the nuclear power plant on the coast? A group of surfers chatted idly in the water as the next set of waves approached. At the time, you remarked that it all seemed like just another shabby and depressing reminder of the frontier.
We followed a curved path down to the water. Our bodies yielded towards a fixed point in the center. Important note: Over time, the specifics of this particular narrative have corroded.
There’s nothing in our past to suggest which events have actually occurred. Everything is imagined.
Sometimes I wonder where this little project will take us. I enjoyed your most recent entry, even though some parts of it were hard for me to pin down. I read and re-read the section and wondered—this egg, why? I asked the internet for clarification and it turns out that an albatross is actually a very rare score in golf. Does this knowledge somehow make us more connected? Perhaps there is something in my thirst which is incompatible with grace. This may or may not be relevant, but I’ve always had a very arbitrary relationship to the comma.
What do you think of when you think of despair? Is this what we turn to when there is nothing left to tether meaning to our actions? To paraphrase a famous French philosopher, “Somebody, we can’t say who, has ruined the words tremendous and sad.”
Later this week, I will follow a perilous little road which snakes along a section of coast draped in huge mossy black boulders and gnarled pohutukawa trees. The water, like always, will entirely dominate the view on one side.
From a garden of haphazardly tended plants,
Imagine this: You are reading a story that is narrated by a character that is certainly not “you,” and at the same time, the story that you are reading also appears to chronicle the events and experiences of what you would call, more or less, “your life,” “your story.” Indeed, the narrator in the story undergoes the same experiences that you do, more or less, with some minor differences. (For example, the narrator in the story you are reading actually has the wherewithal to write down many of the things that happen to him, more or less as he experiences them—whereas, you regularly reprimand yourself for not being a more diligent, if not more honest, chronicler of your own life.)
“Imagine this,” the story reads: “you are reading a story that is narrated by a character,” and this character invents a second identity for himself—a journalist, it turns out, named Selby R. Vincent—or rather, a fake journalist, as the case might be—a thoroughly fictional online persona, which also serves as a pen name, and provides a sort of alternative authorial facade for the character himself.
There is even a fake news website that Selby R. Vincent runs—in the story, or in real life—called newsburner.net.[Incidentally, it seems worth interjecting here to point out that the fake news website mentioned above is, so far as I can tell, a little more “real” than Selby R. Vincent—although as soon as I say so, I can’t help but recognize that it becomes hard to say what “real” means, and what counts as “real,” in the context of made-up people, not to mention fake news—still, it’s true that there is a newsburner.net website, edited by one “Selby R. Vincent”: in the picture, he’s a bald guy with dark glasses, a beard, and a sneer, the fingers of his right hand visible in the lower-right hand corner, making a gesture of an ambiguous but seemingly emphatic or critical nature, his hand raised, the tips of the fingers on this raised hand pressing together, just so. In other words, as artificial as he might really be, there is, at the same time, a website on which “Selby R. Vincent” really does exist.]
At any rate, the narrator in the story—the one who creates this other, alternative character, this “Selby R. Vincent”—realizes that his artificial persona is overtaking his pre-existent identity, the real person he is when he is not actively cultivating the imaginary life of Selby R. Vincent. In the effort to imagine Selby R. Vincent, the narrator unwittingly becomes Selby R. Vincent.
Apologies for this makeshift literary review, as it were, which is not what I intended it to be; in truth, I had meant to thank you, again, for your provocations. To be frank, I am—“we” are—pelted, of late, with daily provocations—and yet, of all of these provocations, I can say with the utmost faith and sincerity that your provocations are by far the least despicable, and the most welcome, even if they might also be, in many ways, the easiest to brush off, avoid, or ignore. To denigrate them in such a manner is regrettable, to say the least.
Still, in the midst of my apathy, I like to imagine that I remain defiant, stubbornly committed, as always, to useless, thoroughly unrewarding tasks—Selby R. Vincent be damned.