Mind and Purpose
Approximately 345,125 days have passed since the Battle of Hastings…
Summer is officially over. Earlier this hour I sat on the back deck of a nearby ice cream and confection shop and enjoyed the last double cone of the season. Thirty-two minutes after the hour smelled like a lit match, and passed through my body like a lingering acid trip, casting echoes of anti-reality across the yard like ripples on a still pond.
As is my habit, I attempted to put the moment into words: a helicopter circles low overhead, fucking the humidity with five swords in a rough approximation of gunfire… Navigation lights keep time with 80s era Depeche Mode leaking from a window above the shop where twin Caribbean accents clink and click away behind the dishes, chatting softly about the washing up… Multicolored pendant lamps hang condemned from the underside of the deck umbrella… Beyond them, rusted iron straps bolt across the back wall, supporting sagging sections of the aged brick structure and –
Yeah. Okay. Great. “I marveled at the complexity of eternity and the invisible quantum orgy, and I reveled in the giddiness of the moment” — whoop-di-freaking-do! — before my euphoria was crushed by an avalanche of sad realization: I didn’t really know how to capture this. I didn’t know how to make it stay.
I could give away my worldly possessions and forward my mail to a high mountain monastery, surrendering the remainder of my days to the relentless pursuit of truthful description and worshipping the holy fucking glory of the written word and still I wouldn’t be able to drive a nail deep enough to make this moment or any other linger longer, despite all my longing.
I sat in a Juneau bar one night many nights ago, teetering on the edge of fall-down-drunkenness and thinking carefully about what makes women beautiful (like you do), struggling to capture an ever-elusive essence in a haiku or some such shorthand measure.
What a fucking load of noise! I might as well have tried to work out why light is bright or why it hurts when I fall down. But I have no academic training, I (still) don’t know what beauty really means, and to make matters worse I suck at haiku. Plus I was blind drunk and getting dumber by the shot.
Notes salvaged from that night: “Something about the eyes, some measurement of the face, some mystical number or secret formula. Sometimes a rock climber’s fingers or the strong jawline like a bow across the strings (and the hips) of a cello, but now and again and again it’s the neck but it’s not always the body and usually the soul but frequently it’s just the way they carry themselves. Is it this way for everyone? Do others see them as I do? Am I crazy or just retarded?”
There are writers, and then there are writers. Me, I’m just a guy who takes notes. I try. I really do. Ultimately, my doctor says I suffer from a curious affliction experienced by a tiny selection of monkeys doomed to live out their brief and answerless lives anchored to a spinning speck at the ass end of an endless universe.
I’ve been given a pen, he says, but there is no ink.
It’s difficult to resist committing each and every mortal monkey moment to paper, documenting them in some electronic manner. I want to show that I lived. I want to demonstrate that I felt, that I saw, and that yes, I bought the ticket. But I realized on that drunken night, and tonight — and probably I’ll discover it again tomorrow — how completely futile it is to try, but how addictive it is to keep going any damn way.
Not only am I shouting into a wind tunnel against the rest of human expression, but memories tend to fit the shape of our hands. We scoop them to our perspective. They are never as we remember them. Flashes of unspeakable beauty happen like a gunshot. They are vivid once and then they begin to heal as a puckered scar, closing the portal behind them. (A captured memory would most likely rot like fruit in that well-intentioned bowl you placed on your kitchen table.)
Where is the proof of yesterday? It survives as a dry cleaning stub in my wallet, right next to the the Metrocard I purchased from an underground kiosk twelve hours ago; close to the rats and upwind from the piss. Yesterday is the delicious meal I recently shat into the sewer.
(Sometimes when a meal is really good, I laugh. At least I used to.)
We inhale these spectral seconds in order to keep them close to us, refusing to let the flame flicker out, straining to hold onto important occurrences just a little while longer before coughing in to the basic need for air. An explosive exhalation precedes an involuntary gasp for fresh O2 and then the moment is lost to the wind and the second hand ticks once like a bomb, never to return. So many such seconds will fade like photographs on the wall, polished mute like the rocks I’ve gathered on walks without remembering why, or when, much less where they began.
(Morale of the story: Stop playing the movie. The ending never changes, and the film gets warped the longer you leave it on the bulb.)
From Wikipedia: “The Finnish have an expression for the will to push forward. Sisu, loosely translated, is defined as strength of will, determination, perseverance and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. The literal meaning is equivalent in English to ‘having guts’, and the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu. It is similar to equanimity, except the forbearance of sisu has a grimmer quality of stress management than the latter. The noun sisu is related to the adjective sisukas, one having the quality of sisu.”
Hours later in the darkness, sitting in a large orange dish chair near an open window in my living room. Cool air files in and takes a quiet seat. A short glass of chilled apple moonshine rests in my left hand. A man walks down the near side of the street repeatedly muttering something about real estate. As you do.
Tomorrow I will write a letter to a friend and talk about the fire virus in the trees, and how Brooklyn is beginning to burn…
Tonight I am imagining things; a dark spot on the floorboards near my foot has crawled toward me, twice. Each time I pin it down with my eyes, it reverts to being just a dark stain on the floorboard, the 78 of an old conversation trapped beneath the varnish. When I turn my eyes to the laptop screen, it becomes a mouse again, or a roach, or something larger.
I’m not afraid. I just wish it would make up its mind.