The toughest part of any blog, I imagine, is finding what to write. I’m off to New York this week and don’t have time for a full post, but I’m offering openings I wrote and never pursued. Which would you’d like to see developed to full length? I’ll try, I promise.
Some moments seems contiguous. The final gasps and throes of the coffeemaker, unvaried, could be one song. Initials in the sidewalk announce themselves as they always have, meaning to make today into yesterday, when you also noticed them. Tires drone between steady beats of highway seams. A furze of yellowy pink clings to a familiar flat horizon. More is similar than different, all one morning.
You discover who you are by failing. It’s unfortunate, but bumping against the ceiling of your abilities or unveiling how wrong you were or seeing the familiar transformed by a new understanding or feeling, or blushing with deep embarrassment and error that says, “I’m not what I seem”—that’s what matters.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I do. My appreciation for book designers rests on their nifty solutions to unseen needs. They shirk the profound pressure to entice. They remain somehow, despite it all, playful. They innovate. They renovate what you expect from text, turning letters into objects and images into signs. You can’t say how a cover affects you, but you know which do.
My people-watching grows more intense with age. Everyone, it seems, is more interesting than I am, more beautiful and/or paired with someone more beautiful than I am, off more purposefully to more interesting destinations uncolored by worry. They’re smarter, hipper, happier. They don’t care how very screwed the world is. They aren’t old.
She sat on the floor and watched me cry, unmoved but interested, silently remarking and studying. You wouldn’t know she was the child and I the adult, and the power to make me cry—her influence over and exploitation of her parent didn’t seem to be her primary focus. She was shocked to see me dissolve.
In my alternate lives, I travel more, draw more, talk with people much more intelligent than I am, find hidden strengths in myself, feel deeply, and make a bigger difference to myself and others. Perhaps it’s too late for redefinition at my age. Yet the futility of self-improvement does little to impede fantasy. Disappointment inspires bigger, better, bolder versions of my impossible, limited self.
I don’t think often about former relationships. I’m happily married. But, if I do, the break-up scenes appear, angry accusations and bitter assessments, smolderingly indifferent verdicts, barely-beneath-the-surface hurt, resignation still tinged with faint hope, the most persistent denial. If you could collect all the people who’ve rejected me or I’ve rejected, the testimony might form a complete picture of why I’m such an ass.
Why do I distrust certainty so? When someone says, “That’s just how it is,” I want to shout, “Is anything ever what we say it is? Isn’t saying what it is the same as revealing an unexpressed or unconscious wish it were and that we have no choice about it and this situation is what it must be?” I prefer those who say, “I don’t know, but intend to find out.” Do your best to reveal something closer to the truth. Don’t be sure.
Maybe every child experiences being lost and approaching a stranger to ask (in some form), “Can you help me find my mommy?” You hope to be settled again and not so anchorless. More than anything else, you seek a sure sense of where you belong, what makes you feel whole and complete.
When my history students ask about some time in my past—how I felt about MLK’s assassination or the end of the war in Vietnam, I stretch to reach an earlier self. Like a fly in an expansive room, it runs from me. How do you answer, “How did you feel?” when the question requires re-knowing, and re-knowing is fraught with revision, what you ought to have felt or might have felt or thought?