“Had four brothers once upon a time
He said they toured the country far away from the Rio Grande
But the road just wore them down
So they bought a house beside a lake
Outside of New Orleans
And stared in the direction of the escalating sound.”
-Counting Crows, “Cover Up the Sun”
David Foster Wallace tried to write a book about boredom and it killed him. There was some other stuff there in between, including electro-shock, sorry, -convulsive “therapy” and a lifelong understanding that the world has some things that need fixing and may just never get fixed but it’s still important to spend all your energy trying anyway. I’m trying to write a post about memory loss/confusion/destruction and I don’t know where it’s going to go. But I’m probably going to spend a little less time on it that DFW did on The Pale King.
This will either be up today or one of those posts that sits in my pending limbo box for years and greets me every time I log in and reminds me, like everything, of my failings. Actually there’s really only one of those and it’s called “Seven Billion Ghosts” and it’s been sitting in that prime position since Halloween 2011 and it was all based on a false premise, which is why it never got posted. The false premise was that there were more living humans than there had ever been cumulative living humans before and what that meant about the planet and its currently dominant species. But as I was researching the last little bit of it, I discovered that this idea is a common misconception that has been thoroughly debunked and that we probably have something like a hundred billion ancestors haunting our past, depending on exactly what you count as a human.
No wonder people feel pressure to procreate before they die.
There’s this scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, right at the opening, where Hermione, having realized how unsafe her parents are in the wake of a world that contains a resurgent Voldemort, has come to the disturbing decision to wipe out their memories so they can’t give her up or be tortured to death while refusing to do so. She doesn’t have the opportunity cost in time and energy to keep them safe otherwise and the best thing for everyone is for them to just forget they ever had a daughter. The movie rendition of this scene is pitch-perfect, Granger shakily aiming her wand as the four syllables in the spell “Obliviate” echo through a room otherwise illuminated by only the mundanity of a Muggle television. And she vanishes from pictures on the mantle, her image receding into oblivion, and then she turns to go.
There are days, days like yesterday, where I think this would be the best spell for me to cast on the world.
I just finished reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in half a decade, maybe ever. I don’t know quite how to grapple with the fact that it’s a book that exists in this world, it hit me like a ton of bricks, almost like a Counting Crows album, which I incidentally bought on Tuesday, when it came out, like always. There’s nothing terribly unique or profound in the book, but like the movie “Boyhood,” it just feels so much more real than a novel. I’ve been reading Wittgenstein’s Mistress too, and that book is trying so damn hard to make you feel like a butterfly dreaming of being a man, but Colorless just does it without trying. At a certain point between all these influences, I can almost squint and believe that I’m not really who I have been all these years, that I don’t really exist the way it’s felt, that this is all kind of a thought experiment or an exercise or just a dress rehearsal. Feeling like one’s on borrowed time always carries that connotation a little bit, but it’s somehow so much stronger when in the midst of artists who seem to be feeling and saying exactly what you’re feeling all the time.
Of course what this really speaks to is the universality of experience because we really do all exist and there is meaning and no matter how hard to see that it becomes, we can’t let go of that reality. There are people, we’ll call them “Chris Baia”s for short, who believe that the world is just shit and it’s stab or be stabbed and you might as well pride yourself on your ability to stab first. And if there’s a reason to keep going, near as I can tell, it’s to prove these people wrong. I don’t believe in evil, but if these people win, I don’t think a nuclear holocaust could wipe us out faster. There is something here. I don’t know if it’s real, I don’t know how much it matters, but it has meaning and purpose and it’s important to value that, somehow, against all odds. “Don’t let the Chris Baias get you down,” a future generation may someday say to each other as they go out to face impossible pain.
This is the first weekend that I’ve not been with the Rutgers University Debate Union for a competitive start to a season in six years and I don’t even know how to process it. The team has been asking me to help with things from afar and I have been pretty remiss about doing it because I feel so guilty and bad for leaving them in the lurch of an administration that seems hell-bent on dismantling everything we built. There seems to be so much of life that makes everything into sandcastles and the inevitability that the next tide will render all your energies and efforts moot. And the only answer I can find for this in a world of mortal fallible idiots is the mandala, some of the most beautiful art in the world, created by Buddhist monks and then deliberately wiped out, wrecked, destroyed, left only to exist in the fleeting hollows of memory.
People fail to do so many things out of the fear of facing themselves and their shortcomings and, mostly, guilt. We all feel so bad for so much we’ve done to other people and it makes us just not want to try or face other people and the longer time goes on, the more things seem to meld together into just one big ball of wrongdoing. And so we don’t contact the old friend, we don’t open up to the next one, we just hunch our shoulders and try to get through a day without feeling pain. And it doesn’t work and it never happens. And it’s easy to say we should just open ourselves up and be vulnerable but that hurts and it’s too hard sometimes, like when we’re sick or busy or hungry or lonely or breathing.
No wonder people get electro-shock-convulsive treatment-therapy willingly sometimes.
I wish them so well, my cherished debate team. I know they will do well against the mounting odds and I will try to help them as best I can in my mired mind about everything. I never was good at drawing boundaries or putting limits on my time.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this post I made before any of that. Before the divorce and the team and I hired Chris Baia and any other countless numbers of mistakes piled up to make me feel like every coinflip I made in those days was disastrous. And yet, and yet, there was last year’s National Final, there was even this tournament in Mississippi just weeks ago, there’s so much that makes me feel like pre-birth I chose to have the most extremes, the highest highs and the lowest lows, just so I could see it all before I go.
Eventually, if you live long enough, and listen, and read, everything just becomes a reference to everything else. And I guess if you live an emotionally charged life whose past you dwell on all the time, you’ll start seeing it in everything and then even the pain of a character or memory of someone else’s becomes your own and eventually it can snowball until you don’t even need to supply your own new experiences at all. I saw a movie last night about a misanthrope’s misanthrope, a classic Woody Allen proxy in a classic Woody Allen movie and halfway through I thought “is that me?” and it reminded me of seeing “Wonder Boys” with Stina in Boston in 1998 and she reassured me that I shouldn’t see myself in the hopeless bumbling of the main character but I still do and I can relate so hard to all our mistakes, hard enough that it almost makes me want to forgive these people who have shaken my mandala so hard. It’s so hard to dance in colored sand and not care about the edges one took so long perfecting.
But it’s what we’re here to do, right? I mean, no one gets out of this world alive.
“I said goodnight, goodbye
Seems like a good thing
So you know it’s a good lie
You can run out of choices
And still here a voice in your head
When you’re lying in bed
And it says that the best part of a bad day
Is knowing it’s okay
The color of everything changes
The sky rearranges its shade
Your smile doesn’t fade
Into a phone call
And one bad decision we made.”
-Counting Crows, “Possibility Days”