THE BLESSED AFTERMATH
They say the faster one moves through space the harder it is for one to recognize their landscape. This is why I ran from the room, to distort everything around me, all sights, all sounds. My vision blurred into a much more pleasurable montage of whirring walls, ceilings and floors, spinning by me too quickly to take on any meaning. Sound likewise became a mish-mash of puddly echoes, hallowed in their indiscernibility. Sadly I am anything but athletic, so these sensations were annoyingly temporary. But I made it to the library. And mysteriously, Bowles didn’t send anyone after me, and the librarian didn’t care either. Maybe I was invisible for once. Good.
Of course the librarian recognized me, I may have been her most regular customer and often the only one. The library felt like a dying place, the scent of bacteria and mold invading and corroding the words growing extinct on a paper page. No one could bother with the weight of books anymore. Words now defied gravity, floated ethereal, and lacked any substance in a very literal sense. I was alone in the library, picturing the librarian not as alive, but as a mannequin under extraordinary decay, glazed, her skin slowly falling off. Soon the library itself would forever vanish, to be replaced by transmissions in a digital final solution. I held no great hope for finding any volume of my newly discovered Ms. Dickinson, and I had to inspect the shelves very carefully indeed. But after some diligence, I was rewarded. There, amidst old tattered anthologies and the embarrassed large print hardbacks of picture poems for children, there squeezed in-between dinosaurs and patriarchs, was perhaps the physically most small book on any shelf, a pocket sized thing, one of those minutely conceived artifacts, when some publisher believes a reader should transport the tiny words with them everywhere in travels, disregarding of course the substance of the words within, which in this most remarkable case denoted to say, you don’t need to travel, you don’t need to leave this room, for you will travel everywhere, and explore infinity remaining still. Reading Ms. Dickinson was a promise fulfilled, and from the beginning was like weeping endlessly soft sullen tears of boundless joy.
There’s that old cliché that at times words are not enough to describe certain things. In my young life I had yet to encounter such a situation and in fact had considered that possibility quite remote. Words were my friends, my source of solace, my safe haven, my snuggly winter blanket. What possible limitation could my darling acquaintance ever have? Words had taught me, instructed me, acquitted me of sin, warmed me in the cold, and always gave wellspring to the imagination of myself, starting so young, yet so powerfully as to be formative, less like a blossoming and more like a quantum explosion that seemingly would never end. I trusted words, for they had never let me down. But herein lies the irony of my recent discovery. The first impression I received upon reading Ms. Dickinson’s holy words was like being slapped with that damn cliché and feeling ever the more stupid for it. She was describing everything, and nothing, simultaneously. Her words were precise, yet could only suggest what could not be appropriated. If you tried to find meaning within these words, you would fail and fall into the darkest of all abyss. You could not claw your way through the poetry, you could not attack it from multiple directions and hope to find solid ground. The more you tried analysis, the faster the meaning would elude you, mock you, leave you breathless and childlike.
So let’s discuss the triteness of the phrase “hard to describe” and how I, unafraid of any challenge (not really) will try to describe it. Of course there are other means of communication besides words. If you can’t write it, you could paint it, sculpt it, dance it, performance art it, sing it or play it on a musical instrument. You could do this, stand back and say “so there, I have expressed this thing that I could not write.” But I don’t connect with that. I don’t see how you can say that some creative expression spoke a truth while the words failed and fell mute. There’s scant analogy between what words and art reveal to us, for to make such analogies devalues both. We live in a world where one must describe, analyze, compartmentalize, assign, categorize, simplify and generalize, all in the goal of making known, of grasping, of conquering the unknowable, asserting our human dominance, our individual superiority, our victory over nature, our little wins over our own mortality, when in fact all we’re really doing is revealing our own fears, which go unsoothed by cowardice. Courage is all about the letting go, and embracing the infinite variety, that everything and nothing and everyone and no one is the same. Any endeavor in reduction is an exercise in utter folly. It breeds slaves to the temporal, marching minions dependent on false philosophy to comfort from imaginary monsters. True freedom as this construct seems impossibly fleeting. It’s all a trick, all black and dusty human-invented magicks.
No one is a prophet, but some can share their own internal light. These blessed sharers usually only have one simple message as their gift to us, a gift they so often have no idea they are giving. They say to anyone who bothers to hear, “listen.” Stop the infernal, repetitive, endless grind of activity. Listen. Stop explaining, shouting from rooftops, racing to the finish line, stop solving puzzles, proclaiming, stipulating, refining, sorting, filing, juxtapositioning, questioning, answering. For those things have nothing to do with listening. Breathe, start with a breath. Stop the interior panic that starts and rules our days. Do nothing (this is vital), yet understand you are not passive, you are anything but inactive. You are a listener. You were born into it. It comes naturally but you have forgotten. Let yourself be reminded.
It can be a romantic ideal to consider ourselves as animals, but too often this is used as an excuse to undertake extreme savagery. Animals commit murder, prey upon each other to survive, so why not we? But animals are content in their purity. We have no such luck. We are malcontent, in an animal state, and have no recourse to combat this other than listening, for we are the unique among living things in this capacity. Yes, I have seen dogs who appear to listen to the wind, and surely dolphins and whales exchange songs under the seas, and perhaps this approaches my topic, but it is borne from instinct, always to survive, in pursuit of food or protection. Only the human can be truly idle enough to surrender to the world, to allow the gravity of all things living not to bear upon what may be described however inaccurately as one’s “soul”, a neat little shorthand for “listening device.” A fun nomenclature, granted, and I amuse myself with it, but remember, it is just a word. “Soul” has no meaning, and neither does “armadillo” or “tea” or “swimmingly.” The listening can take you back before these assignations were created, to a time of being, the virgin listen. You see, we are and will always be children, in that moment of awaking, perfectly attentive and numb, without distraction. Can you remember the last time you were not distracted? Can you remember the last time you were both not distracted, and listening? Personally, I don’t think so, for it doesn’t seem to be something rewarded by effort, so therefore foreign to nearly all. But I live in hope.
This is the gift Ms. Dickinson has given to me.
There’s a certain pleasure that I would think universal when subjecting yourself to the force of a life paradigm shift. You are passive in a sense yet every cell is active in change, surrendering and acquiring, submitting and asserting as a rebirth, so necessarily self-reflective. Sometimes the ego is inevitable. It’s then you are confronted with the past, for its very indelibility insists you pay attention, and there’s conflict afoot.
After school I took my small volume of Ms. Dickinson down to a low hillside sloping just over the football field, where James and the rest of the football team engaged in afternoon practice. I sat in the grass and gazed. It was not my usual ritual, for while the James-watching pastime was certainly socially acceptable (for in which I would never be alone), I was never one to linger at school longer than enforced, usually fleeing my servitude with haste. But I stayed to fulfill a promise to both James and the bitch Chloe, to accompany them on some unknown late afternoon outing, and this of course was a source of great ambivalence melting into fear. It was indeed an event of the same coercive properties as school. I could never get out of it. James had been so gracious, expanding his gentle inviting realm over me like a fragrant warmth. Extreme terror accompanied this with all its predictability. I had to accept his generosity in kind. However remote the possibility, I had to maintain some semblance of decency. I comforted myself with the thought that my presence alone was enough, that I could release with no effort all my stumblings and mumblings and murmurings and stammers, and maybe I could just muster a giggle no matter how fake, something to sell my quirkiness, for idiosyncrasy was my optimistic refuge, my only claim to a perceived identity, though meaningless to me.
Look, I hope by now you can admit I’m not stupid. I know James is going out (whatever that means) with Chloe. And Chloe is my self/other identical twin. Peel off all Chloe’s cosmetics, unpoof her hair and strip the future-melanoma from her hide, and you might get a creature approximating me in appearance, for that’s the way the nature worked anyway. It wasn’t a giant leap then to say that James might be attracted to me physically, since he was attracted to the bitch Chloe as well, so maybe he saw in me a somewhat more unadulterated canvas upon which to paint his fantasies, sexual or otherwise. Lord knows he could talk to me in a way he couldn’t with Chloe, for I would listen to him, and adore him, and encourage him in a way foreign to her. With Chloe it was all kissy-kissy powerplays, status and ego and raising up to gargantuan proportions. She wanted her and James to be the unconquerable golems of the school, and for everyone to cower under their spell. She was his destructive mynx, and James succumbed, because for all his worth, he was still a hormone-riddle teenage boy. As I glanced at him on the football field, I held such pity for him. Football was his escape, his mandatory release, engaging boys overridden by the call of muscles to spend their fury in harmless gamesmanship. Those boys — I wanted to cradle them all for a moment. Men have no excuse to play such games, but for boys — they must endure.
My book called back at me.
I’ve heard before (I should say I’ve read before) that one must work, practice, strive, if you will, to achieve states of transcendence, that like Tibetan monks or really dedicated hippies, only with such devotion to the craft can one “get it.” My little book was the atom smasher of that notion. The message it gave me was just the opposite: everyone please stop trying so Goddamn hard. Practicing to try and achieve inner peace smacks to me of so much hubris, it’s like taking our alpha-personality-driven society, full of self-help and analysis and research and development and business models and life-coaching, and cramming it into the infinitely more humane universe of contemplation. As I laid my eyes upon the pages of the small book of not-too-ancient words, I realized with complete assurance and satisfaction, that I knew nothing, and I always would. Thank God. What a relief. What a burden lifted from my shoulders. There is no right way, or wrong way, I mean, don’t hurt others, sure, be a normal respectful person, but beyond that? Mystery. Perfect, crystalline, robust and omniscient mystery. Put words together. Unlock the door. A wind blows it open. The wind buoys you up and the signals disappear. Everything recedes into its natural state of vapors. I don’t need to close my eyes, for my eyes are open, and I am me, and…
Suddenly the bitch Chloe stomps the vapors into the mud and I’m blinded by everything that is manufactured. It’s magenta, her uniform. And that hellish voice speaks to me, it has the nerve to speak to me, hovering over me, on that grassy gentle hill.
“Listen, scab, we’re going in ten. Don’t fuck with me, okay, or I’ll kick your fugly ass for real this time, capiche?”
I saw her with clarity then. Chloe reached down and grabbed my book away from me.
“What’s this?” I engaged her by instinct.
“Give it!” I yelled at her. I rose to my feet to confront her but she side-stepped away.
“Emily Dickinson!” she chortled while eluding me, “your new how-to guide for being a freak!” Chloe was successfully dodging me, and I am clumsy. I put gravity into my voice, or at least tried.
“Give it back!” With that I made a very awkward lunge at Chloe, nearly falling down on the slight slope of the hill. Chloe was nimble and stepped and laughed. She threw the book at me. It hit my thigh and landed in the dry grass.
“I’m nobody,” she mocked, “who are you?” With that she turned and walked back toward something, I don’t know. She couldn’t resist a last gibe though, yelling at me over her shoulder.
“Are you nobody, too?”
I picked up the book, undamaged. It was really only then that I noticed the people in my surroundings with any accuracy. Clarissa and Tyler were sitting in the bleachers, making out, gross. The football team was doing a final lap around the field. James was number 6. Coach Holden was barking as usual. I think I saw the douchebag Paolo in uniform and talking with James. And Chloe gave a little cheer and a wave of a pom pom from the sideline. The lone cheerleader. She didn’t care.