Landfall

I realize the picture above is bad. It was taken on a flight at the exact moment the pilot warned of turbulence from Hurricane Harvey, passengers and plane already shaking. The storm about to hit Texas at a place called Corpus Christi, which is the name of a real town in the physical world.

So I kept the bad picture I took of the good poem I was reading to show you. The words legible, no matter the storm.

The poem is by Tim Seibles and is called “Delores Epps.” It was presented by the skinniest member of my MFA program at Florida International University during our first class.

I remembered it on the plane after watching “Girls” and made my row get up so I could grab it from the overhead compartment where it lay, unread, neighbored by other people’s back packed belongings. I found a forgotten banana in my carry on, which I ate while I read my poem, wanting to feel the sorrow of being young and not knowing anything but also knowing the exact same amount I still don’t know now. But, it is better not to know at fifteen, better not to know at twenty three, better not to know at thirty three, than now at thirty six. The not knowing of each year always circling, gasping to lift off, but making landfall in a watery mess somewhere by a place the map calls Corpus Christi.

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The Atom World

There is a street in LA that has everything, at least, everything that my world needs. Juice, coffee, books, yoga, independent shopping, wine, cheese, parking. On this street, each of these are each well done, particularly the book store, where on the cashier’s counter I encountered Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.”

I was on the market for short stories, I realized, particularly those of the semi-science fiction variety offered by Bradbury. His “Life on Mars” is often in my top ten modular list of all-time favorite books.

So far “The Illustrated Man” has kept the Bradbury promise: render human defects alien, gruesome by kicking them out of context. The childhood aggression, racism, panic, violence in his eerily futuristic tales are incongruous in their cruelty. No one would could ever possible do that, could they?  This can never possibly happen, can it? Or, has it, is it already happening?

The excerpt above is from a story titled “The Highway.” What drew me in was the use of the word “atom” vs. “atomic” in describing a war that could end the world. In many ways a war that could end the world is an atom war, a war of the minuscule, a war started by a few pissy men. Case in point: the past two world wars.

Who knows if the decision to use “atom” vs. “atomic” is due to language evolution or intention. It does not matter. The effect is there. It is harder to get around the meaning of the word in its noun form. An “atom” is the limit of a thing, just as a human is the limit of what can be called a “world.” An atom war that will end the world. A petty war that will end my perception.

Thus, the character in Bradbury’s story, who lives by a road in the middle of nowhere, suddenly overrun with folk escaping the “end of the world,” can only ask his donkey:

“What do they mean, ‘the world’?”

 

Suburbanization in Reverse

Last week’s Economist cover featured the death of the internal combustion engine via the electric car. The magazine contemplates a bright future where the air is clean, oil grabs become irrelevant, and people nap during their private commutes. Then, reverse suburbanisation as cities contract, converting now useless parking into homes, parks, offices. Efficient destinations everywhere.

The magazine does not mention the inventors of this great future, but that is whom the article left me thinking about: the few individuals who propelled electric cars forward. These incredible beings basically prevented planetary devastation by ending human dependence on dirty fuel.

Sadly, on the other side of the equation, you have the Zumas, Trumps, and Maduros of the world. Individuals who set entire nations back one year each time they open their traps. See the excerpt from the article below on Jacob Zuma’s reelection, which immediately followed the article on electric cars.

Thus, the equation keeps equal. Or as Fitzgerald might say, “we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Image/Identity

About a week ago I visited the Georgia O'Keefe retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum: Living Modern. The exhibit not only centered around her well-known paintings and photographs, but also around her self-made clothing, and how her choice in dress was part and parcel to her conscious artistic identity. Her clothes were black and white, androgynous and practical, refined and subtle. Céline-like.

Parallel to that, I've traversed the Jewish Orthodox neighborhood in South Williamsburg several times in the past month. You know the neighborhood's invisible borders are breached once everyone is suddenly dressed the same. There is a single group identity immediately transmitted by a communal way of dress. In this neighborhood, there is no risk of a Stranger in Our Midst; here, there are Strangers Dressed in Jeans.

Then, at dinner with a friend, a mutual acquaintance came up who'd become a serious body builder. My friend showed me images of a transformed person, whose life revolved around and was surrounded by heavy weight lifting. The dress, colors, angles of our acquaintance's identity had been wholly transformed; too me, he was unrecognizable.

While it may be said that all neighborhoods in all corners of the globe have a particular coda, New York is a city where way of dress almost determines what area a person will seek to inhabit: Upper East Side, North Williamsburg, SoHo, etc. Here, as is the case with Georgia, the body builder, Orthodox Jews, there is an intentionally visible commitment to dressing in a way that reflects who you are.

I feel no such commitment. I like a dress that makes me feel like myself as much as a dress that makes me feel unlike myself. Stuff is exciting when it is new. That is all.

Does this mean I am identity-free? Does identity exist without any conscious external markers? I fear it cannot.

The uniform, be it imposed or adopted, is eerie because there remains a knowing that beneath the cloaks or the wife beaters, lie the several selves. The comfort of the uniform denotes a sacrifice, a negotiation: buy to belong.

But, those who dare commit to the Self dress it forth as a demonstration of will.

Nonnegotiable Time

Neko Case, a the vocalist in cult band “The New Pornographers,” is one of one hundred artists, entrepreneurs and writers interviewed for “In the Company of Women,” a surprisingly unsappy coffee table book. 

Pictured above is what she had to say about time and making it to make art. I agree.