Colored flags lift and flap in the air above a parking lot as I ease myself back into the patterns and rhythms of life in the United States. People here seem hard-shelled and prickly, the air between them charged with menace. But the sun is out. The sky is clear. Allowances have been made for potted plants and beleaguered trees amid rows upon rows of strip malls. Hulks with tattoos order breakfast sandwiches at deli counters, but birds still sing outdoors, despite idling motorists, in the silences between waves of traffic. Next thing I know, we’re in crisis mode: an afternoon visit to a pool thrown into disarray when a nephew bangs his head on a diving board while attempting a back flip. Within a few hours, he’s back home with eight staples in his head playing Fortnite on his Nintendo Switch.
We live in a divided city. Anger, extinction rebellion: but we can heal ourselves. We can love. Or we can yell, fail to sympathize. Sit in separate rooms. Gather round fires, with spell-check clutching at our words. We face difficult existential choices: we stand at a crossroads of the personal and the political, the underworld and utopia. But which is which? Gold-wrapped chocolate rabbits, or a universe of books? Stern military Boys and Girls Club discipline, or Isle of Lost Boys? Gender submission or gender trouble? Fear or freedom? Attempts to determine answers remain clouded by the rules of attraction, each potential orbit possessing its distinct push and pull — and in the midst of these, the shaman. But I don’t want another novel of the ice age. I suppose I’m more green than red. Yet I remain torn between the two — the picnic and the bonfire. It’s all right there, laid out in the symbolism of a dining room. Picnic basket, flowers, hand towels — or Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam.” The contrast leaves me feeling radical, but also radically indecisive. Which cross do we wish to bear? Life is, even at its best, no more than that question — or so it seems. We remain amid tests and halls of mirrors, sorting amid conflicting sense-data.
Voices from my inner cast of characters tell me I’m living a depressingly subdued existence. Hush, we don’t use that word, they say. We’ve just got something on our mind. Green, orange, and streetlight-yellow balls of light flash across my field of vision. Do others all have their own peak experiences? Or are they too absorbed in neoliberal pastimes like compartmentalization and time management? I ponder these questions during a brief respite from the demands of the nine to five. I imagine myself reconstituted as a child again, lying on my stomach on the floor of a room, playing with a set of anonymous, faceless action figures. I don’t care about job security or the rest of it. My path is my path no matter what. Rushing to dinner with friends last night, Sarah and I talked about bars in our neighborhood and marveled at massive yellow-and-green-lined leaves of plants in neighbors’ gardens.
Sarah used to be (and to some extent remains) a race walker, so I permanently trail behind her whenever we make our way along what a friend of ours calls “the upside-down cone of uncertainty.” A vague discomfort in my sinuses. Friends were all supportive as a fellow instructor and I explained to them the crisis we’re facing at work. When I asked them how they accounted for the way everything was all of a sudden turning to shit synchronistically, all at once (by which I mean job cuts, friends’ cars breaking down, all of us sick with colds or the flu, another university in town accepting the poisoned chalice of strings-attached funding from the Koch brothers, hurricanes, wildfires, the Trump administration’s decision to rescind DACA, the threat of nuclear war), everyone laughed and nodded: ha ha, point well taken, apocalypticism FTW. But part of me had also asked the question in earnest. Are the usually semi-autonomous levels of the totality collapsing together now, base and superstructure merged through crisis into a form resembling an infinite regression of homologies for Trump’s America? As the National Enquirer used to say, “Enquiring minds want to know.”
What have we accomplished since Ulysses, the great novel of everyday life? I wish I could train students to appreciate that book’s achievements. But in what context? Look around: we live in the hours before a storm. There are few among us who have time enough still to read books like Ulysses. I wish to live without cash, outside the capitalist system. Please help me. Please advise. How does one begin to live as one wishes? How does one create a world where owls nest in abandoned libraries, and capitalism is a thing of the past? Desolate land’s ends, abandoned shorelines: these have always been my favorite places. The broken asphalt expanses beneath gull-infested grey skies. I enjoy being assigned the character whose every day unlocks a new spell as he trespasses amid the ghosts-to-be of tomorrow’s mossy wastes and ruins. Extra credit for those who devise mantras and practice neuro-linguistic programming in the moments before bed each night. “Linger, let live: longer, louder.” We were born into this mess; we might as well get good at it. Amen. Blinds draw lines across light, so I go outside, only to have those bastards, the mosquitoes, attack my ankles. Because of “live and let live,” I’m supposed to just permit that? A voice of ours quivers upward with nervous, breathless laughter. Purple lips, a tree-bark face. Breathing often helps to relax me, along with stretches and massage. What role does illusion play in everyday consciousness? Is an altered state a complete distortion of real conditions, as in the case of an hallucination? Or is it more like a slight bending for purposes of enlightenment? “Kiddies, the dream has begun,” I exclaim while waving jazz hands or spirit fingers. The bad faith of fascism expresses itself in the form of store-bought, mass-manufactured tiki torches. No “talented oppressor,” no subtle beast, that. Tunde Wey cuts to the truth of the matter, however — a truth, I’m sorry to say, for which I, too, am culpable — when he writes, “People of color are continuously dispossessed of culture and self in service of whiteness.” And here I am, teaching a course on “consciousness.”