On this autumn afternoon I don the role of sous chef, chop cauliflower and onions, mix with ground turmeric and paprika, the lot then brewed into a soup. My brother calls after dinner announcing wonderful news: he proposed to his girlfriend. The two are now engaged to be wed. A group-text ensues, my other family members and I all congratulating the couple, all of us filled with joy.
Among the patterns swirled into the stucco ceiling of my office appears the face of a small terrier — happy, excited to be here. In it I sense a correspondence. A cat has also taken to visiting Sarah and I on our back deck, a grey one with black stripes, dozing in a chair midday. Butterflies have come to visit as well — beautiful swallowtails, and out on the sidewalk, a “red-spotted purple” with blue stripes and orange dots on its wings. A white plastic tape dispenser on top of my file cabinet resembles a white whale. The world appears blessed with a multitude of entities and beings. And much the same is true here in the home. Sarah and I are expecting a daughter. From the two of us has come a third. Thus begins our life together as a family. With great respect and reverence, ears attuned to our many co-creating friends and neighbors, we set out on our way.
The line traced by Agitation Free’s “In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise” runs along an axis that transcends the usual three-dimensional plane on which I’m trapped — or so I like to imagine, though I freely admit my ignorance regarding matters of topology. Point being, I can’t help feeling like I ought to be elsewhere.
With capacities renewed, however, the feeling gives way to joy, increased attentiveness, a sense of excitement. There I was griping, whereas now I can see. Beauty everywhere: a pot of garden lobelia, beside which I meditated this morning, and from which a tiny bee finds sustenance. Plants do that to us: they heal us, they modulate consciousness. From them comes that phrase in the Bible mistranslated into the English of the KJV as “our daily bread.” So sayeth Reverend Danny Nemu in a conversation with podcaster Lex Pelger in an episode of The Psychedelic Salon. Out of me pulses and flickers eidetic imagery — maybe even the tactile, fully immersive vibrational sphere of a cannabis-induced liminal dream. Family also provides sustenance, equally necessary. Time to get out there and love. That’s where I stumble, though. My every move feels judged and found wanting. Can I change those vibes, feed back something pure rather than base? My nieces step outdoors and cheer me up a bit. One talks about missing her kindergarten classroom, with its rugs, couches, and tables. The other one tells me that she does not like men, and that her favorite thing is bubblegum. Afterwards I tip-toe sentence by sentence through the section of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America titled “The Message,” the words on the page threatening to cohere into some fearsome allegory. What I find instead, though, is further evidence of a loving cosmos waiting patiently for me as I struggle toward an approximation of its wisdom.
Well placed to notice memory’s modularity, losses and accretions, rooms refurbished by time. I was real or so I thought. Like a golden birthday balloon made of creased mylar, I press against a ceiling, inside filled to bursting, wondering how I got here. Birds, planes, sunset skies of pink, orange, and blue. Time with family overwhelms me, wears me down. The finest moments are the silent ones, a light breeze, water lapping the sides of a canal.
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.
I often know not how to participate lovingly in time with family. So much of it descends into staring despondently at what others watch on television in garish consumerist disdain or at least ignorant unconcern for my personal preferences. The emotional and psychological investment in biological tribalism that I witness in members of my extended family seems superficial to me given their unwillingness to aid me out of my economic nightmare. How can I continue to pay to visit people who throw money around as the system through which they profit tramples me underfoot? Perhaps we just need to center. “When we are on center,” writes M.C. Richards, “we experience reality in depth rather than in partition” (Centering, p. 53). Richards knows that centering is a difficult process. It’s easier to say one will love one’s enemies than to do it. “How are we to love,” she asks, “when we are stiff and numb and disinterested? How are we to transform ourselves into limber and soft organisms lying open to the world at the quick? […]. Love, like its counterpart Death, is a yielding at the center…figured forth in intelligent cooperation, sensitive congeniality, physical warmth. […]. One gives up all one has for this. […]. One gives up all the treasured sorrow and self-mistrust, all the precious loathing and suspicion, all the secret triumphs of withdrawal. One bends in the wind” (54). The more I read of Richards’s work, the more I want to investigate the Gate Hill Cooperative, an experimental artists’ colony that was located in Stony Point, NY. Richards wrote Centering while living there from 1954 to 1964.
I am achievement-minded and acquisitive only in pursuit of knowledge. And “pursuit” is perhaps misleading, as I’m more a gatherer than a hunter. “Behave with due reverence for Nature, and thou shalt receive” has become increasingly my motto of late. As soon as one doubts, the power stops working. But otherwise, it’s a gift. Sarah’s parents arrived for a visit the other day, and their plan is to stay until Sunday. Touring them around, I realized my city comports poorly when set before the eyes of strangers. Especially when one is not loaded — and I mean that in either sense of the term. At least the sky is still blue. I excused myself midday yesterday and made a point of blasting Milk Music’s new album Mystic 100’s along the length of my commute to campus, your humble narrator surrounded on all sides by beautiful autumn foliage.
The world appeared to me as if I were viewing it through textured glass. Upon my arrival home, my father-in-law and I conversed at length about our frustrations with students and with education more broadly, our mutual profession. My frustrations are compounded, though, by a pessimism that far outstrips his. My faith is apocalyptic, where his is not. I believe slaves should rise up against their masters. Neuro-hypnosis FTW. What are we unlocking? Some non-referential non-recollection of thought. Why did Althusser’s theory of interpellation make intuitive sense to me? How did part of me already know that the world as it appears is a lie? The sky can be singed away. Too many eyes captured by too many screens. To discipline, I object.