Throw troubles aside. Become present, before low-hanging branches announce themselves to your head. Am I squandering myself in these acts of reflection? If so, is there anything wrong with that? The Einstein Intersection‘s post-nuclear, neo-primitivist future is the one in which I would most wish to live. Are there consequences, though, when we treat life like a plunge? “‘Mind on the case.’ Got it,” I repeat back to myself, as if reading from a script. No need to imagine oneself crossing a threshold or anything. History is a matter of narratives into which we figure. Look upon my fine line, my axiom, procedurally generated across a Scrabble board. Lesson ruined, evening botched. To rules I am permanently opposed. No use trying: it reopens old wounds. All one does is lose. It is as if I’ve been handed a sentence: “Parole denied, return to cell.” How do I heal this sore spot in my soul? How, under such conditions, can one teach? As if in answer, some higher-order self intervenes and says, “Go back. Repair. Seek forgiveness and make amends.”
Think about processes of identification. A temporary forgetting occurs when we confuse awareness with either a body or an object or some sign derived therefrom. As from a dream we awake remade. Shopping carts clang into line with their brethren. A winning performance. Conjuring up another semester’s characters is great work. My students come out of my classes on the whole better people. This I do believe, despite my occasional disappointments. Those at my present institution, for instance, are never quite as cool or as smart as I want them to be. I want the universe to work. I want to believe in myself — so I do. In the moments, in the seconds. In the on-off binary interval between mind and creation, our two alternate personas. All of it a playful game or dance. Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering. That is what today makes possible. The individual with the colossal external nervous system. Become awake. Become alive. It’s time to level up.
Must we go ahead and invent characters? Can’t we just leap wholly and all at once into the lightning-quick universe? Maniac stars in home movie. Where is it, this “Id”? Isn’t it something more than mere mumbles at the back corner of an interior sound stage? The number one rule is to remember, “This is not real.” Of course, one should also remain aware and engaged, I gather, though I haven’t heard it uttered as such. Thought takes shape through rituals and gestures either way. I stand here today, for instance, having performed minor adjustments to consciousness, allowing me to unclench some of the muscles in my back. Christmas trees lie dead on the ground like the bodies of martyred brethren beside neighbors’ sidewalks. If I were author and it were narrative, I would want my life to take a turn here unexpectedly for the better. My eyes catch on a Winnie the Pooh clock mounted to the wall in a Chinese takeout, the scripted font across the upper half of the clock’s face stating, “All the world is honey and life is very sweet.” Let this be my mantra in the days ahead.
From a small Dansk teacup I sip hot mulled apple cider, my head absorbed in idle abstraction, even when I act politely in accordance with convention. Experience vacillates between perception and performance, knowing and doing. With amazement, though, I arrive at the realization that there are ways to enjoy all of it. Cartoon eyes and mouths emerge from chrome shelving units covered in succulents. I contemplate the face of a playing card, a jack of clubs designed in the English pattern. Plug it in and the face transmits bursts of character, like a furnace breathing air into a home during a snowstorm. I listen from a basement as floorboards creak beneath the feet of my kith and kin. Refusing to be kept, I march up and out into the cold northeastern air, plying my boots atop snow-covered streets. One can be in a place without knowing where one is or what is going on, I conclude, for a bomb was dropped to stop heads from making sense of their condition.
Notes diminish slowly, like particles falling through space across brief durations. A friend’s voice, heavily masked, brings light. Does my focus increase or diminish when I convince myself that the object-world is no more than a single, alien form of consciousness: one, however, that will grant me the power to decode the messages it sends me, so long as I let it? And say this conviction were a fiction, however much the external world might seem to confirm it. Would that in any way lessen its therapeutic validity as an orientation toward being? Experience is often like a pull toward a hesitant positivity — until something terrible gets in the way. Let us turn our gaze toward the means of worship pioneered by Akhenaten. As if in reply, Alfred Bruneau performs Verdi’s “Requiem: Dies Irae & Tuba Mirum.”
How much do I wish to read into that? Is it wrong to think that Rochester has become a fun place to visit while stoned? Bars, bookstores, restaurants. Diverse neighborhoods. Homes and storefronts lit for the holidays. But I worry — albeit only in a distant, abstracted way — that I’ve become the kind of person who prefers to withdraw, to subtract from extended community with others. Perhaps this is the lesson one learns when visiting with family under capitalism. Dull, shiftless, emptied of concern: these are words I project preemptively into the thought bubbles of others. My sensitivity to a certain kind of anxiety leads me to imagine those around me acting the part of the killjoy, the spoilsport, the moralist. In thinking this, I grow cold, I go brittle. Morals are not the rules we invent by which to live; nor are they the rules we obey simply so as to attend to the cares of others. Rather, they’re the rules we follow for no reason other than that some part of us desires to uphold tradition — traditional biases, traditional prejudices — as lifestyle, as aesthetic. Thinking this strips me of volume and capacity. “Step back,” I say, ears awakened by fireworks. “Get up and try again.”
Will this become in thought and thus in practice a grace that, like an invisible hand, gently guides us toward our destiny? Picture Mazdaism’s Angel, the Fravarti — one’s tutelary transcendent counterpart, one’s better self — leaving clues for us along our way. Mine steps in, for instance, and walks with me hand in hand to an anti-‘present reality’ rally. Headlights reflect garishly off the backs of cars downtown. Drug use becomes more prevalent in our Republican-controlled republic, a coping mechanism for a public seeking serotonin supplements to correct the collective mood. Afterwards some friends and I retire to a bar to discuss the concerns of the day. One friend recommends a comedian named Nate Bargatze and a Jim Carrey movie called Jim & Andy. I rail throughout the night against the procedurally generated fiction known as debt, the latter just as arbitrary in my view as the obstacles the NES generation used to install when custom-designing tracks in Excitebike. Must we toil? Must we busy ourselves because born dispossessed? My mind chases after itself, representing itself doing so across a succession of fleeting images. A montage sequence from an imaginary film noir.
Break out the sugary drinks! I have a mystical treatise I wish to deliver via PowerPoint. All is wondrous and large and unnameable. Is it possible that the narrator is constructed by the language he speaks? Or is that to confuse the self with its externalizations? Action becomes introspection, and plot evolves into spiritual adventure. The self moved by something other. The invisible hand, or whatever god it is that allows itself to be “chosen” by the other pole of its dyad. The mouse that steps atop the keyboard of consciousness. Perhaps there’s some place in this altered state that can fit Sam Harris’s book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion — though I doubt it. That dude strikes me as entirely too sober and arrogant. I prefer my sermon in the form of Andy Holden’s “Chewy Cosmos (Panels to the Walls of Heaven).”
The need to collect nuts and berries lingers. Collection involves giving oneself over to luck. Infinite reverie.
Equally impressive is Holden’s video, “Prelude (A Pilot).” It, too, can point us on our course. Allegorical or archetypal landscapes poached from old Roadrunner cartoons. The artist imagines himself operating in the Romantic tradition, mining points of intensity from domains native to everyday life. And from Holden’s work, I’m led to the work of filmmaker James Benning. The path thus creates itself under the feet that tread it. Sarah and I granted ourselves a brief respite from the book edits and grading, walking in the sun yesterday midday along snow-covered streets, water melting, dripping from trees and branches. “Ptarmigans” emerged at one point as a topic of conversation: birds whose feathers change colors every year with the seasons. Upon my return from the walk, I watched Benning’s One Way Boogie Woogie (1977), reminded while watching of industrial landscapes I observed as a kid. Like songs that build in volume, signs begin to speak to me. Stubbornly persistent illusions give way to the conviction that everything is connected. “Let’s glitch the matrix and reorganize the gameboard,” I add, knowing not how or why.