We are the most constant of screenwriters. Each breath a pencil stroke on the slate of ego we populate the world with broader versions of ourselves, the dimensions and attributes as varied as our breakfast menus, yesterday's hangover or today's headline, each of us inhabiting a dollhouse, wax museum and coloring book combined. We roam between each other a meld of street-theatre and psychodrama - biped pinballs. The characters we inhabit are as rich as our imaginations allow. We weave wondrous stories. Tell me, swear to me, that you haven't been both whore and saint and up to your elbows in blood now and then, and I won't believe you for a moment.
The defendant, the jury and the judge are empanelled in each of us. The court is humming, the bailiff barking "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" It is part hobby and part survival strategy. We attend. We try ourselves on like new suits of clothes. Today's hero become tomorrow's pathetic chump. It is no wonder we finally come to realize that we don't know each other below a scratch on the skin that bleeds and is licked clean til nothing shows but the faintest line. I have always been an advocate of daydreams and Walter Mitty.
The only thing that truly interests us is ourselves, which isn't to say we are exactly obsessed with ourselves; more like we are limited in our outlook by what ears can hear, eyes see, brain encompass, all our senses comprehend. We each look into our mirrors and see that familiar face of us, imagining that all the rest are pretty much as we are. But look long enough and we begin to wonder who is actually behind that familiar face, the thin, stretched mask. What incipient deeds lurk there? What odd thoughts? Who is home today?
We come up short at the border. Our own skin is the boundary, as tough to break out as to break in, concertina wire on a high wall, dogs pacing, guards armed, tribal tattoos as passes, and we do large time in a small skull. The simple fact is we know almost nothing about anyone else, except what we can impute from our own interior landscape, and we make the staggering leap here of trying to accept that we haven't just imagined each other. The only clue is how we find ourselves, but we are slide shows: from mayhem to ennui the full color head shots click by in random order. It is basic survival to know what sort of company one keeps. We keep our own in deepest mystery.
We do want to know one another - sometimes, and we do care - often, but I don't think we get very far in the knowing. The world is a warren of misunderstandings.
Elton John says it wonderfully: a candle in the wind. Unless he knew that of himself, the unsteady flickering, he would never have seen it in Marilyn. We are all like that. We see our truths and our lies moving about in the faces of others as if they had separate existences from us, but are we ever truly sure? In some way that makes no sense to the victims every murder must be an act of suicide as we try to clear the board of a bent, or perhaps too true, image of ourselves. A friend said this: "I think what I enjoy about your letters from Maine is that there are no holds barred, you are free to write just as you please without fear of disappointing/annoying readers... that is a great freedom and I enjoy it vicariously." I briefly considered why this is so, and without too much thought wrote back and told him that it was because I was dysfunctional, lacked some stops, but that dodges the point, whether I really am d.f. or not. Take no prisoners with the right hand and brush your tracks from the sand with your left; you both are and are not. What is it like to be a paradox? You already know down in your flesh. It takes the brain a bit to catch up.
The urge to write myself across the sky could be some form of exhibitionism, a pathology. I see signs that the aether, at least the internet portion, is filled with souls quite overcome with a new-realized lack of inhibition, a desire to bare all, tell all, run naked thru the forest, strip the bride's white dress at the wedding and expose the lie, to let the fat drip into the fire and flare. Sometimes I feel I am far enough out on a limb that this must be the answer: I am just like every other asshole online parading myself flamboyantly to announce the imminence of personhood. A clown in search of a self.
"Wait! Watch! Keep watching; it is descending upon me, I can feel it. You can witness it!" A real epiphany of 15 minutes of fame that. A Facebook Revelation complete with naughty photos. The online exhibitor is revealed. Give him a hand, he is not only a survivor but he has won both the dance contest and the trip to Hawaii. And then what? I am not the only one who has wondered what happens after fame's quick flame burns out. Are these beings as ephemeral as I fear?
What happens when all is bared and no decent reason given for the display? Do gargantuan self-interest, boredom and loneliness count? Are these the components of character?
I recall asking a similar question 50 years ago. What does the high school hero, the quarterback that won the big game and got the cheerleader, right between the cheeks, do for an encore? He is only 17 and has a lot of time left to burn. Does he sell used cars in a small town where everyone knows him and remembers and remains a loyal fan? Does it grate? Does the cheerleader buy a soccer-mom van from him, smiling vacantly? Does he wonder what the fuck ever became of him?
If I were to be anything of that sort, flashy and obvious, I fear I would be a powdery, flammable moth flinging myself into the fire just to see what it was like, what happens next. Fuck the fans. Go for it. And maybe that is the secret - tomorrow just doesn't exist when we are young.
'No', I continue to insist to myself (do I lie like a rug eyeballing another me, a smug one?), 'what I write is in the best spirit of self-examination.' I can write anything I want to you, because I am writing to me. You are all in some sense me: pebbles on the beach by the billions each having a different reflective surface so that the echo that returns shows the self in a slightly different light with every bouncing signal. The illuminated man in the midst of noise. Are my metaphors getting too mixed? Think of radar and sonar in the same machine: uhoh, your depth finder says you are too shallow and the air is rent with bogey-warnings. The world is entirely circular.
What I should like most of all, besides figuring me out, is to never again experience doubt or shame, because whatever is in me is in you too, and you must own it, or you must prevaricate. Pathological or not that is my thought for this evening after lying in bed an hour and not getting to sleep. It is after two and the night feels young the way a breeze feels fresh on your face after rain. Sometimes I think that I like life too much.
The above was written a week or two ago and forgotten. Found today it demands editorial attention. I showed it to Pat with some hesitation. She pretty much hates it when I write in this manner, generally feeling that what I have said is so clouded no one will get it, or that what I mean is clear and, ho hum.... what else is new? She wonders aloud why I have again stated the all-too obvious, not that the prose isn't nice, but the ideas? Very stale. She turns to tell me that she had considered all the above and dispatched with such puerile musings quite early, and I believe her. I am dismissed. If I publish this it is on my head that I will possibly bore several people terminally. Since we thrive on honest appraisal in this household I am not fazed, or at least don't cringe openly. 'Never show fear' the coach said. (On a last reading the editor again urges me to lose everything above the red/yellow divider. I cannot bring myself to do that.)
Bookgroup's latest endeavour engaged us with one of my favorite authors: Martin Cruz Smith. I had introduced the group to him several months back with 'Wolves Eat Dogs', and he now received the accolade of a return ride with 'Gorky Park'. The ladies generally like mysteries and though I thought he might have been a little gritty for the group here he was returned. Arkady Renko's Russia has a pull.
The Snowflake was there, frail and sharp and locking her eyes on others like she could track the vapor trail of their thoughts and make a good guess at their destination.
I love to watch her watching people; it is like fast-moving clouds across the sky. I imagine everyone who experienced her as a teacher in grammar school came away wanting to teach.
She said she had not read the book. Turns out she had not read the other either; I hadn't realized this. She spoke about the pictures in her head. Any description of violence gave her these visuals that would not go away. Her mind painted whatever was presented large and red and horror-streaked in her immediate consciousness. And it would not go away, like a television that couldn't be shut down and there you are strapped into your chair and no popcorn and your eyelids have been sutured open. Her reaction to violence in films was the same as in books. We are all familiar with the persons, often women, who won't watch violence on screen, but I had never heard it expressed this way before, as more than just disquieting or repugnant, but as a graphic visitation. I am repulsed by films that depict the savaging of children and animals, particularly dogs, and it verges on a physical reaction, but I don't carry it with me as a burning afterimage. I just hate it and don't return to that well to drink again.
I asked her what she had in her own time to hold up against make-believe violence, to compare - my thought being that such comparison shows clearly what the difference is between the two. She said 'nothing at all.' This was unexpected. How does someone never experience any bloodletting and terror. We all get an unannounced taste of it. I told her of the bone surgery I watched in nursing school, during which I stood leaning back against a cool tile wall passing out and sliding to the floor five times during the procedure. I told her how tough my first autopsy had been - the body parts just too real and squishy and bandied about with such relish by the doc. I said that nothing I had ever seen on screen or read held a candle to the in-the-flesh event. What we see in splatter-flicks is only entertaining - for some - like moi, and certainly not to be easily confused with real life. Her oldest friend - over 70 years of knowing, another lady in the group, is a retired army nurse and veteran of tours in Vietnam. This lady, a colonel, agreed with me; It did nothing to change Snowflake's stand.
Our reaction to violence seems an odd construct, but maybe it is just territory some have explored too much and others little at all. When I was 18 as I was checking through security to go belowdecks to the aft magazine the Navajo kid on duty pulled his .45, jacked a round into the chamber and held it to my head. I don't know how long he held it against my temple and stared at me, but I simply felt accepting of it. It didn't seem like violence, more of an examination. He uncocked his piece and slipped it back into his holster. We looked at one another, didn't exchange a single word, and I never saw reason to mention it to anyone. I knew that Jarheads were crazy and the Navajo maybe the strangest among them. Part of another day aboard ship.
It was the second time a loaded gun had touched my head, and this time it didn't go off. That was fine with me. Then about 4 years later living in Santa Ana I watched a mob surround a cop in a Jack in the Box parking lot, throwing bottles at him that seemed to go off like grenades as they burst on the blacktop around him, and when he drew his weapon and confronted the circling crowd my heart just about fell out of my body. I felt like I had taken a bodyblow from a truck. Time had stopped, stuck in a place I could not name. I still have not figured out the difference in the two seemingly related events, the Marine and the cop. What goes on inside us?
I just watched The Hurt Locker. I like war movies but avoid the current crop. The lies laced into the air around us in regard to the recent wars in the Middle East are so appalling I just pass on by, but this one caught my attention; maybe because a woman directed it. I opened my Netflix envelope and slid it into the machine as soon as Pat went to bed.
The movie speaks to violence in a stark way, but without political judgement. I don't think the film contains a strand of polemics, either damning or justifying what goes on. The style wanders between very personal and nearly documentary, almost as if the actors were just people who had been caught on camera. The movie was unreal in the way that violence on film is, visceral but not really immediate, not irretrievably chilling, but I believe it has a closer pass to the seed of what is true about what violence means to us than most films manage. I guess that's a recommendation... I am glad the nation has embraced those who went to fight and does not blame them personally. Vietnam's wholesale load of blame was terribly misplaced. And I am sorry that some come back with the Snowflake's malady, unable to leave it where it was born and should remain, in a dusty place or on a turned page.
I need to let this letter go. It has been hanging about for weeks, or so it seems, and keeps popping up on screen rather disconcertingly. It may be a terrible letter. I simply cannot tell.
The first day of BeeSchool was last Saturday. It was great. Over 20 people of all ages stuck in a tiny room on terrible plastic chairs having a great time. Something shared is in the air when ordinary people gather to consider the stewardship of the community. The storms go south. Lawns and woods reappear. It seems like spring. I am sure we will get slammed to hell by a Polar Pig of terrible proportion come March. don and pat and such.