Light, Time, and Gravity (XIII)
Remember this the next time you flinch.
It happened toward the end of October that year.
Dylan never returned to the farm. Even its direction out of Dad’s driveway hummed with a patina of shame–enough to wince his gaze to the left. Sure, he savoured the memories of Harley–sex was the one thing he could pluck out of disastrous circumstances and consider for its own sake. But everything else tasted like too tart candy: something that might trigger shameful expressions.
It had been frightfully easy, waking the next morning, sipping hot tea as the world ground to invisible life, all the nodes of all the systems, bubbles of indifferent misery, moving and exerting in ways contrary to hope,  let alone desire. The late summer clarity struck him as narcotic, now that he could laze. He read Lovecraft. He whacked off to visions of Harley. He watched Conan with Johnny. His hands healed. He learned that the world cared as little for his shames as for his hopes, that in the modern world, men need only turn their backs to escape their extra-legal crimes. Dad never confronted him on the issue, no matter how drunk he got–convincing Dylan that he had similar sins, equally unaccounted. He simply relayed the odd update he received from those few common acquaintances who still pulled up a chair to get hammered at his kitchen table. How Jerry managed to finish out the season. How Harley had moved in with her mother and was apparently taking classes or something. The fucking bitches. As far as Frank was concerned, ‘taking classes’ was the beginning of the end of his marriage with Mom. He would just start talking about these things as though continuing an old and obligatory conversation, like relatives pretending to be interested in one another.
For reasons he could not fathom, Dylan decided to move back in with his mother in Port Stanley. He pled poverty to soften the hit on Dad, who–in moments of weakness at least–looked at his children as spoils of his war against his vindictive ex-wife. In Port Stanley Dylan could catch a bus to his highschool, and so skip the expense of driving everyday. That was the bullshit rationale.
So he moved. He fought with Mom continually, who was either too distracted to care what he was up to, or too stricken with parental guilt to let him pack him his own book-bag–she had always raised her children in spasms.
He missed Johnny to the point of maudlin absurdity.
And of course, he drove to school everyday.
It happened early in the morning. Typically he drove up Highway 4 to St. Thomas, but every once in awhile he would drive out Lakeshore so that he could take Fairview into town. Doing so meant driving up Schoolhouse Hill–so-called because it had once overlooked the old schoolhouse.
There’s a post-office there Now.
The road curls up the side of the hill, too narrow for shoulders, and it’s steep–steep enough to scare you in winter, anyway. You almost expect to pass a train of huffing Sherpas climbing it. It. The banging started a mere quarter of the way up, a sound like a hammer cracking the wrong side of his hood. “Fuck,” Dylan murmured. “Fuck-fuck-fuck.” He knew it was bad, that he should stop as quick as he could, but there was no place he could pull over. Killing a car to spare several minutes of embarrassment was an easy trade in his books. So he slowly floored the throttle, and the banging beneath his hood cracked louder and louder as his progress slowed. Somehow the old mustang continued coughing and hacking forward. When he glanced at his rearview mirror, all he could see was a wall of blue smoke, a poisonous aquamarine. He rocked back and forth in his seat, spitting, “C’mon… C’mon…” through a grim war-pilot grin. “C’mon, motherfucker!”
Then he was cresting the hump, rolling down a brief incline. The car died just as he cleared the tarvey and braked on the shoulder. He turned to the vast cloud he trailed like royal wedding gowns behind him–a veritable World War Two smokescreen. He barked a shrill laugh at the sight of the other vehicles creeping through the blue with their headlights on. The air reeked of chemistry.
He leaned back, suffused with the indignant sense of sourness that is the natural result of technical malfunctions crashing headlong into male egos. Why can’t the fucking world just work.
That was when he glanced at the odometer…
74, 996 miles.
I shit you not.
Every time I closed my eyes it sees his Chiclet grin.
Fucking Ford four-bangers, man. Programmed.
 It communicates and we happen, a dim informatic flashbulb of meaning.
Why do so many things–so many human things–hang together in ways we cannot fathom?
Imagine a 3-D tree with 225 branches and 225 roots passing through a 2-D universe. As the tree rises across the plane of that universe, it would be an inexplicable haze of points coalescing into a cloud of dots condensing into a clutch of dabs collapsing into a single blot before rooting off into another haze.
This is morality. This is purpose. This is meaning. This is intentionality. This is the transparency of experience.
Life comes the same way as cigarettes, the same way as time: shorn of history.
Life comes as this…
There are two directions in this dimensional tree metaphor, that of the tree rising up through the plane, and that of the dots moving across the plane. From the vantage of the plane, it is the ‘rising through’ which is impossible to see, simply because planes possess no up or down. The default will always be the across, because nothing could be more apparent than back and forth.
So from the perspective of a 2-D observer, the haze of points would arise from nowhere, coalesce for no apparent reason, then wink out of existence. The passage of the tree would only exist as the transformation of patterns across the plane. What are the forking of branches in 3-D would be nothing more than the collapse of wandering dots into larger and larger dots.
In other words, what are obvious through-relations become occulted across-relations, inexplicable explainers, the very ground of comprehension. Logic. Narrative. Reason.
Neural processes that cross the always wandering information horizon of the thalamocortical system and into consciousness do so like 3-D trees rising through a 2-D universe, as things whose structure and origin are utterly covered over.
We call this flat-land experience–the deepest thing we know, the very frame of profundity.
This is why you see streets and lawns and houses and so on, rather than the processing of information from your retinas to your visual cortex and onward. All you perceive are the relations across experience–first the street, then the lawn, then the house–and none of the through processing that makes experience possible. This is also why your thoughts seem to arise from your prior thoughts: given that the engines of thought, the through mechanisms of the brain, do not exist for us, we can only assign origins across.
And this is why errant thoughts so puzzle us, why we frown or laugh and ask, “Where did that come from?” They shatter the illusion of cross-relationality.
The illusion of this…
They reveal the closed two-dimensionality of consciousness. They give us an inkling of the great Kantian intuition (minus the ladder of transcendental deduction): the through…
Which, given our shameless conceit, we assign to God or Society, to the Devil or the Unconscious…
Things patterned after us.
Anything so wide as the sky has to be an illusion.
Encapsulation refers to the way the information horizons of the neural correlates of consciousness pinch experience into unbounded ‘bubbles’ (like our visual field). It offers a naturalistic way to understand things like identity thinking and the nonidentical in Adorno or presence and differance in Derrida. It explains the illusion of holism, why the contents of consciousness necessarily seem internally related (and why we find the experiential deficits arising from brain injuries so baffling). It explains the illusion of persistent self-identity.
In cases of anosognosia and neglect, a boundary of consciousness that was once coterminous with the rest of humanity suddenly collapses, robbing the victim of basic experiences and competencies. These disorders have the effect of ‘shrinking consciousness,’ of rewriting the thalamocortical system’s information horizons. Not only do certain ‘boundaries of consciousness’ become clear, the functional roles played by various neural resources are also thrown into relief. The loss of neural circuitry packs a powerful experiential wallop. The smallest of lesions can transform how we experience ourselves and the world in catastrophic and often baffling ways.
These cases of ‘shrunken consciousness’ demonstrate the profound role thalamocortical information horizons play in shaping and structuring conscious experience. To understand encapsulation, you have to appreciate the way the neural correlates of consciousness necessarily suffer what might be called frame neglect. Unless you think information horizons only become efficacious once pathology renders them obvious, the kinds of local and idiosyncratic experiential scotomata resulting from neuropathology simply must have global and universal counterparts. What we call meaning, morality, transparency, unity, self-identity, and the Now are all artifacts of encapsulation, ways the thalamocortical system conjures experiential wholes in the course of making due with fractional information.
What the thalamocortical system cannot differentiate remains the same. Experience is holophenomenal. A kind of pervasive ‘scotomatic closure’ is the result: since the thalamocortical system cannot adequately render its processing frames as data within its processing frame, experience is continually sutured: available information is stretched across all the gaps, chasms, and holes. A background of unity, timelessness, transparency and identity structures consciousness as a result. Cobwebs of information become experiential balloons.
This explains the out-and-out mysteriousness of so many ‘mental phenomena’ (and why we need a category for ‘mental phenomena’ at all). Only when we developed the capacity to linguistically interrogate consciousness could we explicitly encounter our encapsulation. Of course, absent any frame of reference, we had no way of distinguishing cognitive breakdowns due to scotomatic closure from those breakdowns due to ignorance more generally, so we invented a multitude of diagnostic suspects, blaming various kinds of linguistic and conceptual misdirection, simple empirical immaturity, or even the lack of the requisite neurocognitive resources.
We had no way of theorizing frame neglect, of appreciating the myriad ways we are bound and gagged by oblivion.
The evolution of consciousness is the evolution of adaptive psychoses, the sorting of delusions that facilitated genetic transmission from those that compromised it. Qualities are little more than crude heuristics. This is why a genuine science of phenomenology is impossible. The problem isn’t simply that consciousness is stranded with distortions that are themselves fragments, but that consciousness necessarily makes wholes out of these utile psychoses–thus rendering the gaps absolute. So rather than looking at our experience of, say, mathematics or language as a flatland abbreviation of deeper neural processes–as drastically privative–we take our experience to be whole and fundamental. As wide as wide can be.
Precisely what it is not.
The same can be said of the distinction between the life we live and the shadows we experience.
Inverted, bent and two dimensional. This…
This is why we continually cook up stories. We are so much deeper than we are.
What this all suggests is that the structure of experience is such that we have no way of inferring the rules of experience from experience. There’s no transcendental deduction, no dialectic, no virtuous hermeneutic to and fro, no epoche–there’s no methodological discipline that will allow us to understand ourselves in terms that are native to us, simply because we do not exist the way that we exist–because we are in fact alien to ourselves.
Consciousness is literally inexplicable.
Let’s make up a couple of terms. Keeping with our spatial metaphor, let’s call the kinds of flatland relations we experience lateral relations. And lets call the occluded “through processes” that make experience possible medial relations. (I sometimes think this is essentially the operative intuition in Kant, the way the empirical is underwritten by the transcendental. His mistake was to think he could gain cognitive purchase on the latter via an intentional conceptuality that is an artifact of the former. ‘Concepts’ are nothing but experiential smoke. One more ‘user illusion.’)
So we could call the paradoxical structure of the Now, for instance, the result of the way the information horizon of the thalamocortical system suffers a kind of medial temporal stasis even as it tracks lateral temporal relations. Thus experience possesses the structure of Now, this… Now. Lateral transition in medial stasis. Difference in identity.
The structure of paradox.
The lateral structure of experience is a function of how its medial function is covered over–thanks to the information horizon of the thalamocortical system. It is the function of a lack, the way the brain makes lateral sense of itself in the absence of any medial access to itself.
Experience is a cognitive illusion. Given our neurophysiology, it has to be.
Why does freedom seem to disappear when we consider ourselves causally? Why does aboutness become so mysterious? Why does normativity become so occult?
What is this wide ranging antithesis? Is it merely conceptual? Should we just keep rolling the ACH dice–the way we have since the ancient Greeks–until someone finally gets cognitive Yahtzee?
Or is reason itself to blame?
We are a coin trick. Our brain is a magician who holds us prisoner. We see only snippets of its manipulations, fleeting glimpses we confuse for breathtaking vistas simply because we cannot experience what we cannot experience. Only when we play scientist, when we peer over the magician’s shoulder, does the magic vanish, and do the manipulations become clear.
Thus the antithesis. Intentionality is a trick we play on ourselves.
Since the dawn of civilization we have remained utterly inscrutable to ourselves. This is changing. Science, the mere social construct, the one language game among many, has finally cracked the neural black box and is beginning to revolutionize the inner as radically as it has renovated the outer. We are about to become another ancient superstition. As are our disciplines. Our disciples.
How could I be so stupid? 
You would think this would be the critical question, given that stupidity–aside from shitty luck–is perhaps the greatest of humanity’s many scourges. You would think that Derrida or Deleuze or Sartre or Heidegger would at least pose this question–the question of the cognitive difference. But then how could they? when their projects depend upon the possibility of human theoretical competency.
Think about it.
You call yourself critical, you critique and critique and critique, you’ve transformed the blithe cruelty of kitchen table judgments into an orchestral exercise, and yet you know absolutely nothing about what makes all those other fools fools and you the rare exception. And why should you? when the preposterous abstraction of your claims do everything nature designed them to do: identify you over and against others, warrant your pious condemnations, allow you to categorize your world with automatic efficiency.
Why should you pop the hood? Let the mechanics laugh.
They live in an ideological dream world.
 But it recognizes the systematic nature of its many misapprehensions.
Fragments through and through.
Broken to the very bottom.
You are a lateral plane suspended in a deeper medial world. So these words come to you shorn of their history, a thing hanging in magical relation to other things, rather than another gear in the ramshackle and astounding machinery of life.
Like I keep saying. Far more than the subject is broken.
Sure, you pride yourself on your painful sensitivity to contexts, on your stubborn refusal to see anything as self-sufficient, but you fail to see that this relationship, that of figure and field, foreground and background, meaning and context, is just as magical as the relationship between sign and signified. The myth of reference. The illusion of internal relations.
The building blocks of this…
Look at yourself sideways, and you will disappear.
So consider. Nothing, then there he was.
Two years had passed since the harvest. Dylan was world-weary and nineteen. Whenever he found himself driving past fields of tobacco, he could feel the tickle of things once familiar becoming unrecognizable. The toil and the suffering were beginning to blur and fade with the details, leaving only those events he recited in his stories, the crazy shit, the shit that made him sound cool. He had laid the forms, and the cement of nostalgia was beginning to set.
He would write about this one day, he thought.
His crime–along with the consequences it had delivered–had become a kind of void, a place his thoughts typically avoided with automatic simplicity. The act itself, especially the night on the couch, dwelt as a kind of island. Harley, a name fraught with history, had dwindled to ‘she’ and ‘her.’ He had slept with several other women since, enough to make the magic of Penthouse Letters evaporate into something tawdry and mundane. Bragging about experiences is the last thing the experienced do. The bigger the library, the smaller the book–no?
Harley? Oh yah. I remember her…
As the frame of what had happened, he would have eventually come to some kind of accord with the tobacco harvest of 1984. And if he failed to, then I certainly would. He could pretend to have forgotten–something which is far easier than it sounds. Avoid a memory long enough, and it becomes effortless habit. He could confront the sleazy facts of the case, reinterpret them into something romantic and self-affirming–every artist has at least One Great Shame, don’t they? He might simply bite the bullet and assume responsibility–unlikely, but possible. Or he might exploit his natural proclivities and explain the whole thing away.
As the frame of what had happened, he would have escaped… eventually. Sins are rarely the burden we like to think they are. The organism knows, even if the soul is senseless.
Nothing is quite so useless as shame.
Now it was 1986, late August, the very height of yet another harvest. And there he was.
Dylan had forgotten, as we all do…
Forgotten that he was a head inside of a head.
Inside a head.
Inside a head.
Inside a head.
This is what happens to impossible thoughts: the cup of comprehension overflows. This is what happens whenever we attempt to render this… as ‘that.’ Paradox decompressed as infinite regression, a mise en fucking abyme.
If you are fool enough to read philosophy, you will find versions of this figure everywhere your turn, always speciously yoked to this or that conceptual apparatus. Philosophers. Fucking wankers–all of them. The more wallpaper you lay out, the easier it is to hide the bubbles.
But the question continues to burn, doesn’t it? Burn with beauty and horror both…
What are we?
Just what the fuck is going on here?
He was driving down Highway 45, from his father’s place to St. Thomas. Geographically speaking, Southwestern Ontario is part of the Great Plains. There are no mountains, no valleys, only a quilt of fields stitched by ravines. Just more Ohio. There are no allegorical topographies. Just stretches of weeds and dirt, scenes of flat fertility. And lines of sight no matter where you turn.
There’s no escaping lines of sight.
Which was why Dylan could see him from such a distance.
Cutter. Hitchhiking with a Chiclet grin.
C’mon. Give a buddy a break…
A head inside a head inside a head inside a head inside–
Not so much sealed in as away.
When everything outside only exists within, then we become everything, immovable for want of an outer space, eternal for want of an external history, self-identical for the want of a genuine other.
This is the point where I’m supposed to say, ‘Something came over him.’ But nothing did. There was no glaring of inner lights, no wash of numbness, no bolt of chimpanzee rage. Dylan was the same person  the moment after as he was before, if only because who he was before only existed for him within the frame of who he was after. Sure, something happened, some errant impulse from his limbic system, perhaps. But as soon as it crossed the information horizon of his thalamocortical system it was simply him, as banal and embedded as everything else.
Strange, really, the way it works in reality. The way it all just happens. Eyes too witless not to be hard. The wheel swinging from your wrist. You drive. You veer.
But then that’s what I’ve been talking about all along: The way the condemnation always comes before the contemplation.
Strange, the way you sometimes see through, squinting…
 It is what ignorance twists into self.
I would like to say that blood was thrown up across the windshield in a starburst, but there was none. No cinematically satisfying splat. No flecks of crimson spit. Cutter simply bounced back–more a spasm than an expression on his face, really. Terror typically strikes too fast to be experienced. He simply bounced back and down, yanked beneath the shining horizon of my hood. Sucked into his reflection.
It was like running something over with the lawnmower.
Things chipping and grinding beneath. The same sense of roaring away inequalities.
You were weak, I know.
All along you had this rage within you. This foment.
You just could never feel it.
So you packed your books for school, worked hard to dress your vanities in polysyllables, wrestled with hothouse inanities on the computer screen.
You greeted the storm-brown waves with a child-wild grin. You let the bureaucratic undertow drag you tumbling out and out…
Until you no longer believed in shores.
Dylan leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, found himself staring at the screens of illuminated dust hanging across the interior. When he squeezed his eyes it blurred into a fog. When he relaxed them, the motes resolved in their millions, like staring down the disc of the Milky Way.
He refocused. The odometer read 84 001.
He breathed, or at least he thought he breathed. He leaned back, squinted at the road, a belt of tar parsing vast squares of green. He depressed the clutch and slugged the stick into reverse. There is a fear peculiar to driving backward, one that has more to do with the treachery of steering than the lack of visibility. A demanding inversion of action.
The car humped up over the body. Gravel popped as he braked.
Even after all these years, he could still smell the sweet of his exhaust through the hot summer sour of his car interior. Too much Timmy’s coffee spilled on the upholstery. Too many double creams.
He felt the steering wheel jerk as he gunned the Omni forward.
Force feedback–just like the video game.
He accelerated onto the highway, trailing an cone of dust big enough to hide a destroyer. The wheel kept pulling to the right.
Fucked, he thought. The alignment was fucked.
It was no longer simply him pouring a glass of milk, it was a murderer.
That’s what he wanted to be. Special.
Beautiful and outrageous.
Over and over he would see him. Cutter. A dusty figure at the side of the road, shadowy for the brilliance of the sun, stark for the blocks of vegetation and bands of linear dust, coming nearer, thumb held out, trying to peer through the white windshield glare…
C’mon, Buddy. Give a guy a fucking break.
Funny… How easy it happens.
Forgetting to check the papers afterward.
Whenever Dylan read or heard the words “vehicular homicide,” he actually felt a pang of sympathy. He imagined he belonged to a silent brotherhood scattered across the industrialized portions of the planet. A fellowship of learned souls. He imagined his eyes planted in 84 001 different faces, each a flashlight on a different corner of a blacked-out world, all of them seeing a portion of the same unspeakable thing.
Sometimes he would think, Murderer, and he would feel cool, invulnerable, that teflon-skinned groove that only the best tunes can capture, where you’re so cool even the authorities would wave you through checkpoints and borders.
Like Al Pacino.
Sometimes, in the middle of conversations, he would hear himself whispering, You have no idea… to people in his inner voice. And he would wish that he belonged to a criminal organization, that dangerous others would whisper, That’s him. The guy who whacked Cutter…
He began recognizing himself everywhere, on the big screen, in comic books and pulps, on daytime dramas and in Sabbath and Metallica tunes. The commons could never quite digest him, so they regurgitated him over and over and over.
He would stare at people he didn’t like and murmur, I’m real…
Sometimes he would begin shaking–uncontrollably–and he would laugh, because he would feel quite calm, and yet there he was shaking. Someone was shaking, but it wasn’t him.
Maybe it was that little portion that always stands outside our madness watching, wondering, wishing he were drunk.
“If I am at the end of the sky,” Archytas of Tarente asked as many years before us as after Sumer, “can I lengthen the hand or a stick?”
All paradoxes of living are paradoxes of the edge.
Information encapsulation produces pseudo finite unbounded systems. Consciousness, as a result, possesses a queer kind of experiential topology, one that is medially flat and laterally spherical. We are forever at the edge, forever lengthening the hand, forever grasping…
Life comes and goes. Women are loved. Men are murdered.
We syntactically articulate our experiences with stories and theories, things adduced from within, when they arise from medial processes we can scarce acknowledge, let alone fathom. Everything arises from our medial horizons, a disparate riot that our obliviousness welds into lateral, confabulatory wholes. The most difficult things we quarantine…
We refuse to countenance. We resort to reasons.
And we think ourselves obvious afterward.
He surreptitiously checked the odometer of every car he entered, whether he was the driver or the passenger. Not once did he see 84 001 again, though on one occasion he refused to drive with a friend whose odometer had come perilously near. When he was poor he refused to buy any car with fewer clicks, and when he became relatively affluent he always traded his car in at 74 995–just to be doubly safe. “I like the peace of mind of new,” he would tell his friends.
Once it got drunk and broke into my second ex-wife’s apartment while she was on holiday. He wrote the number on her bathroom mirror in red lipstick–nothing else.
It was the closest he ever got to telling her the truth.
Some events refuse to resolve into circumstances or instances. They evade narrative, outrun theory.
Some events bend lines into circles, crush circles into points, suck light to a glowing red ember.
Some events cannot be commanded.
The wiring just isn’t up to code.
Live long enough, and you’ll see it, I guarantee you.
We’re a lock that opens a billion doors. The world is the great safecracker, using this or that set of circumstances as its picks. Give it enough time, and it will crack the combination and let the murderer out.
Every life has a nineteen.
Saying, “No,” to yourself, “Never,” doesn’t make a whit of fucking difference, believe me. Because the instant after you say it, that person is dead and gone.
This was Nancy’s lesson…
Buckle up. The world always comes at you for the first time.
Why not? Why not think he murdered a fiction? A fucking insubstantial Now.
We exist in a world that exists in our head that exists in a world that exists in our head. What better recipe could he hope for? It’s all in your head, kid.
The problem is that there’s always more, more, and more. Shit never stops happening. Not matter how hard we tell the story, it never ends. There’s no closing the border. No folding up the horizon.
Even the dead keep coming back.
Heidegger had it right. The future is what makes everything real.
Fear is the foundation.
The universe is our occluded frame, the sum of all contexts. Ask Hegel: the universe is this…
Think of the blackness about you this very moment, the oblivion of the occluded frame. We hang in the same nowhere, you and I.
God or Nature. The Kingdom of Ends. The Absolute. The Will to Power. Being. Differance. Call it what you will. Argue your arbitrary emphases.
We are always already entangled. Only surprise divides us.
The universe possesses no outer edge. Travel fast and long enough (in some models) and you will arrive at your point of departure. The ends of the universe are everywhere and nowhere.
The dynamics seem similar. We are finite and unbounded. We can only ever arrive at our point of departure–Now. In other words, the universe could be a thing like us, only absolute and all-encompassing.
A thing like God.
Bent through and through. Built to be brutalized by our conceptual inquisitions. Witless and uncomprehending.
Is there a theoretical physics of this?
Is there a light, time, and gravity of a livable soul?
What does it mean to be a paradox? (And what happens when that paradox is naturalized?)
Our head is in our head because consciousness is flat. Consciousness is flat because the brain cannot directly discriminate between its moments.
Because identity is a function of oblivion…
We are the set of all sets, an impossible notation, because our frame of reference cannot discriminate itself from its discriminating.
“We are a head inside a head…”
Index each moment of this claim to a particular time and something as familiar as it is peculiar happens. The apparent material paradox of the same thing containing itself becomes a mere mechanical regression: ‘head at 3:37:38’ contained by ‘head at 3:37:40’ contained by ‘head at 3:37:42’ and so on. The circle become a spiral. The paradox steams into a monotonous stutter.
Surely this is no mere coincidence. Kill the Now, transform ourselves into a sequence, and the mystery vanishes…
As do we.
Consciousness, whatever it is, seems to be a function of neural information integration. All the peculiarities of perspective, all the absurdities of being trapped within a world, arise from the recursive information horizons that delimit the conscious portions of our neurophysiology. Because our brain has made a lever out of its own blindness.
Existence is interminable birth.
“But I haven’t moved!” This was what Nancy was crying. This was her incredulous retort. “How could I have strayed so close to death when I haven’t moved?”
Oblivion is what delivers us to oblivion.
People are generally better at anticipating what others will do in given situations than what they themselves will do. We consistently and pervasively overestimate our intelligence, our generosity, our moral rectitude, our control over the world about us…
Unless we happen to be suffering clinical depression, in which case we’re pretty much spot on. Our emotional well-being out and out impairs our ability to know ourselves…
How fucked up is that?
Depression is the Enlightenment in small, the slow-motion discovery of our abjection. Only when we learn to hate this… can we approach it with ‘that.’ It’s a fact, Jack.
This explains all the untouched pill bottles in my medicine cabinet. I seek the truth.
Redemption can go fuck itself.
An event can make you so heavy that you drop through the wet paper of friendship and family, even as it renders you weightless, like smoke sucked through a fan. An event can make you pretty much anything: a son, a traitor, a hypocrite, a theorist and a killer.
Dad roused us early in the morning, before he had time to drink. Gloom hooded the windows, painted the grey world with the gold of reflected interiors.
He made us two cups of tea, but no breakfast.
Some days make your limbs feel small. Some clouds drag premonitions, a hand-wringing sense of long, long falls. Sometimes you simply look up and out, and your eyes enumerate the scale of all the empty spaces. And you shrink and shrink, until you are nothing more than a mote twirling between enormities.
Until you are nothing more than what you are.
I was nine or ten, I think. It was summer and it was warm. I remember the humid of slow-moving storms, the sense of the ground moving as a greater sky sailed above. Dad drove the little red Datsun, Johnny and I sat scrunched side by side in a seat meant for one, down the gravel road leading to the cliffs. He was calling above the tin-can roar, telling us about the “riot” he and his buddies had the day before. “The waves,” he said. “Wait until you see the waves!”
“Whoooooa!” Johnny shouted as the little truck dropped into the gully that marked halfway.
I peered forward, waiting for the line of the lake to rise above the ribbon road.
Then there it was… The grasses humped over wandering stacks of land. The grey plate beyond. The too-close horizon.
Erie. Our sweaty queen.
We ran out of road, so we walked until we ran out of ground. As always the bluffs came to us as a line hanging against air, a pre-Renaissance nightmare come true. We stopped at the edge, our ethereal insides fluttering in the gusty wind. We looked down, felt things break and burst, and Johnny laughed, “Whoooa!” We looked out, saw great incisors of earth, a parade of them, dropping into the haze. We saw the waters spanning the horizon.
The world always ends in water.
We stood, squinting up at the gulls, or peering down, savouring the hum of gravity. We laughed at our daring. We laughed at our fun. Then we clambered down, easily, since we had been raised at the edge of things, bred for break-neck falls.
The cliffs were little more than a complication.
“Look at the waves!” Johnny cried, picking his way down backward. The waters reared and heaved beneath them, curling like cobras before striking the clay foundations.
“Yes,” Dad said, shouting over the lake’s world-drum roar. “Scarey, eh?”
We climbed down missing ground. We stripped to our underwear, our ‘tighty-whities,’ on a small grass promontory only a dozen or so feet above the crown of the waves. The Erie shoreline did not collapse equally. Some sections toppled all at once, whereas others sunk slowly, stately, like a torpedoed battleship. I’ve seen trees delivered more than a hundred feet to the beach standing. I used to think, That’s the way I want to go–until I met Nancy.
We stood for a moment, a near-naked father and his two near-naked sons, watching the waves woosh-baroooming below. The water was coffee brown for laving the clay foundations. The spray suffused the air with the scent of fish scales and water-logged gravel.
Dad pointed to what looked like a telephone pole jutting out of the sand at an almost a perfect angle, as if it had been set there by the power company. A foolish yet forgivable experiment. All grids abhor a vacuum.
“Okay…” Dad said, timing the waves. “Run!”
And we ran laughing, afraid and unfrightened, from the base of our promontory to the pole. Bare little boy feet slapping across flabby sand. A miniature tsunami reared above us, gleaming…
“Now hug the pole, boys! Lock your–”
The wave crashed. Turbulence became our medium, the sweep-sheering of all things, drowning our squeals, ripping us from our feet, yanking our legs out in the direction of the piling water, then back and around, depositing us on the cold sand as it rolled into the undertow.
Another came crashing in. And another. We squealed in laughter and delight, marvelled that Dad could stand, when the waves so effortlessly swept us from our feet.
“Hold on, guys!” Dad cried laughing. “Hold! On!”
Rumble and boom and swish-ha-ha-ha. Three chilly heartbeats laughing underwater.
Blinking and breathless laid out across the sand. A glance toward the hungry waters, coiling to strike. Only a moment to brace–
The world heaves when surf exceeds the limits of your vision–the world itself. You understand that what encompasses you constitutes your baseline. You feel your occluded frame.
“Hold on, guys! Here comes anoth–”
Funny the way water breaks you by breaking around you, like a thousand dissolving palms. A wave of schoolyard bullies, crashing into soup and slinking away in garden hose sheets.
Again I was thrown back, a bodily flag. Again I was swept around 180 degrees…
Only this time, as the wave receded, I could feel Johnny’s slight form slip greased and frantic across mine, drawn with the water back to the deep.
“Dad!” I shrieked from the sand. “Dad! Johnny!”
And I glimpsed him a dozen feet away, my little brother, stunned on the grey plain, coming to his rump, glancing up at the next towering wave. The shining beauty…
But he was already running, leaping beneath the curl, monkey-small in the crashing shadow, his fingers outstretched–
Boom. I rode the watery confusion alone, sucked cold between my clenched teeth.
And when the turbulent curtains were drawn away, there he was, Dad, standing with one arm wrapped around the pole, his legs like foundations, his white skin shining in the ambient light.
Johnny, a wailing sack under his left arm.
“Ready to go home, Dylan?” A hero’s rueful laugh. “One more then we run for it, o–?”
I tell people this story and without exception they marvel at the irresponsibility of my father. Perhaps they should. I know my mother screamed that night, an outrage as old as maternity. “How, Frank?” she wept. “How could you?”
But this strikes me as predictable. Children have always been bibles.
What I marvel at is the trust.
We tell stories.
We roll people into balls of make-believe agency, bounce them across courts of fancy. We fish for morals that flatter our false but inevitable sense of superiority. We blame the book, the writer, the times–everything but ourselves. We scramble to read what we think others are reading because, consciously or unconsciously, we know how tales sort people, raise them up and pin them down, say who’s in and who’s out.
Tell us who made the cut.
Narratives are nothing more than lines in a colouring book for the blind. Characters heroic in proportion to the reader’s delusion, circumstances tragic in proportion to their hope and myopia. Only our ignorance makes them human. Only our past.
He put the gun on the table. Dylan.
Now the universe picks it up.
This… you see…
Breathe it through clenched teeth. Cool like whispers. Dry as cavities.
This… The meaning of a deluded life. Aiming you like an aerial in the wind. Referring you to the distant report. The birds won’t even bolt from the trees, they’ve become so jaded.
The wide, sunny skies popping out of the blackness of your skull. The transubstantiation of blue hollow into crimson swill. The wave heaving. The puck flying.
Fucking A, Buddy.
Say goodnight to the bad guy.