Those who know me, or pay any attention, often find me hiding in public. It’s a habit I detest. It may briefly give me an incredibly clever view of myself, but I would much prefer to be out, open and honest about my actions, my health, my relationships. But often I do things to spare the feelings of others, or to avoid consequences I find inconvenient, or simply because I don’t want to hear from most people; there are few things as distasteful as unsolicited advice.
Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in awhile, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own private library.
But a storm is coming, and everything will need to change. When I finally looked in the mirror and admitted that I am an artist, everything else fell out of the cupboard. It was as much an admission of failure as it was a relief. But with it I got to know myself, the parts I have supressed since February 1988. I have tried to push it back in… shoulder to the door, feet firmly planted against the grainy floor… but the beast has taken up residence inside me, making manifest what I did not want to feel or see.
And so the storm has followed me…
Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.
And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.
Wish me luck in the coming year. It’s about finding what is left of me, and what is best for me.
But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a life time, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.
Thank you, Haruki Murakami.
Really… every time I want to gather my thoughts on religion, I find the words of Christopher Hitchens. He perfectly summarizes everything I feel, so it makes more sense to quote him directly rather than to paraphrase… or better yet, simply plagiarize.
I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful. Reviewing the false claims of religion I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true…. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring. But I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque.
We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid. Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.
Here is the point about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith… We do not hold our convictions dogmatically. We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion. And we know for a fact that the corollary holds true – that religion has caused innumerate people not just to conduct themselves no better than others, but to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make a brothel-keeper or an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow.
Although it may sound like oxymoron, the term “Impossible Realism” makes a great deal of sense when we permit ourselves to look beyond the quotidian and once again open up fully to wonder, like we used to as children. This is why cheesy horror films and great works of the imagination ‘outside the box’ have one important thing in common—when they succeed, both leave audiences wide- eyed, hand slapped over the mouth, and awestruck. They make us whimper, laugh or cheer like we never do on normal Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays in the middle of our lives. But because at their best they fully engage our imagination, we willingly give up our normal ho-hum to live in worlds where orcs exist, Freddy Kruger sticks his claws through the wall, or Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning and sees a bug’s body rather than his own. Living in these extraordinary realities we are fully alive and engaged, thinking with our hearts instead of our heads, willing to go anywhere the stories go because we are in their thrall.
For many adults however, wonder is a guilty pleasure like reading comic books, karaoke, or eating Hostess Snowballs. It’s something for kids—childish, and beyond a certain age vaguely embarrassing. Not something you admit doing if you want to keep your good standing in the Adult Community.
On the other hand, mention names like Murakami (giant talking frogs), Gogol (detached noses found in loaves of bread), Ionesco and his rhinoceroses, Jonathan Lethem (animal private investigators), the wilder short stories of Hawthorne, Julio Cortazar and his human axolotl, Goethe and Christopher Marlowe (Dr. Faustus, I presume?) and the literati quickly bow their heads in deference.
What is more realistic than a bed? Where do we let our guards down more than when we slide beneath the sheets at night and say okay, I’m done. Then we switch off the light, expecting both us and this hour to fade to black.
Or do we? What about that little engine called the unconscious that never stops working and never stops surprising us with its remix tape of our day? How many times do we wake up in the morning and the first thing out of our mouth is where did THAT dream come from?
I recently read a short tale about a bed that tells the secret dreams of its inhabitants. The author got the idea from staring too long at a beautiful black and white photograph by Walker Evans. The picture is of an unmade bed. It looks like someone just got up from either a night full of dreams or messy passion. You’ve seen that bed a hundred times because it is your bed. But what if you were to wake up one morning and something about that bed was different? What if this thing so normally normal has transformed overnight into something… Impossible?