Thirteen months ago I returned from that planet in the middle of the Pacific to this one, located beneath the sky and somewhat West of all the action. Thirteen is a loaded number in the West, and for not being in the center of the action I have had my share, especially recently. Thirteen is a good number given the month, and the stores have been full of purple and orange skeletons and mountain bags of candy for some months, the prices gradually inching up. Wherever you go, there you are. I think I first heard this aphorism in the splendid and ridiculous The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension, a quintessentially Eighties science-fiction-fantasy movie of blue-screen stop-motion matte effects and goofball writing that now sounds like Hunter S. Thompson desperately trying to go legit. Seeing the movie as a teenager was a surreal blast and I accepted I could have a good time without understanding what was going on: the movie’s meaning, or even sequence of events, wasn’t a problem to be solved. The phrase is also the title of a great, sublime book on meditation and life’s meaning by Jon Kabat Zinn, which reads like a winter pond dusted with leaves and frost. This morning I found it attributed to Confucius. I am sure even frightened, skittish homo habilis found moments to look out across the savanna and wordlessly realize how a sameness endured through all change, that everyone felt this way.
The Moon did it, I think, or the light lowering into the city. Looking at this image on the camera’s screen I realized a year ago I was back from Hawaii, unsteady and out of reality, sleeping on my friend’s futon and typing on a laptop that wasn’t mine. Everything had changed and was still changing, though now it was green and cool with grey mornings, my car the same, my clothes the same, the cat poking through the quiet wood house with cat disinterest. There was nothing to understand in what was happening, nothing to solve. Standing on that Bowery corner I knew the same thing–something that did not need to be understood or solved.
Memory’s vastness is there but tamed. I can remember the oceans all around, the cliffs falling down and feeling cut off yet surrounded, the night’s quiet desolation without being empty. Everything seemed so handmade, so frontier. Television and electricity were tints over the ancient lands, the people in the comfortable forgetting of modern convenience. Getting off the plane into cool Seattle air and high-tech bustle was climbing up an energy level to the reality of light and bread.
New York was bigger but safer, somehow something I knew with echoes of a home I’d never lived in. It was the biggest world we can go, at least that kind of big. Hawaii is no bigger but maybe more vast. Texas from my adolescence has no human size at all. That may be part of why it bothers me–humans won’t be there long, despite what people think.
They year between Hawaii and the picture, and the bad surprise harder weeks since it was taken, are hard to contemplate. They defy thinking and reflection because the scale is so big. I have not been ruminating, dwelling on every mistake I made and bright shining chance I missed, and for a whole year this is as strange as breathing water. Everything is in motion. Taking chances works out even when they don’t. The house is still new but I am not surprised by what’s around corners any more.
I think about the time that has passed, the early fretful evenings a year ago when I was alone in the house and the cat comforted me. I called a friend for audible company while my subconscious was sure something was very, very wrong. I’m glad you called and asked for what you needed. But when the call ended the fretty tension came back even though I knew there was nothing to need. Now I don’t feel that way at all, and that is the biggest change.
In a few months, it will be two years ago I paced the alley behind my friend’s house, winter pushing the sky into the trees as I talked and talked to a friend who kept me calm enough to go through with leaving, to move forward into the fear. I don’t have calls like that any more. In New York I called people to take them along and share. It was so light. That is the strangest thing: to feel childhood’s lightness, and only the lightness, without the dull sheen of sadness.
Yesterday was a fall day so cool and brilliant the air surrounded all things in a gauze shirt of clean, cool foam. My neighbor watches the light with me, not knowing I am with him. The unpracticed photograph doesn’t capture a fraction of the time.
Hawaii is like a dream now, the way dreams are, not the waking dream of what it was. I have not gone back, though I may. I got what I needed. There are so many other places to go.