Saturday, October 15, 2011

Waking Moment

by J J Cohen 

For Eileen 

I read Eileen's moving post on insomnia and could not sleep that night. In the next day's weariness the world seemed no more vibrant. No smile, gesture or waterbowl transported me. I tried to work on a writing project, tried not to snap at family because I was foggy and overtired. Early bed and the deepest sleep. 

A vivid dream. 

We are in the midst of a family vacation, only this year we are walking from DC to Maine along the Appalachian Trail. We've made it as far as New Jersey, where we climb the sandy peaks of the Pine Barrens. I can't believe that Katherine has been able to tread 625 miles without complaint. I know these mountainous dunes are dangerous, and I am afraid she will topple to the city of Patterson far below. I tell her to crawl. I think that I can make out the house of William Carlos Williams, in the basin below the ridge. 

Katherine might die on this walking trip I've planned. Remember when we were almost stranded on that Australian mountain? But now we are in New Jersey. I realize we've been joined by Gay, who lives across the street. We're helping her up the hill. Just before her husband died of cancer, Roger came outside to whisper good-bye to Katherine. Then he died, and that was that. Katherine cries sometimes for Roger -- Katherine who still sleeps with the empty collar of our own dog. Everything ends, we all vanish, no matter how much we like being here. 

In college my "American Modernism" professor told us that William Carlos Williams delivered 100,000 babies. I think that math was not his strong point, yet here above Patterson all those infants seem a good omen. Williams was all plums and wagons, but the best story he wrote was "The Use of Force," of the triumphs that are mistakes. 

We descend into Patterson and catch our breath at the Community Center. We are sitting with the Senguptas, who moved to New Jersey twelve years ago. They are watching their daughter figure skate or their son play hockey. They are curious about us -- they have never met Jews before -- but they don't say a word. The dream ends when the alarm sounds. I don't think anything remarkable was going to occur. 

Like Eileen I love the vividness that intense being-together and tiredness impart. Chinese food at three in the morning, karaoke at four, games of truth at two: they stay with me. But I know that intensity arrives limned with boredom, frustration, stupid dramas, things gone wrong, gestures not susceptible to transformation, that which asks forgetting. I don't lose those memories: the ruined plans, the callous remark, the betrayal, the complainer, those who leave and never come back. I believe in vibrancy, but I suspect that it arrives only at a cost. I'll pay. I'll think about Patterson viewed from a sand mountain, Patterson with and devoid of metaphor, and continue that impossible walk towards the coast.


Eileen Joy said...

"I think that math was not his strong suit": that made me laugh out loud.

Like you, I'll also pay the costs for vibrancy. Every second of every day something beautiful and something equally horrible happen simultaneously. I suspect that, on most days, the bad news outweighs the bad, spread throughout the population of this world. You have to choose, not just passively inhabit, the world you will live in, or perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say: live with. One can also just stubbornly insist on seeing what's good and best in everything. Again: it's not epistemology; it's a choice one makes--it's faith, maybe also belief, or maybe, just seeing things a certain way, and in a certain light.

Anonymous said...

I think that as long one as one uses such experiences as ej's as poetry (as a perspicuous reminder) as inspiration, as a way of cultivating hope and appreciation, and not as metaphysics (as the way things truly deep down or even as they will/could be) than there is no necessary tension between these thoughts/posts.
We dwell poetically even when all things are not shining, as we manufacture, warp and weave, experience as we go. William James was wrong to think that it wouldn't matter to a methodist if he was worshiping a God or his unconscious but we can be grateful to have such gifting capacities even tho there is no Giver. There is much work to be done in the world and no cheap grace, like good bricoleurs we should use the best bit and pieces of what is at hand to fashion tools of overcoming and sublimation.

Jeb said...

I think that we may over inflate the actual cost of such things.

The economy of the gift has always been one of theft and disguise, so ruins, callous actions, betrayal and despair are a part of such transactions.

Life for me becomes more uncertain, what should be the most fearful I find easy to deal with. It is the small petty and insignificant events I still find difficult to let go of, but I think I am slowly breaking free of the embrace of such objects as my perspectives shifts.

I may or may not face a very high risk adventure and may or may not bleed out on a table in cold sterile room. Ironically the hand that will guide the glittering blade is an inmate of the institution I thought I had escaped. It is also a training and teaching institution The same institution that beat my work to a pulp declared it heretical, non-empirical, a work of literary fiction that spoke with a demonic French accent.

I am once again in the hands of that institution but this time it holds my very life in it's hands. Escape is not possible but nothing is certain and from my altering perspective the very high cost it has demanded in the past becomes more irrelevant. The way in which all certainty has shifted in my life allows anything to become possible in such a fluid environment."And what is the standard of value in such a pursuit as this?"