Sunday, December 21, 2014
Haven't updated much this month. Had my hands a bit full elsewhere. A new Sisyphus and Sawtooth strip got started, but got put on the backburner while I work on the long awaited (by somebody, I'm sure) MOTHER 3 writeup for SMPS. Hopefully I'll have that wrapped up before long. That and novel #2, which I'm going to be self-publishing in the next month or two...
I hope you enjoyed The Descent of Winter, or at least some parts of it. It's a strange piece, unwieldy and inconsistent and undeveloped, but candid and probing. Sometimes there are spicules of the sublime in marginal notes, sketches, incomplete thoughts...
Our own descent into winter concludes today. Happy solstice, everyone.
Maybe it's become more pronounced since Lin Yutang's The Wisdom of Confucius became a regular bathroom read, but over the past year or so I find myself drawn to rituals of observance when the ecliptic approaches its critical points. (Perhaps you've noticed.)
I had a few days off last week and thought it was a fine opportunity to visit Jason up at Earthdance in rural Massachusetts. I leave the mainland in mid-January. All it's done here in Maryland is rain and drizzle. This trip might be the only time I'll have seen and felt the snow and ice this winter.
I have mixed feelings about moving to the tropics. But it's a trip I have to take. Silver Spring is making me crazy.
No—even worse. It's making me sane in the worst kind of way. Sanity as the psychological state described by Celia Green: anthropocentric, emotionally and intellectually captivated by banalities, and possessed of a dullard's logical positivism.
Hence the flight to Massachusetts to visit seekers who never stopped seeking and make myself a little more crooked after four months of getting hammered into straight lines.
It was vivifying to stand outside, to sit in a cold bedroom with the window open and hear, if not silence, only the wind passing through the stripped canopy or the purling of a nearby stream. In Silver Spring I live in a house—in a room that's always ninety degrees for some reason—a house that sits about five blocks from Interstate 495. The Beltway. All I ever hear is traffic.
Over a week ago I received the last of the rejection slips from the last of the ten or so small presses to which I pitched a manuscript in a final, knowingly futile effort to see my second novel published legitimately. And there was a day that I just didn't, I couldn't get out of bed. And a chickadee landed on the awning over the front door, five feet from my bedroom window, and called out once, seven notes, before flitting away. It was like honey on my lips. To hear the voice of a wild, unknowable life instead of the mechanical hum of traffic. And the only stars I can ever see are the winter keystones, but it's always raining here. The clouds in Massachusetts weren't glowing like magnesium flares at night, and the untrodden snow and obstinacy of the stillness have a way of muffling the self-absorption of the urbanized.
But an occasion such as the approach of the hibernal solstice—the day, the moment that the Earth's axis is inclined furthest from the sun—demands a ceremony of observance. And so once again I found myself in a little wooden shack in the woods with a room that heats up to 180° F when there's wood burning in the stove, naked in a half-lotus, sweating profusely amid the febrile shadows. (Jason prepared a concoction of water, salt, honey, lemon, and ginger to keep us hydrated, and seems to have inadvertently reverse engineered Gatorade.)
And when I got overheated I flung myself outside and stood out in the snow and ice and 25° air for as long as I could stand it, and watched the snowflakes catching the lamplight from the farmhouse and the steam billow from my limbs. Symbolic more than superstitious: a kind of tributary acknowledgement of nature, of the inexorable truth of the cold and the dark, the background of everything, that which bears down against us and every burning star like the shadows pressing against a candle melting down its wick. Feeling that which exists, that which the civilized of us can only survive by shutting ourselves in and shutting it out.
Someone like me, someone who grew up on games and cartoons and now reads and writes novels, is inclined to meet the world almost exclusively though his eyes and ears. But we are tactile creatures. We've built our environment such that we're made to feel the world as little as possible. Air conditioners in the summer. Heaters and humidifiers in the winter. Smooth surfaces. Ergonomic everything. Somatic neutrality.
That's why I want to feel the cold.
And why, during some summer nights when I lived in Jersey, I'd go out into the woods by myself and take off my clothes by the creek, and feel the leaves and twigs scratching and poking at my back and the abrasive wet stones on my legs and rear. Shut my dark-adapted eyes and just feel it.
Sometimes I chew on leaves and stems. And why not? Add taste to the ways in which you experience the world. To know that which exists by more than the light that bounces off it.
No. Actually, I don't chew on leaves much anymore. I've felt a kind of tunnel vision come over me. The tangle outside the straight lines becomes less relevant. If I see it, it makes less of an impression than it did a year ago, even six months ago. Like how you don't notice the fact of the sky's blue unless something directs your attention to it. It gets caught in the filter and shaken out into the ether with all the other bugs and everyday miracles...
And that's why I need to leave Silver Spring, rock gyms and friends and job be damned.
But to the tropics. Damned if I saw that one coming.
I don't see it as a flight to paradise. The hardy penuriousness of the temperate forest or marsh or meadow, even in winter, is fiber to fiber, grain to grain, feather to feather as beautiful as any tropical extravagance. Elegance as the issue of a cyclical famine. The contingencies of evolution: persistence by making do. Beauty as aptness to purpose. An ecosystem must be beautiful or its constituents would have otherwise diminished unto extinction.
Six in the morning. Probably time for sleep. Yesterday morning—around seven—I heard a Carolina wren in the neighbors' yard. I might try to fight off drowsing for a little while longer so I can hear it again. It had been several days since I'd experienced anything around here that seemed like it might be real.