True Tom Waits
Sometimes the bowling ball of your life escapes the bumpers that you’ve erected for it, all the careful planning and thought that went into just not fucking it up rendered moot by a twelve-pound bowling ball's gravitationally unexpected stunt.
Perhaps being Jewish encourages me to see patterns as part of some narrative arc. I can empathize with Job, that God and the Higher Ups are testing me, that somehow the greater happenstances of my life are reflections of me. At times, this can be a very easy theory to support. For a long time, I punished my gear, flogging it so that I might milk a little more joy out of the moment, so this summer it all gets stolen and falls apart. Freak accidents in series become a referendum on my moral fiber. This theory robustly supports self-flagellation.
One of the other main strengths of the theory is that it has no substance, body or actual law. The rules are selectively applied to support the notion that I am fundamentally flawed and cursed, and, surprise surprise, when there aren’t actually any rules I lose every time. Good things are happenstance, but bad things – those mean something.
Negotiating the sandy shoals and coral reefs of self-loathing is hard. Doing it while under the impression that the Coen brother’s A Serious Man (2009) was in actuality very, very true. In the ever-true words of Ted Cruz, “Why am I so persecuted?”
I find it so hard to roll with the punches without setting myself afloat, or engaging with the world around me without bearing its weight on my slender cyclist’s shoulders. It’s a balance I haven’t yet struck. For most of my life, I have tried to disengage, to write it all off. It doesn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. I don’t care about that. That thing? It’s not even that I don’t care, it’s that the thing doesn’t matter. You see where that gets you. Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling.
Though this is the moment for a pithy comment or show of resilience, I’m tapping out on this one. I am tired. I am tired of walking that line. The feeling I get while over-clenching in skiing or writing, that is my whole being. My circuits are fried. Like a camera that cannot focus (and I have no experience with that), I’m tapped out. Seemingly, some sizable amount of focus would yield a clearer picture and perspective. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t have the capacity to summon it.
The Fruit Bats’ song “When U Love Somebody” has been echoing through my head for weeks. In good times, it is an ode to passion and that wistful and ephemeral feeling of genuine, in-the-moment, giddy happiness. It it the soundtrack to the beautiful montage of the best moments of my youth, backing the video of laughter, happiness and love. In lower moments, it seems to speak to the consequences, to the failures that come from not knowing what to do, from having such an overwhelming drive towards someone or something that you get lost. You get so lost you can only sit on your ass and look stupid. You lose track of what’s going on, what matters. In puppy love, this is all fine and dandy; these things are easily cleared up. But when you are 20 miles from a trail head with a bike that you don’t totally understand at the best of times but which now does not roll forward, when this happens and this song strums itself into your head, it is not a triumphalist refrain.
What the hell am I doing here? Why am I doing this? It is easy to get caught up. The moment of standing up and looking around is dangerous and frightening.
Sometimes I feel like I’m floating – in a way I never could in real life – drifting on my back. I feel weightless. Walking is effortless. I am above the petty push and pull of those around me. The concerns of my own life fade away, morphing and changing, flowing and slurping like a lava lamp. Corners and sharp edges dull, and pain fades away.
In these moments I am profoundly at peace. These are some of the few moments I smile at life without provocation. These are also moments of sadness. It is often a sadness deeper than I am capable of feeling. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of it all, the oneness of this moment, the tragicomic sequence of events. The world is too much for me in these moments. I struggle in this yawning serenity. How can I hold onto this? This feeling, this moment, this memory. It seems impossible. There is so much. The world, in all its complexity, is painted in the most vibrant hues. Everything is beautiful. And I feel it in my gut. I comprehend the jaw-dropping wonder of the world. These moments are overwhelming. Soon enough I will leave this place, grow old and die. There is no permanence in the human experience. That is a sunset I will never see again. The past? It’s gone forever. Whatever you’ve taken from it, that’s all you’ve got. Really savoring this can be heartbreaking.
I sit, slowly dozing off in my car, the walls of the canyon framing the brightest night sky I have ever seen. The stars glow like an excellent metaphor, and the sweeps of nebulas and galaxies drift behind them. We all understand that the earth is a round planet in space, orbiting a star which in turn orbits a giant pinwheel of solar systems around a radiant core, but most of the time, we don’t get it. It is hard to compare cereal prices at the grocery store and simultaneously grapple with the infinite emptiness and size of the universe, let alone our place in it. We need to be reminded every once in a while. I get out of my car and lay on the ground, slowly watching the constellations and clusters float from horizon to horizon, and again I remember that I live on a planet drifting through space. Everything that I and every human being has ever known is just a tiny fraction what exists. I look up at the millions of stars and their ancient light finally reaching me, and I am swept up in the enormity. It is heartbreakingly, immensely beautiful, beyond what I am able to comprehend, so I begin to cry.
As I continue to grow older and become bogged down in the business of living, these memories will fade. They will hang, framed, on my walls, until a move or the painters come. Stashed in a closet for safekeeping, their spot on the wall will be taken by some newer memory, or maybe a TV or a box of old tax returns and the nice plates. Soon even in storage they will become buried, compressed under new layers of the physical errata and litter of memory. I will remember the pleasure, the beauty of the experience, but not the experience itself. The memories will (and already have) become hollow and empty. In the closet, they slowly compress into nothingness, their past vibrancy and power reduced eventually to faded dust. And I felt so present, so immersed. Those moments too will fade.
This feeling pushes me towards the people I love. Somehow, linking arms with them, we can staunch the gushing flow of memory out of ourselves. ‘You were there, with me.’ Forgetting is a powerful thing. No human effort can deny it its final goal.
It is in these moments, however, that I truly apprehend the looming size of these relationships in my life. They have such power. It is only through them that I have any hope of lasting, of remembering my life well-lived and well-loved.
Those fleeting moments then, of pure comfort with another person, of such joy that all else falls away, those are magnificent. They rarely last more the blink of an eye (the world has a nasty habit of intruding), but they are of inestimable value. These are the moments I know I will take to my grave. Shenanigans playing in the snow, drinking spiked coffee, learning fluid mechanics in the bathtub, watching storms roll slowly towards you until you are enveloped in a bedlam of wind and rain, long nights spent discussing the insane world we live in, these are the glue that holds me together, the proof to me that there is love and beauty and happiness. Often, on reflection, they bring me to tears. It’s difficult, knowing the shining perfection of those moments will never come again. The crazy alchemy will never again react the way it did. We will be different people, in different circumstances, in a different relationship.
Yet, I strive to. These people, with whom I shared these moments, mean more to me than I realize. It is as if I have sworn oaths to them. Those transcendent moments bond me to them forever. Perhaps it is a feeling of obligation, perhaps of a naked desire for more, but they mean something to me. Something that I don’t think others possibly can. They have penetrated to a deeper level of my emotional life than anyone else.
So when these people come around, I try to hold myself in their orbits. I try to keep them in life and stay in theirs. At least for me, these are bonds that are difficult to shake. When I meet women with whom I have these connections, there is another layer. I want to be with them and share a life. It is not a desire to sleep with, but to be with, to cohabitate, to share, to give, to love. These seem like the kind of moments partners have together, where the world drops away and there is just the two of you. I find myself falling for these women, deeply and lastingly. These are not the ephemeral saplings that bend and break with the weather, but robust, powerful feelings, that seem to tug and pull for years, slowly growing into a feature of the landscape.
Sometimes it is difficult to be around these people if that tug doesn’t occupy space in reality. It can be tear-inducing, knowing how much you care and feel, not knowing if the possibility is there, or if even voicing the thought that tugs and pulls will ruin the delicate balance. That moment is the event horizon. Afterwards, Alea Iacta Est, I suppose. Then those people float away, the glow of that moment slowly fades, never to be recreated. It is sad to think that a person you lose sleep over might leave your life forever, and leave it because of your feelings. Destroying friendships is awful. Walking away, there were so many signs, so many places to avert the disaster. Yet, sauntering through life, feeling what you feel and never letting that out, you can feel the burden of a future that wasn’t. You can feel that person, with whom you shared magic, drift. You can feel the time, that precious time, float away. Those moments you could’ve shared – they disappear never having existed.