Saturday, August 01, 2009


It makes me realize how very temporary a life I've always lived. Everything has been just for now. I've played daily life with my left hand, and with left over scraps of attention.

I am old in my habits now, or at least middle-aged. Could I change? Would I even want to, really?

I could change, anyway, the lie behind the habits. I could make an effort to believe that there is no utopia around the corner that will render this life void. This life, this ramshackle hit-or-miss life, this country of anxieties and petty subterfuges, with its suddenly divulged -- and abruptly lost -- deep waterfalls of beauty and love, this country, this country is where I live for the rest of my life. Even if I only wander and camp here, this is home, as much home as I'll ever know. I can try to pound that into my thick skull.

It is a wonderful life, an absurdly fortunate life. It may be unsustainable: in which case I hope I will take to harder conditions with a good grace. It's all been worth it. Life has been so much better than it promised. When I was a miserable all-in-black teenager, of the sort that shows up in the nightly news as having gone on a shooting spree, I had no conception of how good things would turn out, how beautiful life would be. Maybe that's when I established the habit of camping, of living for a remote future, of paying only sporadic attention to the here and now. I hated school with a passion I didn't really recognize for a long time. I didn't recognize it because they managed to convince me, in the manner of any totalitarian organization, that there was nothing else possible. I thought I was hating reality. No. I was hating a stupid antiseptic regime of paved playgrounds and chain link fences, where touching other people and thinking for yourself and privacy and establishing your own community was absolutely forbidden. I hated it then, and I hate it now, with a pure white passion. I hate prisons the same way. I don't care what people have done: nobody has done anything so bad as to deserve that. Cut off their heads, brand them, hack off a limb or two if you really must vent your anger on them. But don't lock them up. I shake when I walk by the county courthouse and see the blind buses pulled up, the band of armed, green-uniformed sheriffs waiting for the orange-suited prisoners to shuffle out of the steel pillboxes on the sidewalks -- elevator-heads, I presume, which bring them up from the basement of the courthouse -- and make their five or six steps in the free air before disappearing into the buses, disappearing into prison, some of them forever. My knees tremble and I know my cowardice. I should be fighting this. I should be helping them. And I only don't because I'm afraid, deathly afraid, of being one of them. I have as much physical courage as the next person, I hope, but I have no courage at all in the face of that threat. I escaped from the world of airless corridors and cafeterias and bullies and dull-witted sanctimonious authority when I was thirteen. I will never, ever go back to it. It takes me to the very limits of what I can stand to bicycle past a public schoolyard, or to go and visit someone in the hospital. Malls, chain restaurants, and big-box stores have the same smell. Dead air, spilled cola, alternating stinks of AC, antiseptic, and fine dust: and people dying everywhere, dying on their feet, rotting inside their blotchy skins. Not the most garish Boschian nightmare of Hell could frighten me more.

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