blackbirdonline journalSpring 2015  v14n1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Can I Find a Thing to Carry Forever?

I am attempting to answer many questions under the guise of one that I have formulated as a title but will hereafter abandon. It is no use assuming that a single question will do better than several to find what I need to be clear about, what I have lost or my hopes of ever finding it again, no matter whether I intend to go looking for it or if I could carry it safely home if I found it, given how often I have lost it in the past. As to whether I could carry it forever, that would depend on if I, as I call I, has an existence beyond the body in which I dies, or if instead I mean by forever a word I likes to use.

All of this implies so many questions that I will abandon in favor of describing what I am looking for. Description, carefully layered with detail, can contain implicit answers to questions that would otherwise go unasked because I don’t care for them. So I am looking for what? Call it the heart, the emotion that underlies all philosophy that seeks to give meaning to life; Aristotle called it happiness and proclaimed it the goal of every rational human being. The Buddha took a radical step further, teaching that freedom from suffering was the aim of every sentient being, a dog, say, or a bear in the woods, a centipede in the shower. As for me, the I looking in this body, will I at all resemble the I that will arise when happiness of heart is finally found? But is the heart a thing to be found, and why is this chasm between knowing and finding lasting through all of my life?

My wife Mab walks by in my mind and points at herself to say, “It is here. You have found it in me and I will keep it for you.” She’s right, I don’t need to look for it or ever fear that she will lose it, she and I are bound together by time and touch, but who is the I that is happily bound? The one whose heart she possesses, calm, warm, hidden, happy within her, is that I the same as the one writing now with his questions? A different heart is beating within me now, the hand is moving, the I is speaking, which I, what does this heart want? Believe that I need you to live, the heart confides to me who would die without it. Without you, it says, I would fall silent in ways that no one, not even Mab, would ever know. Readers don’t know they want our words until we write them. Don’t stop now. Explain your I as a spirit that uses words as a kind of mud spray to outline its shape that would otherwise be invisible.

But once we get a sense of its muddy shape, what might we think the I resembled, and would it be the sort of thing we could get the chance to carry? The I can be neither the mind nor the body. Spirit will not be trapped in delusions as Descartes was when he concluded that he thought therefore he was instead of that he thought therefore he thought, all he really had to carry was a cogito ergo sum circularity on par with I shit so I’m here, with bonus corroborating evidence provided by the shit even as the I of which I am speaking recoils from its smell.

Is that I privy to all my thoughts? If I examine their sequence I find gaps, not big ones, just enough to tell me that thoughts are verbiage but consciousness can include more, sometimes it seems bright on the edges with the rest of it hidden. I conclude from this that my I and its voice through the medium of heart may possibly find a thing to carry. If so, I am halfway there.

Now as to the nature of a thing there is nothing so wearisome to consider in the minds of persons like my daughter, Sarah, who would ask in turn if we truly know the nature of the word for “thing” and so forth, all in the spirit of reduction ad absurdum but with the unanticipated result—by Sarah that is, I saw it coming, I’m an old hand at using words to prevent progression of ideas I’m not interested in—that she and I start to do a father-daughter Wittgenstein impersonation, posing questions back and forth to break big ideas into language-game instances without conclusion.

“A thing has substance and dimension in the space-time construct in which we think we live, honey,” I explain to her by way of trying to break us free. My I as I am describing it in this essay you will never want to read is a non-material wisp that lives outside mind in words, which aren’t quite things. So I would argue that if I am looking for a thing, I am looking for something that could never be me but might mean enough to me, despite the material divide between me and it, to make the search worthwhile.

“Don’t you want to talk about what mean means?” Sarah asked. “You do, I know you do.”

Meaning is intuitive, self-evident. Things can be tricky because, as materials, they sometimes, often, change shape, crumble, shatter. If, hypothetically, we were, Sarah, to train a video camera on this small blue bowl in front of us filled with wrapped mint toothpicks stolen by me from a Thai restaurant, and if that camera kept running forever, I’ll get back to the concept of forever, for now let’s posit forever as being as long as we can imagine time going on without it giving up or getting tired.

You go ahead and posit that, Daddy. I already feel forever getting more and more sleepy.

Then the road is clear for now. The camera would document that over the course of forever the toothpicks, the bowl, the table on which the bowl is set, our own selves—all would crumble away. Nothing and no one that is here now would be here then. And we would never know the end of it as the camera would crumble too. Does that scare you, Sarah?

It scares me that you might not know what a thing is, Daddy. What if someday you sit down on a concept instead of a chair and break your coccyx? Then I’d have to spend lots of my time bringing things to you.

Sadly I shall go on in this essay without you, Sarah, for I foresee that its conclusion will shake the foundations of your world, and as your father I would far rather that your world remain gentle forever, which concept I still will get back to.

A thing cannot merely be thought. It must be present and capable of causing in us pain or joy. Those feelings are what the I wishes to speak about, but without confusing feeling with the material realm. So I want a thing I can hold in my mind, which is I, which is spirit of the kind that has nothing or perhaps everything to do with God, who is not welcome in this essay; the I under discussion is plenty on my plate for now, it hosts everything, I like its sense of style. I want to help it, but how?

By finding for it a thing it can carry forever. But even allowing for present purposes that we know what a thing is, could I possibly carry one? Only if the thing conveyed an intuitive meaning that I could carry in spirit in the form of an image which, if I cared for it, might grow up to be a symbol, which is an image we think should mean something to others as well as to ourselves, and while that sort of thing is necessary for communication between Is, it is also highly dangerous. People kill the symbols they don’t like so I am going to avoid them here. Nothing I see in my I need mean anything to anyone unless they should care to be empathetic, sensitive, supportive of my work, you’ve found yourself a little symbol there, Larry, well played, and someday surely you’ll sniff out a mystery to which that symbol happens to be the key, so I’ll pray for you and you pray for me as we go our ways with things.

The symbol of the key will by chance do well for my purposes in this essay now that those readers with their snarky sort of useless empathy have gone away. I wish I still had or could find the key to my attic apartment where I lived in 1972 in Ann Arbor, just out of college, working as a witless clerk at a bookshop, living a lie with a girlfriend, sharing the attic space by means of a flimsy partition with a guy who had better things to do than talk to me, like banging his girlfriend to the Mahavishnu Orchestra played loud, my bed was a mattress on an unfinished plank floor, I shared with still more renters a kitchen and bathroom on the level below, I was too young back then to need to pee three times a night, these days getting down those wobbly trapdoor steps in the dark would kill me and I would welcome it so long as it was swift and there was no damage deposit. I want little of this era back, nearly none, it’s far too heavy a suitcase to carry, as my late father-in-law said to me one time when I asked him if he felt guilty over an incident in the past of which he had just spoken with what then seemed to me sadness but now reveals itself to me as merely awkward in an aged way just as life in my Ann Arbor apartment was awkward in a young way and at this point I feel neither guilt nor sadness about it so why do I still want to carry the key, which is at least light?

It’s only one early evening that spring that I want. I was sitting on the one chair I had, a curbside-discard find, an old white wooden folding seat on which I had placed my least favorite sweater, a grey-and-white thing, as a cushion. I don’t want the chair or the sweater, I want the soft gentle blue of that sky, the first stars showing through the high branches of the oak brimming with new leaves green and dancing in the breeze that passed through the screen and washed onto my face. My I was transfixed and glowing, starting to get to know itself. I had been working on a short story that day that was ultimately published in a rag the name of which I can’t recall and I don’t have or want a copy of it to carry. But that evening I thought well of the story I was writing and was also high on the pleasure of having written it by hand, in solitude, on a day when the sun had warmed to sauna intensity the attic that featured what I now realize were asbestos stalactites hanging from the burst-open shiny bags of stapled-on insulation that formed my ceiling.

I was, that evening, in love with the possibilities of a space, even a partitioned space, to which I alone held the key. I don’t remember what my renter’s key looked like but I would like to find it and carry it again for just a while, to remind the I that what it sought that night has been found in appropriate essence, that I was not so fatuous as I would have seemed to me now.

Can the thing be found? Well, that key can’t be, it and the lock and the door and probably the house itself with its illegal attic rental space are all long gone. And so, in truth, am I. I’ve held the key a moment now in spirit, my body is looking away slightly embarrassed but it’s all right, I’m setting the key down now though it lacks substance and dimension. What am I setting it down on? A concept such as my daughter fears I may one day sit on instead of a chair? That concept has now vanished along with the key. I don’t want or need to find or carry a thing forever, which is too fucking long. The voice of my I is telling me that there are new locks, new keys, that the doors are now opening in a rush and I’ll be going through them until I die, which is enough time even if this is my last sentence ever. No it isn’t, I’m writing this one too, laughing in the face of wanting forever.  end  

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