Home: up and down, colder and warmer
An open postcard from home. I left you at the airport, briefly considered my inclination to turn around and un-leave you, and then went for an extended airport stroll. Not part of the usual currents, I soon found more deserted airportscapes—a corridor of sun, a hot and empty escalator—and then on the other side of this backcountry came upon International Departures, where I decided to hang out. There is something nice about an international airport early in the day.
I brought the book and essay I’ve been reading, but by the train home, I was skeptical of both. They seemed cold somehow, or to involve minds that were cold. The essay because it is intent on seeing everything in a pointlessly sinister and foreboding light, and the book because it seems to be a self-involved wank, and there is something cold about that, or perhaps about the way it is that. (So far.)
It is purportedly about a crush, but I’m not convinced that the author knows how to have a crush. For one thing, I claim a good crush involves having any interest at all in the crushee, and not just in one’s own thoughts about one’s own writing about the fact that one (purportedly) has a crush. The title promises ‘love’ but so far it seems totally unrelated to that.
I wonder if this is the point? (I wonder how often it is ambiguous whether something is the point or is just a deeply taken for granted feature of the author’s world. Is there a clear distinction between what the author most means to emphasize and what they least mean to emphasize? What if I tell a story to illustrate a kind of problem, but half of the problem is that I can’t see this thing that goes on in all situations that I am in, and so it naturally gets illustrated in my writing too, invisibly to me? Is everything a bit like that? In any pretend world I make, the background will be relevant to the foreground in ways beyond your awareness if only because they are all made in the likeness of reality, whose mesh of interrelevance is vastly beyond any author’s understanding. I imagine the world as a most extreme case—a work entirely consisting of an endless intricacy of features passively assumed, with no point intended by the author.)
I’m not far into the book, so maybe I’ll change my mind. I thought of two rude things to say about it, but decided against. It is also randomly sinister.
I think it is considered deep to be randomly sinister. To just suddenly be talking about corpses, as a metaphor for some aspect of your relationship. Or to be feeling a chill wind blowing on an apparently sunny day. Also to be dark, or full of pain, or touching on ‘important issues’ (which is to say, bad things). Negativity is profound and positivity is facile. ‘Happy families are all alike’; in misery is one complex. Edginess is brave and strong, and about the edge of the difficultly bad, not the difficultly good. A sophisticated person is not easily pleased. Essay authors are hungry to discuss death and rape and fear and insecurity and more death. And now driving around in the countryside in the morning, but for some reason, as if one is driving around the unhealthy flats of manifest doom and has turned up the eerie music. I looked up a list of the best short stories recently and the first two I remember were about a community stoning one of its members to death, and someone’s behavior before and during an exchange in which each person in their family group is killed one at a time.
Thinking about coldness as I walked home from the BART Station in the sun, it struck me that this kind of esteem for having and discussing negative experience is stranger than I had thought. It is so easy to suffer! Can’t anyone be unsatisfied with anything? Empirically, aren’t anguish and concern more like the default for a human, and satisfaction and joy more like an unusual achievement that goes with having strength and depth and complexity? It also seems harder to convey good experiences than bad ones.
A friend came over and we watched TV commercials from the 50s, because he wanted to remind me what ‘corny’ meant. They were corny it seems. One that seemed especially strange was about a family singing about some kind of dessert bread. It was a simple and innocent song, not especially beautiful or ugly. We didn’t know what the viewer was meant to feel. Our best guess was that they wanted this to be what their family was like. Which seemed alien as a response to this. We speculated that the ad seemed strange because it was straightforwardly positive, rather than full of status conflict or irony or bittersweetness (or self-aware over-excitement? Probably modern ads have that, and would someone in sixty years just read it as weird innocent joy? Too much speculation—I watch too few ads to support it).
We compared ads from the 20s, 40s, 70s, 90s, and interviews with people not in ads, for instance Marylin Monroe and some people she was staying with. Subtleties in how people talk even not so many decades ago make it mysterious what these things must have seemed like to viewers. People seem to have been worse at interviewing in the fifties, but maybe they just had different sensibilities. Or rather, they must have had different sensibilities, but did these just involve lower standards, or would a fifties viewer be reading things from the exchange and appreciating things about it that I am blind to? This kind of mystery seems like a thing to keep in mind in general. It also seems quite hard to answer these questions.
We watched a wholesome recent ad, but it was bittersweet.
Perhaps bittersweetness is deeper than sweetness, but also deeper than bitterness? Is it mixed positivity and negativity that is deep, rather than negativity?
Does this all have something to do with innocence?
If I look at my actual experience, I’m not convinced that negativity is more complex or interesting than positivity. I might as easily claim that bad situations are often alike—a suffering, an urgency of escaping it, maybe some kind of guilt and sickness of things being somehow your fault and personal and wrong, and a disinclination to look, and an urge for distraction, a lack of attention, a coldness—while good situations are so different: there are bright hopes and energies, and roiling warm chest feelings that reach out toward someone, and snugglinesses, and drinks when you are thirsty, and knowing glances across crowded tables, and still expansivenesses, and understandings of neat mechanisms, and substantiveness, and ideas, and pangs of unexpected meetings, and rightnesses, and Lin Manuel Miranda’s Twitter feed sometimes, and lying down after a long day, and thick dark wood tables, and being mildly aroused, and not having a migraine any more, and being licked on the face by a dog, and expecting an evening alone in your room, to name a random selection. Perhaps you could similarly break these down into a few basic factors, and I am probably failing to appreciate the breadth of sufferings. But I claim a bad headache is more similar to the shock of seeing a dog killed than drunken philosophy with close friends in a fairy-lit pizza-stocked beer garden is similar to a mind-alteringly present walk or writing lots of things in a notebook with a nice pen. And for me I think feeling bad goes with my mind being smaller and less able to think, which seems like a recipe for less depth or complexity. And feeling bad goes with not wanting to see, or be there, which lends itself to seeing and being less. So what gives? I still feel like negativity is somehow deeper.
Are warmth and coldness an important axis in my mental landscape?
Why does it seem like someone with a total absence of sadness is somehow blind, even in a perfect world?
What’s up with grief?
It’s very late. I like being awake when it is very late and hate going to bed when it is very late, unless I have company, which can lead to some arguably unstrategic events. The pragmatic benefit of going to bed being appealing instead of unappealing is among the greatest pragmatic benefits of romance I think, though I never hear it mentioned next to taxes, having someone to take care of you when you are old, and procreation, for instance. I guess I haven’t tried those, so maybe they are great.
At this moment, I kind of want a dog. I’m not sure why. I imagine it would be less existential, and also warm and snoofly. Usually I like existentialness, but maybe my back hurts too much for at least the current flavor of it, and I kind of wish I felt cozy and more like there was ‘normality’ of the kind I don’t necessarily believe in. And maybe that there was less of an endless parade of considerations about impending doom. It is unclear however that a dog would help with that.
Someone is shouting outside. I’m scared that I will listen to them, and decide they might need help, and try to do something about it.
[And then I considered the shouting person more, and slept, and a day passed, and while there is much to say regarding that, there is ever more to do on other things.]
P.S. Oh, maybe it is that bad things are easy to come by, but hard to want to think about?
P.P.S. Here is one of the more distinctively happy/sad songs in my world (though not the rendition I first heard, and online renditions are few). It was played for my grandfather’s funeral, which might have given it this color.