ramblings- weightlessness

Anytime I make a spontaneous decision, decide to go somewhere I’ve never been, buy a one way ticket, take a mostly stranger up on an invitation, try something I’ve never tried before, there is a feeling of stepping into a void whose bottom I cannot see, indeed do not know whether there is one or not, and then take that metaphorically consistent ‘leap of faith’-  believing in the goodness of the void, and that my feet will land somewhere or other, surely decent, possibly good, or even even sublime… believing that the landing will be cushioned enough not to be bruised, and that it just may be something so remarkable at the bottom that any doubt at the top is worth its sweat.  Worth it, but even, I am coming to realize, the thing itself- that the diving in is as regenerating as the experience it leads me to.  That a feeling of weightlessness, of middle of nowhereness, of blissful unknowingness, and a growing comfort with that feeling (but always with prudence), is as essential to my world knowledge as any facts or places or experiences I may have had the pleasure to know.  Many, most? people much prefer steady ground, known paths, a sense of heaviness, deep roots and well tended plants, known species and familiar surroundings. Who could blame them, such assurance allows you to sleep well at night, eat consistently, have someone to cry to on the telephone.  This life does not prevent against loneliness however, and it does not even keep you safe against improbability, against horror or loss or death or even total destruction, but at least you know what you will be doing this time tomorrow, and if you are lucky how you will pay the bills next month.  I am not sure how I will pay the bills next month, although I have done my best to create a nest of backup finances and have learned to live on next to no money at all so as to make it last a long time. Why would anyone choose to jump into an emptiness when fullness and knowness is so much simpler and so much easier?

 

I ask myself this question often, having chosen the former path- what am I thinking? why do I continue to trace the world’s plane and train lines, keep moving to a new community where I have to totally start over?  why do I put myself in a situation where I have to live as scarcely as possible, scrimping, uncomfortable, and with a constant part of my brain on my finances?  Why not get a good job, a nice apartment, a fiancé and a cat, a refrigerator full of organic vegetables, and, an image that I carry around in a drawer in my mind for whenever I’m finally ready for it, a cherry tomato plant in the window, healthy and covered with sweet red tomatoes for the salad tonight, a mint plant and a basil plant next to it.

 

All these things I want eventually, of course, maybe not permanently but in some quantity at least, to have and to hold, to plant and weed and feed someone with.  One day I want to try this reality too.  But for now I continue to jump into that void, because I have become aware of how much strength each flight has given me. How much faith in my own ability to take care of myself and in the fight I can put up, and how many times I have not perished, not at all, indeed have found wonderful things at the end of the uncertainty.  That without being footloose I would not have found half of these places or people or things.

 

And that death is still present in the householder’s life, and may indeed inform it.  Why should we as a species be so obsessed with matching a magazine lifestyle, thinner, more attractive, with better taste, richer, more cars and more money, new wallpaper, a better job with more prestige, but for a desperate feeling of a lack of time?  That is, an awareness of our own inevitable, (hopefully) eventual death? I don’t know how often the average householder or wallstreeter thinks about death consciously but the perfectionism to which she or he is culturally held to and personally anxious for must be, perhaps circuitously, a response to the fleetingness of time, an end to breathing and eating and being ambitious- that is, a fear of death.  But death does not feature a prominent position in most suburban houses, not in their decorations and certainly not in their conversations.

 

So I was wondering if the weightlessness of the jump is in fact a tete a tete with death, a face on view of the reality of nonexistence.  A willingness to not have anyone know where you are at the given moment, since not being known is a kind of not being.  And that floating in the haze of that moment between cities, when no one knows you yet, when you could vanish and no one would know the better, there you challenge the fear and build a respect instead.  And a defiance too- I continue to jump and yet I continue to be alive, and even to be extraordinarily happy, open and free and willing, scared of death of course, humbled, but in a way that does not buckle my knees, and in a way with less denial and less rejection of that inevitable reality.

 

Travel is not the only source I have found for this feeling of falling.  Literal weightlessness gives me the same release- swimming in the ocean, spinning (dance), biking.  Moments that take the consciousness out of the mind and back into the body have the same effect- making music, doing exercise, making love, a very good meal.  Perhaps this is what is responsible for our cultural obsession with these would-be simple biological necessities.  To feel so alive is to proudly face one’s death, accept its inevitability, love it for the way it empowers our every moment, and kiss it goodnight for now.

the beauty of the airport

A mini voyage this last weekend, to Providence, Rhode Island to see an old friend.  Get back into the mood of it, since bigger traveling is imminently approaching.

At the train station, sitting at one of the tables, gazing at the timetable announcing the train times and boarding calls, I am reminded how much I love traveling.  Yes, the destination, of course, but I love the act itself- the train station, the airport, the bus terminal, and then as I sit coursing idly through the countryside that part too- the train ride and the airplane ride, the bus and car trip.  Its boring as hell of course, and uncomfortable (although being very small helps a lot), and one is stuck with limited food choices.  But this in-between space continually fascinates and charms me.  There can be no ‘I’m late!’ or ‘There’s somewhere I have to be!’ while on an airplane; there is nowhere you Can be but There, and you are being perfectly productive, moving from one place to the other place, totally passively completing a necessary task.  A very slow one, and one that necessarily forces you into a meditative state.  There’s not much to do in the terminal or in your seat but think, or read, or observe.  It is also a perfect excuse to watch terrible hollywood movies, and to eat fast food (the only time I do), for lack of other choices, which in that context are lightly sheepish delights, exonerated as you are from the ‘guilt’ part of guilty pleasures.

There is also a small miracle that takes place in these waiting spaces.  People define themselves by the communities they belong to, the groups they identity with.  But they are rarely willing to create new ones without some introduction or connection, whether it be a mutual friend or a shared hobby.  Extraordinarily, in the waiting space a sort of exception to this rule is accepted, similar to the one made in emergencies, strange weather, or extra long lines at the movie theater- any circumstance that is extreme in any way causes the normal boundaries of interpersonal communication to break down.  With the unusual circumstances are allowed unusual interactions, a ‘Wow its really coming down, isn’t it?’ when only rushing past silently with heads down would usually have been appropriate.  Something about airports and airplanes, especially if something unexpected happens, such as a delay, clicks this ‘exception mode’ on, and people are much more likely to start a conversation.  Again, there’s not much to do on an hours-long flight but talk to your neighbor.  And in the airport, like on the beach, or in the hospital, or a few other locations, the rules of conduct are altered.  Loitering is fine, as is sleeping.  You can lay down on public furniture, and take your shoes off, and stare into space.

We have created the structures we live our daily lives in with much purpose and conscious thought, and they work very well to keep things in order.  If someone is shouting at passersby, or talking to themself, sleeping in public or staring at people, we understand them to be outside of the boundaries of our order. Perhaps they suffer from some mental illness, or perhaps they have willfully put themself in this outsider’s world, as a rejection of the system.  But it is clear to us and to them that there is an inside and an outside, and they are sitting on that side of the line.  Perhaps these constructions are limiting and confining, strangling our creative or social impulses, they are regardless our reality as it stands for now, and, personally, as allergic as I feel to the group mentality, I feel that they are brilliant structures based on collective social intelligence that indicate when something is not quite right, and which assure when everything is humming along smoothly.  The desire to break them is as irresponsible and juicily fantastical as jumping off a bridge- a thought experiment about what would happen if you did it, what it would feel like, but not something you should ever do, even consider doing.  So in the moments in the airport or the bus terminal, as people snooze on their luggage and make friends with strangers, as these social tropes are slightly skewered and a new set of rules are temporarily installed, if one takes a moment, one can experience the lightest of thrills as these structures shift on their foundations, the slightest group-wide breaking of rules that makes that crowd of the waiting-space align momentarily into a community, enjoying each other’s naughtiness, before arriving at the final destination, the baggage claim, the train depot, the bus stop, when the airplane-fellows fade away back into the everyman, collecting their bags, walking outside, waiting for the crosswalk sign to change color, looking straight ahead: the smallest death imaginable.

Hemingway

Why do I love Hemingway so much? I’m not sure.

Is it the light simplicity of his prose? His detached catalog of events, conversations, and beverages (his characters live one bottle of wine to the next)?  Quiet banality finally interrupted by a description, an emotional confession, a love scene, which among the austerity strike you through the heart in surprise?

It might be that I relate to his main characters, in turn an extension of himself- melancholy, independent, would-be lost souls longing in the end for love and for soul-connection but who cannot quite bring themselves to give in to such cliches, whose life-lessons are inevitably inward-facing despite the presence of other people, of friends or lovers (or fellow drinkers, or F Scott Fitzgerald).  They come looking for love and leave even more fiercely alone.

Maybe, but in the end it may just be the armchair-traveler in me who loves Hemingway- he remains one of the best travel writers, easily transporting the reader to create irrational fantasies about Paris or Spanish sea-side towns or elephant hunts or bullfights or even wars.  You find yourself drifting alongside his characters in the Venetian canals, breezily drinking a bottle of white, good and dry, or in a Paris cafe with a glass of Pernod, tight, happy, and longing.  How many Americans have followed his example, as drinkers, writers, or travelers, searching for their own playground of love gained and lost without too much fuss, only total heartbreak, sitting wordless at that quaint cafe only trying to emulate his simplicity and coming up with only over-descriptive messiness.

Images from his work drift into my head often, places I know no longer exist with company that I would hate to keep, but they have created a backdrop for my irresponsible travel fantasies: lovers in the city, taxi rides in the dark to nowhere, an endless European summer drifting ever further South to follow the heat, good wine and better food, simple and wholesome and totally filling.  Writing.  Traveling!

I am about to indulge in this dream, to get it out of the way, to complete my 16 year old desire- I have bought a one way ticket to Paris and I will stay for as long as it takes to remind myself that Hemingway was not only a misogynist but lived in a time that no longer exists… so What does Paris, or train hopping through France, have to offer me now? Now is the time to jump off that sweet cliff- to fly one-way to Paris and to be disappointed, or to fall in love, or to feel nothing, to drink Pernod and coffee and finally write, the way I have always meant to, to chase the ideal of Hemingway that has rattled around my head so stupidly, to have my Paris as a Young Man, and to see what feast that is, really.  And then to continue on to probably more interesting places, where I can create my own mythologies and my own images.

But this first I must do. So call me romantic, or absurd. This is the first step in a long journey.