Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We may find ourselves captives of fear or of nostalgia; lower than death or on its own level. Captives of fear, if this tonality merely perpetuates the void in which it occurs; and of nostalgia, if it converts the void to plenitude. According to our structure, we shall discern in death either a deficit or a surplus of being.
If fear controls us, it must distort our image of the world. The man who can neither master nor exploit his fear ultimately ceases to be himself, loses his identity, for fear is valuable only if one defends oneself against it; the man who surrenders to it can never recover, but must proceed, in all transactions with himself, from treason to treason until he smothers death itself beneath his fear of it.
Those who cannot benefit from their possibilities of nonexistence are strangers to themselves: puppets, objects "furnished" with a self, numbed by a neutral time that is neither duration nor eternity. To exist is to profit by our share of unreality, to be quickened by each contact with the void that is within.

-E.M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist

Saturday, September 26, 2009

From total strangers to best friends
To best friends to brothers
From brothers to never calling him again
Their coffins descend
One flies to a place of peace
The other Lake of Fire, devils hauling you in
As one began one ends
The Earth still spins
We're hurt, tears in our shirt, spirit must transcend
What you think sleep is for?
A deeper cause
Preparing us
For the other side til the Reaper calls...

-Killah Priest, "Profits of Man"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Motorcycle and the Mixing Board.

I didn’t quite wake up; it was more like I bled onto wakefulness from my troubled sleep, like when a scene in a movie takes forever to fade to the next. Long before my body had the power to move I felt the day and did not like it. Light dared to reach out from the spaces between the blinds in my bedroom window. The few clouds that couldn’t be bothered to rain themselves away the night before also neglected to block the sun’s invitation to rise and shine. Still, I eventually had to face the sky and all below it, so I wrestled myself out of the sleeping bag and arose, thinking, why did I sleep in this sleeping bag?

A dark tension followed me out of my plaid, cozy coffin. As if a nightmare that I couldn’t remember wanted me to keep its fear as a souvenir. A trembling hand set the mouse into motion across the morning computer screen. But I couldn’t commit to the world as revealed through pixels. Nor could I sit peacefully in front of Denrick’s painting. The boy wrapped in his cloak stared down upon me, forever locked in the penultimate moment of his ascension to manhood. I thought that it must be hard to be a painting as I put on the fast jacket, or, as my man calls it, the lab coat.

It fit more tightly than my other jackets and featured the mangled remains of insects that were fool enough to float above a busy road. The leather of its construction is stiff and the armor in its lining conforms perfectly to my limbs. I strapped on hard knee armor and slid my jeans over both them and my racing boots. Thoreau would certainly warn me to beware of the venture that required such clothing.

I closed the front door, accepted the muggy heat that was the late morning, and plunged my brain matter into a matte black helmet. After the hand clap that settles the gloves into place around my spindly fingers, I pressed the gray button on the blue machine that gives meaning to my style.

Once I walked into a forest with a park ranger. She pointed out edible plants, poison plants, succulents, plants that would soon flower, plants that would soon die. But when I turned my gaze upon nature without her, I saw only a mass of greenery. Another time I stared upon a motherboard with a programmer. He explained the interplay of transistors and the alternations of current that bring computers to life. But I saw only a maze of soldered metal and plastic. The more that the world contains, the more that lies in my periphery.

But at the machine, I hold the vocab that cuts meaning from the manifold. Where others feel only dull vibration, I sense clutch, fuel delivery, rpm. From the first contact with concrete I can feel whether I have enough air in my tires. Yes. The dirt that wafts up from the road into the crevices of the radiator is the desert of my real. It is no wonder that I miss it when I am gone.

On the exit from the house to the main road, I ran across a wide and unavoidable patch of sand. For a moment, the two wheels at my foundation dropped away from the ground, floating on a grainy abyss. It was like sure-footedly stepping off a high mountain cliff onto a cloud. But only for a moment. The rubber came back to the road on the right path, so I didn’t have to contemplate tragedy. On to the corners.

The motorcyclist, it is said, is concerned only with the present. Moving across the world at speed, he has no room for life outside of the road ahead. I wonder if this means that the moto is a source of clarity and meditative composure, or if it is just an opiate for the miserable motion of life. I wonder also if I would truly care either way how the answer to this question played out. Maybe I can’t care, I thought, before the light turned green and I accelerated past traffic to be the first into the sweeping turn that was the onramp.

I was also the first to cross faint lines crookedly etched into the lane below me. Nearly 20 feet long, they belonged to the bike and body of a friend of mine. He was headed for this very turn when a truck lurched forward into his path. His bike was struck and he went tumbling and came to a stop only when the road had taken the denim from his jeans. Leather and kevlar preserved his flesh but he sprained his wrist when his body was dashed against the road with great force.

I took such a tumble myself once. So I know that when he stood, he did not feel fully the pain that he was in. His brain, the story goes, inhibited the reports sent in by his nerves so that he could better deal with his immediate situation. His brain turned his pain down like the volume on an ipod jog wheel.

In many ways, that is what the bike was doing for me. It was the master fade on the mixing board that is my mind. Emotions born of a million doubts and fears faded beneath the surface as I approached the first corner of the day. But when I applied the brakes to set my entry speed for the turn, those demons reappeared. Like a gust of wind had blown back the veil of maya, giving me a glimpse of the real in all of its horrible beauty. My only escape was more speed. I let off the brakes and accelerated a bit, adjusting my body for the moment of turn in, the tipping point. I looked to the apex as my knee reached out for the ground and everything went quiet. Only one track remained, the howl of wind and engine that really counts as silence.

I stopped at a park and looked out over the water from the bench on a short boardwalk. Though I sat by still water, I could find no peace there. I grabbed my helmet and strolled back to the machine, its engine still hot from the trip. I have been here before, I thought. I wondered how many more times I would return.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reflections on Travel 2

5. Such is the fate for those whom we derogatorily call ‘tourists.’ The tourist, as the story goes, is obsessed with the newness of an environment so long as a fitting record can be made of it. Most often, they take pictures of things for which pictures have already been taken, from the same angles, with the same lack of photographic skill. But, as taken by the tourist, they condition the truth of the journey. The photo then stands as a testament not to the environment, but to the presence of the tourist. With camera in tow, they move through a supposedly new environment that has been constructed just for the industry they have spawned. Most often, they remain within the designated tourist space, an economic space that is also a space of souvenirs, of tourist meanings. At the center of these spaces are the beacons of history, or art, or spectacle whose call they have answered. But they have come not to study, not to know, but to see. To become of a part of the community that has seen, as though this membership itself transcends the dullness of untravelled life.

6. But the distinction between the “tourist” and the true traveler often stems from an impossible presupposition: that one can get a “real” experience of a place. This notion of the real is, upon further examination, a kind of suggestion. “The real” prescribes a set of experiences, perceptions and understandings that we “real” travelers think one should get in a new place. When we say things like “come see the real Texas,” we are in fact just making recommendations about what elements of a place we think the traveler should go experience.

7. Thus, our questions concerning travel are inherently normative. In addition, the notion of an “authentic experience” is the result of a confusion about what types of experiences there can be. The “real” is merely the recommended, but is not experienced as such by the real traveller. At the heart of this deception is the traveler’s idea that there are authentic experiences. This notion is most often a unconscious extension of the material fact of authenticity. If a product of some sort is copied, such as a designer purse, the copy is necessarily inauthentic, that is, it does not find its origin in the production pipeline of the designer’s company. The authenticity of commercial objects thus gives way to the idea of the authenticity of experiences. But the “authentic” finds its legitimacy at least partially in the inauthenticity from which it must differentiate itself. The designer purse must have a seal of approval, which becomes a mark of its distinction, a sign that it is valued so highly that its valuers are willing to imitate it. The real traveler searches for a similar seal in his experiences, though he very often finds little evidence more than the absence of other tourists. If the markers are sufficient, the experience is deemed to be more “real” than that of the tourist. The traveler has failed to see that he has merely consumed a slightly different commodity than the tourists in the tourist square.