· With and Without ·
At birth we are given all the knowledge we need to know, and then we spend the rest of our lives relearning it. But there are some moments, aside from birth, some sets of circumstances, where everything is perfect; there is no past, no future. There is now. and at that moment, everything has a resonance of the sublime. The reason for this corollary is pretty obvious. The two are the same. You strip down everything in your life to what matters. Past and future coalesce. You understand yourself, or at least everything that is around you at that moment. You glimpse life without all the external paraphernalia. At birth, it is because there is nothing else to you but the air you breath and the arms that hold you. At later transcendental moments, these other moments, it is simply because you don’t care any more, you refuse the impact. It is as if you are discovering an old forgotten secret, a secret that the rigours of your life have buried deep in your subconscious. Whether it be out of protection or practicality, you don’t know. Perhaps both come down to the same.
Sometimes you meet people who understand this, with whom you can be completely as you want to be. This is rare, beautiful, paramount through its incisiveness. People want to tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be. Don’t ignore it. There is nothing to hide, nothing to worry about, nothing to shy away from in other people. If we do not say what we think, what we feel, we do ourselves a disservice, for the reply will be directed at a person that doesn’t exist, and will be all the more redundant because of it. Their vulnerabilities are what make them who they are, because they are the holes in their lives that they are trying to fill. Why are we afraid to say those things, to listen to them, to try and understand, or at least explore, the most pertinent questions, themes, philosophies, that there are? The fundamentals of life are discovery and fulfilment. I cannot understand why people don’t talk about the things that matter; it should be the only thing to talk about. Infants know what they want, and adults seem to have no idea. Perhaps people are just ashamed that they don’t have it all figured out, ashamed at their inadequacies, even though that is a prerequisite in what makes them beautiful. Even your morbid side, your dark side, is still an amazing thing. Because you are big enough not to act on it. Because it is complex, contradictory. Because it allows you perspective.
Death holds the same allure. At the point of death it is not, unlike infancy, that you have no concept of what is in store. It is that there is no mystery left to uncover bar the one at your doorstep. Repercussion becomes obsolete, irrevocably irrelevant, as you try your whole life for it to be. And so you embrace it, glean what you can. Jim Morrison was asked once about the manner in which he would like to die, and curiously he replied that he would hate to overdose or die peacefully in his sleep. He mused that he would rather feel life in all its glory while he still clutched to it, and that death should not be missed, imperative as it is to the experience of life. He wanted to feel everything he could, every moment that life could offer him. The pain we feel is what gives life its colour. So many people seem set upon living life while understanding as much at the end as they did at the start. They fail, of course, but the mindset makes me visibly uncomfortable.
I live for moments of connection, where the world is unsheathed and there is no barrier between it and you. It happens transiently and briefly, and you might miss the moment if your sheath remains on, like a wind unfelt through layers of clothing, but they are there. Travel is conducive to this inherently. The future is malleable, as are many of the people you meet, and everything else is foreign, which of all things is the most likely to leave its mark. You allow your vulnerability to grip; there is nothing more profound than someone being who they are in front of your very eyes, someone not only unapologetic for their myriad of both assets and flaws, but proud of them too. Those who realise who they are and embrace it are formidable people, and they are the ones who I want to surround myself with; there is no superficiality when you touch them, only a current which will electrocute your own. Love, romantic love, with its utter intimacy, is the highest form of this, but love is a wide word, and can be applied liberally. You can feel it in the solitude of nature when a profound truth floors you, or you can feel it with a mass of people at a concert, where instead of the intensity of one person you are subjected to the energy and exhilaration of the multitude.
These moments are a microcosm of the best the world has to offer. They are fickle, fragile, a short blooming flower; and they are all the better for it. These moments come at you without warning, as control is an illusion, and so when they come, hesitation becomes anathema to life itself. If you are lucky, you will not only seize upon it, but be conscious of it when you do, aware of its beauty, aware that this is life as you envisioned it should be, instead of your instinct merely leading the way, the mute leading the blind. There are moments, too, which are remembered for their translucent clarity in perception, not for the extraordinariness of the setting or subject; moments for which there is no particular reason why you should remember it, but which find themselves committed to memory nonetheless. These are the ones that seem to encapsulate a moment in your life, a set but impossibly ephemeral point in your life, where the wheels have found the cliff and you are granted one last sojourn upon the edge to look upon the sunset, only to hit the bottom and realise the sun is rising again, never to return to the horizon from whence it came.
When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just ask him. If you listen, he'll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he'll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel or dreamt of being perfect. And then he'll smile with wisdom, content that he realised the world isn't perfect. We're flawed, because we want so much more. We're ruined, because we get these things, and wish for what we had. It's what makes us who we are, and it determines where we will wake up next.
Something Like a Dream;
It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before, to test your limits, to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
- Anaïs Nin.
I have no music with me. It is both regretful and relieving. San Francisco is such a beautiful city, and all I can hear in my head are The Kings of Leon. The bus stop almost looks contrite as I ponder its map. The ferry terminal is that way.
“Is she...gone?" I sit on an undersized boulder and dangle my dirty feet in the ocean. “No. I don’t know. She’s not here." I think on this. He's standing in the tide with his jeans rolled up to his knees, sand collecting in the folds. His arms are crossed and his hair dishevelled. I almost forget I am not even supposed to be here. She's gone and She's gone and all I can think about is how the bridge looks, reflection in the water, shiny stars and symmetry and as an image it's just a bridge, no colours, just golden streaks and a blurry island further away. There is nothing that reminds you of anything important or worthy of a remembrance. It's just a bridge.
No, fuck this.
This is a stupid story, it's not right to be remembering these things, these things that may or may not have ever even happened. It's just the lack of music, and I'm making shit up as I go because that’s what I’ve always done. Step by step, step by step, I’m wondering how many steps it takes to get to the centre of a quiet little Californian seaside city. There's a fear in me that's slowly eating everything I've eaten so far. I’m hungry and dirty and I've wrapped my soles in duct tape to waterproof them, and yet I still haven’t talked to anyone at all. I can figure shit out. I’ll go back and tell everyone I’ve been halfway around the world and know about life now, I can figure shit out. I keep on telling myself that. Right now all I am is hungry, and I’m slowly learning how to worry about right now instead of yesterday and tomorrow.
“This is the part where you're supposed to say something encouraging.”
He smiles at me and tilts his head so his hair covers half his face. He moves left two steps, his head cutting off my view of tonight’s full moon, and does that vain hair flip thing I always make fun of. “It's gonna be okay." I remember having this same conversation years ago. I don't speak for thirty-three seconds, gathering my courage, mustering the thoughts in my head. “She was never one to say goodbye. She hated goodbyes. The way she sees it, she's never left. Dead people get to do whatever the fuck they want, so fuck her. Ask yourself why you're still here."
The boat is moving now, and I found a way out onto a deck that isn't inhabited by any other foot passengers. It's hard to smoke out here. The US flag is rolling in the sky, and I want to bottle the air and put it in my bag. The smell of sea salt is something you never forget, and once you've tasted it everything else seems, well, unnecessary. “Why am I still here?" Sea salt and rushing water, a fleet of trash following a gasoline rainbow in the gutter while the cigarette smoke waters your eyes and the rain coalesces to a point on each lock of hair, hair the colour of oil now, and then the rain turns to hail and bursts on your arms, your back, the nape of your neck, filling your shoes and shrinking your jeans. “There doesn’t have to be a reason.”
I wake up.
But she is still gone, to me. Everyone is.
I board the flight into the next unknown and wonder into whose arms would I run and fall into if I were drunk in a room with everyone I have ever loved.
An expedition has only two defined points, if that; that of the departure, and that of the arrival. Even these seem to reiterate, in a loop. Though even if an arrival only lasts until you arrive before it is again a departure, there is still an interim, a virtual space which finishes when it finishes. Often it will go beyond the physical and the points of arrival and departure will blur, not with each other, but with themselves. There are endless ways in which one might ‘finish’, each with their own quirks, lessons, scars, mileage and milieu. It is the eternal enthral.
He was a different person now. He struggled to think back. Often he was asked whether he had always wanted this life. He never knew how to answer. He no longer knows the person who started this, ten years ago. Could he even say with any semblance of certitude that it did indeed start ten years ago? Whatever he was, he played the game with circumstance and it led him here, so what does it matter? Whether it was when he was first put in a plane when he was the size of a glorified chess piece, or whether it was as a nineteen year old with a backpack on for the first time; whomever he was, life was simply a constant regeneration, like the shedding of hair or the dust of skin. He had died a thousand times, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but always, always.
He reads over the things he wrote from a life four hundred and twenty-seven lives ago. They are entirely foreign to him, as if it were grasped from the hand of another. He thinks on what his life has taken away from him, a subject much more obscured than its opposite number. What it gave feels more tangible to him; the absence of something less so. He had been stripped of his youthful vitality, giving rise to a certain apathy and cynicism. He did not regret it though; innocence is beautiful, but vastly overrated. Besides which, without those two juggernauts who could say how often he would’ve been swindled, how much further cut short his travails would have been. Necessity is the mother of invention, and he had gotten wise, quick.
He had also gotten bored, quicker, too. Apathy was indeed a thing. His disposition had turned from wide eyed and bushy tailed to an at times pensive and solemn surrogate, in essence maturing his youth by diluting it, as he suspected it should be. His awareness to the struggles of the world around him were heightened, but his reactions to them subdued. He wrote now with a steadiness he lacked before, a control which accepts both mirth and tragedy with the same unwavering pen. He accepted this as neither good nor bad but merely consequence.
Whenever he is at sea he feels his roots grasp helplessly at nothing and wither away. This sounds negative, but to him it wasn’t. The fleeting nature of it ensures he milks it for everything it is. He doesn’t particularly like sailing or being on the ocean endlessly, perhaps because of the lack of stimulation, but it is in those times that life seems to provide him with the most acute sense of freedom he knew. Nothing was there to be held for the future. Everything that was, on one day, might not be the next. He was on a road that was unseen, on a blank canvas waiting for its third dimension and all its colour. It was the same line of thinking that propelled him to travel overland when possible.
As awe inducing as it could be landing indiscriminately and haphazardly in the craze of Mumbai after having tea with your Dutch girlfriend’s parents in small town Netherlands the day before, still nothing quite inspires the mind like seeing a place diminish and another grow, as slow as the rendering of the retina should practically allow it to be. It is why he chose to walk when time did not press its rigours. In those moments he could see the subtleties ferment and blend into their pre-existing environment, all of which did nothing if not propel him to understand the place’s inner workings. He found that if he looked at the reflection of the light in those places closely enough, it would do the same for him, too.
He sometimes wondered what would become of him. Is there danger in leading yourself down a path you didn’t know the end of? Surely, yes. To him though, the greater danger was to remain stagnant, and not choose. He must choose. He must choose. No matter the choice, he must choose. Trajectories will take him to all the hims he was never meant to be, to all the people he was meant to be them for. His past will burn at him, and curiosity will gnaw at him, forever asking what could have been made by the strands that he left behind in his wake, the loves, the four hundred and twenty-six lives, the ones that weren’t quite redundant in function at the point he had to turn and drift away, down the river, down the river.
Must he always tear himself apart, spread himself thin, remove what he is to get a taste of every flavour? What direction is that, in the end?
And is anyone left there anymore to take it?