Sunday, November 30, 2014

Through space, time, and the Northeast Corridor

This is a landscape heavy with memories, not because I inhabited it but because of what I believed when I traversed it. My life was full of significance when it had not yet been filled with much else.

I think I just recognized a discarded washing machine from 1980. I spent enough time staring out of train windows that year.

Movement generates is own optimism most of the time. Just to be en route seems like progress.

Unspecified cool things lay ahead. Every experience was literary, artistic, cinematic. The stack of blank sheets in front of me did not intimidate me, regardless of what passing anxiety or depression might temporarily freeze me to the bone. I would fill them with wisdom and whimsy that would painlessly tease the straying world onto a gentle path of shared pleasure.

No ambition? Does that sound like no ambition? It may not promise steady upward progress through a prosperous bourgeois existence, as ambition is typically defined to do. But it is a massive undertaking to be pursued with deceptive casualness. There is no blunt and bludgeoning approach. One must relentlessly entice and not annoy. It may be impossible. And it's the only thing that will work.

Growing up, perhaps I received so little great guidance because I had no idea what questions to ask. I was advised to be on the side of good in a generic way, and to do my best to stay off the dole. Good enough as far as it went, but one can do shocking amounts of unintended damage in pursuit of what seem like bland and harmless personal success. Don't bring that up if you want to entice people into a different course for society. They feel threatened. Then you've lost your appeal.

I scribbled on those blank sheets with the enthusiasm and education of a sixth grader. I looked toward the far horizon while tripping over curbs and stepping in dog piles I overlooked in the immediate foreground. I waded eagerly into swamps and briar patches without regard for whether I could bill for the hours.

What a chump. Never underestimate the self-destructive power of the best intentions. Forget Hell. Hell is a selfish concept. Trying to do the right thing can sometimes be no better than a 50-50 shot, even if you yourself come out of it unharmed or enhanced. The footprints you leave could be enough to cut the slope and trigger an avalanche that takes out those behind you.

Bleached grasses and bare trees fill the scene behind many hours of thought. I've ended up living where they are the dominant reality for a solid half of the year. I can own a much larger patch of that than I could hope to claim in places that look more alive, more of the time. Those places fill and fill, making the people who live there pay steadily higher prices for smaller pieces. The overflow bulges steadily farther into country more difficult both climatologically and mentally.

I went willingly into the harsh landscape. I met it with my own impermeabability. It was my element for years. But events will teach you what you didn't know you didn't know. Along with knowledge aggregating in ways you hope and expect, stuff pries your mind open or forcibly aims your head in another direction.  You can either build stronger walls to keep your mind at its familiar width or you can work to incorporate more variations into your world view. I've seen it go both ways. And when formerly perfectly enjoyable companions decide to remain the same intellectual width they were, the space grows too small to hold you both for long.

Pride in harshness takes up less brain space than empathy. It's also less work. People can be such a burden, even the ones you supposedly care about. Much easier to have a set of standards that allows you to take people or leave them based on compliance. Is it conditional love or stern but admirable principle? Conditional love is what makes winners, according to a winner I used to visit by rail. I was softened and weakened by the indulgences of my parents. They did not use their affection strategically to force me toward achievement. That's how I remember her analysis at the time.

Time brings experience. Experience may bring wisdom. Or you just might get older without compensatory improvements.

Get off the train, emerge from the station and life is no longer linear. Progress is no longer automatic. You have to get yourself around. You could be going nowhere or anywhere. Anywhere is everywhere, so there really is no nowhere.

No comments: