August 17, 2011

I meant to bring a notebook with me on this trip, the little black one with red edges that I wrote in a lot several years ago. I’ve always found myself to be self-conscious when writing journals, and typing is even worse but for whatever reason when I came across that little notebook sometime last year and re-read it I was struck by how genuine it felt. I think I honestly tried to capture the very thoughts that were in my mind. And the thoughts that have been swimming around in my mind lately need to be captured too, hence my wanting that little notebook on this trip. But at the last minute I couldn’t find it, it’s gotten misplaced in this move to Oakland, so I’m typing instead. Another 3 hours on this flight to Paris.

I was thinking earlier today – I was looking out the window of the airplane as it landed in Chicago – and there was a roof of a house, one of a thousand houses I could see from the plane, but this roof had blue patches on it. I don’t know a thing about roofs, but it was clear to me that that was a roof that’s getting repaired right now. And there I was looking at this roof of this house that I will never again see in my life (or if I do I will have no idea that it is a house I have seen from the sky) – people live in it who I do not know, and I will never know (or at least I will never know them in connection with this particular moment). And yet I know something about them – I know that they live in a house in Chicago and that their roof is currently being repaired. I could see it from the sky, from my one seat out of hundreds of seats in this Boeing 767, row 21, seat A. And maybe one of the people living in that house, if she was home, or he, heard the airplane flying above and didn’t give it a second thought, just the background noise of their day. That flimsy connection, half-way fabricated, yet somehow binds us together it seems. Us: this fictitious but perhaps real person, and if not a person in that house then a person on the ground, any person who heard the plane and either noticed it or didn’t. I – not even I but the existence of myself in this specific moment – was background noise to people’s day. Is that all we are, as humans, background noise to each other? Or are there others like me, who look down look up and wonder, who is in that house? Who is in that plane? We invent each other, even as we also all exist. The world I live in, when I realize how much of it I construct myself, in my mind, becomes suddenly so utterly illusory. There are as many fabrications of this world as there are people in it… and how do they clash with each other? Where do they match up? What happens when they match, is that when we meet each other?

I wonder what a story about someone’s life would sound like if it were told from the perspective of complete strangers’ fleeting impressions. The people in this house in Chicago: I can offer a piece – they are repairing their roof. It’s like this: do you ever wonder how many tourists’ photos you are in the background of? How many photographs you’re floating around in, whose albums you are memorialized in? What if you got all those photos together, what story would it tell about your life? Sometimes I wonder whether that’s all we are, whether that’s more real. Can it be that I am more real to myself, when I’m just one person, than I am to the hundreds of thousands of people I have encountered in my life, however transiently and unknowingly was the encounter? There are hundreds of thousands of witnesses to my life, I start to think they know me better, cumulatively, than I know myself.

I’m moving my fingers typing right now, fidgeting in my seat to try to get more comfortable. The man in the seat next to me, a middle-aged French man, is sleeping. This is part of his life, my witnessing him asleep, feeling slightly embarrassed about having to wake him up to go pee. I can see him sleep, and I know him, in this way, better than he knows himself.

Time to Destination: 02:48. Distance to Destination: 2390 km.

In these words, these pages (digital, real), only truth. That is my oath to myself. I think for the moment I have become too self-conscious to continue with my stream of consciousness. Instead I will write about another thing that I have been thinking of lately.

Just a minute though. I just looked out the window of the plane, creeping towards dawn in Europe. (It’s a short night tonight, playing catch-up with the sun!) I can see the sliver of white light above the horizon ahead of the plane. It’s 6:45am in Paris, and our plane is now southwest of Iceland over the middle of the Atlantic… not that I know the time zones, but that makes it the middle of the night, 3:45 maybe? We’re skipping ahead through time, in the next hour we will be moving into the sunrise and leaving the night behind, both an hour closer to Paris and while it will be 4:45 in the spot we’re at now, it will be more like 5:45 in the spot we’ll be then (as it will be 7:45 in Paris). I will hazard a guess that in the next hour, we will see sunrise… And right now, at this moment (now 5 minutes later than it was when I started typing this paragraph), I can still barely make out the Big Dipper right out my window. Five minutes ago it was brighter, if I hadn’t noticed it then I wouldn’t be able to see it now, because as we fly forward the stars fade away into the light. The night sky looks like it’s peeling back, I have the image of a sticker being pulled off, like the night sky is being pulled off the earth and underneath it is the day, and the more the sticker is peeled back the more the day underneath is revealed. It’s a wedge in the sky, to my left out the window is night, to the right the widening sliver of light and night is peeling back . . .

Time to Destination: 02:34. Distance to Destination: 2166 km.

I have suddenly been struck with the physical realness of the world. I’m looking back and forth between the visual map on the screen on the seatback in front of me, showing the little picture of the plane in the middle of the ocean, and then zooming back to show the entire map of the world and my little spot on it, and then looking out the window, back and forth, cementing the image of this particular horizon that I have with that spot on the screen in front of me. And I’m realizing that somewhere, far off to my front and right, is the continent of Africa. That Africa actually exists, it is a real thing that exists in space that is relative to the space I occupy. It isn’t just real space in other people’s lives, it is real in my life, and there it sits, an immense, huge, unfathomable chunk of land, off there to my right in front of me. I don’t blame my mind for only realizing this now, because how on earth (ha ha) are we supposed to be able to hold that in our minds, all the time? We have such capacity for thought, but our imaginations are better at creating fantasies out of nothingness than they are at grasping the fucking insane and awe-some realness of this actual existence we inhabit.

Things I want to do in Paris:

Wander around the Marais and the Place des Vosges
Read in a park or at a café
Find someone to show me around
Buy a razor, get a manicure and pedicure
Buy cheese and nice things to eat
Buy something lovely for Noelle – a print?
Wear makeup
Go to lesbian cabaret? Or a burlesque show
Take photos uninhibitedly

I can no longer see the Big Dipper at all. The sticker has peeled back more and now the sliver of day is no longer just silver and white but is red and orange. The night behind me no longer looks as deep. It’s like sunrise on fast-forward. Real time travel! But think – even when we walk around, we are chasing the day or the night, or straddling the line between them perfectly, every day is a back and forth a chaotic jumble of finding our spot in time, but we can never be content with staying still and letting the ground carry us because we always move around of our own accord paying little attention to the out-of-control spinning right under our feet!

One thought on “August 17, 2011

  1. I get an altered perspective when I’m on a mountain top, under a canopy of stars. The part of me as an individual being begins to fade as I become very aware of being connected with all living things.

    “imaginations are better at creating fantasies out of nothingness than they are at grasping the fucking insane and awe-some realness of this actual existence we inhabit.”

    Fucking insane and awe-some. Absolutely!

    Enjoy your time in Paris. I hope you get to do all your heart desires.

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